Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tourist Tips for la Belle France

Milla Msa is a London girl who, after living in New York City and Tokyo, decided to settle down in Paris. Her blog, Not Just Another Milla, details her obsessions over fashion, pastries and luxury travel while her tweets are full of great finds and news around the city. Since I've written about tourist do's and don'ts for New York City, I thought it'd be fun to know what to expect during my tourist experience in Paris.

Traveling to France is such a wonderful opportunity and despite the ups and downs, I'm still here. I want to share my tips on how to best enjoy your time but you know, each person has a different experience. Know yourself and most importantly, know what you want to get out of your trip.

1. Don't get frustrated or angry when people do not understand you. I know it's hard but the reality is that you're in France and the official language isn't English. You don't have to enroll in Alliance Francaise to enjoy your visit here but learn the basics. Coming from London, the idea of saying “good morning” to the bus driver is a foreign concept to me. I'm not sure we even make eye contact back home! As I prepare to visit another country, the first thing I do is learn how to say basics such as hello (bonjour), goodbye (au revoir), please (s'il vous plaît) and thank you (merci). In a country where you always say hello upon entering a shop, before ordering or inquiring, when entering a taxi or boarding a bus, your study time will not be wasted and once you get over the initial insecurity of your accent, you'll be fine. Go on, give it a go!

2. In France, people dress well and the only casual style you're going to see is smart-casual. That doesn't mean you have to run off to Céline and stock up on things you may not be able to afford or really like. It simply means tuck in your shirt, don't wear sports clothes unless you're working out and understand that flashy translates to tacky.

3. Paris is a city of unequivocal beauty and my favorite way of getting around, even after almost two years here, is walking. Of course the metro is highly convenient (though very dirty) and the buses run on time, but walking gives you a chance to discover little secret gardens, patisseries with displays to make you wish you all your clothes had an elasticated waist and a real opportunity to see la vie Parisienne.

Bon voyage!

Image: courtesy of Milla Msa

Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland

Munich, it was nice wandering around your streets in search of a late-night kebab snack,

buying fresh strawberries from a colorful street stall to munch on during our afternoon stroll,

eating roast pork suckling and nearly drowning in a liter of Radler at Hofbräuhaus beer hall,

watching A.'s disappointed face when a piece of chocolate purchased from the fancy little Confiserie Rottenhöfer did not taste like a Kit Kat bar as he'd hoped,

sitting and writing on the grass at Hofgarten and listening to classical music and the nearby church bells announce the hours while A. slept in the sun (I can't take this guy anywhere.)

and then walking back in the night to stumble upon a cellist playing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables and stealing kisses against the plaza pillars. He played it so beautifully I probably would've teared up if I weren't so caught up in taking his picture.

Fitting that the last sounds of our Munich journey ended with a song from the French play since soon after that lovely encounter, we hopped on an overnight train (in a sleeper car!) and arrived in Paris this morning!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bavaria's Neuschwanstein Castle

I like how we arrive in Munich Sunday night and take off on a day trip out of town the very next morning. A. really wanted to check out some castles while we were in Germany so we took a two-hour train ride into Bavaria to see the fairy tale-like Neuschwanstein Castle. It was quite the sight to see it perched on top of the rugged hill (and then it was quite another sensation to feel that 30-minute uphill climb to tour it. I swear A. only brought me on this trip to get my stubborn behind to exercise). King Ludwig II wanted his home to be a shrine for composer Richard Wagner and details like wall paintings depicting scenes from Wagner's operas and even the name of the castle itself (which is in Wagner's Lohengrin opera) showed just how in awe Ludwig was of Wagner.

Though the romantic castle was opulent for just one inhabitant, if you think about it, the king's intentions were actually a bit humble. Rather than take this opportunity to showcase his grandeur and plaster his image and name in every corner of the castle, his name and likeness seldom appears through the palace and the man dedicated his entire home to the beloved composer.

It's so breathtaking from a distance (I actually preferred seeing it from the scary bridge across the way than from the inside especially since photos weren't allowed during the tour) that it served as the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. It's really quite a shame that the reclusive king drowned before the palace was completed (construction immediately halted upon his death) and it was opened to the public only seven weeks after he died. Hohenschwangau, Ludwig's father's palace and one I cannot pronounce without sounding Asian, lies nearby.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Day Trip in Prague

Well that was a tourist trap! Granted, we were only in Prague for about five hours before taking a train into Munich so we only had enough time to see the major sights. Too bad the rest of the entire human race did the same. Beautiful architecture, but the tourists killed it for me. I would have loved to have had some one-on-one time with the city, wander about the streets preferably filled with locals milling about. Or perhaps it would've been worth our while if we had ventured off to the less-explored parts of town. I likened it to being in some kind of Euro Disney or the "international" portion of Epcot where every street is filled with vendors selling their souls and kitschy wares to the never-ending stream of foreigners.

I was so ready to be amazed by the beautiful, scenic Prague I'd read about. On our train ride out of the Czech Republic that evening, we saw the charming countryside whizzing by. Little terracotta-colored roofs spotting the scene and people leisurely going about their business along the riverside. It was as if they were enticing this city girl to get off the speeding train bound for her next destination and stay to know the authentic parts of their country. Oh what I wouldn't have given to watch the sun set from the grass rather than from our train car window.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Magical, Melancholic Prague

When Russian illustrator Yelena Bryksenkova first arrived traveled to Prague to study art, she'd no idea of the impact her brief stay would be on her work. "It greatly influenced my color palette and inspired an appreciation for precious, friendly, and quietly beautiful things," she says. Here she shares how Prague's magic slowly revealed itself to her and forever made its mark.

I came to Prague to study illustration at the Academy of Applied and Decorative Arts during the second semester of my junior year in college. I arrived alone on a cold February night and when the taxi dropped me off in front of the beautiful dormitory in Prague 7, I was greeted by a little old woman who spoke no English but, lucky for me, a little bit of Russian. She ushered me into a modest but cozy room on the top floor and after some commotion and funny misunderstandings, I was left standing alone, with my little bed - covered in starched linen and a wool blanket - a wooden desk, a large closet and the empty bed and desk of my future roommate. I remember looking out of the large window onto the dark street and promising myself that tomorrow I will find a grocery store, my school, and most importantly, the city I've been dreaming about.

The next morning, as I was exploring my surroundings, the city appeared so suddenly below me as I reached the edge of the park that my eyes filled up with tears. I didn't know what awaited me then, but in the next five months I learned to ride the trams and the metro, speak some very basic Czech and get around without a map. I browsed antiques shops for treasures, went dancing on Tuesday nights, went to children's puppet shows that I didn't understand, and turned 21. It was everything I could ask for as a student abroad, but the city also worked its mysterious charms on my little heart in such a way that I was quite changed.

Prague is the strangest, most magical place I have ever encountered. From the beginning, my life there seemed to be ruled by kismet and coincidence and every circumstance seemed to be just a little odd, even though if you asked me what exactly seemed off, I would never be able to tell you. A mysterious tea club at the top of a tower, a dark and crumbling house on the next street, a hidden amusement park found suddenly at the edge of a park where all of the trees have eyes.

I explored the city on foot and by tram, alone and with others, and I felt romance, beauty and melancholy in everything. I peered into windows of old mansions, wandered like a ghost through ancient, overgrown cemeteries, looked down at the entire city from the tops of rocky hills and spent solitary evenings sitting in the middle of a giant yellow canola field, drinking kefir and watching the clusters of neat little houses with orange shingled roofs spout plumes of white smoke from their chimneys.

The Czech people are private and don't let others in easily, a trait which is often perceived as arrogance. On more than one occasion I felt the painful sting of being an outsider, but I have seen the craftsmanship and love with which every aspect of the Czechs' visual culture was built, the care with which it is preserved and displayed in well-kept museums. There's the quiet pride they take in their city, which is cared-for even after all of the troubles it has been through and for that, I grew to really love the Czechs.

My work is inspired by friendly images and melancholy themes alike. I was able to find both, living together in harmony in Prague, this city of precious little houses and dark, Gothic castles. There are so many beautiful things for the romantic-at-heart: art nouveau hotels, a small museum displaying richly embroidered folk costumes and hand-painted Easter eggs (as a recording of chirping birds plays in the background), the black and white tiled floor in the bathroom of the Café Louvre or the slightly worn 19th century houses, hiding beautiful apartments that a lucky few have privatized in the days of Communism. Prague's true beauty is in these details. I rarely had to go looking for magic; it found me first at every corner, and turned out to be the long-lasting kind that continues to stir my emotions and color my everyday life.

Images: courtesy of Yelena Bryksenkova

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hallo aus Berlin!

Our European adventure has started in Berlin! I have to say that Germany has never been a country I cared much for and that we're only here because A. really wanted us to come. I had pre-conceived notions of a stoic society with a tough language that's never been pleasant to my ears. But these last few days have been such a wonderful eye-opener! Berlin's vibe is so friendly and chill and the city is incredibly accessible with a public transportation that's fairly easy to figure out. It's even been fun trying to pick up bits of German whenever I can (while guessing meanings most of the time). I never realized just how much English is tied into the German language.

Even though we arrived in Berlin around 9 a.m. Thursday after a painfully sleepless red-eye flight, we accomplished a good amount of sightseeing that day. We somehow reached the Hüttenpalast hotel (Hobrechtstrasse 66; 49-(0)30-37 30 58 06) just outside the city center with no map and no clue. After reading Anthology's blog post about the place, I knew I had to spend at least one night there (and we did). A. describes it as a treehouse + trailer park + warehouse + tea party and yeah, that's pretty much right. The whimsical stay features three caravans and three cabins outfitted with beds and tiny "outdoor" sitting areas. It was like indoor camping or staying in an adult-sized playhouse.

After a delicious lunch at Hamburger Heaven (Graefestrasse 93; 0176-376-141-33), we set off to see the TV Tower and walk all along Unter der Linden to the Brandenburger Tor. taking in the architecture, avoiding the bikers and trolleys and sporadically reminding ourselves that "Baby, we're in Berlin!" I don't know what I will do with myself once we arrive in Paris and then Barcelona.

Our time here has been filled with leisurely strolls in the sun and today's rain, learning some history and pointing out the similarities and differences between New York City and Berlin. I think I've heard three car horns in three days, bike riders have it made here and if you wander off the path to explore the gritty, graffiti-filled streets, you could find yourself in a rundown sculpture park and and a warehouse filled with vendors selling odds and ends. Even the police sirens sound European and strangely melodious.

For our last two nights in Berlin, we decided to check into the Michelberger Hotel (Warschauer Strasse 39/40; 49 30 2977-8590), another pick of mine pulled from the Travel + Leisure archives. It's a much hipper place with a fun ambience and a lot more going on in this part of town. After walking along a stretch of what remains of the Berlin Wall and enjoying a swing in the hotel courtyard, we checked into our room (hello, peek-a-boo shower!) and then headed back out for BBQ and music in the courtyard. We walked around the neighborhood, peeking into storefronts, amassing our own collection of inside jokes and made-up German words (like cüddlefreundzeit for cuddle buddy time...which apparently is really kuscheln buddy zeit according to Google Translate). The evening ended with a cup of passionfrucht sorbet from Eis Manufaktur (Simon-Dach-Strasse 9; 49-178-131-4445) that was so good and rich that it made me crave a glass of passion fruit juice. A. and Michelberger Hotel provided.

Right now we're having a rainy Saturday afternoon in the hotel's bar/lounge (we already did so much walking earlier). I'm writing and wondering how to recreate these hanging lampshades made of shredded magazine pages while A. is trying to find us a place to stay in Rome, our final destination before we head out to dinner. Tomorrow we're taking the train into Prague before heading into Munich for a couple days. Some interesting guest bloggers will soon be popping in with their own travel tips and stories so I do hope you enjoy them and explore these cities along with us.

Hope you're all keeping safe from Hurricane Irene and I'll chat with you soon. Auf wiedersehen!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Interactive Creative To-Do List

This is such a great idea! I always have a list of projects I'd like to do, but then either lose steam halfway down the line or don't really know how to go about them in the first place. Well Adam Bailey and Irene Pau of Rethink have created an interactive creative to-do list with a myriad of activities, projects and random character builders. Clicking on any of the items on their virtual inspiration board will take you to a site that will help you accomplish that task. So it's not only a giant list of things we could check off (and a cool desktop wallpaper), but also a guide on how to follow through. I already see quite a few that I'd like to dive into as soon as I return from this trip like collaborate more, print my photos and get better at Google Reader.

At least I can check off "be on the first page of hits when I Google my name." In fact, the first (and second, third, fourth, fifth, etc.) pages of hits are nothing but me! Oh the perks of having a weird name.

Next up, "do an epic trek" and "stop worrying so damn much." We're two days away and they're going hand-in-hand right now.

Which challenges would you take on?


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bethesda, Maryland with Designer Claudia Smith

Now that you've learned a bit about about designer Claudia Smith and Fig. 2 Design Studio, let's take a stroll through her neighborhood, shall we? Here she takes us into some of her favorite haunts around the Washington, D.C. and Bethesda, Maryland area.


Praline and Patisserie Poupon: I'm not a picky eater and am happy anywhere but I have a serious sweet tooth! The best cookies in Bethesda are from a local bakery/restaurant called Praline. Absolutely divine. If you want something less suburban in a more lively area, I vote for Patisserie Poupon in Georgetown. We ordered our wedding cake there and friends and family still say it's the best wedding cake they've ever had!

: For the best sandwiches ever, Cornucopia in Bethesda is delicious. It's not a traditional deli, it's actually just like an Italian grocery store and it reminds of my days in Milan when I was in grad school. Lot's of temptations in a small place. They import everything so it's a little pricey but so incredibly yummy. Plus they serve pignoli cookies. My parents and I go almost every Friday for lunch!


There are a ton of great shops in the area but these are some of my favorites.

Home Rule: A store along the 14th and U St. area. I love the variety of housewares they carry in such a small shop. It's a mini and better curated version of, dare I say, Bed, Bath, and Beyond? Not that there's anything wrong with BB&B, but I feel odd comparing the two! At Home Rule you can find anything from soap and bath mats to curtains and flatware. It's the first place I go to when I need to buy a house warming gift.

L'Eclat de Verre: The bottom floor is a paper lovers dream with gorgeous papers like you've never seen before. It's pricey but so beautiful.

Fifteen Eleven: It's set to open in September, but I bet that Fifteen Eleven, a shop owned by Suann Song of Simplesong Design in Alexandria, will be just as lovely she is. Suann has a great eye and I can only imagine the beautiful pieces she will carry.


Glen Echo Park: Practically in our front yard is Glen Echo Park. My parents took us there when we were little and now we love to take my niece, especially to the carousel! From glass blowing to dance, they offer a variety of classes for all ages.

Great Falls: When the weather is nice we love taking sandwiches from Cornucopia to Great Falls. The views are spectacular and I feel so lucky to have them 20 minutes away. It's funny to think 20 minutes one way and I'm in Great Falls, 20 minutes another way and I'm at the White House!

Upperville, VA and Hunters Head Tavern: Quite a bit further away is Upperville, VA. We take the small roads for the scenic route in the fall to see the trees when the leaves are changing. We cross the river on the ferry and head out to an English style pub called Hunter's Head Tavern. We love it and reminds us of some of our favorite places in London.


A Chat With: Claudia Smith of Fig. 2 Design Studio

I first wrote about Claudia Smith after discovering her at the National Stationery Show this spring. Since then, I've developed a big, fat crush on Fig. 2 Design Studio. The bright and bold color pairings, how crisp and fresh the site looks and Claudia's dedication honestly make me feel like a drab slacker. Not only did she blog about her journey to her National Stationery Show debut for those who dream of someday exhibiting at the NYC trade event, but she's now mentoring two hopefuls and prepping them for their first NSS next year, too.

She has so much in the works, so I'm incredibly grateful that Claudia's decided to pop in for a chat about quitting her job, working for herself as well as the challenges and satisfaction that comes with owning your own creative business. And stay tuned for a list of her favorite spots to eat, shop and play in the Washington, D.C. area.

First off, I'm really inspired by your drive to make this dream of yours a reality and I can imagine the sweat and tears it took to develop such a beautiful line. What did you do right before you decided to create Fig. 2 Design Studio?

Thank you so much, Dorkys! It really was a lot of work to get to where I am, but so far I feel it was worth it. Before creating Fig. 2, I was a graphic designer at a local design firm in the DC area. After 6 years, I realized I wasn't going to be able to grow more as a designer in the company, so I decided to try things on my own. When I left, I planned to continue to do freelance work but on a full-time basis. I had done several custom wedding projects that I enjoyed and had recently purchased a small letterpress of my own so I thought I could maybe do more wedding invitations.

There is a very lovely shop in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. called Hitched Salon that sells gorgeous gowns and I sent them a little package hoping they would refer me to other brides. Much to my surprise they called and asked me to come to a meeting. I had no idea I would leave with a request to design a collection. And so Fig. 2 was born!

How long had you been thinking about starting your own company and what moved you to finally make the jump?

I had been thinking of leaving my full time job for about a year. Honestly, I wish I had left when I started thinking about leaving, but it was such a big move that I felt nervous. I finally made the jump when I realized that I wasn't going to learn the business side of a design studio and that if I wanted certain experiences, I would have to learn them on my own. It helps to have a very supportive husband, family and friends!

I had enough freelance clients on the side that I knew I could use that to my advantage to hold me over in the beginning. It was a great move but it wasn't until I met with Hitched that I knew I wanted two businesses: a design services studio for more corporate and small business projects and another for stationery.

Tell me a little bit about Figure A Design, your other creative branch that offers identity and graphic design services. Are you currently trying to grow that part of your brand as well or mainly focusing on Fig. 2's budding success?

Figure A Design is more of a design services company. I've worked with clients of all sizes and backgrounds and have had the chance to do print and web design. It's been really wonderful and I learned so much about running a business and gained experiences I was really thirsting for. In the beginning, I focused on growing Figure A, but now my focus is in growing Fig.2. I love that at the end of the day I am designing for myself. I get to design what I want and how I want. I don't have to worry about making sure a logo gets made bigger or having to wait for a company's owners meeting to know how the designs are progressing. It's on my own time and to my aesthetic.

I do feel that having had Figure A as a steady business for a few years taught me to be organized and disciplined. I am still working on growing Figure A, but in a slightly different direction. After all, I have been fortunate that Figure A has funded Fig. 2 so I never had to use my own savings to fund Fig. 2's journey to NSS. However, I have been working with more small businesses lately and I think I'd like to grow that base. I'd love to do more small business identity, blog design, etc. It's very fulfilling to help another small business grow and take off.

Why did you feel the need to debut at the NSS in May and how did you know you were ready for such a huge undertaking?

I don't know that you're ever fully ready! But I felt pretty close to being ready. I had promised myself that I would debut this year and I stuck to the plan. I had a few sales from Hitched who had my album exclusively and had also worked with a number of custom brides so I felt I had gained enough knowledge to feel it was a good move for me. It was certainly a big undertaking, but the key was to be organized, have goals, and stay on track all while designing and learning as much as I could to be prepared.

What were some of the biggest lessons you learned from exhibiting at the show? And what have you learned about the design community since venturing through its doors?

I learned a LOT about myself. I had no idea I was so ambitious, but not in a greedy way. More of a "Wow, I really pushed myself and made it" way. I also learned to simplify some of my crazy ideas. But the biggest lesson I learned was to ask for help. It's impossible to do it all yourself. My mom and sister-in-law helped me prep pieces for the albums by adding double-sided tape to the backs of cards. My dad ran last-minute errands for me while my husband tested shelves and lighting on foam core. And that was just getting to the show! I hired a designer to re-do the Fig. 2 website, a photographer and stylist for all the photos, and another designer to help knock out the catalog. Best money I ever spent.

The design community is so fun and there's a ton of talent. There's room for everyone since there are products for all types of markets. Stationery designers are the nicest of all. From tips on how to make the most of your lighting at the show to the best way to figure out pricing, we all help each other out. We've all been there- lost, confused, stressed- so we're all willing to help another out.

You seem to have quite the handle on organization and time management so much so that you already posted your goals and time line for the National Stationery Show in 2012 two months ago! What else do you do to stay focused and organized as you've started your design business?

It's easy to get yourself in a rut and get distracted by hopping on Twitter, Facebook, or the web in general and get lost in blogs and online shopping. So I've been very disciplined from the beginning. I go for a morning run and then shower and dress just as if I were going into an office. That's not to say I've never worn sweats while on a conference call. I intentionally wear sweats and a T-shirt on days when I know I can't leave the studio because I have so much work! But I stay focused as much as I can. There are days when I skip logging on Twitter just so I can make sure there are no distractions and it does help!

What should entrepreneur hopefuls consider before going into a creative business for themselves?

Are you ready to wear many hats, especially in the beginning? Not only will you be the head creative person, but you will be a book keeper, marketer, receptionist, courier, the one who orders supplies, etc. It's a lot to handle, but it's the best way to learn the business. Once you figure out your strengths, then you can decide what to delegate to others because learning to ask for help is always good!

Claudia, I not only love how bold and cheerful your brand is, but also how clean and simple it is. It's pure eye candy! From where do you get your inspiration and flair for unexpected color coordination?

I have always loved color. I was always the girl who looked forward to buying new school supplies every year, especially markers and crayons! My parents have an extensive art collection and we always joked it was easy to spot my dad at an airport because he always had a big painting wrapped in brown paper in one arm. So I've always been surrounded by art and good design.

I don't know where my knack for color combination comes from, but I do know I've been true to what I think feels and looks right, not by what the hot new color combination trends are. As for the neon? Well who doesn't love a little flashback to the '80s? But honestly it was all due to a handbag I bought in London a few years ago. I became obsessed and knew I had to do something with it.

I'm glad you decided to create an additional line of products for those of us who aren't getting married anytime soon. Will you continue to develop new card and tag designs in addition to the new baby collection that you have in the works?

Absolutely! I've learned that working closely and staying in touch with my retailers is key. I've definitely got some fun things in the works, and hope to share them later this fall. It's funny because the greeting card line was a last minute idea that took off and has done well. It's been fun to design and brainstorm ideas!

So tell us, what can we expect from Fig. 2 in the coming year?

Be on the lookout for an extension of the Neon Collection! It's been doing so well and I have some fun ideas. I'm also working on a collaboration with another company so be on the lookout for an announcement in the fall! For the 2012 show, I'll be debuting a much anticipated baby collection which I am very excited about!

Images: all from

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Times Have Changed Since the Last Time I Flew."

My sis is flying out for the first time in two years and she just posted this photo from the Delta terminal at JFK airport where apparently there are "iPads, iPads everywhere!" I still find them too big and clunky for my tastes, but I definitely wouldn't turn one down if I was offered one for free.

Thanks for the free advertising, sis, enjoy the swanky wait and safe travels!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Week Away with a Few Things Still Left to Plan

One week left to go and I feel like we could still use a couple more months to plan this Europe trip out. See, I'm the type that gets a wee bit anxious if I don't know what we're doing, where we're sleeping and alternatives in case it all turns to crap. A., on the other hand, is much more free-wheeling and the crazy man has no problems going to a foreign country without an itinerary or even knowing the language. And yet he's somehow lived to tell those tales. Thankfully, this time he's been great at mapping things out, researching and listing the things we'd like to see. I don't know if it's because nine cities in five countries in three weeks is going to be one hell of a trip or if it's to calm my nerves down.

We still have to find lodging for the last leg of the trip, make museum reservations (I hear this David guy is quite popular in Florence) and figure out the banking situation. Aside from poring over Rick Steves' site and reading endless accommodation reviews, I've:

...researched and contacted a slew of writers and artists who either live, have lived or have traveled extensively through each of the destinations I'll be visiting. I seriously felt like I traveled through western Europe over the course of two days. That means there's a fun line-up of guest bloggers' posts while I'm overseas. You might not even want me to come back on, but we'll be popping in with our own travel stories and photos from the road (time and wireless internet permitting) whether you like it or not.

...not been eating or sleeping enough. Too many things running through my head which only leaves me feeling super zapped every the morning. The last thing I need is to feel run down before I even go on vacation.

...been wishing I'd kept practicing my Italian and French. Years of hard work and money put into classes only to have forgotten them right when I actually need it. I'm hoping the foreign air will jog my memory and miraculously leave me spitting rhymes en français. C'est vrai!

...had flashes of excitement. I usually don't get hyped until I'm buckled into my plane seat, but yesterday, on a routine trip to the bathroom at work, it hit me. "Oh my God, I'm going to Paris!!" Don't mind me. A. sure didn't when I im'ed him about my sudden enthusiasm.

Plus, I've been finishing up a couple projects at work before I leave so it's been busy, busy! And honestly, I'm just as excited about being open to new opportunities and the change of pace that will be waiting for me once I return home. I still don't even know what my new schedule will be and I think I'm starting to be just fine with that.


Friday, August 12, 2011

When Girls Get Together

Ladies, tell me if this ever happens to you: you meet up with the girls, chat about work, health, love life, family, everything and then on your way home you wonder why on earth did you give out so much intimate information. As if being exposed to so much estrogen triggers an uncontrollable case of verbal diarrhea.

See, things happen when girls get together. We want to confide in each other, we want to share and analyze details together and sometimes we just want to know that we're not the only ones going through our issues. We use these ya-ya moments to strengthen our bonds, but once tongues start flapping, it can easily devolve into a bare-all session that leaves you feeling worse than how you came in.

Why? Perhaps it's because:

1. You shared personal details when you weren't in the right state of mind. How many times have you complained about things or people only to regret it once you're feeling better or made up with whoever made you mad? Now you're worried that your friend(s) will hold it against that person when they couldn't possibly know the entire story.

2. Everyone has an opinion and her advice has either caused you more inner turmoil, embarrassment, revealed an unpleasant characteristic about your friend or made you wish you'd never mentioned anything at all.

3. In the hopes of cementing a deeper relationship with someone, you rushed in letting her into your personal life only to realize that the familiarity simply isn't there yet.

Truth is, not everyone is or should be privy to every corner of your life. The times when I've walked away from a meeting knowing full well that I should not have shared as much as I did, I end up feeling unsettled rather than satisfied at having added another layer to the relationship. It's perfectly okay to keep some stories carefully tucked away.

That said, there have been moments where I've shared deeply personal things and left feeling lighter, closer. Like last night when I met a high school best friend for a dinner that turned into a wonderful 3-hour-long catch-up. For me, it's a gut inkling in determining when the moment and person are right for it and with time, I've gotten a bit better at not only recognizing the different shades of friendships but also stopping conversations that lead to places where it need not be going. Not only for my own sake, but for theirs as well if I don't think our bond warrants it just yet.

Do you ever feel this way, too?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Anthology Issue #4 Trailer

Not only do I love that Anthology creates a trailer for each of their quarterly issues, but I'm also excited to see that my story on Brooklyn-based design team Fredericks and Mae is being touted in the fourth issue's sneak peek! Creators Gabriel Cohen and Jolie Signorile were fun to interview, super chill and down-to-earth.

This upcoming issue, which will be out by the end of August, is all about "The Great Outdoors" so I'm looking forward to seeing all the little tips they have in store for us.

Oh, the Places We Won't Go!

While figuring out our itinerary, I realize that I don't understand the German spots A. has pinned on our Berlin Google map.

Me: Teufelsberg? Bundestag? Baby, you really need to translate these places. I mean have you even made notes?
A.: [obscene gesture]
Me: Wait, what's Hannibal?! We're not going there!
A: It's a restaurant.
Me: Even worse!

Later on...

A.: What about Brest, France?
Me: What? No. That doesn't even sound nice to tell friends. "I went to Brest."
A: "I like Brest."
Me: "I can’t wait to explore Brest."
A.: "I’m thinking about Brest."
Me: "I will always have a soft spot for Brest."

Not trying say anything bad about the place. I'm sure Brest is very nice this time of year. Besides we've so many places we both want to see, I've no idea how we're going to fit it all in three weeks.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Choosing a Backpack for Travel

When we first started talking about traveling through Europe, where I'd be carrying my things never crossed my mind. I just assumed I'd take the usual roll-aboard I use for all my trips. At first I was against a backpack, the thought of carrying a mountain on my back was so unappealing, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Do I really want to roll a carry-on around each city if we haven't checked into a hostel yet? I'd like to keep my hands free to take photos or hold onto A. with one hand while munching on stuffed pastries with the other.

So on Saturday, A. and I headed to Eastern Mountain Sports in SoHo. We didn't know which one would be best, but with the help of an awesome employee, Joe, we tried on a few that were specifically tailored for multi-day treks and our body frames.

1. EMS Four Wheel Jive Daypack: This was the first bag I grabbed at the store, pre-Joe. I liked all the different pockets and compartments, but I wasn't sure if it'd be big enough for a three-week trip. Luckily, EMS has weighted bags you can use to stuff the backpack and test it out. Once I did, I quickly realized an issue: insufficient structure in the padded back made it too bulky and uncomfortable. Also, the straps were rough on my bare shoulders, but I did like the hip-belt. I never knew they support and make the load feel so much lighter!

2. The North Face Base Camp Duffel: This water-resistant bag can be used as a duffel or as a backpack. The durable material was appealing as was its size - small, but roomy - but I didn't like the lack of extra pockets. It was just one big compartment and the bag itself lacked much structure. So when I stuffed in the weighted bags, it was also uncomfortable on my back. It also felt much heavier than the others I tried.

3. Gregory Jade 28 Backpack: I really liked this one even though it had a few issues. The good: it has one major compartment (laundry-bag style) that holds so much, the softer straps didn't rub up against my skin, it had a light steel bar along the back and includes an elastic rain cover you can attach to the bag to weatherproof it. The bad: because it's mainly loaded from the top (with a small zippered opening on the side), it'd be difficult to access something at the bottom of the bag. Another problem was that the hip-belt didn't fit me tightly enough. The fact that Joe could still see light coming through the space between my body and the belt meant it was too loose. He brought an even smaller kid's size, but the color, green, was yuck. Hey, that stuff matters, too!

4. Kelty Redwing Backpack: Ultimately, I went with this one. I like the fact that it has a major compartment along with separate front, side and inner pockets (there are 17 in total). It's easy to load while allowing me access to other things I might need in transit. The hip-belt fits my small waist tightly, the back has structure (so no bulky objects would poke me) along with an aluminum stay that serves as a "spine" that actually lines up with my back really well. The shoulder straps could be softer and it's not a huge bag, but I took a chance and figured my clothes, tiny as they are, would all fit in without much trouble.

To test it out, I pulled out every piece of clothing I have stuffed in my drawer at A.'s house and packed the bag. I ended up rolling up (the best space-saving trick) and fitting in 20 tops, five pairs of pants, six skirts and dresses, a sweater, a mix of socks and undies, a bag with non-TSA-approved toiletries and another bag with a pair of sneakers, sandals and heels (alas, the towel and a bulky sweater didn't make it in). Still, this is clearly way more than I'll actually be taking since we'll be doing laundry whenever we can. The bag looked massive, but it felt so much lighter than you'd assume. I even kept it on while we danced around the room ("for research purposes").

As for A., he was having a little trouble deciding between two bags. "I knew right away that I wanted one with a rigid frame that would put the weight on my hips," he says. So Joe presented him with two different options.

5. Gregory z40 Backpack: This is the manly version of the Jade backpack described above. This had the frame that A. was looking for and a water-resistant cover. It's a standard bag for backpacking and even though it was lighter than the bag he chose, A. wanted to have the flexibility of a day pack and more room. "If I hadn't tried the Osprey, I would've walked away with it," he says.

6. Osprey Waypoint 65 Travel Backpack: "I like that I wont have to worry about space and that whatever I put in it isn't going to affect the weight all that much," A. explains. "There are compartments on the sides and inside the cover flap so it's basically a suitcase that fits on your back. Who needs a rolling one when this fits on your hips and you don't even feel it? The detachable day pack means traveling and packing is that much easier because I won't have to worry about carrying two separate things at a time. The straps and hip-belt fit and you can hide them all if you'd rather carry the bag by it's side handle. It was more expensive than the Gregory bag, but a nice discount for a minor damage made the decision easier."

I keep commenting on how big it is, but I believe him when he says it's not as heavy as it looks. On the plus side, any goodies I acquire over the trip that don't fit into my bag will somehow make its way into his. I'm cute enough to make that happen.

While trying on different bags, Joe shared a few tips about choosing the correct backpack and how to pack your things in.

1. The hip-belt is great for supporting the weight. Make sure it fits snug, wraps underneath your rib cage and that the buckle sits on top of your belly button. Adjust the hip belt before tightening the shoulder straps.

2. If your bag isn't water-resistant, you can always buy a separate rain cover that attaches to the backpack to keep your belongings dry.

3. Pack light things on the bottom of the backpack and keep heavy objects on top and as close to your body as possible. Then pack more light things around it to keep the heavy loads from shifting and the bag from pulling back and away from your body. This Kelty instruction booklet has an illustration of how to pack your bag on page 8.

Images: all from

Monday Inspiration

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Chat With: Melanie Blodgett of You Are My Fave Events

This Friday, I'm thankful for new possibilities and maintaining a positive outlook (as well as the fact that it's Friday) so what better way to end the week than with a chat with Melanie Blodgett, event designer and force behind You Are My Fave Events? Not only does the woman plan parties for a living(!), but trouble finding a new job is what spurred her to launch her own business last October. "I wasn't having much luck," she says. "Then I realized, 'Why not create your own job?' I thought about what I really loved doing and went after it."

Melanie's lifestyle blog is a collection of home decor and fun party ideas like this sweet hanging fabric flowers tip and these crunchy twists on dipped ice cream cones. I've already imagined different versions of her summer party package, which led to this fun celebration for some very lucky kids, and her "About Me" facts are as cheerful as her style:

"I like my birthday," she writes. "I like performing victory dances when I win board games. I like polka dots. I like cute bikes. I like spin moves. I like planning parties. I like you unless you’re a hater."

After you read her tips on working with a party planner and hosting your own summer festivities, I think you'll like her too.

Hi, Melanie! So I just have to say, planning parties for a living sounds like such a fun way to spend your day! What are the best aspects of your job? What makes it incredibly stressful and how do you battle those moments?

The best aspects of the job are when you finally see your idea come to life and make someone happy. Also, cake!

I don't have any employees so setting up for a party can always be stressful. I usually enlist my husband for help and I'm not sure he's fan of slave labor. It always takes longer than you think it's going to!

You offer services for a range of fêtes including weddings, birthdays and baby showers. What are your favorite to plan and how do you make sure the results are not only special, but also a reflection on your clients' tastes?

I love them all for different reasons but I would probably say birthdays are my absolute favorite because - and my husband will attest to this fact - I am a huge fan of my own birthday and so I have a desire to make them happy for other people as well.

Before I work with a client we have a thorough consultation so I get a sense of what their style is. It's an essential part of any party planner's job, making the client happy. I also assume they've seen my previous parties and like them so that's why they've decided to hire me.

Typically, how much of the final product is based on your guidance and suggestions and how much are details offered by the client?

I think if a client is coming to me for help, they want to lead you in the right direction but let you do the work. We finalize a theme together and I update them throughout the process to make sure they're happy with the direction, but they put a lot of trust in me to make it work. My favorite clients might be the ones where most everything is a surprise to them at the end. When you finally show them the party, it's like a makeover reveal on "What Not To Wear" where everybody cheers.

How do you keep your ideas fresh and where do you turn to for a dose of inspiration?

I look at what other party planners are doing, read blogs and consume magazines like nobody's business, but at times that can get completely overwhelming and you start to feel like nothing is original anymore. That's when I step away from media for a couple days and let myself regroup. My best ideas probably come to me in the shower when there aren't distractions.

How can clients help their planners produce party they want without turning into Bridezilla?

Do your research before you hire someone. Do you like their style? Do you like other parties they’ve done? Ask them for recommendations before you hire them so you make sure you’re working with the right person. And don’t be afraid to say no in a firm but gentle way.

I love hosting friends, but oftentimes I get so caught up in making sure everything's going well that I can't enjoy the moment. What should hosts keep in mind to avoid feeling stressed and overwhelmed?

Try to prepare as much beforehand as you can. Keep things simple. If things don’t work out as planned laugh it off and improvise. People will remember the conversation, not the cake that collapsed in on itself.

What are a few simple and fairly inexpensive ways that you can add a fun touch to summer parties?

I can’t emphasize this enough: buy several strands of lights and hang them up. They make every occasion more festive. Also, homemade ice cream is always a hit.

Whoa, homemade ice cream? Your friends must love getting an invitation to your place! What other party details are you loving right now?

For the summer, I like casual dinner parties outside with simple picnic foods. And I believe you can never go wrong with a room full of balloons. Unless they’re brown and maroon.

Images: all from

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Move, Eat, Learn

I just got a chance to see Rick Mereki's super short videos depicting three basic elements of travel - moving, eating and learning - and they're making me want to leave town right now. On his Vimeo page, the Australian director describes the project as "3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage... all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food ....into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films.....

= a trip of a lifetime."

My favorite is "Learn." Exploring and then walking away with a piece of that culture seems like the ultimate souvenir to me.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Up in the Air

Last week, A. and I decided to finally go for something we'd been dreaming about for months, but kept pushing aside: a trip through Western Europe at the end of August. I'd been feeling so beat what with working six days a week with no extended break. So when he mentioned those travel plans again, I didn't hesitate to say, "Let's do it." Even though I was still waiting on confirmation about taking so much time off work, we let ourselves get wrapped up in the awesomeness that this trip would be.

Every little ideal I'd been carrying since I last went to France nine years ago was mixed into these plans of ours. The spots we'd visit, buying produce at the market and having picnics in Parisian parks. Maps were created and train time tables were consulted until we had figured out this grand tour through 10 different cities across five countries. We even bought our first digital SLR camera to capture what would be my dream getaway.

And then Monday morning I got the news: at the end of the month I will be let go.

Even though I'd been through this situation two years ago, it wasn't easier this time around. I'd been expecting that last ax to fall for a whole year before it finally did. As strange as it sounds, I greeted that news with a sigh of relief. I was finally free to pursue other roads. This one, on the other hand, came as a bit of a shock, which really only means that instead of spending half a day being upset and pitying myself over it, I spent two because after a while that act gets old and I had some thinking to get on with.

Do I want another office position? Or would I rather go back to my previous freelance life, commit myself to dedicating my time and energy solely on projects I'm passionate about and work harder at it then I did before? And now that my schedule will open up, should I revisit those dreams of opening up the stationery business I've pushed aside after my jobs demanded more attention?

All important questions yes, but my head was more wrapped up around another pressing issue: should I still take this trip to Europe? Should I be responsible and save my money instead and then feel even worst for losing a job and an amazing travel experience? What if I don't get another opportunity run off for so long and see the world like this?

So last night I decided that we're still going. I'm not letting one thing affect the other much less something I've been looking forward to so much. Besides, who knows what good things could come from this (and believe me, I'll be hustling to make the most of this new opportunity). The rest can and will settle itself when I return.

Images: Tokyo photographer Natsumi Hayashi's "Daily Levitation" series on

Monday, August 1, 2011

Monday Inspiration

I just spent a while flipping through my old book of quotes searching for some droplet of wisdom that would speak to me and I found one that was quite appropriate:

It's been a long day.

The Best Hotels for Families

Each year, Travel + Leisure polls its savvy readers to see which hotels, cruise lines, airlines, cities and islands around the globe are at the top of their game with the World's Best Awards. From there, we also pull out which ones were deemed great for parents and little ones based on service, ambiance and a list of activities that will entertain both young and Read on to see which made the cut in the top 20 hotels for families in the U.S. Have you been to any great ones lately?