Saturday, October 2, 2010

Back in Gringo-land...

I miss Peru. And today it hit me like a ton of bricks how much I miss the kids and the entire family at Casa...;-(

While my time in Peru was not without challenging moments – at the end of the day, it was one of the most special experiences of my life. The kids of Casa de Milagros are incredible...I feel blessed to be considered part of the family, and to have been received with so much love.

In addition to working at the Casa, I was also able to spend some time in my country, and soak in my culture in ways I had never been able to before...spent some quality time with family and loved ones in Lima, traveled to regions of Peru I had not been to before, and experience two of Cusco's most amazing festivals: Corpus Christi and Inti Raymi. 

In addition to settling back into life back in the states, since being back – I have mostly been consumed with school. I was able to enroll in all five classes that I need and will finally be graduating in December! It’s been a 12 year journey – so graduation day will be super sweet ;-) What this means in a practical sense for me is that with five classes I will have a very full plate and have already begun the process of “clearing the decks” so I can focus on school and get the most out of my final semester. As you all know – I like to juggle many projects and interests – so this is no easy task ;-) I am super excited about my classes! My Political Communication professor, Joe Tuman is running for mayor of Oakland, so our class gets to live an actual campaign with him. Also, I am taking a California Food, Wine, and Culture class, which totally sucks since you guys know how much I hate food, wine and culture...;-)

One of the major decisions I have made recently is to step down from my responsibilities as a Board member of Casa de Milagros. I will continue to be involved in the kids’ lives, and will be returning in December and January to visit, volunteer, and help with some big projects that are in the works. However, due to my school and client responsibilities, I do not have the space to commit to the Board at this time. Once I graduate in December, the Board and I will reassess where things are on both ends and how I can continue to stay involved, what role I will play, and what projects I will be involved in. I will keep you guys posted! In the meantime, if you guys want information on how you can help Casa or any other volunteer opportunities in Peru - contact me and I will send you information.

I have posted all of my pics up and you can see them all HERE

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Last Night at Casa

Me and Beautiful Ada

Argh!!! I don't want to leave!!! ;-(  I know I have to - and I am actually looking forward to being home for many reasons...but the reality of leaving here and not seeing the people here whom I have grown to love so much is going to be really hard.

There were moments when I wasn't sure I would be able to make it all three months - mostly when my immune system tanked, and I was freezing the night away in a Cusco hostel...or when my wallet was stolen, or when my vest was stolen...

But enough about all that - I am going to focus on the positive - and share about my beautiful last day at Casa!

Doris, Senobia & Ada being silly
The last day was quite busy as I was running around getting three months worth of projects, conversations, and to-do's wrapped up.  I was so busy in fact that I didn't notice the party being orchestrated in the midsts...Apparently the kids wanted to do something special for my last night, so they put together an incredible Fiesta!  Soraida, Melina, Maria Flor and Senobia choreographed and performed two dance routines, and then sang me a love song ;-) It was precious.  Then Jorge, Leo performed some SkyWalker moves with Marcito as a guest star who rocked the house!!

My Gang
I was blown away by how much effort they had put into the making my last night special, and at their love for me.  And their TALENT, which just never ceases to inspire me! Papa Wesly and Mama Paty got up and said some words, and at that point I was just speechless...which didn't help when they made me get up and say some words...I don't really remember what came out of my mouth - I think I just repeated I love you a bunch of times...

Despite my inability to articulate, we had an incredible party complete with music, popcorn, cake, many laughs, and even more PICTURES!  I didn't want the night to end...

Waiting for the bus
In the morning, I woke up early so I could see the kids off to school.  I stood there as they piled into the Combi van, and gave them all hugs and kisses and told them I would be back soon.  I started crying, but thankfully they were driving off at that point.

Then I turned around to face the Casa, and got this awesome shot of Charlie and Rover:

I know guys, I hate when they leave too...

Bye for now Casa de Milagros - I will be back very soon...


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cienciano Soccer and Inspire To Do

I was privileged to have the opportunity to partner with Wendy Lee and Miles Ito of Inspire To Do in organizing an awesome event for the Casa kids. Wendy contacted the Board months ago with a desire to design a program/event that would inspire the Casa kids, help them connect with the community, and also incorporate her skills and experience working with special needs children. The initial idea was to hold a soccer clinic at the Casa that we could invite other children from the community to, but the logistics involved proved challenging during our timeframe. What we ended up putting together was still an incredible experience that I know the children enjoyed tremendously, and won't soon forget.

Wendy was incredible, and somehow made a connection with FPF (the Peruvian National Soccer Federation) who connected us with their PR Director, Enrique Mayor. When we shared with him what we were trying to do, he graciously invited us to attend one of Cienciano's (Cusco’s National Soccer Team) practice sessions in person, and to attend their game the next day.

Wendy and Miles spent their first few days at Casa getting to know the kids, doing motivational games and exercises, taking pictures and videos. They brought a colleague with them, Leonordo Carrizo, who is a Photojournalist and professor at Ohio State University. Leonardo took some stunning pictures and was able to help us capture all of the special moments from their trip. Wendy and Mils also presented the kids with some amazing donations. They were able to contact Kodak, who donated 5 brand new Digital Cameras, and Miles was able to round up an IBM ThinkPad Laptop! The kids (and I) were beyond excited!!

On the big day, we took a big bus from Casa into Cusco to attend the practice. Once there, the kids were able to meet and greet the players, interview them, hear their motivational stories of overcoming personal challenges, and take pictures and videos with them (with their brand new cameras!) The players and coaches were incredibly gracious, inspiring, and made a huge impact on the kids. After speaking to the players afterward, it seems our kids were able to do the same for them ;-) It was an unforgettable day…we even made one of the local papers!

Unfortunately Cienciano's game was postponed on Sunday, so the kids were not able to see them play.  However, the team managers were so gracious and invited us to come back any time we want!  Instead, we took the kids out on an educational tour of Cusco and some of its ruins.  We had a blast, and the kids were beyond thrilled...

I am incredibly grateful to Wendy, Miles, and the entire Inspire To Do crew for all of their love and energy put into this experience. I look forward to partnering with them again soon!

Click Here to see the Pics
Click Here to Read the Article

Saturday, July 24, 2010

5 Reasons I Love Cusco

1. The Energy!

Whether you are in the city, or in the Sacred Valley - the energy of this land is palpable.  It is called the Sacred Valley for a reason.  There is something about being high above in the Andes, 11,000 feet above sea level, nestled amidst these huge, magical's a power... and a closeness to God that I've never felt before. Or maybe it's just the oxygen deprivation...;-/

2. The Beauty
One of the Breathtaking views of the Valley

Everywhere I look it is a Kodak moment (hence the 500 photos I have taken on this trip thus far).  The drive between Cusco and the Casa through the Sacred Valley can start to wear on one's body after awhile - particularly when you do it too many times in a week.  But when I start to feel worn down - I remind myself where I am, and take a moment to stop along the roadway to soak in the glorious scenery...and I suddenly feel so much better ;-)

Just strolling along
2. Seeing Cows, Donkeys, Sheep, Goats and Llamas every single day

Not just in a field, or on a mountainside - oh no - they are everywhere!  On the street, in the roadway, on the sidewalk walking in downtown Cusco.  The other day I woke up at Casa, opened the door to head to the bathroom, and there were two fat, happy donkeys grazing right outside my door...just chillin.  I love it!

4. Meeting People from All Around the World

Cusco draws some of the most fascinating, diverse people from almost every corner of the world.  I have met so many fabulous friends, and met people doing magnificent things out here.  Most are only here for a brief time, but some just never want to leave - I love to hear their stories...I have been here during one of the most "touristy" times of the year - June and July, which definitely has its drawbacks if you are actually living here and trying to get stuff done.  But I have also been lucky enough to be here during a WORLD CUP - which has just been electric.  Every game is televised at the plethora of bars and pubs in town, and draws at least a few fans from each of the competing teams.  The last week was insane - so many Dutch fans in bright orange T-shirts, and rowdy Spaniards in their blue, yellow and red.  Cusco definitely has a global appeal...

5. Mercado San Pedro
Scoring some medicinal herbs @ Mercado San Pedro

If there was one thing I wish I could stuff in my suitcase and bring back with me to the States it would be Mercado San Pedro.  Obviously this cannot be done, but one can dream...You see, Mercado San Pedro is much more than a locals market - it contains anything you could possibly need to survive, and at ridiculously cheap prices. There are different sections for fresh juice, cooked food, produce, dry goods, meats, artisan goods, and any service you can imagine. The other day I got my backpack stitched up there for the equivalent of $1. Granted, there are certain corners of the market that one with a weak stomach just should not go...but thankfully I am not one of those people, and I get a kick out of just how many parts of a cow can and are used in some parts of the world...The tradition of a trip to San Pedro is of course, JUGO (juice). There are several rows of juice ladies - all smiling down at you from their elevated platforms, flirting and grinning sweetly in an attempt to seduce you to their booth. Each one has their own special blend of fresh fruits, vegetables, sacred herbs, and magic ingredients.  My favorite gal was #56: Rina. Rina was the cutest little woman ever, and she always made way too much juice for any one person to consume in one sitting, so I would usually share one with a friend - usually Aiden or Lulue.  Oh how I will miss "popping in for a jugo at Sen Pedro"...

I could go on and on...and on and on...and I could share a few things I'm not so crazy about too - but I'll save that for another post ;-)  In the meantime,  Check out the rest of my Pics of Cusco from this trip!

From Paddy's Pub - the "Highest Irish Pub in the World",


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

National Geographic Student Volunteer Rafting Trip

Marcito and Seth
Fourth of July weekend proved to be quite eventful at Casa de Milagros!

We were graced with a group of seventeen high-schoolers with a National Geographic Student volunteer group.  They arrived on Saturday and we spent most of the day putting them to work!  They helped garden, level out the back field, and taught the kids some photography skills.  My good friend Aiden came by on Saturday as well to put on an english class for the kids and some of the staff.  In the afternoon, Jorge and his dance group, the newly-dubbed "SkyWalkers" put on a performance for our guests that blew everyone away!  That evening after dinner, we had a party in celebration of our guests, and a few of our kids' birthdays.  It was my first official Casa birthday party - and it was a blast!  I even got our shy little Illari to come out and blow out her candles ;-)

That night, Marie, Allen and their family welcomed their newest member - Asher Allen Patton into the world!  Born on the Fourth of July like a true Gringo! ;-)  Marie's amazing mid-wife, Leonie, and her fabulous assistant, Kata, were sleeping in the volunteer quarters with me, so I had a clue what was going on as they raced out of the room at 3:00 AM and came back buzzing with excitement an hour and a half later.  Asher sure took his time, but he finally came and he is perfect. Best of all, Marie can take a break from being pregnant and soak in being a new baby's mommy! ;-)

Me and the Kiddos geared up and ready to GO!
It was hard to leave Casa with a new-born in the midst, but the Nat Geo group had planned an incredible excursion for the kids on Sunday.  So we all boarded a bus early Sunday morning and headed out to Ollantaytambo for our very first rafting trip!  We got to take most of the kids, a few of the mamis and papis, and all of the Nat Geo volunteers.  I was slightly nervous, but mostly so excited to finally go river rafting - and down the Urubamba River with Inca ruins lining our path...incredible.  The kids had a blast, as did I, and we are so very thankful to our new friends for their hard work and generosity.  Best Fourth of July ever - topped off with some Peruvian fireworks courtesy of Allen ;-)

Click Here to see the Pics!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

First Month in Cusco ~ Reflections Under the Moon

One month in Peru – first thoughts on paper…such a whirlwind…what’s new?

I am at Hanaq Pacha laying in my room, watching the fire dance in my own little fireplace, and listening to the cascading waterfalls that are seemingly all around me…Last night’s full moon is still full and bright – magically illuminating the endless clusters of stars in the sky.  This is a truly sacred, magical place.

Cusco is different this time around.  I knew the honeymoon image of Cusco would make way to the reality, and that living here is quite different than visiting for a few days.  It's been challenging to realize that this magical place also has its dark sides, and its never-ending contradictions. So much beauty and spirit, but the darkness can get to you if you let it…particularly after the frustration of having my cell phone and my wallet stolen.  

However, I can honestly say that I still feel absolutely blessed to be here.  I have to remind myself that this is a unique experience in so many ways.  I have not lived outside of the United States since I was a very young girl, and this is my first time spending more than a few weeks in Peru as an adult. I wanted this, I manifested it, and I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to support such an amazing organization.  The kids help remind me why I'm here, and they have been amazing. 

Will write more later - I think I'll take a little moonlit stroll and soak in the moon's energy for a bit...did I mention I am blessed? ;-)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Inti Raymi 2010

I have dreamed of being in Cusco for Inti Raymi for many years, and it is surreal that I am here now!  For those who don't know, Inti Raymi, or "Festival of the Sun" is a week-long festival that culminates on the Winter Solstice, and marks the start of their new year.  The Inca worshipped the Sun as their main God, so both the summer and winter solstice were very important times of the year - in particular the winter.

Some facts according to Wikipedia:

"During the Inca Empire, the Inti Raymi was the most important of four ceremonies celebrated in Cusco, as related by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. The ceremony was also said to indicate the mythical origin of the Incas, lasting nine days of colorful dances and processions, as well as animal sacrifices to ensure a good cropping season. The last Inti Raymi with the Inca Emperor's presence was carried out in 1535, after which the Spanish conquest and the Catholic Church suppressed it. Some natives participated in similar ceremonies in the years after, but it was completely prohibited in 1572 by the Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, who claimed it was a pagan ceremony opposed to the Catholic faith.

Since 1944, a theatrical representation of the Inti Raymi has been taking place at Sacsayhuamán (two km. from Cusco) on June 24 of each year, attracting thousands of tourists and local visitors.  In 1944, a historical reconstruction of the Inti Raymi was directed by Faustino Espinoza Navarro and indigenous actors. The first reconstruction was largely based on the chronicles of Garcilaso de la Vega and only referred to the religious ceremony."

My fellow Board member and friend, Robin was with me throughout the week, and we woke up early on the 24th to take in the main event in the Plaza de Armas.  We sat our butts down on the very cold Cathedral steps for four hours so that we could get good seats to the performance.  As mentioned above, Inti Raymi is essentially a three act play that is performed across the city of Cusco.  Act I begins at 6:00 AM at Qoricancha, Act II begins around 11 AM in the Plaza de Armas, and Act III culminates at the top of Sacsayhuamán ruins overlooking the city.  Robin and I watched Act 2 and made the long uphill trek to Sacsayhuamán to catch the tail end of the Final Act.  The colors, the music, the dancing, and the energy were just...electric.  Yes, over the years the festival has become pretty "touristy" - but thankfully I have made many local friends, and have been able to learn about and participate in some of the more traditional festivities as well.  All in all - Inti Raymi 2010 was a fabulous, unforgettable experience!

You can see the rest of my Inti Raymi pics HERE.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Random Thoughts…

I’m back in Cusco ;-)  3 times in about a year and a half…pretty amazing.  Especially considering that I hadn’t been to Peru in 12 years just a year and a half ago…

This time is different for many reasons…much more purposeful, grounded and for a more substantial amount of time.  3 months will give me the opportunity to “dig in” and get a sense of what living here might be like – something important if I plan on doing so in the future.

Friday, April 30, 2010

What's New - April 2010

Summer already?? Seems I was just writing you to wish you a Happy New Year and let you know about my upcoming trip to Peru...Well - my trip came and was amazing as I knew it would be, and my life has shifted in many ways ever since...

After meeting the children and family at Casa de Milagros - I was more sure than ever before that I wanted to be a part of this cause for many years to come, and wanted to be of service in a bigger way. Unfortunately, we all suffered a major loss on February 20th when Mama Kia, the founder of the Casa, lost her battle with cancer. Her passing left many questions and even more to-do's, which the Board has been consumed with over the last couple of months. In the days after, we were able to travel to Florida to be with Mama Kia's biological children, and discuss with her daughter Marie what logistics need to be taken care of in order to keep the Casa running smoothly. Due to severe flooding in the Sacred Valley - the Casa sustained some structural damage, and the kids had to be evacuated to a mission in Cusco for almost two months. Thankfully they were very well taken care of, and are now back at home; with limited access due to the damage to parts of the home.

Needless to say - the Board and I have our work cut out for us. There are many administrative and operational projects on the Casa plate for the next few months. It was decided that I would return this summer for a few months to give support to Marie, assist with managing several projects, and be an on-the-ground liaison for the Board as we implement some new procedures and marketing objectives. I feel so honored, and incredibly blessed to be entrusted with this responsibility. Most of all, I just can't wait to be back at Casa de Milagros and with the kids!

For those of you who didn't get a chance to see my pics from last trip - you can see them here:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An Irish Blessing

Amidst the alcoholic Irish jokes - I received quite a beautiful little diddy...thought I might share:

May you always have...
Walls for the winds
A roof for the rain
Tea beside the fire
Laughter to cheer you
Those you love near you
And all your heart might desire.

Wishing you all a lovely and safe St Paddy's...


Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I remember an old website my friend turned me on to a few years back called Daily Om. I received their daily words of enlightened thought for months, and then decided to unsubscribe...not because it wasn't good content - but because I was in email overload, as most of us can relate to. Anyhow - just randomly thought of it today and decided to check out the day's inspiration. Most appropriately, it was on the topic of forgiveness...a topic that has been front and center in my life over the past year. Definite food for thought...

"Daily Om"
April 14, 2010
An Empowered Perspective: Importance of Forgiveness

In order to forgive, we need to try and stop identifying ourselves with the suffering that was caused.

When someone has hurt us, consciously or unconsciously, one of the most difficult things we have to face in resolving the situation is the act of forgiveness. Sometimes it feels like it’s easier not to forgive and that the answer is to simply cut the person in question out of our lives. In some cases, ending the relationship may be the right thing to do, but even in that case, we will only be free if we have truly forgiven. If we harbor bitterness in our hearts against anyone, we only hurt ourselves because we are the ones harboring the bitterness. Choosing to forgive is choosing to alleviate ourselves of that burden, choosing to be free of the past, and choosing not to perceive ourselves as victims.

One of the reasons that forgiveness can be so challenging is that we feel we are condoning the actions of the person who caused our suffering, but this is a misunderstanding of what is required. In order to forgive, we simply need to get to a place where we are ready to stop identifying ourselves with the suffering that was caused us. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, and our forgiveness of others is an extension of our readiness to let go of our own pain. Getting to this point begins with fully accepting what has happened. Through this acceptance, we allow ourselves to feel and process our emotions.

It can be helpful to articulate our feelings in writing over a period of days or even weeks. As we allow ourselves to say what we need to say and ask for what we need to heal, we will find that this changes each day. It may be confusing, but it is a sign of progress. At times we may feel as if we are slogging uphill through dense mud and thick trees, getting nowhere. If we keep going, however, we will reach a summit and see clearly that we are finally free of the past. From here, we recognize that suffering comes from suffering, and compassion for those who have hurt us naturally arises, enhancing our new perspective.

Three people immediately came to mind. It's been very difficult for me in life to know when to cut someone out of my life, vs. continue to try to make things better. I realize that most of the time the decision is made for me - some external force just forces us apart, or we just...drift... In the few instances where I make a clean break, it is usually extenuating circumstances. Today I realize how much pain and suffering I have caused myself by holding onto self-created anger and resentment.  I am not an angry person, and I want to let it go.

I want to forgive. I am open to forgiving. I forgive. I love.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Last Day of My 20's...


Should I be out on the town?

Should I have a bunch of friends over drinking wine?

Should I be cataloging all of my experiences from this last decade of life??

So much pressure!! There's definitely a poignant aspect to any new decade of life...makes you reassess; analyze what you've done with your life so far and what you still have to do.

For now, I'm going to get off the computer, join some friends, and have a fun time...after all, it's my last night to be an irresponsible 20 something! ;-p

Happy Birthday to ME!! xoxo

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cusco Revisited...

One year later - returning to the land that filled me with so much inspiration and energy exactly one year ago. Many lessons on this trip, some still in the works and others coming through loud and clear. I am being gently and not-so-gently reminded that life is a continuous cycle of change and transition - it has to be - and those of us who try to hold onto moments will be consistently disillusioned and disappointed.

This is not the same Cusco of a year ago - just as I am not the same person. This trip was different for many reasons - both in purpose and in context. This was not a vacation; yet I have had great fun, met some wonderful people, and seen some amazing things.

Casa de Milagros was incredible. My heart has never felt so full of love, and so confident that I am doing exactly what I need to be doing with my life, and with my energy.

I will write more soon - for now, here are my pics:  Peru Pics - January, 2010