Friday, March 30, 2012

happy weekend

Photo via revelment with text added by me

We head out the door bright and early tomorrow morning (our friends are already there waiting for us!). I can't wait to hang out by the pool, shop the souks, and hike some beautiful wadis

As promised, I'll be continuing with my favorite things mini-series while we're away, starting again on Monday.

Have a wonderful weekend, folks! x

tied up with string: all dolled up

Today I'm sharing some of my favorite beauty products, many of which have been in my arsenal for years. Everything you see here is something I use regularly, if not daily. (Just going through my morning routine after finishing this layout, I realized I'd used seven of the nine items below.) From drugstore standards to a few everyday luxuries, these are my most beloved . . . 

1| Chronic dark circles and the occasional pimple have nothing on Benefit's Boi-ing concealer. (Apply with a good brush and blend by patting gently with your ring finger. I like this tutorial, from a former MAC salesgirl.)

2| These Yes to Cucumbers Hypoallergenic Wipes are so good they've replaced Cetaphil in my daily routine. Extra handy for travel and late nights, too.

3| I've been wearing Chanel Mademoiselle since I was 18 and remain ever-loyal.

4| The holy grail of curly hair care products. Nothing (and I mean NOTHING) whips my hair into shape like Frizz Ease Clearly Defined Gel. If I were stranded on a desert island, I'd want food, water, and this gel.

5| Another staple that's been in my bag since high school, Perfumeria Gal Lip Balm lasts for months. I love the peach flavor.

6| One of the best hand creams I've ever used. Lightweight, silky, and ultra-moisturising, Antipodes Deliverance Kowhai Flower Hand Cream smells like fresh-squeezed orange juice.

7| While I'm not someone that insists on having my nails polished at all times, when I do it's likely one of these three: Essie Cute As A Button (juicy and fresh), Sally Hansen Salon Effects in Glitz Blitz (makes a statement and lasts forever), or Chanel Fall 2011 Collection in Peridot (still stuck on its rare geode quality).

8| A hot bath loaded with Epsom salts is my number one way to de-stress. I usually stock up on generic brands (Target and Walgreens are good), but Dr. Teal's Lavender is a nice treat.

9| Revlon Just Bitten Lip Stains last forever and are super easy to apply. I alternate between Desire (a lush pink - just ignore the name!) and Gothic (bright, stop-in-your-tracks red). 

What are some of your tried-and-true favorites?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

tied up with string: everyday bling

I've never been a very flashy person, jewelry-wise or otherwise, so my favorite bling isn't all that bling-y. Diamonds don't do anything for me, and in fact I always insisted that I didn't want an engagement ring. Little by little, though, I came to realize that this tradition was important to Andy, and we managed to find an amazing compromise. 

My ring (left foreground) is handmade from recycled gold; the stone is eco-friendly Moissanite. (Andy's ring, in the background of the photo on the left, is special in it's own right: It's vintage, passed down from my great grandfather.) It didn't come with a proposal, but rather as the result of a conversation: Our decision to get married was mutual, full of its own kind of quiet romance. Andy gave me the ring two days before our wedding, while sitting in a park where we'd gone to have some alone time before everything kicked into high gear. 

Even more understated is my wedding ring -- a simple hammered band of gold, as thin as I could find. I'm absolutely in love with this ring. I love that it doesn't get in the way of anything: teaching, writing, art-making. That it never snags or bothers, and that it isn't in the least bit showy. It's just the ring I wanted, times a thousand.

Our rings, like our story, may not be the most traditional, but they're completely reflective of us.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

mini-series: tied up with string

We leave for Oman in just a few short days (yay!). Since I'm not sure what internet access will be like (not to mention I'd kinda rather hang out by the pool as opposed to with my computer), I thought I'd curate some of my favorite things to share while we're away. Introducing . . . 

. . . my current version of a blog on vacation :) For the next week, I'll be posting about things big and small, all near and dear to my heart. Anything is fair game, as long as I use and/or love it. Check back later today for the first official post. Cheers!

for joseph (first photo challenge)

A friend of mine issued me a photo challenge a few months back after reading this post.

(Momentary sidetrack: I wish I could link you to his blog, as he leads a far more interesting life than most -- hiking the entire Appalachian Trail in under three months, trekking through the Himalayas, working on a New Zealand dairy farm, and teaching in Mongolia all come to mind -- but alas, he doesn't have a blog. Bummer. Maybe one day I could convince him to do a guest series? HINT HINT.)

My assignment: Take a picture of something that grosses you out.

This proved much harder than you might think. First off, I didn't want to capture something too grotesque, vulgar, or inappropriate. I also wasn't sure if I should take the moral high ground, as in: The amount of waste/lack of recycling in Abu Dhabi disgusts me! with a picture of some dumpsters overflowing with tin cans and white copy paper.

So I sat on it for a long time, until one day at work I was presented with a most fantastic subject: The Snot Wad.

It's an ever-permanent fixture in my classroom. And I would've posted it a lot sooner, had I not realized something major: 

It doesn't actually gross me out.

I know, crazy. But after working with three- and four-year-olds for over a decade, I'm more than used to the runny noses, bathroom accidents, and upset stomachs that come with this age group. In South Africa, I monitored the stools of my students to check for nutritional deficiencies, and I mopped up the mess made by a bloody nose with nothing more than water and paper towels (not that I'd recommend this, especially given the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, but I didn't have much choice at the time).  While I obviously wouldn't say I find these things pleasant, they also don't phase me much.

But this? This got me big time:

Looks like nothing, you say? Well, that's because I took this photo immediately after sticking my hands into these crusty, sweaty, stinking-up-a-storm socks to turn them right-side-out for this little boy. (I mean, he used perfect English -- "Help me, please!" -- so how could I say no?) That's right, bodily fluids and functions don't sway me a bit, but nasty, smelly socks? And wet ones, at that? Please excuse me while I down some Pepto.

OK, then, Joseph-- What grosses you out? 

getting back to gratitude

This week I revived an old habit of mine: the gratitude journal.

Here are ten things I've been saying thank you for lately:

     1| Freshly ground coffee, brewed in the best pot.

     2| That my little brother is finding his way, enjoying not only success, but satisfaction.

     3| Our big, beautiful stove.

     4| To have spent a full day-and-a-half writing.

     5| To feel like I have bit of direction for my blog, and to find such satisfaction in
          working on it.

     6| SPRING. BREAK! Two whole weeks of it.

     7| That multiple people unexpectedly complimented my skills as a teacher. Why, thank you!

     8| For enough money to buy what we need, and for the ability to actually start saving more,
          now that we're settled.

     9| Delicious leftovers.

  10| An upcoming trip with great friends.

Writing about South Africa this past week was a good way to remind myself of the power of gratitude, and it allowed me to frame the experience in a new way. As I said to my mom, getting all the hard stuff off my chest made room for the positive parts to piece themselves back together, and I started to wonder if I'd been carrying around the wrong story.

Sitting here now, contemplating my time in South Africa yet again, I feel a sort of warmth -- this peaceful, joyful glow. I think of hiking Table Mountain, seeing the wildflowers in Namaqualand, and walking along the beach in Jeffrey's Bay. I remember what my host mother told me the first day I arrived: "From now on you are my daughter. You are family." She also loved to tell people we were "making the world a smaller place." I'm amazed that I could ever discount and devalue the power of human connection the way I did.

Ah, anyway. Would you ever know I have a sense of humor in here, too? ;)

I promise to aim for more lightheartedness in the days and weeks ahead. Cheers!

November 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Image found here, via Event Lucky

To live in this world

you must be able 
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

From "In Blackwater Woods" by Mary Oliver

Saturday, March 24, 2012

full exposure: south africa, part two


“You learn not to mourn every little thing out here, or you’d never, ever stop grieving.” 

Alexandra Fuller


(Read Part One here.)

I came home from Cape Town in the middle of winter, my funds depleted and my long-term relationship crumbling. Turns out, you can't escape yourself. Being a life-long fan of Breakfast at Tiffany's, you'd think I'd have learned that. But as my mom would say, there's a big difference between knowing with your head and knowing in your heart.

Speaking of Mom (or as I'm starting to think I should call her, "Oh Wise One"), my generous and ever-supportive parents helped me rent an apartment near school so that I'd at least be living somewhat independently, within walking distance of campus. Exciting stuff, right? My own place, a new school, and all that? It could've been. But.

Notice how my blog dries up right about this time. In 2008, I wrote a total of three posts. I was too busy falling apart to write, too exhausted to try and hunt down gratitude in the fog of sadness. And I didn't know how to ask for help, couldn't pinpoint what was going wrong.

That first semester back at school, I had this recurring dream in which I'd adopted the children I worked with in SA. We'd be on an airplane together, flying back to the States, me trying to figure out how I would feed all of them.

My waking thoughts were similarly consuming. I'd be hanging out in my living room, studying on the couch, when suddenly I’d start visualizing how five or six entire homes from the township would fit side-by-side in the rooms of the apartment where I lived alone. Wracked with gut-wrenching guilt, I'd cry for hours on end.

I was afraid of the dark. 

My first month on campus, I participated in an after-school tutoring program in conjunction with one of my classes. On the first day, I walked from my apartment over to the building where we were meeting. Two hours later, as everyone was leaving, full-fledged panic set in: Oh my God! The sun is down and it’s pitch-black outside! How am I going to get home?!? . . . Slowly it dawned on me that I was no longer in South Africa, that I was, as it happened, in one of the safest towns in America. I was going to get home the same way I’d come. Still, I had to force myself to walk the six blocks back to my apartment, shaking and checking over my shoulder the whole way there. 

From that point on, I drove to tutoring, but even then I wasn't free from fear. As when driving anywhere, I made sure my valuables were locked safely in the trunk. It took me months to stop reaching for the car stereo to stuff in the glove box whenever I parked.

Through all of this, I managed to excel in my classes, earning straight A's and eventually graduating Summa Cum Laude. Nevermind that I had almost no friends and was a hot emotional mess, or that my relationship of five years was destroyed (and destroying me). I was fine! It would all be fine. After all, I told myself, plenty of people encounter poverty more widespread, violence more gruesome, and they don’t fall apart. As you might imagine, this did not make me feel better. In fact, in only served to prove that I was an even greater failure than I'd initially thought.

I’m embarrassed to admit:  
That my college years were a social disaster. 
That I lived from a place of fear, sadness, and ego, 
and that I still struggle with this. 
And in some ways, that I am who I am.

I wish I could go back to my then-self and tell her it would be all right. Tell her to pay better attention to the people that loved her, to ease up every now and again. To reach out, laugh more. In equal measure, though, I wish the future me could come tell this one it will continue to get better. Most of the time I’m still wading through the muck with more questions than answers.

The other day I was talking with Andy* when I had a crazy revelation: That every experience I’ve had since South Africa is tied to it in some way. While my motivations for traveling there in the first place may have been murky at best, I continue to carry the hearts of the children I worked with in my own. As a result, if I’m not doing something to help them, then I’m not doing enough. Which means, in a strange twist of subconscious, that I am never enough. For over four years, my whole life has been less-than.

While I know this can’t be right, part of me won’t let go. To know that that level of poverty exists, to have witnessed it up close, and to do nothing about it . . . It seems despicable. Especially when you realize that such poverty is manmade, in this case the direct result of human hatred. And I can’t make sense of it, of any of it. I get lost in the darkness. 

So I apologize for not having a tidy wrap up, a way to package up this particular place of shame and tie a little bow around it.  All I can say is: I went to South Africa as a way to run, and I’ve been carrying around fifty-five children ever since. I don’t know what’s happened to most of them, or if I’ll ever see them again. But for what it’s worth, I loved them. I will always love them. Now, however, the time has come to let them go.

Thanks for bearing with me, folks. I'll be sure to follow up with a bit of bliss soon (in case those joyful little faces weren't enough!). Enjoy your weekend.

*Remember that “destroyed relationship”? It’s now referred to as “a rough patch.”

Friday, March 23, 2012


Neon dip-dyed eggs via Oh, Joy!

Phew! Don't know about you, but after that last post (plus writing part two) I needed a little goodness to break up all the heavy.

So we ordered Indian from our favorite takeout place, and I made a new "about me" page.

full exposure: south africa, part one


At the Cape of Good Hope, November 2007

"I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know - unless it be to share our laughter. We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide." 

James Kavanaugh


For a long time, I've struggled to figure out what this blog is actually about. (It's like that line in Lost In Translation, where Scarlett Johansson's character says, "I just don't know what I'm supposed to be." Both blog and author are stumped.) More recently, I've also wondered who, exactly, I was writing for, and why. 

emy in the world began as a way to document my volunteer trip to South Africa in 2007, and my audience at the time was clear-cut: I wrote for college professors, people that had donated to the project, fellow volunteers, and my family. Blogging was simply a step up from the mass emails I'd occasionally send out during my first year abroad, as a student in Germany (back when our internet was dial-up and facebook was just an idea). While I do believe that what I wrote at the beginning was authentic and honest, it certainly wasn't the whole story. 

Here's the part I never covered: South Africa knocked the wind out of me. I'm only just learning how to get back up on my feet. 

When I decided to embark on my third continent and second expat adventure, I was a student at the community college I'd spent most of my teen years ridiculing. Without a doubt, COD was the "College of Dumb-asses" in my (clearly superior) circle of friends. Deciding to forgo the expensive education at the school I'd initially decided upon was painful but necessary -- and not just for cost-cutting reasons. 

Attending the College of DuPage ended up being one of the greatest blessings in my life thus far. As a student in the (now-defunct) Honors Program, the majority of the classes I took were capped at around 20 students and taught by full-time faculty (who to this day remain some of the best, most interesting people I've ever known). In addition, any Honors class I took while in the program was tuition-free. So naturally, I enrolled in pretty much nothing but Honors courses.

For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who learned like me -- gifted thinkers that cared about what they were learning, doing, and contributing. My classmates also came from every walk of life and were many different ages. I loved everything about this. In a religion class, for example, someone would pipe up and say, "Well, I'm Buddhist, and this is what I think," or, "I actually practice Hinduism, so if you want I could arrange a tour at my temple." My partners on group projects were often decades older than me, and as such brought real-world knowledge and wisdom to our work that I wouldn't have had access to otherwise. Talk about first-hand learning! I couldn't get enough.

COD also gave me the flexibility to pursue whatever I was interested in without worrying too much about the cost or my transcripts. So I went for it: I took metalsmithing and participated in my first-ever gallery show; I enrolled in a writing workshop at an all-female youth prison; I went on a weekend caving trip to Indiana (best P.E. credit ever); I witnessed the warbler migration in Ohio and fell in love with bird-watching; I immersed myself in a Native American Experience course . . . and on it goes. No-holds-barred, experiential learning, where every participant is there because they want to be? It was a dream come true.

This didn't change the outside world's perception of the school I called home. Saying you go to a community college, even one you love, doesn't elicit quite the same reaction as, I don't know, "Harvard" might (or even just a well-respected state school). Towards the end of my two year stay at COD I was feeling a bit fidgety (read: having nervous crying breakdowns and hiding under my desk at work every now and then). I'd earned a full scholarship to a local four-year college, where I planned to study education with the aim of student teaching abroad (ah, yes -- like facebook, this, too, once existed only as an idea).

Once again, telling people the name of my future alma mater didn't impress either one of us. For one thing, it was a mere 20 minutes away from where I grew up. I needed to get out, and fast. But I also needed to finish my degree.

Enter South Africa.

It was an adventure, and full of excitement, to be sure. More than that though? It was an escape.

I'm embarrassed to admit:

I went to Cape Town under the guise of serving others. In reality, my main focus was myself.

I am deeply, deeply ashamed by this. But I also know that I am deeply human, and therefore flawed beyond measure. In many ways, I've also been paying the price for five years.

Did I love the children I worked with? More than I ever thought possible. Did my work there have value? Some, to be sure. Would I go back? In a heartbeat. Do I regret it? Only sometimes.

The thing is, I still can't make sense of it all. I ran from myself, sacrificed for the wrong reasons, and threw my world so completely off balance that I've been spinning ever since. 

There's a world of difference between "taking a leap" and "running away," and it's not always easy to tell which is which. Sometimes I wonder if, right now, living abroad, I'm actually playing it safe in some ways. For the past five years, this has been my comfort zone: a perpetual state of in-between and what-ifs. And because of my reasons for going to South Africa, I've believed I'm getting what I deserve.

Perhaps, then, the greatest leap of all would be to change my mind. To decide, once and for all, that I am worthy of life. Flaws and all.

More to come in Part Two . . . . Stay tuned . . . . x

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

putting my feet up

At the Bonnington Jumeirah Lakes, Dubai, February 2012

It's break time, folks! Two weeks of sleeping in and resting up before heading back to work for our final trimester. I am in serious need of this recovery time, although truth be told, the unit we launch into when we get back is the one I've been most looking forward to all year. It's called "Let's See What Happens" and will be non-stop exploratory goodness -- colors and liquids and magnets, oh my! (Put that in the "You Know You're a Teacher When . . ." category.) 

Apart from heading back to Oman with friends for a few days, we've decided to stick around Abu Dhabi and finally see some of the major local sights. I'm looking forward to plenty of sleep, long days by the pool, and actually finishing a few of the many books piled up next to the bed!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

watch this: brene brown on shame

This. Is. Awesome.

(For you, Mom. You can bet I'll check her book out now.)

what the sell: present and correct

Absolutely digging the design-y vintage and vintage-style finds at this shop. Then again, what's not to love about a place that includes "ephemera" as one of its categories? (In fact, "ephemera" is how I think I'll now describe most of my personal possessions. Hear that, parents? My room was never full of junk -- just ephemera ;) ) It's a good thing I didn't know about this before our wedding, or my bank account would've been in [even more] serious trouble.

In other news, I'm thinking of making "What the Sell" a regular feature, maybe once a month. (Although, let's face it, I have a pretty . . . organic approach when it comes to posting, so I use the term "regular" loosely. This blog is my outlet, and at the end of a long, highly-scheduled day, I don't want the parameters of this space to be too dictated. If that makes sense.) We'll see. I had so much fun rounding up gifts and whatnot back in December that it might be a nice way to cut through some of the seriousness now and again. (Maybe my blog, then, is a lot like my life: Eclectic, and full of ephemera.)

PS - JOSEPH: I haven't forgotten our little challenge, and in fact have taken an EVEN BETTER picture than the original one I was going to post. Swear it'll make an appearance soon (see above re: "parameters"). Also, the perfectionist in me is having trouble coming up with a counter-challenge. I'm on it, though. Soon.

Monday, March 19, 2012

just shrug your shoulders & say OK

Or better yet, inshallah.

Just checking in briefly to say hey. This print caught my eye today, and I'm thinking I may need to own it. It'd be really cute in a modern nursery, no? Not necessarily for my kids, just . . . in general! Plus, it's true: I do love my family :)

Busy with end-of-the-semester assessments at work this week, which means reports to finish and portfolios to assemble and last-minute school bazaars/fun fairs scheduled midweek. (By "last minute," I mean they called a meeting today, where we planned for a two-hour event that's supposed to take place Wednesday. During assessments. The last week before break.) Oh yeah, and the UAE celebrates Mother's Day on March 21st, so we'll also need to squeeze in a take-home craft/gift somewhere in there. Most likely we'll make ours the morning of the fun fair, which happens to be the 21st. We could do it tomorrow, but I've been scheduled to go on an observational visit to another school in the city. (This is where I remind myself to smile, breathe, and repeat "REMEMBER WHERE YOU LIVE" to myself over and over again. Actually, a small part of me thrives on the busy and loves to laugh at the chaos. Mostly.)

Speaking of school, I just started a little classroom blog, should you be interested in that sort of thing. Some of it is parent-directed, but there are pictures of our classroom and what we've been up to. And if you're craving info on Abu Dhabi life, I've started adding bits and pieces about "our new home" here. (Thus concludes the back-and-forth linkup portion of the evening. I swear, I'm not self-promoting so much as scattered!)

Enjoy your week, folks! x

Friday, March 16, 2012

only kindness

You know when beauty so completely overwhelms you, a direct injection to some hidden part of your soul, to this place inside yourself that you never even knew existed prior to that moment?

A side effect of this for me is instantaneous tears: Drop-to-your-knees, lift your hands in prayer or gratitude or I-don't-know-what sobbing.

Beauty, the kind of reverberating beauty that fills you up beyond capacity or comprehension -- Well. That's about as close to God as I think you can get.

Somehow, some way, the poem below does that for me. The ability to connect words to convey that which is beyond words . . . . This gift alone leaves me in absolute awe.

photo via Jen Loves Kev

Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.    

story of my (married) life

image via Sam Is Home

This made us both laugh out loud.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

afternoon snack

And now I'm off to take an afternoon bubble bath and maybe follow it up with a little bit of art-making. Happy because a) we went on a field trip today, and b) tomorrow is Thursday and therefore the start of my weekend.

It's a good day.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

more fun with diana

Top to bottom: Lace and palm trees at the beach in Muscat, Oman | Al Qurum Beach Hotel, Muscat | washed out Andy at the beach | street sign in Oman | Dubai nature reserve | in our bedroom | hairpins on the dresser | boy with paint on his nose, Abu Dhabi | Dubai souq

Can you spot my current winter-into-spring header image?

good read: "confessions of a 'bad' teacher"

This New York Times article by William Johnson really resonated - a must-read.
(No, seriously, go read it.)

happy accidents

There is something I love about this "accidental" photo from our trip to Oman in February. But that's the thing when it comes to my Diana (or me and any camera): Every image feels like an accident. 

Rarely do I find them as calming and beautiful as this, though. A keeper, to be sure.