Saturday, December 31, 2011

happy happy (joy joy)

Two at the Fair by Kurt Hutton, 1938

I seem to have taken an inadvertent blogging break. Ah well, so it goes sometimes.

Today NPR was asking people to sum up their 2011 experience in a single word. It reminded me of the part in Eat, Pray, Love where Liz is trying to think of her word. What would 2011's word be? Tumultuous, maybe? My life has certainly been engulfed by a bit of chaos this year (getting married, moving to the Middle East). And yet . . .

It's also been so downright satisfying. The moments when I'm practically radiating with gratitude have been so plentiful, and the depth of my lowest low comes nowhere near matching the expansiveness of those feelings. I am relearning who I am, finding my place as an adult in this world. I have taken on new roles and abandoned others. And I am so looking forward to the next 52 week stretch. My immediate sense is that it's going to exceed even my unflinchingly high expectations. 

The word I keep coming back to for 2011, then, is transitional. It's been an adjustment period of sorts, a bridge year. I've fumbled to find my footing, but more and more, I'm ready to run. I guess it's a lot like the word Liz eventually settles on: Attraversiamo -- let's cross over.

Here goes . . . 


Sunday, December 18, 2011


flying over Jordan / early morning hair / on my desk / on my bookshelf

Friday, December 16, 2011

it's here! it's here! it's finally here!

...and I am not even close to ready.

Yeah, that'd be the extent of my packing thus far. (Plus one face I'll miss the very most. My stomach hurts just thinking about it!) So far I've managed to sort my jewelry and pile all the clothes I want to bring on top of the bed. Well, except for items sitting in the mountain of laundry in the hallway -- I'm on my fifth load of the day and am still not done. Fingers crossed everything''ll be dry by tomorrow morning!

I'm bummed about my lack of posting these past few days. I had such a good streak there, too, for a little while! But work has been insane -- grades, meetings, lesson observations, pre-break shenanigans....Though I'll also say that I managed to do some of my very best teaching these past couple weeks. I had several days where I felt like I'd finally found my true footing, was doing the very best job I could, and couldn't have been more madly in love with the students. I planned some of the most successful lessons and activities we've done to date. And it felt so good. Like, oh, hey, maybe I'm a decent teacher after all. Of course, throwing myself so completely into my job left me with little energy left for anything else. Clearly, I'm still trying to recoup some of my drive, thus the fact that I'm sitting here in my bathrobe at 5:36 pm, writing a blog post and surfing the internet, surrounded by piles of unpacked clothing.

I'm anxious to get back into regular updates over the holidays. Recently I've felt like I'm finding my voice a bit more on this here blog, and I'm truly enjoying this little side project of mine. It's fun to see what, slowly slowly, is emerging, and I'm excited to stick with the journey.

Until next time, folks (when I plan to do as promised, and share more holiday movie picks).

Monday, December 12, 2011

cheers to el gordo

Hey, Dad! Yesterday was your birthday, but when I called to say, "Happy birthday, old man! Man, are you old!" you were at the gym. Good for you -- give that aging process the one-two punch and make sure you can keep up with your grandkids (hypothetically speaking, of course). 

Since I wasn't able to wish you well semi-in-person, I made good by scouting some potential presents for you online. I hope you like them!

1| Daptone Gold album for your listening pleasure.
2| Stress relieving zen ball to keep on your desk at work (just don't throw it at anybody).
3| Classic picks, because sometimes it's about the essentials.
4| A bicycle wine rack to support two of your favorite pastimes at once.
5| Spinal tape, because sometimes it's about the not-so-essentials.

Love you, Dad! See you in a few days :)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

watch this! christmas movies, part one

Growing up, one of my absolute favorite parts of the season was hauling up all our decorations from the basement at the start of December. Forget presents under the tree -- when that plethora of red and green bins came up the stairs, Christmas had arrived. (OK, so no, don't really forget presents ;) )

One of the boxes I most looked forward to each year was the one labeled "Christmas Movies" (or, more precisely, "Christmas Videos  Movies," because we recycle). Even now, all grown up and sitting in my living room here in Abu Dhabi, I'm dreaming about that box. I can't wait to dust it off for 2011's go 'round of on-screen holiday cheer. Here, five of the classics -- both old and new -- that should be waiting inside.

My mom "saves" this one for cookie baking. She'll choose a day to bake away, and that's when this movie (her all-time favorite) is finally allowed to be screened. (I actually love this quirk of hers -- it adds to the specialness and reminds me of how similar we really are!)

A little lesser-known, Holiday was the black sheep of its day. But I am absolutely crazy about Katharine Hepburn's offbeat, slightly subversive character in the film and the chemistry she has with the lovable-as-ever Cary Grant. Not to mention the pleasure I derive from drooling over all the gorgeous clothes.

The most current classic on my list, full of joy and wonderfully memorable quotes:

"I just like to smile, smiling's my favorite!"
"We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup."
"Well, there are some things you should know. First off, you see gum on the street, leave it there. It isn't free candy."

And of course: "You have such a pretty face, you should be on a Christmas card!"

These are the kinds of lines that become widespread, communal inside jokes. I love it. Elf is a guaranteed mood boost, every time. (PS - If you live the in the Chicago area, go see it on the big screen today!)

My entire family watches this Griswold extravaganza together every single Christmas Eve. Picture it: My mom's siblings (she's one of seven), their spouses and children, their children's spouses and children . . . There must be at least 50 of us all packed into the living room, warm and giddy and possibly wearing Santa hats, laughing at the same scenes we've laughed at hundreds of times before. My uncles will also insist on rewinding their favorite parts at least three to four times, just to make sure everyone sees. I don't know what this says about my family, but it's one of my favorite traditions.

(For the diehards in your life, here's a fun gift idea. My mom gave these to her brothers last year, and I'm sure they'll remain a gift that keeps on giving for many years to come ;) )

Pretty much the be-all end-all of holiday movies in my life. I think Home Alone has become even more endeared to me in recent years because it's the quintessential Christmas movie of my childhood, the one that most "belongs" to my cohort. It was also filmed about an hour away from my hometown. (In fact, the McAllister house was listed for sale up until a few weeks ago.) One of the first things I plan to do when we land in Chicago next week is hole up and wrap presents with Kevin for company. Though, in the spirit of childhood, I'm hoping Ethan will join me, too.

Next up: the Oddball Edition -- weirdo Christmas movies near and dear to my heart.

Velvet and glitter accents courtesy of Katrina at Pugly Pixel.

Friday, December 9, 2011

summer love

Pictures shot (with somewhat hesitant and fumbling hands) on a Diana Mini. I bought her before our trip to Istanbul last April. Somehow all the film from that excursion ended up in storage, but the other day I discovered a wayward roll from last summer hiding in my suitcase here in AD. Apart from the as-of-yet unseen photos I took in Turkey, these are my first-ever Diana photos -- of hometown strolls, our first shared apartment, road trips, and swimming pools.

It's weird, summer seems like so long ago, as so much has obviously happened since. On the other hand, living in a desert climate is like being in perpetual summer. It's cooled down a bit, yes, but there isn't the same shifting of seasons to mark the passage of time. "Now" doesn't seem so different from "then," at least not on the surface.

OK, interlude over. Back to the snow-covered, holiday-themed posts that suit my heart this time of year, if not my immediate environment.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

all i want for christmas

Funny thing about this time of year, people are prone to asking you what you want. Which for me is basically an open invitation into Alice's tunnel (albeit a rather analytical version): What do I want? What does it mean to want? How can I answer this question in a way that makes us both happy? WHY AM I THINKING LIKE THIS?! Quick, OK, just give an answer. Default! No, yes, fine, default, DEFAULT! "World peace?" Oi, you should be more clever next time. . . . and so on.

When it comes to Christmas this year, I've at least managed to establish that what I want most is to be home. And while I do want to pick up some actual stuff while I'm there (hellllooooo, art supplies!), what I'm really looking forward to are experiences. I want to be surrounded by family, drink good wine with good friends, drive around snowy streets looking at twinkle lights, hear holiday music coming out of every public speaker, sip cocoa while making gingerbread houses and peppermint bark, bundle up to visit Navy Pier and the Christkindlmarket . . . . In other words, I want CHRISTMAS. Full-on, true-to-form holiday magic. (Got that, Santa?)

I know, I know: Touching, but anything else? Like, what do you WANT??? 

To help provide a more standard answer to this question, I've gathered together a few of my more recent cravings.

1| A cozy pair of slippers (as mentioned previously) to keep my feet comfy on our tile floors.
2| Diane Keaton's recent memoir, topping my must-read list as of late (in addition to these).
3| This Curling Ribbon ring, because I love a good dose of (tastefully) festive.

Annnnnd . . . That's all I got, folks. (Maybe not so helpful after all!)

Honestly, I tried to make it three times this long, but nothing seemed to stick. I kept adding items, then thinking, But I don't REALLY CARE if I get this or not. So I went with what you see: A few things I'd really, truly love to have and enjoy, and nothing more.

What do YOU want this year? (No pressure or anything.)

PS - Don't worry, Mom, I still love Field Notes! And you :)

sufjan stevens - come on! let's boogie to the elf dance

This is by far one of my favorite modern day Christmas songs. I've been putting it on in the mornings while getting ready for work, and it puts me in such a positive mood. It can be hard to get into the spirit of the season in a country that doesn't really celebrate it. Plus I'm totally with Kevin McAllister on the necessity of snow and pine trees for a "real" Christmas. In lieu of trees, snow, wreaths, and twinkle lights, though, this song definitely provides a holiday boost -- at least for the time being :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

countdown, officially

Paper chain in progress . . . Just 11 links away from home sweet home!

anthro sweepstakes: yes, please!

I've been entering Anthropologie's holiday giveaway each day since it started and plan to continue for the duration. Normally I'm not much into contests, but this one is too tempting! I love every single thing they've offered thus far. (Plus, sneaky secret? The fine print includes all upcoming prizes, so you could technically plan your entries accordingly.)

Hopefully spreading the word doesn't decrease my odds ;)

Either way, those slippers are definitely going on my Christmas list.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

world wide open

Lately I have the distinct feeling that anything is possible. 

This feeling refuses to believe otherwise.

The world is glowing again. I am remembering how important it is to look, and to listen. 

And I am so in love with it all.

f. scott fitzgerald deco editions

I am absolutely in love with these special edition F. Scott Fitzgerald books from Penguin. They're so beautiful! I want every single one.

(Somewhat Related Personal Anecdote: In seventh grade, I did a report on F. Scott Fitzgerald. The main thing I took away from that assignment? The author's connection to Francis Scott Key. Clearly, my twelve-year-old self had some trouble reading between the lines. That, or the research I used to write my report was absolute crap.)

the middle east - blood

Been listening to this song again lately. On repeat. Seriously -- there's never a time where I am able to play it just once. Once isn't enough. Doesn't exactly fit the whole Christmas vibe, I know, but I can't seem to help myself!

Saturday, December 3, 2011


there are other people out there
that do like what i like
and do love what i love.
and i think now it’s time to accept
that maybe i don’t need a reason
or an explanation
to feel what i feel 
and be as i am.
it is time to simply go do.
time to do exactly what i love.
for once in my life,
acceptance trumps explanation.
because at this very moment
i just know.

(image found here)

Friday, December 2, 2011

happy birthday, little brother

You're 22 today! While I don't doubt your newly scholarly self would normally spend his birthday studying, you lucked out this year and got a Friday. I hope you take advantage of this gift from the universe and CELEBRATE. And I mean really.

Wish I had pictures of us as kids to post, but since those are in bins and boxes at Mom and Dad's, I suppose this will have to do:

(You're welcome.) 

Looking forward to seeing you at Christmas in a few weeks; in the meantime, I put together a sort of would-if-I-could birthday present -- a few things that made me think of you. Enjoy!

1| A t-shirt that reminded me of your rock collections.
2| The chemist's coffee pot.
3| Special edition notebooks (plus temporary tats) for your bright ideas/hustling self.

Love you, brother!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

you should be on a christmas card!

Hooray, it's here! The first of December and the official start of the holiday season!

We'll be heading home to Chicago in a couple of weeks, and I seriously could not be more stoked. Christmas movies on repeat, eggnog and gingerbread houses, the German market downtown, bundled up light tours, snowshoeing at the head is spinning with excitement! Planning on making a paper chain to count down the days until we leave -- not quite a chocolate advent calendar, but it'll do!

This will be our first Christmas as a married couple, though tomorrow actually marks the eighth anniversary of our relationship. Crazy! Cards seemed necessary.

We chose something a little quirkier, one of our favorite shots from the reception this past June. The reverse has another favorite, slightly more traditional photo and space to write a personal note. 

I ordered the cards here, which was mostly painless (just beware any personal modifications -- we definitely needed more than one round of proofs). I had them delivered to the States, and I can't wait to see them in person. Just one more thing to look forward to at home :)


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

if you give a girl a sick day...

...she may lounge around watching movies and drinking tea like a normal person.

Or she may create fake inspirational mock-ups for her favorite time of year.

The best word I have to describe this palette is barftastic. Not to be too rude or anything, but that background pink reminds me of Pepto Bismol, which in turn reminds me of an upset stomach (one full of maraschino cherries, if that red is anything to go by). That said, this retro-granny style is exactly the sort of thing I would've been drawn to as a teenager. And the photos I used (cylinder of shiny globes, cat eating tinsel tree) are pictures of actual decorations up in our place as we speak. (In person, they give off a more modern, alternative vibe. Or at least that's what I tell myself.)

It was fun playing around with the layout templates (once again, huge thanks owed to Pugly Pixel). I'm sure there's a way to use them that would come across as more quirky and cute, but I was aiming for a little garish.

As it happens, I do come up with a sort of mental theme every year, and I consciously choose colors and materials in line with that idea to decorate and wrap gifts. This year is no different, but what you see above has nothing to do with what I'm actually picturing. Maybe I'll play around "seriously" and show you what I really have in mind...

Or not. It's hitting me that this is on the verge of becoming a fear post , because I'm getting very embarrassed owning up to just how much of a Christmas nerd I am.

OK, time to make some tea and be sick like a normal person. Plus I'm pretty sure Miracle on 34th Street is available for streaming on Netflix.... ;)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

hang it up

Remember that mess I made?

Well, here's a little a little glimpse of the progress:



....wall hanging!

A simple, cheap, and changeable solution for our high ceilings and very white space. Not quite finished so it's obviously a little disproportionate, but oh well. As soon as that whole "work" thing stops getting in the way I'll add the last strands and we'll be good to go!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

on a sunday: magic

Image credits, top to bottom: one / two / three / four


Sick day: On the couch, but in good company

Spent much of the morning at the doctor with what I thought was just another sinus infection. After suctioning my ear canals (yes, it's as gross and painful as it sounds), scoping out my sinuses, and ordering several x-rays, it was confirmed that I have "a deviation" in my left septum and some "childhood tissue" remaining in there. (I'm no medical expert, and the doctor is French, so that's about the extent of my understanding at present.)

The doc prescribed an antibiotic for the time being, but I have to call back to schedule surgery to remove the excess tissue. Apparently it's a simple outpatient deal, but I'm a total wuss when it comes to anything medically-related -- just ask the nurse who had to inject me before I left. It was all hand-wringing and attempted yoga breathing on my end. (Which, as it happens, is exactly where she stuck that needle -- right in my rear. The doctor said it would help with swelling? I don't know; things are weird here). 

The rest of the day has been spent on the sofa, drinking tea, and thinking. All that rest has me feeling a little better, though my head's still pretty scattered. I'm having trouble transitioning into what I really want to say, the reason I started this post in the first place, namely:

thank you.

The comments, emails, and messages I received after my last fear post were so uplifting and supportive, it truly knocked me out in the best possible way. So to anyone that wrote, called, or commented: Once again, thank you.

Interestingly, all of the responses I got were from women. It was like the universe swelled up to counter the viciousness of the girls in my memories, and to help me paint a new picture of what female relationships can mean and be. And I don't mean to get too chintzy, but I felt like I'd hunted around in the darkest part of myself, only to emerge holding a lifeline of shared experience and support. The connection to something so much greater than myself was unbelievably apparent. As I let my old ghosts go, I found warmth and light waiting to replace them.

I also found the world's best husband, my perfect fit, who, when I was curled up in ball feeling vulnerable and clutching my stomach, climbed right down beside me and wrapped his arms around me. 

I closed my eyes and listened to his heartbeat. 

That was the night after publishing my fear post, which had left me feeling more exposed and wounded than I was anticipating. I didn't need help or advice, just processing time -- enough space and minutes to fully let the feelings pass. In these instances, Andy's so incredible at finding a balance between being there and letting me be. He is steady and gentle. 

I only hope I can be so good in return.

Thanks again, friends (I think I can safely use that word now). Until next time.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

full exposure: to be a misfit - the middle school years

For a long time, at least as long as I can remember, I've had the sense that I just don't fit. But it's never something I talk about, apart from with my mom and Andy -- until today.

I grew up on three wooded acres in the midwestern suburbs. Now, right there is something that set me apart from many of the kids at school, who lived in houses situated elbow-to-elbow on whirling, infinite cul-de-sacs. These neighborhoods were full of children riding bikes and playing kickball until the sun set or the dinner bell rang (or so I imagined). Not that I ever really wished for such a life; the woods were, and remain, where I was most at home. I had one neighbor my age, who lived on a secluded street just behind our property; but mostly I would wander around on my own, climbing trees and building forts, or swinging as high as I could on the swing set while belting out show tunes.

When friends would come over, our games tended to be highly imaginative: We'd pretend our swings were unicorns taking us to distant lands, or (and this is so utterly embarrassing, especially for a sociology minor, that my stomach is turning just thinking about it) we'd play "Slaves," a game that required us (in the role of the titular slaves) to make soup for our master. We'd collect berries, leaves, and twigs, and mix them all up in a big bucket filled with water. Occasionally we'd also dig holes, because apparently, to a white nine-year-old in the suburbs of Chicago, that's what slaves did.

None of this, however, left me feeling all that different from my peers; I had friends from all sorts of backgrounds. Some were the children of doctors and ad-execs and lived in mansions; others had been relocated from the city projects to subsidized apartments in our area. In third grade, one of my best friends, the daughter of a South Korean scientist, lived at FermiLab. (Cottesong Park, are you out there? Remember me?)

These surface-level descriptors were never much of an issue for me. As my mom would say, "You notice race the way you notice hair color: Oh, red hair. Oh, brown skin." In my mind, there wasn't a whole lot of story associated with such traits -- red hair was red hair, brown skin was brown skin. You had money, or maybe you didn't, and neither was particularly good or bad. (Though, full disclosure, I did ask for and receive a black Cabbage Patch Kid, as well as a black Barbie. Obviously I was drawn to them in some way. You tell me why.)

Instead, what set me apart was my high sensitivity and (dare I say it?) intellect. This is still the case today. I process the world in a deep, analytical, and complex way. On the Myers-Briggs personality scale, I'm a tried-and-true INFJ -- a combination found in only one percent of the population. Is it any wonder I have trouble finding like-minded people?

The first time I was ever stung by a bee, I cried to my mother, "I don't understand, Mama. Why? Why did he sting me?" I hadn't done anything to the bee, not that I knew of, and I couldn't comprehend why it would lash out at me.

Human interactions later in life have often left me in much the same state.

Prior to entering seventh grade (my first year of middle school) I was generally pretty confident in my friendships and social status. Sure, I was a little quirky and considered "smart," but I was still part of the popular group, at least as it existed in our little corner of the world. I had my first kiss (and first period) by age eleven; I knew what music was in (Alanis, duh); I wore overalls, sometimes with leggings; I painted my nails with Express polish in shades of purple and teal; and I knew the names of all the actors on Full House, a show I never missed.

But suddenly, unexpectedly, my world started to crack apart around me. Without knowing why, I was abandoned by my closest friends, a number of whom I'd known since preschool. It was a gradual process, with some key events that went straight to my heart -- and manifested themselves on my wrists. This is something else I never, ever talk about, and I suspect even those closest to me now don't know. But here goes: I started cutting. Or dabbling in it, anyway, mostly using straight pins to create (and thereby relieve) some of the incomprehensible, overwhelming pain I was feeling.

My mom (how does she keep popping up here? You're a saint, woman) gave me a copy of Reviving Ophelia, and I knew, at least, that my experience wasn't unique to me. Still, it was hard not to have someone in my immediate environment to connect with. My response was, essentially, to get weirder. I started SAD (Students Against Dissection) and became a vegetarian. I bought my first Ani DiFranco album and discovered Spilling Open, which prompted me to start making my own mixed-media journal pages.

Part of this process, I believe, was actually me discovering my true self: Uninhibited by the social conventions adhered to by my prior group of "friends," I was free to engage with whatever ideas I chose. And I stuck with what resonated (I am still a vegetarian, and I credit Ani with helping me survive my teens. In fact, I posted this song just a few weeks ago).

It took until around my junior year of high school to start feeling OK in my own skin again, at least most of the time. I was unapologetically involved in activities that represented my passions: theatre, speech, art, orchestra, German club, student council. And I was good at them, holding numerous leadership positions, winning multiple awards, and competing in the state speech finals (Prose Reading, in case you were wondering. My rendition of Sarah Vowell's "Shooting Dad" killed it. Pun semi-intended.). By senior year, I had a tight-knit group of friends and my first serious boyfriend (yep, that'd be my now-husband).

This isn't to say there wasn't plenty of tumult in between, including an unfortunate phase my freshman year that involved wearing red plaid pants, but somehow it felt much more normal -- the ups and downs of everyday teen existence, and nothing multiple late-night viewings of John Hughes movies couldn't remedy.

Of course, almost immediately following high school I moved to Germany, prompting a whole new round of Ways-I-Don't-Fit (and never will again -- once you adopt another culture so completely, I don't think it's ever possible to fully return to your own. Hence, perhaps, the reason I have continued to wander all these years since.).

But all that can wait for another day. Maybe. If I'm so inclined. For the time being...

I'm embarrassed to admit:

So much of what I've just written. That I played a game called "Slaves" as a child. That my best friends decided I wasn't worthy of them, and that my response was to start cutting. That I'm worried about what my mother will say, now that my version of all this is out in the open. That, amidst all I have to be grateful for, I still have bouts of agonizing loneliness and despair, and the sense that I'm incapable of having real friends.

I think, what I fear the most here, is that that last bit is true. (Or else the part about my mom ;)) Sometimes I feel like I'm in the adult version of my middle school years, trying once again to figure out who I am and where I stand, while the rug is continually pulled out from underneath me. I hold myself at a distance, convinced that most people secretly hate me or will abandon me one day. Amazing how the past manifests itself in one's current reality. 

And now I want to know (please?): 

What are you embarrassed to admit?

Ever since I started this process -- returning to art, talking about what scares me -- readership of this here blog has almost quadrupled. Granted, I didn't have a whole lot of regular readers to begin with, but I know someone's out there, on a daily basis. So comment, anonymously or not. I'm truly curious about what you have to say.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

just happy to be here

I have more fear posts brewing in my mind, as well as an important project update. But for now, on the edge of this wide open weekend, all I can think is: I'm just so happy.

(Photos of happy people I love, borrowed from other people I also love)

Cheers, world. And thanks.

gratitude banner

Andy and I have been making this gratitude banner since the first of the month (in honor of the holiday at the end, obviously :) ). Each day, we write down something we're thankful for and hang it on the line. But it's getting harder and harder to figure out what to write: There are too many choices! It feels impossible to pick just one. Take today: Perfect weather, late lunch and coffee at our new favorite spot, sorting photos of my amazing students and thinking about how far they've come in just a few short weeks, a new art book, plane tickets home for Christmas (don't get me started on how incredible it is to be able to afford that)....It's amazing what life looks like when you start paying attention through a different lens.