Mar 14 2010

Calling All Optimists

Happy picture of Mom and II’m looking for 25,000 optimists who believe in spreading good cheer regularly, doing nice things for others and making the world a better place.  If 25,000 people donated only $1, I would meet the goals set.

Is this POSSIBLE?  Definitely.

25,000 people is only 0.000374 % of the world’s population.

25,000 people is only 0.00822 % of the United States’ population.

25,000 people is only 0.3 % of New York City’s population.

$25,000 is 0.04 %  of McDonald’s daily revenue ($60,000,000).

$25,000 is  only 0.0165% of the revenue earned during Spiderman 3’s opening weekend ($151,116,516).

$25,000 is only 0.00000571% of the projected holiday spending in America ($437.6 billion).

Thank you for your optimism!

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Dec 31 2010

Happy New Year!

I hope you feel inspired and centered as you ring in the New Year.
Good luck making your dreams, resolutions, intentions and desires come true.

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Dec 2 2010

One of the World’s Smartest Kids

As most of you know, I love  TED conferences bring together some of the most inspiring leaders and innovators to discuss their passions.  They are wonderful 5-30 minute clips that are filled with “ideas worth spreading.”

I recently came across this TEDx clip from a local event hosted in Asheville.  Birke Baehr is an eleven year old who is passionate about changing the food system.  He is clear, concise and witty, and hopefully he inspires you to pass on the word!

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Nov 28 2010

Thanksgiving: A Truly American Tradition

This year, I celebrated my first traditional Thanksgiving in America since I was in high school.  After high school, I moved an ocean and a continent away from my parents with whom I had spent every Thanksgiving prior.  Although I observed Thanksgiving with friends throughout college, it has never lived up to the stereotypically traditional family Thanksgiving that we had this year.

On Thursday, I woke up to a frigid and quiet morning, and took my dad out on a quick run around the local square here in Carthage, Missouri.  The air burned our noses and mouths as we gasped for air, but it was all worth it because we knew we could afford to eat an extra serving of dessert.

My brother and I got dressed in our Sunday best, and headed to the Salvation Army to help serve lunch to the needy.  To our demise, we arrived behind fifty others trying to spread their good will.  There were more volunteers in the kitchen than seats for the homeless and in need.  After standing around and asking how we could help several times, we decided to leave with the promise that we would return on another soup kitchen day when they could actually use our help.

We headed over to my grandma’s house to reunite and feast with my aunts, uncles and cousins on my mother’s side of the family.  The television was set to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the men went out to the farm to shoot guns, and my grandma worked steadily in the kitchen mashing potatoes and checking on the turkey as it browned perfectly.

At about 2:30pm, after the men had returned from their hunting adventure, and the women had plated all of the courses, ten of the VanZandt clan surrounded the dining room table, blessed the food and then loaded our plates with Thanksgiving specials: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce (out of the can, of course), yams (with marshmallows on top, of course), green bean casserole, and three types of freshly baked bread!  We sat and talked about politics and shared stories about our past year.  We took every chance possible to make sarcastic jabs at each other, and once the talking got stale, we cleared the table.

Now, clearing the table at our Thanksgiving occurs several times.  We clear the main meal so that there’s enough space for the plentiful desserts: pumpkin pie, pecan pie, cheesecake, prune pudding and hard sauce, chocolate cake and cherry jubilee, sopapillas, whipped cream and fudge.  Yes, we really have this many desserts!

At some point, the football games get turned on, the fancy dishes and silverware get washed and dried, and the newspapers get opened to prepare for the next day . . . Black Friday, an important part of the Thanksgiving tradition.  In America, Thanksgiving is the marked beginning of the Christmas and New Year’s season.  Each year, stores across America open at ridiculously early hours to sell items at slashed prices.  You can find 30-70% off sales all across town.  Sometimes, the first ten people into the store will receive a free doodad, leading customers to be a bit aggressive.  This year I saw two of the most extreme things that I’ve ever seen, McDonald’s opens at 3am for Black Friday shoppers, and people camped in front of Target to be the first in line even though it was below freezing!  Businesses and people go a little bit CRAZY for this day!

If I were to end this blog now, my international friends might think that we are a bit crazy, which is fair, but this is just part of the story.  On Friday, after shopping, we feasted again in a similar manner, with my Dad’s side of the family!

I am so thankful for all of my friends and family, new and old.  I have had such a blessed and fortunate life.  Thank you especially for all of you who have supported me and others along life-changing journeys.  Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope you survived the turkey and dessert coma, along with endurance shopping!

Crazy Shoppers Camping in Front of Target for Black Friday

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Nov 24 2010

The Refreshing Taste of Freedom of Speech Among Tragedy

While visiting the Big Apple, I was compelled to see the memorial site of 9/11.  My 9/11 story began in  a Chicago suburb.  I was supposed to begin my cross country trip back to college in California two days before, but decided to push it back so that I could just make it to my first class.  Knowing that I was likely to get lost between my parents house and interstate 80, I decided to limit all distractions.  I knew nothing of the Twin Towers until 10:30am, when I was three hours away from home.  I spent the next two and a half days driving across the Bible Belt by myself, listening to music-less radio.  I heard outrage and fear in caller’s voices, but I had no images.  I was confused and shaken.  It wasn’t until much later that I had the courage to look for pictures of the crashes and the aftermath.  I was disgusted by the hijacking, but I was even more disgusted by the hatred that I heard on the radio.

I came up from the subway in New York  in October 2010 expecting to see a large, touching memorial.  At first, I was disappointed to see a big construction site.  I thought to myself, “Really!?? This is all that I get?  I huge construction site with cranes that fly the American flag?  No big posters or pictures or flowers or statues?”  Just after my outrage and disappointment dissipated, I found a small information kiosk.  It was covered in pictures of the firemen, the dust, and the families mourning.  On each corner of the 6′x6′ box were timelines of the events.  Standing there, reading the times of the crashes, the numbers of people who helped and the plans for the future, I looked into the eyes of a fireman in a photo and I bawled.  My breath was knocked out of me, I kneeled to the ground, and I sobbed.

It was so emotional, that I decided to spend the afternoon exploring the area.  I found the fire department and museum on the opposite side of the construction site.  I found a A.B. Curtiss’ children’s book, “The Little Chapel that Stood” that depicted the tragedy and aftermath so well that I cried again.  And then I found myself in front of the controversial proposed mosque.

In Europe, people had asked me what I thought about the mosque.  Some said it was horrendous and shouldn’t be allowed.  I was under the impression that the mosque was directly adjacent to the Twin Towers site and the owner’s had malicious intentions, but I laughed at the controversy when I visited.  The mosque (which is also slotted to be an educational center) is three blocks down, and there is a Christian church closer to the site than the mosque will be.  Part of the controversy is that there are supposedly other mosques in the area, so it’s not filling a need that is not already met.  As I see it, the building is in disrepair, needs residents to take ownership of it, and would be a wonderful symbol for the world that shows how Americans can live in a diverse, accepting and forgiving manner.  Part of my laughter was sheer joy that people are allowed to express their frustrations and fears while others are allowed to rebut their ideas.  Our freedom of speech is the source of controversy, and that’s wonderful.

As I was about to enter the subway to return to Manhattan, I looked up one last time and saw this set of windows painted with images depicting the freedom of religion.  I had a wonderful afternoon exploring the community of the Twin Towers.  I left with more compassion toward New Yorkers than I had when I came.  Thank you to all of you who fought to save lives, who struggled to continue to love, and who continue to respect those we have lost.

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Nov 23 2010

The American Dream

When I think of immigrants arriving to the U.S. from Europe, I have a very specific image.  I see a boat with mothers bundled in jackets carrying all their belongings in one suitcase.  They are standing on the boat’s deck with a grey, wet sky overhead, looking at the land approaching.  They see Lady Liberty standing tall and suddenly, whatever hardship they have gone through disappears.  Their hearts fill with pride and excitement for their new life as an American.

My trip to New York began more or less the same way.  I arrived from Dublin on a damp autumn day in early October.  I was planning to stay with a couchsurfing friend in Manhattan, but had the entire day to kill before meeting him after work.  So, I trekked through the airport, hopped onto the subway, and found myself on the Staten Island Ferry.  I rode out to Staten Island and back in absolute awe of the Statue of Liberty and what she represents.  After nine months outside of the U.S., I realize how incredible our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are.  The immense luck I to be an American citizen is something I will never undervalue again.

Just a few of the graces we have in America follow.  We can travel to almost any country in the world with an American passport; my Indian friends have extensive visa applications and are regularly denied travel.  Even at the weakest times, we have a strong economy that allows us to save money, to own property, and to buy goods and services; in Dublin, the idea of owning your house is fairly new and with the recent economic crisis, many are returning to the idea of renting a flat for life.  We have beautiful land and precious resources such as water, oil, and fertile land; Israel has withheld water from Palestine several times during conflict for up to 62 days!  We have flexibility in our courses of study and work; only in America could I have majored in Biology, Dance, and Education.

In the beginning of 2010, during my visit to Guam, I experienced truepatriotism for the first time in my life.  Guam, a U.S. territory, was saved from extermination by the Japanese during World War II.  The Chamorro people were enslaved and forced into occupation camps.  Many died, including my great grandfather.  More were slotted for death, including my grandma and great aunts.  In this tiny speck of an island in the middle of the Pacific, there is a higher percentage of reserved duty soldiers than any place else in the U.S.  People proudly say that they are American, and they believe in the good of the American system.

I spent most of my life as a passive patriot at best.  I believed in the good of the American foundation, but I focused on our faults.  I hated our ego, our big stick policies and as silly as it seems, our ease of life.  I thought it was unfair and horribly sad that I could make $100 dollars per day when so many in the world only make $1-2 per day; somehow, I was ashamed of this fortune.  As I rode around New York harbor, I was beaming with excitement.  This was my home.  The immigrants who flooded off of boats into the Northeast hundreds of years ago are my ancestors, and their blood, sweat and tears built my freedom.  For the first time in my life, I am truly proud be an American.  Although we do have a big ego and our policies should be checked sometimes, we do a lot of good in the world.  And, because of our freedom, fortune and ease of life, we have great ability to do more good in the world.

Long live America, the land of the free!

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Nov 22 2010

Photoblog of My Brazilian, WWOOFer Friend who I Met in France

While WWOOFing in France, I met a friend from Brazil, Carol Moreno.  She is a journalist, traveler and I don’t doubt that she will speak twenty languages before she dies.  One of her projects for the time we spent on the Senechal Farm in Puoy de Touges, France was a daily journal that got published.  If you are interested in reading more about our experiences, in Portuguese, here’s the link!

Oh yeah, and I took the picture.  She’s riding in the tractor with hundreds of onions that we had just harvested!  Can’t wait to hear about your next project Carol!

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Nov 7 2010

Sum of All the Small Things

Sometimes I worry that I’m not doing enough for the world.  In the beginning of 2010, I set out to help people in every way I knew how, in big ways and small.  However, I really had this idea lodged somewhere that I would be changing the world— that I would be helping the poor, the weak and the hungry, that I would be saving ecosystems, and that I would be inspiring stewardship.  Throughout the past nine months, I’ve found myself in lulls where I am dedicating a lot of time to help people, but they are normal people doing normal things.  When I say normal, I mean middle class Westerners.  During these lulls, I often think to myself, “Trisha, you are not doing enough.”  But, I have realized that normal people need help as well.  It makes a difference in individual’s lives when I help them move into their new homes, when I organize old files, when I massage their sprained ankles, when I buy fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market that they have no time to go to, and when I cook them healthy meals amidst their busy schedules.  I may not be changing the world with one action, but I do believe that the sum of all of my actions does influence the world positively.

When I visited Nice, France, I was talking to some American travelers about my trip.  They looked at me and said, “So, you are volunteering in Southern France?  Why here?  Everybody is rich.”  Regardless of the untruth in this statement, it has really stuck with me.  I had to do a lot of soul searching to figure out how helping middle income Westerners helped the world.  And, the simple conclusion I’ve come to is that everybody needs help.  It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, a friend or a stranger, single or married, white, black or purple, everybody has tough spots in their lives, and everybody has dreams that they wish to obtain.  When I dedicate time to help somebody without strings attached, without the expectation of payment or exchange, they are more optimistic about the world and they feel more supported.  I believe the domino effect is quite grand.

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Oct 29 2010

The Sweet Smell o’ Guinness in the Morning

In college, I had two friends who adored Guinness.  It was their beer of choice on any random Friday evening, and they dreamt of bathing in the dark, glorious liquid.  I tried really hard to love it with them.  I would watch the head form as they poured it so that I could validate the beauty of the beer.  I would relentlessly taste the beer . . .  on its own, paired with perfect foods, and chased with something sweet.  But every time, I found myself bitterly disappointed and gagging slightly.

My change of face occurred the morning after arriving to Dublin, a nice treat on my round-the-world-ticket.  I was staying with a couchsurfer, Michael O’Toole (thanks Michael), in his flat just a few blocks from the Guinness Brewery.  As I went on my run that cold, cloudy Irish morning, I found myself inhaling deeply.  The inhales weren’t normal gasps for oxygen, but rather an addictive longing for what was in the air.  The air was filled with warm sweetness; the wafts of hops infiltrated my lungs, and on every exhale, I was left wanting just a little more.

Now, I know this sounds a bit extreme, but it isn’t really.  I absolutely love the smell of Guinness in the air.  So much, that I decided to try Guinness again. “How could a beer that smells so amazing make me gag?” I thought.  After trying, I decided that Guinness is much better than I once thought, and it’s definitely the most beautiful beer I’ve ever seen.  All of the Dubliner’s say, “My dear, it just don’t travel well!”  Though the taste of the beer still is not my favorite, the combination of the appearance, the aroma when it’s brewing, and the cause it supports may tip it to the top of my beer list.

Guinness isn’t Just Alcohol.  It’s Social Change.

I found out the interesting history of the Guinness brewery and how it changed the social structure of Ireland.  250 years ago, Arthur Guinness believed that a happy, healthy employee was a more effective and efficient employee.  Building on this premise, he was the first large-scale employer in poverty-stricken Ireland to provide employees with paid holidays, health insurance, a fair wage, education and living quarters.  Because he succeeded, his model was adopted and peasants came off the potato fields to help grow industries forever influencing the social and economic structure of Ireland.  The Arthur Guinness Fund still helps social entrepreneurs around the world to create positive social impacts and community improvement.  To find out more about their work, go to

Below are a few of the pictures from my trip to Dublin.

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Oct 28 2010

Visit to Rota Naval Base and the Plight of a Navy Brat

It is a pretty amazing experience to visit places that I have lived in the past.  Like other Navy brats, what I call my home now doesn’t resemble my home from elementary school, high school or college.  I rarely get to visit the places that I lived before because they are so far away, and in many instances, I no longer know anyone in the region because the rest of the Navy friends have moved on as well.

Even when nobody is around to reminisce with me, and the place has changed, it is an amazing and therapeutic feeling to re-connect with the neighborhoods that I grew up in.  Two of the friends I met while visiting Puerto de Santa Maria escorted me onto the Rota Naval Base while I was there.  We drove by and saw my old house, school, church, and gym.  The school is completely new now, as well as some of the parks, but the memories flooded back quickly as we drove around town.

Below are some of the memories I had from my junior and senior year of high school (1997-1999):

This is my house.  It is the first time in my life that I had my own room and yard.  We had always lived in a southern California condo before.  We also got to have a garden and a cat.  This is the home where we welcomed my baby brother, Matthew into the world.  It was only two doors down from my school, yet I had a tendency to be five minutes late daily.  Luckily, I had senile Dr. Novinsky for math in the morning . . . tardiness and attendance did not affect my grade!

Just down the block from my house, overlooking the Rota port was a park.  I didn’t spend much time at this park, but it marks a very important time in my life.  It was the first time I snuck out of the house to meet a boy.  Arthur Gasapo was my first teenage boyfriend, and I had to persuade my Mom not to be mad at me or punish me after I returned.

The first summer that I arrived, I was looking for social networks so I got involved with the community theatre.  This is a picture of the amphitheatre where we performed South Pacific.  The show itself did not change my life, but it was where I met Quinci Martin and Scott Gallaher.  Quinci and Scott were both much better actors and singers than I, something I never let my ego give them credit for.  The part that I remember the most about the entire rehearsal process was the time that Scott, the cigarette-smoking rebel, and I were sitting on the bars in the back of the amphitheatre, and he asked me to go out with him.  I told him no, but felt so bad for so long because I hated hurting people’s feelings . . . sorry!  Scott was the first to call me “Trish the Dish,” a nickname that has stuck since then.

I was a pretty straight-laced kid, so most people are surprised to know that I was the one in charge of our senior class prank.  Under a bright moon and starry sky, we ran through campus toilet papering the towering palm trees and stacking lunch tables.  Unfortunately, I had not watched enough robbery movies so I did not know the importance of creating an escape plan.  The cops came and we all scattered.  Unlike some of my friends, I safely got off-campus and hid in some bushes while the cops perused the neighborhoods.  However, my home was on the exact opposite side of the campus, and there were only two roads that connected where I was to where I wanted to go.  I was so worried that I would be caught on my way home that I stayed in the bushes in this stranger’s front lawn for over an hour!  The picture to the right shows the lawn on which I kneeled on all fours for an hour or more the night before graduation.  I know the world doesn’t revolve around me and my actions, but I can’t help but wonder if they got rid of the hedges to get rid of hoodlum kids!  (Just as a side note, I did return to the school to help my classmates that did get caught clean-up campus.  And, my father was mad, but my mother was in cahoots with us the entire time!)

I don’t have a picture, but it was also great for me to see the base chapel.  Of all places, the chapel was the first place that I remember getting drunk.  Being in Spain, we drank in bars as normal social activity, but I didn’t get drunk the same way as I did after good ol’ church wine at 9am.  See, I was raised Catholic, and I volunteered my service by being a wine server on Sunday mornings.  In the Catholic religion, once wine is mixed with holy water, it becomes sacred and must be ingested by man.  Sometimes, the priest estimated that there were a lot more heavy drinkers in the congregation than there actually were, leaving it up to me, a 16 year old lightweight to polish off a half of a chalice!  I remember a few times standing in the bathroom after mass, looking at myself in the mirror with pink, giggling, cheeks and the room spinning while my family and friends unknowingly munched on donuts and chatted about their weeks next door.  Mrs. Duncan, and an older man would sometimes come to my rescue and take the last gulps for me.  Thank you!

We drove all through the base.  Many of the buildings are exactly the same but ten years more degraded.  A few are new.  Below are some more pictures . . . unfortunately, several are blurry.  If you are DGF alumnus, take a look at the new school.  It’s massive and beautiful!

P.S.  Thank you Matt Tugg and Erik Holmberg for taking me on my walk through memory lane!

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Oct 23 2010

Tips for Learning a Foreign Language

I have spent a good amount of my two months in Spain trying to improve my Spanish.  After being in Spain, and increasing my Spanish proficiency, I have realized a few things about language acquisition for people who, like me, do not have a natural talent in language.

Tip #1:  Keep speaking your native language!

When I am fully immersed in a language that I am not proficient in, I have a tendency to tune out.  For instance, in France, when I was living with a host family who would speak French often, I would find myself lost in my own thoughts during their conversations because trying to figure out what they were saying often felt futile.  Even if it wasn’t futile, it took too much energy to always put extra attention into comprehending the context of the conversation.  In Morocco and Italy as well, I had a very hard time communicating so I just stopped talking.  What I noticed was that my entire ability to communicate decreased significantly.  Although it seems silly, I had a hard time finding the basic words that I needed to communicate even in English.  What I found is that it was really important to keep a lot of space in my day to communicate in my mother tongue as well as the language I was trying to improve.  was actually really important for me to acquire the new languages as well.

Tip #2:  Use all of your senses and use all different levels.

My situation in Spain was perfect for me to improve my skills quickly.  I lived with another American who I spoke with daily.  But daily, I had conversations with multiple types of Spanish speakers.  For example, while looking for places to volunteer, I found a friend at the town hall who spoke English, but wanted to continue to improve.  So we arranged a few language dates where he could speak in English as I spoke in Spanish and we could help each other correct mistakes.  While working with the Red Cross, I spent three hours each day talking and listening in pure Andalucian Spanish; none of them spoke English, so I had to fend for myself among the thick accents and lazy tongues.  Working with the Human Rights Organization, I have been translating long Spanish documents which means that I use the help of online translators and my dictionary to make sure my translation is correct, while exposing me to new vocabulary and new ways of using the vocabulary.  There were multiple sources of communication (verbal, aural, and written) in my mother tongue and in Spanish, and all of them were at varied levels helping me perfect basic sentence structure while also pushing my comprehension quickly forward.

Tip #3:  Speak what you know even if it isn’t a full thought.

A lot of people get really caught up on verbs and full sentences.  Of course using verbs are important, but so much can be communicated with adjectives and nouns, and they are much easier acquire quickly.  For instance, if you don’t know how to say an entire sentence, but you can say a word or two, SAY THE WORD OR TWO with body language just to practice communicating!

I think too many people decide that the only way they will be able to learn a language enough to communicate is by fully immersing themselves in a school and host family.  I used to as well, but I realize now how important it is to keep communicating in your fluent language . . . maybe it has something to do with keeping the language center of your brain engaged?  Good luck with whatever language you are working on!

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