Friday, December 27, 2013

Shoe Love: New Year's


Thanks to pregnancy exhaustion, I won't be able to ring in the New Year this year at midnight. I go to bed every night between 9 and 10pm! It got me fantasizing about what fabulous parties I would be missing and what fabulous shoes I might wear to those parties. This year, I'm thinking something metallic would be fun. In my mind I would wear heels and bring my flats so no matter how long the party lasted, I wouldn't have to go barefoot or call it an early night. Will you be going to any New Year's parties? What shoes will you be wearing?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas in Kuwait

photo via my Instagram

I wasn't sure what to expect this year, having Christmas in Kuwait. I moved to the Middle East with little knowledge of how an Islamic nation was actually run and how conservative or liberal it would be in practice. To my surprise, one day at the grocery store almost all the Christmas accouterments were being offered for sale - from Christmas trees to Santa hats to Advent calendars. It turns out that although  Christmas is a Christian holiday, it is celebrated by many (Christians and non-Christians alike) for one of its basic components: spending time with loved ones and giving oneself and gifts to those loved ones. This also makes it a rather profitable holiday worldwide. It got me thinking - what is the meaning of Christmas in Kuwait?

We started off by decorating our home, listening to carols, and drinking hot chocolate. There was a botched attempt at homemade eggnog and because we had a plastic tree this year, a pine tree smelling candle filled our apartment with Christmas cheer and tricked out noses into believing the tree was alive. The German Speaking Women of Kuwait had a festive party at the German Ambassador's residence complete with German holiday treats, coffee, Santa, and many in their favorite Christmas sweaters. There were holiday bazaars on the Cornishe and special events at the U.S. Embassy for homesick Americans.

Although we weren't without festive celebrations, something felt off for me. The holidays didn't seem to be the same so far from home. Yet people who were strangers to me just weeks ago reached out to Gman and I and brought us into their homes. The generosity of our new community to feed us, entertain us, and become our friends touched me more than the presents under the tree or ritual watching of Christmas Vacation. Christmas in Kuwait, it turns out, means what I already suspected: the generosity of new friends gathering around the holidays makes a foreign land feel more like home.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

And in case you're interested, past Christmas stories: Zoo Lights at the National Zoo, dealing with grief over the holidays, my favorite things to do in NYC during the holidays

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Images via: Garance Dore, NordstromNet-a-Porter, living room pic

I've noticed recently while browsing through my Life(style) Inspiration pins that if I'm on a pinning spree one day I'll pin groups of objects that have a similar vibe without realizing it. My choices must reflect whatever mood I'm in or life vibe I'm feeling. It makes me think about when I'm out shopping and everything I pick up goes with the outfit I'm wearing. It happens almost every time! Do you ever notice that? On certain days you're just in a mood and all your choices reflect your frame of mind?

For some reason it makes me think of this Kendrick Lamar song.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Building a Maternity Wardrobe

24 weeks - still holding on to my favorite chambray shirt!

When I was about 4 months pregnant my pants stopped buttoning/zipping. I wasn’t showing at all but it was like I went up a pants size. I wore a bellyband for a few weeks but it became pretty uncomfortable and I was still nervous about my pants falling down (never a good thing, especially when meeting new people).

I started browsing websites for different pregnancy looks, suggestions, and clothes to buy. Most of it wasn't really "me" and I started to feel frustrated. I didn't want to change my style just because my pants no longer fit. While my mom was in town she thought it would be a good idea to go with me to Destination Maternity for moral support and because they were having a 75% off sale. I liked the name, so off we went with Gman in tow (I needed all the support I could get). Immediately upon entering the store I started coming undone and started crying. None of the clothes in there were my style. I didn't want to dig through racks of t-shirt dresses to find a gem nor did I want to be associated with anything "mom" and "maternity". I don't want to wear "mom jeans". It felt like I was shopping in a middle-aged schoolteacher's closet. One who thinks her sweaters are fair game for arts and crafts projects. Not only that but once in the fitting room (hey, I was trying to be a good sport even though at this point I was full on sobbing) nothing fit! Even the extra large was too small in some instances! There was a fake belly in the fitting room you could strap to yourself to see how the clothes would fit at 7 months. I nearly fled the place without my shoes. It was too much.

25 weeks, winter layers

So now what to do? I had to make a plan. I had to try to be rational and decided to plan a maternity wardrobe. Some people will say don't buy maternity clothes or only buy one or two pieces. And yes it is difficult to justify spending money on clothes you will only be wearing for 5 months to a year. But in reality a lot of us do that anyways. Besides, to have peace of mind while I'm trying to dress a changing and unfamiliar body in the morning, and having a wardrobe that fits and feels comfortable is worth its weight in gold.

After making a plan and a budget, I bought a whole new maternity wardrobe. In the end it was actually really fun to plan a wardrobe from scratch and I started playing with new shapes. I included several non-maternity pieces that I could wear from 5 months up until I can't see my feet at (I’m assuming) 8 months. Seriously now that I wear elastic waist pants, I’m never going back! Once the baby is born, the elastic waist will come in handy as I get back down to my regular size.

You can check out some of my favorite maternity pieces and essentials over on my Maternity Must Haves pin board over on Pinterest. Below are a few of my favorite looks so far – which you’ve seen if you follow me on Instagram. Interesting note: looser regular clothes seem to hide the bump and maternity clothes all enhance it. Good to know if you are trying to hide it for work reasons or for a big reveal.

I’m at 26 weeks now and some of my non-maternity button-up shirts are starting to be a bit snug around my belly. I’ve been layering them underneath a maternity sweater and unbuttoning them at the bottom to get a little more wear. 

Thanksgiving dinner (so thankful for the elastic waist pants this day especially!) 23 weeks

Wear to work, non-maternity sweater dress at 24 weeks

Do you have any maternity favorites? I'm curious to know, how long did you wear your maternity clothes after your baby was born?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Life in Kuwait City: The Cornishe

I can't even tell you how brain dead I am. I've had this issue in the past, while PMSing. During that time, I'm usually quietly raging while forgetting what I just did, dropping everything, and trying not to cry in public. Now, this is my daily life. One of my girlfriends once said in regards to being pregnant (and breastfeeding, etc. afterwards), "The process of having a baby is like PMSing for a year and a half." It couldn't be more true! Friends hoping to be mothers, be afraid, be very afraid.

So on that note, I had grand illusions about how I was going to tell you of the experience of walking on the cornishe. But I can't write that creatively in my current state. So I'm going to show you lots of pretty pictures and talk about them. Enjoy.

Walking on the cornishe is one of my favorite things to do here in Kuwait, when the weather is nice. Many locals agree and it really gets kicking around sunset with tons of families picnicking along the water, street vendors selling ice cream, and many feral cats cruising for an easy meal.

I really wanted to take pictures in the evening when the crowds are out. However, I'm really nervous about taking pictures with people in them here. The religiously conservative women don't like having their picture taken and frankly I'm afraid that as a very white western-looking woman, me and my camera lens might get construed negatively. Additionally, its not a tourist town and people just don't walk around photographing things (very different from DC!).

There are so many feral cats here! I've seen two generations of kittens being raised outside my apartment building since we arrived. That's probably equal to the same amount of kittens I've seen my entire life. Cats rule the cornishe. It seems like each one has a territory and younger kittens live in the rocks along the water. The cats are worse than squirrels with their begging and you'll see them crowd around picnickers waiting for scraps. Seriously, they have no shame. Most of them have this calico coloring, and part of me thinks they are so cute that I want to take them home with me. I'm afraid of cats though, so it would be a terrifying existence to have cats in my home. 

Are you surprised to see so much green? I was! 

I'm fascinated with the date palms and the texture of their trunks. They are so different from the palms I grew up with in Florida. When we arrived in August they were producing dates (not coincidently during Ramadan when they are eaten frequently to break fasting).

I love this tricked out little bicycle. The kids here ride their bikes with reckless abandon. I've seen countless crashes, ones where you cringe as you see it coming. The kids will just get up afterwards, dust off their knees, give each other a quick stare down, then get back on their bikes and move on. I hold my breath every time. Also, the locals here seem to leave the plastic packaging on things - like this little bike and on the seats in their new cars. I think its funny and it reminds me of some of my grandparents friends who used to leave the plastic on their lampshades and put plastic on their couches.

Lastly, I like all the Arabic writing on the signage. Things that are so mundane suddenly seem exotic and interesting.

Monday, November 4, 2013

I Have Standards

Amongst other things, I'm a coffee snob. I LOVE coffee. I love it more than wine (gasp) and I could drink it with every meal. Yes, every meal, morning, noon and night. When I was a working girl I would drink a cup in the mornings before work, then grab one on the way to the office - which I would sip on until lunch time. Sometimes in the afternoon I would get a third cup, though usually decaf. If I couldn't get a third cup, I would re-heat the old coffee for the afternoon. I know what you're thinking, and yes it did taste burnt.

I've been spoiled in almost every place I've lived with perfectly delicious coffee. Actually I remember the first Starbucks that opened in my hometown. It was at the Tampa International Airport and I believe I was just old enough for it to be OK for me to have coffee. Back then, going to the airport was a treat because usually we were picking up someone in town to visit and we could get a cup of Starbucks while we waited. In NYC and DC there were plenty of locally roasted, home grown places to purchase the perfect cup. In Dupont Circle, within a two minute walking radius from my apartment I had over five coffee shops to choose from. There wasn't a moment I had to consider drinking something sub-par.

My favorite type of coffee - not including type of beans and level of roasting - is just plain old American drip coffee. I sometimes drink it black, sometimes with a splash of milk, and once in a while black with a smidgen of honey (I don't really like sweet drinks). When at home I make my coffee by heating the water in a stove top kettle, grinding the beans fresh, and brewing in a single cup french press. I make one cup at a time. The process of making it has become a ritual for me. A way to transition from night to day, from dreams to reality.

Kuwait is a dry country - in case you didn't already know. I never thought I would move to a dry county let alone a dry country. No pork or porn either. I know, what a lame place you might be thinking. But its redeeming quality, at least in my mind before we arrived, was that they have a very active coffee culture. Instead of a bar on every corner, there are coffee shops. Just like in other large cities, sometimes two Starbucks face each other. Besides Starbucks there is Caribou Coffee, Illy, and MANY local joints I've yet to hit up. My fantasy was to buy beans from these local joints and experiment with local flavor.

Ah, yes. How does that old saying go? "The best laid schemes of mice and men, go often awry." Once pregnant and sick as a dog my little cafe dreams didn't stand a chance (and moving to a dry country suddenly didn't seem so crazy). Although my doctor said it was OK to drink 6-8 oz of caffeine a day, I couldn't even smell coffee in my first trimester. The idea of drinking it made me gag. I replace my morning ritual with dry Eggo waffles and orange juice.

Recently, I've began to be wooed by coffee again. Regular coffee now gives me the jitters and what I didn't count on is that no one really drinks decaf here. Here in this entire country. There is no decaf American drip coffee to be had (iced decaf Americana has been the closest acceptable substitute). Not even decaf beans at the grocery store.

With each passing day of not finding exactly what I wanted. My standards changed. My mind opened. One day, I found decaf instant Folger's and bought it with the excitement of a 5 year old on Christmas. I got home and "brewed" it right away. I set up a place setting and dusted off my favorite coffee cup. It tasted like dirty soapy water. My little heart was broken with defeat.

Finally after over a month of searching, I've found something acceptable. In an isolated little corner of my local grocery store there is a section called "organic corner". It has packaged organic goods including instant decaf coffee! And it doesn't taste like dirty soapy water!

Now I gladly drink my instant decaf coffee each morning in the crisp fall air on my balcony (and by crisp fall I mean mid to high 70s). I drink my coffee with pride and satisfaction because by drinking it I was able to overcome the biggest obstacle of moving overseas - managing my own expectations.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Depression + Pregnancy Brain + Culture Shock Does Not a Creative Mind Make

Where to start? I want to get personal with you. I want to pour my heart out a little. I want to connect. This is going to be the longest blog post ever written – and no pictures either. I’ve never been one to apologize for not blogging enough. I like to write when I can. I do have an editorial calendar that I try to stick with but over the last several months I’m afraid no schedule could have kept me writing.

I put an exorbitant amount of pressure on myself to make everything in my life just so. So much pressure that in the past I’ve stunted my own growth and creative process. But recently, that has started to change and I think with dramatic personal results.

Like you, I scan through hundreds of images a day of beautifully curated blogs and magazines with professional looking photo shoots of fashion and food, and perfect families and smiling models people. While it is nice to escape to fantasyland now and then thought the rabbit hole that is the Internet, it also gives me an even greater sense of never quite being enough. It’s hard to keep up with the Jones online because you don’t even know the Jones. You don’t get to hear the neighborhood gossip about the Jones, you only see what they want you to see. Though the images are lovely, its hard not to get jealous of others’ success or wonder why when you take a picture it doesn’t quite look like what you had in mind. But that’s the (sometimes glorious) thing about photography, you don’t see reality, you see what the artist sees through their lens. You can crop out the things you don’t want and make the lighting just so.

When I first started writing my blog I didn’t tell very many people I was writing it. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to say and voids I wanted to fill. I spend all of my spare time researching, writing, and teaching myself Photoshop, basic Internet coding, and photography. I wanted to be able to see what was in my head come to fruition. But then, a year into it I started wondering what other people thought of my little venture. The more I reached out the more vulnerable I felt. Not to sum up two years of my life in one sentence but – I went from feeling very fulfilled to feeling like I couldn’t measure up, no matter how many positive and reassuring comments I received. I lost my direction and I was petrified of moving forward.

Then one day in July, it all came to a head. I realized I was pregnant the same week movers were coming to haul my life away to the Middle East. Though this was happy news, it was also the straw that broke the camel’s back. I felt like a week before jumping on an airplane my life violently exploded and I was just floating in little pieces out in the ether of outer space. I felt like I wasn’t present in my own body, just watching it go about daily tasks.

Once in Kuwait I became sicker and sicker with first trimester nausea and exhaustion. I slipped into depression. I’d like to share something I wrote on August 25th in my journal:

"Since my arrival to Kuwait I’ve felt sick. I’ve been so sick I haven’t left the house much. At any given moment I’m starving. But I also have that feeling you have right before you vomit. The one where you say to yourself, “oh G*d. This is it.” and you hope you make it to the toilet in time. Except I don’t puke and the only solution is to eat. So I go against my natural feeling and gag down saltine crackers. The sickness is followed by extreme fatigue and mild depression. 

Last night I finally gave in and took a sleeping pill. I slept for 11 hours almost straight without moving. I woke up feeling better than I’ve felt in weeks. For a few hours this morning I didn’t feel nauseated. I ate breakfast, read, listened to music, and then before I could catch myself I passed out on the couch for four hours this afternoon. I was dreaming that I was sleeping there on the couch and that the sun was so bright I couldn’t open my eyes. Gman came home and cradled my head but when I tried to move to touch his arm, I woke up and realized I was alone. It was my dream. It was like when you have two mirrors facing each other and your reflection goes on for eternity. I had to wake up twice. 

I’ve heard stories of women dying of fatigue in Victorian times. I wonder when that went out of fashion, or maybe we call it something else now. 

We are living in a beautiful 3 bedroom 2 and a half bathroom apartment over looking the Gulf of Kuwait. All day long I sit and look out the window at the traditional fishing boats, pleasure craft, and Jet Ski disturbing the peaceful ocean life. Brave individuals walk the 4 mile long Cornish that runs along the water. It is usually 115 degrees outside, after all. The heat drains what little energy I do have. Should I decide to venture out, it sucks me dry before I return to the safety of the air-conditioned apartment. Not to mention, I don’t want to leave the comfort of the many bathrooms should I actually vomit. 

As such, I’ve had lots of time. Normally I would fill this time with busying myself. When in DC I would read the news in the morning, read and research for my blog, travels, and magazine, and then I would work on the magazine and blog. I would schedule lunch dates and squeeze in a run or a P90X video. I would call my family or girlfriends and chat away the afternoon. Then I would barely have enough time to greet Gman and have dinner before heading out to meet friends for happy hour. But now I’m alone. I have myself to contend with. 

You always hope that revelations can come without pain. You hope that you can plan a trip, get away, travel, see new places, and it will open your mind and solve your problems. You hope that by seeing new things you will see your own life with new light- that you will be able to gain enough perspective to get through the hardship. Sometimes that has helped me. Sometimes a trip is just the ticket for snapping myself out of it. But now, now has been the most humbling experience in all of my life." 

I’m feeling much better since writing that. A revelation came over me during that time. Sadness and change are just part of life. It’s part of a natural cycle of emotion. Sometimes you have a good day; sometimes you have a bad one. And that’s ok. It’s just life. It’s not negative, it just is. Pain is awful but it passes. It passes just as quickly as pleasure. Time stands still for no one and feeling sorry for oneself only weakens the precious moments we have. Being that sick also took all of my body’s recourses to cope. I did not have a creative thought in my head. I had all these aspirations to finish issue two of my magazine and spend all that down time researching Islamic art and checking out as many local restaurants as possible. But I couldn’t do anything. And since I was my worst in the evenings, making friends was nearly impossible.

On top of that, I have pregnancy brain (yeah, it’s a real thing.) I forget what I’m doing as I’m doing it. My mind isn’t quite all there. I can’t keep a train of thought going for more than 60 seconds. I’ll just stop as if my brain was a printer and ran out of ink. I don’t think for long periods of time. No thoughts at all. It’s very hard to be creative. Just sitting down to edit a photograph in Photoshop comes with new challenges. Even if I write it down, I’ll forget about a task for days at a time. I have to do things as I think of them, otherwise it will never happen.

Coping with the extreme changes in my life has been more challenging that I was prepared for. As I adjust to new normals and to culture shock, everyday tasks take up most of the day. For example, meal planning. Although I still have no appetite, I have to eat something and I don’t want Gman to have to fend for himself. If I find a few recipes and get the courage to go to the grocery store, likely I’ll find only 80% of what I needed on my list and it takes twice the amount of time I expected to find everything. I have to come up with substitutes for the missing items or scratch what I’ve already collected and just go home. Things like organic, low-sodium liquid chicken stock not existing here has driven me to tears.

I no longer wish to keep up with the Internet Jones. I want my blog to be personal and not a brand or a business. I want to share stories. I want to somehow capture people living through my living. I want to show you the culture I’m experiencing and lessons I’m learning. I want to connect. I want to grow. I want to laugh about it.

As time goes on, and a visit from my mother, I’ve started feeling better. I know the streets around my apartment (there's a Zara and Starbucks within steps. I mean seriously). I generally know where things are at the grocery store (and what they are likely to have - I found frozen organic chickens to make my own stock). I have been able to venture out and make friends. Gman and I are settled into our new home and its beginning to feel quite cozy. The weather has cooled and I spend the mornings reading in the breeze on our balcony. I can see my belly growing and feel the baby kicking. I have the energy to plan my maternity wardrobe, explore Kuwait, and perhaps even start working again. I’ve decided to go home to Tampa to have our little baby boy, where I look forward to sharing such a lovely and life-changing time with family and friends.
I will be finishing issue two of the magazine in the coming weeks, Inshallah (G*d willing). Going forward it will be published twice yearly and online. I wish I had the time and money to print it quarterly, but for now it’s just me and I am stretched too thin. For those of you who ordered a subscription, I will be reaching out to refund your money in the coming weeks. 

I can’t thank you enough for believing in me. Please stick around and see what great things are to come!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Good News Everyone!

Well, its time to spill the beans. Gman and I are extending our little family to include a miniature Gman, due March 2014! When we found out "it" was a "him" I have to admit I was excited but a little nervous. It was just me and my sister growing up in a house full of Barbie dolls! I was worried that I wouldn't get to bond with a little boy like I would a little girl. Over the last month Gman has been sharing with me all the awesome games boys play. Not only that but he said that a man's mother is very important to him and men love their mothers in a special way. He pointed out, when have you ever heard a man accept an award and not thank his mom? I felt reassured. Lady friends with little boys, your wise words are welcome!

On a side note, when I thought about how I wanted to share the good news with everyone in my head Professor Farnsworth in Futurama would say, "Good News Everyone!" and I would just start laughing to myself (any fellow Futurama junkies out there?). 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Heroic Story in South Florida

It was a Monday morning in April and I woke up to a rooster crowing. I hobbled to the bathroom to get ready for the day. While brushing my teeth I peered out the second story window through the large oak tree shading the driveway. My mom and aunt sat together at a small table drinking coffee, checking their phones, and reading. The rooster was still crowing intermittently and looked comically small compared to the 10 or so hens that seemed to really rule the front yard. They were too busy scratching around the dirt beneath the tree looking for food to notice the little rooster strutting about.

The morning previous was nice and leisurely. I poured my coffee and joined my mom and aunt beneath the tree and walked around my aunt’s 5-acre property to see how it had changed over the years. The lake was still there; with remnants of childhood games barely overgrown with grass. I remembered bonfires and golf cart rides with my cousins. They grew up playing in the 5-acre wilderness. I grew up in the suburbs. Things they got to do everyday, like fishing, hunting, riding dirt bikes through actual dirt, making bonfires, and encountering wild animals (besides squirrels) all seemed so exotic to me. My preferred game always was playing with Barbies in the air-conditioning.

Nowadays, my eldest cousin is establishing a trapping business and honeybee farm on the property. His chickens, which provide eggs for house and for the dogs, are free range in every sense of the word, roosting at night in the oak tree over the driveway. They use the table to jump up to the branches and have no problem doing so while you sit there as well. They would rush at you also if you stood in the driveway. I couldn't decide if the chickens were territorial and saw me as a threat or if they simply had no fear of humans. I started a habit of running from the car to the house, to be on the safe side.

This morning was not leisurely. After a chaotic weekend of visiting with family and friends it was time to get to work. I was in town to assist my mother with one of her interior design jobs. It sounds glamorous but involves an exhaustive schedule. We had only a few minutes in the early morning to throw together our purses and lunches for the day along with anything we might need for a stay overnight in a hotel. I ran my things out to the car parked under the oak tree. While situating my things I realized I forgot something and ran back inside to retrieve it. This is when I made a terrible mistake. Even after many warnings from my aunt, I accidently left the car door open. Upon returning to the car with my mom, I realized my failure just as one of the chickens hopped up onto the floorboard and then onto the back seat. I started screaming, paralyzed with fear. I just stood there. What should I do? How do you get a chicken out of a car? What if it poops on the seat or on my handbag? What if it lunges at me? We were both dressed to visit with clients, not to deal with farm animals.

Just then my mom opened the other door, snatched the chicken by the tail feathers, and tossed it back onto the driveway all in one swift movement. “Get in the car and shut the door,” she said as if she didn't just touch the chicken. I couldn’t believe she just did that. No fear at all and in her nice clothes no less. I was still awestruck a few miles down the road when I finally said, “How did you do that? You saved my life!” She laughed and reminded me that she too grew up living the exotic life of my cousins. When she was a little girl it was her duty to feed the chickens before school every day. I gained a whole new respect for my mother that morning - my mother, the hero.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Exploring Wine: Boxwood Rose

Boxwood Estates, Rose, 2001, Virginia, $14.00
My rating for this bottle? I would drink a few glasses.

On average its been about 110 degrees F here in Kuwait City. In such hot temperatures either I just want to drink buckets of ice water or I have a hankering for a little rose (too bad I now live in a dry country). Although many of you reading this are getting ready for fall (oh how I'll miss thee), here's one last rose for the end of summer! This one from Boxwood Estates in VA is very light, dry, and has a little effervescence on the tongue.

In case you live in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area - don't miss the upcoming DC Wine Week! There will be great events lined up for September including winery tours (one is this weekend Sept 14) and educational activities (meaning you get to drink wine). Check out their website for more details. I'll be with you in spirit (pun intended?).

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wardrobe: What to Wear While Visiting Roadside America

Admittedly most people on my visit to Solomon's Castle were donning their best red, purple, and white as they were mostly members of the Red Hat Society. For the rest of us, the challenge is balancing really cold AC indoors and warmer temperatures outdoors.

I wore a black sundress, but I thought it would be fun to create a look that took the standard Florida wardrobe staples - a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals - and elevate them a bit with interesting accessories. You could wear this to any of the quirky sights that make up the classic Americana roadside tourist stop.

long sleeved t-shirt, bag, shorts, sunglasses, sandals, earrings

Monday, September 9, 2013

Destination: Solomon's Castle, Ona, Florida

Solomon's Castle is one of those road-side America must do's. I first heard about it through my in-laws who insisted we go see it during one of Gman and my visits. They described it with great enthusiasm, "This man built an entire castle by hand, out of garbage. Well, out of recycled materials. He built the whole thing! You can take a tour and have lunch in the Boat in the Moat. The funny thing is the whole thing is a pun. Its a joke. Its great, we have to go!" And so finally after years of talking about it with my anticipation building, we finally went this summer.

You can only get to Solomon's Castle by car and it is recommended that you start with a full tank of gas as you exit Interstate 75. It is located pretty far into the wilderness of the middle of the state. Also bring cash with you for tour tickets and lunch. Surprisingly, its easy to spend a full day there so start your journey early in the morning. The closest large town is Sarasota, so it might be a fun day trip if you are enjoying a week at the beach. Other logistics to note, since the whole experience is run by a family who actually lives in the castle that you take a tour in, sometimes they need time off. It is closed all Mondays and the months of July, August, and September. This seems like a lot but if you have ever experienced summer in Florida, you're going to only want to be at the beach or in the AC somewhere anyways. The middle of the state gets pretty hot and every afternoon has incredible thunderstorms

Redneck Coat of Arms

"Wrong Brothers"

Editor's note: Before you make fun of me for going on a geriatric tour with the Red Hat Society, remember, they were out exploring while you were at home watching TV and surfing the internet. 

My favorite thing about Solomon's Castle is that everything there, including the building itself was crafted by hand by the owner and artist Howard Solomon. If I remember correctly (too busy enjoying myself to take notes!) he has been working on it for several decades. He created each sculpture, stained glass window, painting, or piece of architecture out of found objects. The outside of the castle, for example, is made from old printing press plates that were otherwise going to be thrown away. The tour you go on takes you through a museum of Mr. Solomon's artwork and through his home. Some of the items might seem like crudely constructed rifts on great works of art or just a wooden gun inside a box, but each piece is a visual pun. Its the epitome of everything I studied about conceptual art. I freakin' loved it! The tour guide was so dry that he barely smiled. I was laughing out loud the entire tour. For example, the image below is of Mr. Solomon's dining room window with a bunch of cameras on the ledge. Its a "picture window." GET IT?! I was dying. I could barely catch my breath as each joke rolled off the tongue of the guide. I just love that Mr. Solomon was inspired to create each concept and he had the drive and talent enough to actually follow through and make each thing. I feel like I always have these crazy ideas but then I don't take action. He didn't let other people discourage him from building his own castle in the middle of Florida. In fact his whole family, children, grand-children, all live on the property and support his fantastic dreams.

You're going to work up an appetite on the tour. Go directly to the Boat in the Moat, run by his daughter, and order some traditional Floridian cuisine. I enjoyed the classic BLT with a fruit salad and marshmallows and a sweet tea. For dessert we split a few slices of Key Lime Pie, a must! The food was simple but delicious, fresh (mostly sourced from local farms), and prepared with friendly hands.

After lunch I recommend a walk on the nature path, a stop by Mr. Solomon's workshop, and a visit to his latest piece, The Alice Shmo, a to scale replica of The Alamo. There is a gift shop too (where you purchase tour tickets) if you are in a silly mood and interested in taking a joke home with you.

If you aren't quite ready to leave, perhaps a stay at the castle is in your cards? There is a one room Bed & Breakfast located in the top of the tower. Want to bring your friends back with you? They have a beautiful room you can rent for parties of 20+ people. Getting the party out there is on you...

"Picture window"

Boat in the Moat Restaurant
"This mural is protected by fencing." 

Plant loving friends, are you impressed by this staghorn fern? I was!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Weekend Recap: Greetings from Kuwait!

view of downtown Kuwait City at sunrise

Hello dear readers! Greetings from my new home, Kuwait City! It feels good to finally be here. I can't wait to start exploring. Some observations from my first few days:

- The views of the water from our apartment were everything I hoped they would be. I could just stare out the window for hours.
- People here are much nicer and friendlier than I thought they might be. Its like moving from New York City to Charleston. A smiling grocery store attendant can throw you off. Although people seem to mind their business in public, which I like.
- There is a Starbucks within walking distance.
- At certain times every day you can hear the call to prayer from the mosques (of which there are many). Luckily the man who sings at the mosque near us has a great voice and I find it soothing to listen. They sing into a megaphone so you can hear in the surrounding street.
- The grocery stores are packed full of perfectly delicious things including a feta/cheese bar, raw nuts bar, as many dates as one could possibly eat, a whole aisle dedicated to yogurt, and a decent selection of produce. I also saw Vegemite (has anyone tried this?) and lots of American breakfast cereals and candy.
- There is more greenery than I expected.
- I met a girl who will show me where to get my nails and hair done (so important!)
- There is a family of kittens living in the bushes of the entry to our building. They're so cute I can't stand it.

Less positive: 
- They weren't exaggerating about the heat. It sucks the life out of me when I leave the apartment. I've heard it gets worse before it gets better.
- We can't get our boxes from customs until we get residency cards, which could take a month! I'm more thankful than ever that we have a furnished apartment but I was so looking forward to sleeping in my own bed and not living out of a suitcase after living in a hotel for two weeks.
- People, I'm assuming young men, race motorcycles down the street at 2am. every. night. (note to self: get white noise machine).
- All of the time is in military time or international time. So although I can read the clock, I have no idea what time 21:00 is. I'm learning...

I hope to share more with you soon about what its like to move to a foreign country as well as my road trip through the American South and what its like to live in a hotel!

In the meantime, I've also been busy finishing up the second issue of the magazine! I underestimated how much went into moving abroad so it took a little longer than I expected to do both at the same time. It's almost complete and I hope to have it available for purchase during the month of August. I'll give you a more firm date soon! Thanks for your patience as I navigate all this travel and change at once. :)
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