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Peace Corps Video Contest Winner

Every year the Peace Corps has a video challenge. I’ve never gotten my act together to enter but I was curious to see who won this year. Below is the winning video by Jamieson Cox. It’s a celebration of joy and happiness in Paraguay.

Enjoy! Mari

She’s the First Panel

I had an incredible conversation with other female social entrepreneurs about women’s economic empowerment. Thanks to She’s The First and Dermalogica’s FITE Foundation for sponsoring this great conversation that was streamed live on college campuses across the country.

Sharing My Grown Up Gigs

I am so grateful to Michelle Ward over at When I Grow Up for having me on her podcast, “Grown Up Gigs.” We talk about creative careers, juggling passion projects, serving in the Peace Corps, and my latest side project: Dear Daughter Love Me. Find the podcast here and while you’re there check out the other podcasts and interviews. I am really proud and honored to be included in this group of amazingly inspirational women!

Enjoy, Mari

Required Reading: Empathy

Required Reading: Empathy

I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy. Three books that I’ve read recently have touched on the subject but in the separate contexts of: motivation, creativity, and parenting.


While at first glance it may not seem like Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink is about empathy I would argue that in order to understand what motivates others you must always come from a place of empathy.

Pink describes three eras of human motivation – Motivation 1.0 was characterized by the need to survive. Humans were most concerned with food – how to find it and how not to become it. Motivation 2.0, the phase we’ve been stuck in for quite some time, has been characterized by the carrot and the stick. Today, Pink explains, carrot and stick techniques don’t always work. While rewarding or punishing behaviors can help in the short-term, for long-term fulfillment the most important motivators are instrinsic: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, which he explains as,

the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

Each of these needs are fulfilled by looking for internal gratification rather than external rewards. Pink goes on to describe Type I (Intrinsic) and Type X (External) motivators. The key is to figure out when one technique will produce the desired rewards, a decision that requires empathy. For most creative jobs, Pink explains, Type I rules while other, more routine work doesn’t offer much psychic benefit and therefore an external reward could do the trick.

In our work as Peace Corps Volunteers I found Pink’s assessment to be spot on. For example, when working with the students at the youth foundation we used external motivators for short-term results such as offering snacks or privileges to those kids who showed up for a meeting. However, in order to motivate through the entirety of a long-term project, it was necessary to involve the youth in the planning, teach new and desirable skills, and tie the activities to a larger purpose that they cared about (town pride, being a role model, community service etc.).

Learn more by visiting Daniel Pink’s website here.

Creative Confidence

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom and David Kelley was recommended to me by **Frankie**, who knows how excited I am about design thinking.

The authors are brothers and leaders at two of the most creative and innovative organizations today: IDEO and Stanford’s The book includes myriad examples of how a human-centered approach helps in designing products and processes. Empathy plays a large role in this, in particular during the research phase when tackling a new challenge or problem to solve.

You can find an entire Human-Centered Design Toolkit on the IDEO website here, that walks the reader step by step through this process. What strikes me about this approach is how similar it is to parts of the Peace Corps training process. While different language was used, we were encouraged not to provide our ideas or solutions to what we saw as the problems of our home communities but to engage in qualitative research for the first several months to a year before delving into a project.

From the Toolkit:

Building empathy for the people you serve means understanding their behavior and what motivates them. Understanding behavior enables us to identify physical, cognitive, social and/or cultural needs that we can meet through the products, services and experiences we create.

One of the activities from the Toolkit asks the reader to go into a situation with a “beginner’s mind” in order not to carry assumptions or to prejudge a situation. In another activity, the reader is encouraged to observe and not interpret right away. This is very similar to a framework we learned during Training called, “D.I.E.” that encourages volunteers to describe first and then interpret after talking to others from a volunteer’s community who can give a context to the situation in order for you to evaluate it effectively.

Learn more by visiting the Creative Confidence website here.

Brain Rules

Brain Rules for Baby is John Medina’s follow up after his best-selling book Brain Rules. He explains that he was often asked when speaking about Brain Rules how his interpretation of brain research applies to children. Specifically, parents wanted advice on how baby’s brains develop in order to tailor their parenting style. Actually, he says that often a parent would ask him how to use his brain rules to get his child into Harvard. I could write a whole book about what is wrong with that question…

Medina offers various “brain rules for baby” including: the importance of talking to your child and not putting them in front of the TV, a child’s need for demanding yet warm parents, and the importance of relationships to the child’s well-being and long-term sense of happiness. As he summarizes on his website:

You will need to teach your children how to socialize effectively – how to make friends, how to keep friends – if you want them to be happy. As you might suspect, many ingredients go into creating socially smart children, too many to put into some behavioral Tupperware bowl. The two that have the strongest backing in hard neurosciences, and the two most predictive for social competency are emotional regulation and empathy.

Empathy, he explains, is important because, “when the brain perceives empathy, the body beings to relax.” Mastering this “key relationship skill” will improve all of the relationships that a child will develop over time. The quality of one’s relationships is one of the key indicators, research suggests, in determining a person’s long-term happiness. It’s not how much money you make or what your job is. It’s having good friends and partners in life.

When we were living in a low resource community on the coast of Ecuador I would often think about happiness. Many of the folks we lived and worked with seemed to be very happy despite the lack of luxuries that seem to be taken for granted in more resource rich environments. Though there wasn’t hot water, reliable electricity, or access to good transportation in our town and our neighbors couldn’t count on a steady and fair wage, potable water, or preventative medicine, people appeared to be generally just as, if not more, happy than in other places where I have lived.

Learn more at the Brain Rules website here.

600th Blog Post

For the 600th Post I thought I would look back at 10 of my favorite posts from over 4 years of blogging. Click on the title to see the original post.

Enjoy, Mari


We’re Engaged!

I think this is the first video on the blog – fitting since I signed up for my first WordPress blog to keep in touch with folks about our wedding. Once the wedding was over (which was quickly since we were married within 3 months of our engagement) I realized I liked posting and sharing so I started Partners for Peace and the rest is…



Charlie’s Namesake

This post is dedicated to Charlie, the namesake of our VW Camper. Our world lost one of its most beautiful souls this summer. Although Charlie the man…the myth…my best pen pal is no longer with us, his memory lives on in so many of us that he touched with his writing, photography, and conversation. I learned so much from Charlie and I think it will always hurt to know that he isn’t here to swap stories with anymore. In a way, my correspondence with him that started when I was in high school was the precursor to this blog. Thank you, dear friend. You are missed.

Watch This Now

There are times when someone else says something so much better than I ever could…that’s why I like to share TED Talks. Here are a few worth checking out, especially if you need some inspiration.




Louie Schwartzberg of Moving Art created this little film with a big message.

A Day in the Life

One of my Peace Corps posts that illustrates what life was really like during our service.



Happy Third Anniversary

So many memories. So little time. That’s what videos are for.

David Foster Wallace’s This is Water

Another example of someone explaining a concept far better than I ever could. I think of this message often – especially when someone cuts me off or isn’t at their best. The world needs more compassion. As Wallace says, we have a choice in the way we see the world.

Five Recycled Art Projects

This post brings back memories of the Recycled Art Workshop that the Peace Corps Ecuador office hosted. This was one of the most informative and entertaining workshops we attended.

Sweet Dreams: Photography by Queenie Liao

I’d like to do a project of photos of Brooklyn but who can compete with Queenie Liao? I’ve seen similar projects but this is (in my humble opinion) the most successfully executed one of them.



Two Years Ago Today

Amazingly, this was one of the easiest videos I have ever created and perfectly sums up our Peace Corps Experience.

Four Years of Blogging

It’s hard to imagine that four years have gone by since I started blogging regularly. That’s the same amount of time I spent in college. So, what has changed in the past four years for us?

Since April 2010, Paul and I have…

Wedding Image by Kristen Leigh Conklin

been engaged, married, and had a baby,

Charlie's Many Faces

traveled around the world from South Africa to South America and across the USA in Charlie the 1978 VW Camper Van,

NYC Skyline from NJ

left our home in Brooklyn, NY and then lived in 8 different places (including Charlie the Camper Van),


survived the extensive Peace Corps application process and then served as Volunteers in Ecuador for two years.

Click on the links above and enjoy the walk down memory lane!



Back in the Boston area after more than two years, we’ve been welcomed back to the Northeast by two snow storms already. The past few weeks have been full of happy reunions, culture shock, celebrating birthdays, eating our favorite foods, taking hot showers, and moving for the fifth time in two years.

Here’s some of what we’ve been doing in the past six weeks…

Moving from Ecuador

Plane Leaving Ecuador

After 13 hours of travel we made it to Virginia with Max in tow (which sounds easier than it was!) but without our bags, which were lost. Luckily, they showed up a few days later at our doorstep.

Arriving in Virginia

Paul and Max in Danville

Max met Steve & Susie and settled right into life in Virginia, even romping around in the snow for the first time ever.

Sharing Memories

Playing the Peace Corps Game

We shared our experiences as volunteers through a boardgame we created. The object of the game is to accomplish tasks that relate to the Peace Corps’ Three Goals but the mission is really to spark conversation and to share with friends and family.

Celebrating Together

Holiday Cookies

In Virginia we celebrated the holidays for the second time including exchanging gifts, baking bread, and decorating cookies.

In the Workshop

Making the Frame

As usual, we worked on a few creative projects while in Virginia in addition to packing for our move to Massachusetts. One of the projects was creating a custom frame for a piece of kinetic artwork we bought in Ecuador.

Frankie’s Visit

Danville Photo Tour

We took our friend Frankie on a photo tour of Danville when he visited. Here is Mari taking a photo of a water tower in the historic downtown area.

Moving Once Again

Our New Home

We moved into our new home in the Boston area after driving directly from Virginia to Massachusetts – approximately 14 hours of driving. It’s all relative – we used to sit on buses for 14 hours to get from our site to Quito.

Happy Birthday Paul!

Paul's Birthday

We celebrated Paul’s birthday starting with a special breakfast.

Paul Preparing

Paul Getting Prepared

Paul received many birthday gifts related to becoming a new dad…here he is starting to get prepared for the next adventure!

Mari Baking

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mari has been baking up a storm in the new kitchen, including baking her famous chocolate chip cookies.

Visiting Matt & Kerry

Reading to Jonah

We visited our friends Matt & Kerry in Western Mass. and met their adorable son for the first time, giving Paul a chance to practice his reading skills.

Let it Snow!

Snowy Backyard

Life in the US has meant daily culture shock but nothing has been more of an adjustment than the winter wonderland we are now living in.

Two Years Ago Today…

we landed in Quito to start our adventure as Peace Corps Volunteers! Now, two years later we are back in the States and reminiscing about the crazy, wonderful, surprising, challenging, and exciting time we spent in Ecuador. Here’s what two years looks like…

Enjoy, Mari & Paul

Last Day in Ecuador

Today is our last full day in Ecuador, a place we have called home for two years. It’s hard to believe that our time here is over and that we will be embarking on a new journey in the US and as first-time parents. Who knows what the future will bring or where we will settle down next but until then, here are some final thoughts on our time here in Ecuador.

I will miss…

  • Walking on the beach in Palmar with the sand between my toes, Max chasing birds and Paul’s hand in mine.
  • Juicy mangoes, sweet pineapples, and the wide variety of bananas all available from street and bus vendors for pocket change.
  • Feeling a part of the community – whether it was with the women in San Pablo, the youth group in Palmar, or our best friends from Peace Corps.
  • The clouds in the Sierra.
  • Simple pleasures like taking a hot shower after months of bucket baths, finding a favorite food from the US in the supermarket, or freezing the perfect moment with my camera.
  • Taking my time – to visit with someone, to enjoy a lazy lunch, to spend a day relaxing at home.
  • My host mom’s ceviche.
  • The pescado encocado from Esmeraldas.
  • Taking Max for a walk in Parque Carolina.
  • My amazing doctor here who has held my hand through the first two trimesters of my pregnancy.
  • Having someone to call at the Peace Corps Office when I need help or support.
  • Speaking Spanish regularly (though not on the phone – still hate that).
  • The cost of taxis ($1 to most places) and home-cooked 3-course lunches ($2.50-$3.50).
  • Feeling like my work was making a difference.
  • The thrill at arriving at my destination after a long (8-12 hour) bus ride.
  • The enthusiasm of the elementary-aged kids I taught on Saturday mornings as they learned something new.
  • Learning new things everyday.
  • Being challenged and growing constantly.

Top Twenty of 2013

Here’s a rundown on some of our favorite images from 2013. Just like for 2012, we decided to do the Top Twenty because we couldn’t decide on a Top Ten.

Enjoy & Happy New Year!

Mari & Paul


Best Abstract

Abstract Clouds

Abstract Pants


Best Vacation Postcard

Puerto Engabao

Galapagos Landscape


Best Max

Max Tongue



Best Silly Moment

Mujeres Cambia Fans



Best Mari & Paul Moment

Mari & Paul

Mari's Birthday Kiss


Best Frame

Frankie & Jess in Galapagos

Paul at Guayasamin's House


Best Animal

Galapagos Crab

Galapagos Sea Lion


Best Aerial Photo

Mujeres Cambia Table

Palmar Roof Shot


Best Bird

Galapagos Red Eyed Bird

Galapagos Bird in Flight


Best Interacting with Nature

Paul Cascada

Galapagos Splash

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