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Some exciting news, friends – I was published on the Huffington Post! In an effort to inspire readers to invest in women, I wrote this as part of Half the Sky‘s campaign called Raise for Women. It’s sort of a collection of many stories you’ve heard right here, many times before, but written for an audience who hasn’t necessarily been exposed to the state of women in the developing world, and those personal stories that inspire us to get involved.

My favorite thing about this was the email the Half the Sky team forwarded me the next day – it was from someone who had submitted an application to be a community ambassador after reading my story. Nothing feels better than this right here:

” I recently read Amy Schoenberger’s article on the Huffington Post and was inspired.  I’ve been searching for an organization that helps women on a grand scale empower themselves for quite awhile.  Hearing Amy’s story and reading through the website, I instantly knew that Half the Sky was what I had long been searching for.  I would love to create awareness here in the Los Angeles area as I know many women who would be honored to participate in this sort of global activism for women.  With the surge of female awareness through Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and women’s issues on both a political and social level, I believe Half the Sky could really help lead the new feminist movement.  It would be a privilege to be an ambassador but more so, I want to help women of all social classes both inside and outside the US learn to use their voice.”

Drink It In: Argentina’s Wine Country

Argentina was amazing, but the absolute highlight of the trip was wine country. We had four days there, and signed up for two full-day wine tours, one of the Lujan de Cuyo region and one of the Uco Valley region. Both were beautiful, especially since we visited during their fall, which meant the harvest was over but the vineyards had turned into glorious fall colors. We also lucked out because the week before we arrived there had been a rare snowfall in the Andes which stand tall above the wineries. The snowcapped mountains atop the vast fields of reds, oranges and violets made for a very rare and picturesque landscape for us to enjoy all the wine.

Another key factor in making this portion of the trip so incredible was the company we used to book the wine tours. Ampora Wine Tours does a phenomenal job of hand picking wineries in each region that are very different from each other, from the massive ones who export all over the world to the smaller, family owned wineries. When you’re visiting 4-5 wineries a day, they tend to all blend together (no pun intended) – but with Ampora, we can recall each winery vividly and have really great memories that stand out from each one. To give you a taste (again, no pun) of our favorite wineries, I’ve compiled a list below. These are the must-visits if you’re heading to Mendoza:

Pulenta Estate, Lujan de Cuyo

This winery, owned by two dudes who love fast cars, had one of the best views in the Lujan de Cuyo region. The woman who gave us the tour was our favorite on-site guide by far, and we had an excellent wine and cheese pairing here. More importantly, Pulenta Estate had my absolute favorite wine. They don’t sell it in the US so I bought a bottle on site and somehow got it back to the states in one piece. The wine, a cabernet malbec blend, has a ton of different aromas and flavors, especially as you smell the wine and enjoy the aftertaste. I couldn’t quite determine one flavor that stood out most, so our guide pointed it out – green peppers. In a wine! Sounds weird, but it’s actually amazing, and like no other wine I’ve ever tasted. That bottle will be saved for a very special occasion.

Ruca Malen, Lujan de Cuyo

I can sum up what I loved about this place in two words: food and scenery. And when I told the folks at Ruca Malen I was lactose intolerant they created a very special menu just for me. Five decadent courses served outdoors in front of red and orange fields, snowcapped mountains in the background, with glass after glass of delicious wine made from the fields in front of us. This, my friends, is what vacation should be.

Gimenez Rilii, Uco Valley

This was a small, family owned winery. Aside from having the best empanadas in the world, we felt right at home here. We tasted the wine right from the barrel, and really got a feel for the entire winemaking process when there aren’t any fancy distillers to electronically control the maceration and fermentation stages. Gimenez Rilii’s wine is made almost by hand. There was also a really cute dog hanging out here.

O’Fournier, Uco Valley 

If there’s one thing I learned at O’Fournier, it’s that money actually can buy happiness! I’m kidding. Kind of. No really, I’m kidding. You already know that this is one of my top five places in the whole world, so there’s not much more I can say about it except, the olive oil bread, the views, the sweet but respect-commanding man who owns the winery, the wine itself, the views again, and the steak. And the olive oil bread.

Another key thing about Ampora is their selection of tour guides and commitment to keeping the groups small. We were told the most they’ll ever bring on a tour is 5-6 people, but since we were there outside of peak summer season, Matt and I actually had an entire private tour. The guides were amazing, and had such an incredible knowledge of the wine region, had grown up in the surrounding areas, and it became apparent that they had quite literally dedicated their lives to learning about and teaching others about great wine.

I had a really hard time coming home after this part of the trip.

 

 

Yes, I took this last photo myself. Color popping effects courtesy of instagram.

Making An Impact

I just had a random memory. When I was about 10 years old, my friend’s mom gave us permission to walk their German Shepard – this huge dog that was probably bigger than both of us at the time. As we were walking down the block, the friend accidentally let the leash slip out of her hands and the dog started running down the street.  Somehow, my 10-year-old reflexes were much quicker than I realized, and I grabbed the end of the leash just before the dog really took off.  We caught up with him and calmed him down. As my friend took hold of the leash again, gripping it tightly, she thanked me for not letting her dog run away because her family would be devastated if they lost him forever.

As I slipped out of that daydream, I wondered why I just had that random memory. I traced my thoughts back and realized I had just been thinking about Robin and how I got her the job at Domino Magagzine that would eventually fuel her passion for Interior Design and her subsequent but short lived career as a designer.  Then my thoughts went to a sort of dark place, but I regained clarity and decided I can only hope that the impact I had on Robin’s life was a positive one.  I hope.

I never really realized why I eventually got so involved in philanthropy or where this passion came from – but I think I just figured it out.  That memory of my neighbor’s dog sticks out so vividly because it was the first time in my life I can remember thinking, wow, I just had a really strong impact on this person’s life – good thing I was there!  And it felt wonderful. Having an impact on someone’s life, big or small, can be very powerful.  About two weeks ago, a conversation with a friend led to a series of events that I can only hope will turn into something amazing.  It’s only partially philanthropic, but it’s sort of big, and while I sit back and realize how the smallest acts really can have such an incredible impact, I can’t help but be amazed.

I hope if you’re reading this, that you’re doing what you can to make a positive impact in some way – however you define it.

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The Urge for Going

So much of what I write here is about where I want to go instead of where I have gone. While I can’t travel all the time due to a number of circumstances (money, vacation time, people willing to join me, etc.), I try to travel as often as possible. Something I’ve learned is that one of the best parts of travel is the anticipation leading up to it.

As I sit here over what I still call “winter break,” I’m scrolling through Facebook updates and Twitter statuses of what seems to be everyone I know announcing their winter travel plans. Costa Rica, Florida, Europe, Hawaii. I haven’t even boarded a plane since August. This may be the longest stretch I’ve gone without heading anywhere new or exciting, and it’s sort of eating away at me.

Last month, two of my travel stories were published on Fathomaway.com – one about Morocco and one about Portugal. Reliving those stories just makes me want to get away even more. So while no travel plans have been finalized for 2012, let’s get excited about one trip that MIGHT happen. Because even if I never end up going to any of these places, it never hurts to dream a little.

Before I go into the details of my next trip, let me share some stats I learned from a supermodel. A woman dies every 90 seconds from pregnancy complications. 90% of these deaths are preventable. So many women around the world simply don’t have the access to healthcare, education and contraceptives. And one more shocking stat – pregnancy complications is the number one cause of death for all women worldwide between the ages of 15-19.

My sister Lisa, a medical student hoping to specialize in women’s health, is on the board of IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Foundation), an organization that helps with maternal and women’s health in developing countries. They’re planning a trip to a maternal health clinic in Mexico this March, and Lisa and I hope to join them. We’ll be teaching them about prenatal care and women’s health, delivering medical supplies – and most likely learning a lot from them.

Yes, this trip is not all about helping the women – it’s about my need to travel and see what’s going on in the world – even if what’s going on over there might be a little tough to see. But why not try to make a little bit of a difference in the world while fulfilling your own dreams? After all, one of the best parts of charity is the reward of how good you feel after doing a little bit to help others.

So for my last post of 2011, let’s remember that while trying so hard to live out our own dreams, with a little bit of extra effort, we can help others who are less fortunate. Here are some links in case you’ve been inspired to help with maternal mortality – by donating to IPPF, Every Mother Counts, or CARE.

Happy New Year!

Dancing for Peace

Sometimes I love my job. Today is one of those days. I recently had the opportunity to take on a pro-bono client, a New York based organization called Dancing Classrooms, which teaches middle school aged children how to ballroom dance. (Was also the inspiration for the movie “Take the Lead” with Antonio Banderas)

It wasn’t until our third or fourth call that I learned about this amazing project that Dancing Classrooms founder and renowned ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine had created. Dulaine was born in Jaffa, Israel, to an Irish father and Palestinian mother. He took his Dancing Classrooms program over to his birthplace in the middle east, fulfilling his lifelong dream of teaching dance to Palestinian-Israeli and Jewish-Israeli children – together. His program forces the young people to meet each other face to face and work together to coordinate the steps involved in partner dancing. Dulaine had a documentary crew follow four children as they embarked on this program in Israel – you’ll be able to see it soon…but I can’t give away too many details yet.

These children, despite their cultural, religious and political differences, are now being introduced to each other in a way that enables them to work together at a young age. They actually make friends with one another through dance, movement, and cooperation.

Think dancing can save the world?

Me too.

Dreaming of…Kenya

Dreaming of...Kenya

A little while back, I read about this Elephant Orphanage in Kenya, and because of my absolute love for elephants and incessant desire to visit Africa, this destination moved to the very top of my list. Then, Matt got an email from his friend who is currently living in Somalia doing microfinance. The friend had visited the elephant orphanage this past weekend, and sent a picture of the elephant he adopted, Dabassa. I love him. And I want one just like him.