Community Cafe Feature: SAME Cafe

I recently started volunteering for a non-profit cafe in Fort Collins called FoCo Cafe, which stands for Feeding Our Community Ourselves. FoCo Cafe follows the community cafe model which integrates pay as you are able model and often times locally … Continue reading

Two Hands Loves the Earth

I am all about this glorious world where we live. I believe that my two hands can not only create change on a person-to-person level, but also on a global, environmental level. I believe that as earthlings, we have a duty to take care of mother earth. Earth Day is 7 days from today… have you started making your plans for changing the world? I have. To make your life a bit easier this year, I am going to provide a few options, in the event that you share my same passion for saving the world. Here are 7 options… maybe you can do one activity every day for the next week (that would make me very happy).

Ideas for Saving Mother Earth on Her Special Day

1. Plant a tree! This is a classic activity to do on Earth Day. New trees help clean the air as they mature by removing carbon dioxide from the air. You will directly receive some good Karma from this act, as they will help you breathe in the future by releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. If you can’t plant a tree, check out Treenex, where every greeting card you purchase will plant a tree in a forest.

2. Say Bye-bye to the Autos for the day. Use those gorgeous feet you were blessed with or ride that bike that is collecting cobwebs in the back of the garage! Live, work, or study super far away?? Check out Vride, where you can sign up for ride-sharing in your area instead of taking your car everyday. I love this company because they use vans (similar to gua-guas in the Dominican Republic) so there are always new faces to meet and friendly people to talk to!

3. Participate in a local Earth Day event. Find your fellow earthlings who are passionate about this wonderful day, and either plan an event for your community or sign up for an already existing event. Check out the Earth Day Network to find your event or group!

4. Pledge to stop drinking bottled water. Check out the video- The Story of Stuff, The Story of Bottled Water. Did you know that “San Fransisco’s tap water comes from the Yosemite National Park and is so pure that the EPA does not require it to be filtered? A bottle of Evian water that is $1.35 could be refilled with San Fransisco tap water once a day for over ten years before the cost would total $1.35” ( Besides, metal water bottles are so much better looking.

5. Inspire your children! Teachers, babysitters, nannys, mothers/fathers, this is a perfect activity for you! Grab a sheet of paper and use all the colors in the world to spark some inspiration. Pick a few random pieces of garbage that you consistently see around your neighborhood and write them in a checklist on your colorful sheet of paper. Hand it to your kiddos and go! Who ever collects the most garbage (in a recycled plastic bag- we have to put them to use SOMEHOW, right?) gets to pick out their own flower or vegetable to plant this spring! I love hatching two birds with one egg.

A list from my scavenger hunt

My Earth Day Scavenger Hunt!

6. Rid the earth (and your family) of chemicals. Ecos Earth Friendly Products are sold in stores like King Soopers, Target, Vitamin Cottage, Whole Foods, and Albertsons. This company has made a commitment to creating products that do not use harsh toxins or chemicals like; petrochemicals, bleach, ammonia, and phosphate. This “clean guarantee” allows you to feel sure that you are not negatively impacting your family or the environment, and you are also supporting a sustainable company!

7. Clean out your closet! Yesterday I did a little spring cleaning and discovered that I owned 214 pieces of clothing. I was disgusted with myself because I had recently heard a story of a woman in Nigeria who owned two outfits; her work outfit and her church outfit, but sold her church outfit so her son could go to school. I cleaned out my closet, and now I own 80 pieces of clothing, including shoes. Still extreme compared to that incredible woman in Nigeria, but better than before. Next, shop at thrift stores for your next clothing purchase; who wouldn’t want to save 70% on a pair of shorts, and reduce the environmental impact of the clothing industry. For an interesting article about clothing waste and it’s impact on the environment, check out Environmental Health Perspectives, Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry by Liz Cloudio. In the article, Cloudio quotes, “The [cotton] crop accounts for a quarter of all the pesticides used in the United States, the largest exporter of cotton in the world, according to the USDA.”

Here’s my experience cleaning out my closet (more about this in a later post)-

before cleaning out my closet

Before my Earth Day Spring Cleaning- 217 pieces of clothing

After cleaning out my closet

After my Earth Day Spring Cleaning- 80 pieces of clothing

A box of my donations

My donations!

I walk without shoes so children don’t have to

Today is TOMS One Day Without Shoes. According to the official Facebook page for the event, 57,271 people are walking around the world without shoes today. I have been a fan of TOMS Shoes since the day I heard of them back in 2008. This company was started by a man named Blake Mycoskie after he traveled to Argentina. While he was there, he met a woman who was running a program that provided shoes to the children of her country who could not afford their own shoes. Blake discovered that the woman was frustrated by the lack of resources for her program, because a lot of the time she would not have enough shoes for all the children or she would not have the correct sizes (Do Something That Matters, Blake Mycoskie). I have encountered this problem in my work in the Dominican Republic, and you can read about this in my post, Smuggling Guanabana and Complete Imperfection. From my most recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I found that I can completely relate to what this woman described; it is infinitely frustrating not being able to help the people who are in severe need of assistance.

Blake created TOMS, a for-profit company, to provide shoes for the children that he worked with. Within one year of the development of the idea, Blake returned to Argentina with 10,000 pairs of shoes. With every pair of shoes that is purchased through TOMS, the company provides one pair for a child in need. One for One. I love this philosophy and the model for their company, because they are meeting the needs of the children without encountering limitations. They are able to measure the feet of each child and fit them with their perfect shoe. There are no color or style issues with the shoes (a problem I have encountered with Coloring Countries) because each pair of shoes that are donated are black,  canvas shoes, which are the standard requirement for schools.

April 10th, One Day Without Shoes, is a day to create awareness for the TOMS movement- and a glorious job it does! I was stopped 17 times today by people who are curious about my bare feet.  When I got stopped, I was able to describe this wonderful company and the work they do. My fellow bare-footers all smile at me as I pass, and some even give me a high five. We bond over our passion for helping others. This is part of the reason why TOMS is so successful, they make it very easy for Average Janes and Joes to change the world. I have found that the majority of the world (particularly youth) are frustrated with our global situation, and want to help others; hence, the success story of TOMS.

Even though I have glass in my heels and my toes are worn through, my heart is warm and fuzzy. I think that the challenge of today made the reward all the more fulfilling, especially being thrown out of the grocery store. =)

So your Two Hands Tuesday mission this week is to go purchase a pair of these life-changing shoes.Your purchase will allow a child to attend school, when their lack of shoes was previously holding them back. It will also prevent the child from contracting a disease through the cuts that they receive from walking barefoot everyday. Here is the link to the website, check out their selection and pick out a wonderful pair for yourself! TOMS Website.

My Two Barefeet

Annie's Bare Feet, April 10, 2012


I was walking my puppy in the park this morning without a leash, as I do every morning. This morning was different from the past in that Mato decided to spark up a hint of rebellion and not listen to his mother. He saw another dog across the park at bolted to see if that dog wanted to play… he didn’t. I ran to catch Mato and when I grabbed his collar the elderly man who was walking the less than friendly dog, raised his voice at me and told me a few derogatory comments about my dog and myself. I don’t really like being “yelled at” by strangers, so my heart was pounding. But I looked up at the man from my hunched over position holding Mato’s collar, looked him in the eyes, smiled, and said “Thank you for your recommendations. Have a good day, Sir.”

Acting with kindness is not always the most easy thing to do. I would have loved to handle the situation in a more aggressive way, but I would not have received the same peaceful feeling that I did as I walked away. One of my professors once told me, “Creating peace is not simply holding hands and singing Kumbayah. Peace is so much more; peace is action.” I could not agree more.

The organizations and individuals who are successful in ending conflict around the world, understand that peace takes a long-term commitment to conflict resolution. This requires infinite amount of strategic planning, talking, acting, and working toward a common goal. The Geneva Accord was an initiative between the Palestinian and Israeli groups to end the conflict between them. The meeting involved educated individuals from both sides of the conflict to gather and discuss the roots of the problem.

Here are the principles for the accord, which helped guide them through the process.

  • End of conflict. End of all claims.
  • Mutual recognition of Israeli and Palestinian right to two separate states.
  • A final, agreed upon border.
  • A comprehensive solution to the refugee problem.
  • Large settlement blocks and most of the settlers are annexed to Israel, as part of a 1:1 land swap.
  • Recognition of the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and recognition of the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
  • A demilitarized Palestinian state.
  • A comprehensive and complete Palestinian commitment to fighting terrorism and incitement.
  • An international verification group to oversee implementation.

The establishment of the Accord was not an easy process and involved excruciating compromise and working out the each detail of the conflict. These individuals were committed to ending this long-standing conflict in order to create a better future.  I think it is incredible the amount of action it takes to create this phenomenon that we so often associate with inaction.

So here’s your Two Hands Tuesday thought to ponder- can you bring peace to your life or the lives of others? Maybe it is as simple as turning the aggressive words of a stranger in a park around as a rebuttal of kind words.

Playing a clapping game

Two Hands Create Peace



As Promised, Photos From my Trip

The school in El Mango, DR

The school in El Mango is as happy as before!


The inside of an El Mango classroom

The inside of an El Mango classroom

The Dominican Republic students smile

A group of happy students

A large group of DR students swarm the two Americans

Our first moments in El Mango. We were immediately swarmed with children giving us gifts and asking us about our lives.

A group of students holding the new shoes they recieved

A group of students holding and wearing the new shoes the Coloring Countries provided.

Holding a one year old baby

Holding the principal's son during the school day.

The students reading their letters from their students in the U.S

The students diligently reading the letters they received from their friends in the U.S.

A female students reading her letter

A student extremely captivated by her letter

A few El Mango boys reading their letters

The boys reading their letters

Female students smiling as they write their new friend

Excited to write to our new friends!

Me standing with a few of the students in the school

With my babies at the school in El Mango.

A picture of the sun behind clouds with rays streaking through

Even on the cloudiest days I am always finding sunlight.


If you would like to learn more about my trip, feel free to leave me a comment or email me at

Thanks for reading, you wonderful people!


Smuggling Guanabana and Complete Imperfection

I owe you all a huge apology for missing Two Hands Tuesday this past week, but it was indeed for a glorious reason. I spent the past week in the Dominican Republic working out logistics for the Coloring Countries program. My trip was wonderful, I even had the opportunity to squeeze in some beach time for a bit of peace of mind. I want to share a bit about what I learned on this trip because as always, international adventures are extremely educational. I learned much about myself as well about working with others.

I have always viewed myself as a person who emphasizes equality in this world, but I found a hidden obstacle to this belief on my trip (I’m not perfect, who knew?!). I have spent infinite hours and countless days working to develop a strong Coloring Countries program outline and program description for the U.S. students, teachers, and parents who participate in the pen-pal system (to learn more about the program, click on the Coloring Countries tab at the top). I have outlined the topics to write about, possible problems with the program, topics the students should refrain from writing about, and much more. While I spent time developing these documents it did not even cross my mind to translate the documents to Spanish to give to the principal of El Mango or to the parents of the Dominican Republic students. As a person who considers myself a humanitarian who emphasizes equality and peace, I have found myself displaying double standards. Subconsciously I did not view the people connected with the program in the Dominican Republic on the same basis as I viewed the participants in the U.S. This was very embarrassing for me to discover about myself. From this experience I have learned to look at each situation I enter through the eyes of the individuals who might be impacted. The teachers, principals, students and parents at the school in El Mango are just as deserving to have the resources that I provide for the individuals involved with the program in the U.S. A little self discovery for Annie on this trip!

In previous blogs I have spoken about asking communities we enter about their needs before attempting to provide resources or financial assistance. It is easy to enter an impoverished community and see the countless needs that are not being met. What we do not think about after seeing these needs, is asking the community what THEY think their immediate needs are, or even IF they would like financial assistance. Peripherally off topic: when I visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation a few months ago, I discovered that even though it seemed they needed assistance with basic living necessities it was disrespectful in their culture to simply “hand over” used goods (makes sense, right?). Anyway, when I was visiting with Dionicio, the principal of the El Mango school, I made a point to ask him how he thought the school could benefit from the Coloring Countries program. He listed countless needs that had not even crossed my mind! I asked him to write down the school’s needs so I could remember them when I returned to the U.S. I also made a point to ask if he thought the pen-pal program was beneficial for the school, and I saw him smile after this question, which was an extremely rare occurrence!  He reassured me that the objectives which I had embarrassingly scribbled on a yellow legal pad (see above paragraph) would be extremely beneficial for the students of El Mango.

Here’s my third lesson, are you ready? It’s a doosy. I brought down 20 pairs of shoes with me for the students of El Mango because when I met with Dionicio in August he told me this was one of the main needs of the students. I anticipated a feeling of volunteer euphoria that I have experienced previously when I give my time away; but this is not what I felt. I brought with me as many pairs of shoes as I could stuff into my two suitcases, but they were simply not enough. I found that I did not have the sizes to fit most of the children who greatly needed a new pair of shoes. It was heart breaking to shrug my shoulders and turn these children away. My lesson here is to not expect anything when living for others, it is contradictory to have expectations of reward, even a reward as small as a good feeling. I am not living to make myself happy, although much of the time that is a side benefit, I am living to make others happy.

My recommendation for myself and everyone who wants to work in international development- remove yourself from the situation completely and place your eyes and heart in the body of the community. Giving is an infinitely complicated occurrence.

As for the smuggled guanabana mentioned in the title of this post… I may or may not have smuggled a guanabana across U.S. borders; but that was pretty much just to get you to read my blog =).


Holding a Guanabana

How in the World Did That Get Here?!

Photo blog soon to come- Keep your eyes peeled!

People First

Have you ever felt a label forced upon you either directly or indirectly? Possibly someone called you “Blond” and without thinking, the speaker may have attributed a certain characteristic to you. Each person in this world has qualities that make them who they are. Each of these characteristics are fantastic simply because they define us… and yes, that is a good thing! I see a child who was born with a cleft lip who had numerous surgeries throughout his or her childhood to repair this, and is left with scars from these experiences. This child is the definition of beauty. Individuality is what defines us, what makes us human. We are all unique, we are all beautiful, we are all people.

Here is a little concept that we use in the Social Work field to help people feel that they are equal and deserving; it is called the “People First” concept. When speaking about a person and describing them, put the work, “Person” before any descriptive word. This is what happens:

“That disabled man” becomes “That man with a disability.”

“That black woman” becomes “That woman who is African-American.”

“That mentally handicapped man” becomes “That person who is mentally handicapped.”

“That blond girl” becomes “That girl with blond hair.”

The latter sound much more pleasant, wouldn’t you agree?

By forcing ourselves to put people first, we are A.) making people feel equal and B.) Forcing ourselves to use a euphemism, or a politically correct term. We also begin thinking about the words we use to describe people.

As this week’s Two Hands Tuesday mission, try the “People First” concept when you are describing someone, see how it makes you feel.

A photo of 5 arms next to eachother, all of different ethnicities.

It’s Random Act of Kindness Day! Participate?

Opportunities to help our brothers and sisters present themselves constantly in life. Someone leaves their phone on the counter at your work, do you run after them? A stranger drops a dollar bill and continues walking, do tell them or pocket the new-found money? Here is an example of a recent opportunity I encountered to share some kindness.

Yesterday I was driving across a busy bridge that crosses a highway and river in my hometown. My car was nearly to the end of the bridge and I was about to enter a large and busy intersection at the end of the bridge. Something to my left caught my eye and I looked over to see a blind man feeling his way slowly onto the bridge into oncoming traffic. I looked around to assess the potential harm in the situation. Traffic in the direction which the man was headed saw him, but the red light that was holding the traffic in place was about to tell them to proceed. Without anymore thought, I stopped my car in the middle of the bridge, turned on my warning lights, got out of the car, ran into the oncoming traffic and approached the man.

After walking the man to the side of the road, I asked him where he was headed. He then told me that he had accidentally wandered off the route he was following. I then helped the man find his path again and ran back to my car (still paused, holding up a rather large line of cars).

I have heard many stories of people risking their lives for complete strangers, and have always attempted to imagine myself in these situations. The truth is, it is more than difficult to picture what your reaction will be to an opportunity for kindness because the human mind is incredibly unpredictable. The best we can do is walk through life practicing kindness in the smallest ways; running after that stranger to return her cell-phone, stopping that man to give him the dollar bill he dropped. Acts of kindness- pure, without expectation of reward, provide a feeling of utter serenity. This feeling is indescribable.

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love. -Saint Basil

Smile Therapy

I was walking along the side of the street today with the biggest smile spread across my face. It was not a day where everything had gone exactly the way I had hoped, I was just simply content in that moment. It turned out to be the perfect moment to be smiling because just then, I passed a woman who had her face to the ground with a quite dismal look on her face. When we made eye contact, she saw my smile and her face immediately lit up. After that, the idea sparked in my mind for ‘Smile Therapy,’ and I walked around for the rest of the day smiling at everyone just to see if I could get them to smile back. I was not content with a simple, squinted eyes and slightly turned up corners of the mouth- type of smile. I wanted a real, lasting, connected strait to the heart, smile. And you know what I got? About Forty-five awesome smiles, which caused that smile to stick on my face for the rest of the day. It’s really therapeutic, this smiling thing… for both others and yourself (research to be provided later).

So here’s today’s Two Hands Tuesday topic- Smile Therapy. Try it out! (You might just turn someone’s day completely around).

Happy Two Hands Tuesday to you!

Dominican Republic Girls SmilingA Smile on the Beach in Florida, USASummer Time SmilingA yellow, furry dog smiling on a boatSmiling with My Puppy- Ignore His Face, He's Smiling on the InsideA Toddler SmilingSmiling at School in El Mango, Dominican Republic

Are you smiling yet??