Friday, October 21, 2016

Clitopia - Dreaming of a Different World

Clitopia. Where pussy power and utopia collide.

Don't bother trying to score the domain. I've owned it for years.

This morning, I had coffee with a journalist friend. We have great conversations and can cover numerous topics with the agility of a jack rabbit.

One of the things we discussed, was the weird things people say to me - a vagina carrying female - that they'd probably never say to a man. We were slinging out the adjectives in rapid fire, and I'm sad to say, I've heard every one. Over-reactive. Bitchy. Bossy. Emotional. Abrasive. Aggressive. "Don't throw anything at me, Stacey." 

You get the point.

In business. In advocacy and activism. In relationships. In random situations. Women typically have to work much harder than men to be taken seriously or be heard. If you're a minority woman, the chips are stacked against you even higher. This really sucks.

We're talked over in meetings. We're talked down to in politics. We're judged more by our body type than our intellect, and are expected to be docile and demure at all times. Ladylike. But in reality, if you look around your community, what you typically find are a whole lot of women actually getting shit done. Maybe it's because we have maternal instinct. Maybe it's an empathy thing. Maybe we're better at multi-tasking. I'm sure there are studies out there somewhere to give it scientific validity, but at least in my community, I know it's a fact. And many of these bad ass women are never recognized for their bad ass work. Which is a shame.

I had someone today say to me "Sell yourself to me. Sell me on you." This someone already knows my work ethic and skill set, and proceeded to play this weird psychological game of simultaneously building me up, then breaking me down. Having lived with a mom who had abusive boyfriends while I was growing up, coupled with lots of therapy when I was younger to overcome all of the crap, this was a serious trigger for me. It also made me wonder if this someone would be speaking to penis slinging man consultant me in the same way. I don't think it was necessarily on purpose or that he's a closet sexist, I just think it's so deeply ingrained in our society and upbringing that men are not stopping themselves to think about it a bit deeper, and ask themselves: "Would I say this to a man?"

No fucking way. And really, this someone should have been thinking about selling himself to me. Because I know my value. I know my worth. And I know I'm very good at what I do. Do I want to be working with you?

Moving on, there apparently are some folks out there getting uncomfortable with me saying the word vagina. Out loud and in public no less. The gall! Just WTF?! Do these same people get uncomfortable when they hear the word arm? Or finger? How about tongue? That sounds a little dirty...Can we please become a society that uses proper terms for our anatomy without weirdness or shame already? It's part of my secret (or not so secret) joy in producing The Vagina Monologues, as we finally get to see the word in print and said aloud numerous times in hopes to normalize it for everyone.

I'll never forget when my son Zane was in preschool. He was three years old at the time, and there was a little boy at school who called his penis his fire hose. Zane said "It's not a fire hose. It's your penis." The little boy started crying and went to tell the teacher. Zane was adamant about repeating over and over "It's his penis. It's not a fire hose." When I picked him up that day, there were notes about it on his daily update, and he was very upset that the teacher hadn't had his back on it. I didn't blame him.

Why are we such a sexually repressed society who are so uncomfortable with those words that we have to make up ridiculous shit for the reproductive parts of our anatomy?

It makes me want to say vagina followed by BOO! If you're male, you have a PENIS. If you're female, you have a VAGINA. There. I said it. Can we move on now?

My day today, and week in general really, has made me extremely philosophical. It's especially made me think about authenticity and leading a quality and values-driven life.

When I was younger, I had so many white, older men telling me I needed to "tone it down." "Tone it down, Stacey. You're making people uncomfortable." Really, the truth, is that I was making them uncomfortable. When I was younger, I cared more about what these older, white men thought. I doubted myself. I tried to behave and speak out less. I started acting how I thought they wanted me to act. I stopped being my true, authentic self. This didn't make me happy. I realized in doing this, I had sacrificed my own happiness, just so they wouldn't feel uncomfortable. Pure bullshit.

Then I got older.

Though I continued (and still do, as it's a constant evolution to become our better selves) to hone my diplomacy skills, be aware of my body language, pick my battles, behave when necessary, and trust my gut; you better bet your ass I'm going to speak out if I feel it's the right thing to do. If it makes you uncomfortable, too bad. That's not my shit. It's yours.

Please tell me of a time in history where positive change was made by being docile and demure. The quote "Well-behaved women rarely make history" is a quote, because it's true. We are the mama bears and when it's time to protect our cubs,  you better watch out!

When I accepted and embraced being my authentic self I was happy. I speak my truth because it's my truth. My story. My life. I am blessed to have incredible people in my life - within both my personal and professional relationships. They are people who love me for me and sometimes even in spite of me- rough edges, imperfections and all. I respect authentic, passionate people. Even those I don't always agree with. There is a way to find common ground in the majority of situations (current election cycle excluded though because those people are just bat shit crazy...)

So this was my Thursday, late night brain barf.

I vented. I opined. I philosophized.

Moral of the story: Just be you. Speak your truth. Be kind. Stick up for those more vulnerable than you. Stand up for the sister women around you. Mentor. Encourage. Inspire. Don't be an asshole, but don't ever be a doormat either. And most importantly, please remember the only person you ever need to sell yourself to -- is you. You are the one who will have to look at yourself in the mirror every day for the rest of your life, so make sure that life is spectacular. Clitopia, here I come!

Love, Laughter and Vaginas,

Msss. Champion

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Best of the Best of the Best - with an Icky Mouth

So in my line of work, and quite frankly, just because of who I am, there are times when I piss people off. Granted, the people I want to love me typically do, and those other people... well, they usually don't. Which is 100% fine by me.

This is beautifully highlighted in the October 2016 issue of Phoenix Magazine.

In the Editor's Picks, I was amused to see my name listed under the category Best Twitter War. 

Here's what was written:

"Unless you’re a celebrity, athlete or politician, Twitter is more or less obsolete, but the micro-publishing trailblazer can still offer up an entertaining social-media slap-fight from time to time. In the red corner: Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump. In the blue corner: liberal PR consultant Stacey Champion, she of the icky-mouthed “Doug DoucheBAG” recycling campaign. After Champion called him a “#utility... teet [sic] sucker,” Stump retweeted the insult to her client list, asking “Are the clients of this PR person aware of how poorly this reflects on them?” Champion called it a “low blow” and defended the tweet as her “own personal opinion.” Uh, touché?"

What didn't amuse me, was the attempt at a back-handed slam, factual inaccuracy, and also the use of the term icky-mouthed which makes me think of that character Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie. Remember her? I'm dating myself, but she was the first person I thought of.

Seriously. Icky-mouthed?!

So first, to delve into the backstory over the Twitter war with Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump, an Arizona elected official. I was at my office, with a client actually, watching the Arizona Corporation Commission on a live feed trying yet again to dismantle net metering and kill solar in one of the sunniest states in the country. This pisses me off. And it should piss you off too. The Arizona Corporation Commission and APS (the largest utility monopoly in the state who the commissioners are supposed to regulate with the best interests of the people in mind) are currently being investigated by the FBI.

And with headlines such as this 4 of 5 Republican candidates for ACC doubt human role in climate
change, should we be surprised to hear they're doing the bidding for dirty energy? Probably not.

So at some point while listening, watching and tweeting, I tweeted the following: If you'd like to see what a #utility & #ALEC teet sucker looks like, just listen to AZ Corp Commissioner @BobStump. #corruption #energy

(Ack! I know I spelled the word teat wrong as I was typing fast and rather than delete and do over, I just let it go. It happens to the best of us. Flawed humans we are.)

So shortly after this tweet, elected official Stump made it a point to visit my company website and pull my current/former client list. He then quoted my tweet and started tagging current and former clients, with the obvious intent of harming my business and hoping to make me lose clients. I've never seen an elected official cross the line like this before, but bad boy Stump seems to cross many lines, so I guess it's not too surprising.

Thankfully, all of my clients had my back and I did apologize for my spelling error. 

Okay, so back to the Phoenix mag comments...

First of all, your "Uh, touché?" was just mean-spirited. I'm not an elected official - he is. I'm a single mom and small business owner who works my ass off and gives a ton of my time back to my community volunteering for various causes. I didn't call his boss (or the FBI) to tattle on him. What he did was wrong, and had I lost any clients from his little game, you better bet I would've been livid and speaking to an attorney.

Second, I'd really like to discuss the "icky-mouthed “Doug DoucheBAG” recycling campaign." Had you taken the time to do five minutes worth of research, you'd understand this love project was launched after our Governor passed a law which bans cities and towns from enacting any kind of plastic bag ordinance or ban. It's basically a ban on bans. It's also basically the opposite of California's bag ban law. Why is this? Because our Governor is in the pocket of the Koch brothers and the petroleum industry. You can read about it here, or could have just Googled "Arizona bans plastic bag bans" as it made national news - and not in a good way. Which I think was a very ICKY thing for him to do, especially as the city of Phoenix alone spends $1 million per year just pulling plastic bags out of the recycling stream (as they're not allowed in your blue bin, FYI). 

So is it just that they're called Doug DoucheBAGS that you think is icky then? I thought it was pretty clever and funny. Other people do too. They're reusable bags. Not only that, but they're organic cotton and made in the U.S. And all of the money after cost is donated to the Sierra Club Grand Canyon chapter because God knows they need all the help they can get in this batshit crazy state. People called him that icky D word before me. It just seemed to fit, you know? I Hate the Environment was the first of three actually. There's also I Hate Education and We Hate Reproductive Rights (featuring his pal the evil church lady). Speaking of douching, the douchebag was invented by a man. Here's a great article you can read titled Lysol-Scented Vaginas: The Strange History of Douching. Also, douching is really not good for vaginas at all as it upsets the delicate PH... Oh my gosh, I bet you think that V word is icky too though so I should probably stop.

So are you ready for the happy ending? Because we all LOVE a happy ending! 

If you click over to the Readers Picks for People & Media, what do you see? You see this. Readers Pick for Best PR Pro. Hey! That's me!

Moral of the story: Haters gonna hate. Lovers gonna love. Winner winner turkey dinner! So thank you, Phoenix Magazine. I'm happy to make you a list of things you should really feel icky about any day of the week. Plus, the AZ legislative session will be starting again shortly, so there will no doubt be plenty of icky things to get our panties bunched up over. 

Until then...

Love + laughter,

-Msss. Champion

Monday, July 25, 2016

Dear Democratic Party, I'm Breaking Up With You

Dear Democratic Party, I'm breaking up with you. I just don't like you anymore. I don't trust you either. Every time we hang out now, I leave with a gross taste in my mouth and something isn't sitting right in my gut. It's not me, it's you.

I wanted to have this conversation face to face, but it's late, and everyone knows what a dink you are if you don't get a solid 8 hours of rest. This just couldn't wait any longer and I had to get it off my chest. So this letter will have to suffice.

I just don't feel like I know who you are anymore, and as time goes on, I feel us drifting further and further apart. Though on paper, we appear to be a good match, what happens behind the scenes would indicate otherwise. Where to start...

Let's start with progressive men. Though I know a whole lot of great, truly progressive men, many of those in leadership roles with the Arizona Democratic Party seem to be as big, if not bigger, misogynists than many Republican men I've met. At least with hardcore right men, I know where I stand. I know they think I should know my place (in the kitchen) and they are hell bent on legislating my vagina (and all vaginas). But I'd like to expect more from D men. I've watched brilliant women work in Arizona politics while a few token men get the credit for these women's hard work. I've watched these incredible women be demeaned, paid less than their male counterpoints and had their expertise questioned and insulted. I've experienced it first-hand by earning half that to male progressive counterparts, had more than one man steal my idea as if it were his own, and most recently, had a candidate client seemingly forget that I'm the owner of my company while they all spoke directly to the fantastic guy who works for me, and answers to me. I prefer a wolf to a wolf in sheep's clothing any day of the week. Stop saying you're for equality, then acting like a sexist pig when you think people aren't really listening. It's shitty. We really are capable I can assure you. We need more women in leadership roles. Period. And give credit where credit is due. To do otherwise is just having awful social graces.

Hypocrisy. I loathe hypocrisy, and just as I see it regularly from the far right, it's all too common with you too. You're progressive, but you really don't want those homeless people hanging out by your newly built, urban loft. You're progressive, but clean elections wouldn't be good for you. You're progressive and can't stand dark money, but you know out of state money will be channeled in for a smear IE campaign on that other guy, so that's just dandy. You're progressive, but get super uncomfortable if someone says #BlackLivesMatter. You're progressive, yet people speaking out loudly about oppression makes you cringe and you worry far too much about being polite - instead of speaking out about what's right. Quite frankly, you're mostly a bunch of soft, squishy testicles. Grow a vagina for crying out loud. What happened to standing behind your principles and standing up for those who may not have a voice? I just can't relate to a group of people in khakis who aren't willing to shout when need be.

Just as I don't feel the need to subscribe to a religion to be a good person, I no longer feel the need to subscribe to one party to stay politically active and motivated. On the contrary. Not belonging to a broken, two party system will allow me more freedom to speak my mind, as I know plenty of Democrats who I think suck as people and politicians. And we already know the majority of R politicians are wrapped in tinfoil and batshit crazy. We're all fucked up, flawed humans in some way, but some are far bigger liars and bullshitters than others. You know it's true. And you know who you are.

The shit show that is the DNC tied with the last Arizona legislative session clinched it for me. I heard Democrats say things that made me throw up in my mouth when they were caving on the solar referendum. "Grassroots is great, Stacey, but you know what's even better? A giant oak tree (APS). Where were the solar lobbyists and why weren't they donating money to my campaign or wishing me a Happy Birthday?" To all you ignorance is bliss folks out there who don't really have a clue about how corrupt politics really are, especially here in Arizona, bravo. I salute you and wish I didn't know half the shit I know. It's amazing what a little power and greed can do to a person in a relatively short period of time. Yuck.

I will continue to battle for our environment, women's rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrant's rights and reform, Native American rights, social and civil justice issues and the kind and compassionate treatment of all people. I will continue to pass out burritos to the homeless folks on Tuesday mornings and do art benefits for community members in need and fight against evil corporations like Nestle and be a decent human being who attempts to walk my talk. I will continue to support candidates and politicians who aren't sell-out egomaniacs and still have souls and are involved in politics for the right reasons. But I will do all of this as a No Party human. The party will happen on my own terms moving forward. And my party will most likely involve loud music, tacos, ice cold beer and laughter.

So farewell, Democratic Party. It's time for our dysfunctional relationship to end. I hope you miss my mixtapes, strong coffee and Sunday brunch. I know I'm an awesome girlfriend. It's just time for me to move on...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Time for Goodbyes

Mom called today. My Nana is finally on her way out. The Alzheimer's Groundhog Day mourning will finally be coming to a close after too many years.

I am flooded with emotions knowing that this is finally it. Hospice is now coming daily. She has stopped eating. Her organs are shutting down. They are giving her morphine so she won't be in too much pain.

I just revisited what I wrote in October of 2013 when she started really going downhill and was in the hospital. It was the last time she had any sense of recognition and I was one of the only people who could evoke it with her. The tears are flowing steadily and I know how deeply this does, and will, hurt. Even though she's already been gone for many years... I am simply letting myself feel. There is no other way to cope.

In this picture, I'm about 4 years old. I had for whatever reason, decided to put my hand on the wood burning stove and that's my Nana taking care of me. She always took care of me. She is the last person on this earth who has known me since birth and truly loved me unconditionally. She was the kindest and most nurturing person I've ever known in my life. She helped shape who I am in ways no one else could. I will be forever grateful for her love.

I'm happy that she'll be able to pass on in the house my Bapa built for her so many years ago. On land homesteaded by his family in the 1800's. He died at home too. I'm happy that she will no longer be simply living with no real quality of life. I can still picture her sitting in her rocking chair, with a cat on her lap and doing a crossword puzzle. I can still hear her voice. I can still hear her laugh. I can feel her touch and remember her smell. She was and will always be my amazing Nana. I want her death to be as painless and quick as possible after all of these years of limbo. Awful, wretched, heart-breaking disease...

 Her spirit will live on in me and my children. In their children one day. In these fields surrounding the property and in the leaves of the 100 year old oak trees. Her empathy, her secret desire to be a fashion designer, her stories of adventures with her friends, our own travel adventures. My Nana's life was simple and she lived for her grandchildren, my Z's, her gardens and pets. She loved people. One of my only regrets to this day, was not spending more time with her while I was in my 20's before her mind started to slowly drift away. Time that can never be recaptured and a forever lesson to love fiercely and make each moment count. I know she knew how much I love her.

I will go out soon to help plan her memorial, choose the songs I know she'd want to hear, write her obituary, and choke back my tears as I read a eulogy for the woman I love as deeply as I love my own children. She will finally be at peace, and this gives me comfort in my time of sadness. She wants to be cremated, just like my Bapa. I will keep some of her ashes to take on adventures with me as I do with his which was his wish. "I want to be everywhere." he told me. His only bride, who he married on Christmas Eve at the age of eighteen can be with him too.

I'm ready to say goodbye now... I will love you forever, Nana.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why Placemaking is Integral to a Sustainable Community

Written for Healthy Indoors Magazine - January 2015

“Build and they will come!” has been the mantra of more than one Western city, especially since the 1950’s; many of which are now dealing with sprawl, urban heat island effect, loss of historic buildings and air pollution.

Take my current residence Phoenix, Arizona for example. In 1950, the population of Phoenix was 106,818 and was comprised of 55 square miles. In 2010, population reached 1,445,632 people, spread out over 1,147 square miles, or basically about the same size as the state of Rhode Island.

Within this sprawling land of beige & stucco, gated communities and strip malls however, there are some very integral neighborhoods that have a strong sense of community, and have done an excellent job of placemaking. The mainly grassroots community activism and action has reaped the rewards of not only national press, but is home to one of the largest self-guided art walks in the country – Roosevelt Row’s First Fridays. This is the neighborhood where both my business and accidental gallery, Treeo are located. It is the neighborhood I’ve chosen to spend the majority of my time when not at home since moving to Phoenix, mainly because I like the way it feels. Warm. Friendly. Inviting.

So what is placemaking?
“Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well-being.”

This neighborhood feels good to me for various reasons. It is one of the only walkable areas in Phoenix in my opinion. Because the district is located in an arts overlay, many of the old bungalow homes and buildings were converted to gallery spaces, cafes and retail stores. There is life on the street and human scale buildings. There are trees and people and interesting murals everywhere. Even though Phoenix is a young city, many of the buildings in the neighborhood are from the 40’s and 50’s which helps give it a sense of place.

Before sprawl, the automatic garage door opener and high walls around properties, people would gather in community areas and talk. They would meet new people, connect with one another, and help each other out. When people care about their community, they look after it. They are invested in something bigger than just themselves.

Explaining placemaking to most developers and politicians is like speaking Pig Latin to your two year old and expecting them to understand you. Nine out of ten times they won’t, nor do they really care. They just want what they want.

And so it is that the neighborhood I love is in the sights of several developers looking to sanitize and beige-wash my ‘hood.

From tearing down some of the oldest murals in the state of Arizona which were painted by famous artist Ted DeGrazia (there is a petition if you’d like to sign it) to tearing down many of the old, human-scale buildings within a two block stretch to build 4-story residential dwellings they’ll most certainly call lofts, even though they’ll just be regular ‘ol apartments. The term “life on the street” is lost in translation as things are tucked behind nondescript walls and a shiny marketing brochure points out the private gym and community grilling area.

Everything which once drew national media attention – the vibrancy, the art, the eclectic feeling of the place, will be lost to a numbers game as many are priced out, become bored or simply wish to move on to greener pastures.

A sustainable city is a livable city. It is lively, diverse, animated and community oriented. The neighborhoods should be shaped by those who reside in them. Buildings should be repurposed and reused whenever possible. New development should incorporate itself into the neighborhood in a way that is friendly and beneficial.

Though downtown Phoenix is indeed in dire need of density, razing old buildings in one of the only lively arts districts to make way for suburban feeling apartment complexes isn’t going to bring an economic boom to our city as I think some are anticipating. There are numerous vacant lots which could be better utilized for this use in my opinion. A mixture of building types, uses and sizes is key, as is weaving together an interesting tapestry that blends old with new, valuing local businesses and arts and culture, and not continuing to ignore the voices of those who call the place home.

Though I speak of Phoenix, this is a story for everywhere. Placemaking. We all can get involved in shaping and adding to the places we live, work and play. It is sustainability at its core.

One of the best placemakers of our time, Jane Jacobs, said it best:

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

I hope Phoenix will hear this in time…

Love and laughter,

Ms. Champion

Sustainability Snippets

Written for Healthy Indoors Magazine - September 2014

There are so many things I’m excited about this month, I couldn’t choose just one topic. We’re down to a balmy 102 degrees in Phoenix, Arizona and I’m counting the days until I can wear boots and a sweater.

So in the spirit of weather, here’s what’s on my HOT list for the month.

On September 19th, metered parking spaces around the globe will be transformed into miniature parks. It’s not a day to necessarily be anti-automobile, but rather a day to be pro-people. What if our cities were designed for people first, rather than cars? How important are small, green spaces within the urban fabric? PARK(ing) Day brings these questions to light.

This will be our 6th annual PARK(ing) Day in Phoenix, I’ve been the organizer for four years now and involved since year one. What started out as a very grassroots effort with a handful of people, has grown every year, garnered lots of press and has warmed the city up to the idea of parklets. Last year we even got some national exposure. You can check out photos from our past Phoenix PARK(ing) Day events HERE. If you’d like to bring more parklets to your own community, check out Pavement to Parks for ideas and resources.

After PARK(ing) Day, I’ll be jumping on a red-eye flight with my 15 year old son Zane to attend what will hopefully be the largest march on climate change to date. Numerous events are planned through the weekend, culminating with a two mile march through the streets of New York City on Sunday, September 22nd.

The march will take place prior to a UN summit on the climate crisis which world leaders will be attending. I’ll be writing about our experience at the march next month, so stay tuned…

The Better Block Project is all about revitalizing a neighborhood block in a grassroots way. It’s like a real-life charrette to envision real change in a neighborhood. On September 27th it’s happening in downtown Phoenix. Vibrant communities are created one block at a time. You can learn more about The Better Block Project HERE.

Here’s a list of some interesting things to check out:
·         Amazing nature art
·         People St

Until next month…

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
― Anne Frank

Love and Laughter,

Ms.  Champion

Green Guatemala

Written for Healthy Indoors Magazine - July 2014

I’ve made it a favorite pastime to have adventures in cooler climates during the 115+ degree days that are all too common in Phoenix, Arizona during the summer months. Like many people, I have a bucket list of places I want to visit and things I want to do. Guatemala has been on that list for many years.

Mexico and Central America have always intrigued me. I love the history, the ruins, the people and the simplicity of day to day living. My last trip to Costa Rica five years ago was amazing, so when a friend told me at brunch she had some friends with a vacation rental house on Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, I was hooked. Serendipity.

We booked the trip within several days of talking about it, and planned a dinner with Earl and Suzanne, the owners of the house who split their time between Phoenix and Antigua, Guatemala. I was even more drawn to this house and these people because Earl and Suzanne have a non-profit in Guatemala called Seeds for a Future.

Guatemala is home to 13 million people, approximately 75% of whom live in poverty.  The country has the highest malnutrition rate in Latin America, and the fourth highest in the world. Ironic, as much of the produce we consume in the U.S., along with the coffee we drink, is grown and harvested in Guatemala. (On a side note, I was reading a sign while in Guatemala about coffee, and it said by the time the coffee is grown, harvested, processed, shipped and consumed as a $5 latte in the U.S., only about 3 cents makes its way back to Guatemala.) Even more reason to pay attention to buying fair trade.

PBS recently did a segment on the child malnutrition problem in Guatemala.

“In the Americas, the situation is most dire in Guatemala, where roughly 50 percent of the children are so malnourished they’re stunted, physically and developmentally, for life.”

Seeds for a Future is working to combat this heartbreaking crisis. In rural Guatemala, adults on average have less than a 6th grade education. The program takes a holistic approach by offering both hands-on education with regard to community and family gardening, harvesting and nutrition instruction, as well as a community library where computer training, adult education, women's health education and much needed pre-school programs are taught. Nearly 500 families are currently taking part in the various programs.  I encourage you to check out the Seeds for a Future website to learn more and follow them on Facebook too!

Now back to the adventure…

We flew into Guatemala City, where we were greeted by our driver David, who drove us to a lovely B & B in Antigua, about a 45 minute drive. I’ll also add that I was traveling with two other women, Mara and Michelle, so we were the three amigas.

Antigua, Guatemala is a beautiful city full of Spanish colonial architecture, fountains, ruins, markets (mercados) and brightly colored buildings- a treat after living in the land of beige for so long.

The streets are cobblestone, the sidewalks narrow, the people friendly and we spent hours just walking and exploring, soaking in the sights, sounds and smells.  Ornate wooden gates with small, decorative openings stand out amid the blue, yellow and red walls, beckoning you to come in and explore the lush interiors.

One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life was Casa Santo Domingo. It was the largest monastery in Antigua and was founded by Dominican friars in 1542. Three 18th century earthquakes wreaked their havoc on the monastery along with pillaging of materials. It was taken over as a private residence by an American archeologist in 1970, then converted to a 5 star hotel and museum, which is what it currently is today.

To say the grounds are breathtaking, especially after dark when lit by candlelight, is truly an understatement. Mara and I wandered the estate one evening for several hours. The way they’ve incorporated modern conveniences such as a large shade structure to blend into the surroundings aesthetically was very inspiring.  You can read more about it here and if you’re ever in Antigua, put it on your not to miss list.

The following morning we traveled by car to Panajchel, also known as Pana which is about a 2 hour ride and located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala on Lake Atitlán.  The lake, renowned as one of the most beautiful in the world, is the deepest in Central America, measuring depths of over 1000 feet. It’s surrounded by three volcanoes (San Pedro, Atitlan, and Toliman) and is ringed with many indigenous Mayan villages, Pana being the main village for port of entry.

A boat ride from Pana delivered us to the dock of the house which would be our home for the next five days. Nicholas and his family, the caretakers of the property, welcomed us and gave us a tour.  We fell in love with the warmth and hospitality of this local family. Wife Rosa, who prepared us delicious local food and freshly caught tilapia from the lake. Joanna, their vibrant 4 year old who would teach me words in Spanish and always start my day with a big hug. The teenaged children who we briefly met but who always seemed to be helping their parents and always had a smile. Even Rocky the dog and the two adopted puppies were friendly and lovely. Clothes would be hanging out on the line in the morning, and there was a conscious effort to reuse and not waste, which was apparent daily.

The house is nearest to SanMarcos La Laguna, which is a small village and only accessible from the house by trekking up a picturesque flight of stone steps to the main road or by taking the boat to the village dock. Many of the sidewalks in the village are simple dirt paths, and local women line these streets with fruit and vegetable stands. We met many expats in San Marcos who had come to the lake on holiday, and simply decided to stay. I can’t say that I blamed them…

Water cisterns are everywhere and many of the walls are made with recycled bottles. We also saw bottles used to separate garden beds and other creative uses. This is a place that was built around nature, versus on top of it. Many of the roads and sidewalks are pervious to allow the rainwater to go back into the ground easily. Composting is done everywhere. People walk and use their bodies and it’s not uncommon to see local women with a baby in a sling, a basket on their head and a bag in their hand.

For all of Guatemala’s beauty, it certainly isn’t without its environmental and sustainability challenges, including poverty and malnourished children. There has been an ongoing effort to clean up Lake Atitlan which has been on the decline from raw sewage, fertilizers and trash either being dumped into, or making its way into the lake.  You can read more about it here. In 2009, Global Nature Fund listed Atitlán its “Threatened Lake of the Year.” We noticed in our travels throughout Guatemala that there were very few, if any, trash cans in sight. Progress has been made, and I can only hope it continues to save such a magical gem of a place.

Other issues, which commonly plague developing and third-world countries in general, include:
·         Lack of access to potable water (especially in rural areas)
·         Poor air quality
·         Tropical deforestation
·         Soil erosion
·         Natural resource extraction issues (mining, petroleum, etc.)

I’m encouraged by the number of public/private partnerships I’ve seen to address many of these problems, and it appears there is increasing awareness of these concerns worldwide, which gives me hope.

If you’ve ever thought about visiting Guatemala, I would highly encourage you to make the trip.  I’m planning to escape the commercialism of the holidays and take my children, so they too can experience this captivating country and have their eyes opened to a different reality.

Stepping outside of our comfort zone to see how others live in different parts of the world is important. After watching Nicholas make the journey into the village just to bring us five gallons of clean water to drink, I came home with a renewed appreciation for the tap I’d been taking for granted. This is just one of many examples I could give.

Green Guatemala is in my dreams for now…

Love and Laughter,
Ms. Champion

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
― Gustave Flaubert