28 December 2014

Not My Holiday

I've posted before about how I don't do christmas and how I consider thanksgiving to be just another Thursday.  I was glad this year to see Angie at Angie Eats Peace post about how she doesn't celebrate holidays. Because often it feels like I'm the only one.

To me, holidays have come to represent nothing more than absurd, out-of-control consumerism, obligation-fueled-guilt, expectation-induced-disappointment, the depression that those who can't afford or are alone (because we're told it's the worst thing to be alone for the holidays) experience and SO. MUCH. STUFF.  It saddens me greatly to see such an emphasis put on toys when so many are in such great need for basic necessities. 

Just thinking about how many trees were killed to produce the shiny paper used to wrap all those presents...so many of which were not what people wanted or needed but were given because...well...you have to give *something*.  The stress, the expense, the waste...for what?  I mean, really, why do people do it?  The pressure to do enough...be enough...BUY enough...I just don't get it.  Perhaps if more people stood up and said, "Actually, no, I'd rather not. It doesn't bring me joy or happiness.  Honestly, I just want to take a nap (okay, maybe that part's just me!)," we could start a movement away from the madness of it all.

Mind you, I had a great childhood with very happy holidays and there are traditions my family has that I cherish. But from a rather young age I thought it was very excessive and wasteful.  I've tried to convince my mother of this but she still insists on buying far more than we need.  My father has always been on board with me. 

One of my favorite scientists started a firestorm by tweeting,

On this day long ago, a child was born who, by age 30, would transform the world. Happy Birthday Isaac Newton b. Dec 25, 1642.
Which is true. But apparently sharing the celebration the birth of your deity with a fat man in a red suit who delivers toys (or coal if you didn't behave) is okay but mentioning that the man who discovered the laws of motion, the universal law of gravitation, and invented integral and differential calculus - all of which served as the mechanistic foundation for the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries - was born on that day is somehow egregious.  Seriously, if your religion is so fragile that it can't stand up to a 125 character tweet about Isaac Newton or someone saying they don't celebrate the holiday (which is seen as some sort of world evil based on my experience of expressing my lack of celebration) then ...well...maybe you need to reexamine your faith.  

I'll stick to calling 25 December "just another day" and saving my sanity and bank account the terror that is rampant, senseless consumerism.

How do you feel about the holidays?

07 December 2014

Help-Portrait Baltimore - Sundays in My City

Volunteering with Help-Portrait in Baltimore is one of the most amazing experiences I've had!  When I first saw the opportunity posted I noticed they were looking for photographers to volunteer.  I thought, "Hey, I have a camera and can take a fairly decent picture."  Then I saw they required you to have your own portable lights, backdrop, etc. I have none of that and honestly, wondered why so much was required. They also wanted people proficient in photo editing.  I don't edit my pictures.  Ever. Don't even know how. But, once I saw the results of what this project produced, I was amazed and am glad I didn't try to pass myself off as being capable enough!  I worked on the "hospitality" crew which basically means I helped people when they needed it, took lots of "behind the scenes" pictures and sat and talked with the men. I was honored that they were willing to share their stories with me.

You can read about Help-Portrait (a world-wide, once-a-year event) and the Helping Up Mission (which is where I volunteered today).  I had never heard of the Helping Up Mission (then again, despite living 15 minutes away from Baltimore for the last year I don't really know anything about anything the city offers). Putting my opposition to religious-based...well...anything aside, I was extremely impressed with what they do at this facility.  There are between 400-500 men there at any one time participating in a year-long addiction-recovery program which includes counseling, education services, medical services, housing and a lot more and it's free (receiving no public money).

Average age of residents: 40
Average length of addiction: 23 years
Average time in jail: 30 months

This is not a typical homeless shelter and, in fact, not all of the men living there and receiving treatment are homeless. They do, however, offer what they call "overnight guest services" which include a bed, shower and meal for those who simply need a place to stay and don't want to commit to the program. On very cold days those beds will fill in just a few minutes leaving many still with no place to go.

The goal of today's project was to give these men (another team in Baltimore did the same thing at the House of Ruth shelter for women and children) a professional portrait. Simple as that.  Many of them had family members come to be in the picture with them.  It was great to see the family love and support these men are receiving while they're working towards recovery from addiction and return to productive society.  It was such a joy to see how proud they were of the work they've done so far and how excited they were with their pictures. 

Here are a few of the pictures I took (all with permission!). 

The REAL photographers setting up.
This man had a beautiful family and you could see how happy he was to have them there.

One of the photographers shows one of the men his picture.

Reviewing the pictures and picking the best one (each man got to select one picture to be printed, on the spot).

One man and his beautiful mother.
One of the men shows me his portrait.

Son and grandson there for support.

A young man and his mother. The young man wanted to have his official portrait done just of himself so that he could give a copy to his father for Christmas (his mother and father are not together) but he also wanted a picture with his mother.  Since only the professional pictures are made available to the men I'm going to print this one and drop it off there for him.

This man was stringing some beads that were there for the children. He said he wanted a reminder to keep from this day. When I showed him the picture he told me how his hands used to be swollen so badly they looked like grapefruits. He was amazed at how good they look now. 

I talked to him (the same man as the photo of the hands) for quite a while. He has a lot of ambition and he seems to be doing very well.
This photo was posted by Help-Portrait Baltimore on their FB page yesterday.  You heard a lot of similar stories.  "This feels good. Last photo I recall was a mug shot for DUI in 2005.  Looking good, feeling good, smiling good came of my recovery. It's a whole lot of people lovin me!"

Seriously, this was such an incredible experience.  I hope to get to do it again and I hope it gets to where it happens more than once a year.  [I think I've edited this at least 5 times now because I keep thinking of more I want to say.  I just can't capture how happy this whole thing made me!]

Unknown Mami

26 November 2014

The Best Time to Do Yoga Is When You Really Don't Want to Go

I recently started going to yoga again. I went for years and then didn't for years when there weren't any offerings to my liking nearby.  I knew from past experience that it would be very difficult at first but, over time, would get better.  I used to really enjoy going on Saturday morning. I found it to be a good way to start the weekend.  Lately I've been going after work and most days, I really don't want to go.  But I've found that on days that I really do not want to go, even if I struggle through Every. Single. Pose, I end up getting the most benefit and leave feeling much better than when I arrived.

This is pretty much how I feel part, if not all, of the time!

I just wanted to remind myself of this the next time I start thinking how much better it would be to just go home and take a nap!

How do you feel about yoga?

04 November 2014

Awesome Travel Company (That Happens to be Vegan)

About a year and a half ago I posted about my trip to Malaga and the fabulous Vegan BnB where I stayed. The proprietor of the Vegan BnB, Emma, has expanded her operation and now runs a vegan tour company in Guatemala half the year. 

Even if you're not vegan (I am not) I can tell you that Emma's food is fantastic and her approach to tourism is very responsible, sustainable and locally-focused - which I love.  She has some amazing tours coming up in the next several months and if you've ever thought about visiting Guatemala, taking an eco-friendly vacation, trying amazing vegan food or are just looking for an adventure, I urge you to check out what she has to offer. 

She also offers accommodation (with amazing vegan breakfast) and tours in Malaga during the spring/summer months.  Malaga was one of my favorite vacations and Emma is part of the reason.

Check out The Veganbnb Travel site and book your next vacation!
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All photos were borrowed from Veganbnbtravel.com (hope Emma doesn't mind) to show you what you can expect from Emma's trips!
**I received no compensation for posting this recommendation and all opinions are my own...I just think Emma is great and I'd love to see her business really take off.  Please feel free to post about her or pass along this information if you're so inclined...especially if you know other people interested in vegan travel!

02 November 2014

Plitvice Lakes National Park - Sundays in My City

A year ago I was traveling around the Balkans.  One of the places I knew I had to see was Plitvice in Croatia (please don't ask me how to pronounce it...I never could get it right and always had to write it down to tell people (ticket agents, bus drivers...) where I was going.  It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest national park in SE Europe.

A million pictures wouldn't do this place justice.  The waters are so exquisitely blue-green that your brain almost can't process the color...it's too beautiful to be real! There are 16 interconnected lakes renowned for their distinctive colours, ranging from azure to green, grey or blue. The colours change constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight. I feel like the camera didn't even come close to capturing the true intensity of the colors.

The day started off very foggy. I wondered if I was actually going to be able to see anything.

The trail leading into the park.

There are multiple different trails you can follow depending on how far you want to walk. 

I was pretty sure this was one of the views that comes up when you search for images online but all I got was a hint of it first thing in the morning.

The waters are so clear!

Finally getting to see some of the amazing colors!

And then the incredible reflections!

Miles and miles and miles of well-maintained (if not a bit slippery in the damp weather) trails throughout the park let you get right up close to, above and below the lakes and waterfalls.

Every time you think the view can't get more stunning, it does.

Back where I started but most of the fog had lifted and I could see!
Be warned, if you decide to ask the google to show you pictures of this place you'll likely end up with drool on your keyboard!  I could definitely see myself going back here!

Have you ever been somewhere that was so beautiful you couldn't capture it in pictures?

Thanks to Unknown Mami for hosting the SIMC link-up.  Go on over there and check out more stunning views from around the neighborhood or around the world.

Unknown Mami

26 October 2014

To Canada With Love - Sundays in My City

As another Canadian soldier was killed this past week I thought I'd repost something from several years ago instead of more pictures of Italy.


I am currently deployed to Afghanistan. I just came from a ramp ceremony. It’s where they carry a casket to the plane to send home. His name is Brian. He was 42; from Ottawa. He has a wife and 2 daughters; one who shares my name.

Attendance is not required but it is something I feel everyone should do at least once. Just like I think the news should show flag-draped caskets arriving home. The men and women dying here are not just statistics. They’re people with families and they need to be honored and their sacrifice needs to be known by the general population. A population that’s busy trampling each other to get to the sale items at Wal-Mart. Priorities seem misplaced from here.

It was cold and very windy out on the flight line. It was difficult standing at attention. You had to brace yourself against a wind that was trying to blow you over and you couldn’t wipe the snot running from your nose or rub your eyes that were stinging from the wind and dust. But whatever the weather (and it does go to both extremes here), I’ll be out there. Because I don’t want to forget those fathers, mothers, sons and sisters. Because the next time, it could be me.

Next week I’ll travel home for the first time in 6.5 months. After 2 weeks I’ll return for another 6 months. Whatever your feelings on the war, I encourage you to attend a ramp ceremony for a returning soldier, airman, marine or sailor if you happen to live near a base. This war will not end if people at home are permitted to forget that it is still happening; that people are still dying.

And don’t tell my mother I said it could be me next time! As far as she knows there is nothing dangerous here, I never leave the safety of the base and the Taliban never fire rockets into our camp!
 My thoughts are with Canada this week.

Unknown Mami
**I am not in the Armed Forces; I merely work for them. I deployed as a civilian and enjoyed the protection of US, Canadian, Dutch and British Forces; for which I am eternally grateful.  I do not wish to be seen as making the same kind of sacrifices as those who sign up to protect and defend.

19 October 2014

The Colorful Houses of Burano - Sundays in My City

A popular Venetian destination is the island of Murano. Murano is known for glass making.  We went there.  I was bored out of my mind and mom and Gran weren't that impressed either.  So we hopped back on the water bus and moved on to Burano; an island known for lace making.  I wasn't looking forward to this stop and lace making was equally boring for me but the colors on this island were incredible and taking pictures of the houses was more than enough to occupy me so mom and Gran could do their thing without me wanting to run away.

There were so many colors!!!

Orange over purple with teal blue shutters!
Apparently there is striped fabric available to match every house color so that you can fashionably let some air in without giving all the tourists a view of your living room.

Colorful reflections!

Such a beautiful little island! I'm glad I got to see it.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a place you didn't want to visit?

For more sights from around the world, head over to Unknown Mami and check out the rest of the Sundays in My City posts.

Unknown Mami