Thursday, July 24, 2014

More than just Big Macs...

It was a frigid Canadian winter’s day and I was supply teaching in a local school. I was having a horrible morning. Remember how your prepubescent classmates treated the substitute teacher when you were a kid? Well, I was now THAT teacher. Needless to say, I was attempting to keep the class under control but struggling to do so. I knew that if I was to make it through the afternoon I needed a coffee. At lunch, I drove to a plaza about 10 minutes away and got my caffeine fix. As I approached my car, I suddenly realized that my keys were locked inside. Ugh. As was my cell phone. Ugh again. Panicked and desperate, I hurried into a nearby McDonald’s and approached the man at the counter (who turned out to be the manager) and asked him if he could call me a cab. I briefly explained my situation and I could tell from his expression that he sympathized with my desperation. I was a little beyond stressed at this point. When you are substitute teaching, you are basically trying to make the best impression possible on every principal and school you go to in the hopes that they will like you and that you may be one step closer to landing a full time gig. Not showing up after lunch or being late would put you in their bad books. So the manager hurried to the back to call me a cab while I paced the restaurant. The clock was ticking. I had about 10 minutes until the bell rang. I debated running but it being winter and likely a long and icy jog back, I wouldn’t make it in time. Several minutes later he returned only to tell me that the cab company had put him on hold and that he had then become disconnected. He was now back on hold again. No cab was coming yet. Crap!

I must have made some sort of terrified face because without hesitation he grabbed his coat and said “I will drive you”. So without a thought I followed him. In no time I was back at the school with only a couple of minutes to spare before the bell. I thanked this man endlessly for his kind gesture and to which he replied, “that’s what McDonald’s is for”. Not just the Big Mac I guess.

I think back to this day often and it makes me happy. Happy that a total stranger would care enough to help me out of a bind. I guess we may not be able to solve all the world’s problems in a day but we do have the power to put a smile on someone else’s face and make their day just a little bit brighter. And who knows, maybe one day that person will write a listserve entry about you!

I am now a full time teacher living in Toronto and I share this story with my wee ones every year. It’s simply kindness.

Thank you for reading.

P.S. Shout out to Pedro, the best hubby a girl could ever ask for.

P.P.S. Shout out to Jo, Ange, Elena & Danielle, the 4 best friends that anyone's ever had.


Marisa O.
Toronto, Canada

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Travel as far as you are able, to what is unfamiliar

I write to you all about one of my passions, travel. I am afflicted
by what is likely the most amazing affliction possible, wanderlust. I
am fascinated & fixated on exploring this planet as often as possible.
Being able to see & experience places that are vastly different from
where I've lived puts everything in a new perspective. You learn to
appreciate what you have, or to realize that there are better ways of
doing things. You understand why some places are the way they are, or
learn that some parts of the world defy understanding. Travelling to
new & unfamiliar places makes you a better person.

I know that not everyone has the means to travel to distant lands.
But you don't need to. Sometimes going somewhere unfamiliar means
driving for a few hours to a place that is unlike where you live
(different scenery, different culture, different language, etc). Or
go hiking & explore a forest, desert, beach, or grassland that you've
never seen up close before. Wander to a new part of your town or city
that you've never been to before, or get on a public bus, subway, or
even a taxi, and check out a part of your city, province, state or
region that is unfamiliar to you. Just go somewhere that is new, and
take it all in. Additionally, travelling does not have to be a group
activity. While there are benefits to travelling with one or more
friends or loved ones, travelling solo has its own rewards & benefits.
Sure, it requires some more courage, it can put you much further out
of your comfort zone, but in the end, you'll learn more about yourself
(and if you learn that you simply hate travelling alone, that's
worthwhile knowing from experience too).

My favorite/recommended travel destinations:
* South Korea: China & Japan get a lot of the hype & buzz, but this
small nation is amazing. The people are friendly, the culture is
interesting, and the food is delicious
* Estonia: western Europe gets all the attention, but this ex-Soviet
era country is quirky, fascinating & fun
* Australia: I spent a month, a year ago, driving a campervan over
9000km all around, and had the most amazing time. Its a huge place,
with so much to see & experience
* Tanzania: my first experience in Africa, and I'm yearning to return.
Its wild, wonderful & unlike what most expect

Where to next? Oman & Dubai in September, quite likely Cambodia in
January, and I'm hoping to get to Antarctica in December of 2015. If
you've been to any of these places already, please share your tips,
warnings, & recommendations (places to see, sleep or eat, people to
meet, etc).

Almost as much as I love to travel, I enjoy hearing about other
people's travels. The next best thing to going somewhere new, is
hearing about your adventures. I'd love to hear from any of you with
a great travel story:
* Where have you gone that absolutely amazed you (and why)?
* Where have you gone that didn't live up to the expectations (and why)?
* If you have photos of your travels online somewhere, I'd love to see
them. Even better if there are stories to go with them.

When I'm not seeing the world, I'm an engineer at a Silicon Valley
tech company. Want to chat about anything? I'm on twitter
(@netllama), or try simply googling for "llama land linux-sxs"
(without the quotes), and the first few results should point you to my

thanks & happy travels!

Lonni Friedman
San Francisco Bay area, California, USA

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This space left intentionally blank.

Good morning from Hawaii! This week I'm enjoying a wedding and some vacation. I need to remember to stop not taking vacations.

I miss the World Cup already. 3 or 4 international matches every day spoiled me.

Last year I moved to Austin, Texas after 7 years in Colorado. I love both states.

I'm the oldest of 4 children & I'm terribly proud of the younger 3. We live in 4 different states, but get together when we can.

Next month begins my 34th year on the planet. Time flies.

I haven't owned a car in almost 8 years, preferring to get around by motorcycle, skateboard and bicycle.

Currently playing FIFA 14 and Titanfall, I'm 'OfficeEnforcer' on Xbox One if you'd like to join.

Lately I'm interested in learning more about building / structure architecture and data visualization. Message me if you have interesting examples of either I should see.

I'm also fascinated by the things people chose to carry with them. If you have time after reading this, send me a picture of the contents of your pockets.

Shouts to my Uncle JT, my wife Sonya, and to Taylor and Kaitlyn (check out their amazing journey at whoa dot fm)

Enjoy the balance of your day,

Jeremy Tanner
Austin, TX

Monday, July 21, 2014

Help tenth-graders become readers!

I teach tenth-grade English at a public high school in the South Bronx. I love my job because of my students, who are kind, thoughtful, and unthinkably resilient kids who all want a satisfying and stable life. The biggest obstacle between my students and success is literacy. Without strong reading and writing skills, graduation and college admission become impossible dreams. To raise literacy, we need an enormous supply of engaging, diverse texts, a library where any student can find a book that they can't put down. In the last year, I have worked non-stop to build the only classroom library in our school, collecting from willing publishers, friends, and other schools. I'm happy to go anywhere I can in/near New York City to add even a book or two to our classroom, and the result has been a classroom already full of books, and a tenth-grade recognized by the school as an impressive cohort of independent readers.

There will never be enough books for my students - the more we can offer, the better our chances of getting every student, especially our reluctant readers, to find a story they love and invest in the reading they need to do well. So please, anything you can offer is deeply appreciated.

Anyone can help! Here are possible ways you could:

1. If you're in New York City and have even a book or two (or more!) that you think high schoolers might enjoy, e-mail me! I'm happy to come collect anything. If you are from out of town but interested, e-mail me and I will let you know when our next DonorsChoose project begins (hopefully in the next week).

2. Recommend books you think teenagers might like & tell me why. I spent a lot of the summer reading books in the hunt for ones that I know my kids will like.

3. Let me know about non-profits/organizations/people who might be able to assist. We have benefit hugely from organizations like First Book and the Cicero Project, and I'm sure there are other great places ready to give books to schools like us that I don't know about!

Anything is appreciated - take a moment to think about whether you can help us out! For the thousands of you not in New York City, if you (like my family) have shelves of books no one reads anymore, consider finding the school near you that wants them - there definitely is one!

Sabine Chishty
New York, NY

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Fire in my hands

Hi all! I'm a 23 year-old-reporter writing about technology for Business Insider.
I've been living in New York City for less than a year but I'm already head-over-heels for it and I thought about writing out all the reasons why but then I decided to just list some of the things that I have written down in the "Beauty" note on my phone:

A man playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes in the subway of Grand Central Station 
Spilled gold glitter nail polish on the dark tiles of the Port Authority bus station floor, that you notice every time you're there
Cheek kisses from subway strangers, paired with the advice that you should drink bitters for hiccups
"You are a blurry young person"
Coming home tipsy on a Tuesday night helps you remember how much helps you remember how much you love new york city — when the wind ruffles your hair in the subway as you feel the train approach and when you get on your car and it's eight nine ten eleven two o'clock and people are still laughing all around you and talking about their day or their latest lover and you can't help but feel oh so deliciously alive.
The man on the subway with his gray scruff and wrinkled hands handing a mango and a fat pear to the homeless man limping through the train asking for "food and water." "please spare your food and water." as the plastic bottles get passed and the fruit changes hands your heart can't help but warming. 

Aaaaand now one of my favorite poems:

Oranges by Gary Soto 

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted -
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickle in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickle from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all

A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

Jillian D'Onfro
Sunnyside, Queens, New York City

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Outback Club

Hey everyone,

I am writing to you from Mundrabilla Roadhouse in the outback of Western Australia. I’m a 27 year old from Ontario,Canada who’s been living in Australia on a working holiday visa for nearly two years now. While I have seen some incredible coastlines and met some incredible people I have chosen to write about my current situation which is at an extremely remote roadhouse along the Eyre highway.

For anyone that doesn’t know, this highway is the only route linking South Australia  to Western Australia. The Western Australia part of the highway is virtually treeless, flat, saltbush covered terrain that is practically unchanging. I am 13 hours inland from Adelaide and 16 hours inland from Perth. There are no towns out here, only roadhouses located about 100-200 kms apart from each other. Due to it’s remoteness some parts of the highway are even used as emergency airstrips for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

In March, I decided I would spend 6 months of my last visa out here. My primary reason  to come out  was to cash up and set myself up for the next adventure. Out here you’ve got all kinds of money and no place to go. Our big nights out consist of driving to the next roadhouse to get lattes because we only have instant coffee or walking up the back of the property to get away from the sound of the generator and see some kangaroos and emus. Let’s be honest though, coffee isn’t everything, I do drink a fair bit of wine to keep things interesting.

Some days the silence, isolation and lack of social life really makes me wonder whether it’s  worth doing something you hate just for money? To be fair, I don’t hate it completely. It is such a unique experience relying on a generator for power and desalinated ground water to drink. You really do learn to live with the bare essentials and I’m happy with that aspect of it. We look forward to our toiletry orders coming every month as if it was some flash new toy. On the other hand I am doing simple, mindless work that really allows too much time for thinking. Thinking of the more beautiful aussie towns I could be in, thinking of what else I could be doing, thinking of the places I won’t get to see in Australia because I’ve committed so much time here. On a weekly basis you really go through a roller coaster of emotions which is the part that I hate.

There are about 10 of us out here, the family that own the business, a couple of managers, and then us, the workers, the backpackers that the roadhouse relies on to operate the business. Currently, there are 4 here: Helene, a lovely, young lass from France (whom I just introduced to the Listserve) Matt, our wannabe pommy from Perth and Bean, a pint sized art teacher from Taiwan. Without these guys I would have fled the scene long ago. We keep each other sane, I like to think so anyway. We all plan  to travel after so we constantly motivate ourselves to stick it out by chatting of the countless ways we are going to roam around Asia spending all our hard earned cash from Mundrabilla.

When it comes down to it, it is a great experience that I couldn’t get in Canada. Come say hi if you’re crossing the Nullarbor! Get in touch with any travel related stuff or anything that may keep me motivated out here for another 3 months!

Hope you’ve enjoyed my story.

Amelia Marchionda
Mundrabilla, Western Australia

Friday, July 18, 2014

Interpol the band, not the police

My favorite band is Interpol.

The deep, dark, melancholy chords layered with Paul Banks' voice is comforting to me. My favorite songs are "The Lighthouse" and "Leif Erikson".

I grew up in low income housing in the Lower East Side of New York City in the 80s. I've since moved to my own place but still live in the neighborhood. Things have gentrified quite a bit since then, with a trendy restaurant, bar, gallery, or boutique opening up every week. There's still a grittiness here that I hope doesn't wash away the cultural roots that have been laid down generations before.

My parents immigrated from China in 1978. When they arrived, they had no family, no friends, no money, no degree, didn't speak any English and had to feed my 4 year old sister.

They are the most unselfish, hard-working, and resilient people I know. They sacrificed everything so my sister and I could have a good life.  They're in their mid 60s now, and the other day my mom said that she was proud of me.

I like making lists and checking them off.

I love summer thunderstorms. I stand outside on my balcony while I watch the rain comes down in sheets, lightning strike in the distance, and thunder rolls above. I like the smell of wet grass and feeling the electric tension in the air.

I quit a career in Finance and traveled around the world. I rode camels in the Sahara, rapelled down a waterfall in Costa Rica, witnessed the Northern Lights in Norway, and ate some of the best damn food I've ever had in Istanbul. I'd like to see Australia, New Zealand and Iceland soon.

I now work at an online Dating Startup in NYC.

I've been in love before. I've also been infatuated before. I think I now know the difference.

I'm afraid of failure but I know it's all (mostly) in my head.

I read theSkimm, Quora, and Marc & Angel Hacks Life.

I love yoga. I picked it up after I split up with my ex of 4 years. It was a really tough and desolate time and I had to re-learn who I was and how to live by myself. The first time I felt peace was during Savasana, in a crowded, sweaty room full of yogis laying next to me, with the song "Green Arrow" from Yo La Tengo.

I believe that if you don't like your circumstances, you should try your best to change them instead of just complaining about them - if you can.

I don't know if I believe that everything happens for a reason. But I do know that sometimes things happen that you didn't want or expect, and learning to adapt is a survival skill.

Above all, I just want to be happy and healthy and wish everyone all the best. Kindness is catching.

New York City