7.31.2012

rome day 1


(bikes + vespas galore here.)

Each time I visit a new country--which sounds like it's frequent but really it's been about six times--there's always this moment. You know, when it comes rushing in that you're on an adventure, in a completely new world and about to cross of some bucket list items. Sometimes the rush hits as the plane floats down from the clouds...or it might not happen til a day or two after arrival. In Paris it wasn't until I saw the Eiffel Tower from my hotel balcony.

But Italy...Italy got to work right away. The doors parted after customs, and there stood my driver: a dark haired middle-aged man, top two buttons undone, a cigarette hanging from his mouth, and a sign bearing "Berthany" in all caps.

"You Berthaannie?", he said drawing out my name, pointing and smiling.

Ah, even the misspelling of my name is charming in Italy.

While my bags were stashed at the hotel and my room readied, I strolled over to Piazza del Popolo...and settled my sleepy self for a bout of people-watching on a marble bench. Next to me, an older gentleman read an Italian newspaper. From the center of the piazza, came the sound of someone singing. Almost everyone stopped to watch. I walked toward the center, and there stood a robust, red-faced Italian man, serenading the crowd with the most beautiful opera I've ever heard...fully drowning out the rush of four fountains that surrounded him. He didn't stop singing for the longest time, so I plopped onto a step and pulled out my lunch. After a few minutes, the church bells began to ring. It was about that time that I could barely keep myself together over the absolute beauty of this tiny moment.

It could only be described as something from a 1950's film. Too perfect for words.


My friend Lauren warned me of such things, that Italy will wiggle itself into your heart and make you feel alive in ways you'd forgotten. I was ready for Italy to burrow itself into me, but not aware it would happen so soon. So there I sat in the Piazza del Popolo, eating an apple and crying about how life is so big and yet small all at once...seemingly complicated but all in all, really quite simple.

All because of a song sung by a man whose words I couldn't understand, but whose heart I did. 

Nice one, Italy. Nicely played.

7.30.2012

almost take off.

(a chandelier spotted during last minute shopping + my packing list)

The last load of laundry is in the wash, my legs are shaved and every iDevice I own is currently on the charger, juicing up for 12 hours of travel...which begins at midnight tonight!

Ah, the signs of a trip 'round the corner! My tummy is full of nervous butterflies. Although I've traveled a fair amount, I've never been in a foreign country by myself...specifically one with a language barrier. German or a bit of French? I might pull it off. But Italian...I am screwed, and armed with about 10 words or phrases.

"Più vino? Più gelato per favore? Grazie mille."

What more could I need to say, right? ;)

By the way, I've got this nasty habit of flipping through various social media streams...even when something much more interesting is right in front of my face. (Like Pinterest could be more interesting than, I don't know, the Eiffel Tower right in front of me.) It's this weird "I gotta know what's happening!" disease, which usually ends in feeling creatively deflated or annoyed for wasting my time.

Anyone else have it? Some of my friends have written about it here and here.

So, in an attempt to force myself to be present while in Italy, I deleted all social media apps, except for Instagram. That one stays for photo-snapping. But Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, even Draw Something...farewell. If my hotel has internet, I'll pop on, blog and such...but this week I refuse to allow the internet to own my soul.

This week...this week is for spaghetti, wine and gelato. ;)

Arrivederci, amici!

7.27.2012

brand new look!

So, if you popped by yesterday...you might have noticed that things look a little different around here! I finally got some new threads...uh, digitally speaking. And they fit just right.

Over the past few months, I've been super lucky to work with Tabitha Emma, an incredibly talented blog designer who I approached at the beginning of the year with a desperate cry for design help.  Since beginning my blog in 2008, I'd been rocking the Minima blogger template + whatever I could create. But now I was in the market for a "look", and was at the edge of my creative abilities. HTML-what? So, I decided four years was long enough to consider myself "invested" in this hobby...and therefore making an investment in it wasn't silly at all. So, we got started.

At first it was a little scary...almost like wedding dress shopping. You know what you don't want, but putting into words what you do want is tricky. You could spend hours on the web, looking for just the right thing that says "you". Or, you could just send a few photos from your regular life and let her go wild...which is pretty much what I did. I pulled photos from the past few months of my life...things I made and little corners of my home that felt like me.

Here are a few I sent:


(our confetti-stuffed engagement-turned-wedding invites)


(my planner, which i spend more time decorating than actively using.)


(my old desk + craft area. gosh, i miss it!)

Obviously she got the hint: mama likes mint, pink and gold. Oh, and that I lose it over a romantic, scripted font. But, the little touches she added really won me over: The frame from above my old desk in Wisconsin was recreated in my sidebar. A subtle pink stripe from the washi tape in my planner sits at the top of the page. And, drawing on my passport-carrying lifestyle, Tabitha added the sweetest passport "stamp" to my header.

And the little heart from my old logo which once rested above the "i" in "Rinse", is now nestled underneath the "t" in "Repeat" in the new logo. :)

Mint, pink, glittery...and sentimental. Busted! That's me all the way.

Welcome to the brand new look, friends...and have a happy weekend! :)



7.26.2012

short + sweet.

a carousel found on our boston trip


Yesterday and today, I've been playing this infuriating game. It goes like this:

Log into email.
Open up extremely overdue email. (There are at least 30. I am the worst.)
Write two sentences.

Internet disconnects.
Fiddle with wires to no avail.

Internet miraculously appears an hour later.


Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Gabe has been in Bahrain for the past two days, and I'm sans any handy nerd skills to solve this problem. So, I'm just going to say something...and say it quick before I get cut off again.


Thanks so much. Especially for all the supportive replies + emails to this. Getting it off my chest was such a relief. Like the ability to stop fake smiling after a family portrait session. Your face still hurts, but you just feel...relaxed. Or maybe natural is a better word.


I feel more natural, now that I've been more honest.


Thanks for sticking around for the ride, and reading whatever I write about whoever I am and wherever I go. :)


Love,
A Much Happier Girl

7.24.2012

italy-bound: five things i'm packing...



( h&m cardi/camera/madewell flats/dorothy perkins dress/kelly moore bag)

One of the first things I do after booking a flight to a new country or city, is hit the web in search of packing suggestions. Rome according to the web? It's hot, and if you're planning to see any religious sights like the Vatican, you've got to be covered up from shoulder to knees. Well, well. Guess who's just had a two-month crash course in international modesty + extreme heat?

THIS GIRL. (Yes. I just obnoxiously pointed at myself. So sorry.)

So, here are a few things I'm packing for Monday's flight to Rome, with the help of some lessons I learned in Kuwait:


(1) Breezy cotton dresses.  Since moving to Kuwait, I've nixed jeans...they're terrible in heat, and I hear the same is true in hot, humid Italy. Give me a maxi dress any day. But confession: I always wear little shorts or leggings underneath. Is that strange? 

(2) Lots of light cardis. After adapting to the rules in the Middle East, I've learned I'm cooler with my arms covered. Plus, gotta keep it modest, kids, if you want to see the religious artifacts.

(3) Supportive ballet flats. It's tempting to go for flip-flops in heat. I made this mistake once and only once in Kuwait. For extreme heat, sand, cobbled streets...or a day where you plan to walk 10 km...flips really aren't your BFF.

(4) Two Sues crossbody bag. Every forum I've read screams "LOOK OUT FOR PICKPOCKETS!" So I plan to keep this bad boy slung across and infront of my person at all times. The sneaky zippered, snapped passport + money holder on the back doesn't make it pick-proof, but it's definitely a deterrent.

(5) My Diana Camera. Cause, duh, it's cute. And because I'm embracing the ability to take photos in public, without fear of breaking laws or offending others.


Anything I'm missing, Italian travelers? Does one bring an umbrella to Rome? Hmm. Do tell. :)

7.23.2012

my big truth and why i'm headed for italy.


I'm boggled that seven weeks have passed since I left the US to start a life in Kuwait. And it's been a trip...with plenty of ups and downs. Maybe I haven't been so honest about the "downs". But this weekend while Facetiming my hilarious friend, Karen, I was finally honest with the outside world about how I feel here:


(Paraphrased for brevity's sake. It was a good, long Facetime chat.)

Me: "I just don't know how to write about the tricky stuff, without sounding like a big, spoiled whiner. Like, "Oh. My life is so hard because I live in a foreign country and don't have to work. Whine, whine." I know how that sounds! And it's not good."

Karen: "Well, I think anyone who knows you...knows that living in the Middle East isn't exactly your shtick. Lots of people wouldn't do it. No one is going to be surprised that you're not loving every minute. I can't imagine they've got, like, craft stores there..."

Me: "Uh, there's this place with a large pen selection..."

Karen: Dies laughing at my pathetic face.

Ah. Yes. Here it is, the big, messy truth.


The truth I've held back for fear of being thought spoiled or rude: I don't love it here. And I'm pretty depressed.

Somehow that feels cruel to say, or perhaps just scary to write publicly. Like lurking trolls will hurl insults at me for expressing this honest thought. I've tried, Lurking Trolls! For the first month I kept my mouth shut, even to Gabe. I focused on being open to the experience and embracing it. I read up on the interesting culture, people-watched and respected the rules. And when I felt that niggling sadness, I'd just Think! Positive! Thoughts! I withheld comparing my new home to anything I experienced previously.  Just let it be what it is, I told myself.

But the other night, I laid in bed staring at the ceiling, feeling homesick and empty. Gabe noticed, and asked if I was okay. When I opened my mouth to explain, I exploded with tears that had been bottled up for weeks. Tears about how I miss everything. How I feel like a terrible person for not loving it here. But how, above all, I feel like a massive piece of my identity is just gone. I'm not great at many things in life, this I know, but back home I had this beautiful niche that was perfect for the very few things I felt good at: throwing cute parties, making special moments with my family, thrift-storing, arranging flowers, going on little adventures, crafting, walking and snapping photos. Maybe it was all fluff, but it was a life that inspired me and brought me joy. Fully of silly things that now feel like huge, gaping holes of who I am. This friendly, perky girl who loved crafting, writing and photography...with huge dreams and the crazy belief she could actually do things in life...that part of me vanished somewhere, or maybe she just deflated while crossing the Atlantic.

"Is that part of me gone forever? Is it just on hold until we move in a year?" I asked Gabe, that night in the dark. He didn't say anything, just hugged me until I fell asleep.  

The next morning, Gabe emailed from work to say he'd spotted an insanely cheap flight to Rome and like it or not, I was going on a little getaway where I could stroll around taking photos, drinking wine, pillaging little shops + flea markets and scouring museums until my heart exploded. Being a stubborn girl, I put up a fight about finances and learning to be happy without running away. But I didn't win.

And so, that is how I find myself robbing our savings account and packing for a cheap week-long trip to Rome. Call it crazy, call it irrational. Call it running away, if you must. 

We're choosing to call it "staying sane".

Have you ever felt a loss of identity after moving or entering a new phase in life? How do you find your way back in...do you try with all you've got, or just wait around until something clicks?

7.19.2012

some going-away goods.



Just a few days before leaving the US, I met up with my crafty friends Jessica and Amanda at Mara Mi. The place is my washi tape Mecca, so I used it as a last ditch pillaging session, buying three rolls...and talking myself out of three others.

These two talented, crafty girls gifted me such thoughtful + practical going away gifts. You know how I love a creative gift!



Jess put together a little package of Instax film, an Instax album (similar here) and a Starbucks gift card for the trip. Such a genius idea for any Instax-owner in your life! Since the film can add up quickly if you use it regularly, being gifted two boxes of exposures was a complete delight. The pink album is the cutest way to tuck those teeny photos in a place they won't get lost.


Since I gave away most of my jewelry and hair accessories during my home raid, I was absolutely elated when Amanda gifted me these clay flower earrings and bobby pins from her sweet shop, My Little Dear! They're small, easy to pack and obviously, adorable. So adorable I'm wearing the teal earrings as I type.

And as if that wasn't enough, she whipped up a little canvas bag with an iron-on heart map of Kuwait. The sweetest! I put it to use right away on my trip...tucked into my purse and used to stash wedding rings, earrings and my watch as I went throught security. (Which I got to do three times, three days in a row. Ha. Thanks, United.) It was so much better to know my valuables weren't rolling around in my purse like usual.

Really, I can't  craft-compete with these girls. They're just on another crafty level...nay, another crafty planet.

But I'm happy to bow down to their creative goddessness, and collect any and all gifts they should happen to throw my way. ;)

7.16.2012

on living things + not saving the world.


Lots of friends and readers have tweeted, Facebooked or emailed me to ask about the kittens...how are they, and did we adopt one?

I wish I had a happier story, guys.


After weeks of feeding the kittens + watching them grow, we decided it was time to save them before we moved 20 minutes away. This lead to a week of in-vain attempts to sweetly coax the mother away so we could access the kittens. She grew more aggressive, scratching us, hissing, and cornering the kittens so we couldn't reach. We grew more frustrated each time, and after a final failed attempt on moving day, we knew it was over. So we left them with plenty of shade, food, water and air kisses.

My lip quivered as we drove away, and fat tears pooled in my eyes. I was so in love with the kittens...they'd gotten me through some pretty homesick days. And I was devastated that I didn't save their world.

You see, I was raised in a country where "You can do anything you set your mind to" and "You can save the world!!". I adore that American pie-in-the-sky ideology. In the future, I'll have children and will feed them on a strict diet of such sentiments.

But when you grow up, suddenly saving the world isn't as easy as it once seemed. Especially if you're living in a foreign country that isn't like the world you've always known. (Tens of thousands of feral animals, very few shelters, no animal control to assist, etc.) Sometimes, you have to adjust and admit that you cannot save the world...or even a few feral kitties. It's a bitter mouthful to swallow. Sometimes in life, all you can do is leave a situation better than the way you found it.

And that's what we decided to do with kittens in Kuwait. Strays are so prevalent that we've already found more kittens in the garage of our new apartment. We can't save all the kittens in Kuwait, but we can make sure those we see daily have access to food and clean water, and appear to be in good health.

And so I've changed my American "you can save the world" mentality to a much more attainable sentiment...at least for the time being:

Maybe you didn't save a life, maybe you didn't change the world, but perhaps you can say you bettered it.

7.12.2012

macaron groupie.

(ladurée kuwait: rose water, pistachio and vanilla. i shamelessly chose by prettiest color.)

While traipsing down the Champs-Élysées in Paris last summer, we stumbled across the world-famous Ladurée. The line was tragically long...out the door and down the street. Having never tried a macaron, yet completely romanced by their existence, I was game to wait it out. But, Gabe was secretly minutes away from proposing on our hotel terrace (nervously aware that hundreds of roses + candles were waiting for us) and he dragged my sorry tush out of line with promises of stopping another day.

The next morning the hotel staff brought us a note of congrats + a glass cake stand full of macarons. Ladurée or not, they were delicious and adorable enough to kickstart a growing addiction.

When I returned to regular life in Wisconsin, high on Paris nostalgia + love, I discovered that there wasn't a macaron to be found in my town...not even within a one hour radius. (First world problems! I know.) So, it's only natural that the sight of a Ladurée here in Kuwait lit me up like a candle. Who'd have thought! Quick access to romantic treats in the Middle East...flown in from Paris...and displayed in a mint-painted storefront glittering with chandeliers?

This discovery only furthers my cliché addiction.  Shall we take a walk down Memory Macaron Lane?

(Congratulatory macarons from our Parisian hotel staff.**)


(From Dean & Deluca, on our engagement anniversary this year.
D&D gives hefty samples...but no chandeliers...**)


Given the hefty price tag of  Ladurée Kuwait's $5 macaron (!!!), I'm going to need to supplement our income to feed this addiction. So, uh, if anyone is looking for a non-professional full time macaron photographer, I'm your girl. Have taste for macarons, dabble in Photoshop. Will travel.

But, full disclosure: Might eat your products before shooting. ;)

**Clearly I have a problem with putting my ring on things. I'm aware, and restrained myself in the first photo of this post...it was difficult. ;)

7.11.2012

the time i almost died*.


On Saturday, I was homesick. By Sunday, I was real sick. And on Monday...I was dead-to-the-world sick. 

Naturally by Tuesday, I was tired of being sick and determined to feel better. Thinking a little walk along the beach would help, I changed into something presentable, crossed the bustling six-lane highway and found myself on the beach. Ah yes, a little sea air will clear this up....

(Managed to snap a few pictures before I nearly died.)

Wrong. I wound up doubled over in the sand, chanting "Don't pass out. Don't pass out. You're in a foreign country. You. CANNOT. Pass. Out."

Blaze-hot sand scorched my feet, seeping into my shoes, clinging to my pants as I stumbled back across the enormous beach and toward the street. Everything was blurry and spinning. I woozily stepped up to the side of the road--now ten pounds heavier in sand--my legs shaking and sweat dripping from every pore. Cars blurred, now just smudges of color passing across my field of vision, their honks dragging out like strange cartoon tubas. 

I bolstered my courage, thinking, "This will be funny! So, so funny in three hours! If I live..."

Crossing a six-lane highway has never been so daunting...115 degrees + direct brutal Middle Eastern sun exposure does a pale, sick girl from Wisconsin no good. Somehow I staggered across traffic, managing to arrive safely on our side of the street. From above, this scene likely played out like a hilariously drunk game of Frogger....and I just hope someone stopped to chuckle at it. ;)

Now it's Wednesday, I'm still sick, but laughing about yesterday. My husband found it less entertaining, and has banned me from leaving home until I'm back to 100%. So, I've cluttered my nightstand with Get-Better faves:

one ::: Sparkling water. I'm terrible at drinking water. But pretty bottle + bubbles? How can I resist.
two ::: Burt's Bees Original Lip Balm. Cools hot skin. And it tastes yummy.
three ::: EL Advanced Night Repair Eye Creme...or old school cucumber slices to cool puffy eyes.
four ::: Wintergreen Lifesavers. When nothing else tastes right, there's Lifesavers. Lots of 'em.
five ::: Flowers from my husband + a vase from this girl.
six ::: The newest episode of the Bachelorette, and other TV goodies.

Have you ever wound up sick at a terribly inopportune moment? And, what are your Get Better Must Haves?

*Alright, alright. That title bears a little hyperbole. But in the moment, it didn't feel far from the truth.

7.06.2012

date night.

(i remembered this dress being longer....nixed due to visible knee. too saucy!)

Over the past few weeks, people have kindly asked me if I miss anything from back home. You know what silly thing I miss? Easy dressing. Bare shoulders. And sundresses.

While there are tons of interesting, positive experiences here...and I hate to even mention a negative...I've got to be honest: one of the less enjoyable experiences has been learning how to dress in a different culture, specifically one with intense heat, conservative dress codes and lots of men that have no problem making their attention known even when you're covered from elbow to ankle. 

Now that I've been here for a month, I don't take note of the stares as much...but Gabe does, always laughingly telling me that men are eyeing me in the market. Swear...I'm not bragging. If you're a western woman in Kuwait, even if you're short + average looking  + covered up like me, you're going to get stares. It's just a fact of life.

Gabe is taking me out tonight to our fave Indian restaurant, and it's been weeks since we went on a real, true date. I was determined to look (conservatively) foxy. Well, after an hour of pillaging my trimmed-down closet, I'm back at my daily uniform: black leggings and a lengthy tunic. Sigh. Clearly, this is all an excellent excuse to go shopping this weekend, eh? :)

Happy Friday, friends. If you feel so obliged, do bare a little knee this weekend in my honor. ;)

7.05.2012

a thoughtful gift booklet.

(happy mother's day...i think i'm gonna miss you...)

For Mother's Day this year (I know, I'm a few months behind), I wanted to get my mom a passport. She's never had one and has therefore never left North America. I was dreaming of her and I meeting up somewhere really fun...a little respite from Kuwait for me, and a change from the day to day for her.

But, just like my Father's Day gift, I wanted to do something better than shoving passport cash in a Walgreen's card.

(get a passport and come away with me!)

So, I made this. Using two glassine envelopes (you can get a 10/pk of these from Michaels, Paper Source or most craft stores for $5), I slid them together and then filled the two pockets with passport cash, a passport application and a calendar so we could choose a date. I also slipped these postcards into the pockets, facing out, so when the booklet was closed you could see vintagey world maps.

I tied the whole booklet closed with an ombre pink ribbon...just to keep all the goods from tumbling out.

It's really the easiest way to create a little gift booklet...you could slip a card in one pocket, photos in the opposite, a special letter, gift cards, tickets to a play...whatever. Here's how to make a little booklet in two steps:




Lickety split...then get to decorating! After you've completed these two steps, you could slide in additional envelopes to the interior, so you can work with more pages + pockets. I used this same method for my sis's birthday gift (a little Girl's Day Out booklet--a collection of gift cards to her fav places) to create five pockets...one for each gift card, with a cute little poem of what she was supposed to buy at each stop.

Although we've changed our travel dates to the beginning of next year, I'm so jazzed to see my mom's first passport stamp. And also biting my nails, trying to decide where to take her! I've told her it's going to be a secret until a few weeks before our trip. :)

If you could take your mom (or dad) anywhere in the world, where would you go?

7.04.2012

dessert from the desert: berry turnovers.


Yesterday, I completely guessed at how to make strawberry + nectarine turnovers, and somehow they turned out delicious. Thinking this must have been an absolute fluke, today I remade the little pies, using some berries that were at critical use-it-or-lose-it level. This second round was solely for the purpose of writing down my recipe and testing fate.

Not a fluke. Still delicious. Still easy.

I adore these little pies because they come out adorably imperfect, like something you'd have at your grandma's house...or a little Mom and Pop diner in the Midwest. Also, I swear most any fruit will do...apples, pears, peaches, nectarines...just swap the word "berries" for whatever you have lying around. :)

Berry Pie Turnovers


Filling
1 cup berries
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
                                                                                                     
Crust
1 and 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Icing
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. In a small bowl, combine all "filling" ingredients. Cover and place in the fridge to chill.




2. In a large bowl, mix together all the "crust" ingredients. Mixing in a particular order is for fancy people...I'm no Martha. Just throw all that stuff in a bowl, and mix until you've got dough. Add more flour or water as needed.

3. Divide dough into four equal parts and roll each piece into a circle.


4. Grab the fruit filling from the fridge, and place one spoonful onto half of each dough circle. Then, take an itty bitty piece of butter and place it on the top of the filling. You know that's gonna be melty deliciousness.



5. Carefully pull the unfilled half of the dough over the filled half, and pinch closed with your fingers. Then flatten the edges with a fork, like so.



6. Brush the top of the turnovers with a bit of melted butter, and bake on a greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes.

7. While that cooks, mix together "icing" ingredients. Spoon icing into a Ziploc bag.

8. Remove pies from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Then cut the corner off your Ziploc and ice with your best zig-zag frosting technique. Feel free to top with leftover berries.

9. Eat two of the four pies. When your husband comes home, pretend you only made two. Enjoy.



Sidenote: I swear one of the most frustrating parts of moving is trying to rediscover well-lit parts of a new home. And also learning to deal with furnished goods, like dishes and flatware that might not be your taste...and doesn't photograph well. Bear with me...at least until I can get to IKEA again to pick up some decent plates. ;)

7.02.2012

room with a view.

(the view from our new living room)

I grew up in a landlocked state, and didn't see the ocean until I was 15. Since then, my ocean experiences involved scrambling down the sea-sprayed cliffs of Ireland, lazing on the beach in Santa Cruz, waving at boats in the Boston Harbor and hopping through Monterey tidepools in search of purple starfish.

You might say I've spent the last few years making up for lost time. But even with all this make-up, the ocean has always seemed a bit threatening. Maybe it's because I never learned to swim beyond a half-hearted dog paddle. Or it's in the way the sea is unending to the eye or the way that, when upset, the sea can annihilate entire villages.

And today, at 26 I live a few steps from it. Granted, it's the Persian Gulf and I'm not entirely certain that counts as "ocean".

But regardless, now that the sea and I are neighbors...it's notably less scary.

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