Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Happy 100th Birthday

Today is my great-grandmother's 100th birthday! She is one of the women in my life whom I admire greatly. Her name is Florence Hinton, we call her Nannie. She is from Covington, Georgia which she loves as much as Scarlett loved Tara. This picture was taken of her in her late 20s. She is my Dad's maternal grandmother.

She is known as "Feisty Flo" in the nursing home she now resides in. The name suits her though. She worked very, very hard her entire life and grew a pretty thick skin to deal with the hardships (and sometimes she's a bitch, but hey, it happens).  

Things that I admire about her: 
- She spent her money wisely on objects that were of good quality, most of which I use now (including my furniture, china, and jewelry!). 
- She said she used to save up a portion of her wages (working in a cotton mill) to go to Atlanta every few months to buy the most beautiful fabrics to have her clothes made from. 
- Despite having modest means, it was important to her to look put together (never leave the house without your hair and makeup done, was one lesson amongst many). 
- She also used to have a magical green thumb and grew a garden so abundant that she fed her family from it - which is part of my suspicion for her living 100 years. 

One of my favorite quotes: 
Nannie to Grandma (her daughter): "Anne, looks like the bird done shit on the winda [window]."
Grandma: "Mama, we don't say that word around little ears."
Nannie: "What? Winda?"

When I was a little girl she would babysit my sister and I. She would give us chocolate milk and we would play on the floor while she watched Wonder Woman and Wheel of Fortune from her perch on her floral patterned couch. 

She also used to drink coffee with just about every meal. Including hamburgers at McDonald's.

I love you, Nannie! Happy 100th!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Shoe Love: the perfect pumps

Have you ever had that pair of heels that just fit you like a glove? I wore this one pair for years and years and with everything in every season. They were magical shoes, so to speak, and never hurt my feet either. Then after all that time, somehow they finally succumbed to wear and tear. I bid you farewell perfect pumps, we had a good run (no pun intended). I'm on to find another lover.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sumac: A taste of the Middle East

When I'm not traveling, I like to cook at home with Gman. I love cooking, in fact. I love using my hands to make something and I like experimenting with new combinations (lucky for me, Gman will eat just about anything).

I like to cook with ingredients we collect from our adventures. We’ve bought olive oil and lavender from the South of France, honey from West Virginia, apples in the Hudson River Valley, beer in Denver, wine in Napa Valley, barbecue sauce in Savannah, smoked salt from Seattle, and strawberry jam from Germany – just to name a few! Recently on a trip to the Middle East, Gman had the once in a lifetime chance to visit a spice market in Erbil, Iraq and brought home a huge bag of sumac.

Sumac is a spice commonly found throughout the Middle East. (It is not from a poisonous plant of a similar name in North America.) Dried and ground up, it has a reddish color and is used as a spice in food and as a dye (even turns your fingers red when you handle it). Sumac has a tart lemony flavor that is wonderful on everything from fish, chicken, lamb, veggies, hummus, and even just on rice. Gman argues it is best simply on kebobs.

I’ve really enjoyed adding this spice to our meals. I cook chicken breast in olive oil and a little bit of white wine. Then add the sumac once it is finished cooking in the pan. Adding it at the end is key, as it will burn during the cooking process. I also add it to my routine hummus and Stacy’s pita chips (I would say hummus and veggies, but let’s be honest with ourselves, those pita chips are so salty and delicious).

Have you ever tried introducing a new ingredient to your regular meals? Has it been successful?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

2013 Presidential Inauguration

I had the honor of attending the Presidential Inauguration yesterday. I had every intention to live tweet my experiences and observations of my surroundings. My plan was to link to the twitter feed of my in-the-moment feelings today and encourage a conversation about your comments on the event.

But as life seems to go sometimes, I had no cell service the entire time. I couldn’t even send a text message. It forced me to be in the moment and observe my fellow Americans on a truly historical day.

My friends and I arrived to our gate at the appointed time and came to find that they were not letting anyone in. Huge crowds got even bigger as people stacked up waiting to get in. Finally after an hour of patiently waiting, we entered the first holding pin. Another 20 minutes and we are up at the security line, where each person is screened, one at a time. People in the crowd weren’t as aggressive or pushy as I was expecting. And not as rude either. Most waited with excitement, talking to each other about what they were expecting to see, how cold it was, and how we might end up missing it because of the delay. We finally made it to a reasonable spot just in time to see Vice President Joe Biden swearing in.

The crowd tried to listen. They wanted to hear President Obama’s speech and they wanted to take their picture, proving they witnessed it. During the speech, Mr. Obama’s voice echoed on the loud speakers, all the way down the Mall back towards the White House. Each word seemed to be spoken three or four times. The man next to me had his headphones in and was recording the speech on his ipad. Presumably hundreds of others, who had their phones in the air, were doing the same thing. Many people were very focused on capturing the experience instead of experiencing it, which was also my plan originally. The child next to me was sitting on the ground playing Angry Birds while her parents split their attention between each other and the President. People were proud to be there, wearing hats, pins, scarves, bags all plastered with “OBAMA” and “I was there Inaugural 2013.”

It’s funny because when you go to events like this, or sporting events, you can usually get a better view of the game or presenter from the comfort of your TV at home. We couldn’t see the President from where we stood. But when you go to the game its about camaraderie. It’s about being with people and experiencing life together. I got so caught up in it all that I almost bought a souvenir Washington D.C. snow globe!

Later, the news noted how this was the speech that Obama’s liberal followers were waiting for and couldn’t wait to start picking it apart. But that’s not what I got out of it. I didn’t hear a bunch of liberal ideals and agendas. I saw hope and joy on the faces of my fellow Americans as they got to stand together peacefully on the lawn of the Capitol Building witnessing our democratic system actually work. They were proud to be part of a country where we can peacefully transition leadership (even though in this instance the same man was re-elected). We were all there for the same reason, in the same gated off area, taking pictures for each other.

As we walked back home, I watched as people celebrated in the streets and found their way to their parade seats. I couldn’t help but think about what I had just witnessed. I thought about the words at the beginning of the speech, quoting from the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

I think Mr. Obama was calling us to make this statement real now. Don’t give up on the system, don’t throw in the towel and stop trying because “only people with money get things done” or “I’m just one voice.” History has proved that we can ignite passion in each other and accomplish great things together. For several hours I stood amongst a crowd of people that, as completely different as they all were individually, I believe could do just that.

Special thanks to my friend Nick for generously giving me his extra ticket and taking some of these great pictures!

Studio Visit with Patrick Romelli

“I like to play.” Patrick Romelli was distracted with moving the perfect shade of green-ish blue around the canvas. Dotting it here, sweeping it there, with loose thoughtful brushstrokes. He’s finishing up the under painting of a new commission and I can already tell it’s going to be beautiful.

A native Cincinnatian, Romelli had enjoyed a rather successful commercial illustration career/business, when about ten years ago he decided to expand his creative boundaries and started painting with oils. Oil painting allowed him the freedom of emotion and artistic expression that his professional subjects did not.

Romelli is an Impressionist painter. But what does that mean exactly, especially considering the contemporary context? Impressionist painting, in the simplest of terms, is a painting that is able to describe the sense of something without actually depicting it in detail. For instance, you can get the sense of looking at Monet’s Water Lily paintings that the plants are floating in a pond without the artist actually painting water lilies. You get the impression of them. While the Impressionist Movement was one of the most influential artistic developments in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (and arguably ever), many artists today still paint in the Impressionist style. Like an impressionist painter of years past, he understands light. The way he captures the light gives life to each painting. Romelli paints a variety of Cincinnati subjects close to his heart – Union Station, horse racing, and musicians. He also paints Italian landscapes.

My mom’s college friend lives in Cincinnati. While we were in town he said his father-in-law is an artist and we must see his work. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times a friend has said, “you should see my friend’s work, you’d love it” and I have to politely compliment them while desperately trying to find my way to the exit. This was not the case with Patrick Romelli. As soon as we stepped foot in his studio I realized he was talented. I didn’t have to politely compliment him. Instead, I wanted to know what he was thinking. What drove him to paint and why the ubiquitous Italian scenes?

It was hard not to take one of these littles home as a souvenir.

Horse racing at Churchill Downs

Romelli recently went to Tuscan Italy. He took up a castle residence with five other artists for a few weeks to paint. Just to paint. Everyday, twice a day, he left his comfortable surroundings to venture out into the landscape and simply paint what he saw and felt. As he told me the stories of his trip, I couldn’t help but think that this is out of a romantic movie where one finds the answers to life’s questions. But this wasn’t a movie, he was there. And he painted it.

He went were many have gone before, but in a good way. When you look at the loosely painted brushstrokes on the orange rooftops of a neighborhood in Cinque Terre, you remember it. It’s familiar. It brings back those good memories of being on vacation – even if you’ve never been there.

Romelli’s work isn’t serious. It isn’t searching for a deeper meaning to our humanity or rejecting the politics of his city. He paints because he cannot imagine doing anything else. Simply put, he enjoys painting what makes him happy. His energy leaves the viewer with a sense of content nostalgia for a moment when they themselves were happy.

Thank you Steve and Patrick for the tour!

See more of Patrick Romelli’s work on his website here.

Detail of a Las Vegas painting, love all the little brushstrokes.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Winter in Ohio

Afternoon sunshine in January in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Shoe Love: Smoking Slippers

I draw with charcoal in my free time (if ever I have it) so I wanted to find a way to incorporate my drawings into the blog. Welcome to the new Shoe Love column featuring my favorite types of shoes illustrated by me! I received a Wacom Bamboo tablet for Christmas and now I can draw directly into Photoshop. This little piece of technology is incredibly addicting to use and I encourage you to get one and start playing immediately. 

The smoking loafer is classic American East coast prep. They are not just for smoking, as you might imagine. Wear them with trousers, denim, and skirts, in winter or summer, uptown and downtown. They come in velvet, linen, canvas, leather, and even silk. You can go high end, low end and everywhere in between. Wear them with a sweatshirt and jeans on the weekend or with a suit to the office (not just the commute!). The smoking slipper is my current go-to in the crazy warm winter weather we've been having. Tell me, do you wear smoking slippers? Would you?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What I Wore: Buenos Aires, Argentina

I took it easy while in Buenos Aires. Once I finally came out of the hotel room, I felt most comfortable in Gman's fleece, so I wore it pretty much the entire time. It was nice to get out of my normal wardrobe routine without having to buy something new. Do you ever wear your boyfriend/husband's sweatshirts? If so, do you find it comforting?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wardrobe: Buenos Aires, Argentina

sweater dresshandbagflatsscarfsunglassesperfumelipstick (in Bahama)

For a trip to Buenos Aires, I recommend keeping things simple and relaxed. It's a cosmopolitan city but its not fussy - more Paris than New York. You can get away with bright colors, too, though most people wear black. I love this sweater dress and scarf combo for shopping, going to an exhibition, or simply sipping wine. Add a slip to keep the sweater comfortable, warm, and modest. I like this one from Spanx.

Unfortunately, this city is known for some pretty crafty pick pockets so its important to wear a cross-body bag that zips closed. It would also not be wise to wear any jewelry, especially gold and diamonds, as you will be targeted for a (possibly armed) robbery. That sounds scary, but it is important to be aware of these things when traveling, no matter how unpleasant. It should not stop you from exploring! Being aware of potential threats can help you have a safer, more enjoyable adventure. So instead of jewelry, accessorize with a pretty fragrance, bright lip, and your favorite pair of sunglasses.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


traditional Argentine Mate tea in ceramic cup

Argentine Tango lyrics make me think about travel in a conceptual sense. You travel through life gathering memories, experiences, and sometimes pain. This song, Volver, captures a journey many of us have taken. Imagine the music and dancers as you read...

Carlos Gardel, Volver (English translation) 

I imagine the flickering 
of the lights that in the distance 
will be marking my return. 
They're the same that lit, 
with their pale reflections, 
deep hours of pain 
And even though I didn't want to come back, 
you always return to your first love 
The tranquil street where the echo said 
yours is her life, yours is her love, 
under the mocking gaze of the stars 
that, with indifference, today see me return. 

To return 
with withered face, 
the snows of time 
have whitened my temples. 
To feel... that life is a puff of wind, 
that twenty years is nothing, 
that the feverish look, 
wandering in the shadow, 
looks for you and names you. 
To live... 
with the soul clutched 
to a sweet memory 
that I cry once again 

I am afraid of the encounter 
with the past that returns 
to confront my life 
I am afraid of the nights 
that, filled with memories, 
shackle my dreams. 
But the traveler that flees 
sooner or later stops his walking 
And although forgetfulness, which destroys all, 
has killed my old dream, 
I keep concealed a humble hope 
that is my heart's whole fortune. 

To live... with the soul clutched 
to a sweet memory 
that I cry once again

Monday, January 7, 2013

Destination: Buenos Aires, Argentina

I could see myself, watching myself. An “out of body experience,” they call it. I was naked, wallowing hysterically in the crisp, clean, white sheets of the king-sized bed in my Marriott hotel room. I hadn’t eaten for many hours, too tired, emotional, and downright fearful to leave the room to forage for even a candy bar, of which there were plenty. Abundant bodegas were filled to the brim with candy brands foreign and domestic; chocolate covered, dolce de leché filled, sweet biscuits were a local favorite. In fact anything drizzled, dunked or dripping with dolce de leché might as well been considered the national dish. Porteños love their sweets. I saw more sweets pouring off shelves in quick marts than cigarettes, booze and porn combined. It was like the entire city was a candy shop for the proverbial kid.

I did have two beers though, left over from yesterday’s haul. But no opener. So they sat room temperature on the desk next to the landline phone that rang from time to time with no one on the other end.

The room came with the standard coffee maker and bag of grounds, complete with powdered milk and refined sugar to make it somewhat drinkable. I cleaned out the stock within the early morning hours each day.

In between sobs of self-pity, I watched Argentine soap operas on TV. My Spanish was rusty, which was part of my problem. I’ve been to places where I cannot speak the language before, but I know Spanish (somewhat). For some reason I was intimidated. How did my lack of Spanish skills become my undoing? It was my first trip to South America, Argentina, and Buenos Aires. And instead of exploring the cities vast offerings of art, cinema, music, shopping, steak and Malbec, I was curled up in the fetal position in a hotel room.

Buenos Aires is often described as the Paris of South America. It has a heavy European, with a lot of Italian, influence in the architecture, gastronomy, and hand gestures. It is also a Latin American city with indigenous traditions, mate tea, and driving methods. The buildings and sidewalks of Buenos Aires are soaked with its loaded history. Graffiti stains cement walls with artistic rebellion against poverty, unemployment, the “Dirty War”, and current support for or unrest against President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

The San Telmo Market, a long-standing traditional weekend market, tells the tales of Argentines from the past century. Antiques from glory years are crammed in overflowing dusty buildings, which crumble from the weight of time and neglect. I walked through the stalls, which go on for what seemed like nearly a mile, some vendors simply lay a blanket on the brick paved ground to show off their handmade wares, others have permanent locations. Hundreds of vintage posters, maps, trinkets, ceramics, dishes, silverware, and gleaming chandeliers reminded me of similar shops in Leesburg, Virginia and Dunedin, Florida. There was a romantic nostalgia for times past, yet an understanding that now is the time to move forward. Argentine merchants were friendly, mindful, and generally glad to be doing business. Pickpockets lurked, tourists took pictures and selected souvenirs, Porteńos just enjoyed being out in the perfect spring weather in their fine city.

I was with Gman when one of the artists caught our eye. He painted watercolors of the city. His hands were rough from many, many decades of use and his demeanor gentle. These paintings, he said (all in Spanish), are of an idealized Buenos Aires. They represent places he’s passed by a million times and each painting depicts his collective memory of his life in his beloved city. Maybe there wasn’t ever a car parked just like that, he suggested, but since cars were introduced here, they have driven past that spot. The car in this painting is from the late 1940s, the glory years when Evita Peron presided over the country at her husband’s side. There is a poetic sadness to the memories, to the painting, to the streets, to the daily life. It’s not tragic or a feeling-sorry-for-one’s-self sadness, just honest.

Tango is also like this. It was a tango show that jerked me out of my tear soaked sheets and brought me into the night air.

The venue was slightly hokey, for tourists. A two-show-a-night place with steak and Malbec for dinner. The meat was rough and wine average. Although it was a dinner show, we really weren’t here for the food. We were here to see live Argentine Tango. I’d only ever had a Looney Tunes understanding of it and wanted to see firsthand just what all the fuss was about. Plus, it's like the #1 tourist must do. Besides eating gobs of dolce de leché. The dancers arms, hands, fingers stayed perfectly placed. Their neck muscles taunt. The intimacy is melodic as they began to feel the music and move their feet. They were not necessarily passionate for each other, but passionate about the music, their moves, this moment and the past.

Once out, I rather liked Buenos Aires. Gman and I visited the art galleries of the MALBA (excellently curated), browsed the shops in Palermo, had a private tour of the United States Ambassador’s residence, and even met up with new friends for dinners and parties. Within one week, my Spanish was at an elementary conversational level. I had walked or driven through almost every neighborhood. We fell in love with the charming and delicious, DADA Bistro and became regulars. We made lists of places we’d visit if we too were Porteños.

Through Buenos Aires I was awakened from my misery. One might travel to get away from daily life, struggles, and even other people, but as the old saying goes, “wherever you go, there you are.” Sooner or later you catch up with your strife and have to learn to move past it. You cannot escape yourself by traveling. You can, however, expedite the healing process sometimes. I think of one of the most famous and influential Tango singers, Carlos Gardel, put it best. This is an expert from the song Volver, translated into English.

But the traveler that flees
sooner or later stops his walking
And although forgetfulness, which destroys all,
has killed my old dream,
I keep concealed a humble hope
that is my heart's whole fortune.

On the plane ride back to Washington, D.C. I thumbed through a shiny new copy of the September issue of Vogue Latino America. It was their springtime, a time for renewal and every article gleamed with hope (and floral pumps).
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