Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Day Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity North Shore

Volunteering at First Street Ipswich
On August 26, I got to take a break in the middle of the work week to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity North Shore's First Street Build in Ipswich.  My company is sponsoring the project, which means that employees can sign up to volunteer during work time. Craig and I have a special place in our hearts for Habitat, as our compadres in Guatemala live in a home that was built for them by the organization. When I heard about the company-sponsored build, I was excited for the opportunity to give back to this amazing program in my own small way.

Habitat is renovating a duplex which was originally built as housing for Ipswich mill employees during the 1890's. Don Preston, the President of Habitat North Shore, welcomed us to build site and told us a little bit about the history of the program. He told us that they had already selected two families to live in this duplex. They will get a 0% loan from Habitat to purchase them as condos, and they also put sweat equity into the construction.

Don explained that they were in the demo phase, and they got us suited up with hardhats, safety glasses, masks, and gloves. There were around 11 of us volunteering from work, as well as Don and two retired gentlemen who volunteer frequently.

Prying up the tiles and subfloor in the second story bathroom
(photo courtesy of Don Preston)
Don set us up into two teams - interior and exterior, The exterior folks ripped off the front porch and aluminum siding. The interior folks pried up floors. I was on the interior team, and Jim supervised us. I really enjoyed working with him. It was so hot and humid! Even though it was a bit stuffy in the house, I was at least glad that I wasn't outside working in the direct sun.

We pried up old tiles in the second floor bathroom, removed some nails (given the age of the house, some of the nails were very old-school: square with no real nailheads.) It felt  like I was on This Old House, which I used to watch religiously with my dad when I was a kid. Once the bathroom floor was removed, we nailed down some temporary plywood over holes in the subfloor for safety.

Prying up MDF and hardwood in the downstairs kitchen with Jim (center)
(photo courtesy of Don Preston)
When we were done with that, we headed downstairs to work on removing a layer of MDF and a layer of hardwood on the kitchen floor. This was really tough, as any attempt to pry up a large section would result in a very small chunk of MDF splintering off, leaving the rest intact. After half an hour of Jim and myself making futile attempts with prybars and hammers, Jim suggested using the Skillsaw to score the floor, and then pry it up in strips. A couple of the other guys joined us to help with the sawing and prying. My job was to extract nails to leave the floor clear for the saw, and there were a lot of them!

We managed to get the entire kitchen floor removed just before quitting time. The large dumpster, nearly empty when we arrived in the morning, was now full to the brim!

Volunteers from my workplace after a long, hot, and satisfying day of demolition
(photo courtesy of Don Preston)
Don (center) oversees the rehanging of the sign
It was really a great experience. Thanks to the Habitat folks who mentored us (Don and Jim) and thanks to my company for sponsoring that day's build and allowing about a dozen employees to participate!

While cleaning around the house this weekend, we found a lot of ceramic tiles left over from our last renovation. We will be donating them to Habitat North Shore, and Don says they may even be used for the very same bathroom where I pried up the old floor!

The exterior of the house after our day of work

Friday, August 28, 2015

July Ambassador for Barefoot Yoga Shala

Mermaid pose (Sarah Jayne Photography)
Wheel pose (Sarah Jayne Photography)
I previously wrote a bit about our yoga practices with regard to a yogawith horses retreat that we attended in June in Stowe, Vermont with our yoga studio, Barefoot YogaShala in Middleton, MA.

In July, I was selected as an Ambassador for the studio. Studio owner and teacher Jenny Ravikumar selects two students per month to promote the studio on social media. This was a no-brainer for me, as it is something that I do anyway. Yoga has been such a positive influence in our lives over the past 9 or so months, and I’m not sure that we would have become so enamored with it if we hadn’t found this particular studio. The community of instructors and students is welcoming, dynamic, and supportive. We have made many new friends and we are at the studio taking classes and workshops an average of 4 or 5 times per week. It makes us feel great physically, spiritually, and emotionally, so of course I want to spread the word to any others who might be interested – whether they are experienced yogis, or beginners (like we were).

As part of the Ambassador program, participants get a yoga photo shoot with local photographer Sarah Jayne Photography, and Jenny conducts an interview about their yoga experiences. The photo shoot was so much fun! And my interview is now posted on Jenny’s site.

Tree pose (Sarah Jayne Photography)
Tree pose (Sarah Jayne Photography)

Warrior II (Sarah Jayne Photography)
Reverse Warrior (Sarah Jayne Photography)

Mountain pose (Sarah Jayne Photography)
Camel pose (Sarah Jayne Photography)
Dancer's pose (Sarah Jayne Photography)
July Ambassadors Steph and Meghan with Jenny (Sarah Jayne Photography)

Jenny was almost 9 months pregnant at the time of the photo shoot, and still practicing yoga daily and teaching several times per week. In fact, she taught right up until 5 days before she gave birth. She and her husband Karthik welcomed baby boy Zyan Jacob on Monday evening. We are so excited for them and can’t wait to meet the little guy!

Jenny and Zyan (Sarah Jayne Photography)
Karthik, Jenny, and Zyan (photo courtesy of Jenny's mom Brenda)
Zyan Jacob Ravikumar (photo courtesy of Jenny)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

July 4th in Ecuador

We spent the 4th of July with our dear compadres in Ecuador this year.

Here are some posts that we made to Facebook about the trip. Full trip diaries coming soon to the main website!


Even though Barefoot Yoga Shala is closed for the holiday, we did an hour plus long practice with our godchildren in Ecuador this morning. Although I am not a licensed teacher, Craig thinks I did a pretty good Jenny Ravikumar impression. He thinks she would have been proud 
wink emoticon heart emoticon With Craig's MS, the stretching really helps, so we decided to incorporate our practice into our vacation as well. And all 3 kids loved it!! Craig was feeling really run down before we came here, but lots of rest and healthy food and fresh air have done him wonders, even at high altitude.

Yoga practice: Craig and Sisa in tree pose

Craig and Sisa practicing yoga

Max the dog joins practice, just like Apollo Ravikumar at Barefoot Yoga Shala!
Sisa in proud pigeon with Yupanqui and Tayanta
Yupanqui, Sisa, and Tayanta in supta baddha konasana

Craig, Yupanqui, Sisa, and Tayanta in happy baby pose
Craig, Yupanqui, Sisa, and Tayanta in Figure Four

Steph practices her headstand
Craig practices his headstand


We had another great day yesterday with our compadres in Ecuador. We helped with chores around the homestead, did another yoga practice, and played with the kids. I plucked my first chicken, and the family hosted a nice family from Holland for a homestay.

Steph in mermaid pose
Steph in wheel pose
Craig in headstand
Group savasana at the end of yoga practice
Craig plays Jenga with the kids
Steph and Tayanta
Steph plucks a chicken
Steph carries the chicken to Rosa for butchering
Dinner with Dutch guest

So, Papa Francisco (the Pope) has arrived in Quito, and the airport is closed for a couple of hours today with many road closures. He is supposed to fly out tomorrow morning, and as far as we can tell, our flight tomorrow at 2 p.m. should still be on schedule, but who knows. I guess it qualifies as an act of God (literally) if our flight home is postponed?


The Papal visit to Ecuador did not impact our flight home yesterday.
We watched his arrival at the Mariscal Sucre airport on TV on Sunday night. As soon as he stepped out of the plane, his cap went flying due to the high winds. He was very good-natured about it. After a welcome ceremony on the tarmac, his Popemobile (or Papamovil, in Spanish) drove him to Quito. Half a million people lined the streets to see him.
Papa Francisco rides to Quito in his Jeep Papamovil as we watch on TV

It's a really big deal for a country whose population is 80% Catholic. There hasn't been a Papal visit to Ecuador since 1985.
Apparently he spoke about the need for a more inclusive Catholic Church.
As Popes go, Papa Francisco is pretty cool!
When we flew out of Quito yesterday, we could see the red carpet area of the tarmac where they had held the welcome ceremony.

Here are more photos from the trip:

Tayanta meets us at the airport

Sisa and her Achi Taita get reacquainted on the ride home from the airport
Full moon over Volcan Imbabura, viewed from the 3rd floor of the house
Craig and Tayanta
Volcan Cotacachi, viewed from our morning walk
Volcam Cayambe, viewed from the 3rd floor of the house 
Rachel (the local Peace Corps volunteer) comes for a visit!
Sisa surveys the family farmland, a short walk down the road from the house. Quinoa and lupins are planted here. The soil was very dry, but luckily they got 2 days of rain after we returned home.
Rosa, Tayanta, and Sisa
Sisa, Tayanta, and Yupanqui return home from the store
Rosa and Tayanta
Abuelita in her outdoor kitchen
Aida and Tayanta
Tayanta and Antonio at breakfast