<![CDATA[ - Blog!]]>Mon, 08 Feb 2016 09:19:43 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Sacrifice zones]]>Mon, 08 Feb 2016 16:53:40 GMThttp://www.valeriecosta.com/blog/sacrifice-zonesI've spent the last year deeply immersed in the climate movement. I call it the climate movement because it's got a different flavor than the environmental movement. There's an underlying understanding, though certainly not agreement among people I'm working with, that capitalism and all its baggage are at the root of the climate crisis. Different than the environmental movement, which has always seemed to have tunnel vision or perhaps you could call it "forest trail vision," focusing on the trees, the birds, the clear air, the great outdoors...  But not the people.

I make this distinction, because many involved in the current climate movement have come to it from the environmental movement. On my more compassionate days, I have more patience for those who are still learning the difference between the two -- that it's much more than urgency. But on days like today, I my patience is replaced with words "sacrifice zones" running through my head, like a mantra that's equal parts tear-inducing and zapping me to speak up.

Why sacrifice zones?  Here in the United States, we are among the most privileged people on this planet. Our country and our corporations, because of our economic system, has much control over the livelihoods of people all over this planet. In turn, our country and corporations, make decisions that sacrifice people and livelihoods. That looks like farmers in India who can't water their crops because their groundwater has been sucked dry by Nestle; it looks like children who are sent to work in sweatshops in Bangladesh to earn money for their families that can no longer afford to live on their farm lands and were forced to move to the city; kids in the US who live by mega-polluters and get asthma at an early age.

Our economic system and policies sacrifice people. So when we, as white liberals, sit around and debate whether a policy that would sacrifice some people, is worth supporting because it could help solve the climate crisis, it makes my stomach stir. And it lights a fire in my belly because so many of the people in my life - the do-gooder well-meaning people, just don't get the power and privilege they have. I remind myself that my hard work is to keep pushing these conversations, even if it makes people feel uncomfortable. 
<![CDATA[Health Insurance Woes]]>Fri, 05 Sep 2014 02:22:59 GMThttp://www.valeriecosta.com/blog/health-insurance-woes Dear Blog Readers,
I want to share with whomever wants to read this, my account of trying to get my health insurance reinstated after it was cancelled in June. For everyone out there who purchased their plan through the Federal Marketplace, and who does not get a subsidy, never been more than 30 days late in paying, because you may have an  experience similar to mine.



September 4, 2014

Office of Senator Kay Hagan
701 Green Valley Rd., Ste 201
Greensboro, NC 27408

Dear Senator Hagen (and the staffers who read this),

Thank you for responding to my letter and following up to see if I still needed assistance. My health insurance coverage was reinstated last month, two months after it was cancelled.

As a reminder, I was cancelled due to non-payment. I was having trouble with Coventry’s online payment system and I had no idea I could be cancelled and it would be such a hassle and stress to try to reinstate the plan, even though I had the money and was willing to immediately become current.

I just want to share what I learned through this process:

  • Multiple staff at both Coventry Health Care and Healthcare.gov repeatedly gave me wrong information.

  • There was no help available to me at the local level. I tried to reach Coventry’s North Carolina staff and meet with someone in person but they kept transferring me a call center specifically for people who purchased their plan through the Exchange. I called Smart NC, a state run office assisting residents with health care issues, and I couldn’t be helped because I purchased my plan from the exchange, so I fell in the “federal assistance” category and outside their jurisdiction.

  • Coventry Health Care committed the following amateur and inept acts:
    --Cancelled my plan with only one mailed notice
    --Sent me a cancellation letter one month after they claimed they cancelled my plan (letter received early June with notice that my plan was cancelled as of May 1)
    --Cancellation letter did not include instructions on how to appeal the decision.
    --I was told at least 10 times by Coventry staff that I had to wait for them to review my reinstatement request and then I was told by a supervisor that I had to actually submit my request through Healthcare.gov, which I had not done because I was not told that I needed to do this.
    --I was told that if I had purchased my plan directly from Coventry (which would have been the same price since I don’t receive a subsidy) that the matter could have been resolved immediately.
    --I was not notified of problems with my online payments until 2+ weeks after my payment was returned.
    --They never sent me mailed notice of my plan reintstatement. I only knew I was reinstated because I called to check in on the status of my request.

I really believe that all Americans should have universal and single player health care. The problem is the red tape and the complicated system, where there is little to no accountability of the insurance industry.  My experience has really shown me that this system is too broken to repair.

I’m looking to Vermont and am hopeful that the state can effectively implement universal health care there.

Wishing you the best,

Valerie Costa

<![CDATA[Why I have been railing on Dow Chemical lately]]>Sun, 22 Jun 2014 22:17:49 GMThttp://www.valeriecosta.com/blog/why-i-have-been-railing-on-dow-chemical-latelyPictureNot Bhopal, but in India
Earlier this year, I joined the Coordinating Committee of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal - North America.  We're an all volunteer group, committed to raising awareness, taking action, and supporting the work of the survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster.

This year is the 30th anniversary of the disaster.  Our big project right now is to consolidate six websites and 10+ years of information into one comprehensive website.  But this is too much for our little group to take on ourselves.  We are already so busy with other tasks (e.g. I spent hours this weekend importing data and cleaning up the database).

So this summer I am switching things up and am asking my friends and family to support our fundraising campaign, so we can hire somebody to help us finish this project.

Why Bhopal?  Why this cause? Why care after 30 years?

1) No business should be able to get away with killing 20,000+ people and causing multiple generations of birth defects. The value of a life is not $500 (without consultation from victims' families). The gas disaster demonstrates what happens when corporations lack regulations and enforcement and it shows how they can evade justice.  Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide company in the early 2000s, and in turn inherited their liabilities.

2) Organizing and international pressure have led to gains.  It took many years, but now Bhopalis have clean water. Unfortunately, the factory is still there and polluting the land.

3) Survivors have created their own school and health clinic, taking matters into their own hands. It's inspiring and more people need to hear this story.

4) We need to hold corporations and governments accountable. Everywhere. Our land and lives are precious and priceless. They should never be treated as a business loss or risk. 

I hope you can make a donation to support this effort. It's something I'm personally invested in and giving my to. 

DONATE HERE: igg.me/at/bhopalweb

Thank you!!  I love you!  xoxoxoxo 

PS - When I was in India, I did not go to Bhopal. Next trip!! 

<![CDATA[Road Trippin' Andalusian Style]]>Tue, 07 May 2013 01:32:02 GMThttp://www.valeriecosta.com/blog/road-trippin-andalusian-stylePicture
kickass travel buddies
I love road trips.  Being that I'm blogging slacker and I'm writing this post 1.5 months after I returned from Spain, I'm happy to report that I just returned from another road trip -- this time to New Orleans.

I knew I was going to have to work when I went to Spain.  It's the reality of my flexible, travel-filled life--I can swing it but I still need to earn money.  After five weeks of work and quick getaways, Mad, P, and I loaded up the Fiat and headed west, to Andalusia.

Andalusia... my only reference point was The Clash's "Spanish Bombs."  Oh my corazón!

First stop - Córdoba.    

After a delicious yet simple tostada for breakfast, we decided to start our day at the Madinat Azahara, the ruins of an Arab Muslim city built in the 900s.  It was the seat of Caliph and only 10% of the city has been excavated.  Intricate stone carvings, elegant arches, and gardens dot the property. 

View from the entrance
My favorite rock: these deep purple rocks were brought here from the Sierra Nevada
After a couple hours perusing the Madinat azahara, we decided to check out the Mezquita/Cathedral. We parked across the river and beat the rain (mostly) to the site. 
View from the other side of the river
Arches everywhere
Stone walkway. Constructed with rounded stones that are now worn flat from walkers.
The Mezquita/Cathedral is probably the most famous tourist attraction in Córdoba. It began as a Christian visigoth church in the 600s but came under Muslim control after Abd al'Rahman purchased half of the church.  Over hundreds of years the mosque was designed to resemble the Great Mosque of Damascus. There are 856 of these columns (pictured below).  The vaulted ceilings are stunning.  The Mezquita came under Christian control again in the 1200s and a Christian nave was constructed in the middle.  If you ever find yourself in Córdoba it's worth the entrance fee.
<![CDATA[Hot Springs and Casa Batlló]]>Wed, 17 Apr 2013 01:35:05 GMThttp://www.valeriecosta.com/blog/hot-springs-and-casa-batllSometimes I wonder why I have not plotted a move to Europe sooner.  There are hot springs there!  Lots of them!  Unlike in the US, where the majority of hot springs are in places that I'm not too keen on living (southwest, Rockies, Arkansas), there are hot springs within a two hour drive of Barcelona.  Aaaah, I can dream, right?

M, P, and I took a day trip up to Font Romeu and the Bains de Llo in Southern France. The day started with a stop at a local bakery and buying two big bags of mini chocolate and regular croissants.  Score!  Little did we know this would be our only nourishment til dinner (what were we thinking?).

I don't really have any photos... I'll say it's because I was in awe with the Pyrenees and trying not to puke on the drive up and over the mountains. The baths were super family friendly and "lucky" for us it was school vacation week, which meant the fee was 1 euro more (12) and the place was loaded with children.  Thankfully little children speaking French are way less annoying than kids who I understand and honestly, everything is amazing when you're sitting in hot water.  If I lived in the area, I would head back to the area and explore the other developed hot springs and some of the natural ones as well.

On to the photos!  I decided not to be uber-cheap skate this visit and sprung for an admission to Antoni Gaudi's Casa Batlló.  I still scored a 4 euro discount by passing off my BU student ID, which brilliantly does not have an expiration date or any sort of indication of the year it was issued. Thank you Boston University!  

If you know me, you know I'm a bit obsessed with natural building and in general, architecture that's inspired by nature, with softer edges and curves.  Gaudi's famous for this style and his Casa Batlló is a family home on the Passeig de Grácia that is inspired by St. George and the Dragon. Here are some of my favorite photos of the building.
The outside of Casa Batlló
This ceiling looks like waves
A simple way to break up the monotony of a ceiling
Creative use of arches, doorways, and light
Beautiful and sensual light fixture
The roof
Arches and light
<![CDATA[Road Trip en Catalunya #1]]>Sat, 13 Apr 2013 03:30:54 GMThttp://www.valeriecosta.com/blog/road-trip-en-catalunya-1So I did a shoddy job of posting while I was in Spain, but I plan on adding a few posts with highlights from my six weeks in country.

For the first two weeks after I arrived, I spent most of my time working.  I sat on the couch/futon/bed, legs crossed, laptop on my lap, and iPod with Talkatone app nearby.  Some crazy part of me thought that it would be no problem to spend the prior three weeks in Seattle, add two more days of flying, and have no trouble catching up on work.  I knew I was wrong when I arrived -- I was terribly behind from traveling and had a few weeks to complete seven reports. 

Lucky for me, Sant Andreu was the perfect place to explore when I did take some time off.  The Tostadero around the corner filled me with chocolate croissants and café con leche for only 2.30 euros.  They event had a series of Boston Tea Party prints on the walls.
Just on the other side of the square from the apartment was the back entrance of the Xurrería.  M, P, and I indulged in this deep-fried delight, with chocolate dipping sauce. 
Sant Andreu was so lively all day, except siesta from 2-5pm.  I took walks around the neighborhood, peering into all the shops at their rebaixas, taking note of all the places to get fresh-baked bread, local produce, stinky cheeses, and all matter of meat, both recently butchered and long-cured.  Many nights, at dusk, I walked around the tight streets back from the main thoroughfare, still in awe at all the orange trees, political graffiti, and families also strolling around. 

On weekend three, we took our first road trip -- 3 hours southwest, still in Catalunya, to Horta de Sant Joan to visit M and P's camino friend Christophe.  C has a sweet travel van, with a kitchen, bathroom and enough space to fit all four of us. 
A monastery in Horta de Sant Joan
A monastery in Horta de Sant Joan
Pilou, the wonder dog
Most of the weekend we spent talking and exploring the monastery grounds and hiking a trail to a shrine up the mountain.  I regret not bringing my camera on the hike though I don't think it would have captured the eerie stillness amidst the high winds that day. I didn't have a winter coat so I wrapped myself in a wool shawl to stay warm.  

As always, it was nice to escape from the city -- even a city I love like Barcelona.  The air smells better and the pace is slower... in a good way. 
Stone arches at the monastery
M bundled
<![CDATA[En España]]>Sun, 17 Feb 2013 16:08:50 GMThttp://www.valeriecosta.com/blog/en-espaaAmigos, I left home in mid-January and headed West first, to Seattle.  I've described that trip as a "whirlwind" to more than one person -- for some reason my visits back west are always like that.  I've underestimated the loving community I have there, and never manage to see everyone every time.  If I didn't see you it's not because I don't love you!  

Just another note about my Seattle trip before I move on.  I've been feeling a need to be "grounded," or "rooted," since Brandon and I returned from our travels in late 2010.  I knew at the time that given our transition, finding a place to call "home" wasn't going to happen for a while, but I've been feeling a strong call to settle somewhere.  Just so I have a home base - I still would like to be mobile, though Ms. Dagger Mittens does add a challenge.  Being back in Seattle really made it clear to me that home isn't as much about a place, but about the people.  
To get to Spain, I traveled for 36 hours and on four planes, including two red-eye flights.  I flew Jet Airways, an Indian airline, and all my memories of flying out to Europe then Indian on the same airline in May 2010 rushed back.   
Maddy and Pedro retrieved me from the Barcelona airport and whisked me, half asleep, back to their apartment.  Dinner and snacks awaited me, including this yumminess!  Jamon from Pedro's family....
This blog will most likely include many photos of food -- I get shy about whipping my camera out in public and taking photos. 

I spent the last week catching up on work.  Given 2.5 weeks in Seattle spent in peacemaking circles with the Center for Ethical Leadership, meetings with six senior centers, more meetings/social gatherings with my whole network of friends and colleagues, I did not get much work done.  So my disciplined side kicked in, since I am not here to explore fo six weeks.  Here's what I managed to eek in this week.

Tapas - so after having an early dinner (6pm), and work til about 10pm, I wanted to get a beer.  Seriously, it was Friday night.  So we went out for what I'm now calling "second dinner," since our tapas were really another meals.  I can't remember the name of all of them, but there little fried fish (pescaditos), fried potatoes with garlic aioli (papas bravas), grilled peppers, chorizo in cider, and fried potato balls smothered in some kind of chipotle aioli (bombas). 
"Snacks" for three people
Yesterday, I took a whole day off and we met up with Ruben and Veronica for breakfast, an excursion to Tibidabo, and then lunch, and later on, dinner and a movie.  A full day with good people!

Tibidabo is the highest point in Barcelona and quite the sight -- a church and amusement park, side by side!
We spent an hour or two exploring the church and the grounds.  I'd love to go back and try the airplane ride. 
View from the church
This is the giant bronze statue of Christ on the top of the church. The first one was destroyed by anarchists during the civil war. This one is sturdier.
The gang
I'm back in front of my computer and taking a break to blog.  I hope to blog weekly while I'm here.  A shout out to all my Vermont friends -- I'm staying on Carrer de Montpellier.  On the first morning after I arrived, I could see an artist just below this sign.  How romantic!  Except he was standing in a strange location for an artist, so we think he was a spy.  You never know..
<![CDATA[A Plan for Phone Use Overseas]]>Tue, 15 Jan 2013 17:34:07 GMThttp://www.valeriecosta.com/blog/a-plan-for-phone-use-overseasPerhaps not the most thrilling blog post, but possibly one that's useful for other travelers/workers hoping to maintain some level of normalcy and connectedness overseas.

I'll be in Spain for six weeks and am planning on working for four of those weeks.  Email is my primary mode of communication -- I also use Google+ and Skype for video calls and I use a cell phone for less planned interactions and quick calls.  I've been looking for a way to make calling me easy for my clients -- not wanting to put a burden on them to schedule calls, get on Skype, etc.  I think I've found a solution!
Step 1:  Google Voice + GrooveIP and Talkatone
I have a Google voice number that I used when I lived in Vermont and didn't have cell service at home.  You can sign up for a number for free, tie it to your email account, and direct calls to either another phone(s) or to your computer/Google chat.  When I lived in Vermont, I gave out my Google Voice # to everyone, and had it ring my home phone and cell phone so I could catch calls.  

There are a couple apps -- GrooveIP for Androids and Talkatone for I-products, that allow you to receive and make Google Voice calls over wifi.  I have a Droid cell phone and an iPod, both wifi capable.  I plan on using my Google Voice number and make and receive calls on those devices (I'm bringing and trying two -- in case one doesn't work).  Fingers crossed the connection is strong!

Step 2:  Dealing with my Verizon cell phone
It took three tries with Verizon customer service, but I have found out that I can let my pre-paid smartphone plan ($80) lapse, and the phone will still direct callers to voicemail since I have a small balance on my account.  I plan on changing my voicemail to ask callers to call my Google Voice number while I'm abroad.  I'm on a prepaid plan, not a contract, so I have this flexibility.  I don't plan on using a cell in Europe --  it terribly expensive and if I really needed one, I'd get one there.

I'll keep y'all posted and let you know if this plan works.  Has anyone else tried using GrooveIP or Talkatone overseas?  How did it work?  Are there any other ways of doing this?

Edit:  I've been using Talkatone over wifi for almost a week from Barcelona and it works nearly perfectly.  People I've called in the US report that the quality is good and it sounds only slightly grainy on my end - but very audible.  My calls have dropped twice, slightly more often than normal, but not too disruptive.
<![CDATA[Perk #1 of Self-Employment:  Flexible Work Location]]>Fri, 11 Jan 2013 03:16:49 GMThttp://www.valeriecosta.com/blog/perk-1-of-self-employment-flexible-work-locationBeing self-employed now for almost two years, I've had moments that I've wanted the normalcy and predictability of a full-time job:  health care, paid time off, predictable income, more income (I'm making much less than I was at my last job).  The biggest perk that's worth its weight in retirement savings is the flexibility of self-employment.  Theoretically, I can do my work from a beach in Goa, if I could find reliable wifi.  The stars aligned and my dear friend Madelyn moved to Barcelona a year ago... so I'm heading there for six weeks for a vacation and to see if I can accomplish anything while I'm in place with many more distractions than Asheville.  And a 6-9 hour time difference from my clients.  Good thing I'm a night owl.
Park Güell... Gaudí!
I loved Barcelona when Brandon and I visited in June 2010.  We stayed about five days with Julia and Pino and just fell in love with the place.  A vibrant, artsy, radical metropolis by the Mediterranean.  Filled with cured meat, street performers, and pickpocketers (aah, it's good to be alert at all times).  
There's an awesome nightly fountain light show.. where.. I can't remember!
I hope that this time will give me the space to envision what's next for me.. by growing Aril Consulting, by connecting again to natural building efforts, and by getting clearer on where I ultimately want to land and put down some roots.  That and hold down my job... which actually gets pretty demanding at time.  
Barcelona was all into Okupa before Occupy (2010)
Public ping pong - you can't go wrong. I will become a ping pong champion!!
I'm flying out February 11th and will be back stateside on March 26, a couple weeks ahead of my friend Ellis' wedding.  Yes, it's just me going. Brandon is starting up year 2 of herbalist school next month so he's holding down the fort and keeping Ms. Emma Dagger Mittens fed and watered.  She is a demanding beast.  
<![CDATA[Blog Moving!]]>Sun, 30 Jan 2011 12:59:18 GMThttp://www.valeriecosta.com/blog/blog-movingI'm moving this blog to another page on my website, now that my travels are over.  I am starting a new blog to document my experience at Yestermorrow - this will be more personal and hopefully serve to encourage me (and maybe even others) while I try to pursue my vision.
Thanks to all of my friends and family who have given me lots of love!