Saturday, March 31, 2012

{Happy Weekend}

I don't think I'd ever been as sad to return home as I was right before my train pulled into Grand Central Terminal Tuesday evening. I'd only been in the boonies of Connecticut for a week, but the shock and discomfort I felt when I stepped off the train and into the rushing crowd almost took me by surprise. Neema and I had such a great time goofing around, working on projects, taking pictures, and just motivating each other to go for ours. I, for one, am so proud of the strides she's made with her photography and plans for her future gluten-free bakery business, Cupcakes & Chai, and can't wait to see where she goes from here.

As for me, well apart from my usual part-time gig, I've been busy working on a relationship story for Latina, a home tour and travel piece for Anthology, and I'll be contributing a few pieces for The Academy's newest column Your City // For Creatives. So I'll be sharing all the ways New York City is a creative spirit's heaven! In the meantime, here's some link love:

Souvenir Foto School starts up again this weekend! Sign up or apply for a scholarship.

CreativeLive and Function are two great resources for online creative workshops and seminars.

Free printable blog planner.

Ballet dancers in super slow motion.

A. has started reading Sex at Dawn and I've grabbed a copy of The Ethical Slut and been taken by the blog Sex Love Liberation. Should make for some interesting pillow talk.

August Empress has opened an online shop with digital patterns, social media buttons, and graphics.

Free Easter printables.

You know what book I just devoured? The Hunger Games! A very good quick read though it could've used some more depth and fleshing out. Then the movie glossed over so many nuances and emotion that it almost magnified the book's shortcomings. Have you read/seen it already?

How to turn a Moleskine notebook into a planner.

I LOVE this keyboard transformation.

A printable Instagram photo-a-day calendar template.

Speaking of Instagram, did I ever tell you that I upgraded to an iPhone 4S? Yup! Now I'll be taking more photos on the go and share them via Twitter.

Happy weekend!

Image: neemasyovata.com

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Creative Collective Guest Post: DIY Paper Pencils

If you're a pencil geek like me, then you'll want to check out my last guest post for Creative Collective's green themed month. I'm sharing a cool project that'll teach out how to make your own pretty pencils quickly, cheaply, and in all sorts of colors.

Image: scissorspaperwok.com

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fashion Shoot: Lakeside Lesos

Neema needed to take photos of her aunt's handmade leso cloth dresses so we walked down to the lake and spent an afternoon staging a fashion shoot. It was my first and I have to say, they came out pretty beautiful, no? It was great practice in shooting people and clothes, two things I'd never done much of before. Have I found a new calling?

Friday, March 23, 2012

{Happy Friday}

Originally I was going to leave the country on Sunday because the end of the week seemed like a good time to head back home and start my regular routines Monday morning, but then I extended it and decided to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon out here rather than commuting back to the city. And now I'm thinking of staying just an extra day longer because I can't bear the thought of leaving this peacefulness behind in favor of the noise and rush. I know I've always worried that living in such a quiet place would quickly bore me - and it very well could - but I can't lie and say nature and the slower pace of time, life, everything isn't calling out for me.

Yesterday, Neema and I staged a fashion photo shoot by a lake just down the road. It was so much fun letting her pose in different outfits and snapping away, I wish I could just do that every single day. The scene was beautiful, there was no one around for yards, and we had the whole property to ourselves. Afterwards, we sat by the boardwalk to look at the results and the view before us before falling into a meditative silence as the sun set behind the trees.

We had a terribly hard time editing down the collection to the absolute best, but I can't wait to show you the fashion photos soon. In the meantime, here's a teaser and some links from around the web:

My Souvenir Foto School classmate Jamie just opened an Etsy shop! I have a total crush on her work.

Would you ever stay at this Swedish Tree Hotel? And here's a nest treehouse for kids!

Oh Joy's top 20 bites of 2011 in Los Angeles.

Seven ways to turn yourself on.

A great way to make mini scratch cards. (Here's another one.)

How fun are the patterned notebooks and pillows in Julia Kostreva's Etsy shop?

Twelve stressful things you need to stop tolerating. (via The Bantu Girl)

Handmade artistic business cards.

Bizarre stories from a former HR department employee.

Gahhh! Espresso chocolate cupcakes and cloud-shaped macarons!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Image: Intertwyned on etsy.com

Thursday, March 22, 2012

{Wanderlust} MiniLook Kiev + Cities in Tilt-Shift Stop-Motion

I'd never even considered traveling to the Ukraine before, but this tilt-shift stop-motion movie of Kiev makes the large capital city seem so beautifully quaint! Have you ever traveled to Eastern Europe? A. and I spent a day in Prague last fall, but I'd love to make it all the way to Moscow the next time around.

P.S. Here's one of Berlin and another of Rio de Janeiro during 2011's Carnaval party in all its festive glory.

Thailand: Traveling to and Navigating Bangkok On My Own

Isn't it amazing what you're capable of doing when you decide to take a crazy leap towards something daring? That's what I kept thinking on my cab ride to JFK airport the Tuesday night I was to fly out to Thailand. I'd been so nervous in the weeks leading up to the trip that I was almost killing the whole experience before it'd even began.

"Will he be happy to see me?" I fretted. "What if he thinks I'm crashing on his trip when he was looking forward to getting away without me?" All those concerns were squashed when a week after leaving, A. would not stop emailing and sending me messages about how much he missed me and wished I were there. "We'll get our chance, I promise you," I replied. Little did he know that just a week from then, he'd get the surprise of his life. Maybe if he did, he would've let up on contacting me so damn much. It was getting to a point where I didn't how I was supposed to "disappear" for a couple days while I traveled to Bangkok without raising any suspicions. But in a way, him saying all those sweet things made what I was about to do so much better.

I'm not going to lie - that flight took years off my life. The first leg to Jordan took 11 and a half hours and I could barely sleep a wink during that flight. (Note to self: invest in neck pillow.) When I landed near Amman at 5 p.m. the following day, I felt like a wreck, but would need to wait eight hours before I could board my next plane. Surprisingly to me, if you have a long layover, Amman Queen Alia International Airport offers you a voucher for a free shuttle bus ride to and from a hotel room - which is also free! I was a little hesitant at first because with the language barrier and my general skepticism, I didn't truly believe that I wouldn't a) get charged for this service or b) get left behind and miss my second flight. But after a quick scan at the mediocre seating options in the lounge and my inability to get a free WiFi access, I decided to go for it.

"Oh my God, I'm in Jordan!" I smiled to my reflection as I looked at the empty streets whizzing by the bus window. To my left sat Dave, a guy who was also traveling to Bangkok on his own and meeting his girlfriend at their hotel. Honestly I don't even remember if Dave was actually his name, but it is now. I wanted to make a quick note of him because of how easy it was for me to talk and make friends with a stranger. In Europe (as in life), I'd shy away from making contact with people I didn't know. I'd cautiously peer into restaurants and shops from corners so as to not spark any conversation with "others." I was too happy in my little bubble to burst out of my comfort zone, engaging solely with A. and reaching out to someone else only if necessary.

Now here I was talking with another traveler about our journey, our careers, my surprise, and our good fortune at scoring free hotel rooms. We met up again in the hotel lobby before heading back to the airport and even crossed paths while sightseeing in Bangkok.

The Golden Tulip Airport Amman Hotel was nice enough - and being free made it even better. Yeah, maybe I had trouble keying into my room and maybe I had to sit there in the dark with nothing but the bathroom light because I didn't know how to turn the bedroom lamps on, but that's okay. I was able to check in with my sister (who wanted to travel vicariously through me and later stress me out to no end), maintain an online presence (in case A. reached out), nap, and shower. You have no idea how helpful the last two were in preparing me for another eight-hour flight into Thailand.
On my cab ride to Nantra Silom Hotel, I tried taking everything in. Here I was in Asia for the first time, where so little was familiar to me, the language, the scenery, the writing on the highway billboards, the colorful money in my hands, the song this driver was quietly singing. "How long has he been cabbing for?" I found myself wondering. "How's his family? Is it frustrating not being able to communicate with your passengers? I can't believe I made it here…" Not only that, but I was figuring it all out on my own and it was actually pretty easy.

"They're just people," I'd told myself before I left home. (Incidentally, it's also what I tell myself to calm my nerves before interviewing celebrities.) No matter the differences between us, the communication barriers and strange territory, I couldn't be scared of the foreign situation I would find myself in because at the end of the day they are people just like me, willing to lend a hand or point me in the right direction. Understanding that, I'm able to wander and engage with the world with less hesitations.
You know it was all so whirlwind and tiring that I didn't take a single picture until my second day in Bangkok? I landed in the capital city while A. and Ky were off on a side trip to Cambodia and they were to arrive on the night of my second day there. So that meant that I had time to go off exploring Bangkok on my own and I had to - the other two had already seen the city before and I didn't think they'd be too inclined to see all the sights again with me. Upon checking into Nantra Silom, I made fast friends with the Thai girl at the reception desk, Kiki. She lived a few doors away from my room and we later learned that her family owned the hotel line. "We can be friends!" she squealed in the elevator when I told her I was there alone and surprising my boyfriend the next day. "Do you like massages?"

She really was beyond adorable though I never could figure out what she always found so hysterical and wondered if that's just how she masked the fact that she didn't understand what I was talking about.
A five-hour-long nap later, I woke up famished and decided to venture out for food, bottled water, and possibly walk through Patpong, the infamous red-light district lined with bars and women for sale. Or so I've heard because that night my route was diverted when I ran into Kiki returning from her weekly Thai massage and I u-turned back to the hotel with her. I never did get to experience that side of Bangkok during my three nights there and I totally regret it.

But that first night, I spent hours hanging out on the front porch with Kiki and two other guests, Jay and Tony, who were visiting from France. We couldn't always understand each other, but still managed to get to know and eventually poke fun at each other before rolling into Kiki's small room to lounge on the bed and watch awesomely bad pop videos for a couple more hours. The four of us made quite the eclectic group, me with my English and Spanish fluencies and bits of French, the guys with their broken English drenched in heavy accents, and a giggly Kiki teaching the three of us as much Thai as we could handle from underneath her covers.

"How do you say hello?" I kept asking.

"Sawadee mai," Kiki answered.

"And how do you say I love you?"

"Chan rak khun."

"Chan rak khun…" I repeated knowing full well I'd be asking her again before A. arrived.

I returned to my room that first night around 3 in the morning, happy about the experience I'd just had and the fact that I let myself connect with new people at all and eager for the next day to finally arrive.

Chocolate Croissant + Fashion Photo Shoot

It's no Pain et Chocolat, but this chocolate croissant from Ovens of France was so soft and tasty it made me wish I'd bought two: one for yesterday's car ride around town and one to eat along with some chai on this foggy morning. Here's hoping it truly does get to 77˚ F today because Neema and I are staging a photo shoot by the lake this afternoon!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Slowly and Quietly

I needed a little getaway from the city so I'm spending the rest of the week in Woodbury, Conn. visiting with my friend/former co-worker, Neema. She and her mom recently moved into this charming country home where the walls are covered in wood paneling and peeling white paint, the floors are made up of different wooden planks, the slanted ceilings have exposed beams, and there's loads of wares left from the previous 80-something-year-old tenant. In the middle of all the settling in, dusting out, and cleaning up, Neema has managed to carve out a little work space to call her own and she's happily lent it to me while I stay with her. It's incredibly quiet out here - and crazy dark out there at night - but it's so relaxing to not have to deal with the city din for a few days.

My original intentions were to get some personal work done away from the distractions, but after an afternoon drive into town, a stroll down the road to a lakeside property to take in the view with our eyes and cameras, and then making friends with a neighboring horse, I wonder if I can't just call that - slowing down - productivity in and of itself.

{Nesting} TaskRabbit


During brunch with a friend last Sunday, she mentioned that she'd hired someone to help her deep clean her apartment. She'd been putting it off for months and through TaskRabbit.com was able to outsource her chores and have people bid on it! It might sound a little weird to have a stranger come into your home, but think of all the time and energy that could be better used elsewhere and perhaps having some company is enough to kick your heinie into gear. Plus, all the bidders go through an application process with video interviews, essays, and a background check. She's also had people pick up boxes of clothes to donate to a charity of their choice and spend hours scanning in all her magazine clippings.

What tasks would you outsource to the willing? Oh what I wouldn't give to have someone agree to go up and down my fourth floor walkup to get my laundry done and cheaply...

Image: taskrabbit.com

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mutual Weirdness

A. sent me this little cartoon last night and it made me laugh because this is pretty much us. If someone were to listen in on us, chances are they'd be treated to some pretty silly conversations and I love it. I love that I can just relax and let myself be exactly who I am: fun, ridiculous, unpretentious, and somewhat strange. I can tell him exactly what I'm thinking no matter how much of a goofball it makes me seem and I'm happy that I've found someone who feels comfortable enough to be same way around me.

It reminds me of Dr. Seuss' quote, "We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love."

Do you and your significant other have little moments of weirdness? I say embrace it!

Image: jimbenton.com

Creative Collective Guest Post: DIY Serving Trays from Cupboard Doors

Today I'm on the Creative Collective to share how Monica Ewing of Crafty Nest has taken an old cupboard door found at a local salvage yard and repurposed it into a chic serving tray using old drawer pulls and a bit of paint. Pop on over to learn how you can customize your own.

Monday, March 19, 2012

{Monday Inspiration} The Best Things Come to Those Who Do

After meeting up with a couple wonderful and talented women this week who for one reason or another have been blocked in acting on their dreams, I'm more sure of this than ever. We spent so much breath talking about all the things we'd like to do, but then the next second defeat ourselves with excuses before even trying. It's too hard. I don't have time or energy for a side job. I don't know how to promote myself. I'm too scared to put anything out there. I want to do too much. Whatever it is, we wait and push it aside thinking we need the time to collect ourselves, to truly come out guns blazing, but guess what? Nothing happens! Nothing at all if we keep playing this waiting game. How good could you possibly get if you don't bother to try in the first place. Even if you're already amazing at what you do - and I'm sure you are! - there's so much improvement and learning that comes from putting yourself out there, from seeing what people respond to, and even feeling what your heart gravitates to. And none of this education will take place until you finally do.

Image: etsy.com

Friday, March 16, 2012

{Happy Friday}

At the beginning of the week I thought everyone was so silly for blaming daylight saving for their sleepiness. I mean it was one hour! Well the last couple days I've been craving a nap like whoa, but you know what it could also be? A.'s new job! He started a week ago and even though I stay home and work, I have to get used to his new schedule, too. Him hitting snooze on the alarm at least five times before finally getting up in the morning has left me feeling sooo sleepy.

Is anyone doing anything fun for St. Patrick's Day? Tomorrow I'll be meeting someone new at a local café, having a Sunday brunch over crêpes, and then judging a mac and cheese smackdown. After that I'll be packing for a weeklong visit with a dear friend out in Connecticut. I can't wait to leave the city for a while, girl talk, and get some creative work done without distractions. It'll be like a mini retreat for two!

Here are some links I loved from around the web:

Gold leaf manicure.

An avocado pie for St. Patrick's Day (but it tastes lemony!)

Wouldn't you love to sleep inside this hammock tent in a tree?

Pantone tarts that barely look real. (via Design Crush)

Just the photos of these happy notes make me smile.

The cutest little cloud animation.

Easy art.

Aaand now I want to buy a bike.

Two ways to think about nothing.

Architect David Rockwell on his theatrical designs and influences.

Have you ever tried vlogging? Then check out Mayi Carles' Vlogging 101 series.

Make time for fun with this free calendar + sticker printable.

Nest cupcakes with tiny chocolate eggs. (via Craft)

I tried sweet tea vodka with another new friend this week and it was actually good! Here are some recipes.

Image: Costa Nova, Aveiro, Portugal by Dacian Groza

Thursday, March 15, 2012

{Wanderlust} Toasty Ski Lodge

I've only been skiing once in my life, in the sixth grade, and had such a dreadful time throwing myself off the ski lift, tumbling down the slope, and coming to a screeching halt against the barn wall at the end of the hill (well, how else was I supposed to stop?) that I've never cared to do it again. But I would totally go if just to stay in one of these snug ski lodges. Have you ever been to one? I'd love to wrap myself in a giant fuzzy blanket, sit by the fire, and just sip hot drinks all day while the suicidals try their hand at those hazardous activities they call "winter sports." And even though it's finally getting warmer, I still wouldn't mind driving out to the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but nature and not the slightest bit of wireless reception for miles around.

Image: intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

{Nesting} Café Au Lait Bowls

Ever since my Souvenir Foto School classmate Intertwyned shared her collection of café au lait bowls with us, I haven't been able to get them out of my mind. They're so cheerful I'd love to start my mornings holding them between my fingertips. This selection made me want to nix a solid set in favor of creating one made from all different colors and styles and once I stumbled upon this ridiculous closet full of bowls I immediately started searching to begin a collection of my own. I can't return to Paris quite yet, but a girl can dream while she tears off pieces of her croissant and dunks them into a tiny bowl of hot chocolate.

1. Anthropologie Latte Bowls, $30 for six, anthropologie.com
2. French Café au Lait Bowls, $28 for two, etsy.com
3. Suchard Café au Lait Bowl, $18, huntingandgatherings.com
4. Bistro de Paris Café au Lait Bowls, $34 for four, poshchicago.com
5. Cote Bastide Small Bowl, $46, vintageweave.com
6. Curate and Love Antique French Café au Lait Bowl, $42, etsy.com
7. Apilco Café au Lait Bowls, $76 for four, williams-sonoma.com
8. Pillivuyt Café au Lait Coffee Bowl, $26, casa.com
9. Campagne Plaid Red Café au Lait Bowl, $13, amazon.com

Images: anthropologie.com, etsy.com, huntingandgatherings.com, poshchicago.com, vintageweave.com, etsy.com, williams-sonoma.com, casa.com, and amazon.com

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

For I Cannot Could Not Speak

Soon after I started dating A. I became a regular member of the writing group he'd been a part of for several years. It's a laid-back affair where members are free to show up as often or as infrequently as they wish. We meet in different people's homes every 10 days or so, quietly write for an hour, socialize, introduce ourselves, and then provide comments and critiques for those who want to share what they've written. I've been a member for two years and have grown close to a few people, but I've never been brave enough read a single word. I rarely offer any comments either as the mere thought of speaking in front of a group makes my brain glitch.

But last night I finally pushed myself to sign up for the very first spot and read out loud. It was scary from the moment I had decided to go for it and even during, but as the rest of the group noticed, my voice and thoughts gained more confidence the more I read on. Here's what I said:

I'm a writer, not a speaker. You'll never hear my written words in my own voice, only the one you've created of mine in your head. And if you've only interacted with me in a group setting then chances are you've probably never heard what I've truly wanted to say. See, whenever I've had anything worth telling, I've headed for pen and paper before requesting a friend's ear. An image of my teenage self can be conjured up by connecting the dots formed by a dozen journals laden with feelings I could never express out loud. When I was craving attention, comfort, and love from a place I learned I'd never find any, I'd fend off imminent rejection by stopping myself from seeking it in the first place. So I sought refuge within my head, rattling around and flipping things over whenever it all became too intense.

When you write, you can remain behind the scenes. You're reduced to a name, solely the vehicle through which these ideas have come to life. You don't have to see the reactions your thoughts cause in others. Whether they agree or disagree, you can engage with the audience as much or as little as you feel comfortable doing. And so writing has been the dusty veil through which I've engaged with the world. It is safe back here, yes, but there is just not enough air.

After a childhood's worth of being told to shut up, be quiet, no cursing, stop popping that gum, don't interrupt, you're laughing too loudly, "y que se callen, coño!" you learn to police yourself automatically. So eager to please, you let yourself grow into your constricting pot until a thorny vine silently starts to creep up out of your heart and wrap itself around your vocal chords, watered daily by tears, all the while squeezing…and suffocating. Soon there is little distinction between your shell of a life at home and the happy façade you try to sell to your friends.

I wonder where she ran off to, this little girl the elders have told me about who used to fly around the village courtyards with wild stories to share. I don't remember her at all and much less remember being her. I wonder if she still plays somewhere, if I've permanently trapped her between the lines of my diaries, or if she now only exists in my speechless mind.

How can others not only do, but actually enjoy something that I've grown to find so terrifying? The ease with which they share their thoughts is such a foreign concept to me that I don't know if I'll ever be able to grasp it. To me, this is torture. The very thought of saying these words out loud makes my heart run 5Ks around my chest. I'll breathlessly speed through so as to quickly yank myself right out of this uncomfortable situation I've pushed myself into. "Woman, what were you thinking?!" I'm saying to myself. "These people are sitting there looking at you! They're waiting for something worth their time! Don't be lame!"

So why am I here doing the very thing I avoid at all costs? Because I must. Because I can't leave my voice behind in my past. Because at 30, this shit ain't sexy. And because I'm tired, of excuses, of living life scared and telling myself "It's not worth the risk" when all I really want to do is fucking scream. This right here, cannot be what will continue to hold me back for 30 years more.

And with that, I extend my sincerest apologies to the following reader for I will be too woozy from the adrenaline and too busy bringing my heart rate back down to normal to listen to a single word you'll say.

Image: jscrapalex.tumblr.com

Made By Girl Guest Post: Renting: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Jen Ramos of Made By Girl recently made the move from Las Vegas to the Upper East Side in New York City and asked readers to share some of the good, bad, and ugly sides of renting versus owning a home. Read on for my candid thoughts on apartment living.

Also, my DIY for money shirts on tiny hangers is currently up on the Creative Collective so pop on over if you missed the project here. And grab the latest issue of Latina, out on newsstands today, to read about environmental hazards, what's really worth your concern, and what's just unfounded paranoia.

Souvenir Foto School Creative Captures 101

For those interested in joining the Souvenir Foto School, the next session has just been announced! Starting on April 1st and over the course of five weeks, the class will learn some basic techniques that will improve your shots. Instead of following a daily A-Z challenge like we did last month, students will receive weekly assignments, bonus tips, Photoshop actions, and helpful resources to take your photos to the next level no matter where your skills lie. Plus, participants then get to join the Souvenir Foto School alumni group that I now moderate! I can't say enough good things about the fun time I had during the February session and the encouragement it's given me to keep pursuing photography as a serious hobby. For more info about the next session and to secure your spot in class ($65), visit Miss B's Besotted Blog.

Image: besottedblog.com

Monday, March 12, 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

Thailand: Planning (and Keeping) the Greatest Surprise

Soon after A. and our friend Ky decided to travel through Thailand and Cambodia in December together, I approached Ky with an idea. There was no way I could request three weeks off work so soon after our fall trip through Europe and a vacation of that length just wasn't in my budget, but, I asked, "What if I surprised him out there for New Year's Eve?"

At first I was on the fence about going through with such a crazy plan: I'd have to find my way out there alone and they still hadn't decided where in the country they'd ring in the new year. I wasn't trying to hop on some rinky dink little bus to go search for them in the countryside! What if I got lost out there with no way of communicating with anyone? Luckily, they decided to return to Bangkok to celebrate New Year Eve's before heading south to the beaches for the remainder of the trip. I was to meet them at their hotel, surprise the pants off A., and then travel with them until we returned home together. I bought my expensive tickets (which cost about $1,600) a week after they did.

That was in October, which meant I had to keep the secret for nearly two months. Two months! Mind you I can barely keep a birthday surprise longer than two days. So every time A. went on and on about his upcoming trip, how excited he was, and the itinerary (that I supposedly knew very little about), I had to bite my tongue, ask questions for which I already knew answers to ("When are you guys going to Cambodia again, babe?") and just say that I'll be missing him so much during the holidays this year. You don't know how many times I wanted to yell, "I'm going, too, you fool!" Whenever he'd gush to friends and they'd turn to me and ask what I'd be doing during all that time, I'd reply, "Oh, I don't know. I'm sure stuff will come up."
Whenever Ky and he would meet up to go over trip details and what to pack, I'd tag along under the pretense of wanting to hang out with them. Little did he know that I was making mental notes to bring along a poncho instead of an umbrella, look into anti-malarials, and Google what a tuk-tuk looked like. Bug spray, check. Outlet adapter, check. Only drink bottled water. Pack Pepto just in case. Visa not necessary.

There were some close calls, but I was able to breathe easier once they left. The chances of someone spoiling the whole thing would be a lot slimmer now that communication had been cut back during their travels. But at that point, it had become a great game to me and having kept the secret so long was like a badge of honor. He would never in a million years expect this from timid little Dorkys and there was no way I was going to ruin it now. During our chats, I never let on that I was home packing my bags and researching Bangkok, that I wouldn't be working for nearly two weeks, and that I needed him to settle on a freakin' hotel for New Year's Eve already! Ky and I even dared to Skype along with him and go on about how we couldn't wait to see each other in the new year. "I miss you!" we'd giggle and A., that poor man, had absolutely no clue what plans were swirling around him.

We'd spend days after our reunion explaining our grand ruse and all the little ways we shielded him from the truth. And it took him a long time to believe the stunt I had managed to pull off.

The Most Astounding Fact

When Time asked astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson "What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?" back in 2008, this was his answer. It instantly reminded me of the sweetest scientific thing A. has ever said to me.

"When I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us," Tyson says. "When I reflect on that fact, I look up — many people feel small, ’cause they’re small and the Universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars."

P.S. If you don't already follow Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Twitter, you should. He's so brilliantly witty online and just as engaging in person.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

{Wanderlust} How to Make Your Travel Dreams Come True

Last Saturday my sister and I visited The New York Times Travel Show and after signing up for every trip giveaway we came across, we sat in for travel writer Julia Dimon's seminar on how to live your travel dreams. We all have that dream destination or trip of a lifetime that for some reason or another keeps getting pushed to the back burner. "Oh, I don't have the time nor the money for it." "I can't travel now that I have kids." "I don't want to go alone. It's scary out there!" Whatever the reason, Dimon, who's been around the world four times and visited 80 countries, offered up some good advice to combat some of the excuses we keep falling back on.







1. For cheaper airfare prices, browse through: kayak.com, dohop.com, skyscanner.com, orbitz.com, expedia.com, cheaptickets.com, momondo.com, and airfarewatchdog.com. They're aggregators that comb through many sites in just one search.

2. Sometimes if you pass up on certain prices that you pull up on these sites, you won't see them again the next time you browse as the site assumes that you're not interested. Deleting your cookies will bring them back up on subsequent visits.

3. Sign up for email alerts so the deals come straight to your inbox. Follow your favorite hotel chains and airlines on Twitter and Facebook to find out about upcoming sales.

4. Book on Tuesdays and travel on Wednesdays and Saturdays when things are less busy. Choose morning flights, be flexible with your dates, go in the off-season, and consider layovers and alternate airports that might result in a cheaper flight. Just be sure to take into account the cost of a longer commute to your destination.

5. Booking your hotel and airfare together is another way to save on travel costs.

6. Bing.com predicts if airfare prices will go up or drop, which helps if you know when you want to travel and want to figure out if you should buy now or later. On kayak.com, the Explore feature shows you where you can go and for how much.

7. When it comes to frequent flier miles it's best to stick to one program and really work towards raking in those points and achieving elite status. The FrequentFlier Crier newsletters, flyertalk.com, and Chris Guillebeau are all great resources to learn how to work the system.

8. Consider good value destinations. These are spots that might be a tad expensive to fly into, but once there offer more bang for your buck. Among these are Vietnam, India, Bolivia, Argentina, and Thailand!

9. For hotels and car rentals, bid on hotwire.com and priceline.com. Dimon says she's had the most success when bidding $71-$79 for a four-star hotel rooms that normally go for $120+. Visit bidontravel.com and betterbidding.com to learn other tips and tricks that have worked for others.

10. Check out accommodations available on hostelworld.com, airbnb.com, and couchsurfing.com. For activities abroad and in your hometown, find deals on livingsocial.com, groupon.com, and yippit.com.







1. Traveling on your own doesn't necessarily mean traveling alone. Find a tour company like G Adventures, Intrepid Travel, Global Exchange, and Contiki that will handle all the logistics and bookings for you while providing instant travel companions for your trip.

2. Volunteer abroad. Not only will you get a more authentic experience than what the tourist traps offer, but you'll have a chance to mingle with the locals.

3. Find forums and get in touch with others who've traveled to or live in your destination city. Try virtualtourist.com, tripcolony.com, expats.com, and internations.org. Travbuddy.com and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Forum are two resources for those looking for a possible travel partner.

4. If you want company when you've already started on your journey, meetup.com, eatwithequals.net, and the Facebook app Twigmore help you connect with locals or hook up with other travelers in your area.







There are ways to make your dream trip a reality even if you have children in tow. In fact, Dimon developed her own love for travel at an early age after her mom, also a travel writer, would take her along on assignments. Traveling is such a great way to teach your child about other cultures, cuisine, history, languages, geography, and best of all, tolerance and understanding towards others. Dimon offered up Delicious Baby, Six in the World, Have Baby Will Travel, and My Little Nomads as top sites for parents who want to travel with their children.







Balancing work and life seems to be this endless tightrope walk for many of us. We tend to work too hard and then feel guilty about taking our well-deserved time off. Americans don't even get enough vacation days as is! So it's seriously time to think about what we're doing to our sanity by shelving our happiness just to earn more money.

Dimon read us this great quote from the Dalai Lama. When asked what surprised him most about humanity, he answered, "Man.... Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."

Where have you wanted to go all this time but never have?

The "Pregnant and Naked" Magazine Covers

Okay, can someone please tell me what's up with this clichéd move for pregnant celebrities to appear naked on magazine covers? The latest star to jump on the bare belly bandwagon is Jessica Simpson who channels Demi Moore's iconic 1991 Vanity Fair pose on the cover of Elle's April issue. The 31-year-old star is expecting her first child with husband Eric Johnson so naturally she had to tell the world all about it by stripping off her clothes and flaunting her belly. How original.

Look, I'm not a complete prude when it comes to nudity; it's the complete lack of originality that irks me. Not only has Simpson followed the maternity mag cover trend, but Elle didn't even make this moment their own. When photographer Annie Leibovitz's portrait of Moore appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, it was instantly a provoking image that certainly caused a commotion. It was unexpected and poked at the edges of how society felt about a pregnant woman's body. On it's own it was graceful, but I believe 13 years and countless copycats have turned this into another gimmick to sell issues.

I understand that the female body, capable of bringing life into this world, is incredible, beautiful, and should be celebrated not shrouded in cover-ups and moo-moos, but I don't understand why this celebration has to take place on such a public platform and why everyone has to do the exact same thing. It's okay celebs, you don't have to share everything with us! By all means keep a little something for yourselves. This should be a sacred moment between the parents and baby and b(e)aring all for the world to see just for a feature seems a bit sad and overly done.

Is it just me or are the "pregnant and naked" magazine covers played out? Do you enjoy them? Am I just uneasy because there's so much more skin to show when you're almost ready to pop? Some of these just don't even seem tasteful to me - just another call for attention.

(By the way, I'm also annoyed by the "I'm Gay!" magazine covers because homosexuality just shouldn't be earth-shattering news anymore. You never see any "I'm Straight!" covers do you?)

Images: omg.yahoo.com, vanityfair.com, hollywood.com, dailymail.co.uk, usatoday.com, hollywood.com, lifeandstylemag.com, and blackthespian.com

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sleep No More

On Monday night, I went to check out the off-Broadway show Sleep No More from the London-based company Punchdrunk. It opened in New York City last April, but I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I hadn't heard about it until just recently. So when a friend said two spots opened up under his group rate, A. and I snatched them right up even though I didn't know just what I was in for.

The film noir-type production is loosely based on Skakespeare's MacBeth (so feel free to brush up on the tragic tale before heading over) and peppers in influences from the works of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and David Lynch. Upon our arrival, we were given white Venetian beak masks to keep us from speaking and to distinguish between fellow audience members and actors (who wore no masks) and were free to wander through more than 100 rooms in the six floors of the shadowy 1930s McKittrick Hotel. We were pretty much there to invade these characters' lives.

Okay, here's the thing. When I started reading the reviews to see what I was getting myself into and came across descriptors like "eerie" and "haunted house," I didn't think I'd be able to handle it. I don't respond well to the slightest bit of spook and thought for sure I'd be torturing myself by agreeing to go. There's also the fact that the audience is encouraged to experience the production on their own, to follow their instincts, and let their curiosity lead them on their own adventure. Plus, A. was not trying to pay $75 to babysit his girlfriend for nearly three hours so in the end I put on a brave face and was determined to see this thing through.

And I am so glad I did. When we first started out I didn't want to leave his side because I was still unsure about the whole thing. It was super dark, moody music filled every corner, I didn't know who or what would pop out of wherever, and I felt more comfortable knowing he was with me. Soon it became evident to me why everyone suggested going off on your own: there were things that piqued my curiosity and following A. was clearly only leading me to the things he wanted to see. Well early on in our exploration, an actress silently held out her hand to A. and led him into a room only to lock the door behind them and leave a few of us wondering what the hell would happen next. I stood there thinking, "Oh no this chick did not just steal my man!" but then quickly got over it. I now had no choice but to continue on my own and off I went. (Apparently she kissed his neck, whispered some gibberish at him, and presented him with a locket before guiding him through a secret passageway in a closet. Lovely!)

Once I realized that there would be no startles merely for spooks sake, that nothing was going to pop out of the corner for the sole intention of freaking me out, and that everything that occurred was intentionally included to move the story lines forward, I was able to relax and enjoy the experience. There was no way in hell I was walking through a creepy cemetery scene on my own, but I did meander through the rooms opening books, reading random letters left on the tables, touching and admiring the incredible attention to details. Then I decided to follow a couple characters to get a better sense of the plot and was soon chasing them through the dark halls and stairways to keep up with their wordless stories. I'd even run into A. during a couple group scenarios, give him a touch to let him know I was there, and then dash off to keep following my own adventure.

Aside from being beyond impressed with the details, I can't even imagine the staggering work that went into coordinating the choreography. The characters and story lines were interwoven and played out over the entire building so timing had to be impeccable - even with the dashing, interactions with audience members, and having to act through and around a crowd of people. The dancing was mesmerizing and at times intense though I do wish I had followed other characters to more action-packed scenes. I truly enjoyed being a part of the scene and sitting on the props as the story unfolded around me rather than watching it all from afar in a theater seat.

The fun part came during a late dinner at Ovest Pizzoteca (which had a delicious prosciutto crudo and grilled eggplant panino) across the street from the McKittrick Hotel where we all shared what we saw, what we missed, who experienced what, and what would have made it better. I think the consensus was more perversion and mind f--ks to meet the hype. The only downside to the debriefing was that I felt like I had missed so much! ("Parkour?! A real candy store??") I wish I could have followed every character's story line and simultaneously paid more attention to the details in each room. It was just too much to take in during one visit, but the price tag makes it hard to do what I wish I could: keep attending to my heart's content and get answers to questions left hanging in mid-air.

Sleep No More runs Monday through Saturday nights through May 12 at 530 West 27th Street. For tickets, which start at $75, visit SleepNoMoreNYC.com.

Image: nytimes.com

{Nesting} Photographer Idha Lindhag's Interiors

Goodness, how dreamy are Swedish photographer Idha Lindhag's interior shots? Maybe it's because my own home is in complete disarray at the moment, but I would absolutely love to pack up and move into any of these room right now. Actually no, if I'm honest I'd move out of my Bronx apartment and into these spaces no matter what.

I love the small rustic touches, the bright pops of colorful accessories, and that mini greenhouse would be my little escape all summer long. You know, in case the rest of that beautiful house ever got to be "too much."

Do you guys have visions for your dream home? I think mine would just have to have some branch lighting now! (Here's how to make one of your own.)

Images: par.ispy.se

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

DIY Paper Combination Safe

This little paper safe won't keep much protected, but it's so cute how it tries it hardest. It even has a mini dial for a top secret combination that'll unlock the drawer. Download the paper project and browse through others over at Robives.

Image: robives.com

Creative Collective Guest Post: 8 DIY Ideas for Flower Vases

This month I'll be contributing to the Creative Collective and sharing projects and tips for their "green" theme. First up, a round-up of eight DIY ideas for flower vases that'll showcase your spring blooms. And here's a bonus one: turn glass votive candle holders into mini vases using balloons! Click here to find other ways to repurpose old jars and vases using paint, tape, sweaters sleeves, and even light bulbs.

Image: cfabbridesigns.com

Monday, March 5, 2012

{Monday Inspiration} Do Something Different Every Day

For March See Hear Say is challenging us to do something different every day. It doesn't have to be anything drastic or even entirely new, just find little ways to shake up your routine: take a different route to work, try a different coffee flavor, or okay, maybe push yourself to try something new and exciting at some point during the month. The goal is to make your regular activities fun again and possibly discover something new to love. Personally, when things slip into habit I don't even realize that I'm doing them when I do. I walk out of the house and suddenly find myself at the train station, the entire walk there a blur. Sometimes I can't even remember brushing my teeth! Hopefully shaking things up in just one little way each day will also help you stay more present in the moment.

Visit See Hear Say to learn more about the March challenge.

Image: lauratj.blogspot.com

Friday, March 2, 2012

Goodnight, New York City

February has come and gone which means my Souvenir Foto School has sadly come to an end. I had a blast this month and loved seeing my classmates' submissions the last four weeks, their kind comments, and suggestions. I've impressed myself with how far I'd go to get a shot and how many photos I'll shoot until I get there (I was averaging 150+ per day)! I still need to practice my Photoshop skills, but hooray for going from HDR and mindless texture and expanding to actions, levels, and curves. I'm so grateful to Tristan and Michelle for giving me such a good reason to get back into photography and rediscover how much I enjoy it.
I remember being on the subway platform that first day and taking endless pics of the A train when I was approached by a guy who wanted to know if I was doing it professionally or as a hobby. "Oh, a hobby," I shyly replied and turned away so he wouldn't keep asking more questions. I felt so self-conscious!

Fast-forward four weeks later and I'm walking right up to a farmer's market stand, DSLR in hand, and asking the three people behind it if I could take some photos for a project. Maybe someday I'll feel brave enough to take portraits, but for now I'm happy that this has pushed me to be a tiny bit bolder and go for the things I want.
One of the best things about having chosen New York City as my theme for this project has been rediscovering how beautiful this city is - especially at night. I've gone off to spots I never cared to see before or just never knew were there. Like seeing firsthand how breathtaking the view of the Manhattan skyline from Gantry Plaza State Park truly is, finding myself alone on the Yankee Stadium's floodlit path, and watching the last bits of light catch on the Unisphere's rings as the sun started to set over Queens. This photo set was not only meant to give others glimpses of my city, but also spark up that pride within me. I get to call this home.
I love the momentum this class has given me and now that the session is over, I would hate to slip back into old habits and let the camera collect dust again. Plus, it was so much fun getting to critique each other's work, hear the stories behind our shots and the new ways we've pushed ourselves, that I just want to keep the creative juices flowing.
So starting next week, Tristan, Michelle, my classmate Andrea and I will be moderating a Souvenir Foto School alumni group! It'll be a weekly thing this time around because after all I do need to recover from this daily business. Hopefully this will keep my classmates and me accountable, entertained, and sharp for whenever the next session rolls around. And when it does, I'll be sure to let you all know so you could join this little community I've come to adore.

P.S. Guess what? My B is for Brooklyn Bridge won a class prize!