As promised, prepare to be inspired!

So often, friends and family write from home (the States) and say, “Keep blogging — I live vicariously through you!”

Today I’d like to share with you the story of a young woman whose life I live vicariously (as much as any of us can do that) through her blog.  Her name is Maggie Doyne.  I first heard of her in this Superhero post.

Maggie reminds me a little of me 15 years ago, except braver, bolder, way cooler and with a sense of purpose bigger and clearer than my own. Watch:

You can read all about Maggie’s adventures with the now-28(!!) kids in the Kopila Valley Children’s Home here and check out the Blink Now Foundation she created here.

I’m inspired by the difference Maggie and the people who make it all possible are making in these kids’ lives; you can hear it in little stories like this one from 4-year-old Sabita. I’m inspired by how she just keeps taking them in. I’m inspired by the joy and love these kids are growing up with, not to mention health and education! It’s not how their lives were going to go.  Her fierce stand for little Juntara (read about it here and here and here ) brings me to tears each time I read it. This is a lovely tribute.

I can also appreciate that there must be times, many of them I imagine, when she just wants life to be a little easier, to go home (to her New Jersey home), some creature comforts, maybe even to be a “normal” 22-year-old… you know, like at a bar or party or something.  It’s a whole different kind of wild, this Maggie Doyne’s life is.

I have wanted to have children for 15 years now. I live an amazing, blessed, wild-in-its-own-way, precious life. And I live vicariously through Maggie’s story with these kids. I’m inspired by the difference we each can make. I’m inspired to make more of a difference every single day because of what she does. Here’s a little something she made in all her spare time, I guess ;-).  It’s wonderful:

Maggie will be at the European Summit.  I, for one, can’t wait to meet her.  Are you coming?

Introducing the European Summit

I haven’t written much here about something I’ve spent a lot of time on the last few years. That seems a little odd.  I guess I thought sharing it with some of you… like childhood friends, my family… might seem strange. This isn’t how you know me.  You know me as Becky, the little girl who put on roller skating shows in the driveway.

Maybe that’s still how I’ve seen myself.  That was a long time ago, though, and isn’t even my name anymore. It hasn’t been for ten years. In the meantime I’ve been up to something.

It started with teaching.  At first I was just excited about the ideas, at what happened when students realized the stories we tell ourselves and each other, through the mass media… those stories matter, they make a difference, they shape the quality of our communities, our culture, our communication.

Then I was on a mission. My mission was to transform the way news is produced. To create in students media consumers who stand for, even demand, responsible and ethical media coverage. To orient people toward what’s good and just and right and we want more of in the world.

I know I have done that because I receive messages that say things like, “I am a former Marine… and you made me believe in Justice.” or “I never thought about politics before your class. I’m entering this public policy graduate program and devoting myself to politics in Idaho because of what we learned.” or this or this or this.  What I am up to is so much bigger than me or these students; we’re part of it.

Along the way I’ve stopped teaching (for now) and have started organizing an event called the European Summit for Global Transformation.  I don’t do this for pay; it’s a labor of love for a small group of people.

It started after I received a forwarded email.  It had gone out to a group of people across Europe, including my husband (then beau), Stefan.  The author wrote of the first Summit, “My dream is to have Scott … speak.”  Well, I knew Scott.  And a couple other people I thought should speak.  So I hooked them up.  It was a small gathering.  People were inspired.

It got bigger.  For me the idea became, “What could we create, what would happen, if we gathered together everyone I know, and you know, and your friends know who are up to something bigger than themselves on the planet?”  What would happen if we bring community to this?

Lakshmi Summit 2A group of six of us started planning. I was in charge of the Program — who’d come and what would happen.  I wasn’t sure who to invite, so I started telling people about it and asking them who they thought.  A friend of a friend who works at the World Bank said, “Oh! I met a wonderful woman! She’d be perfect!  She runs a non-profit that provides mentoring and microfinance to underprivileged young entrepreneurs in India.”  Stefan looked her up on the Internet and called her in India.  She said she’d come.  No one told us her father was the President of India.  Wow!  You wouldn’t believe the people on the planet you know in far, far fewer than six degrees of separation!  Lakshmi was lovely. Her organization, BYST, is one of the most inspiring I’ve ever encountered.

One of my former students, Esra’a of MidEast Youth, agreed to speak via Skype from Bahrain and was a huge hit. Another speaker, Bill, who’s a TED participant, nominated Esra’a as a TED Fellow this year and now she is!  Summit participants donated as much money to MidEast Youth as the group had raised their first three years.  Bill and Esra’a work together now. It was an amazing weekend.  People left inspired and have produced real results in the world.

And it’s coming up again. It’s not that this year’s program will top last year, it’s that we know a little better what we’re doing and we’ve gained a little stature. We lucked out last year. Really. And we know AMAZING people. This year the experience promises to rock your world. It could be one of those things that you never quite get over.

I’d love for you to be there.

I’ll post more about the weekend as speakers confirm, starting tomorrow with one I think will bowl you over and knock your socks off — and that’s a lot of hyperbole! Her life’s work is very real and need not be exaggerated, though. I’ll tell you more about her soon… prepare to be inspired.

When in Morcote

Morcote (pronounced more-CO-tay) is a lovely little lakeside village not too far from here.  In the summer there are a lot of tourists, in the winter it’s mostly closed up… but in the shoulder season that’s just starting now, it’s perfect. Not too crowded, not too loud. We go sometimes for dinner, a stroll and gelato on the lake.

If you go, there are many restaurant choices.  Don’t be fooled; they look more or less the same but they’re not.  Always eat at Della Posta. Call ahead to reserve a table on the first floor (that’s the second story for North Americans) terrace.  If it’s a romantic dinner, ask for the little terrace with only one table. I recommend the saltimbocca with rosotto. It’s about as authentic a local dish as you’ll get. They have rooms, too, that get decent reviews on tripadvisor.com. I don’t know anything else about those.

Morcote PostaAfterward, whether you’re still hungry or not, have gelato from the guy two doors down. It’s that good.

Oh! And check out this sign by the restaurant door.  I think maybe it means it was the post office since 1383.

Cool.

The Best Gelato. Ever. Anywhere.

The summer of 1991 I went to school in Florence. It was a little Italian language school at Via del Corso 1. If you make an L from Piazza della Repubblica to the Duomo, it would be in the point right where you’d turn. You’d walk past the espresso bar with doughnuts that fall out of the ceiling. The idea was a little creepy, but they made a wonderful Fiorentine breakfast before class.

In class that summer two lessons were mine alone.  First, I loved the tolling of the bells; I’d just swoon every time they rang.  Saverio, the very handsome Italian instructor, stopped whatever he was doing every hour on the hour and said, “Rebecca?” and I said, “Aaaaahhh… le campane….” if I could remember the words for bells.

The second lesson was more complicated.  I was the only American in the school at the time and at lunch they’d all speak German. I’d scarf a quick panini with them and head out on my own in search of gelato.  A routine quickly emerged: every day for the entire month I’d taste test a different gelateria.  When Saverio got wind of these lunch-hour expeditions, I was tasked with a daily review. In Italian, certo.  I learned gelato, words to describe it, and central Florence’s backstreets and hidden alleys pretty well.

In the summer of 2004, though, I discovered gelato to end all Fiorentine gelatos — and it was at Il Doge in Campo Santa Margherita, Venice. I’ve been back several times to make sure I was right that it was the best gelato on the planet.

When I moved to Lugano in 2005 I was disappointed in the gelato.  There’s one place down on the lake, a stand across the street from the Hotel Walter, that’s okay.  The gelato in Lugano isn’t great, though. Until now.

gelateriaSome fabulous person has clearly taken on as his or her life’s work perfecting gelato… and he or she has opened a gelateria (they call it Creminolatino, Gelateria Artigianale)  at  Via San Salvatore 2 in Paradiso, a short lakeside walk from downtown Lugano (or straight down the road from the funicular if you’re going up Monte San Salvatore).  Bless that person’s mortal soul.

It’s different from Il Doge in Venice. What’s spectacular there is the intensity of the flavors. Here it’s the texture of the gelato.  The first night I was there the guy friend I was with said, “It’s like cake batter…” It really was.  It’s nice when they serve it almost warm like that.  My favorite flavor combination is Ticinese (dark, dark chocolate maybe with a hint of hazelnut) and Biscottatta… some kind of buttery vanilla with fudgy chocolate cookies crushed up in it.  That’s just a good idea.gelato

il conoThey scoop portions so big they have a special technique for getting it to stay on the cone… they have to sort-of scrape it up one side with a cookie and pin it in place.  You get a cookie, then, too.  Just when you thought it couldn’t be better.

It doesn’t get better than this with a walk on the lake.

If you come visit I promise we’ll go there.  Really, it’s no trouble.  I’ve been three times this week.

Got good food stories? Check out WanderFood Wednesday.

An Accidental Environmentalist

I always wished I was a hardcore, outdoorsy, athletic, environmental, hippie chick.  You, know: long, flowy dresses, community gardening, can my own food, maybe even live off the grid.  I never understood patchouli but that is neither here nor there. I could never pull off the rest of it, either.  It’s just not who I am.

I love to camp and have always been a bit of a personal and political radical, but goodness, when I lived in the States I loved my SUV with all my heart and thought organic food was too expensive.

There’ve been several unexpected consequences of becoming an American expat in Switzerland.  First, in the two years before I moved to Europe, I got rid of almost everything I owned. I no longer shop as sport.  In the States my Mom and I and then my ex and I went shopping to fill time (Mom at the Mall, husband at Costco on Saturdays).  This pastime filled our closets, homes and garage and emptied our wallets.  It was a pretty unconscious pattern.  It’s just what we did.  Having fewer personal belongings has changed my life.  Life is simpler now. The time and space and freedom are a gift.hangingoutclothes

There’s no dryer where I live, so I’ve started drying clothes on a line.  Everyone should try this!  Your clothes last so much longer and stay colorful and don’t shrink!  It saves money and energy all at the same time.  Score!

I sold my beloved, silver 2000 Nissan Pathfinder in the U.S. and got a tiny Mitsubishi 2-door hatchback I rarely drive (work at home or out of the country, trains are so wonderful here and Lugano is pretty walkable).

I can’t imagine I’d ever go back to American suburban living now.  In Colorado, I lived 18 miles out onto the plain… in the flat expanse of suburbs east of Boulder, where houses sprung up like weeds in the late 1990s and early 2000s and now you can’t give ’em away. We lived in one of those neighborhoods where the only trees were tiny staked saplings and all the houses looked the same, but came in four or five different shades of tan or grey with the bay window either on the front or back depending on the buyer or builders’ request. Ours was dark grey with the window in the back, extending the kitchen enough for a small, round breakfast table.  I wouldn’t want to live like that again, car-dependent with no public transportation in sight.

marketLocal, organic food I’m not allergic to is plentiful here. It’s easy to buy food at weekly open-air markets, from the cheese man and the butcher and the little old man down the road who grows five kinds of lettuce.

In these four years I’ve become an environmentalist. It was an accident.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

ADDENDUM: And another thing.  Grocery bags.  Seattle’s voting on a tax or 10 cent charge on grocery bags. It’s all over the news.  The plastics lobby is apparently spending millions fighting it (Imagine what that money could do in our schools, people.  They’re spending it to try to keep you using plastic bags. That is wrong on so many levels.)

Bags are expensive in the grocery store here, so you bring your own. It was tricky at first to remember to do that.  Now I have a bunch of bags I keep in the car and a bunch in the garage by the car, because, you know there are always extras lying around. (I do not know how it happens that shopping bags seem to multiply.)  Every time I use my nice collection of fabric bags I am so proud of myself.  Really, I am.  For remembering to bring them, for saving the money, and for doing whatever little bit I can to reduce the amount of waste and plastic we consume, all of us.  Really, Seattle, switch to fabric.  Try it, you’ll like it.