Category Archives: Discovery and Exploration

April 25, 2013

Equipo McKinstry en Mexico!

To help everyone at Tea “go there,” we make a yearly contribution to each employee for international travel and exploration. Upon their return, our Tea travelers write blog posts to share their adventures with all of us (and the world).

Amy McKinstry, Senior Sales Executive of Department Stores here at Tea, traveled with her family to Mexico to enjoy sandy shores and ancient ruins.

When my husband and I were deciding where to vacation this year with our kids, we went back and forth quite a bit.  France was high on the list, having never been to Paris (shameful, I know) and also wanting to see the French countryside as well as the beaches.  We considered Portugal.  We talked about local destinations in the US as well but having not been on a proper vacation for several years, we wanted to go a little further away – insisting however, on a combine of relaxation as well as some great cultural influence (sitting pool side in the confines of a massive resort was not what we had in mind.)  So we landed far, but not too far – on Soliman Bay, Mexico.  Probably one of the best kept secrets on the Maya Riviera (about a 90 minute drive south of Cancun)  Soliman Bay is a secluded beach just 10 minutes from the magnificent beach town of Tulum – and with so many terrific cultural activities to choose from on any given day!

I feel compelled to first paint you a mental picture of Soliman Bay – a beach so beautiful and secluded that we were challenged to find even 2 more people sitting on the sand or kayaking in the crystal blue water on a regular basis.  Kayaking and snorkeling became my every day exercise and source of meditation – I found myself in “vacation mode” nearly the moment my toes hit the sand.  Palapas (the Mexican thatched roofs) dotted the beach and each villa (be it modest or luxurious) had its own unique beauty and charm.  A little hut at the end of the beach referred to as “The Fish Shack” served lobster, ceviche and ‘the like’ on modest plastic tables under palm trees and could rival the very best seafood restaurants in Manhattan.  Our kids swung on hammocks and played in the sand at our feet as we waited for our food and enjoyed some cold Modelos.  Needless to say, we were happy campers and gloating over our choice of destination almost immediately…

Of course, we soon felt the need to explore the area and with some guidance from a good friend who had been drawn back here year after year, we enjoyed a few wonderful experiences worth mentioning.

The Tulum ruins (again, just 10 minutes from our location) was our first stop.  These ruins sit along the shore of Tulum and are one of the few elevated locations along the coast (so the views alone, as you can imagine, were just beautiful.)  With a terrific Mayan tour guide leading the way (Senor Miguel) we learned about the significance of each ruin, their location within the walls of this
“city” and the carvings and traces of paint that amazingly still remain on so many of the ancient walls.

Another great experience was our visit to a Spider Monkey Sanctuary that had only been open to the public for about 6 months.  This property, spanning 67 acres of jungle, is a safe haven to protect this dwindling species of monkey.  The kids enjoyed feeding these amazing creatures (they took peanuts right out of their little hands) and just watching them in their habitat.  We hiked the property to also discover small alligators as well as a Cenotes (the underground rivers which are a very popular attraction in the area and are often referred to as the sacred waters of the Maya Riviera.)  My husband and I reluctantly jumped into the Cenotes with the other in our group (and if you knew us, and our collective fear of heights and small spaces… you’d be impressed.  Trust me!)

And of course, there is Tulum… a more perfect beach town I challenge anyone to find.  The beach itself is just beautiful – eco friendly and relaxed, it is a beautiful hybrid of an authentic Mexican surf town, and the most sophisticated of locations all in one.  Local artisans sell the most wonderful handmade jewelry on the streets and airy cabanas and palapas line the beach along with amazing bars and restaurants.  A great spot during the day or for a night out – heavenly!

We were inspired daily during this trip with the cultural as a whole – the vibrant colors of their textiles, hand embroidery, Mayan art, beautiful architecture, amazing food and the graciousness of the locals.   So many little things brought me back to Tea’s visit to Mexico and the wonderfully authentic details that they included in their designs just a few seasons ago (and before that, during their first visit to Mexico back in the earlier years of Tea!)

In short – it was a wonderful family vacation full of relaxation, culture, amazing food and fun activities.  I am also so grateful to Tea for reminding me, through their own inspiration & travel, to always recognize the small, beautiful details of the world around us – in every culture.  It is such a special place to work and such a special practice to pass along to our children.

So if you are considering a trip to this region of Mexico, I’d say… pack your bag.  Go there.  ENJOY!


March 25, 2013

Global Baby Girls

Global Baby Girls

We are so pleased to share with you the latest book from The Global Fund for Children (GFC). Global Baby Girls is more than a collection of beautiful, close-up baby portraits from around the world–it bears an important message that, no matter where they are born, “girls can grow up to change the world.” We asked staff at GFC and our staff at Tea Collection, “Why do baby girls matter to you and to the world?” Be sure to share your thoughts with us as well!

“My daughter, Talia will be seven weeks old on Friday, March 22nd. I could never have imagined feeling such a fierce and intense love. Talia is a global citizen who is strong, bold and bright. Like all baby girls everywhere, she is a blessing to our community and the world over!” –Maya Ajmera,  The Global Fund for Children

“What would this world be without little Princesses? Not the spoiled, holier-than-thou type. The little Princesses who grow up and explore the world around them… The ones who realize they’re just a little piece of this giant puzzle and they’re determined to make their mark on the world. They seek out challenges and are inspired by other cultures, they learn new languages and dream of one day ruling the world. They then raise their own little Princesses, encouraging them to dream big, see big and never lose faith in big hearts.” –Jessie Bandy, Tea Collection

“Baby girls matter to me and the rest of the world because they hold our future in their tiny little hands.” –Sandra Macías del Villar, The Global Fund for Children

“Baby girls are a powerful force for the future. Given support and the tools to succeed, baby girls will grow up to change the world! They will become mothers, sisters, best friends, students, teachers, leaders. They will stand up for what they believe in, they will initiate change and they will fuel growth. They will set the course for generations to come. Each baby girl has a whole world of possibilities ahead of her. And, that is incredibly inspiring.” –Diane DeRousseau, Tea Collection

“Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of.  But that old-fashioned adage leaves out the gritty, the bold, the brave, the determined, the free-spirited, the sporty, and the clever.  Today’s baby girls might grow up to be the President, teachers, sports stars, doctors, nurses, artists, and moms – and everything in between.  The possibilities are limitless for so many, but not for all. The most important thing is that every girl everywhere can reach her full promise with all the access, choice, and opportunities she needs to do so.  A girl’s potential should not be defined by where she is born, but determined by her limitless dreams and by the pathways we help create that lead to them.” –Victoria Dunning, The Global Fund for Children

“I do not have a daughter but I have two younger sisters and I remember my excitement when each sister was born. I remember carrying my sister on my hip and feeling a protective pride in this fascinating creature, so full of possibilities. I loved my role in showing the world to them, teaching them how to read and climb trees. Baby girls matter, just as baby boys, because they represent our future and, as society becomes more progressive, their opportunities to lead, influence and change the world are limitless.” –Lydia Bruno, Tea Collection

“Baby girls matter because today, more than ever before, they have the power and opportunity to shape the world we live in and make it better not only for future generations of baby girls, but for babies of all genders and backgrounds. I am raising my “baby girl” (now 7) to be mindful of the privileges she enjoys, growing up in the U.S. today, thanks to the tenacity, energy and spirit of those who came before her. I’m hoping she will strive to pay it forward.” –Esther Buss, Tea Collection

“Baby girls are a promise for our future. They are future mothers and providers for their children. And we need to make sure our baby girls know their innate power to shape the world for the coming generations.” –Teresa Weathington, The Global Fund for Children

 

February 28, 2013

Fun in the sun (Part 1)

To help everyone at Tea “go there,” we make a yearly contribution to each employee for international travel and exploration. Upon their return, our Tea travelers write blog posts to share their adventures with all of us (and the world).
Emilynne, our excel whiz , traveled to her home away from home to the sunny and humid group of islands in the Pacific.

Last October/November I took a short hike halfway across the world to visit my sister for her semester break in the Philippines. A lot of the school holidays in the Philippines do fall,slightly suspiciously, during major Catholic Feast Days. This means that the Triduum of All Hallows, Christmas, and Holy Week are all holidays that the children may observe with family.

Traveling pictures in the airport.

Look at the handwritten plane ticket.

Once I heard about this break, I jumped at the opportunity to visit my mom and my sister, travel a bit of my parents’ home-country, and (most importantly) soak in some sun and warmth!

We did a small amount of traveling, but kept it relatively simple for this go-around as two of my friends (pretty much my sisters by everything but blood) were flying in and out of Manila via slightly different itineraries. My friend Radhika and I got in one evening and our first stop was Taal Vista Resort in Tagaytay, about an hour south of Manila. The resort has a stunning view of the Taal Volcano.

Taal Volcano in the distance

Look closely and Taal Volcano is the island in the middle of the lake.

Yes, that is an active volcano. In fact, people are not allowed to settle on the island, and even the resort we were staying in is technically within the danger zone. It’s hard to believe that this is an active volcano, which had quite a bit of activity as recently as July 2011, when you look at all the lush foliage surrounding it.

February 6, 2013

The Global Fund for Children in South Africa (Part 2)

To learn more about the experiences of children and families in South Africa, we spoke with Emmanuel Otoo, program officer for Africa at The Global Fund for Children (GFC). If you’d like to donate to The Global Fund for Children to support their work in South Africa and beyond, visit their website or add a donation at check-out when making an online purchase from Tea Collection!

If you missed part one of the interview with Emmanuel, you can see it here.

Photo taken at the Sophiatown Community Psychological Services in South Africa.

 

 

What inspires you about the South Africa region?

Despite their painful history, South Africans exhibit strong unity and determination to succeed, and that inspires me a lot. I am also inspired by the South African constitution, and the vision and passion that went into its making. The vision and bravery of Nelson Mandela, his selflessness, and his willingness and ability to sacrifice his freedom for humanity have always been a source of inspiration as well.

Photo taken at the Sophiatown Community Psychological Services in South Africa.

Describe a day in the life of a typical GFC-sponsored child in South Africa.

Chipo is the 14-year-old son of Angela, who fled with him and his two siblings to South Africa following a gruesome attack on their home by rebels in a war-torn country.

Chipo sleeps in a kitchen that his family shares with another family in an overcrowded apartment in a huge slum building. In the morning, Chipo gets up and eats a bowl of porridge. He helps his mother with some household chores and assists in taking care of his younger siblings before leaving for school. After school, Chipo drops off his schoolbag at home and goes to the market in search of leftover food or work to bring some money home to supplement his mother’s income.

When he returns home, Chipo goes with his mother and two siblings to Sophiatown Community Psychological Services, a grassroots organization supported by The Global Fund for Children. There, his family participates in art therapy and counseling, receives food, and plays games. Chipo is one of hundreds of refugee children who are being supported by Sophiatown to help them recover from their traumatic experiences.

Passionate about animals, Chipo loves to hold and care for them, and he hunts for abandoned kittens on the street. His dream is to be a teacher when he grows up—it is our hope that GFC and Sophiatown will help give him that chance.

Photo taken at the Sophiatown Community Psychological Services in South Africa.

What does Ubuntu mean to you?

Ubuntu is an Nguni word that has its origins in the Bantu languages of Southern Africa. While it has no direct translation in English, it is used to describe a particular African worldview that focuses on people’s allegiances to and relations with each other. Ubuntu describes a situation in which people can only find fulfillment through interacting with and supporting other people. It represents a spirit of kinship across both race and creed that unites people for a common purpose.

Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist, defined Ubuntu as “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a South African activist, said, “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

That said, Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. It means you need to think and act beyond your immediate personal needs—you will benefit from doing so, in addition to benefitting others. The question, therefore, is: Are you going to enrich yourself in order to promote the well-being of your community? If the answer is yes—that is Ubuntu.

 

 

February 4, 2013

The Global Fund for Children in South Africa (part 1)

To learn more about the experiences of children and families in South Africa, we spoke with Emmanuel Otoo, program officer for Africa at The Global Fund for Children (GFC). If you’d like to donate to The Global Fund for Children to support their work in South Africa and beyond, visit their website or add a donation at check-out when making an online purchase from Tea Collection!

A child at the Teboho Trust, a GFC grantee partner in Soweto, South Africa. Teboho Trust makes sure orphans and other vulnerable children get the support they need to succeed in school–sometimes that means going to school on the weekend to stay ahead! But the hard work pays off: last year, 100 percent of the students were promoted to the next grade level. Congratulations, kids!

What is the major need in the South Africa region at the moment?

According to our partners in the field, the major need is to systematically and practically promote social inclusion and improvement in the education system, especially at the early-childhood and elementary stages.

There is also a major skills shortage in South Africa—a significant number of youth have not received relevant education or acquired the appropriate skills to be competitive in South Africa’s job market. To that end, development of small businesses, social enterprises, and community entrepreneurship is another area that needs reengineering and support.

What’s something special about South Africa that most Americans do not know?

Perhaps what many people are not aware of is that migration is an integral part of South African history and its present reality, and that cities like Johannesburg owe their existence to migrant laborers. Also, in spite of the country’s extreme levels of poverty compared to the United States, South Africans come together and make efforts to support one another.

More of the students from the Saturday Academy run by Teboho Trust.

What are some games that the kids like to play in South Africa?

Most boys in Africa are passionate about soccer, which they often play in school or on practically any field they can find. The same is true in South Africa, where boys make their own soccer balls out of rolled, stuffed, and string-tied plastic bags. Kids also make their own toys, such as cars made out of scrap metal and wire, which they often play with on the sidewalk.

Young girls in South Africa play skipping, clapping, and jumping games. One favorite game for girls is jumping through and over elastic bands made from old pantyhose. At school, girls often play netball because equipment for this game is usually available on the playground.

How is playing different in South Africa from playing in America?

The average American kid plays games on computers, tablets, iPods, and video game consoles like Wii and Xbox. There is also a strong culture of play at amusement parks such as Walt Disney World, Six Flags, and Busch Gardens during warm months and in warmer states like Florida and California.

Kids in South Africa, especially those who are part of the populations GFC serves, do not have easy access to technology, are unfamiliar with “gaming” as a form of recreation, and also do not have access to playground equipment or amusement parks. They improvise by creating innovative toys made out of scrap materials and leftover fabric. They often do not have designated play areas and resort to playing on sidewalks and in empty fields.

But kids in the United States and in South Africa are perhaps more similar than they are different—they all love to play, have fun, and make mischief.

Stay tuned for the rest of our interview with Emmanuel later this week—he’ll tell us about Chipo, a South African boy served by one of GFC’s grantees. Emmanuel also shares his own understanding of Ubuntu.

 

February 3, 2013

Through the Eyes of Children

One of our Foreign Correspondents has returned from her travels! Cathy and her family traveled to Zimbabwe this winter to visit family. Cathy is a teacher who took leave from her position during the birth of her twins. When her children were toddlers, she filled her time by acting as a founding parent of a charter initiative to open Birchtree Charter School, a Waldorf-inspired school in her  hometown of Palmer, Alaska. Since the school’s opening in fall 2010, she has acted as the treasurer on the Academic Policy Committee. We outfitted Cathy’s family with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part three of their adventure.

travel with kids

I’m often asked if I believe there is true benefit in traveling abroad with young children. Will they remember their experiences? Couldn’t we simply take them to any beach or pool and they’d have an equally fantastic time? My answer – well, yes and no. Children are typically quite perceptive and are often more cognizant than we assume. Sure, my children love any beach at any time, yet my motivation for taking them abroad and exposing them to new cultures, beliefs, and attitudes is primarily because I believe that these experiences broaden perspectives in children (and adults).  Through each and every traveling adventure, we are challenged with all that is new and different.

travel with kids

So, what do we do with all the newness?  How do we process it both during the trip and after- to extend our understanding and to ensure that the experience of traveling abroad does not end when we unpack our suitcases and settle, once again, into our daily lives? Like many travelers, our family takes photos, utilizes travel journals, and we purchase works of art that transport us back to our time abroad.  These mementos enable us to deepen reflections and observations once home.

Travel with Kids

On our latest adventure through Southern Africa, we decided it was time for our children to take a more active role in documenting their experiences in order to help solidify their individual memories and give them an avenue for sharing our trip with others. To help with the documentation endeavor, we provided each of our six year old twins as well as our six year old niece with a camera. The cameras were given well in advance of our departure to ensure that our children knew how to use them and be responsible for general care. Additionally, a blank journal, colored pencils, watercolors, and crayons were provided to allow freedom in documenting daily experiences through stories, words, or simply drawings.

travel with kids

Watching the documentation process throughout the trip was a fascinating experience.  When happening upon large African beetles, we would have predicted running and screaming from our children, but found that they chose to photograph collect, analyze, and draw these strange creatures. Massive thunderstorms, which are rare in Alaska, were also documented with photos and later drawn with great detail. Our children drew pictures of an African woman transporting a fifty pound load on her head. They painted a double rainbow over Victoria Falls, and pictures of elephants and giraffes filled their SD cards. No doubt, these kids were recognizing an abundance of unique stimuli.

travel with kids

Now that we have returned home, our children are working to turn their photos into books, and have enjoyed sharing both the pictures drawn, stories written, and photos taken with friends, classmates, and family. With each sharing, I’m certain our children deepen their memories of this adventure.

As we’ve begun to unpack our memories and experiences, we recollect the many differences along the way; weather patterns, food, dress, language, customs, and routines- that were very different from those in our daily lives. Yet, we find the differences both curious and fascinating. Our children have begun to recognize that differences are neither good nor bad, but always mentally stimulating. Perhaps, they are also recognizing the commonalities we have as humans and that we can work to respect differences and learn from one another. And perhaps, we can use our broadened perspectives in our daily lives.

travel with kids

February 1, 2013

Road Tripping Through Southern Africa

One of our Foreign Correspondents has returned from her travels! Cathy and her family traveled to Zimbabwe this winter to visit family. Cathy is a teacher who took leave from her position during the birth of her twins. When her children were toddlers, she filled her time by acting as a founding parent of a charter initiative to open Birchtree Charter School, a Waldorf-inspired school in her  hometown of Palmer, Alaska. Since the school’s opening in fall 2010, she has acted as the treasurer on the Academic Policy Committee. We outfitted Cathy’s family with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part two of their adventure.

travel with kids

Three six year olds, four adults, one Toyota Prado and a three-week 2,100 mile road trip through Zimbabwe and Mozambique- that was our plan. Trepidation? Lots of it- I couldn’t help wondering if this was not our best idea. Yet, we were excited about spending time with my brother and his family, who had recently relocated to Harare, Zimbabwe. What we knew for certain was that we are not package tour travelers- we wanted to explore on our own as much as possible. Car travel would allow us maximum freedom for exploration.

Happily, I report, that not only did we survive, we thrived. In fact, the trip turned out to be one of our very best vacations- one that will shape our thoughts for years to come. What we learned along the way is that not only is road tripping with young children possible, it’s a fantastic way to explore at your own time and pace. Below are a few tips that guided our daily experiences.

Put the right people in the car: If traveling with others, choose your travel partners wisely. Talk clearly about expectations for the trip. For us, this part was simple. We’ve traveled with my brother and his family for years. We tend to like to experience travel in the same way and truly enjoy each other’s company.

travel with kids

Engage everyone in the plan: Should we do one very long drive today and get to the beach or spend two shorter days in the car and stop along the way? Questions such as these posed to our six year old travelers allowed them to feel a part of the decision-making and be active participants in the journey.

travel with kids

Rise early: For us, getting an early start to the day was essential. Departing by 5am on our driving days enabled us to make the most of daylight hours while the kids slept through the first several hours of the trip. Getting an early, early start to the day was also wise as it gave us more time to deal with the unexpected: road conditions, police stops, frolicking baboons, detours, and getting lost a time or two.

Sing often and reinstate those old car games: Music was a part of each of our days. Given the holiday season, Christmas tunes were at the top of our list, as were Shona songs. Additionally, We asked our children to prepare a holiday concert for us. Each child chose a favorite song, taught it to the others, and developed choreography as needed. Tried and true car games also worked to engage us for hours. What better time to play I Spy than on road trip in Africa?

Nourishment: Who could know how much kids can eat during the course of a single drive? We kept a cooler fully stocked at all times, so that we wouldn’t have to engage in time consuming sit down meals. However, roadside vendors did fill the inquisitive palate from time to time. Roasted cashews, piri piri chicken and fresh mangos were exquisite local fare readily available through a rolled down window.

travel with kids

Get out of the car: Make time for tree climbing or other out of car experiences. Sanity is much more easily maintained when recognizing that children and adults need to move. Planned and unplanned stops to walk on the beach or take dip in the ocean reenergized even our most weary travelers.

Declare Moviepalooza: Vacation is the perfect time to loosen house rules a bit. In our home, TV and movies are permitted only on Friday and Saturday nights. Allowing our children to enjoy some movie time worked well for our longest travel days. Yes, they were missing some of the scenery for a few hours, but everyone can benefit from with a break from all the newness that surrounds us during a trip.

travel with kids

Once again, knowing how you enjoy traveling and planning with those that you know and trust is essential.  We included the kids as much as we could and let them know what was happening all along the way.  They knew it could take 1 hour or 6 hours at the border and that we would all do the best we could to make it fun and easy.  We also let them know that as soon as we got to a pool or the beach, no matter the time or weather, it was swim time.  Believe me there were hiccups – unexpected police stops, room mix ups, a dead motor on a boat that had just whisked us ten miles out to sea –  but, we survived by focusing on the best and laughing at the rest.