Monday, March 26, 2012

(Voluntourista has moved)

I've moved. I'm moving. It's a process. From now on henceforth I shall type thee blog at

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Blast from the Past: 20 Things I've Learned Living in the Woods

This may come as a surprise, but this is not my first time as a blogger or even my first time as a quit-your-whatever-and-go-do-something-crazy-type person. Believe it or not, I'm a serial non-conformist. Last time around, however, it was a bit different. I blogged, but I didn't show anyone. I was also doing something crazy, but that wasn't quite the same either.

I was writing in the time before extreme social networking. In the time before you could Google every person you met.  I didn't have nearly the same amount of skills or resources or know how or whatever as I do now.  I had just graduated from college and was living in the woods with three dudes. Yup. I'm serious. This is all part of my resume to become A Voluntourista. Seems relevant, doesn't it?

Anyhow, I recently stumbled across the old blog that I was writing during that time. I thought it might be interesting to resurrect it for the modern eye. I'm really not sure if that's a good idea, but I guess you all can be the judge. The following was written at the end of a 3 month stay in an uber-rich mountain town living among the woodsies (i.e. people without homes that live in woods). It was quite an experiment, to say the least
Friday, August 31st 2007: 20 Things I've Learned Living in the Woods
Tonight is my last night in this here small town. We will be attempting to hitch hike to Denver in the morning. I will be skipping out on my job, and leaving my home in the woods. In honor of my last night in this village I wanted to compile a list of what I have learned will living in the woods. So here it is:

20 Things I've Learned Living in the Woods

1. Water is precious. There will probably be wars about it one day.
2. You don't need a gym to get in shape, just start walking your ass everywhere.
3. People will always try to help you out.
4. Be honest. It sucks to have to lie all the time.
5. Being homeless really isn't so bad, in fact it could be a quit judging people about it.
6. But being homeless is really bad when it is raining.
7. Take care of your feet.
8. Befriend your public library. The knowledge there is free.
9. Don't do coke. It will only trap you, and when you are depressed and wondering why you are doesn't help you figure it out.
10. Pooping in the woods is gross. No one should have to be that intimate with their shit.
11. Not every sound you hear at night is a cougar or a bear or an ax murderer.
12. You don't need to shower THAT much.
13. Cigarettes make it hard to hike up a mountain.
14. Appreciate your kitchen.
15. Its way better to pee standing up.
16. Bears can smell your mac and cheese.
17. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
18. Get your sleeping schedule from the sun. You'll feel way better!
19. Drinking too much makes you sick.

And the final things that I've learned while living in the woods is...
20. Running water and electricity are sooooo overrated.
While it was not an easy time in my life, I have to admit that many of the wisdoms I gathered as a woods dweller will be helpful as a set out on this journey. Also, I'm coming up on another two week bout of houselessness. Last time, I wasn't nearly as prepared as I could have been. I will need to harness the power of previously Vagabond Expert Amy to help the current Four Years Soft Amy as she makes her way into this wild n' crazy world.

This is where in real life I would yell something like, "Feats of strength!" or growl "bring it on!" to the nearest listener. I can be a trash talker, ya know. However, right now, I don't really have much room to talk. Oh well.

 Here's a picture of happy me in those same woods five years ago.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Getting There's Half the Fun (Readers Choice Edition)

Last month, I asked everyone that cared to notice what sort of volunteer projects I should try out during my final days Portland. I planned to stick around for approximately three months before I attempt to bike myself to the Redwoods. I think it’s especially important to spend some of my time in California’s beautiful state parks because they are facing lots of budget cutsthat threaten the state's park system-- so, good choice team. This past time around I had a total of 7 votes (Yes, I was one of them) and we voted as follows:
  • After school skate program with middle schoolers (28%) – I’m doing this. I don’t go every week, but each time I can, I have tons of fun. The kids are amazing.  I will be able to volunteer with them until Mid-May. It has been very rewarding, and I have even been learning how to skate board!One thing that I have been looking into because of this experience is how to write grants. Not an easy endeavor. Advice welcome. I want to see the skate camp program expanded to an actual summer and/or weekend camp. These kids need more mentor time than just Wednesdays after school.
  • Make a political info graphic with a local animator (28%) This? Not so much. The local animator with all the skills needed to spend her valuable time working on a for money project. Being a starving artist isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. Hopefully, however, we will be able to work together to edit some videos for the blog. She’s incredibly talented, and I’d love to be able to share some of her work with all of ya’ll.
  • Community Cycling Center fixing bikes (28%) I also haven’t done this. However, since the poll has closed, and the internet has spoken; it sounds like this is something that I will have to give a try. Upon initial research, it looks like I will need to fill out an application, go to an orientation and then I can drop in on one of the times where they recycle and fix up bicycles to give out to low-income kids during their Holiday Bike Drive. This would probably be a good thing for me to do before I leave. I need to learn  how to fix all those things on a bike that inevitably will happen to me on the road.    
  • Random episodic projects from Hands on Portland (14%) This I have been doing. So far, I’ve volunteered at The Rebuilding Center and Potluck in the Park. I could not praise the Hands On Network enough. They make it so easy for new volunteers to get involved. I had so much fun at the Rebuilding Center pulling out nails that I signed up to do it again. I may even pick one or two more projects to try through Hands On Portland, especially since I may have recruited some extra folks to join me. Score!
So the votes have been tallied and my path is clear. I will need to volunteer with the Community Cycling Center & complete a political info graphic with a local animator before I leave for this journey. OK. I’m not so sure about making a political info graphic though. My animator has other projects to tend to. I guess I could take pictures and tell a story about something I really care about and commit it to video. I can do that. Perhaps I will write a simple piece about volunteering or volunteer travel. That’s not a bad idea. I'll give it a go.

Thank you voting audience!

So, what needs to be voted on next? The last item that seems to be in question for me is my means of travel for the long haul and how/if my special friend is going to come along. I think that two of us are pretty stuck together, but we are quite different in the "means of travel" department. Oleg is a bit more “prepared” than I am. If it were up to me, I would just ride my bike until I got tired. He has some other things in mind.

Since this particular poll topic is a bit outside of my control, I have asked Oleg to make the selections. Question: How should my special travel friend make his way South?

 The options he has chosen are as follows:
  • Bicycle + trailer 
  • Tricycle/sailing catamaran  
  • 4x4 camper van + sailboat on trailer 
  • Sailboat + bikes 
  • Veggie Oil Powered house boat
Sigh. After reading those options, maybe you can start to understand what I have been dealing with here. In each of these scenarios, I would still be riding my bike –at least to the Redwoods. That’s not the question. What is in question, however, is the means at which my very dear and very strange special friend is going to follow me.  He is willing to take your votes into consideration, so please impart your wisdom in the comments and in my very scientific poll over there. à

Thank you and wish me luck.

COUNTDOWN: 57 days

Monday, March 12, 2012

Balance, Blogging, Money & Saving the World

Have I always been an insomniac?

"Don't you know what time it is?!" I mumble-yell to no one in particular. The sky was beginning to look like that big metaphorical painter in the sky blended together some blue & yellow, but somehow managed to never make green.

I hate it.

I groaned and rolled over, desperately trying to tuck my insomnia away from the daylight.  From beneath my blanket cave, I could hear the neighbors getting ready for work.

Sigh. I certainly wasn't the one embodying the spirit of 6:30am. I should be doing yoga or showering or something. Instead, I was just hoping, dare I say praying, that I would be able to get a few hours of sleep-- just a few-- I'm not even asking for the full eight. Sheesh.

By the time 9:30 rolls around, I feel like I been in bed for days. I need to get moving. Not working has really messed with my schedule, or perhaps it was working an 8 to 5 that was "messing with my schedule" all along. I can't tell. I'm starting to think that I don't operate in 24-hour days like most people or even the planet does. I'm guessing that my planet has 36 hour days--a slower rotation. That sounds about right.

And when did I become a "blogger"? Gross dude. 

Though the frequency at which I update my blog may not suggest it; I've been writing a lot lately. Sometimes, going on 30+ hour binges of "creativity" that end in exhaustion & self-doubt. You see, I'm not actually cut out to be a "blogger." I'm generally a pretty private person, and writing about myself and my escapades requires a certain wherewithal that I most certainly lack.

I make up for it with whiskey though. It seems to help me push that "publish" button.

Don't worry, mom. I'm not drunk every time I write. Not by a long shot.  If I were,we'd have far more blog posts to sift through by now. To be honest, I'm probably a more intoxicat(ed)ing than your average blogger, but not nearly as drunk as you average writer. Somewhere deep in my cultural consciousness resides a stereotype that writers are drunks, but I can't be a drunk. I'm trying to save money. Of course. What round the world travel bloggers journey would be complete without talking about money?

The first sunny weekday that I have
been able to enjoy in many years
You mean, I still need money?
 I have already done the part that most people write about. (i.e. How to Save Money to Travel the World) I already did that. I didn't know so many people were writing about it while I was doing it either. So I did it without them and so can you. (Something else I learned from reading hella blogs: they like to tell/convince you that you can do it--whatever it may be. I most likely agree with them.)

I had a very good job before I started this whole project. I made enough. I never felt like I needed more money. Granted, I don't have children or a mortgage or a shopping habit or anything, but I never felt like I needed to save up for anything. If I wanted something, I could  have it, but it didn't always work out that way. For example, several times over the years, I convinced myself that I was going to buy a car.

Every October--give or take a good rainfall-- I would give myself a speech that went something like this, "Amy, you're an adult now. You have a 401k and health insurance. You pay taxes and go to galas. Its time for you to get a car. You could go to the beach whenever you wanted! Buy large items without a second thought! You could arrive to work well-dressed & dry. People your age are having children and buying houses, you can get a goddamn used car." I'd look at cars, ask car people, price out new car-friendly budgets, but I never ended up getting a car. Each year, I would continue to ride the same bike in the same rain pants to the same job and never actually level up and join the carbon emitters.

A cyclist I shall remain.

"My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income." - Errol Flynn

Since I no longer have to challenge myself to save exorbitant amount of money  to make my dreams a reality, I have instead been trying to limit my spending to lengthen this experience. Therefore, my most recent monetary obsession has been to live within the wages of an average minimum wage worker in the United States. According too my calculations this amounts too approximately $1160 per month. Yikes!

I'm not sure how people do this month after month after month.  I'm sure its possible, but it must be extremely boring.  I was never really an extravagant individual, but these financial constraints are just plain suffocating.

I have failed at my attempts for January & February, but each month I've been getting better. Here are some things that I am used to that I have already had to give up:
  • Coffee. I used to be able to have coffee when I rolled into work. I'd sip it luxuriously while I conversed with my fellow food bankers. I loved it. I love coffee--nice coffee. Buying your own coffee, however, adds up. They call it the "latte effect." Who knew? If I wake up and brew a cup everyone morning I would need to buy a $10.00  bag of coffee at least once a week. Plus cream. If I went to a coffee shop every morning, I would need to spend approx. $2.25 per day on this habit. Done with that.
  • Sushi. My favorite! My little Iowan roots knew nothing of sushi before I arrived on the left coast. I don't think my parents have ever even had sushi. But I must confess, that I have probably eaten sushi an average of once a week for the last four or five years. Yikes! That's about $20 a pop. I cringe thinking how much I would have saved if I had never discovered those damn lil' fishies. 
  • Microbrews. Portland Oregon is the land of strippers & microbrews (and coffee & bikes & hipsters & cliches & whatnot). It is customary in local culture to bring a six-pack of microbrews to every potluck, BBQ, movie night, etc. Whenever you go meet your friends at a bar, another popular local custom, there is a diverse selection of microbrews on tap or in bottles from which to choose. They're usually smooth and brewed within the city limits. Irresistible. Generally, they cost $4-$5 per pint. In my "past life" I would not think twice about spending 10-15 dollars a couple nights per week on these delicious drinks. Now, not so much. I'm avoiding these scenarios as much as possible, and if I need to show my face for a birthday/going away/my bands playin' type occasion then its cheap lagers for me. 
  • Health Insurance. Going without health insurance makes me nervous, but the sad thing is: most people I know don't have it anyway. Harsh reality. I would like to get some before I go do anything too stupid, but we'll have to see where all the chips fall. Keeping my insurance from my job (COBRA) would cost me $426.23 per month. That is more than I pay for anything. That is more than I have spent on anything ever, besides a ticket to the Philippines and my current freedom. 
  • Anything New. Almost nothing I wear is "in style." All of my pants have holes in them. I don't own any sandals. I can't find my loofah, so I'm washing my face with my hair. I wish I was kidding, but I'm not. I don't need anything new. There isn't anything that I don't have that I think I should go out and buy. Its taken a long time to get my mind to this place. I don't necessarily recommend it.
Each time I spend any money, I record it in an excel spreadsheet and classify the expenditure so that I can make pivot tables & pretty charts that accurately describe that nature of my spending. If you haven't already figured it out. I am a giant nerd. I even wrote an entry that included my shiny monthly charts, but I'm not sure if I want to share them. Seems kinda personal doesn't it? But lots of travel bloggers do it, and they admit that they get the most e-mails from people curious about budgets & saving money. hmm.

Wait, I thought you said something about "saving the world"?

Oh yeah, I did do that, didn't I? Well, who do you think I am? A super hero? Sheesh. I'm a volunteer. I'm just going to try to save the world.

PS. If anyone has suggestions how to best go about saving the world, I'm all ears.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Volunteer Project: The Rebuilding Center


My shoulders are sore this morning. Not your typical hunched-over-a-computer-all-day kind of sore. Sore in the front of my shoulders, between my arms and where I would imagine my pecs would be. I want to tell you that I been working out: toning or shaping or whatever. But that is not the case. "Working out" is not where I get my burn, just like the ladies that swapped out their weekly aerobics class for a shift packing food at the food bank, I get my exercise from life.

So what activity was my work out that left me so sore? I spent my evening ripping hundreds of nails out of salvaged wood at The Rebuilding Center. I was so focused on getting  those all nails out of all that wood that I didn't even imagine that I could hurt this bad today. I guess all that gratuitous grunting and claims of "feats of strength" have finally caught up with to me.

What is the Rebuilding Center? and How Did I Get Involved?

Essentially The Rebuilding Center seeks to make home repairs affordable for everyone in the community and divert from the waste stream by encouraging the use of salvaged & reclaimed building materials. Of course, I love it!

As you may recall, I signed up to volunteer with this shift last week through Hands in Portland. They made it super easy. When I arrived, there were already a few people standing around awkwardly waiting for someone to tell them what to do. I knew right away that these were my people.

Once it looked like everyone that was gonna be there was already there, we were directed sign some forms and listen to a schpeel from their volunteer coordinator. He explained that the mission of The Rebuilding Center , and outlined the different programs that they run: ReFind furniture sale, salvage materials store, deconstruction services and volunteer driving & community outreach programs.

What did they make you do?

After the short orientation the coordinator led the group to one of the warehouse where they had piles & piles of wood waiting. First he broke us off into teams to put away new donations. Already everyone was chatting and introducing themselves to one another. It was kinda cool.

After we finished sorting wood pieces, I got recruited to pick up nails using this super magnet that you rolled across the floor. I thoroughly enjoyed this task.  The clink of the nail getting sucked up by the magnet was addicting. It felt like a video game.

I was even paired up with this really rad lady that explained how she was there because her friends have been volunteering together on for a while now. They just finished up six different projects, and now they are coming back for more. What a great idea!

After we freed the floor from every nail we could find, they brought over loads of newly salvaged wood that had all those hidden and protruding lil' demons all over them.  Some of those nails were pretty committed to their wood, and it would take a combination of many tools to free them from one another. As one volunteer put it, "these have to be some of the first nails ever invented."

As you can probably tell, this was my favorite task, sore shoulders and all.  The time flew. Next thing I know, I'm out of breath, covered in wood chips, standing in a pile of cast out crooked victories. I look up and everyone but me and my newest friends are already cleaning up and getting ready to go. Wow. That's something I didn't know was in me.

So How Would I Rate My Experience?

The Rebuilding Center has all the elements of a successful volunteer program. They did a great job explaining the breadth of their endeavors, telling us how we could be helpful, and keeping everyone busy and productive. From a volunteer programs prospective--it's spot on. From a volunteer's perspective--highly recommended.

To be honest, it was a really enjoyable evening activity. I think I'd like to do it again. It would be even better if I could convince some of my peers to join me. Anyone? Anyone? It'll be bangin'. I promise.

So Ya Wanna....
... Volunteer with the Rebuilding Center?
... Donate to the Rebuilding Center?
...Volunteer through Hands on Portland?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Jungle Fever: An Adventure in Co-Ops & Raw Food

Do we remember how that Raw Food Detox Diet book was dropped off at a house where I was staying? Well, that same household has since then both joined a co-op and bought a juicer. This has been my homebase for the last week or so.

Our first victims
Now, these are not your average juicer co-op healthy eating kind of people. I believe this morning there were two "Garbage Burritos" ordered for breakfast take out. Not exactly raw, but whatever. Flip to the fresher side of things-- approximately one week post-juicer. We have juiced many tiny mountains of fruits and vegetables and have made tons of fibrous pulp food. This has to be the healthiest that this group of people has ever eaten. Its an amazing experiment.

But surprise, surprise, as I go along my merry path to better health and self, I stumble upon a volunteer component to it all. Apparently, at the People's Food Co-op in Southeast Portland, if you donate 3 hours of your time per week you get a 15% discount on your groceries.

Say what? I can do that! and it would be helpful to so many more people than just myself and the co-op. My friends could also benefit from my service through cheaper groceries.

So, of course, I chatted with one of the cashiers about the household volunteering at the co-op. She let me know how it worked. Apparently, they run 3-hour shifts where volunteers clean up, stock, do dishes, close the shop etc. Do one of these shifts each week and you get the discount on your groceries. I inquired about the possibility of high-skilled volunteer opportunities as well, which may be more fitting for some of the computer geeks in the group. This was also something the co-op was willing to accommodate.

After I spoke with the household and affiliates, it seems like we would like to volunteer in teams of two every other week to get into the swing of things. We could get to know the program better and see if we like working there. I promised to go to any volunteer shifts that people "forgot about" or couldn't make, since I have the time to do so.  I've also been charged with communicating our interest back to the co-op. I'll let you know how it goes. Cheers to fresher living.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Downsizing: Part III

For me, it’s easy to imagine a life without my stuff—unencumbered, light, free. I have slick back hair in my fantasy…and a one piece body suit. Whatever. But as I carry on my wayward, I’m finding it more and more difficult to part with the last of my collection. Each item seems to represent something outside of itself. Ya know? from that time I went that one place and so on.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to derive inspiration from one of my favorite people, Julia from Today I threw Away… She had been getting rid of five things a day for about a year, but then she took a break. But now? She’s back! Admittedly, I’m quite glad she started this project last year, when I was first thinking about this whole adventure. It made me want to acquire less stuff and scale down for the future. Counterintuitive, huh?

And so it follows, now seems like a good time for an update on the whole downsizing thing. I will once again be ‘floating,” and need to disappear for about a week. So I've organized all my stuff. It only seems fitting. 

I managed to sort everything in three piles. First, is the stuff that I will donate or “gift.” I have it sitting in the basement ready for departure:

Here’s the helpful infographic to outline the stuff that I’m leaving in the closet. There is still so much to get rid of:

Ok, maybe that’s not all that helpful. Doesn’t it seem like I have more stuff than last time? I’m not sure how that happened, but this is the honest to god last of it—blankets and all. OK fine, I still have one bike... and this stuff, that I’m taking with me:

I swear, the next time that I do one of these downsizingentries I’ll be a lean mean travelin’ machine, or maybe not. This is hard er than it looks...

PS. I had this entry ready to go last week when I began my houseless wanderings, but my transient lifestyle has made it difficult to simultaneously find electricity & internet that my 2005 DELL Inspiron can connect to--she's finicky. I'm going to need to level up my hardware if I'm ever going to become the digital nomad of my dreams.