volunteering in chinatown

I was volunteering at Sara D. Roosevelt park today with New York Cares and the New York City Park and Recreation. The weather was great and we worked hard raking leaves along the edge of the fence.

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As you can see in the pictures there is still some snow on the ground. The weather has been quite cold the last few weeks but gave volunteers a break this Saturday morning. It felt great to get outside and work up a sweat!

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The park is in Chinatown area of New York City so there was a lot of trash around the park because of the Chinese New Year parade and celebrations held here recently.

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Thankfully I did see a small crew of workers from New York City Parks and Recreation sweeping and cleaning the trash in the park. They definitely had a lot of work to do that day.

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a winter weekend in north fork

On Saturday morning we took a leisurely drive to North Fork, the heart of Long Island’s wine country. It was a last minute trip since the beach cleanup had been canceled earlier that day. It was rainy and foggy but warm for a winter day so we decided to find a different adventure  instead of sitting at home or running errands. We both decided that taking down the Christmas tree and packing the decorations could wait just one more week even though it is the middle of January.

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Our first stop was the Horton Point Lighthouse located high on the cliffs overlooking the Long Island Sound in Southhold, NY. This lighthouse was commissioned by George Washington himself in the 1700’s. We didn’t get any pictures of the lighthouse because it was still raining and very foggy. Our adventure took us down the long rickety wooden steps to the beach. The beach was extremely rocky and slippery and dangerous so we couldn’t wander too far.

We did find some small pieces of trash on the beach to pick up quickly but it was relatively cleaner than we had expected. We hadn’t planned to clean the beach that day anyways and the rain prevented us from staying too long.

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Why did the wild turkeys cross the road? I don’t know but we had to chase them into a yard because the road was windy and cars were speeding by and we didn’t want to take a chance they wouldn’t get to the other side.

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Since it is winter time, most of the vineyards close early so we are off to find a wine tasting event soon. There are 52 vineyards on Long Island with 26 wineries open to the public. You can find more information on the official website of the Long Island Wine Council at www.liwines.com. We stopped at a Bedell Cellar and Winery which closed at 7 pm and had a nice atmosphere and a diverse menu.

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Bedell Cellars Winery is a fully sustainable vineyard in Cutchogue, NY area. We chose the Estate Flight tasting off the menu pricing at $15, which includes five wines. It was nice to relax by the toasty fireplace. The staff at Bedell Cellars were friendly and informative and Jack gave us a private tour in the back where the “magic happens.” We both learned a lot about wine making, how the grapes are grown in the sandy rocky soil and when they are harvested.  We also had a chance to taste the wine that was served at the last Presidential inauguration dinner. It was a great experience!

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On the crisp winter afternoon the sleeping vines showed their raw beauty of stark browns and reds contrasting with the white snow and pale green grass. Visiting a vineyard in winter seems unintentional but the area is quiet and lazy with fewer visitors. I enjoyed the quieter time of the countryside because it was a nice escape from the busy city life for a weekend.

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Sunday morning didn’t start off well with a dead car battery and a few hours to fix the issue but eventually we got back on the road to enjoy the clear skies and visit a few places we missed during the fog from the previous day.

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Did you know that agriculture is Long Island’s largest industry? We drove past many farmstands that sell their fresh vegetables and fruit, cut firewood for $5, and even homemade pies during the season.  There isn’t many restaurants or farmstands open in the winter time so be prepared with snacks or a picnic lunch.

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Our last destination was to Orient Point, which is literally the end of the road. The next stop is to jump a ferry boat to Shelter Island or Plum Island from the marina or sail to the coast of Connecticut. The sign below is before the ferry for visitors getting off their boat. Welcome to New York!

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The drive on Main Road to Orient Beach State Park gives you beautiful views of the small towns like East Marion, rocky beaches, horse farms, and seafood restaurants. At one point the road narrows and there is only water on both sides. We saw flocks of geese feeding in the shallow water, white-tailed deer running through the tall reeds, and an abandoned boat on the shore.

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The beach at Orient Point near the marina was quite beautiful with a far away view of a lighthouse and a perfect spot to have a picnic and watch the ferry dock.

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Apparently this beach is a shell collectors paradise because most of the beaches are covered in seashells and we had heard that there were rare yellow ones that could be found on only one beach in the area and we found some here!

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We had a great time exploring the north side of Long Island over the weekend. I can’t wait to go visit again in the summer!

happy new year 2014

New Year’s Eve is a chance to celebrate, to anticipate wonderful things can happen in the new year. Take a moment to truly reflect on what you have accomplished before you make resolutions of change. Recognize this opportunity to make a commitment to become better in our career, relationships, and passions. The last few months of a few difficult times and hard work have brought unexpected rewards and given me more courage and strength to pursue my goals, the support and encouragement I’ve received has been astounding from friends, family, and fellow volunteers. I am so very GRATEFUL! No matter how you celebrate tonight, be SAFE out there. I wish a HAPPY, healthy, and wonderful NEW YEAR 2014 to all my friends and family!

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it’s christmas time in the city!

Christmas time is busy time for all of us no matter what we are doing. I hope that everyone takes a moment this holiday season to reflect on how blessed you are. “tis the season for giving”, they say. That doesn’t mean “buy lots of presents” or “donate all your money to every non-profit that sends a letter”; it is about giving your heart and soul to the good that you can do. It doesn’t have to be much. It just needs to come from the heart. I think spending time with the people we care about is the most important part about this season.

This past year I’ve made more time to volunteer and it has been rewarding in so many ways! I’ve had a ton of support and encouragement from my loving boyfriend, family, friends, and supporters. I am looking forward to greater things in the New Year.

I want to wish all of my readers (all 14 of you) a Happy Holiday and a wonderful New Year for 2014! Thank you for inspiring me to be a better person and helping me on my journey as a volunteer in the big city!  –theHappyVolunteer

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volunteering with city harvest

On Saturday morning I took the train to Brooklyn to volunteer with City Harvest at their mobile market. City Harvest is an organization that collects food from restaurants, grocery stores, markets, farms, and manufacturers and distributes it through out the New York City area in several different ways to those in need at shelters, soup kitchens, poverty stricken neighborhoods, and other agencies.

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The mobile market distributes free fruit and vegetables through a program called “Healthy Neighborhoods” for residents in low-income communities and provides nutrition education with cooking demonstrations and recipe cards that will hopefully inspire affordable, healthy meal choices. The mobile markets are quite organized. I found out that each resident has to register in advance  and is given an amount of food depending on the size of their family and their nutritional needs.

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When we got to the location we were given a brief explanation on how to distribute the vegetables and fruit to each group or individual. I spent a few hours that day weighing, bagging, and distributing onions.

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It was cold outside but it was rewarding to be there and assisting a great organization such as City Harvest in all the good that they do. AND they had coffee!!!! :)

#givingtuesday

On Tuesday, December 3 is a day when global charities, families, businesses, community centers, students and volunteers will come together to create #GivingTuesday!! It is a National Day of Giving! In one day we can all do GOOD. We can do it everyday but let’s make this ONE day stand out and hopefully encourage others to make a difference too.

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It’s a simple idea with a big message. Remember, every little gesture that we make can make a HUGE difference. So, buy a bowl of soup for someone in need, donate old clothes to a shelter, or volunteer with your favorite organization. If you need more ideas please check out http://community.givingtuesday.org right now!

If you participate in #GivingTuesday don’t forget to tag your photos and stories on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. You can tag me in Instagram or email me your stories and photos! I will share them on my page! Thank you so much!

i’m in miami b*tch…

This year we decided to travel to Miami for our long Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Our flight on Wednesday was on time despite the rainy cold weather threatening the skies of New York. The weather forecast was telling us that rainy ice and snow was on the way and we were anxious to leave our winter coats behind and enjoy the nice sunny weather in Florida! :)

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The cold front followed us to Miami for a few days but I definitely enjoyed 60 degree weather over 20 degrees and snow! We spent four days exploring Miami’s sandy beaches, eating seafood at several restaurants, and window shopping at all the local stores.

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The beaches in Miami are absolutely breathtaking! It is my first time in Miami and I fell in LOVE with the area! I also noticed the beaches were very very clean especially around the resorts and hotels. I saw several city workers emptying the trash cans and sweeping the paths through 0ut the day. My time on the beach would not be complete if I didn’t do my part. I walked the beach early each morning picking trash and enjoying the sunshine.

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I found a few mylar balloons stuck in the bushes near the beach and a few beer cans by the paths but otherwise my bag was still half empty after an hour on the beach. It was really nice to see the beach so clean.

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One small defender of the sandy beach of Miami! I found this little plastic toy and a few blue creatures on my second day of beach cleaning while on vacation in Miami Beach! And I found out later these are NOT jellyfish, they are  Portuguese Man O’ War (which are actually siphonophores). Apparently their stings cause excruciating pain and can grow up to 165 feet in length!

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Any time that I am able to sit and relax on the beach I am HAPPY! It was a great vacation! :) We are already planning our next trip to Florida.

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We rented a car one day and drove down to the Florida Keys. We only had time to stop in Key Largo for a quick half day of exploration. On the way we drove through the southern part of the Everglades. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to take a hike or fan boat through the Everglades but that is on our list for our next trip.

Key Largo is the northern most part of the Florida Keys and is 33 miles long and still connected to the mainland and is called the “Diving Capital of the World” because the living coral reef a few miles offshore attracts thousands of scuba divers, and fisherman, and explorers. The weather was windy and the sea was rough so our snorkeling plans were canceled for the day. This tropical area is quite different than what I pictured though. We found out that because it is on the coral reef there is no sand and all beaches here are man made. The shoreline is generally rocky with limestone and fossilized coral and caprock.

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We drove into the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Here you can rent a kayak, canoe, or go snorkeling or take a tour in a glass bottom boat to check out the beautiful coral reef. The park covers approximately 178 nautical square miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamps. The park extends 3 miles into the Atlantic Ocean and is approximately 25 miles in length. These areas were established to protect and preserve the living coral reef here in the United States.

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The visitors center has a 30,000 gallon saltwater aquarium to view living coral and exotic fish. We learned a lot about the coral reef and the Florida Keys. I’ve traveled quite a bit in my  lifetime so far; swimming in the Mediterranean Sea in France, kayaking the bays of the Atlantic Ocean, exploring the beaches of the Pacific Ocean in Northern California, and fishing on the Mississippi River, but nothing compares to the feeling of being on the coral reef in a tropical area that holds so much diverse living organisms and beauty.

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We took the short hike through the Mangrove Trail in John Pennekamp State Park. In all my hiking adventures I’ve never seen mangrove trees and it was exciting to explore. The trail was secluded and we were left alone with the sound of birds and frogs in the dense mangrove forest.

Thanks to the net, I learned that a mangrove tree thrives in salty environments because they are able to obtain freshwater from saltwater. Some secrete excess salt through their leaves, others block absorption of salt at their roots. In Florida, there are over 469,000 acres of mangrove forests and are very important to the ecosystem of the southern coast. Unfortunately, these areas are not all protected and urban delevelopment is the main reason for the decline of this ecosystem. The mangrove trees provide shelter for fish and shellfish, and food for some marine life. They also provide food for a multitude of marine species such as snook, snapper, tarpon, jack, sheepshead, red drum, oyster, and shrimp. Florida’s important recreational and commercial fisheries will drastically decline without healthy mangrove forests.

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In Key Largo, we stopped for dinner at Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill Restaurant. We relaxed on the waterfront deck sipping margaritas and eating fresh Key Largo Mahi Mahi steak and Old Bay peel n eat steamed shrimp and homemade conch chowder. After the sun set behind the clouds, we walked over to the tiki bar for one more drink  with the locals to celebrate our day of adventure in the Florida Keys.

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We had a few hours to drive through downtown Miami and see the cruise ship terminals at PortMiami. This area is known as the cruise capital of the world and the cruise ships are a sight to see if you are ever in the area. Miami’s unique geographic position makes the Port easily accessible to Caribbean and Latin American markets, as well as those of Asia and Europe by way of the Panama Canal.

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The marina here is filled with fishing boats, shopping, and bars. It was a great place on the water to enjoy lunch and watch the ships come in.

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On our last night in Miami, we took a taxi to South Beach and walked Ocean Avenue and found CJ’s Crab Shack for dinner. It was rated the best place for crab! My boyfriend ordered a bucket of steamed blue crab and I ordered the stone crab legs and garlic shrimp. It was delicious!!

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Miami was a great vacation! The last few months have been stressful and we needed some time to relax and unwind and spend some quality time together. Miami offered us both our favorite things to do and see and our memories will last forever.

Exploring new places expands our perception of  life and gives us a better understanding of our inner self and the world around us.

Adventure and love both make me HAPPY! :)

raking leaves in astoria park

Brrrr! It is a cold November morning but I am eager to get to Astoria Park to volunteer with New York Cares and the Astoria Park Alliance. Astoria Park is 59.96-acres city park that runs along the East River in Queens that has many beautiful trees which means ALOT of leaves to rake in the Fall!

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The Astoria Park Alliance is a GREAT organization that was started in 2007 to create a bridge between the community surrounding Astoria Park and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Volunteers and supporters assist in keeping the park maintained and clean and bring awareness to the community. They hold many fun events such as Leaf Fest and the NY Cupcake Run to encourage people to become more involved in Astoria Park and the community.
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Even though the weather was chilly that morning, a large group of volunteers arrived and within a few hours we filled over 100 bags of leaves! And it was nice to hear that most of the black garbage bags we used to fill with leaves are re-used from previous volunteer events in the park.

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Build It Green! NYC is a nonprofit that takes in salvaged material such as doors, windows, and wood from construction sights, supplier, and other sources to stop these items from going in the landfill. Most of these items are sold in their warehouse and some are donated. This is a GREAT idea! Reuse! Recycle! AND Build It Green! NYC has a program called BIG!Compost that works very hard to increase the participation and acceptance of composting. They supplied a truck and driver on Saturday to come pick up all the leaves we raked to compost at their facility. This compost will later on be used as mulch for city parks.

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It had been a really stressful week for me so it was great to get outdoors and enjoy being outside in my favorite park and participate in a fun volunteer event! :) HAPPY!

a polluted parking lot

On my way to the grocery story I walk past a parking lot that is really polluted. I found out last week that this parking lot belongs to a used car dealership called Major World. Their main entrance is on 43-40 Northern Boulevard in  Long Island City and appears to be very clean and organized. But, the back parking lot is full of litter and debris such as empty oil cans and soda bottles.

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The image below is taken at the back parking lot. Unfortunately, this parking lot fits over 3000 used cars so the amount of pollution is astounding.

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The image below is the parking lot on the side on 37th Avenue. I am not sure who is responsible for the sidewalk or grassy area but it is overgrown and full of trash. A large shopping center and Stop n Shop grocery story is directly across the street and hundreds of people walk through this every every single day. Has nobody seriously complained about this before?

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2013 international coastal cleanup

On Saturday, September 21, I joined the New York City Audubon at North Channel Bridge (renamed as the Joseph P. Addabbo Memorial Bridge ) to participate in the 2013 Ocean Conservancy International Coastal Cleanup!

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This is my first time volunteering with the New York City Audubon and it was a great experience. We boarded a little yellow school bus from their headquarters on 23rd Street for the short ride to the Jamaica Bay area.  All the supplies we needed for the cleanup were provided as well as water and snacks. But, nobody brought coffee???

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The New York City Audubon has many volunteer opportunities, classes, and events such as local harbor cruises, lecture series, and even bird-watching trips to destinations like Costa Rica.

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Our group consisted of 16 volunteers including the staff from the NYC Audubon. We cleaned the parking lot, the beach, and further down into the longer marsh grass covering ¼ of a mile of coastal area.

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CoastalCleanup_14We found the usual items such as broken glass bottles, soda cans, and fishing line. We also found items such as statues, decorative scarves and clothing, that were apparently left behind from a ritual previously performed on the beach.

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The International Cleanup is organized by the Ocean Conservancy, whose strong efforts to keep our ocean clean to protect and preserve coastal-marine life is a heroic act in itself. At the 2012 International Cleanup, 561,633 volunteers cleaned up almost 10 million pounds of trash. Now THAT is something to think about. It’s something I think about. I think about coffee too.

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Several large garbage bins were available in the parking lot and close to the beach entrance but most were overflowing with trash. One parking spot was littered on both sides with ice cream containers and spoons from Coldstone Creamery, as if a car of people enjoyed their ice cream treat, opened their car doors and dropped their trash on the parking lot instead of walking the few steps to the trash can. This lack of respect for the environment by behavior like this is disheartening for those of us who notice it.

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The MOST important thing that I noticed is the determination and hard work that every volunteer exerted during this cleanup. The mood was somber after a few hours of work, maybe because it was a cloudy day followed by brief scattered showers. When it started to rain most of the volunteers only stopped to put on their rain coats. During the break everyone ate and rushed back out to work. I was really impressed that most of the volunteers were families and a few local beach goers that signed up to join us unexpectedly.

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We filled 27 bags of trash totaling 1,8 75 lbs! That’s almost a TON of trash we prevented from polluting this waterway any futher.

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Afterwards, we took a moment to watch the birds scout out the newly exposed sand as low tide set in and breathe in the salty air and remind ourselves that we made one small step in protecting this beautiful area for everyone to enjoy now and in the future.

I want to THANK the New York City Audubon and all the volunteers that day, not just here but internationally because together we can make a difference. And THAT makes me HAPPY!

will bike for money

A co-worker just introduced me to a new app called Charity Mile, which is a FREE app I’m going to download on my phone to record the miles I bike to raise money for charity!

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As you walk, run or bike, the app will track your distance on your GPS and you’ll earn money for your charity: 10¢ per mile for bikers; 25¢ per mile for walkers and runners, all up to $1,000,000 courtesy of corporate sponsors. When done with your exercise, participants agree to be “sponsored,” with money earned paid to the charity by a Charity Miles sponsor.

There are nine charities to choose from on the app: Habitat For Humanity, the UN World Food Programme, Autism Speaks, The Nature Conservancy, Feeding America, The Michael J. Fox Foundation, Pencils of Promise, Achilles International, and The Global Fund.

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When you are using this app you can even post on social media forms sharing your accomplishments and the amount of money you are raising to your charity with your friends, family, and co-workers. I guess if I bike 10 miles at 10c a mile it’s only $1 and I could probably send quarters and a piece of lint in an envelope to my organization of choice and it would be more productive BUT, it’s a good way to encourage others become aware of ways to help, research charities, motivate yourself to exercise more often and to follow in your footsteps… or bike treads.

 I can’t wait to download this app and use it on my next bike ride!! :)