{Passion Projects} Meet 2 FOFs who joined the Peace Corps

In 1966, at the age of 68, “Presidential Mama” Lillian Carter flew to India to serve in the Peace Corps for 21 months. At the time, she seemed like an outlier, but today, seven percent of Peace Corps volunteers are FOFs (the oldest is an 86 year-old woman serving in Morocco). And this past month, the Peace Corps turned 50 itself! To help celebrate this milestone, we spoke to two FOFs: Connie Ross, on the cusp of her commitment, and Dena Fisher, well into her service in Belize.

Connie M. Ross

Age: 50
Peace Corps Service: Leaving for Georgia [the country] at the end of April to work as a facilitator of a Business and Social Entrepreneurship program, helping people build businesses that are sustainable.

Where in the U.S. do you live?
Lakewood, Colorado.

Tell us a little about your life leading up to your decision to join the Peace Corps.
I was a clothing dealer and designer for fifteen years. When my husband passed away from brain cancer, I took my son on a nine-month trip around the world. We wrote for the Denver Post and an in-flight magazine. We’ve done five world trips since.

And that led to the decision to join the Peace Corps?

Many things culminated in this decision. After my first world trip, fifteen years ago, I knew that this part of my life was going to be spent working in other countries. Last year I worked as a program director for an English studies program at an all-women’s school in Kuwait. That was phenomenal, and I wanted to continue working abroad. When my job in Kuwait came to a close, I started looking for work. I saw listings for “Country Directors” in many different countries. I qualified in all ways, except for having Peace Corps experience.

Had you ever thought about joining before?
I applied to the Peace Corps when I was 21. But I had a knee injury and wasn’t qualified to serve. It’s always been in the back of my mind.

How does it feel to be going away for 27 months?
It’s what I’ve been doing all my life. My family is so accustomed to me leaving. Plus, I’ll have time off. We earn vacation time each month, and people can come and see me every month.

What are you most excited about?
I’m very excited to learn their language; it doesn’t come from any root language. I believe I’ll be fluent in some period of time – six months, nine months – being totally immersed in their culture.

Any anxiety or fear about it all?
No fear. I just came off a five-month solo trip; three months of it were in India. There were many times in the morning when I didn’t know where I was going to sleep at night. The world is an incredible place. And there are so many wonderful people to meet. Let’s just say that I’ve always had success in meeting wonderful people.

Connie’s book, Letters to My Son, comprising actual letters she wrote to Henry over the first eighteen years of his life, is available at Amazon.com.


Dena Fisher

Age: 66
Peace Corps Service: Currently in Belize, Central America, Community development/organizational management, 2010-2012

Where in the U.S. do you live?
New York City.

Tell us a little about your life leading up to your Peace Corps service.
I was a social worker for 20 years, then began a second career in public health. I retired at age 55 and became executive director of the New York City Office of Seeds of Peace, a program that brings children together from regions of conflict. I retired for the third time to lead a NYC-Nicaragua village sister city project.

What led to your decision to join the Peace Corps?
I was attracted by the energy of the 2008 election and what I believe is a new era in our relationships with Latin America. Social security, a state pension and medicare allowed me to do something where I didn’t have to earn a salary.

What was it like leaving your family to go abroad and work? Were they supportive?
My family is incredibly supportive, especially my husband. He had to take over family responsibilities including managing issues for my then-92-year-old mom. My mom died when I had been here in Belize for seven months, and the Peace Corps was amazingly supportive. I was able to continue service and deal with issues at home. I will never forget the help I got while I was helping others.

What about your friends?
My friends, on the other hand, think I am a bit nuts to be doing this. But they know I have always been interested in developing countries and making a difference. I regret that many of them – talented professionals – don’t use their skills in retirement.

Upon returning to the states, how will the experience change your outlook?
I’ll remain involved in developing countries, community health and social justice projects. I hope to continue with the Peace Corps response program – shorter term, specific projects.  I also hope to encourage young folks to get involved with the global community through the Peace Corps.

Anything else you think our readers would find interesting about your story?
I hope the stereotype of Peace Corps being about twenty-somethings will be debunked. I always knew about Jimmy Carter’s then-68-year-old mother in the Peace Corps, but never realized the full age range. One third of our group is over 55 years of age and I suspect that the average age is rising. I hope that men and women over 50 will consider the opportunity to make the world a better place by using their skills and experience, and receiving the incredible support available through the Peace Corps.

Please visit www.peacecorps.gov for more information, including 50th Anniversary events and activities. Go here to read the stories of more FOF volunteers.

[Guilt-free spring shopping! Shop your favorite stores through CafeGive and 5% goes to the charity of your choice.]

{Family} Separated as infants, these FOF sisters reunited!

Last June, FOF gave away a California Spa trip and Soft Surroundings wardrobe. We asked our members why they deserved the package and were blown away by this message from FOF Leah Houseman:

It turns out, Leah’s sister Beverly was given up for adoption when their parents fell on hard economic times. “It had to be excruciatingly painful to give up a child because of poverty and I try to put myself in my Mom’s shoes,” says Leah. “They wanted someone to give Beverly a good life.”

Leah and Beverly were raised as only children in different households–in the very same town! Leah went to private school and Beverly went to public school (but had they both gone to public school – it would have been the same one). It wasn’t until Beverly’s adoptive parents passed away that she discovered the name of her birth-mother and clues that led her to believe she had a sibling. Beverly, then living in California, scoured the Internet for information to no avail. Then, two years ago, she got a lead. Her birth mother’s very unique name was published on a website. Excited, she emailed to the site’s webmaster but received no response. She had reached another dead end. Or so she thought….

Leah, a writer, living in Florida, had published a story about her family on a website and forgot about it. The webmaster of the site forwarded her an e-mail from a woman inquiring about the family story. Leah brushed off the e-mail at first. “You hear these horror stories about stalkers on the Internet and I had no idea who she was. But, finally I responded…It was just a courtesy thing.”

“Just a courtesy thing,” became a life changer. A few e-mail exchanges and a phone call later, Beverly and Leah discovered they were, in fact, sisters. “When she said my father’s name it sent a shock through me,” says Leah. “It was just too weird.”

Touched by the opportunity to reunite two long-lost FOF sisters, we quickly booked a spa trip for Leah where she and Beverly would reunite (after all they had waited 60 years for this moment!)

The sisters spent three days catching up on each others lives. They were delighted to discover even after years separated they still had common tastes in clothing, books and music.

“The three days settled some identity questions and created a sense of togetherness between the two of us,” says Leah. “It added a dimension to both our lives that is very special.”

Since the trip, Leah and Beverly have e-mailed and talked on the phone weekly. “I just got an email from her,” says Leah.  “She said she’ll remember our vacation together for the rest of her life.”

{FOF Featured Blog} Concrete Jungle

FOF Heather Chapple has a Thai for design. Twelve years ago the Canadian interior designer uprooted her husband and her children from their home in Southern France and moved to Phuket, Thailand, where Heather felt her kids could get a better education.

“Finding a home that would accommodate our heights and our giant container of goods was a challenge,” Heather said in an interview with Phuket Tatler Magazine. “So I realized from the outset that I would have to build a house to accommodate our family and collection of paintings, books and furnishings.”

From the ground up and the inside out, Heather designed her “Oasis” according to the design principles of her favorite French architect, Le Corbusier. She also made unique use of polished concrete throughout the home, hence her blog’s name, Concrete Jungle.

“The island and area is full of fabulous, original and interesting design ideas,” writes Heather. From instructions on how to use polished concrete in decorating, to musings on tropical living, to a post that translates the colors of Thailand to real rooms anywhere, Concrete Jungle has truly caught our Thai…er…eye.

{Gift Guide} GIVE fab experience gifts, RECEIVE classes from OneDayU

Here’s an idea, FOFs: Put away that wrapping paper and ribbon and GIVE the gift of experience! We’ve got 8 personal presents that will stay with your loved one long after the fruitcake has been eaten–or regifted.

Plus, win 6 months of all-you-can-watch classes from OneDayUniversity. To enter, answer this question in the comments below: If you could go back to school for anything, what would it be?

Enlightening ideas. Give the gift of learning with a membership to One Day University, a website where Award-winning professors from Harvard, Yale, Brown, Princeton and other top-tier schools come together to offer their most popular courses on everything from World War II and The Founding Fathers to Beethoven and the Big Bang Theory. Just $39 will buy you a month of all-you-can-watch classes. http://www.onedayu.com


An organized closet. Visit the National Association of Professional Organizers for a complete listing of organizers in a specific zip code. Each organizer sets her own price, but you can request a “closet package” and most will negotiate fair cost between $200 and $500. http://www.napo.net/

{Image via BagSnob}


A professionally styled outfit. Sandra Soich (AKA Your Fashion Therapist) has spent the last 25 years styling everyone from Cindy Crawford to Serena Williams. Now you can ask her personal fashion questions via email, text or Skype, and she’ll answer them for $20 a pop. Not sure which shoes to wear with that dress? Need a pair of pants that elongates your legs? Sandra has the answers… http://www.yourfashiontherapist.com.


A tightened and toned bod. Help a friend jumpstart her new year’s resolution with a package of personal training sessions from FOF Margo Kamin. Beloved in her home-city of Austin, Margo offers personalized sessions via Skype to men and women across the country. One LIVE 30-minute class goes for the exceptionally reasonable rate of $35. Plus, Margo will lengthen or shorten a session depending on your budget. http://www.personal-fitness-trainer-austin.com/


A redecorated room. Michelle Davidson of Interior Design Service Online provides a complete design blueprint for the room of your choice–all over email. Just fill out her questionnaire on your taste and budget, and attach a photo of the room in question. For $250, Michelle will send you a “Project Binder” containing your ideal furniture layout, paint colors, furniture recommendations within your price range–even ideas for throw rugs and accessories. http://www.interiordesignserviceonline.com/


A personalized perfume. There’s nothing sweeter than giving the gift of sweet-smelling custom fragrance. At ScentDesign.net, choose from 50 blending fragrances (like mango, sandalwood or strawberry), and mix and match as you wish. If you need guidance, their expert noses will assist you. http://www.scentdesign.net/, $10-$20.


A leading role in a favorite novel. U Star Books–founded by Katie Olver and her mom, FOF Jan Olver–invites you to step into a personalized edition of beloved book, starring you alongside your friends, family members or that special someone. Just pick a title (they have everything from classics such as Alice in Wonderland and Pride and Prejudice to saucy romances with names like Indecent in Italy and Fever in France) and within days you have a novel novel to keep on the shelf forever. You can even write a personal dedication. http://www.ustarnovels.com/, $24.95 – $35.95.


A new passion. Unleash your inner artist! FOF Anna Rhodes has studied, taught and created art all over the world. She offers artistic getaways a few times each season at resorts and retreats, nationwide. The multi-day classes focus on drawing and composing, painting and layering mixtures of mediums. http://www.anartistsretreat.com/, Starting at $490.

Is your gift recipient more crafty than artsy? Give a class at Snow Farm Craft Retreat in Williamsburg, Mass. From bead-making to basket-weaving classes, your gift will keep on… giving. http://www.snowfarm.org/, Starting at $500.

{Image via Country Living}


Win 6 months of all-you-can-watch classes from OneDayUniversity. To enter, answer this question in the comments below: If you could go back to school for anything, what would it be?

{Travel} The trips that changed 3 FOF’s lives

“No journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.” -Lillian Smith, author, Strange Fruit

These 3 FOFs embarked on trips abroad and returned forever changed. Read their inspiring tales of life-altering travel.

Catherine Del Spina
Visited Morocco in 1996

“I visited Morocco in 2006 with my husband Jerry and my two daughters, Baryl and Lexi. We spent time in Casablanca, Fez and Marrakesh. Everyone was still stirred up by the events of 9/11. People would say to us, ‘Aren’t you afraid to travel there?’
In Fez, we stayed at a resort overlooking the Medina. In the middle of the night we heard the Islamic Call to Prayer. It was just men, singing that it was time to pray. They started to sing, ‘God is good, God is Great.’ It was beautiful.  I realized there’s an incredible misunderstanding between people here and people in the Muslim world.
The people there were so nice and engaging. They would literally say things like, “Please don’t hate us.” When we returned, our daughter Lexi decided to make Arabic her major. We learned not to be afraid, but rather to accept a different culture at such a radical time. Everything we did there was a gigantic, ‘WOW!’
‘WOW! We’ve never done this,’ or ‘WOW! Take a look at this.'”

Carol Auld
Visited Uganda, Africa for the first time in 2006

“I wanted to do something to give back. A friend who worked for Global Giving told me about a school in Southwest Africa for AIDS orphans that needed help. My first trip there was in 2006 for ten weeks. I’ve seen many Third World countries but never anything like this. The school was two rooms and the students and teachers did all their work on the dirt floor instead of a chalk board. There was nowhere to throw trash, no paved roads, no electricity. They live like our ancestors did. The first year I was there, I taught classes. I’ve been there four times since then and have done everything from growing a garden to helping students that need extra attention, like one little boy named Derek who was struggling with reading. Since my first visit, things have certainly improved. Derek has just blossomed over the years. Now there are seven classrooms and the school has an Internet connection. The experience totally changed my life and has become my passion. It made me realize, the world needs to be tilted a little; we have too much and the rest of the world just doesn’t have enough.”

To learn more about the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project, and to order the founder’s book, The Price of Stones, click here.

Joan Miller Kohlberg
Spent 5 years in Israel

“We had spent summers in Israel, but were essentially tourists. The children never spoke Hebrew fluently and didn’t have friends there. I wanted my kids to be Israeli, to be able to speak to their father in his native tongue and know his family in Israel. By just spending summers there, it wasn’t going to happen. After one summer in Israel, my husband was going back to Boston, and I decided on a whim I was going to stay with the boys. I said, ‘How about the boys and I stay?’ He said, ‘Great idea.’ Within 48 hours, the kids were Israeli citizens and I enrolled one of my older son, Gavi, in elementary school and my younger son, Rafi, in preschool. We ended up staying for five years and had an incredible experience, but the adjustment was intense. There I was, on my own in a little village on the Mediterranean, with two young boys. It was one of the hardest things in my life, but it broadened my children’s and my own horizons. They became bilingual, made amazing friends and got to know their father’s family. The hardest part came when we returned to Cambridge. Gavi told me he was miserable, he missed Israel and his friends there. I began to think, ‘Maybe we should go back. It’s September, they will only have missed a week of school in Israel.’ I asked the children’s godfather, ‘What should I do?’
‘Don’t move back,’ he said. ‘They’ll think whenever times get tough that you can reverse it.’ He was right. By making the tough decision to live in Israel and the even tougher decision to return to home, I gave my children another dimension and the ability to be independent, even at a very young age.”

{Food} FOF’s Best Eats from Coast to Coast

From “aaaah”-inducing cherry turnovers in Nebraska to “indulgent”  Onion Soup in Illinois, FOFs fork up the treats they crave from the neighborhood spots you have to be in-the-know…to know.

1. FOF Jerice Bergstrom: Fat Toad Caramel from Fat Toad Farm,
Brookfield, VT

“Oh my God! When you taste Fat Toad Caramel sauce over ice cream, apples or oatmeal, your mouth will start reciting the alphabet. Not ‘A’ to ‘Z’, but ‘Mmmm’ to ‘No!’ as in, ‘This can’t be real!’ They make it with their own organic goat’s milk and the ingredients are of unmatched deliciousness. Often, caramel can leave a potent aftertaste. Fat Toad Caramel doesn’t have anything but smoothness and delight, from the initial scent to the sweet aftertaste. It is simply the best caramel I have ever tasted!”

2. FOF Cynthia Johnston: Cherry Turnovers from Lithuanian Bakery & Kafe
Omaha, NE

“Delicate, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth, perfectly-tart-and-sweet cherry turnovers make my ‘ahhh’ moment… and now I have to go get one. Okay, two!”

3. FOF Orelle Jackson: Queen City Cayenne Ice Cream from Jeni’s Ice Cream,
Columbus, OH

“Jeni is a local ice cream maker. She uses all local ingredients to make her heavenly ice creams. Queen City Cayenne is my favorite–rich, smooth, creamy, chocolate ice cream and a kick of cayenne pepper. The juxtaposition of cold and hot, creamy and spicy is a celebration for your taste buds. If you don’t live in Columbus, Jeni does mail order!”

4. FOF Lynne Troiano: Stuffed Cheese Blintzes from Lucky Dill Deli
Palm Harbor, FL

“Cheese blintzes stuffed with Romanoff cheese, strawberry preserves, sour cream AND fresh sliced strawberries. Need I say more?”

5. FOF Suzanne Bernstein: Fried Plantain from Portos Bakery
Burbank, CA

“The fried plantain chips from Porto’s Bakery in Burbank, California are AMAZING! It comes as a side to their delicious sandwiches but sometimes we just order them alone! They are thin and crunchy, slightly sweet, and sprinkled with salt. Wow! We can’t find these anywhere else, so going to Porto’s to order them is ALWAYS a special treat!”

6. FOF Rachel Hart: Baltimore Bomb from Dangerously Delicious Pies
Baltimore, MD

“It combines two of the greatest things in Baltimore: Berger Cookies and Dangerously Delicious Pies. It’s filled with creamy chocolate and not for the weak of heart. The slices are big and definitely require two forks and two mouths!”

7. FOF Barbara Wicklund: Creamy Onion Soup from Mary’s Market
Rockford, IL

“It’s difficult to describe this soup and do it justice! It’s not your average French onion soup; it has a creamy base with sweet, perfectly cooked onions and is served in a homemade bread bowl. It’s topped off with so much lightly-browned cheese that you know it’s an indulgence!”

8. FOF Myra Garber: Grandma Pizza from Umberto’s
Wantagh, NY
“The Grandma-style pizza from Umberto’s is the best! The dough is thin, with a little bit of chewiness. The tomatoes are sweet, but with a hint of freshness. The cheese has just the correct amount of salt.”

9. FOF Sue Stebbing: Mussels from Skipper’s Pier
Deale, MD

“The mussels in white wine sauce with garlic, herbs and lots of freshly baked bread to dip with is an ultimate treat. Sitting at the dock bar that extends into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, eating mussels, watching boats go by and listening to live music on a Sunday evening is what life is all about.”

What’s your favorite local treat? Comment below and tell us.

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{FOF Featured Blog} Traveling with MJ

We wish we could stowaway in Mary Jo Manzanares suitcase. We can’t, so we will settle for the next best thing–reading her worldly, witty blog, Traveling with MJ. There’s no FOF better suited to author a travel blog; MJ is a flight attendant as well as an editor for PlanetEye Traveler. Her blog is filled with insider tips for painless travel, personal anecdotes and things you probably should know about traveling but don’t. For instance…Do you know what “glamping” is? MJ explains here.  Or, what’s the most important thing you should pack in your suitcase? “A copy of your itinerary, along with your name, address, home phone, cell phone, and email,” writes MJ. “This is one more way to help the airlines find you if you are separated from your bag.” Seems obvious but… would you have remembered to do it?

Don’t miss our favorite posts from MJ’s blog:

10 Places to Find Someone who Speaks English When You’re Traveling

Slow Your Vacation Down

10 Tips for Stress-Free Checked Bags

Is a Vacation Rental Right For You?

Images via Traveling with MJ

{Poll} Which wacky hotel would you check into?

According to one of our favorite travel experts, FOF Marybeth Bond, The Gutsy Traveler, “The average adventure traveler is not a 28-year old male, but a 47-year old female. And she wears a size 12 dress.”

Which wacky adventure hotel would you check into, FOFs?

ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
Price (based on double room, per person/night): $184 – $663

-Inside the ICEHOTEL, the temperature is never colder than -5 degrees C to -8 degrees C.
-Guests sleep in a thermal sleeping bag on a special bed of snow and ice, on reindeer skins
-Each morning guests are awakened with a cup of hot lingonberry juice at their bedsides
-Breakfast buffet, winter overalls, boots, mittens, morning sauna and towels are included

Poseidon Undersea Resort in Istanbul, Turkey
Price (based on a seven day, six night all inclusive package for one person): $15,000 per person

Private plane transportation from Nadi/Suva
-Four nights in a luxury beach or over-water villa
-Two nights in a luxury undersea suite
-Adventures such as diving onboard a luxury submarine outside the lagoon, an initiation to piloting a mini-sub, scuba diving and snorkeling, walks on lagoon floor with a Sea-Trek system
-Gourmet meals, drinks and wine-tasting classes
-Spa treatments

Safari-Land Resorts’ Treehouse Hotel in Tamilnandu, India
Price: $79-$146

Transportation into the forest
Adventures including safari, elephant rides, fishing, bonfire, visit to nearby mountain
Hammocks and board games

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Images via ICEHOTEL, Tranquil Resort, and Vagabondish

{Street-Spotted} Lisa Feldmann

Bon voyage and bon ensemble! FOF Lisa Feldmann’s global getup hails from more countries than we can count. Japan, Italy, France… we are getting jet lag just thinking about it!

Name: Lisa Feldmann

How old are you? Over 50

Where are you from? Switzerland, but I have an apartment here in New York as well.

What do you do? Editor for AnnaBelle. It’s a Swiss magazine.

What are you doing today? I just left the Isaac Mizrahi show for Fashion Week.

Do you have a favorite designer? I think Celine is doing a great job. I love watching what Jil Sander is doing for Uniqlo as well.

On Lisa:
Uniqlo (Japanese designer)
Céline (French designer)
Commes De Garcons (Japanese designer)
Chloe (French designer)
Corso Como Milano (Italian designer)
— From Dover Street Market in London

Images by Katherine McPherson for faboverfifty.com

{Inspiration} Time for a Getaway

It’s travel week here at FOF. Pack your bags and join us…

Image via Millie Motts