Holiday letter 2008

Holiday Greetings, dear friends!

Hujambo – Namaste – Seulam – Bună ziua – Здравей – Goddag – Saludos – Saluti!

We hope this finds you happy, healthy and enjoying this year’s holiday season and the myriad reasons to be excited about 2009 and beyond. Despite the global turmoil swirling around us all, hope and change are also afoot – always remembering that we are still among the most fortunate people in the world for the blessings and opportunities that we have.

This has been an intense, challenging and rewarding year for both Jerry and me. Lots of adventures together – from the Serengeti (east Africa) to Tamil Nadu (southern India) to rural Bulgaria, along with those closer to home in San Francisco. Lots of work – Jerry’s consultancy continues to flourish (see his website, blog, tweets and photostream), and my legal and strategic role with Unitus, and continued law-and-microfinance teaching for IDLO keep me more than busy. Oh, and I blog, tweet and post photos online too! Thankfully this year has also included lots of fun, so let’s begin the annual review…

The first couple of months of 2008 were all about change and adjustment for me (with Jerry as loving observer and coach). In my new position as Director of Venture Development for Unitus, almost every day has meant some new challenge or opportunity to tackle. Unitus does both non-profit and for-profit investment in international microfinance, which basically means that we’re on the cutting edge of the sector. Some of my favorite projects have included establishing a merchant bank for microfinance institutions (MFIs) called Unitus Capital, establishing a Unitus office in Kenya, and working with lawyers from around the world. It’s been fascinating to learn about everything from Indian employment law to Singaporean tax law.

We managed a long weekend getaway to Big Sur in January but otherwise stayed nearby until mid-March, when we headed to southern India for 3 weeks. The main purpose of the trip was to teach the next IDLO microfinance installment in Chennai (Madras) – especially because Jerry has also now been taken on as IDLO faculty and teaches a module on ‘Social Media for MFIs’ so it’s truly a tandem collaboration.  After time in the capital of Tamil Nadu, we headed south to Mamallapuram and saw the areas directly devastated by the 2004 tsunami. From there Jerry had to head back to the U.S. while I continued on to Pondicherry (and the wacky yoga-utopia of Sri Aurobindo‘s ashram and ‘international peace community’ of Auroville) and then over into the region of Karnataka, spending time in Bangalore (where Unitus also has an office) and the fantastic cultural capital of Mysore. It was great to have an opportunity to travel ‘on my own’ again like years past, though I must admit I far prefer having Jerry along as a travel-adventure-life partner – so much more fun! Continue reading “Holiday letter 2008”

Holiday letter 2007

Happy Holiday Greetings!

Wow… I think that 2007 might be the most enjoyable annual letter I have ever written – and at least parts of it might even shock (and hopefully delight) you. What a year it has been!

Last year at this time, I was ‘looking forward to more roots, more microfinance, more time playing outdoors and hopefully at least a few more interesting travels,’ ‘spending more time with friends and loved ones’ and ‘might buy a (small!) place in San Francisco.’ Well, all that has happened and then some – including situations and opportunities that have prompted me into expanding and refreshing my own perspective and outlook on life – most of all, meeting the man with whom I plan to spend the rest of my life. So as I often say in my travelogues, if you are interested please keep reading…

January and February were fun, mellow months, filled with weekend kayaking and hiking excursions, time with old and new friends, and deepening my knowledge of quirky Bay Area locales – wine bars, farmers markets, staircases, boutiques, trails and the like. I regularly took advantage of nearby Point Reyes and Marin for getaways and enjoyed simply being in one place long enough to do things like participate in a book club and purchase a (pink!) kayak. In January I went to a Patagonian reunion with dear travel friends in Texas and to NYC for a Wall Street microfinance conference. February meant the 7th annual Valentine-A-Thon with dear law school friends in Minneapolis (read: group of women + hearts + homemade chocolates + wine + the coldest weekend on record, -38ºF!), and in March I went to DC for work and an overdue visit.

Otherwise, my biggest time commitment in the spring was tackling the San Francisco real estate market. What an experience! I spent several weeks exploring neighborhoods (where is too hilly for any sane person to jog? where are coffeehouses within reasonable walking distance? where can I practice my Spanish just walking down the street?), made a couple of offers ‘just to learn the ropes,’ and then at the end of March fortuitously stumbled upon the place I now call home.

1133 Church Street is a 1908 Edwardian in the heart of Noe Valley (sandwiched between Mission Dolores and Cole Valley, more or less). It is the largest place I have lived since high school – 3 bedroom / 1 bath – though still compact by most North American standards. When I first moved in, it echoed – but I figured it was better to have a nest I could grow into. One of the bedrooms was slated as an office (or as I like to call it, my ‘inspiration room’ – full of maps, travel guides and photographs) and the other as a guest room. It has a lovely terrace / deck with views of the Transamerica building and SOMA, the East Bay towards Berkeley, and Potrero Hill. The bells of the nearby Mission are audible and remind me of Italy, my commute to the office at the Embarcadero means a 10 minute walk to BART plus an 8 minute train ride, and – despite the butterflies that stayed in my stomach for a few weeks – I am completely smitten with the place.

In April I went back to Cambridge for the first time since graduation. It was a fun ‘trip down memory lane,’ and I participated in microfinance symposiums at microfinance The Fletcher School and Harvard Business School. I also continued my quest to connect microfinance with the legal community, which has resulted in some 250+ attorneys at my law firm (and many others from elsewhere) expressing interest in the sector, the introduction of 17 new microfinance clients to my firm, projects underway globally, and gradually becoming known as a law-and-microfinance ‘expert’ of sorts. I am thrilled with this progress, which happened more quickly than I ever expected – more on what this means for me below…

So now, fast forward to June – and one of the most amazing, wonderful things that has ever happened to me. June 5 (the 13th anniversary of my parents’ accident, for those of you who have known me that long) I met the person who I have since come to know as my life partner, soul mate, best friend, fellow travel adventurer, handstand companion and future collaborator. His name is Jerry Michalski, and the joke is that he Googles well (see his website, for starters) but in-person introductions are far preferable. We have more complementary interests and strengths than I can recount, and which continue to grow every day.

Jerry is American but was raised in Peru and Argentina (his Mom was born in Germany and met his American Dad in Cochabamba, Bolivia – our fathers seem to have shared a passion for exploration). We both love foreign languages, international travel (and now, together too!) and ‘bucking the trend’

generally in order to do things joyfully and in our own way. Jerry is an independent consultant who focuses on new media, social networks and the ‘relationship economy’ – a job that is wonderfully flexible and lends itself to collaboration – for which I will be eternally grateful in many ways…

and now, some words from Jerry himself!

Thanks, Love! Gratitude is definitely in the air, as is amazement. On June 5, I really didn’t know what I was getting into. Nor did I understand the significance of that day, the depth and love of the woman for whom that day is special, or the beauty of the community that surrounds her. Now I’m starting to; it’s a delightful journey. I’ve already met a whole bunch of members of that community. I look forward to meeting you all over time. For now, though, back to trimming our first Christmas tree together.

Summertime as a whole this year was basically a blur for me, and focused entirely on Jerry and our blossoming relationship. What fun! We spent endless weeks going back-and-forth between his treehouse-home in the Berkeley hills and my city-pad in Noe Valley, went for rides in his 1962 Sunbeam convertible named Fiona, shared many long days full of iced coffee and sunshine, and marveled at the joys of getting to know one another better. During this time I was also blessed by a fun-filled long weekend visit by my ‘Italian sister’ Jessica (the most uber-full weekend I can remember!) and other reunions with dear out-of-town friends. In August I took a mini-vacation to attend a local travel writing and photography conference that I had dreamed about for many years… and which also served to reconnect me with aspects of my past and look towards the future in new and inspiring ways (including a reinvigorated interest in ‘doing something more’ with my travelogues). Stay tuned!

Jerry and I spent the summer locally based in part because we knew that much of the fall would be spent traveling. Indeed, between Labor Day and Thanksgiving we took 6 trips together (2 of which were international), and Jerry made an additional 3 business-related trips. It was the first time I have traveled (or shared a suitcase – !!) with another person, and although initially I was nervous about how things might go, I now can vouch first-hand for how doing so can bring extra joy, enhance the experiences and broaden one’s perspective. Jerry and I are definitely ‘cut from similar cloth’ in this regard. Yippee!

Our first destination was Cambridge, for the wedding of law school friends of mine and an opportunity for us to retrace steps from that chapter of my life. (The weekend in-between we moved in together.  Wheeee!) Next came China, where we did tandem handstands on the Great Wall (seriously!), jogged around Tiananmen Square, rode bicycles around Beijing, and I taught lawyers and policy makers from China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia about the legal aspects of international microfinance. Then came two domestic trips – first to Arizona for my grandmother’s 90th birthday party and where Jerry met many other family members (including Allison, Stefan, Ella and Amelia), and then Palm Springs for a conference. A few days later, we were off to Mexico – first Oaxaca for one of Jerry’s extraordinary ‘retreats’ and a mini-vacation that coincided with the exquisite Day of the Dead celebrations, then on to Mexico City where I taught more lawyers and policy folks about law-and-microfinance in Latin America – in Spanish. Finally, we spent several days at Thanksgiving with Jerry’s Mother in northern Virginia. Our together-travels were terrific – eye-opening and exhilarating shared adventures, and contact with so many wonderful people. Combining work and meaningful travel is highly recommended, and we are now exploring ways to facilitate more opportunities to do this moving forward.

There is more shared excitement for 2008 and beyond than either Jerry or I perhaps has ever felt. Most of all we look forward to building our ‘raft,’ which hopefully will enable us to collaborate together (the use of new media in the microfinance sector, for starters) with flexibility and on our own terms. Although I recently announced my ‘professional independence’ from law firm life, it appears that may not last long as I was offered what seems to be a dream opportunity in the microfinance sector, details of which should stay under wraps for now (but I am excited beyond words). I also plan to resume writing in greater earnest, focusing on responsible travel and economic development (blogging is soon to be underway – please feel free to bookmark and  – and I’ll post links to photo albums too). We already have work-related trips planned abroad to India, Romania and Tanzania, and are having fun figuring out whether we will tack on camel rides, safaris or further-flung adventures to those journeys. Closer to home, we plan to spend time in New York, DC, Colorado, Big Sur and wherever else friends and family may give us reason to go. We ponder whether we might explore Hanoi, Havana or Auckland together first – as a place perhaps to spend more time off-and-on in the future? – but all in due course. We have enough to contemplate and be joyful about as it is, and most of all just want to enjoy these special times and one another. And, I still have to get used to the word ‘we’!

As always, out of sight is not out of mind and it would be wonderful to hear from you and how you are doing. If you do not yet have it, updated home and contact information for both of us is below. Sending you love and warm wishes for a meaningful, peaceful and mindful year.

April Rinne & Jerry Michalski