This site contains the archives of my travel blogs from 2010-2016.

I'm now blogging via Medium. For other life updates, including opportunities or requests to collaborate, visit my personal website.




Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Food for Thought / Thought-full Food


Tonight I peeled an orange and there was a little bitty orange growing inside.  Two for the price of one.

I said to him, "Woah there, little guy, you're in over your head."

And then I realized that this is precisely the place I love to be in life.

In over my head. 
WAY in over my head.

What an opportunity!  
Anything can happen.
So much to learn. 

Can't eat, can't sleep, 
so excited about something new 
to explore.
to conquer.

Expect the unexpected.
Welcome the uninvited.
Cherish the novelty.
Soon it won't be the mystery red-brick path,
it'll be the way you always go to work.
Soon it won't be the silky smooth olive-colored Grand Central Station motif,
it'll just be the metro card at the bottom of your purse.

Have you noticed how 'new' quickly becomes 'old'?
Maybe you fight to keep some things feeling new.
Maybe you move on to find newer.
Some things get better with age.
But it's easy to be comfortable around old things,
around familiar things.
And that is dangerous.
Many of the most comfortable times in my life
have been the biggest let-downs,
have been the least inspired,
have been a downward spiral toward apathy.

I would venture to say that the most uncomfortable times of my life
have been the happiest,
most adventurous, most memorable
most growth-filled, most rewarding,
have forced me to look for help outside myself
to engage with others, to share with others
best investments of my time.

I was reminded this week that 

If you're not in over your head, consider diving in.

Funny how all this was inspired by a little orange.
He was food for thought, after all.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Going West

Eventually, Finnish summer came to an end.  

In late August I welcomed American friends to Helsinki.  

Caleigh, Garrett and I strolled the sunny, windy green streets of Helsinki and visited plenty of seaside cafes where we always picked patios with the best views of the archipelago.  Angry skies signaled the changing season.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Maxime on the Mountain

Radio Free Europe just published this beautifully illustrated story of a life and a land redeemed.

In an isolated part of the Caucasus, a monk is spending his days in prayer and silence atop a 40-meter pillar of limestone in western Georgia (near the town of Chiatura). The Katskhi Pillar was used by stylites -- Christian ascetics who lived atop pillars and eschewed worldly temptations -- until the 15th century when the practice was stopped following the Ottoman Empire's invasion of Georgia. For centuries the pillar was abandoned and locals could only look up at the mysterious ruins on its summit. Finally, in 1944, a mountain climber ascended the pillar, discovering the skeleton of a stylite and the remains of a chapel. Shortly after the collapse of communism and the resurgence of religion in Georgia, former "bad boy" Maxime Qavtaradze (now 59) decided to live atop the pillar in the way of the old stylites. “When I was young I drank, sold drugs, everything. When I ended up in prison.... It was time for a change. I used to drink with friends in the hills around here and look up at this place, where land met sky. We knew the monks had lived up there before and I felt great respect for them." In 1993 Maxime took monastic vows and climbed the pillar to begin his new life. "For the first two years there was nothing up here so I slept in an old refrigerator to protect me from the weather." Since then Maxime and the nearby Christian community have constructed a ladder to the top, rebuilt the chapel, and built a cottage where Maxime spends his days praying, reading, and "preparing to meet God." As a result of the interest in the site there is now a religious community at the base of the pillar. Men with troubled lives come to stay and ask for guidance from Maxime and the young priests who live at the site. The men are fed and housed on the condition they join the priests in praying for around seven hours per day (including from 2 a.m. until sunrise) and help with chores. 

Be sure to view the 19 beautiful photos of life on the pillar by Amos Chapple in the original post on Radio Free Europe.

At the nexus of several influential and conflicting forces, this small country has seen a lot.  It's refreshing to hear now a story of hope and restoration.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Competence Mapping : Read About it on HuffPost

My latest article on Huffington Post is out. This one describes an incredible Finnish innovation - a third paradigm of investment technology that allows us to map the competencies of investors in the stock market and to rank them. It's not a cross-sectional view of current market performance, but rather a longitudinal, historical track record of each investor's performance with each of their stocks.

Competence mapping (or competence analysis) is a means of pinpointing expertise and holds great promise for efficient models of resource allocation.  Key to the further development of this system is market transparency, a topic which just received a lot of attention at the G8 summit last month, where a revolutionary declaration was made:

The leaders recognised that transparency has to cut across all aspects of government – and it will only really make a difference if all countries sign up to it. The Lough Erne Declaration could hardly be bigger picture: “Governments should publish information on laws, budgets, spending, national statistics, elections and government contracts in a way that is easy to use and re-use, so that citizens can hold them to account.” ... 

The Declaration was accompanied by the Open Data Charter – an extraordinarily impressive document that commits G8 members to make all data open by default and sets out ways to improve its quality, quantity and – above all – its usability.  [read more]

This is being heralded as the beginning of the Open Data revolution.  Exciting times!

My Huffington Post article describes how nonprofit cooperative Robin Hood Asset Management has applied the innovation to their own social goals. This application to the stock market is just the beginning for competence mapping technology. Keep your eyes open for more on this as the technology becomes known globally.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Weekend Roundup


Interesting articles and other specimens abound online this week; here's a taste of what caught my eye.
There's something for everyone here!

1. Trial of former Guatemalan president for genocide >> For the first time in history, a former head of state has been put on trial - and then convicted - of genocide by his own country's court system.  This op-ed in The Globalist was written by Laura Myers of Limitless Horizons Ixil. Laura was our guide and an ambassador from the Ixil community when I traveled to Guatemala with Belmont University in March 2012. Having lived for over a year and a half with the Ixil people in the remote highlands of central Guatemala, Laura's knowledge, experience, and empathy inform her unique perspective on this remarkable event in local, national, and world history.

photo credit: Eric Johansson

Swedish Photoshop expert creates mind-bending images

French-Namibian girl grows up napping with cheetahs, riding ostriches - incredible photos!

4. Finland's contribution to online shopping: Buy anything you see online! - Cool Helsinki-based company Kiosked makes advertising less annoying and more enjoyable for shoppers.  Read about it in the Huffington Post.

5. "Struggle is progress" - A young mother bares her heart as she chronicles the joys and challenges of raising her two small children.  The genuine emotion and thoughts she shares are a beautiful part of the human experience.

6. "The unbearable beauty of Finnish grammar".  Believe it or not, after living here for 8 months, I've actually started speaking Finnish - real conversations!  Even arguments.  I had to aggressively defend American cuisine the other day when some guy tried to blanket-statement American food is bad ... because he ate bad Mexican-style food from an "American" restaurant in Helsinki (where Finns manager and cook).  The parent company might actually have ties to America.  And I had all the words to set him straight in Finnish!

For all the warnings that you get about this being the most difficult language in the world, it's really not that bad.   I have found Russian most challenging so far.  

7. '13 Bankers', Financialization, and the Economy.  This was posted about 3 years ago, but the message is still incredibly relevant!  Let this be a foreshadowing of one of my newest and most exciting projects.  If you find this topic interesting, stay tuned!

photo: Cata Portin
8.  Philosophy of life: Insight & Inspiration with one of Finland's most loved philosophers. He also happens to be a researcher and lecturer at my university.  I had lunch with Esa one day; he's a brilliant and lovely man.  He's also my neighbor, and by some funny coincidence, I now live in the apartment he used to own - where he raised his kids.  Here's a paper on elevated reflection that serves as a great introduction to his work and passion!
If you've ever been to Finland, you understand how brilliantly Esa stands out!

9. What the World Eats in a Week. This is a super neat photograph collection of families around the world, surrounded by everything they eat in a typical week.  Highlights: I was astounded by the volume of what the German family drinks compared to all others.  I was also horrified by the minuscule 1/12th of the British table that contained unprocessed, fresh edibles.  Mexico appears to adore Coca-Cola; Guatemalans have insanely red tomatoes; bananas / plantains must be in every Ecuadorian dish.  Based on this table analysis, I should probably move to Turkey or Italy.  
Bhutan - photo: Peter Menzel

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

"The internet is where people are."


"One year ago I left the internet. I thought it was making me unproductive. I thought it lacked meaning. I thought it was 'corrupting my soul.' It's a been a year now since I "surfed the web" or "checked my email" or "liked" anything with a figurative rather than literal thumbs up. I've managed to stay disconnected, just like I planned. I'm internet free. And now I'm supposed to tell you how it solved all my problems. I'm supposed to be enlightened. I'm supposed to be more 'real,' now. More perfect.  But instead ..."  - Paul Miller

If you’re like me, you’ve found that constantly updated web content is the archenemy of productivity. You may have struggled through the past decade of an increasingly web-based lifestyle, trying to find the right balance between living in the real and virtual worlds.  As a perpetual traveler, I go through phases of intensive internet usage in an attempt to maintain relationships with family and friends on the other side of the globe.  At other times, I disappear from the net completely, leaving loved ones to ponder my e-footprints while I’m off cavorting with indigenous peoples in the depths of yet-to-be-networked hinterlands.

These profound changes of environment have turned me into an "all or nothing" internet user.  It's either completely absent and irrelevant to my lifestyle - or I'm constantly connected.  And I've been all too connected during my past eight months in grad school.

When I read Paul Miller’s story, a lot of his motivation to leave the internet resonated with me.  But by the end of his odyssey-like essay, I was convinced that my presence and interactions online are a largely positive force in my life and for others.  The internet is where people are.  I have a passion for encouraging people; if I hope to make the most of this gift, I need to be where people are.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Film: Of Mountains, Monks & Milk Tea


Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to share my experience as a Lumos Student Traveler in Nepal with students and faculty at Belmont University. This was the first screening of my film documentary: "Of Mountains, Monks & Milk Tea" and I was able to provide an intro as well as respond to questions via Skype after the film.

You can watch it here on Vimeo in full HD.

Of Mountains, Monks, and Milk Tea from shirah-eden on Vimeo.
Explore Nepal with Belmont University graduate and Lumos Traveler Shirah Foy as she joins the Pema Chholing Monk Family to teach English to Sherpas in the Himalaya. Discover the beauty of a 500 year-old-monastery and the ancient rituals of the Nyingmapa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Meet the 19 little boy monks who captured Shirah's heart, and the lamas who bestowed their wisdom upon her. Follow her on a 10-day trek from her monastery home at 3,000 feet up to Mount Everest Base Camp - the very roof of the world - at an incredible elevation of 18,200 feet. This film based on HD footage captured on site in Nepal in summer 2012.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Now: Read my work in the Huffington Post


I am excited to share with you my first nationally syndicated work, an article published earlier this week in the Huffington Post - one of the most widely-read, linked to, and frequently-cited media brands on the internet (they claim).

The article first appeared on oikos Student Reporter, where I'm slated to have a series of 4-5 articles on social entrepreneurship published over the next few months.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Happy April Fool's Day!


Having followed lots of internet pranks today, including this list, here's my pick of the day...

Stay young! Don't forget to laugh a little. Or a lot :)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Top 10 Things You Should Know About Life


Well, this is one guy's take on it.
I ran across this post on Quora, and was intrigued by the question:

What are the top 10 things that we should be informed about, in life?
As ambiguous and ridiculous this question sounds, I hope you get the gist of what I mean. What main things should a person know about in life? Whether it be their government, types of awareness in any particular subject, anything would be great to hear!

The most popular answer received 1820 votes, and was written by Justin Freeman. I like his style.

  1. 1. Realize that nobody cares, and if they do, you shouldn't care that they care. Got a new car? Nobody cares. You'll get some gawkers for a couple of weeks—they don't care. They're curious. Three weeks in it'll be just another shiny blob among all the thousands of others crawling down the freeway and sitting in garages and driveways up and down your street. People will care about your car just as much as you care about all of those. Got a new gewgaw? New wardrobe? Went to a swanky restaurant? Exotic vacation? Nobody cares. Don't base your happiness on people caring, because they won't. And if they do, they either want your stuff or hate you for it.
  2. 2. Some rulebreakers will break rule number one. Occasionally, people in your life will defy the odds and actually care about you. Still not your stuff, sorry. But if they value you, they'll value that you value it, and they'll listen. When you talk about all of those things that nobody else cares about, they will look into your eyes and consume your words, and in that moment you will know that every part of them is there with you.
  3. 3. Spend your life with rulebreakers. Marry them. Befriend them. Work with them. Spend weekends with them. No matter how much power you become possessed of, you'll never be able to make someone care—so gather close the caring.
  4. 4. Money is cheap. I mean, there's a lot of it—trillions upon trillions of dollars floating around the world, largely made up of cash whose value is made up and ascribed to it, anyway. Don't engineer your life around getting a slightly less tiny portion of this pile, and make your spirit of generosity reflect this principle. I knew a man who became driven by the desire to amass six figures in savings, so he worked and scrimped and sacrificed to get there. And he did... right before he died of cancer. I'm sure his wife's new husband appreciated his diligence.
  5. 5. Money is expensive. I mean, it's difficult to get your hands on sometimes—and you never know when someone's going to pull the floorboards out from under you—so don't be stupid with it. Avoid debt on depreciating assets, and never incur debt in order to assuage your vanity (see rule number one). Debt has become normative, but don't blithely accept it as a rite of passage into adulthood—debt represents imbalance and, in some sense, often a resignation of control. Student loan debt isn't always avoidable, but it isn't a given—my wife and I completed a combined ten years of college with zero debt between us. If you can't avoid it, though, make sure that your degree is an investment rather than a liability—I mourn a bit for all of the people going tens of thousands of dollars in debt in pursuit of vague liberal arts degrees with no idea of what they want out of life. If you're just dropping tuition dollars for lack of a better idea at the moment, just withdraw and go wander around Europe for a few weeks—I guarantee you'll spend less and learn more in the process.
  6. 6. Learn the ancient art of rhetoric. The elements of rhetoric, in all of their forms, are what make the world go around—because they are what prompt the decisions people make. If you develop an understanding of how they work, while everyone else is frightened by flames and booming voices, you will be able to see behind veils of communication and see what levers little men are pulling. Not only will you develop immunity from all manner of commercials, marketing, hucksters and salesmen, to the beautiful speeches of liars and thieves, you'll also find yourself able to craft your speech in ways that influence people. When you know how to speak in order to change someone's mind, to instill confidence in someone, to quiet the fears of a child, then you will know this power firsthand. However, bear in mind as you use it that your opponent in any debate is not the other person, but ignorance.
  7. 7. You are responsible to everyone, but you're responsible for yourself. I believe we're responsible to everyone for something, even if it's something as basic as an affirmation of their humanity. However, it should most often go far beyond that and manifest itself in service to others, to being a voice for the voiceless. If you're reading this, there are those around you who toil under burdens larger than yours, who stand in need of touch and respect and chances. Conversely, though, you're responsible for yourself. Nobody else is going to find success for you, and nobody else is going to instill happiness into you from the outside. That's on you.
  8. 8. Learn to see reality in terms of systems. When you understand the world around you as a massive web of interconnected, largely interdependent systems, things get much less mystifying—and the less we either ascribe to magic or allow to exist behind a fog, the less susceptible we'll be to all manner of being taken advantage of. However:
  9. 9. Account for the threat of black swan events. Sometimes chaos consumes the most meticulous of plans, and if you live life with no margins in a financial, emotional, or any other sense, you will be subject to its whims. Take risks, but backstop them with something—I strongly suspect these people who say having a Plan B is a sign of weak commitment aren't living hand to mouth. Do what you need to in order to keep your footing.
  10. 10. You both need and don't need other people. You need others in a sense that you need to be part of a community—there's a reason we reflexively pity hermits. Regardless of your theory of anthropogenesis, it's hard to deny that we are built for community, and that 'we' is always more than 'me.' However, you don't need another person in order for your life to have meaning—this idea that Disney has shoved through our eyeballs, that there's someone out there for all of us if we'll just believe hard enough and never stop searching, is hokum... because of arithmetic, if nothing else. Establish your own life—then, if there's a particular person that you can't help but integrate, believe me, you'll know.
  11. 11. Always give more than is required of you.

Have something you'd like to add?  Please do share in the comment box :)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What they don't teach in school


Schools are good at teaching how to start projects.  How to do research.
What they don't teach is when to stop.

I've been an academic overachiever my whole life.  If the assignment called for 5 sources, I'd reference 15.  If we had to include a photo or some kind of multimedia, I'd put together a 30-slide digital photo book complete with captions.  This past autumn, there was a student uprising in my master's program when the vague nature of one 3-credit course (estimated to require 27 total hours of lectures + coursework) ended up taking more like 60 or 70 hours of our time.  I was astounded that my classmates were ready to argue based on the amount of time it took them to complete a project.  I've never expected to spend the minimum suggested hours on an assignment and come out with a good grade ... I work on a project until it's excellent, by my own standards.

Recently, however, reality struck me. It wasn't until I started my own company that I realized: People aren't going to pay me to do this much research.  I'm still learning how to stop; how to say, "It's good enough for today.  This is appropriate for the task at hand."  I'm learning that every 'above and beyond' has to be justifiable.  It's not so much where I choose to go above and beyond, but rather why  I do it which should drive my efforts. What is the ultimate consequence of this over-performance for me? for my client?  How much does this tiny factor really matter in the short run? in the long run?

Sometimes people don't realize how instrumental certain things - like a clear vision and idea of what they do and what they offer to clients - will be for the future of their business.  And in these cases, I feel a duty to convince them that these really are important, and that they need someone {e.g. me} to help them develop these areas. But overall, I have to balance my own enthusiasm to go above and beyond with the reality of the market and what my clients are willing to pay for.  Otherwise, my own business goes under.

So, moral of the story?  

Overachievers: If you're going to survive in life, you must restrain your urges to go above and beyond in every direction.  First, prioritize. Then refocus your extraordinary drive on the things that matter most.

By the way, Pointe3 Design Communications is open for business. We were born global with 5 clients in the U.S. & Europe on day one. My latest resume tells a little about what we do.  Our website is still under construction; Coming Soon!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Volleying at 3,000 Meters


I took this photo during my last weekend in the Himalaya this past August. It was the last festival of the summer, and the entire village below the monastery hiked up to this clearing, where the guys measured off and marked out a volleyball field. The monks tied their monk-skirts up around their waists (obviously wearing shorts), and felled a few trees, ripped off the branches, dug holes, and planted stakes to hold up the net. All in about 15 minutes. Pretty impressive.
A match of monks vs. villagers

Meanwhile, I did cartwheels across the mountainside, played with cute little Sherpa toddlers, and took a few snapshots - like this one - with the hopes of forever capturing a moment of absolute care-free enjoyment in this incredible place I'm honored to have called home.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sniffing Around Nepal


I just found this diary entry from my first week in Nepal. Already, just six months since I moved away, the daily sights and smells of the country are fading.  Past reflections like this are such a treasure!

I'm certain that what I will remember most about Nepal is its smells and the sensory overload which assaulted my nose upon stepping out of the safe haven of my home and into the street. 

The "welcome smell" as Emma dubs it - the overpowering scent of urine that penetrates every vehicle entering the city.

The hostel kitchen which smells of propane gas mixed with layers of grime - the type of grime that is a result of fairly frequent wipe-ups but never gets a good scrub-down or deep clean. 

The smell of daal bhaat, made over and over with the same spices which have become all too familiar. 

The smell of roadside butcher stands: meat covered in so many flies that you can't even tell it's meat, growing bacteria in the sun and collecting dust churned up by the busy street.

The smell of death. Literally. I'll never forget my visit to Pashupati Mandir in Kathmandu, one of the city's biggest Hindu temples, where bodies of the recently deceased were burned in bonfires  on pires in the open air, just over the river laden with litter where their ashes would be disposed, as onlookers - not mourners, but just anyone walking by - stood or sat and watched, chatting among themselves. I pulled the collar of my tunic up to cover my mouth and nose as I walked by - down wind - over the bridge no more than 50 feet away and was assaulted by a barrage of ash and the unmistakable scent of death.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Barcelona Street Performer


I ran into this gem of a street performance while walking along the boardwalk / seafront. It seems that this amazing gal belongs in Cirque du Soleil!

P1150309 from shirah-eden on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Barcelona in February


I spent the first week of this month in Barcelona, where we kicked off a course comprised of joint collaboration between my university (Aalto) and ESADE, called Innovation in Action.  I didn't have an exorbitant amount of time to explore the city, but I definitely made the most of the time I did have!  After a long, dark winter in Finland, my #1 goal was to maximize sunlight absorption!

Tip: click any photo to enlarge! 

Walking thru the neighborhood of Gracia, I looked up to see this magnificent dwelling on the hill.

A design by famed Spanish Catalan architect
Antoni Gaudi.  He's known as the face of
Catalonian Modernist architecture, and his
buildings are spread out all over the city.

First meal: Fresh Spanish Quesadillas. Ham & Mushroom for
me, oozing some kind of delicious Spanish cheese. Yum.
This is the coolest sundial I've seen in a while. Definitely a
piece I could enjoy having in my garden.
a tribute to my collection of doorways from around the world

Here's part of our group in front of another Gaudi masterpiece - La Sagrada Familia.
This church has been under construction for 40 years, using only donations from the public.
Still a ways to go, but already staggeringly beautiful.

Façade detail on one side of La Sagrada Familia

The inside of the church supposedly looks like a forest. It's a
25 euro entrance fee, so I didn't want to invest while I only
had time to run through it. Hoping for a long visit when I go
back in May!
Old meets new

I've just fallen in love with these balconies!

The Catalan flag is proudly displayed in many homes and
balconies.  Tensions between the Catalan people and Spanish
government aren't especially high at the moment, but they tend
to fluctuate. I was able to learn a lot about the unique culture
and language of Catalunya from some local students.

They say that if you drink from this fountain, you are sure to
come back to Barcelona. I must have slurped a few litres, such
was my enthusiasm for the sun, beauty, and charm of this place.
Fresh baked bread

local graffiti

An incredible street performer. Video to come.

Views from my window in Muntaner

In La Boqueria - an open air market
red hot chili peppers

authentic oven-baked nachos

home grown garden graffiti

afternoon espresso in Plaça de Catalunya

watching the sun rise with these men & women of old

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