About Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.


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TEDxBerkeley 2015 Embraces Compassion, Connection & Wisdom

March 28, 2015 by  

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For this year’s TEDxBerkeley‘s event whose theme was Compassion, Connection and Wisdom, over 2,000 attendees showed up to hear 57 speakers and performers at the University of Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall on February 28. Below are highlights from some of our thought provoking speakers, several of whom flew over from Africa to join us thanks to this year’s Diamond Partner Fetzer Institute.

Performers nailed it out of the park, which included the upbeat Japanese drum performance by Cal Raijin Taiko, the energetic Cal Bhangra dancers whose goal is to keep Punjabi dance alive (below), and the UC Berkeley Men’s Octet who added humor to their doo-wop, barbershop and pop songs, acapela style of course.

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Dr. Prasad Kaipa, who kicked off the first session on Wisdom, has committed his life to driving innovation and leadership. The bulk of Prasad’s work has revolved around getting people to realize their full potential, most known for his work advising companies like Disney, Adobe, Apple, Boeing and others.

His talk began not with lessons learned in corporate America however, but with a single, startling fact: Malnourishment kills 1,500 children in India every day. He reminds us that malnourishment happens not because of lack of food, but also because of lack of awareness.

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Awareness is not just key to solving the malnutrition problem but also in allowing all of us to realize our full potential. He asserts that we may have an idea of what it ‘can be’ but most of us don’t feel as we’ve reached it as demonstrated by the show of hands when he posed the question to a very academic and entrepreneurial audience. “Knowledge without discernment and emotion without reflection is not going to get you there,” he says.

Prasad suggests that we can only truly reach our full potential when we combine our talents and strengths — in other words, you cannot stop at just one strength even if it’s a key strength that has made you successful so far.

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If you don’t have a strength to get you where you need to go next, he encourages people to find that strength outside of ourselves…in a family member, friend, colleague, mentor or others. The combination of strengths is what will ultimately help us thrive and go beyond where we’ve ever imagined.

Adora Svitak, who is only a freshman at UC Berkeley, blew the audience away by addressing sexuality with both candor and humor as a way to honestly and authentically address the shame and silence Americans attach to sex. Without honest conversations about sex, kids will find it out on their own, which doesn’t paint a realistic picture. From a student’s point-of-view, she addressed the repercussions of sex if you don’t have the facts early on — facts without shame that is.

It was refreshing to see her take on a controversial topic at a TEDx event. Having lived in multiple countries over the years, I was always astonished to return to a puritanical America to find the same views on sex that haven’t seemed to change much since the 1800′s. How we learn about sex and more importantly, the attitudes we have about sex, doesn’t just affect us, but all of our partners and people in our wake.

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She suggests a much more open and freeing conversation so that rather than starting our life with fear around sex, we can begin to see it differently, a paradigm shift in today’s society. Without fear in the way, we can make up our own choices with healthy unbiased knowledge — again, without the shame — which can only lead to healthier sex early on.

Ideas include stop calling each other sluts and whores.  We can promote open conversations and answer kid’s questions with honesty. The more private we make sex, the less we know about ourselves. We have all the answers, so why should we leave people fumbling in the dark. We leave people fumbling because it is where fear is and, says Adora, “those moments are our darkness. To speak of sex is to speak of life. There is beauty and encouragement to be found in the exploration of our vulnerability. Neither should be scary or stigmatized.” Hear hear Adora. You couldn’t have said it better – let’s stop giving power to the fear of sex.

Marc Gopin, who is the Director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution (CRDC) talked about Seven Steps Towards Peace. Originally from the Ukraine and raised in a ghetto, Marc brought his own life experiences into his talk. Also a professor, he shared his own journey asserting that in order to make an impact, whether in our own professional life or for a bigger calling – to create peace in the world – all life journeys and outcomes ultimately begin with ourselves.

He asked, “how and when do human beings, who are capable of unspeakable violence, but also capable of the most tender love, move away from hate and violence and towards less violence and more empathy?” Weaving examples of the holocaust and other tragic political events since then, he reminds us how blind obedience can and has led to mass murder in pockets in the world.

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He spends a lot of his time thinking about how people can change for the better. From philosophers and psychologists to academics and politicians, he feels that we can learn how to “become good.” He asks, “what is the capacity of the brain to focus on positivity? We are beings who slowly change for the better in numerous ways including empathy, reason and shared values, equal commerce between people and women empowerment, among others.”

Arising from his peace activism work, a company named Mejdi Tours was created to provide fair wages and equality for both Jews and Arabs. He grins as he says, “I like impossible places.”

He went on to say, “the stranger is the key to healing the planet. Approaching a stranger with empathy is the key to moving towards it globally. Emphasize the positive in all things. Have vision. Empower women everywhere. Embrace gentle commerce that is equal and has care, purpose, honor and respect. Above all, love a stranger when you cross the street, everywhere in the world. Find a stranger and love them and you will change the world globally. No dictator, no gang, no state, no war can steal the soul of that stranger you touch. Network is everything.”

Beautifully said. In other words, a journey with a stranger is what unlocks all of us and can heal the world!

During a chat with founder of Expect a Miracle! Carolyn Gable in the Green Room, I couldn’t help but marvel at her carefree way of approaching problems. Letting obstacles get to us is a sure way to bury ourselves, so it’s important to rise above them, even the smallest of glitches that get in our way. Carolyn’s approach is also brutally honest and raw in a very beautiful and authentic way, largely because of what it took to get to where she is today.

Everything she knows as a CEO, she learned as a waitress — Fear and Failure and beyond. I get it! As someone who also waited on tables around the world, I learned that the customer is always right (almost always) and how to juggle multiple things at all times, a valuable skill as a waitress….and most certainly a valuable asset as a CEO.

I resonated with her talk in a myriad of ways, much of it stemming from growing up in a working class world which is often focused on what you “can’t do” rather than what you can. Within this context, you have no choice but to block out the external noise and your primary conditioning in order to achieve your life’s goals and more importantly, dreams.

It’s what we do with failure and fear that makes the difference of what we accomplish in life. She says, “when we ‘fail up’ and ‘fear up,’ it’s when we learn life’s true lessons.  Showing up is 98% of everything in life.” So true Carolyn, so true — it’s something I’ve told many an intern over the years – don’t worry about the how or the why or the what — just show up. Show up and be as present as you possibly can.

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Says Carolyn, “we all come into this life with a unique toolbox. Scientists say 99.9% of our DNA is the same, only .1% separates us and she believes it’s what is in our toolbox that makes the difference. “We’re all given gifts in life and tools to help us out in our journey,” she added. “The tools are the same but the gifts are unique – it’s up to us to tap into those gifts and live them.” And, I’d add, not to take no for an answer.

Faith was the number one thing in Carolyn’s toolbox. She asserts that if you don’t have faith, if you don’t believe that there isn’t a bigger purpose for your life, chances are that you’re not happy or love what you do. When you “live” in your gifts, you begin to realize that everything you need in your life is already inside you and frankly, given to you the day you were born.

Another great skill to have – gift or not – is determination! (Yup, we’re back to not taking no for an answer). Overcoming fear is how you give back to life and she definitely has — her company Expect a Miracle! helps children with single parents shine.

Eric Holt-Gimenez, Ph.D. has dedicated his life to food insecurity. Through his company Food First, he’s helping the world address food insecurity through sustainable farming, a practice that if fully embraced, could change the world. As remarkable as it sounds, even the richest countries in the world still have food insecurity.

He drove a project where they compared 1,000 sustainable farms to 1,000 planted traditionally across 150 communities in Nicaragua and Central America. The results were astonishing but frankly not surprising. Sustainable farmers had less erosion and fewer crop losses than their neighbors. Based on this, their efforts were centered around an agriculture reconstruction plan – farmer-by-farmer – with a goal towards sustainable farming everywhere.

With such positive results, they expected a reconstruction plan to be implemented but sadly it never happened. Central American reconstruction failed miserably because they didn’t implement the research showing that sustainable farming was better.

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A hard lesson learned, Eric reminds us that “it’s not enough to be right. This is especially true if you’re from an oppressed group of people who are often dismissed.  You need to dismantle the social injustices holding them back. If we want to make food justice the norm, we need to make a food movement, led by those who are most negatively impacted by food and other injustices.”

He says, “we need to support the leadership who has the most at stake. We need a common vision of food justice. Ask yourselves: what would our food system look like if farm workers received fair conditions and wages, if women were recognized and valued for producing 70% of the world’s food, if black lives mattered?”

Dr. Dan Garcia, who zipped onto the TEDxBerkeley stage on a scooter, is redesigning and breaking down barriers surrounding computer science education. Originally from the Bronx, he wound up at UC Berkeley as a professor where is dedicating his life to the future of computing. While computing may in fact be a core literacy of the 21st century, it is still only available in 5% of schools in the United States.

You have a much higher chance of having football offered in a high school than computer science. “Without the high school piece, anything we do for middle school will be lost, and anything we do at the college level will be insufficient,” says sociologist Jan Cuny.

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Dan is working on an organization that gets courses in high school through AP courses, a single source of national leverage. It is founded on 7 big ideas: creativity, abstraction, data and information, algorithms, programming, the Internet and global impact.

Based on those Big 7, teachers can build a syllabus around them. The project name is CS10K and its goal is to get engaging rigorous computing curricula into high schools around the country starting with New York City, which, with 70% kids of a different color, is the most diverse in the country.  I love the effort, which with Dan behind it, has a high chance of succeeding – his passion, wit, humor, commitment and drive is intoxicating on and off stage.

Music minister Valerie Joi moved me with her song on forgiveness she sang at the Steinway grand piano on the Zellerbach stage. My only wish was to hear more of her.

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Valerie’s “raison d’etre” in the world seems to be to spread the message of unconditional love through music. “Forgiveness,” she says, “is something we do everyday if we make a choice to.” In other words, forgiveness is something we can choose every day – it’s merely a choice. It doesn’t have to be hard, it can be joyful and it’s actually very freeing.” Her song echoed those words and more. Oh so lovely and oh so inspiring!

We jumped into compassion starting with South African entrepreneur Dr. Suzanne-Berman who wears the hat of Transformational Director at Pick-n-Pay, the chain we shopped at regularly when I lived there in the eighties and again in the nineties. What’s driving Suzanne today is socially responsible capitalism and it is this calling she brings into her business every day.

Truth be told, many people leave countries where there is heartache and upset and many don’t return. “You can take the child out of the country but can you take the country out of the child,” she says, talking about her personal journey and how despite living in Europe for some time, she was called to return to South Africa during the country’s transformation.

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At the end of the day, we are fulfilled when we make a difference in the world and as Marc Gopin so rightfully pointed out, it all begins with your own story. The essence of inequality is something Suzanne learned early on when her parents taught her that inequality anywhere effects quality everywhere. Despite political change, she saw that in a post Apartheid world, there was still a lot of diversity and that the country was still split by education, split by color and even moreso, split by privilege.

Says Suzanne, “we had communities whose only asset around them was their resources.” She realized that people around her had no role models or the only role models in their lives were domestic workers and didn’t know anything about health hygiene regulations. Her foundation is working to make changes here and create hope within communities.

She ended with a powerful Nelson Mendela quote, who was still in prison when I lived there. “Overcoming poverty is an act of justice – poverty is not natural, it is man made and can be eradicated by the actions of human beings.” So right, so true and so necessary for equality and positive change to happen in the world.

Tanzanian-born Dr. Victoria Kisyombe has dedicated her entire life to women empowerment. Having grown up in a farm with few resources and even less money and mentors to help her along the way, Victoria pioneered micro-leasing, starting with a single cow.

Micro-leasing in Africa has proven to not just empower women but allow them to become economically sufficient. Her life transformation started when she became widowed with three children and one cow named Sero. She learned that Sero wasn’t just a cow, but also a productive asset. Once she realized the value of her cow, compassion kicked in. She began to look around at other women who were trying to cope with even less than a single cow, which led to her passion and drive to start micro-leasing.

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Through micro-leasing, she realized that women could jump start businesses right away. The lease asset would become a woman’s collateral, which was the main issue with Tanzanian banks — without collateral, it wasn’t possible to get financed.

This initiative has resulted in women growing their assets exponentially. Once women’s businesses are up and running, her company transfers the ownership over to the women. She shared several stories with us including a woman who started two businesses from one hairdryer and another who is now exporting her sunflower oil to Switzerland. Since roughly half of the communities don’t have power, they are powering women’s projects with solar energy. The results of her initiative has been profound: 25,000 women are now financed, more than 125,000 jobs have been created, and 200,000 jobs have been impacted.

What’s so great about her story, is that it all started from one cow. As the leasing increases, so do the profits.  Recently, she brought the voice of grassroots women to the World Economic Forum. A remarkable woman with passion and a fabulous smile, we all left feeling empowered by her story. When someone tells you something isn’t possible, think back to what Victoria did with one cow, get re-grounded and try again. There’s always a way!!

Leadership coach Alison Meyer shared how to access more of our compassion in our daily lives. Rest assured, we all have wisdom we can tap into during our calmest of moments. The problem is that we rarely have calm moments and when calmness does arise from a storm, so few of us take the time to tap into our inner wisdom.

Everyone has thorny problems that crop up in our lives we can’t figure out a solution for — stepping back and giving ourselves a few calm moments allows us to look inward for the answers rather than going external for a “fix.”

She shared a touching story about the loss of her sister, who she felt hopeless to help when she was dying. Later on when she was losing her mother, she realized that life gives us a second chance. We often don’t do things for people or in a situation because we don’t think we’re capable.

“The truth is,” says Alison, “we’re all capable; when we dive deep into ourselves, we’ll find a way. The heart has clear yeses and clear no’s. When we’re weak hearted, we avoid things, we avoid conflict. When we’re strong hearted, we have the courage to do whatever we need to do when we’re called to.” So very true and is powerful empathetic wisdom that can serve all of us in our daily lives.

The life work of Mike Robbins is focused on how to be your authentic self everywhere you show up. He gives regular talks and coaches entrepreneurs on appreciation, authenticity and compassion in the context of leadership, success and teamwork in the business world. He suggests that in order to be truly successful in our professional lives, we need to bring “all of who we are,” to the workplace, especially the things that matter to us most.

What that means for individuals and companies is having courage. Courage is a scary word for most of us because we don’t always know exactly what it means pertaining to ourselves – what does being courageous require me personally to do? To be? For those of us who have had to be courageous again and again, you know that you can’t “be it” without going through vulnerability.

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Having worked with Tony Robbins over the years and taken dozens of workshops, seminars and more on the topic of overcoming fears to succeed, I couldn’t agree with him more. I have observed that vulnerability is the key obstacle that holds most of us back, and that is regardless of culture in my personal experience.

Being vulnerable is scary largely because we are afraid of the unknown and if we show up vulnerable, we tend to fear the worst possible scenario – we will no longer be accepted, respected, included, or even….loved. You have to be vulnerable in order to love fully and deeply in personal relationships and you have to be vulnerable to show up authentically at work.

Says Mike, “vulnerability is the key driver to trust and connection and it is fundamental for leaders to build trust. Trust is the birthplace of risk and innovation and if we’re going to grow and do anything different and new, we must be vulnerable. Vulnerability is not bad nor does it mean weakness, but it IS hard.” That said, Mike asserts that vulnerability is necessary to live authentically every day.

Said a coach of his many years ago, “don’t live your life as if you’re trying to survive it.” If we want to move beyond survival, we need to take risks, which involves vulnerability — ultimately, it all comes down to how we relate to ourselves. Spot on Mike, spot on. Buddhism wisdom can lend a helping hand here as well – nothing changes until we do - it’s an internal process.

Mike encouraged the audience to think about the situations and circumstances we want to have in our lives and the risks we want to take. Ask yourself: where do you find yourself holding back? Can you challenge yourself to step beyond what might be safe and what might be comfortable? Strong but important questions and ones we all should spend some reflective time on if we want to live a magical life. As Neale Donald Walsh so rightfully says, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

 Above image credit taken from Alissa Finerman article from www.positivelypositive.com. 

Working below the radar is often the hardest place be – it isn’t necessarily fun or sexy and frankly, it’s often really really hard. Meera Shenoy is a woman who takes risks and is is deeply committed to making a change. By day, she’s a senior government official in India but she was led to start a non-profit called Youth4Jobs, which provides opportunities for disabled people to get jobs.

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I absolutely loved the title of her talk: “Ability in Disability.” She says, “compassion and business can be combined to transform lives of the disabled.” Let’s look at the stats, which quite frankly, are staggering. One out of every 7 are disabled, and in India, it’s apparently even worse.

In the last three years, her non-profit has touched 100,000 households. One of the biggest issues for those who are “labeled” disabled is confidence since they’ve spent their whole life listening to people focus on their disabilities rather than their abilities. My heart sank as she said this as I thought of a teenager I have been getting close to has been labeled a disabled child of sorts and sure enough, her biggest disability isn’t what she lacks physically or cognitively but in fact, lack of confidence.

Meera’s work is so important as is her message: once you can get people to focus on what the disabled ARE capable of doing, then you open up opportunities you couldn’t even imagine, which fundamentally changes family’s lives and destinies. After they learned that self esteem was the number one issue disabled kids had, it was the first challenge they addressed as a non-profit.

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Next came training them with skills they lacked — from language and computer skills to yoga. As these kids went through training, every new word mattered. The final piece was curricula in banking, retail, manufacturing and ultimately wherever the jobs were. Rather than suggest disabled people can only work in “some industries,” they developed training in jobs that were already abundant and brought them to the disabled market. Soon, they realized it was not enough to change their students and their trainers, but they had to change the mindset of companies as well. It shouldn’t be a surprise that this shift became their biggest challenge as a non-profit organization.

They’ve added 100 new companies who have become first time employers of disabled youth. Overnight, the equations can change. Her inspiring story teaches us that if we can employ one person in a family we couldn’t have before, we can transform a family’s entire economic situation and over time, a whole country’s growth and prosperity.

Dan Viederman who is the CEO of another non-profit called Verite, a non-profit, is focused on eliminating slavery in companies and supply chains.  Many people may not realize that there are 30 million people who are working in slave-like conditions. I was aware of its existence around the world and in countries you’d not necessary expect, but I didn’t realize how chronic the problem was or the volume.

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There are many workers and migrants around the world who are paying more than they can afford to get jobs. This situation is a form of debt bondage and is at the center of sustainable corporate responsibility and slave labor.

As companies started outsourcing work offshore, many didn’t realize there were unfair conditions happening under the hood. Enter Verite, who does social assessments to make sure there is no slave labor, unfair practices, or unsafe conditions. Through their research, they learned that there were an astonishing number of serious labor violations, such as pushing employees to work hundreds of hours a week for months at a time and unfair treatment of women. The common thread in most of these cases was that there were foreign laborers in these countries doing the work.

Another sad factoid: one third of the workers in the electronics industry in Malaysia are effectively slaves and forced labor.  The same happens throughout Asia (in Taiwan, the apparel sector is one such industry where it thrives) and in the Middle East. Apparently, 20% of Indians have spent time in jail because of visa fraud. Fifteen years into the business, Dan and his team now have a deeper understanding of the issues at hand and how to address them.

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From the Vatican to Obama, agreements are in place to make sure that companies don’t have forced labor and slavery in their supply chain.  Says Dan, “essentially, we need to ensure that workers never pay to get jobs.” He encouraged the audience to go to brands they like asking them to be more open and transparent about this issue so more people can become aware and speak up. Hear hear!!

Comedian Emily Levine is also an activist and a producer. I first met her when she delivered a TED talk on the main TED stage when it was still held in Monterey way back when. She had me in stitches on and off the stage when we first met and I was thrilled to not just see her again (she’s a genuinely warm and inspirational woman worth knowing) but to see that her witty writing and humor is as brilliant today as it ever was. Her talk also addressed a pivotal and relevant theme that eventually we all have to deal with – how to gracefully handle life change and grave reality when it hits!

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As part of dealing with it, she is producing a video called Emily at the End of Chaos which she hopes will get America to “change its mind about everything.” She wryly asked the audience before getting warmed up: “Is it rational to measure our self worth in dollars? How do I demonitize them?”

She says she has a bad relationship with reality. Don’t we all Emily? Don’t we all? I found myself saying under my breath as I watched her pace the stage. After all, everyone around us makes up reality every day, from Disney to those on the Hill during the Bush administration. She adds, “we are an empire who says, ‘we create our own realities.’”

She goes on: “the problem with action heroes is that they always take responsibility for themselves, but they never come back and pick up all the lemons they spilled all over the ground.” The audience laughs. It’s funny, but of all the micro-things that don’t matter and many that do that I spend far too much time thinking about, I never thought about the absurdity of that one.

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Emily says, “what I learned is that we need interaction heroes. We have to give up the idea that we can control everything. We can do our best but we cannot control anything. We cannot make things up but the idea in our head is not going to over rule reality.”

She added, “we have to accept situations as they are when they come up regardless of how absurd or shocking they seem later on, like a situation that may sound absurd when in fact, it could so easily be reality. Here, she told a joke: An old woman is driving to the store with her daughter and proceeds to go through one red light after another. The daughter says to her mother, “are you aware that you just went through two red lights?” The mother turns to her daughter and says, “Oh, am I driving?”

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Anyone been there? Reality can be hard but embracing it when we want to run from it or avoid it, can sometimes be the most freeing thing we can do. And, oh yeah I might add that Emily’s comical facial expressions when she tells a joke or simply shares a story always bring me to tears. If you want to bring a smile to your day, look up some of her talks on YouTube — her style is highly intelligent and magical.

Shifting gears entirely, Eric Rasmussen then took the stage to share best practices on dealing with a major disease outbreak. He has been the principle investigator at DARPA and instrumental in working with the Ebola Crisis for the White House.

“Ebola is a tragedy, there’s no doubt about it,” says Eric. “But,” he added, “we’re a learning civilization. We work to try to make the next catastrophe a little better with more knowledge under our belt.”

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Once they found the third Ebola case, it was called a medical emergency since 2,000 people had already died from the disease. Ebola stats are severe: as of the time of his talk in late Feburary, 23,000 had been infected and nearly 10,000 have died, with 833 healthcare workers infected and 488 of them dead. The impact has hit healthcare, education, agriculture, income and lifespan. An entire year of education has been lost in West Africa. Up to a million people in West Africa will be food insecure because of Ebola. Schools closed, mines closed, jobs were shut down and life expectancy dropped.

That said, the Ebola crisis is now waning because public health actually works says Eric and he added with positive hope in his voice, “we have learned a lot. We now have a new surfaced disinfectant, which is 100% more effective and an effort called HuaDao, which is an eco-city being built in the south of China that will be shared freely throughout China and throughout the world. The UN-WHO has altered the way they do business, and diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines are being moved into a rapid protocol they haven’t had before.”

While there’s no doubt that Ebola has negatively impacted thousands, the fact that major initiatives and plans have been implemented to help reduce the risk of fast acceleration of future outbreaks is a godsend.

I was thrilled to have the Queen of of the Flute Viviana Guzman on our stage this year as we had hoped to have her join us in 2014 but she was off traveling, no surprise since she spends more time on the road than not, having played in more than 120 countries. Her on-stage story was of her emotional journey from being in a cocoon in a child (literally) to flying out of one.

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A Chilean-born flutist, she dealt with medical issues from a very early age prohibiting her from walking and resulting in more operations than she cares to remember. Having started musical training at the age of 5, by age 15, she had played as a soloist with orchestra, studied with Jean-Pierre Rampal and was featured on national television, recently receiving a Grammy Nomination for her work.

In addition to sharing the challenges she faced in her life and what she learned from them, she played a few different flutes from around the world, for flutes in different countries are in fact very different. Who knew? She played the Tahitian flute with her nose because that’s how it’s played in Tahiti.

In between performing various flutes, she spoke of overcoming fears and obstacles, a common theme from this year’s TEDxBerkeley speakers. Gratitude is core to her life. “Rather than think about my childhood condition as a disability that would hold me back, I saw it as an opportunity,” she said. She now feels grateful for a pain free life and encouraged the audience to feel the gratitude of whatever they have, rather than focus on what they don’t have. In other words, embrace life’s challenges for in that embrace, those challenges can transform us.

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And alas, the final speaker of the event is a name my sisters who live on the other side of the country do not know, but is a household name among Apple enthusiasts and those in the technology and business world. Note cards in hand, Apple co-founder and geek extraordinaire Steve Wozniak, took the stage with a goal not to deliver a talk or give a speech, but to share anecdotes and personal stories from his time at university, which included quirky things about Steve Jobs and ‘early Apple days.”

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Known more commonly in the industry as simply Woz, fundamental to his life is Food, Fun and Friends. “There might be a fourth F,” he said with a smile on his face. I wondered if his F’s priorities were in the order he mentioned them.

Woz said that when he was a student that he had posters of computers in his room and taught himself on paper and pencil how to design computers. They say it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something.  He noted, “if I have the same answer as everyone else, they might call you brilliant, but that’s not what it is.”

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He became a pacifist during the Vietnam War which when he was still studying at UC Berkeley.  He shared stories of getting caught in the middle of a tear gas blast during a protest, how they learned to make calls from a pay phone on someone else’s dime, the time they went to Tijuana in an old Pinta and made it through the border with gunpowder, and when his buddy Harvey set off an M80 in the middle of 17 pounds of saltine crackers piled on the top of someone’s bed. I guess Woz and I spent our college years a little differently.

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He was warmly welcomed by the UC Berkeley crowd as an alum, likely their most successful one. I’ve met Woz several times over the years and the top three things that most jump out about his presence are his genuine warm authenticity, his coy, fun almost child-like behavior just below the layer of his brilliance, and his inherent interest in helping others around him.  I personally adore him and am grateful he was able to join this year’s impressive set of speakers.

Below, the UC Berkeley Men’s Octet perform, while making the crowd laugh with their creative song selections.

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Musical talent Valerie Joi gives us cause to reflect on forgiveness and how it can free us the more we’re open to it.

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The art of control. The art of focus. The art of discipline. A force of nature. I was blown away by the energy of the Japanese drumming group Cal Raijin Taiko who made me want to learn more about Japanese culture and music.

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I found myself smiling ear-to-ear during the entire performance of Punjabi dance group Cal Bhangra, their energy electric and their aura exuding pure joy.

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Below, four incredibly inspiring women worth knowing — Dr. Victoria Kisyombe, Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, Meera Shenoy and Carolyn Gable — lay low in the Green Room before they take center stage for their talk.

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Below, the TEDxBerkeley Team from left to right: Chris Lew, Erin Roberts, Lucky Ding, Max Wolffe, Jennifer Barr and Renee Blodgett.

While I didn’t capture summaries from every single speaker, they were all phenomenal — there wasn’t one speaker who didn’t get me to think about the world in a new way. Video links to all the speaker’s talks can be found below, so you can tune into any or all of them, which I’d highly recommend — their insights may just transform how you view things and people around you or at the very least, shed some light on an issue, problem or event you’d had in your own life, OR, are about to…

Video Links to Performances

  • UC Berkeley Men’s Octet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8JsthuQgAM
  • Prasad Kaipa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o343JN-FHng
  • Adora Svitak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBFQpd1cnCQ
  • Marc Gopin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMaaWYOckjE
  • Carolyn Gable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yLZeOBGhPc
  • Eric Holt-Giménez: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fX9dV9zCN-A
  • Dan Garcia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozRovyDwKEM
  • Valerie Joi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsjItmQfgUk
  • Cal Raijin Taiko: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q64p_c4dljA
  • Alison Meyer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NR33yerZgso
  • Mike Robbins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd2WKQWG_Dg
  • Meera Shenoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cp7JfZDJPWo
  • Dan Viederman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIv8tfrQGhY
  • Cal Bhangra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZ_l2pd9UZM
  • Richmond Sarpong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIsY87-zkXA
  • Emily Levine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86KDnbQB0AQ
  • Eric Rasmussen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sj23M9uu63s
  • Viviana Guzmán: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuiC-oQMqjQ
  • Steve Wozniak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwSyjz1off4
  • Victoria Kisyombe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ezc_2j9HZw

Photography by Renee Blodgett.

 

 

DENT 2015, Where Passion, Innovation & Authentic Disruption Meet

March 26, 2015 by  

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I rarely fly Southwest Airlines, not because I’m not a fan, but largely because they don’t fly direct to most of the locations I travel to regularly. There are a couple of exceptions every year of course, Austin, Las Vegas and LA being on that list and more recently, Boise.

I love Idaho, a state I never expected to travel to never mind fall in love with. Truth be told, when a friend asked me to join him on a stint through the west for a few weeks roughly 15 years ago, I chose 3 states for that exploration, ones I figured would be vast but plain and boring. I couldn’t have been more wrong about all three. To say that Idaho, Montana and Wyoming did not disappoint is an understatement.

The breathtaking Idaho Sawtooth Mountain range is a sight to be seen, one which I’d argue is a transformative experience if you have an opportunity to hike or picnic on her soil.

Years later, I ended up in Idaho to see friends and then not again until last year when industry pals dragged me to a new-on-the-scene technology event in beautiful Sun Valley called DENT.

The DENT Conference (aka Dent the Future), has grown from 75 attendees in 2013, its first year, to 200 this year. While the number may seem small, just remember what SXSW and CES were like in their early days and more importantly, how special they were because of their size way back when. F.ounders in Dublin in the first two years also oozed that “small community” charm. As soon as events take off and explode in size, they lose that treasured intimacy that originally made them so special.

While the event is growing, the goal is not to become another SXSW or anything close – its goal is to stay intimate while delivering stellar content around technology innovation and business. Beyond content, networking and cultural activities are baked into the DENT schedule that spans 3 days, so attendees can have the kind of authentic and bond-building experience so lacking at other events. Nature is also at its core, since there are options to ski or hike before and after the event. On the first day, which they refer to as “Activity Day,” we headed out on a photo walk into Sun Valley’s woods, something that was as memorable this year as it was last.

Co-founders Steve Broback and Jason Preston hold DENT in of all places Sun Valley because of their passion for the area. Steve and his wife visit frequently and even have a second home there, which is an easy flight from Seattle where they hang their hat most of the time.

The other nice thing about having an event in Sun Valley is that it is more remote than places like Atlanta, Phoenix and Las Vegas where so many conferences and trade events are held – it takes more effort to get there, requiring a commitment to be present with attendees who show up. In other words, it encourages you to play “full out” and participate in a way that’s easy to avoid at larger events in more frequented cities. And, the location is prestine and beautiful.

Sun Valley is also smaller and let’s be honest – gorgeous.  The views are nothing short of breathtaking, whether you’re skiing at Sun Valley Mountain or going for a hike on Bald Mountain. For those of you who have been to Sun Valley, you also know that the food and wine scene is fabulous, as is the city’s art and culture. (See the Sun Valley Lodge renovation piece, my spring skiing write-up and top Ketchum restaurants reviews from last year).

And so, that’s why I boarded a Southwest Air flight this past weekend from Oakland to Boise and then hopped the “wine bus” with 30 other geeks and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and Seattle, where great Cabernet was poured as we made our way through the mountains to awe-inspiring Sun Valley. Here, we geeked out, shared stories, formed new relationships and strengthened existing ones.

This year’s event boasted speakers like Craig Newmark, founder of Craig’s List, David Risher, Ron J. Williams, Sarah Milstein, Paul Shoemaker, Dan Kottke who shared early stories of his friendship with Steve Jobs as well as the books they read together, Pam Weiss, cartoonist David Horsey and others.

Buick was also on board to shuttle us around and made us feel like kings and queens as we darted around the valley from activity-to-activity. They also ran an Auto Cross event where you had three tries to improve your time racing through a course set up on the outskirts of the city. Fun was the order of the day while learning a bit about safe driving in the process. I also had no idea how great Buick’s acceleration was from park to “go.”

Above shot of hosts and founders Steve Broback and Jason Preston on the main DENT stage, courtesy of Chris Holmes

While technology and innovation may be the order of the day inside the Sun Valley Inn for two full days, rest assured there are plenty of other reasons why attending the event is more than just a little enticing. Aside from hiking, biking and skiing, there’s a massive yoga and a holistic retreat center in town (take a peak inside Zenergy to get a flavor).

The geeks who show up are not only exceptionally passionate about what they do, but have a genuine desire to see others move forward in their life and business in empowering ways. From that place and frame of mind, best practices are shared and the latest gear seems to show up.

Side events and meals are served on-site at the Sun Valley Inn, at nearby local restaurants in Ketchum and at entrepreneur’s homes in the area. Below, Chris Voss, Kris Krug, Robert Scoble and other photo geeks stand on local entrepreneur Scott Jordan’s roof, taking in the views and the energy from the DENT attendees below.

And, oh yeah, there’s a wolf walk led by Oliver Starr, a man who is more passionate about wolves than most women are about dark chocolate.

Speaking of dark chocolate, Laura Jordan cooked up a storm at her home for this year’s Denters, while we took in the views of the mountains around Ketchum.

From left to right, Skip Franklin, Renee Blodgett, Scott Jordan, Steve Broback

All above 5 shots at the ScotteVest party taken by photographer Mark Oliver (Ketchum).

Scott Jordan, who is CEO and founder of ScotteVest and Laura graciously hosted Denters on opening night and nothing was spared — from potato pierogi with sour cream, Thai corn fritters, bacon wrapped stuffed dates, french onion wontons, shrimp crostini, duck confit doughnut holes with sour cream preserves, to a full table of cookies, cakes and chocolate and caramel covered apples.

The DENT Conference is a combination of all things smart, innovative, forward thinking and relevant and its attendees are a combination of authentic, connected, sassy, leading edge and fun. I began to notice a wonderful shift from last year’s event to this year after the first day — what emerged was a formation of a dynamic community.

I for one, personally felt embraced by a savvy group of individuals who were there to give more than “get” and to learn more than network. Unlike so many tech conferences where you feel that networking and pitching are core to the vibe and their raison d’etre, DENT is focused on building a community that will last, one which wants to help others succeed along the way. This golden nugget quality combined with stellar content, speakers and a blend of right brain and left brain conversations on and off the stage, is what truly makes DENT so special.

A must event to put on your radar, DENT is held every March in Sun Valley Idaho and there are now direct flights from San Francisco or you can fly from Oakland to Boise and drive the 3-4 hours to the mountain range, which is nothing short of breathtaking.

Another great read on this event is from LA Times columnist and cartoonist David Horsey, also one of DENT’s speakers.

PHOTO CREDITS: Photo of Jason and Steve taken by Chris Holmes, photos from Scott Jordan party taken by Mark Oliver and all other photos by Renee Blodgett.

Transitions: Reflections From the Urban Bronx to Rural Virginia

March 24, 2015 by  

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Preparing oneself mentally for leaving America’s East Coast and its way of viewing the world is something I’ve done six times now, the first transition was to America’s south, followed by Arizona and southern California and then, a few overseas stints where I lived in a variety of luxury, shacks and working class suburbs. In between, I hung my hat in villages, on a kibbutz, along the coast and amidst urban decay and sprawl…..I did it all.

Above, rural Virginia in all its glory, on a cold and brisk winter day.

Then, after many years doing what I was told in the Boston corporate world, I stored a three bedroom house in some warehouse in New Jersey and drove west in a silver Honda Accord named Hamilton with a kayak rack on its top. That was a decade ago. He’s still with me btw and purring along.

Above, Boston’s Charles River at dusk in the days when I lived there, not long before I moved west.

When you’re born and bred in New England, East Coast roots are what you understand, what you know and connect to and the soil you want to touch when the tides are down, at least that’s how it is for most people. I cried as I drove north on Route 128, for what I thought would be the last time, in a very long time. The car was packed, oozing with stuff I later would never need but couldn’t part with at the time, and I looked like a young and modern version of a Beverly Hillbilly daughter, except with more miles under her belt.

I was bound for Canada since I was always one for choosing the path less taken and certainly zigzagging north and south over borders was one such way to do just that. I could have taken Route 66 of course but I figured I had decades to tackle that one. Perhaps when I was old and gray and could whiz across in a slick purple aerodynamic RV just because I could?

En route, I was open to landing somewhere else other than San Francisco if another place spoke to me with more clarity, Portland and Seattle being on the top of my list, mainly for its access to some of the most beautiful mountains and scenery on America’s west coast. My alternative route brought me into Canada, where I lost my radar detector during a police stop (who knew they were no no’s in the Maple Leaf country?), before I then ventured south again through Wisconsin and Minnesota, both of which I loved. It was summer, so fishing and camping were the order of the day, all of which I resonated with growing up in the Adirondack Mountains. (below a shot taken from this past fall of a trip through the Adirondacks – sunset at Caroga Lake).

I headed north again before making a central b-line through parts of Kansas, both Dakotas, Idaho and Montana. There I spent time in the land of the free where I discovered the solitude of America’s western lands — the nothingness of the plains where you could hear a pin drop and the air was quiet one minute and menacing the next.

Ahhh yes, a decade ago.

I was younger then. I had visions of wearing a cowboy hat and boots with faded torn jean shorts and a stylish checked shirt that fit tightly but appropriately across my chest. Silver cuffs hung from my right wrist and a funky leather watch with an antiquated plate hung from my left. My visions included sitting at the counter of some $1 a coffee midwest diner with a girlfriend who was similarly dressed so we didn’t look too out of place in a town we knew nothing about. Later, we’d tackle some dive bar where Harley Davidson addicts would play pool around us while we drank $3 tequila shots and listened to Rock from our time on some worn out juke box. All of this, in a place where no one knew our names. Pure bliss.

I was alone for part of this trip and with random friends on other parts – they’d fly into a designated city and I’d pick them up until I dropped them off at an airport in a different state and continue on my journey. I learned oddball things about the country all the way across this big vast land.

I drank wine in Idaho by night and hiked by day, chowed down on hamburgers in small towns, tried local brew beer, picked blueberries, and wrote poetry with Craters of the Moon as my backdrop. I sat on haystacks in Wisconsin and laid my head among tall grass while one hung between my teeth as I looked up to a clear blue sky. I had a solo picnic behind a church steeple in a deserted ghost town that has barely changed a wink since it was first built in 1880.

I dreamed of a movie script I’d write one day as I laid my eyes on the magical never-ending Badlands for the first time.

I pissed on South Dakota soil, listened to youthful rock bands play in pubs till 2, tried karaoke against my better judgment, sampled whiskey during a bowling match in a place I can’t remember the name of, and went bareback horseback riding in Washington State. I discovered Blodgett Oregon and sat in its library doing family research before landing in Portland where my first stop was the city’s finest chocolate shop. Clearly, I had my priorities in tow on that trip.

This trip would surely be different. Not only was it winter this time around, but my perspective on life had changed after spending so many years on the untamed risk-taking west coast.

That trip so many moons ago, felt more youthful somehow, but the fact that I was ten years younger was only part of the equation. The goal was to move states and to one about as far as I could go to from Massachusetts. As a crow flies, it was roughly 2,700 miles although I took so many detours, I probably added another 1,000 to the trip in the end. Portland or Seattle didn’t call loud enough and San Francisco was where I ultimately landed.

Ahhh yes, a decade ago.

Over the past year and a half, I spent more time on the East Coast than not and my heritage and all of the memories that go with it, wrapped its way around me like a little girl’s arms do to an adult leg during the shyest of moments. It wasn’t a bad thing. It’s not as if it called me back for good, but in all the most beautiful ways, my time there reminded me of the things I love about the Atlantic side of this Yankee land and just how different its people are from those I’ve been working and playing with for so many years of late.

Truth be told, I love the East Coast. I love the way people talk, their philosophical canter, their humor and wit, their directness, the way they look into your eyes rather than past them when they talk to you and their authentic honesty when you need it most. Some of you will disagree with the last one since New Englanders are known for being more discreet and conservative than West Coasters. But, somehow I always managed to draw the truth out of my East Coast friends and when I needed raw honesty and perspective, I asked for it – hard and direct, the way we do in New York.

And so, on a very cold but clear day in mid-January of this year, I set off on another drive across country to help another “life” move. We had a small apartment to clear out and despite its size, it still involved packing dozens of boxes and stacking a car full of more, not to mention loading up a large Yakima cargo box that sat on the top of a five year old gray Chevy Pontiac we named Vinny that was set to make the long journey.

Oddly enough, I felt somewhat melancholy about the departure, not unlike I did a decade ago even though my place was still on the west coast. There was something nostaglic about it and familiar – I had gone through this before and while last time, it was leaving a home behind, this time, it was leaving months of a different life behind, a life filled with diners who proudly served homemade chicken noodle and matzo ball soup, bagel and pizza shops on every corner and crisp cool evenings where we’d take late afternoon walks past the Long Island Sound.

The sunsets at times were even glorious. The below shot was taken in the Bronx, crossing the bridge to City Island at sunset this past fall.

Yet, it’s a much harder life in New York, something I had forgotten since living in San Francisco for a myriad of reasons those who have left it behind, well know.

People tend to harder. There’s always an edge. Traffic is busier. Prices are higher. The pace is faster. Houses are smaller. Jobs are more hectic. The demand is more intense. Schools are more crowded. Climate is harsher. Getting things done takes longer. And so on. But…it was a way of life I knew so well because it was part of my DNA – after all, I first learned how to walk on New York soil.

Nostalgic as it was, we were eager to drive towards warmer pastures, calmer waters, gentler voices….and skies where serenity is the order of the day. To a place where priorities are not about doing but about being. With that frame of mind, we made our way out of the Bronx after one final stop that had to be made — Dunkin Donuts on Bruckner Boulevard. Sipping our piping hot coffees quietly, we made our way across the George Washington Bridge for the last time in our as unpretentious as they get Pontiac.

It was a bitter cold, but clear day. Snow, sleet or rain didn’t get in our way and we missed a New York City blizzard by less than a week. 104.3 played on the radio in the background and we stirred gently as we made our way across the New Jersey border – moving in the car was a bit of a challenge given how packed it was and it wasn’t until we hit Virginia that we were able to shuffle things around to make for more comfortable living quarters, for that is precisely what Vinny would become for the next month on the road.

We passed smokestacks in Newark, and made our way south to Pennsylvania taking in its like-winter skies along the way.

Covington Virginia too had smokestacks, a not-so-common sight in the industrial East Coast where manufacturing plants still thrive.

When we reached Maryland, we were greeted with yellow and soft peach skies set against bare winter trees.

West Virginia skies at dusk were similar, as were its trees and hills. Misty. Dreamy. Cold. Clear. Soft.

Through the car window en route.

The skies would get even more dramatic before night’s end.

Our first stop was the Omni Homestead in Hot Springs Virginia and yes, it was rural and yes, it was surrounded by thermal hot springs, a perfect healing remedy after a long tiring drive from an urban sprawl. Read my extensive write-up on the oh so traditional Omni Homestead property, the stunning wildlife and acreage surrounding it and the infamous Warm Springs Baths and Pools where Thomas Jefferson himself soaked to heal his aching body.

While still brisk in the evening, arriving in Virginia was a lovely reality check that the Bronx was no longer in our rear view mirror and the bitter cold New York winter was behind us. Alas, we hadn’t seen a Dunkin Donuts since morning.

Our drive from Virginia would mostly be rural. It was the first of many rural drives to come on our long journey through middle America.

The eastern part of the country with its wide open spaces and hills, would soon open up to glorious trees and peaks when we hit the edge of the renowned Shenandoah mountain range.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of greeting Virginia’s stunning Shenandoah mountains, it spans 73 miles long across Virginia and West Virginia. The steep, narrow, sandstone-capped ridge extends from northern Bath County in Virginia to southern Hardy County in West Virginia.

The stretch serves as a haven for both family vacations and romantic getaways alike. There’s plenty of hiking as you’d expect, but what you may not expect to find are vineyards, breweries and of course the nearby hot springs. The Blue Ridge Whiskey-Wine Loop is a self-guided tour of some of the loveliest vineyards in several counties in Virginia’s central Valley.  And, of course, the drive is breathtaking with plenty of views along Route 40 as well as numerous side roads you can take for a variation to the main road.

Reflections aside, we were well on our way to a month long journey that would forever transform our lives, as all trips of this nature tend to do. And, most importantly, we were ready. It was time and we couldn’t wait to embrace the wide open road ahead of us.

This is the first post of many that covers our cross country trip — while we crossed 15 states, our coverage can be found on the following state pages where we spent time: Virginia, Tennessee (Nashville, Memphis), Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico (Santa Fe) Arizona and California. The coverage will span from late March through June 2015. Also be sure to read our extensive write-up on Massachusetts from last summer which includes the North Coast, Boston and Cape Cod. Don’t ask us for our favorite state because they were all truly magical and each place has its own known — and unknown — gems.

Note: We also used hashtag #WBTWxAmerica on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook throughout our journey if you want to see our photo streams.  And, while I hate promotional pushes, truth be told, our trip was made possible and FUN by many sponsors and hosts, including the Tourism Boards of Virginia, Nashville, Memphis, Mississippi and Clarksdale, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Arkansas, Santa Fe and Taos.

We also had product sponsors: Yakima (Vinny wore their sturdy and hassle-free cargo and bike racks proudly), Rockport and Arcopedico Shoes (their shoes were the most comfortable and reliable shoes I’ve ever worn on a trip and I truly mean that), UVSkinz clothing which we wore for sun protection, Kipling, Samsonite and Heys luggage (yup, we used all of it), Tiffen for their filters (well-used and necessary on those bright sunny days), Patchworks screen protectors for our phones, Jam bluetooth speakers so we could get music wirelessly and BuildaSign who created WBTWxCountry signs we plastered on our car doors starting in Tennessee.

We thank them for their graciousness and support along the way. Check out our partners and hosts page for a list who supported us for this trip and others. We were not paid by any sponsor or host to write anything and we chose our sponsors, so believed in their products before we set off. All opinions expressed are our own.

Photos: Renee Blodgett

Electronic Dance Music at Miami Music Week, Now in its 5th Year

March 18, 2015 by  

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Over the course of five years, Miami Music Week has become a globally recognized electronic dance music event. Each year thousands of electronic dance music artists, DJs, performers and fans from across the globe flock to Miami to experience MMW. These EDM enthusiasts flood MMW-affliated venues, hotels, restaurants, businesses and tourist hot spots, creating a dance music theme throughout Miami.

The dates this year are March 24th to March 29th in Miami Florida. They also have an interesting news update on Un_Mute, which has established itself as one of the leading cultivators of underground music in Miami.  Artists like Marco Carola, Lee Burridge, Josh Wink, Nina Kraviz, Marc Houle, Paco Osuna, Adam Beyer, Guy Gerber, Martin Buttrich, Misstress Barbara, Guti, John Tejada, Raresh, Barac, Praslea, Vera, Maayan Nidam, Rhadoo, Priku, Kanzyani, MARTINEZ, Mathew Jonson, Ben Klock, DVS1 and MANY more have performed at their events.

More on their site at miamimusicweek.com.

Wisdom, Compassion & Connection, Core Themes at TEDxBerkeley 2015

February 27, 2015 by  

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The sixth annual TEDxBerkeley, which will fill Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley CA tomorrow, February 28, will focus on Wisdom, Compassion and Connection. On stage in front of over 2,000 attendees, 57 speakers and performers will share riveting insights on these important and pivotal themes.

Tedxberkeley dance troupe

From Indian & Japanese Performers to Renowned Leaders, Professors & Apple’s Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, don’t miss the Live Stream at www.tedxberkeley.org. 

This year’s inspiring line-up aims to transform the way we think about ideas that can re-shape the world’s priorities in education, science, the environment, healthcare and beyond, all of which is center to the core of TED.

Apple co-founder and philanthropist Steve Wozniak will close this year’s sold out event. Those interested in hearing the 2015 speakers and performers can tune into the live stream at http://www.tedxberkeley.org starting at 10:00 am PST. The social media hashtag for the event is #TEDxBerkeley.

The complete line-up this year includes the following performers, thought leaders and visionaries, listed under the “theme” they will present.

Wisdom:

UC Men’s Octet: UC Berkeley A Capella Group

Prasad Kaipa: CEO of Kaipa Group, Business and Leadership Coach

Adora Svitak: Activist for Feminism & Youth Causes

Marc Gopin: Director, Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution

Carolyn Gable: CEO and Founder, Expect a Miracle!

Eric Holt-Gimenez: Executive Director, Food First

Dan Garcia: UC Berkeley Computer Science Professor

Valerie Joi: Musical Minister

Compassion:

Cal Raijin Taiko: UC Berkeley Japanese Performance Drum Group

Suzanne Ackerman-Berman: Transformation Director, Pick-N-Pay, South Africa

Dr. Victoria Kisyombe: Innovator in Women Empowerment

Alison Meyer: Leadership Coach, UC Berkeley Assistant Professor

Mike Robbins: Life Coach & Author

Meera Shenoy: Founder, Youth4Jobs

Dan Viederman: CEO of Verite

Connection:

New Orleans Manifesto: New Orleans Jazz Band

Cal Bhangra: UC Berkeley Punjabi Dance Group

Richmond Sarpong: UC Berkeley Chemistry Professor

Emily Levine: Producer and Comedian

Dr. Eric Rasmussen: CEO of Infinitum Humanitarian Systems

Viviana Guzman: Flutist who has performed in over 100 countries

Steve Wozniak: Apple Computer Co-Founder and Philanthropist

I am thrilled to be a co-curator again this year, together with co-curator R. Jennifer Barr and curator Erin Roberts. Also a huge hats off to platinum sponsor Fetzer Institute for helping us make the event more global than ever. Other sponsors include Food Should Taste Good, Positive Energy, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, 18 Rabbits, Victor Hugo Winery, OneSquigglyLine, Noah’s Bagels, Ben & Jerry’s, Livestream, Hootsuite and MailChimp.

 

Stay at a Four Seasons This Valentines Day With a #FSGiftCard

February 7, 2015 by  

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I’ve stayed at about ten Four Seasons properties over the years — see the write up on one of my most memorable stays at the Four Seasons on the Big Island of Hawaii. Despite the fact that each resort is unique and has a broad range of styles, fans know what to expect regardless of where they are in the world.

Recently, I had an opportunity to stay at the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado in Santa Fe, which is less than a half hour drive north of Santa Fe New Mexico.  Because the resort is outside the city center, it has a rural desert feel to it as you approach its entrance and unlike every other Four Seasons resort  I’ve experienced, it’s uncannily quiet when you arrive.

The rooms and suites are spread out across adobe-style two story buildings all of which have a natural exterior, allowing them to blend well into the desert-colored environment that surrounds the property. If you want a view, I’d recommend requesting a room on the second floor facing the mountains – the other benefit of course is that second floor rooms are much quieter, although noise is not really a problem here given its more rural location.

The 65 casita guest rooms are decorated with chic, contemporary Southwest flair and start out at a generous 630 square feet, each one with an indoor fireplace and private patio or terrace with stunning views. We had a patio casita although they also offer suites, including one called a “sunset suite.”

Those not familiar with desert climates, know that it can feel warm during the day when the sun is at its strongest and after it sets, temperatures can go down into the teens, making it important to layer. This holds true when staying at this resort as well – even though the buildings themselves are all a short walk from the main reception, which houses the bar and restaurant, you’ll want to be prepared for the brisk walk back to your room, especially late at night. Wine alone will not warm you through, so pack accordingly. Note that this is mostly an issue during the cooler months of the year.

Our room, which was a patio casita, had an adobe fireplace and a simple phone call will get it started for you – ours lasted for a few hours and was mesmerizing and relaxing especially after a longish drive the previous day.

The co-ed hot tub stays open until around 10 pm so you can use it before and after dinner depending on your schedule. There’s also female and male only hot tubs on the property, which are accessible through the main spa building, which is a stone’s throw from the reception area and easily walkable.

Here you can also book a private lounge, which gives you access to a secluded area that has a hot tub, a luxury double lounge chair and a sauna, a great romantic option, whether it’s for an anniversary, no particular reason at all or the upcoming Valentine’s Day Weekend.

Four Seasons is offering a $250 gift card (#FSGiftCard on Social Media) for the upcoming romantic holiday, although it can be used after February 14 if that weekend getaway doesn’t work for you.  The gift cards can be used towards overnight stays, dining experiences, luxury spa treatments and more. For a chance to win, comment below with what you would do and/or where you would go with a Four Seasons gift card and you can also reach out via our Facebook page or Twitter.

We had a similar such experience in Santa Fe, starting with a couple’s massage which was a delight! I personally think all couples should do this periodically as it’s a great way to relax and share a l’il pampering and luxury together.

After your couple’s massage which is in a room with two massage tables and a burning fireplace, you can access the private circular lounge area, which is right outside the massage room and houses a hot tub, chairs, and of course, access to the wooden sauna. It’s a great option for those who truly want privacy and solitude time.

In addition to the adobe fireplaces in your rooms, there are outside patios with lounge chairs, which is a great spot to take in the nearby mountain views. There’s also an elegant but funky wood table, which is carved unevenly all the way around, giving the furniture a rustic yet modern look.

The bathroom offers massive sized showers, a separate deep soaking tub, a double sink and vanity area and radiant heated floors which are always on. The bathroom is separated by the bedroom via an entryway with tiled floors, and includes a refrigerator, a coffee pot, and a selection of liquor to choose from should you want a pre-dinner drink or a late nightcap.

What’s nice about the property is its seclusion, which for couples wanting to get away from “it all,” is a compelling feature.

The hotel restaurant Terra has a modern styled dining room with a lovely open gas fireplace that sits below a large glossy painting of a horse’s head. Both fireplace and horse are engulfed by an open-facing wine cellar, the combo of which is truly unique.

Truth be told, we were there doing a restaurant review although not paid to do one nor told how to write it. Because of this, we naturally took more time with our waiter and the sous chef Ruben Tanuz, who came out a few times throughout our meal to see how we were enjoying it and to answer any questions. Of course, I always have questions.

New Mexican-born Tanuz is not only a great chef, but has a warm and kind heart and personality and also has a unique personal story! We learned about herbs, spices and tweaks to recipes as well renowned dishes he has used over the years to keep flavors a little more interesting.

I was personally thrilled to see both Silverado and Opus on the wine menu and despite the fact that we went with a chicken and lighter pork dish, we dove into a California Cabernet rather than a Pinot which may have gone better with both. It was one of those nights…

The food was exquisite. Even if you’re not a salad lover, I’d recommend starting with one of their mainstays even if you order another appetizer. The roasted pear salad frisee with arugula, endive, cranberries, pomegranates with a bleu cheese hazelnut vinaigrette and their beet and goat cheese salad with figs, candied pecans served with a balsamic reduction is out of this world.

For entrees, we tried the black truffle chicken with sweet potato croquettes, wilted greens and a chicken jus as well as the grilled venison loin, served with poached pears, blackberries, crispy kale and a chocolate sauce.

And, of course, you wouldn’t sign up for a Four Seasons unless you weren’t into a little decadence after all. How about this double chocolate creation for dessert? It was divine.

If you’re after a little peace and quiet, then the Four Seasons  Rancho Encantado property is a great “getaway” choice and as avid travelers know, there are easy flights in and out of both Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

What’s nice is that the property is under those wide open skies New Mexico is known for and if you’re a nature lover and there on a Saturday, you can take a hike with outdoor expert Hans Loehr who’s available to introduce you to Santa Fe’s nearby stunning scenery.

For those who have experienced the more traditional Four Seasons resorts and may expect bellmen with hats and coats or seasoned staff who have been in the hospitality industry for decades to cater to your every wish, even before you anticipate them, note that this more classic approach isn’t something you’ll find at the Santa Fe location, as it has a bit more of that western laid back look, feel and flavor to it.

Those interested in taking advantage of the Santa Fe Four Seasons gift card (#FSGiftCard), can visit this page for more information.

Details on the Santa Fe Four Seasons:

Four Seasons Rancho Encantado

198 State Road 592

Santa Fe, NM 87506

 

Disclosure: we were hosted by the property but not paid to write the article or coached on what to say in the write-up, except for providing the details on how readers can redeem the #FSGiftCard promotion.

 

Corinthia Hotels Offers Dramatic Savings on European Properties Thru March 31

January 29, 2015 by  

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If traveling more in 2015 is one of your new year’s resolutions, then plan ahead and book your days off in advance as the January sales are not just for clothing this year.  Corinthia Hotels have announced their annual sale with 50% off on all their European properties excluding London whereby you pay for 2 nights and stay for 3, a deal that is hard to pass if you want to treat yourself to some serious luxury without the hefty price tag this year.  Hurry though as the offer is valid until March 31, 2015.

The Corinthia Hotel London is situated in one of the most affluent parts of the city and is the jewel in Corinthia’s crown.  Hailed by many a businessman and celebrity alike as one of the most luxurious hotels they’ve ever been to, the hotel offers state-of-the art 21st century luxury in an old Victorian building, a stones throw away from Trafalgar Square and Westminster abbey and enjoying some stunning views of the London Eye and the river Thames.

If relaxing in your room is your type of holiday then look no further.  The rooms come with under-floor heating, separate tropical rain shower and a deep bathtub with built in LED TV (and a waterproof remote-control of course) in addition to the luxury bathing products from Corinthia’s own ESPA brand.

If you’re on the other hand looking for a different kind of charm, why don’t you check out the other European locations that Corinthia has on offer?  The 50% off is on at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest, Prague, Lisbon (below), St. Petersburg and also the hotels on the tiny but all year round sunny island of Malta.

The Corinthia Hotel Budapest is by far one of the grandest hotels in the city and the building itself is quite the impressive landmark, with an imposing Neo-classical façade and a rising glass atrium.  Budapest is a great city to visit all year round and the surprises it offers are endless.  The vibrant culture and art scene coupled with the great food and Hungarian wine make this city a must-visit one on your list, and you’re in luck because the hotel is bang on in the center of it all.

If on the other hand you feel that you need to catch some much-needed sunshine, then take the tip and book a visit to Malta in the summer.  This tiny island in the middle of the Med offers quite a surprise.  With historical sites that date back to Neolithic times and more baroque buildings and churches per capita than any other Christian nation, the island is a treat.

The Corinthia St. George’s in Malta boasts amongst other things it’s very own private beach on top of all your usual luxurious indulges, so your tan will definitely not pass unnoticed when you’ve gone back home from your holiday.

So make your mind up quick and head to the Corinthia.com to book your luxurious stay for less now.  You deserve it!!

Note: the above post was made possible by our partner sponsor Corinthia Hotels.

Montana’s 320 Guest Ranch to Host 5th Annual “Ski Joring”

January 20, 2015 by  

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Montana’s 320 Guest Ranch just announced that they’ll host the Fifth Annual Ski Joring this January 31and February 1.   Families and individuals are invited to come to the ranch to watch a horse and rider team pull a skier on an action-packed course filled with curves and jumps, racing against the clock to compete for cash prizes.  Ski Joring begins on Saturday, January 31at 1 pm with the finals held on Sunday, February 1at 11 am.  Awards will follow the event.

The public is invited to observe Ski Joring at the 320 Guest Ranch free of charge.  Saturday night after the races, a la carte dinner will be served in the 320 Ranch Steak House.  Red Lodge Brewing and Headframe Distillery will be on hand for tastings.

The “Cold Hard Cash” will play in concert as part of the event and for those wishing to stay over, they’re offering special rates at the lodge.

The 360 Guest Ranch is an historic 320-acre-property situated along two miles of the famed Gallatin River.  Begun in 1898, the 320 Guest Ranch offers 87 sleeping rooms within 59 luxurious and modern cabin accommodations, log homes and mountain chalets. Many accommodations feature wood-burning fireplaces — with firewood provided.

The property also has the 320 Ranch Steak House for dining and an authentic 320 Saloon for after-hours, a great Aprés Ski for after your skiing activities on the slopes of Big Sky or Moonlight Basin.

The ranch provides facilities and concierge support services for events, social and leisure activities.  Close to world-class downhill and cross country skiing at Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin, 320 Guest Ranch offers a full range of seasonal recreational activities, such as horseback riding, trail hiking, rafting, sightseeing, mountain climbing, fly fishing (some of the world’s best), hayrides, sleigh rides, snowmobiling, and many more.

The property is located 12 miles from Big Sky, 5 miles from the boundary of Yellowstone National Park and 52 miles from Bozeman, Montana, and the Gallatin Field Airport.

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