Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Big News: A Volunteer Grant to Mexico

It was during my initial HR phone screening with a recruiter from my work when I first heard about the Volunteer Vacation Grant. I couldn't believe the company offered a grant to support international volunteer work for one employee per year. It just added to the many reasons I wanted to work there.

Fast forward a year and a half to last December, and I applied for the grant and got it! It is a huge honor and I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity to combine so many things I'm passionate about: my job, volunteering, international travel, and food.

When I first thought about where I wanted to go, I considered going somewhere really far away that I had never been before. But when I was honest with myself, I just wanted to go back to where my heart was: Mexico. I've been there 3 times since 2005, and can't get enough.
The last time I was in Mexico was in 2009, and I volunteered with the same organization I will be working with on this trip.

It's called PESA, which stands for Proyecto Estratégico de Seguridad Alimentaria (Strategic Food Security Project), and is a program of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

My good friend Josafat has worked for them for nearly a decade, and is now based out of their headquarters in Mexico City.

But when I was there in 2009, he was in the small city Tlapa de Comonfort, in the southern state of Guerrero. From Tlapa he would take day trips to rural communities all over the state to help implement and evaluate food infrastructure projects.

Josa and I in Tlapa de Comonfort, 2009
Corn storage, Guerrero, 2009
Helping with community corn de-graining, 2009
You can read more about my first time volunteering with PESA, and the end of that same trip in this post Making Tortillas and Running up Pyramids.

Well, I guess we are going backward chronologically. In 2007 I spent the end of my last quarter of college living with Josafat and his girlfriend, and teaching English in his grad school. They lived in Cholula, a really sweet little city on the outskirts of Puebla City.

The adjective of a person or thing from Puebla is poblano, and indeed, it's where the dark mole poblano originated. That month I did my ESL certificate teaching practicum and ate a ridiculous amount of mole poblano.
The view of smoking Popocatépetl from Cholula
View from our front door of the
cathedral atop the Pyramid of Cholula
My first time in Mexico I spent 5 months in 2005. I studied abroad for a quarter at the Universad Latina de America in Morelia, Michoacan, volunteered on organic farms, studied Mayan ruins, and met my dear friend Josafat. How did I meet him anyway? Did I really get college credit for traveling? Find out in this post 10 Years Since Mexico.

I'm leaving this week to fly into Mexico City before spending next week volunteering in rural communities. More to come!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Birthday Weekend

I'm ostensibly another year wiser, and for sure another year older. This year, birthday weekend was also Easter weekend, and it was a fabulous couple days with my favorite things: family, friends, good food, and hiking.
Miri's amazing salad with foraged greens. Photo by Matt.

Max baked a loaf of bread the morning we went to
Mailbox Peak. It was still practically warm at the top.

Birthday champagne in the snow.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

An Early Spring in Western Washington

It's been an incredibly dry and warm winter, and I kept expecting winter to actually hit. I made a valiant effort at being wintery, and made sure to eat lots of waffles, cheese, and cookies.
My friend from Texas actually has a
Texas waffle iron
My roommate turned 30 and had a birthday
party with 30 different kinds of cheese
A roommate was on a low-carb diet, and
proceeded to bake lots of cookies and
muffins and ask us to eat them.
I also went on a Marsala kick. What's more wintery than cooking with wine? I made Chicken Marsala, Marsala-poached pears with vanilla ice cream, and a mushroom Marsala pasta bake.

Try as I may, winter never actually came. It's been consistently mild with barely any snow in the mountains. Local meteorologist Cliff Mass called it The Winter Without Seasonal Affective Disorder. Maybe I'm ungrateful, or a glutton for punishment, or just a true Pacific Northwesterner, but I don't feel like I've earned spring yet.

But nature didn't take my sentiments into account, and it's actually been acting like spring since about mid-January. Rhododendrons were already in bloom, and many other flowers followed.
 
A few weeks ago I rode my bike along the waterfront in downtown Seattle toward Magnolia, and over the Ballard Locks. It felt like summer with all the people out and about, and all the boats going through the Locks. Check out these pictures from our Golden Gardens picnic-- you would never know this was February.
 Now that it is really almost spring, I'm pretty excited to start getting outside more. What are you looking forward to this spring?


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Notes on Editing

Last fall I started a certificate in editing at the UW. I've always been interested in editing, and have been a de facto editor for friends and family on everything from websites to resumes to grad school and medical residency application statements.

But working closely with editors as a writer over the past year has cemented my appreciation for editors, and knowing how much I like working with them solidified my wanting to be one.
In copy editing class, we got to learn old-school
editing marks. (This image from here.)
I told a friend that I was taking the certificate program and he said, "Oh cool, so you'll be pretty much catching typos?"

Well, that is of course one part of an editor's job, but just a tiny part. And even little typos can have devastating, expensive consequences. Check out this hilarious article on 10 Very Costly Typos.

There is a lot I want to say about the course and how much I've learned. For now though, there is one thing that stands out to me when it comes to the importance of editing: maintaining consistency in a document.

Often there is not one right or wrong way to do something, but rather a conscious choice decision based on designated resources, writer preference, editor decision, house style, or some combination thereof. It's about knowing what to ask up front, and then sticking to the answer. It is deliciously ordered and tidy. I am by no means a neat freak or perfectionist, but that part of me does feel very content in this kind of work. Editing is sort of like getting a really good haircut.

But why does consistency even matter? I'll let an excerpt from a class reading say it better than I could:

If misspellings occur in a book, many readers will be taken aback and are apt to lose faith in the author, even though what he has to say may be brilliant. Incorrect facts, wrongly attributed quotes, and garbled sentences have the same effect.

More obliquely, few readers will notice occasional stylistic inconsistencies: "ax" on page 12, "axe" on page 34; "traveled" on page 17, "travelled" on page 92; "thirty-three sheep" on page 21, "33 people" on page 99. But the sum total of such inconsistencies will give readers an uneasy feeling that something is wrong. They may not be able to pinpoint the irritants, but they are likely to become subconsciously upset- and may lose interest in the book.

(Passage from The Complete Guide to Editorial Freelancing, rev. ed., Carol L. O'Neill and Avima Ruder (Barnes and Noble Books, 1979)

Doesn't that just blow your mind?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

10 Years Since Mexico

It was January of 2005 that I went to Mexico for the first time. I did a study abroad on US-Mexico Relations and Labor Migration, and then traveled for a couple more months researching Mayan ruins and volunteering on organic farms.

It was a transformative 5 months, and I met wonderful friends that I am still close to today. Although I wouldn't start this blog until a couple years later, that trip to Mexico was truly the beginning of "AmberAnda." It was me, my desire to speak Spanish and travel, and a burgeoning love for Latin America.

I also met Josafat. We dated for a few months, but for the last 9.5 years have had a dear friendship. It feels especially full-circle to think back to that journey when I met him a decade ago, because he is getting married this April and I am lucky enough to get to go to his wedding.
Josa and I, Texcoco, Mexico, 2005
Since this blog didn't exist back then, I've never posted photos from that journey. So to mark the 10 years, here's a look back.

I don't know how I got the idea to travel the whole length of Mexico overland, but that's what I did. I flew to San Diego, bused to Tijuana, then all the way down Baja California. I volunteered on my first WWOOF farm near La Paz. On a day off, we hiked up a river valley and soaked in unmarked hot springs.
Next I caught an overnight ferry across the Sea of Cortez to mainland Mexico, and headed to Sayulita to visit a friend from home whose family has a place there.
My amiga teaches me how to surf in Sayulita
Then I headed to the lovely colonial city of Morelia, in the state of Michoacán, to start school at the Universidad Latina de America.
Cathedral of Morelia
The study abroad was run through the University of Oregon, but the students were from all over the U.S., and they were awesome. I met my favorite professor I've ever had, a professor or labor and economics from the U of O. Little did I know that I would later visit him and his wife in Eugene, then again when he was on sabbatical in NYC, and that we'd meet for drinks several times when he was visiting Seattle years later.
The study abroad crew
In addition to the great classes, the program took us on some fantastic day trips and weekend trips around Michoacán and beyond. 
Carnival in a small town outside Morelia. It was a flour
and shaving cream fight all over the street.
The annual Monarch butterfly migration happens in Michoacán
Ruins of Teotihuacan outside Mexico City
Taking in a Diego Rivera mural in Mexico City
Ruins from the eruption of volcano Paricutin. This is maybe
one of my favorite places I've ever been. Lava covered the
 entire town except the altar and steeples of the cathedral
I also met Josafat while I was in school. He didn't live in Morelia, but he was there one weekend on a work trip from Texcoco (near Mexico City) about 4 hours away. It's a wonder we ever met at all. How did it happen, you ask? Well, I saw him on a city bus one Friday evening in downtown Morelia, and we kept looking at each other. I thought he was so cute that I got off the bus at the stop after him and followed him into a bar.

We struck up conversation and the rest was history. I will never forget our first conversation. He was finishing his 4-year degree in agronomy, a word I had never heard in English or Spanish. He was already working as an agronomist on rural food security issues. Basically, he was doing the type of work that I had always wanted to do.

He also told me the story of the legends behind 2 of central Mexico's big volcanoes: Popocatépetl (17,800 feet) and Iztaccíhuatl (17,100 feet). Popo means "smoking mountain" and keeps watch over his lover Izta who is the "sleeping woman". I also had no way to know at that time that 2 years later I would be back in Mexico teaching English and seeing Popocatepetl from my house everyday, with it's plume of smoke rising into the sky.

Josafat came back to Morelia for a couple weekends and was always willing to hang out with us big group of foreigners.
Josafat hangs with the study abroad crew in Morelia

After the quarter of school was over, I headed to the magical and new-agey town of Tepoztlan, and spent a week on another farm/homestead.
Part of the yard on the WWOOF farm, central Mexico
Making handmade paper with an Irish volunteer
Baking bread in the cob oven
I happened to be on the farm on my birthday, and spent the day pouring concrete for a fence post for my first time. By the time we went inside and cleaned up to make dinner, the farmer realized that we didn't have all the ingredients to make a cake.

"But," he said, "I do have cacao beans if you want me to teach you how to make chocolate from scratch!" So after dinner, with music playing and plenty of red wine, we set to work making chocolate. And then I put my hair in a ponytail and cut it off.
Hand-grinding the cacao beans
Finished product: birthday chocolate!

After that, Josafat and I met up again and headed to Oaxaca for a week together. We went to Oaxaca City where every time he asked me what I wanted to eat, I said hopefully, "mole?" While I also love the dark mole poblano, I simply couldn't get enough of the yellow and green moles of the south.
Bussing south-bound
Ruins of Monte Alban
Mazunte, coast of Oaxaca
After a visit to the coast, Josafat went back to work and I continued traveling on my own. Next stop was Chiapas, and the start of my study of Mayan ruins. I was still enrolled in college half-time, and getting independent study credit to make an art travel journal of ruins, including a watercolor rendering of each one I visited.
Palenque, Chiapas
Painting at the ruins of Uxmal, Yucatan
El Castillo at Chichen Itza
Caribbean from the ruins of Tulum
Tulum is on the coast of the Yucatan, very close to the border with Belize. At that point, I had bussed from San Diego all the way south through Mexico. I continued into Belize and Guatemala, but that's a whole other story!

I flew back to Mexico City from Guatemala City and had a last weekend to spend with Josafat, who was now working temporarily from Guadalajara. I explored the city, hung with him at his office, and took a day trip to do some tequila tasting in the tequila region.

Here's to another decade of good friends, new travels, and transformative experiences.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Highlights of 2014

I've always thought the idea of designating a whole year as good or bad was silly. Surely too much happens in one year to make such a blanket statement.

But I can say without hesitation that 2014 was pretty phenomenal, and I am closing out December with a ton of gratitude.

In the spirit of "best of" lists, here's a look back at some of the highlights of the year.

First and foremost was starting a job in January that I absolutely love, at a company I have a lot of respect and appreciation for, with the best bosses I've ever worked with. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of becoming a professional writer but didn't think it was actually possible.
View from the observation deck of our office building. Once my manager and I had our one-on-one here. Best meeting ever.

Hanging out (intentionally) inside a crevasse

Catching crab from a canoe off Golden Gardens

Hanging out with sweet nieces and nephews
Climbing Mount Rainier and doing a headstand on the summit with crampons on
 
Catching a swarm of bees by myself
 
Spending time with my dad in Florida
 
Day hiking 18 miles in the Enchantments
 
Volunteering with the Beacon Food Forest and watching it produce food for the community

Seeing dear friends get married.
Backpacking by myself for a week in the Cascades

Volunteering at City Fruit's 4th annual Cider Taste, featuring multiple ciders from 10 of Washington state's artisan cideries
I am an ambassador for City Fruit, which is an awesome nonprofit that harvests excess fruit from trees around Seattle to donate to food banks. In November, I wrote Why I Donate my Time to City Fruit for their blog about the beginnings of my interest in agriculture and food justice.

Apart from all of those things, I'm hugely grateful for good friends. For the friends who are always there to talk; who make me laugh; who remember my nut allergy; who still send me mixed CDs; who will hike with me any time of year; who give me candles homemade with their own beeswax; who are up for impromptu pasta-making and bourbon-drinking; and who have given me rides in my carless year or let me borrow their car.

In 2015, I want to be as good of a friend to those people as they have been to me. I want to keep trying new things and saying yes, even when I don't know where it will lead me. I want to play outside even more, and read even more books, though I'm not sure how that balance will shake out.

I want to be the opposite of jaded, and full of hope for things to come. Happy New Year friends!