The Five Stages of Refugee Status

The Kubler-Ross model for grieving seems to apply to being a refugee at the hands of Hurricane Sandy as well. Denial: The following tweet might have been a little bit cavalier of me:

Anger: As the storm raged outside and the power plant in our neighborhood blew up and knocked out all the entirety of lower Manhattan, the denial that we would be effected quickly switched to anger that our preparations for a day or two wouldn't be near enough to last the early reports that it would be at least 3-4 days before we had power and water, if not a full week.

Bargaining: As the reality of our situation set in, Annie and I just had to get out and walk it off. We headed north for more than a mile before we say the first flicker of power or a working stop light. I also figured that this was the best excuse ever to satisfy my recent urge for some unlimited salad and breadsticks at the Times Square Olive Garden. That bargaining worked but when we arrived we found out that they, like apparently every other organization not run by an immigrant Mom and Pop were closed.

Depression: The most common phrase yesterday was "Wish I would have known...." and then the sincere feeling of ignorance, naivety, and actual depression about my complete lack of preparation. It was a lot of internal reassuring that there is no way I could have known having never actually lived through a hurricane or dealing with days upon days of power and water outages. While I would say that I've pushed through this one, it is still lingering when I look at my suitcase and realize that its contents are the only things I'll have access to of my own for days to come.

Acceptance: The closest thing to a turning point in the depression stage was when we just decided that we had to leave our apartment and make plans towards that end. We were overwhelmed by all of the friends around the city that weren't hit as hard as we were that offered us a place to stay. While you never want to need help, especially as New Yorkers, it was pretty amazing to see how many folks reached out.

There are a ton of thoughts swirling in my head right now about what I would do differently and how this storm has a ton of parallels to real life, but I'll leave those for another day. But, in a effort to establish a little bit of order to this chaos that is my reality for the foreseeable future, I did the only thing I knew for a fact would help: I made breakfast tacos. 

When I grow up....

Last night, Annie and I went out with one of our favorite couples to The Smith in the East Village.  Our dinner conversation ranged from the insanity of extended families to politics to Bob Ross' Joy of Painting (happy little trees!) The discussion also turned to the lists that we all wrote down as kids about what we wanted out of life when we grew up. We all recounted the categories and the hilarity of the details that we went into when describing our expectations of the future.   My favorite was the description of the perfect husband though the eyes of a 17 year old: "He must be good looking (if at all possible) and not go bald." This morning, still relishing in the glow of the great dinner (think beer battered green beans, bacon wrapped apricots, and a culinary piece of perfection:"Stout Braised Beef Short Ribs."), I got to thinking: when do we stop writing down what we want out of life with the expectation that it is still something that can and should happen? When do our lists have more to do with this week's to-dos and less to do with the biggest ideas that we can imagine? When did the lists we make change from our dreams and goals to a detailed account of this week's groceries and bills that need to be paid?

My favorite book in the world is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Early on in the book main character, a young boy name Santiago, meets a wise king. The king exhorts the young boy to not believe the world's greatest lie:

“What’s the world’s greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised. The King responded, “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”

At a certain point we all run into a brick wall on our way to achieving what we committed ourselves to when we had the innocence of a child. That brick wall, the first failure or set back of our adult life, is the end of their pursuit of the much larger vision they envisioned for themselves before the toils and responsibilities of "growing up" were upon them. That first roadblock is enough of a disappointment for the majority to stop, slow down, and put away their childhood lists. It is enough to convince them to believe the world's greatest lie.

But for others, like Santiago in The Alchemist, it is just the beginning of an incredible adventure up, over, around, or through that wall.  It is hitting that wall, and the next, and the next, that strengthens our resolve to go through this life with a resolve that we were made for the things of our dreams and the only thing standing between us and the life we've imagined is our own cowardice and willingness to turn our backs on the dreams of our youth.

The First

Since the day she was born, my sister Katie has been the first to do a lot of things. The first in our family to get a tattoo. The first to skydive. The first to give up her Thanksgiving holiday to serve people in India. Today she's begun her next first: riding her bike across New York. The whole state. In five days. Katie first told me about her ride last year and that she had found an awesome way to do something adventurous and bring awareness to an issue that is important to her (and the world), human trafficking. There are millions of men, women, and children that are suffering the injustice of slavery and worse around the world and Katie's heart for these mostly unknown and voiceless people group compelled her to action. When she arrives in Buffalo today, she'll be meting up with a group of other passionate adventures from around the world and their bikes and beginning a trek across the Empire State. Each day they'll ride as a team and each night they'll be hosting rallies and meetings in the cities where they'll be staying to bring awareness to the cause and share how folks can get involved and help.

To say that I am proud of my sister would be a huge understatement. She is the most selfless and authentic person that I know and I can't wait to see her next weekend when she rides into the Big Apple.

If you want to keep track of her journey, or cheer her one, check her out on Twitter: @Ellweezie

Scrubbing with a Smile

In 2004, with just a semester left at Texas A&M, I decided to live in London for the summer. I showed up with enough money to last me a month, a work visa, and wide eyes. A couple weeks later, the money had run out and I found myself on my hands and knees scrubbing the floor of the Starbucks in Piccadilly Circus.  Tourists from America were walking over me to get their venti nonfat white chocolate mocha with whip (the most ridiculous drink in the world) and I was feeling a little blue.  This wasn't how I imagined my summer going. But, then the Starbucks UK Summer mix kicked on.  Jimmy Cliff singing "I Can See Clearly Now" was the next song that came on and a smile crept across my face as I put a little elbow grease into getting crusted spilt frappuccino out of the entry way tiles.  Here I was, in one of the coolest cities in the world, fighting for my next meal and on an adventure. That is something worth seeing clearly about.

When I was back in London two weeks ago, I went back to that Starbucks in Piccadilly Circus.  I walked in and ordered a ridiculous drink that only an American would order.  And, as I watched the new batch of Barista scramble to keep the orders moving down the espresso bar, I just had to smile. The next song on this Summer's UK mix? Jimmy Cliff singing "I Can See Clearly Now."

...Oh yes, I can make it now the pain is gone All of the bad feelings have disappeared Here is the rainbow I've been praying for It's gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin' day...

Race the Day

I could have made it to the top faster.  I know for a fact that there was a more direct path that would have saved me some time.  The wrong turn I made when halfway up definitely cost me a few minutes.  But, then again, I was climbing the mountain in the dark.  I'm sure I would have seen those mistakes if I'd been making my ascent during daylight. But, then again, daylight wasn't an option for me on this climb.  Daylight would have meant failure.

Last week while spending Thanksgiving week in Scottsdale Arizona, I climbed Camelback Mountain.  There are a couple different approaches and trails that you can take to get to the top, and I went with Echo Canyon. I started the climb a little bit before 6am and had just a sliver of moonlight to light the path ahead of me.  It is a wonderful climb mixing steep paths with some pretty good bouldering and a couple "don't look down" ledges for good measure.  All of which are made even more dramatic when it is tough to tell where one starts and the other begins.

As I reached the top, I knew that I had raced the day and won.

Along the clouds on the horizon, just the slightest hint of daybreak pierced the darkness.  As I sat on top of the peak over looking all of the Phoenix valley, I watched as the underside of the most distant clouds began to go from the black of night to a deep ember and then to a fiery red.  The light below the horizon kept growing until finally the first ray of sun rose over the mountain range.  Wow. The photos that I took don't even begin to capture the incredible scene that I witnessed.  But that did capture that moment in time for that is all it was.  Less than a minute later, the clouds moved closer to the horizon and hide the sunrise from view.

As I smiled and flipped back through the shots that I took, a group of climbers reached the summit, cameras in hand.  "We missed it," I heard them mumble,  "We should have started earlier."

At the time of the sunrise, there were only three others on top of the mountain.  Three other people who had set out early enough to race the day to the top of the mountain and win.  Only three other people in the world saw that day begin the way that I did.

As I climbed back down the mountain a little while later, I passed countless folks headed to the top.  Some asked "How was it up there?" and others kept their head down as they looked for the next step they'd take.  I am sure that they probably made it to the top a little faster than I did.  They probably didn't take  a wrong turn or have to back track.  And for most of them, getting to the top probably was the accomplishment they had set out to achieve.  When they reached the top, I know they saw a great view of the Valley of the Sun, but that they'd missed the epic moment that I witnessed.

More rewards are available to those that take more risks.

Some moments in life are reserved for the trailblazers.

Don't Cry For Me

I have often shared that one of my favorite things to do in the entire world is "Connect Good People with Great Opportunities" and that I do my best to be in the right place at the right time to do so.  Well, it looks like I am going to have the chance to do both next week in Argentina! With the success of Gowalla's recent campaign with AT&T and TOMS Shoes, it was a true privilege to be asked to join their teams for a week long trip to Argentina for the TOMS Shoes' 1,000,000th Shoe Drop.  It is no secret that I have been a big supporter of TOMS for years and it is really excited to get to take part in the face to face good that they do around the world.

It really is an honor to be a part of this trip and look forward to sharing the stories, pictures, and big ideas that take place in Argentina when I return.  If you don't own your own pair of TOMS, check them out here: TOMS SHOES

UPDATE: Josh Willaims, Gowalla CEO, and I will be experimenting with some cool new technology down in the jungles of Argentina and taking Gowalla where no check-in has gone before: Check it out on the Gowalla Blog

Birthday Trip to Canada

From day one of our relationship, Annie and I have loved to travel together.  We have found nothing else quite as thrilling and exciting as exploring a new city together and creating memories through those experiences that can only be gained  while encountering something for the first time.  So, in honor of her birthday, we took off for Canada this weekend and have  had an amazing trip thus far, with a couple fun days still ahead.

We are continually reminded of the fact that there is one decision on which the entire success of the trip hinges: the choice of hotel.  And, with Annie's passion and expertise for hotels and the work she is doing, we have been supremely fortunate with our choices thus far.  Our first night, before crossing the border into Canada, we stopped at the Sagamore on Lake George in Upstate New York.  From the first moment we arrived to the bittersweet moment when we departed the next day, every angle from every vantage point on property was a picture waiting to happen. It is the most that I have ever personally paid for a hotel room and, within the first hour of our arrival, the least I have ever cared how much a hotel room cost. It was that amazing.

Our second destination of the trip was Quebec City.  On our approach through town, we passed hotel after hotel in the modern and then the touristy parts of town, but our directions said to keep driving and our destination would be on the right.  But the only thing that I keep seeing on my right ahead in the distance was a towering castle with green cooper roofs and spires borrowed from fairy tales.  But, when the road we were on dead-ended with a magnificent view of the river, it finally set in that the architectural masterpiece on our right was in fact our hotel.  From the lobby to the views to the proximity to Old Town Quebec, the carbon copy of the beloved quaint villages of France, the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac proved to be magic embodied in a hotel, the most photographed hotel in the world.

But, as our (much needed) vacation and (much deserved) celebration of Annie's birthday continues now in Montreal and Mont Tremblant, I take back the statement the the most critical decision you make about a trip is which hotel you stay at.  That is the second most important.  The first and most important decision you can make is this: who you travel and share your adventure with.  I know the significance because I know that I am the lucky one. I know the importance because I know what it is like to have the more than you know you deserve.  And, I am extremely honored to say, I know this better than anyone because I have Annie.  Not just on this trip to Canada, but on the journeys and challenges that have been ours to share in the past and the adventures and dreams that await us in the future.

Happy Birthday to my Love.  Happy Birthday to my Annie.