40 Before 40: Roundup #1

40 Before 40: My 6-Month Roundup

In addition to a visit to Winchester Mystery House, playing tourist, we visited some of our favorite Bay Area spots, including Pescadero State Beach over the last several months

It’s now been six months since I unveiled my 40 Before 40 list on my 37th birthday, so I thought it was about time for a check in and progress update. To date, I:

Giant Race 2014

In the corrals for the 2014 Giant Race

On the Field at AT&T Park

As Giant Race finishers, Brian and I got to hang out on the field at AT&T Park for a while.

  • Played tourist in home city  (#6), a bit. Over Christmas, the hubs and I took my mom to Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. I definitely have some more attractions to see to check off this goal but I think Winchester was a good start.
  • Exhibited my watercolor painting (#11) during August
  • Wore yellow (#21), thanks to my friend, Corinne, who let me borrow her mustard wrap sweater.
My Yellow Sweater

What do you think, folks, should I invest in more yellow apparel?

  • Flew in a glider. Interestingly, this one didn’t make the cut for my 40 Before 40 List because I didn’t think I’d accomplish it in the time available, but I was wrong. I found a special offer for Bay Area Glider Rides in Hollister and Brian and I each hitched a ride in November. I’m going to change up my list to reflect this success, making this #12.
Glider Ride

Here I am, returning from my ride with Bay Area Gilder Rides in Hollister

Flying a Glider

Brian, because he’s a licensed single-engine-aircraft pilot, got to fly his glider. Good fun!

So I’ve checked off just five of my 40 so far. Wow, there are a lot more to go in the next two-and-a-half years. I’m happy to have made some progress on playing tourist and I think I can knock out some of the easier ones in the coming months, including eating Peruvian food. Not sure about Scandinavian food because the Bay Area seems to have a dearth of relevant restaurants. I might have to make a pilgrimage to Ikea for some Swedish meatballs and that would just be sad… On a more positive note, Brian and I are definitely celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary in May and there’s a lot more fun to be planned and had. Stay tuned for what’s next.

To stay informed about my progress, check out my original list.

What’s on your to-do list for 2015?


Kate Watson

My Word of the Year 2015

Accepting my word of the year for 2015

2015 marks my third year of choosing a word of the year. My first choice, love, was great, but I was so new to the practice that I’m not sure it consistently guided my path through 2013. Last year, I chose connection as my word and frankly, I hated it. Not in the way that Laura Simms hated her word; I simply didn’t know what to do with mine.

Connection didn’t give me any action items to take; instead, it brought my attention to what I wasn’t achieving. From that experience, I’ve learned that I prefer verbs—action words—for my word of the year. Had I chosen connect instead, for example, it might have reminded me to reach out to others or to focus on reconnecting with mind, body, and spirit. But I didn’t and connection didn’t.

As 2014 came to a close, I began to contemplate what my word for 2015 would be. A friend, knowing I needed to ramp up my self-care in 2015 suggested the words extreme or intuition. I journaled for word ideas and found unfurling, allowing, and accepting. When I looked up the definition of accept to better understand what I might be signing up for, I knew it was the perfect word.

I had come to it with awareness of the need to accept where I am, what I can do, and the need to heal. But the word accept means so much more and that’s what makes it my perfect word of the year. For example:

a :  to receive willingly <accept a gift>
b :  to be able or designed to take or hold
2 :  to give admittance or approval to <accept her as one of the group>
a :  to endure without protest or reaction <accept certain living conditions>
b :  to regard as proper, normal, or inevitable <the idea is widely accepted>
c :  to recognize as true :  believe <refused to accept the explanation>
a :  to make a favorable response to <accept an offer>
b :  to agree to undertake (a responsibility) <accept a job>
5 :  to assume an obligation to pay; also :  to take in payment<we accept personal checks>
6 :  to receive (a legislative report) officially

There are so, so many ways to accept, from receiving a gift to approving of someone to recognizing something as true. My word of the year is unequivocally:


Although I didn’t complete Susannah Conway’s Unraveling the Year Ahead guide this year, I journaled about words to bolster my word of the year, and intuitively selected love, write, heal, and explore.

2015 is going to be an interesting year, my friends, as I learn to accept all that comes to and through me with this inspiration.


What is your word of the year and how did you unfurl it?


Kate Watson

2014 Recap + Realizations


At home on Baker Beach in February 2014

Happy New Year, friends! In keeping with the tradition I launched last year, today I’m going to share my 2014 recap and realizations. As I read back through my 2013 recap in preparation for today’s post, I felt a bit tired. Frankly I’m amazed at how many projects I undertook and all of the realizations that came from completing (or abandoning) them in 2013. But that’s old news. Here’s what happened in 2014:

2014 Recap

Brian and I rang in the new year from India, where I was doing a fellowship in impact investing while promoting my Art Aligned Self-Study Course for Photographers during my free time.

The challenges of India—living in a college-style studio apartment without reliable power, drinking water, or transportation while Brian worked from our apartment for an Internet startup back in California—eventually got the better of us and we decided to return home at the end of January.

We weren’t feeling 100% when we returned but we jumped back into our prior responsibilities. I continued work on Art Aligned, hosted a study group of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, signed up to work with a new teen through our local CASA program, and joined the board of that organization in April. I also began work with a counselor to heal some of the limiting beliefs I had about photography and success.

The year was humming along but, as I said, we weren’t feeling great. While we were in India, Brian began having intestinal and stomach pain, and I began experiencing mental fogginess, joint pain, and fatigue. After many doctor’s visits and tests this summer, Brian was diagnosed with a parasite and I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue and hypothryroidism. The second half of 2014 was filled with check-ins and, for me, cutting as much as I could from my schedule in order to rest and heal.

Picking a pumpkin at our CSA

Picking a pumpkin at our CSA’s Open House in Capay this September

That’s not to say we didn’t have fun this year. As planned we did not travel far, but we did take plenty of road trips to Pebble Beach, Point Reyes, Capay, Hollister, Los Angeles, and Murphys, California, and one short plane ride to Washington and Oregon.

We also trained for the Giant Race; it was Brian’s fifth half marathon and my first 10k (and no, I wasn’t supposed to do a race due to my health but I didn’t know that until my doctor practically fell out of her chair when we told her).

I walked the course and Brian walked with me until my turnaround, then ran to make up time over his remaining 10 miles. Of course, doing so ruined his overall time but it was great to have him along for the first half of my race. The event was fun, but not something I plan to do again anytime soon. Brian, on the other hand, has committed to his first marathon in 2015. Look out, SF Marathon, here he comes! I will be watching and cheering at the finish line.

Sunset in Murphys, California over Thanksgiving weekend

Sunset in Murphys, California over Thanksgiving weekend

2014 Realizations

Having done so much in 2013 set me up for some unreasonable expectations of 2014. While I tried to keep up the pace, my body demanded down time, teaching me an important lesson about self care in the process.

I’m heading into 2015 with more awareness of what I can and can’t do right now. I’m also learning how to take better care of myself. One of the ways I’m doing that is by reading Cheryl Richardson’s The Art of Extreme Self Care, which is structured as a 12-month program. If you want to join along, let me know in the comments. Perhaps we can create a private Facebook group.

Working with the counselor this year, I did a lot of soul searching about my future and I’ve decided not to return to client-based photography. While I love documenting people’s lives, working with clients to bring their vision to life has never been the best fit. I have a lot of ideas for personal photography projects but, for now, those are on hold until I’m feeling healthier.

On that note, I am also embarking on a sabbatical from all client work. My Art Aligned course is still available for independent study but I won’t be taking on any coaching/consulting clients on for the next six months at least. I will still be blogging and doing volunteer work as my energy permits. I hope you’ll check in from time to time. I love hearing from you!

Sunset in Half Moon Bay on December 26h, 2014 - What a beautiful end to the year!

Sunset in Half Moon Bay on December 26th, 2014 – What a beautiful end to the year!

All the best to you and yours in 2015. Did you have any personal realizations last year that are guiding your next steps? Please share in the comments.


Kate Watson

inFocus: Trellis Arch Founder David Greenlees

Today’s inFocus interview is with David Greenlees, founder of Trellis Arch, a nonprofit working to improve the lives of children worldwide. An attorney and Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, Dave’s story demonstrates that one person can make a difference and that the best time to start is now, an apt message for this last week of 2014.

Trellis Arch founder Dave Greenlees on improving the lives of children worldwide

Dave, tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’ve been blessed to have such an incredible life. I’m 44 years old and have an amazing wife and two really cool daughters. I graduated from the George Washington University and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. I served as an artillery officer for 7 years and then left active duty to attend law school in San Diego. I have remained in the Marine Corps Reserve since that time and am now a Lieutenant Colonel.

I worked as a Deputy District Attorney in San Diego for a few years and then as an intellectual property attorney. In 2007, we sold our home and I accepted a job as Chief Senate Legal Counsel in the Republic of Palau. There, I gained significant cross-cultural, tribal, and international experience.

In 2009, I came back on Active Duty in the Marine Corps and was assigned to the Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA) in the Pentagon. In 2011, I escorted Senators Levin and Webb to Tokyo and Sendai to survey the humanitarian relief and recovery efforts in response to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami there. Touring the devastation was a perspective-shifting experience to say the least. It was life changing.

At the end of 2013, my time at the OLA was up and I had to demobilize from active duty. I knew that my next career had to be directly involved in international humanitarian relief efforts.

Dave and his beautiful family

Dave and his beautiful family

What prompted you to found a nonprofit organization?

I applied to dozens of different positions in Washington, DC without any luck. Although everyone told me I was more than qualified, nothing panned out. I visited different NGOs and met with decision makers there. Despite the obvious need for free help, the opportunities to lend a hand were just not there.  I became incredibly frustrated and decided to create my own opportunity.

I traveled to Kolkata, India in December 2013 and spent some time with International Justice Mission learning about the overwhelming crisis of human trafficking and sexual slavery that exists there. I spent a day with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and saw the amazing things they do to alleviate suffering in the City of Joy.

If you measure success by the millions, you will fail to see the incredible things happening every day in India. It is an overwhelming place in every aspect. The plague of poverty continues despite Mother Teresa’s lifetime of service to the poor and the army of volunteers that follow in her footsteps even today.

Common sense would indicate that since poverty can never be fully destroyed, it is pointless to try. She believed otherwise, because it was never about an all-or-nothing solution to her. Ultimately, the most important thing to do is to start by helping one needy person at a time. That is what it is all about. A few days in Kolkata will change your life.

After leaving Kolkata, I spent a week traveling throughout remote West Bengal and Odisha with Dr. Faiz Rahman, the founder of Good News India (GNI). GNI runs 28 Dream Centers that provide 24/7 care and education for over 3,000 orphans. GNI rescues orphans from bonded slavery and provides them with a safe place to live and learn, ultimately seeing them through a college-level education. Some of these children are “virtual orphans,” meaning their parents may still be alive but have abandoned them.

After hearing many of the horrific stories of their lives before coming to GNI, I expected to encounter despondent and fragile kids. I was overwhelmed by the smiles and hugs these kids gave me when I arrived. They radiated more enthusiastic hope and joy than I’ve ever encountered anywhere. I knew immediately that I had to dedicate my life to providing the same resources and opportunities to as many at-risk kids as possible.

Kampala Uganda School Project

Kampala, Uganda, where Trellis Arch is in the process of developing a school-building project with Hope Street, which provides resources to homeless children living on the streets of one of the most dangerous slums in Africa.

What is Trellis Arch and what do you do?

Tellis Arch is a non-profit organization created to alleviate suffering and eradicate the root causes of poverty and injustice wherever it exists. We support and cultivate the lives of at-risk children by providing them with the resources they need to escape poverty and achieve their dreams.

We believe that every child should have access to nutritious food, clean water, a safe place to live, and adequate medical care. In many places, all or some of these important aspects of survival are not available. The cycle of poverty continues to oppress millions of children worldwide who lack the things many of us take for granted.

Trellis Arch identifies communities where these resources are lacking. We develop sustainable infrastructure alongside our local partners to ensure growth is possible, like a trellis does in a garden. Our ultimate goal in every project is to add the most important resource of all: education.

Worldwide, 775 million adults (approximately 12% of the world’s population) are considered functionally illiterate, with only basic or below-basic literacy levels in their native languages. Upward social movement is nearly impossible. Millions of children lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. Education is the one thing that breaks the cycle of poverty and empowers young boys and girls in remarkable ways. It spans wide spaces, like an arch does, and connects them with every possible opportunity for success. Educated children become adults who can help themselves.

We believe every child has value and purpose; every child has something to offer; and every child can make a difference in the world if given the right resources.

We have projects in Uganda, India, Nepal, Palau, and Haiti:

  • We are working with Hope Street in Kampala, Uganda to provide homeless boys with a safe place to stay in order to provide them with the resources they need to learn life skills and to receive an education.
  • Our India projects are focused on providing the most vulnerable children (young girls) with educational opportunities.
  • In Nepal, we are sponsoring projects to assist Tibetan refugee children living in Kathmandu.
  • In Palau, we are working on delivering a portable saw mill to the island of Kayangel in order to assist with clearing thousands of downed trees left over from the devastation of Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
  • In Haiti, we’ve identified a village in Port-de-Paix that is in dire need of a water pump. Without water, the village cannot sustain itself for long. A pump will deliver water to homes and to the fields for farming. Ultimately, ready access to water means that children can spend their time in school instead of hunting for water from streams miles away.
Trellis Arch

Trellis Arch’s Haiti water pump project

We also sponsor local service projects here in Frederick, Maryland to assist with the needs of those in our own community. We are developing a summer camp program in North Carolina for at-risk children that we hope to debut in the summer of 2015.

As you can see, we have a variety of very important projects that impact their communities in different ways. Our mission is to provide sustainable results that are built and managed by local communities.

What makes Trellis Arch unique?

We are helping a child that someone else isn’t. There is no limit to the work that needs to be done. The scale of issues associated with global poverty requires an ever-increasing amount of attention. We identify an unmet need and work towards providing resources in a sustainable way.

I can think of nothing more important than alleviating a child’s suffering, providing him/her with love and hope, and equipping him/her with all the tools he/she needs to build a successful future.

We measure our success one child at a time. Saving a child from human trafficking and exploitation in India, bringing water to a village in Haiti, educating young boys in Uganda – all of these things can be accomplished with a small amount of resources. The work is challenging, rewarding, and fun. The benefits are measured in smiles.

Smiling Boy in West Bengal India

About his work, Dave Greenlees says, “The benefits are measured in smiles.”

What have you learned? Is there anything you wish you knew before you started?

Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed Yunus writes, “Almost any personal passion can be transformed into a vehicle for making the world a better place.”

I couldn’t agree more but never knew how to get started. I quickly learned that the secret to moving forward was just to begin. There is no better time than now to get rolling. Once you get a little momentum, your ideas can become realities. Biggest lesson learned: don’t hesitate, act now.

In the five months since Trellis Arch’s founding, I have come to realize that I have much to learn about fundraising. I’ve learned that you cannot solely rely on Facebook or crowdfunding websites to raise awareness and money. You have to step away from the laptop and talk to people one-on-one.

There are countless opportunities to connect with people who share your vision – but you need to talk with them in person, shake their hand, and look them in the eye if you want to make a real impact. I consider myself a storyteller, not a salesman. The stories I tell inspire people to act through volunteering, spreading the word, and sometimes writing a check. Because our projects are so incredibly important, I now realize that I also need to become a better “salesman” despite my disdain for that term.

The bottom line with any charitable organization is raising revenue to fund projects. Our organization has no overhead and everyone serves without compensation. This allows us to dedicate funds directly to programmatic expenses.

I run Trellis Arch from my home and do not receive a salary. We certainly hope that we can generate enough revenue to build a staff of paid employees in the coming year, but that is far off at this point. When we reach that milestone, we will ensure that a minimum of 85% of our revenue is always dedicated to funding our projects – without exception. Having reviewed dozens of public documents on Charity Navigator’s website, I was surprised to see the significant administrative expenses and grossly inflated salaries associated with many non-profits that I assumed were efficient models of charity work. It was an eye-opening experience.

We are committed to ensuring that we are always good stewards of the resources entrusted to us. All of our financials will always will be open for public scrutiny. People should expect that from the charitable organizations they support.

After incorporating Trellis Arch, I recruited an incredible team for our Board of Directors. I couldn’t ask for a more diverse and skilled group than we have now. I’m proud of the unique perspective, expertise, interests, and personal beliefs that our Board Members bring to the table. In any endeavor, surround yourself with people who don’t see everything exactly the same way you do. Contrast sharpens vision.

I learned that the application for tax-exempt status from the IRS is a burdensome, time-consuming, and expensive process to initiate – but you can do it yourself. If you are willing to take the time, you can do anything yourself.

Nepal School for Girls

In Kathmandu, Nepal, Trellis Arch partners with a school for displaced Tibetan girls.

What’s next for Trellis Arch? What’s your big picture goal?

We recently received our 501(c)(3) determination letter, so now we are seeking investment capital from donors. Unlike a for-profit endeavor, we are a social business that seeks to harness capitalism to fulfill desperate human needs in order to eradicate poverty from suffering communities. In that regard, I’ll meet with anyone that wants to learn more about the importance of this effort and how they can make a difference.

Although we are just getting started, we have an ambitious “big picture” agenda for the years ahead. We seek to:

  • Raise $1.2M annually through corporate donors, grants and individual contributions
  • Build sustainable, residential schools for at-risk children in struggling communities in India, Uganda, Haiti, and Nepal
  • Assist in providing people at these locations with access to clean water, nutritious food, safe housing, and adequate health care resources
  • Create short and long-term “hands-on” volunteer opportunities for team members in the US and overseas
  • Establish an interwoven network of projects that build and reinforce self-sufficient communities
  • Raise awareness of the world’s overwhelming needs through creative outreach programs
  • Empower children everywhere with literacy and numeracy skills to break the cycle of poverty
  • Partner with like-minded organizations to tackle the root causes of poverty, injustice, and suffering

How could someone else get involved in this work?

There are many ways to get involved with Trellis Arch. You can volunteer, organize an event, raise funds, build awareness, and so much more.

Take a look at our website, www.trellisarch.org, for more information about our team as well as our projects and volunteer opportunities. If you or your group is interested in sponsoring a Trellis Arch project, we would be glad to show you how exciting and rewarding this can be.

We are always looking for ways to expand our reach and I will travel anywhere to speak to any group about our work. You can make a significant impact in the lives of at-risk children around the world.  Let us show you how it’s done.

If you are considering starting your own project, I’m always happy to provide my perspective. Wisdom is the most valuable thing anyone can receive. Someone else has been down a similar path. Seek them out and listen.

This month’s blog focus is self care. How do you practice self care while doing this work?

I follow a vegan diet and I enjoy cycling. Every mile is meditation and exercise for me.

It is easy to get caught up in work and neglect yourself in the process. The beauty of doing something you love for a living affords you the added benefit of finding joy in your daily tasks, no matter how frustrating or mundane they may be.  Now if I could only incorporate vegan cooking or cycling into a fundraiser…

To learn more about Trellis Arch and the work they do, please visit their website, http://www.trellisarch.org, Facebook page, or follow Dave on Twitter.

If you like this post, please like it or share it. If you have an exciting project coming up in 2015, please share in the comments.


Kate Watson

5 Ways to Maintain Mental Peace — Without Yoga or Meditation

5 ways to maintain mental peace >> katewatson.net

A friend recently posed a question on Facebook: How can she remain a well-informed human while protecting her heart from atrocities in the world? Good question! In this crazy, hectic world, how can you be a conscious citizen while maintaining your mental peace?

I’ll tell you what I do. Here are the five choices I make to maintain mental peace every day:

Eschewing television news.

I consider myself to be reasonably well-informed. I know about the Taliban’s recent school attack; about the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice; and about the seemingly inevitable extinction of the white rhino. Yet I didn’t learn about any of these things by watching the television or listening to NPR.

You may laugh, but I learn about most news from Facebook. Then, if I want the detailed story, I turn to a reliable online news source like The Economist.

Television and radio news is entertainment. It’s all about what will get ratings and keep people engaged. That’s too much drama for me. I want the facts, and I want them relayed forthrightly. Reading the news gives me that and saves the screams and tears (and that’s just from the pundits).

Avoiding debate.

I know a lot of opinionated people. Some have well-thought-out opinions; others have strong, semi-informed beliefs. What I’ve found is that almost all of them leap to rather large conclusions about my beliefs based on minor, passing comments.

While doing so is their choice, failing to respond is my choice. In general, I refuse to show up for arguments to which I’ve been invited, especially those in written format on social media.

I enjoy discussing current affairs and politics with someone who can keep a level head and avoid rhetorical fallacies—which means I rarely talk politics with anyone other than my husband—but I never debate people who won’t play fair. Why? Because I don’t believe there’s any point in engaging someone who isn’t listening.

Bottom line here: I choose to be happy versus right. It’s one of the hallmarks of my marriage and, over the past decade, I’ve learned to apply it in many areas of my life.

Changing the conversation.

I grew up in a negative environment. I’ve talked about this before. Taking a negative view of things was so engrained in me that I didn’t even realize it until I attended college and my peers so helpfully pointed it out. It took me a while to really understand what they were saying but, once I got it, I began working on changing my view of the world and looking for a positive slant on situations. Sure, I’ve had setbacks—the lawsuit was a big one—but I’ve made a lot of progress.

Now, when someone in my sphere is complaining, I change the subject to something happier or offer productive solutions to the challenges. No more life-sucks-and-then-you-die, my-world-is-a-mess pity parties for this girl.

Sometimes my new approach works and sometimes it doesn’t. In recent years, I’ve had to say goodbye to a friend who dwelled on how hard life was every time I saw her. But, luckily, as I changed, people around me usually did too.

Scheduling downtime.

I’ve been talking a lot about boundaries lately because I’ve been having to learn to apply them ruthlessly. Many people want far more from me than I can possibly give.

I’m an introvert which means I need far more downtime than my more extraverted friends and, now that I am trying to recover from adrenal fatigue, I need even more than before.  As I write this, I literally haven’t seen any of my friends in the past month. I check in with them via Facebook or text message, and I go out with my husband or occasionally to special events, but most of my time these days is spent quietly at home, resting, reading, or writing.

Sure I still have responsibilities and those get done, but I also make sure that I am honoring my needs and giving myself what is required to be calm, happy, and healthy.

Asking for help when I need it.

There are times in our lives when we just can’t do it alone. When those events happen to me, I ask for help. There’s no harm in seeking out assistance when we need it, in whatever form works best for us.

I have asked for an emergency friend visit, asked Brian to go into work late or meet me for coffee, and sought out a professional’s opinion when I’ve had difficult times before. And I’m sure I will do so again.

Humans are social creatures; sometimes we have to get by with a little help from our friends.

Do you have any other tips for maintaining mental peace? Please share in the comments.


Kate Watson

Photo Credit: gwilmore via Compfight cc