Looking Local

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In a previous post, I talked about my family’s biennial trips through Europe to the Philippines, that always culminated with stops in Hawaii and San Francisco. The 5 of you who read this blog probably already know that my brother and I were raised in suburban DC; Vienna in the ‘70s, and Great Falls in the ‘80s to be exact. 

In 1980, Great Falls consisted of farm land, horse country, and one intersection, near which was Buck’s Country Store; a combination convenience store, post office, and bait/tackle shop. Some of my classmates were children of the senators and congressmen who commuted into DC. They mostly lived in McLean, the affluent suburban town next door. Others were pick-up driving, confederate flag flying, tobacco-chewing, bass fishermen with gun-racks in their trucks. Those were my neighbors in Great Falls. Nice boys, but country boys.

It was such a small town back then, that our Catholic church didn’t have an actual physical structure. Mass was held in Great Falls Elementary’s cafeteria. Funds for the new church were raised by selling Krispy Kreme donuts. We had moved to Great Falls when I was 12, and I don’t think the church was actually complete until I was 16. So there were a lot of Sundays spent amidst that faint whiff of dirty dishwater. Or was it institutional mop water? You know what I’m talking about.

Suffice it to say, there weren’t a lot of asian families in Great Falls at that time. In fact, the only other one lived right next door to us. There might have been 5 of us in each class at my high school. Bullying was definitely an issue. 

So it goes without saying that one of the many reasons I loved visiting Hawaii so much was that I looked like the majority of people there. I didn’t stick out. In fact, on one visit, a tourist  asked my mother and I to pose for a photo, assuming that we were local. 

I can’t speak for other immigrant children of color, but for me, that feeling of belonging, not being an outsider was profound. It played an instrumental role in my decision to move to the islands in my late 30s.  

Of course the glorious sunshine, and white sand beaches were influential too. We stayed at the Sheraton Waikiki during every visit. Back then, there was a huge, shell chandelier in the lobby. I can still hear the tinkling sound it would make from the strong breeze that cut from the beach through the entrance. I think my brother and I spent hours every day floating on inflatable rafts in front of that hotel. So much so that at night, laying in bed with fried, brown skin, it would still feel like we were floating in the gently lapping waves.

I don’t remember much from childhood, but those languid vacation memories are ones that I hold onto tightly. As I round out my MBA and search for jobs, I hope to return to the islands. I know that one can never really return to a place, and all the reasons that I left in 2015 are still relevant: the cost of living, limited opportunities, etc. So I keep my search open to Southern California too. Living so far away from warm surf, so focused on internal pursuits, has left me feeling disconnected from my body. I miss my brown self and want to feel healthy and strong again. Here’s to finding a job in paradise and looking like a local again.

 

 

 

Run Away to Italy? Why Not?

In 1992, a few years after undergrad, I decided to move to Italy. I was barely scraping by in NYC, working as an artist-as-guard at the Soho Guggenheim (which opened in 1992 and closed in 2001). I had gotten into NYU's grad program in arts administration, and was waiting to find out if I'd gotten financial aid. It was my first time dealing with the bureaucratic maze that is financial aid, and I kept calling the school to get updates. This was years before you could track your acceptance online. I never received my packet and just assumed I didn't get it; and without financial aid, I couldn't afford NYU (I later found out that they had sent it to my old address in DC.) So I thought, if I'm not going to school here, and I can't afford to carry on as is, I've got to come up with a plan B.

That's how I decided to move to Italy. I had Florence in mind, since that's where I had spent a summer abroad during my last year in undergrad, was familiar with it, and it was a city I loved. The boy (and I use the term "boy" intentionally) I was seeing at the time lived in DC, and he decided that he could go too and finish his undergrad studies at the American University of Rome. Thus started his campaign to convince me to move to Rome with him, that I'd have an easier time finding a job than in Florence, etc. This is not the last time that I'd listen to a guy, when moving a great distance, who had his own priorities in mind. He argued that he had friends in Rome, and could help me find a place to live, a job, etc. (his housing would be taken care of by the University).

Long story short, we flew to Rome, and got him settled at school. He hooked me up with some very generous friends that let me crash with them in their tiny studio near the American Embassy. I spent about a month looking for a job in museums and galleries. I had worked at The Phillips Collection in DC, and as I mentioned, the Guggenheim in NYC, so I naively thought it would be easy for me land a gig in at least a small gallery in Rome. Money was getting tight, and I was overstaying my welcome in the tiny studio, so I signed up with an au pair agency and shortly thereafter was placed with a wealthy single mom, Sra. Pisa, and her two kids, an 8-yr-old (Manlio) and an almost 1-yr-old (I can't remember his name, isn't that awful?). They lived in a nice apartment off Via Nomentana, an ancient road that heads from Rome out to the suburbs. Sra. Pisa owned her own chain of boutiques, and Manlio was in school most of each day. So my constant companion was the baby, who was absolutely beguiling. They also had a live-in maid, an immigrant Filipina, whose English was on-level with my Italian.

It was a good gig, providing me housing, a little income, and an opportunity to improve my very broken Italian. I must have been there for 3 months, long enough to celebrate the baby's first birthday, and study the social dynamics of being a minority female working as a domestic in Italy (more on that later). I was essentially a glorified babysitter, but I wanted more out of my experience living abroad. So I left, moved into a group house with some of my boyfriend classmates, and started calling around to galleries again.

There was an expat yellow pages of sorts that listed all the artists in Rome. I called every single one of them and offered up my services as a studio assistant. One couple, sculptors and medallion artists David and Elisabetta Renka, invited me to their upcoming exhibition opening. At the opening, I learned that David was originally from Georgia, but had lived in Italy for a couple decades. He and Elisabetta were so kind to me, and that night changed the trajectory of my Italian experience. They weren't in need of an assistant, but did need life-drawing models for their studio. Having attended art school myself, I was quite familiar with drawing from nudes, but had never been on the other side of the easel. I felt comfortable enough in my own skin, so I decided, "why not?". It just occurred to me that it is entirely possible that they just took pity on me, and conjured up something for me to do that they could pay me for.

I posed for David and his wife about once a week, and my gigs just snowballed from there. David told me about drawing and painting classes at the Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO), the Italian version of The World Bank. Expats and their significant others attended these classes, and they were in need of models. So I posed for them once a week as well. One of the FAO students, a British gentleman named Chris, also needed a model for his studio, and that became another once-a-week appointment. Each session lasted an hour or two, and this routine kept me going for about 6 months.

As it turns out, Chris had a small house and studio in the Umbrian countryside, which he'd escape to on the weekends. During the week, he had a live-in couple from San Francisco looking after it, tending the grounds, and essentially making sure any ne'er-do-wells knew it was occupied. Well, the couple were returning to the US so Chris asked me if I'd like to become the new caretaker, and pose in the studio on the weekends. I knew that the countryside could be remote, so I told him that I'd have to visit it before I could commit. Of course, once I saw the hills, rustic abodes, wine and olive vineyards, I said yes; with the caveat that I couldn't be out there completely alone. The house was half-way up a hill; a half hour walk to the town at the bottom of the hill, and likewise to the town at the top. I wouldn't have a car out there, so I didn't think it was smart to be up there by myself all week.

Chris was amenable to me calling a couple friends back in the States to see if anyone was interested. I called my friends Michael, and Lisa; hoping that one of them would want an indefinite stay at a rustic farmhouse in Umbria. It turned out that both of them really wanted to come, so I had to sell the idea to Chris. I told him that Michael could do all the manly things, like mow the grass, linseed the fence, take out the compost, etc. And Lisa, being a really good cook, could prepare meals for him on the weekends. Fortunately, he agreed to both of them coming.

So 9 months after arriving in Rome, I moved out of the group house of American University students, and out to the Umbrian countryside, between the towns of Fratta Todina and Monte Castello. I believe Lisa & Michael timed their arrivals for soon after. What commenced was 3 months of glorious, Italian countryside, dreamscape. Have you seen the movie, "Stealing Beauty"? It looked like that. Chris's house was actually a small compound, with his house, and a separate little dwelling for us, which had 2 bedrooms; there was a pool and outdoor kitchen with a large pizza oven. Chris basically gave us the run of the place during the week, and he'd see us on the weekends. The only thing he asked was that we not bring the locals into the compound. You know how this plays out.

Lisa & Michael shortly after arriving at Chris' compound.

Lisa & Michael shortly after arriving at Chris' compound.

Day 1: After getting settled, we walked 30 minutes down the unpaved hill to Fratta Todina, an adorable, tiny, ancient town (pop. 1,500). At that time, there weren't many businesses: 1 grocery store, 1 gelateria, and not much else. We sampled the gelato, and walked back up the hill. Mind you, this was May or June, so the weather was just lovely. We were in heaven. We meet 2 local gentleman who are eager to practice their english with us.

Day 2: Back in Fratta, we meet Annarita Piscini, a local young woman who becomes a dear friend. She tells us that one of the men we met the day before was the town drug dealer. Duly noted; we kept out distance from him after that. After resting back at the compound, we walked 30 minutes up the bumpy hill to Monte Castello Vibio (pop. 1,500), famous for its olive oil, its pre-Roman castle, and for having the smallest theater in the world, Teatro della Concordia. We soon figure out that we won't be coming up to Monte Castello very often.

Annarita, Michael and Lisa. 

Annarita, Michael and Lisa. 

Day 3: Again, in Fratta (because there is NOTHING else to do) we meet two local boys Serio (serious) & Furio (furious), and Annarita's parents, her brother, and her uncle Wilson who are all full of welcoming warmth, and marvel at the fact that we are there without a car, phone or television. Her parents own a a nearby vineyard. I mention to her uncle that I love arugula.

Michael & Uncle Wilson

Michael & Uncle Wilson

Day 4: Annarita's uncle shows up at our house with an old, but working, bicycle. And a little black & white TV. And enough arugula to last me for weeks. My memory is shot, so this could have also happened over a period of days. Now, one of us can bike to town in good time to pick up groceries, with the bags on the handlebars. Or bike & drink wine, like Michael below.

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Day 5: We invite Serio & Furio to come up to the house. They are harmless, and fun, and love practicing their english. We see them often in town, and we are happy to have local people we can call friends.

Day 6: Chris and his Brazilian girlfriend, Graziela, arrive at the house for the weekend.

Day 7: We are all awaked by the honking of a car horn, and Furio yelling "Anna, sono Furio (it's Furio)!" Lisa & I are sharing a room, and are pretending to be asleep, knowing full well that Chris and Graziela can also hear this. But we are paralyzed not knowing what to do, because if we acknowledge that we are friends with one of the local boys, Chris will know that we've invited them up to the house. I can't remember how it all played out, but do remember Graziela yelling out the window to Furio to go away.

Day 8-90: The rest of the summer is an arugula-filled blur of bumpy bike rides, long walks to town, hosting parties for Annarita and her family by the pool, baking pizzas, eating scamorza cheese, Michael drinking all of Chris' wine in the cellar, laughing until I had to pee, awakening to scorpions in our bedroom, and did Michael get arrested? There was one night that Michael and Lisa wanted to go out to Perugia, but I'd had my fill of partying. They didn't make it home that night, and I when they did come home the next day, they weren't speaking to each other. I loved Michael; he was so much fun (he's long since passed), but every time you went out with him, you knew that it would end in trouble.

Michael & Lisa clowning around by the pool (pizza oven and kitchen to the left).

Michael & Lisa clowning around by the pool (pizza oven and kitchen to the left).

Oh, one more story, I can't believe I almost forgot to tell. Ok, so because we're American, and it was summertime, all 3 of us showered every day. The first month. Then the water tank ran out of water. And we had to walk down to town (because there was no phone in the house) and call Chris to ask him what was going on, because: Americans. He told us that there was a limited amount of water, and we couldn't all shower every day. We had to pay for a lorry, or water wagon, to come deliver more water; and from then on, only 1 of us could shower  a day. Suffice it to say, it was quite the adjustment for all of us. But obviously, it was the last thing I remembered, so it didn't change the experience one bit.

One of many magical Umbrian evenings.

One of many magical Umbrian evenings.

I ended up flying home to DC at the end of the summer. I'd been away for an entire year, and was ready to get serious about adulthood. Michael and Lisa stayed behind, possibly a couple more months. I've lost touch with Chris, but I really should try to find him on FB. I occasionally hear from David, and will be forever grateful to him and Elizabetta for the generosity and kindness they showed me while I lived in Rome. That seems to be the theme in all these travel-as-transformative experience posts: the kindness & generosity of the people you meet while traveling.

I'm going to end this long blog here, because I've shared basically everything I can remember. I'm going to leave it to Lisa to post in the comments anything she wants to add. Ci vediamo!

Annarita seeing me off at the Fratta Todina train station, where I'd train to Rome, and fly back to DC.

Annarita seeing me off at the Fratta Todina train station, where I'd train to Rome, and fly back to DC.

Arizona + a dash of Utah

In December 2016, my first Christmas in Portland, I decided that I needed some warmth and met up in Phoenix with one of my oldest and dearest friends from Virginia. We are both passionate about modern art, so we hit up this culturally-rich city's plethora of museums, including the Phoenix Art Museum.

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Lucky for us, they were hosting a Kehinde Wiley exhibition. If you haven't seen his work make the rounds the past couple of years, you're missing out. I think he's one of the most relevant painters of our time; often juxtaposing his modern-day figures in classical poses, amidst elaborate environments, more often conjured in Renaissance paintings. He was recently commissioned to paint Barack Obama's official portrait for the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. I can't wait to see what he does.

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We had both dinner and breakfast at the instagramable Royal Palms Resort and Spa. This place is magical, and if I lived in the area, this would be my go-to for hosting special events.

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But the main goal of the trip was to visit the Upper Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona. 

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This was a bucket-list trip for my dear friend. And I'm so glad we drove the 4.5 hours from Phoenix to experience this geological marvel. You can't actually drive yourself to the canyons, but are required to book a tour with one of the local Navajo outfitters to access this sacred area. We found this out the hard way, pulling up to the canyons only to see signs that say, "No Private Vehicles". Thank goodness for cellphones, because we were able to find an outfitter and join their last tour of the day, which started in their office at a strip-mall a couple miles away. They pile you into groups of about a dozen, and drive you to the canyon in a large, open-air van/jeep. You don't want to arrive too late because it gets dark and cold. And the best conditions for photography are sunny days, and when the light is directly overhead. The guides are amazing, and are super helpful in positioning you to get the best shots. We had intended to spend some time at Horseshoe Bend, but by the time we returned to the strip mall, we were running out of daylight. So we did a speed-tour of Horseshoe, which left me longing to return. 

If I recall correctly, we had originally planned to drive to Sedona that night, but opted instead of find a cheap hotel and rest for the night. While we were there, a friend of mine in California, who'd seen my Facebook photos of our trip, texted me and pointed out that we were a mere 30 minutes away from Amangiri in Canyon Point, Utah. Now, if you aren't familiar with Aman Resorts, Google them. Go. I'll wait. 

Ok, so now you know that if you're near an Aman Resort, you have to be flexible about your itinerary and find a way to fit a visit in. So the next morning, instead of driving directly to Sedona, we took a detour to Amangiri, oohed and awwed over the property, then had breakfast next to their beautiful, steam-enshrouded pool. 

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We then drove the 3.5 hours to Sedona, where my friend visited a psychic (because that's what you do in Sedona), and I went for a hike around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. Sedona is famous for its vortexes – confluences of energy that emanate from the earth that are said to be felt as vibrations. There are apparently 4 of these vortexes in Sedona, all radiating various combinations of energy: masculine (strength, self-confidence, motivation), feminine (goodness, patience, compassion) and balance. The red rocks and buttes all over the place are worth checking out too.

After Sedona, we drove to Scottsdale to get more of our art on at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West, and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. At Taliesin, which is a lot more rustic than I expected, we toured the house and studio. The living quarters are surprisingly small and the low ceiling makes even the open living room feel cramped. But the outdoor areas are full of color and whimsey. The tour was worth hearing Wright's personal history and tragedy.

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At SMoCA, James Turrell's "Knight Rise", one of only 14 of his skyspaces, is open to the public in the US. I'm sure I'm not the only one that has experienced this space as almost a religious experience. It's reminiscent of the oculi in ancient buildings, like the Pantheon in Rome. The dome-shaped room is lined with a built-in cement shelf for sitting. As the sun shifts in the sky, the light changes within the room. The circular opening frames the beautiful, blue Arizona sky, and forces you to stretch your eye muscles to focus on what is foreground vs background.

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I've never driven across the country, and had never really wanted to. I don't enjoy long car rides due to lower back issues. But this trip, with all the majestic views of canyons and buttes, red rocks and deserts, has inspired in me a new desire to see more of this country's wide open spaces. 

Kalon in Costa Rica

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Last year, I spent my first spring break as a grad student at the luxurious Kalon Surf "camp" and resort. First off, there's nothing "camping" about it. Between the round-trip airport transportation, 3 organic meals, 5 days of customized surf coaching, pool-side pilates, massages and all the snacks you can stuff in your pie hole, it was one of the most over-the-top vacations I'd ever experienced.

This gated resort is nestled deep in a jungle hillside near Dominical and Manuel Antonio, in the southern Osa Peninsula. It consists of one very large house with 6 very spacious rooms on the second floor, each with an en suite bath, and balcony with an amazing view of the coast. The first floor is an open plan living room, a dining table big enough to seat 12, and kitchen that open to the infinity pool. The latter is where the surf coaches teach newbies how to duck dive and turn turtle. The kitchen is occupied most hours of the day by 2 chefs preparing the days farm-to-table meals. In between, there are various home-made snacks available for munching. 

What I loved most about this trip is the other people staying at the house. On this particular week, there were 8 of us, and everyone was so accomplished and interesting. The house was large enough that we weren't forced to socialize all the time. But when we weren't surfing or feeding our faces, we had ample opportunity to chat. There was a young couple from the Bay Area (he worked for a start-up and she worked for Google), a genetic researcher and his adult son (also worked for a start-up), a young female physician from Southern Cal, a Spanish exec from Dannon, and an art director from NYC. I think it was the first time I truly realized the full potential of networking, and the company you keep.

The resort is on a steep hillside, at least a 15 minute drive to the closest beach. So, unfortunately, you can't just walk from your room to the ocean, and surf when you want. The week's general schedule, along with the tide schedule, is posted on a surfboard in the living room. You all get shuttled to the beach together in 2 SUVs. Each day's surf session is 3-4 hours long, and dependent on the tide.

As I was the only experienced surfer, I spent the majority of my time surfing by myself, getting occasional tips from the coaches, both in the water, and later back at the house while watching videos of our waves (not for the extremely self-critical). I liked that the coaches gave me space to figure out the set-up and the currents. The boards provided were mostly Firewire, and available in the size of your choice. Although there were a number of beaches we could drive to, we were somewhat limited by the beginner level of my fellow "campers". We split our 5 days between two mushy beach breaks, the names of which I can't remember. The conditions, and my own surfing, were not stellar, but when you've spent 11 years surfing on Oahu, it's hard to compare. But overall, the experience was a 9 out of 10. 10 for the accommodations, meals, service, staff, beauty of the locale. 9 only because of the dumpy, close-outs and because my own performance was "meh".

Downsides: It takes 2-hours to drive from San Jose Airport to Kalon. If you hate getting off the plane to sit yet again in another cramped space, it's something you need to prepare yourself for. The only other thing I wish we had more time to do was explore the land and meet more locals. I would have liked to experience more of that pura vida culture everyone raves about.

If you're looking for a transformative travel experience on the high end of luxury, I would highly recommend Kalon Surf.

Ashram as "Vacation"

In 2003, I was living in Long Island and commuting into Manhattan for my job at Martha Stewart. I had moved out to the Island to save money for my eventual move to Hawaii. Door to door, it was almost a 2-hour, monotonous commute, endurable only because I lived half a block from the beach, and the weekends were spent learning how to surf. To break up this living-for-the-weekend mindset, I decided to spend a week at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas.

The ashram is on Paradise Island, a mere 3 hours away from NYC. Once you land in Nassau, you have to take a boat across the bay to access the ashram. It's a cute, little village of sorts, with areas for outdoor yoga, meditation, dining, living quarters, and a boutique.

If you're looking for luxury and pampering, this is not the place for you. The accommodations are rustic and monastic, with options for private or shared, and most share bathrooms. Guests are expected to contribute (yoga karma) by cleaning up after the 2 daily, buffet-style meals. BUT, the ashram does welcome day guests, so there's always the option to stay at the Atlantis which is just a short walk down the beach. In fact, I used to slip away to the Atlantis, between classes and meals, to feed my craving for chocolate. The meals at the ashram are super healthy, vegetarian, and keep you regular. I'll leave it at that. They were yummy, don't get me wrong, but pretty similar from day to day.

At that point in my life, I'd been practicing yoga for a few years, well-versed in asanas but by no means knowledgeable in all the cultural traditions and rituals. Sivananda is a serious ashram. A typical day starts with wake-up gong at 5:30a.m., proceeded by a mandatory schedule: 2-hour morning meditation, morning satsang (part meditation, chanting, lecture, singing, dancing), a 2-hour morning yoga class, brunch, a 2-hour afternoon yoga class, dinner, and evening satsang. Extra workshops and lectures are offered throughout the afternoon.

Other things to consider if you're thinking about visiting the Sivinanda Ashram: the beach in front of the ashram is almost completely free of tourists; amenities are limited, but you can reserve a massage during your stay; no meat, cigarettes or alcohol are allowed on the property; and the ashram's boutique hours are limited during the off-season.

I'm glad I experienced the immersive ashram experience at Sivananda. Would I do it again? Maybe for a day. I like to sleep in on my vacations, to mix my yoga in with other active excursions, and to get to know a place. Fortunately, I'd been to Nassau before, so I knew what I was missing. But when I travel, particularly solo, I want to meet people, see sites that are different from wherever "home" is at the moment, and learn about new cultures. And I've gotta have my chocolate

Indonesia

In December 1999, I quit a fairly good job in NYC, to travel to Indonesia. I spent a month there, between Bali, Ubud and Lombok. It was one of many experiences that I can say, "I had the time of my life." I had never been to Indonesia, so I booked the entire trip through a travel agency. This was before you could easily do everything online, read reviews, etc. So having a trusted source to walk me through everything was great. I also arranged to have a tour guide for a few excursions.

In Bali, I stayed in a luxury hotel for 3 nights, and did all the requisite tourist things: visited temples, ran from monkeys, took a dance lesson, and lounged by the pool. But funnily enough, the most memorable part of Bali was a fiasco that involved leather pants. When I flew out of NYC, it had been cold and wet. So I wore leather jeans from JFK to Denpasar. By the time I got to my hotel, I couldn't wait to get them off. The dry cleaning service in the hotel couldn't guarantee that they wouldn't shrink. My guess is that they'd never had to deal with leather jeans before. So I took it upon myself to give them a good cold rinse in the tub and hung them out to dry. Well, as you'd imagine, Indonesia is quite humid. By the time they'd dried (& shrunk a wee bit), they were moldy. Suffice it to say, the leather jeans didn't make it back to NYC with me.

In Ubud, my accommodations were more rustic, a hut on stilts with waist-high walls, and no windows, just shades to draw at night. The bed, like in all the accommodations, was outfitted with a mosquito net. The 360-view was of rice paddies and other crops on terraced hills. It was so stereotypically beautiful, it would make you weep. I spent 3 blissful nights there, surrounded by the sounds of tropical birds, crowing roosters, muffled voices of farmers, and mosquitos buzzing about my net at night. That was the only downside. While in Ubud, I visited more temples, and shopped for ikat batik. My excursion in Ubud involved rafting down the Ayung River with an adventure tour outfitter. There was only 1 other tourist in the raft with me, a guy from Australia. As we wound our way down the river, we passed numerous local kids playing in various states of undress on rope swings and jumping off rocks. They assumed we were a couple and taunted us with questions, in perfect English, like, "Is this your honeymoon?"

From Ubud, I headed to Lombok via ferry. There, I stayed at the Holiday Inn; not the Holiday Inn that we in the states know, it was a luxury resort and I had a detached bungalow with a bathroom as big as my studio apartment now. I spent a 3 weeks there, based solely on the advice of the travel agent. It was perfect. The only thing it had in common with the Holiday Inns that we grew up with, is that when I arrived, their marquee out front said "Welcome Ms. Anna Manuel". Nice touch.

Staying at the same resort were a large group of Aussies and Kiwis, school mates on some kind of extended reunion trip. They were amazingly friendly and included me on every excursion they took, including a day trip to the Gili Islands, and a tour of the island via rented scooters. On the way back to the resort, we got caught in an absolute downpour, but the beautiful moments from that ride home are forever burned in my memory. Two little girls were walking hand in hand in the rain, on the roadside, using a HUGE monstera leaf as an umbrella. A wrinkly old man, barefoot, wearing a sarong, walking a water buffalo, using a hemp rope as a sort of leash. It was something out of National Geographic. You can't make this sh** up! This was pre-cellphone days, so unfortunately, the memory is all I have.

Apparently, at that time, it wasn't common for the staff to see women traveling alone, particularly a woman who looked a lot like an Indonesian. So, while sunning at the pool, I'd get peppered with questions like, "Where is your husband?", "Is your husband attending a meeting here?", "Why are you traveling alone?". I didn't take offense, but it made me realize how fortunate I was to have been born and raised in the U.S., to be able to take a trip like that, and to make choices as simple as vacationing solo. 

I celebrated New Year's Eve 1999 in the pool with my Aussie and Kiwi friends, looking at the stars of the Southern Hemisphere, musing about how blessed we were. I left for NYC a few days later. On January 20, I heard via email that my friends had been evacuated from Lombok amid Muslim/anti-Christian religious violence. Some tourists were saved by soldiers surrounding another hotel. One person was killed and two seriously injured amidst 11 churchburnings. The news was so heartbreaking, as like many tourists, it seemed that the people of Indonesia (Hindus, Muslims, and Christians) had found a way to coexist unlike other places of such rich, religious diversity. I hate to admit it, but I haven't followed the news out of Indonesia in years. I have to go back; it is a magical place. I have so many stories of the profound kindness and generosity I experienced from the Indonesian people. Too many to add to this already-too-long post. Maybe I'll share those stories with you in the future. Until then, selamat tinggal.

Mixed Memories

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My brother and I were only 13 months apart, so we fought. Often. Particularly during our long, summer, family trips abroad, where we were often confined to small hotel rooms. But there was one incident that simultaneously traumatized and bonded us. We were either in Paris or Madrid, and our parents went out on a date night. They left us in the hotel room alone. It was locked, so we were totally safe, but I think it was the first time we'd ever been left alone like that. The novelty of it quickly wore off and we freaked out, sobbing and hugging. I think we were still sobbing and hugging when our parents returned from their night out. The fact that we were seeking solace in each other meant we were really distraught. We must have still been in elementary school, because that would not have happened if we were pre-teens or teens.

It's funny to look back on that now, because I love traveling alone. Learning about new cultures and places makes me feel alive, renewed, simultaneously solitary and connected to humanity like nothing else. And for me, traveling alone doesn't mean that I'm alone the entire trip. It means I'm open to meeting other travelers, maybe sharing a meal, and people seem amenable to more meaningful conversations when you're traveling solo. 

Yes, I do worry about safety as a solo female traveler, but I try to make informed choices about location and timing. As much as I'd love to go on a back country back-packing trip, I'd never do it alone. I know other women who have and I admire them tremendously. It's not about my own perceived limitations, but the reality of being small of stature, and female. I don't worry about wild animals as much as the male animal. I know, I know: not all males are predators but these are the things we women have to think about. It sucks. I hate it. But I'd never hesitate to explore a new city by myself, probably because I'm familiar with how to navigate that. To step out of my comfort level, I recently took 3 REI classes: back-country navigation, a wilderness survival, and back-packing the Grand Canyon. They've opened up my perception of my abilities, and I'm excited to put my new skills to use, albeit probably not alone.

I've been following REI's Outessa and Wild Women Adventures on social media. I hope to join one of their women-only trips next year. But first things first: graduate with my MBA and create a career. 

Counting Down

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In less than 2 months, I will complete the MBA program at the University of Portland. The program will have taken me a total of 19 months, during which I've vacillated between loving being a full-time student, to having anxiety-ridden breakdowns about not having worked since September 2015. Suffice it to say, I am beyond excited to end this chapter, take what I've learned and apply it to a career; hopefully in the sustainable travel industry.

International travel has been a part of my life since childhood. My brother and I were fortunate to start traveling the world before we started elementary school because my mother had great travel benefits at the World Bank. Every other year, we'd spend our summer vacations traveling through Europe and Asia, spending almost a month in the Philippines, and hit Hawaii and San Francisco on the way back to D.C. I remember hating the early-morning bus rides to tourist must-sees that my mother would insist upon; caring only about finding the hotel pool. I don't think we appreciated the experiences until we were in our teens.

This week is fall break. I'm going to spend it looking for jobs in Maui (plan B is southern California) and writing about my transformative travel experiences. The latter exercise is to take my mind off the anxiety of potentially moving back to the islands without a job. And trusting that the universe will provide.

Happy New Year!

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art: Santiago Borja exhibition graphics

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art: Santiago Borja exhibition graphics

I wrapped up 2016 and my first year in grad school with a trip to Arizona and Utah with a dear friend from childhood, which included stops in Antelope Canyon, the Amangiri Resort in Utah, and Sedona. It involved a lot of driving through magical desserts and canyon lands, and provided much-needed visual inspiration for the soul.

The new year brings continued focus on my MBA program at the University of Portland. If all goes as planned, I'll graduate in December 2017. In the meantime, I have trips planned for Honolulu and Peru to celebrate my 50th year on earth. I can't believe I'm middle-aged. I still think and act like a 20-year-old.

Blog updates will continue to be sporadic as being a full-time student remains a priority. Stay curious!

ABSOLUTELY GUTTED

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Like many of my peers, I have spent the last 5 days after the election just reeling and feeling unhinged. In an attempt to feel empowered, I've joined the ACLU and donated to Planned Parenthood. I've decided to take a Facebook break, and just go to Instagram when I need a dose of feeling connected to like-minds. I know in my heart that not all of America is filled with hate and fear-of-the-other. To my LGBT, minority, and female friends, stay safe. Love conquers hate. 

Focus On What You're Good At

Dos Playas, Aruba

Dos Playas, Aruba

I recently returned from 9 days in Aruba, where my MBA Leadership class met with businesses  throughout the island and talked about their particular challenges. It was great to be in the tropics again, albeit the Caribbean vs. the Pacific, without surf, but I'll take what I can get. Warm, tropical beaches are my happy places. It was an action-packed trip, squeezing in adventures to different beaches between meetings. I got to know my classmates better, and we spent a lot of time telling our stories to each other. It was great to have focused time to really think about what I'm trying to do with this MBA. I miss surfing and Hawaii like a lost limb, but I'm also aware of the career and salary limitations of living in paradise. I didn't return to PDX with any revelations, except for the fact that I can't completely ignore my past 20 years of experience, and do have to acknowledge what I'm naturally good at (making pretty things); and what I absolutely suck at (anything w/ numbers). I just have to channel this awareness into a career that can support my love of travel and adventure, and desire to make a difference. My classes in social responsibility and sustainability are helping to narrow my focus. Stay tuned.

(Crickets)

View of the Pacific, from Kalon Resort, Dominical, Costa Rica

View of the Pacific, from Kalon Resort, Dominical, Costa Rica

Apologies for the radio silence since June, but full-time MBA school and travel have been eating up most of my time. I worked on 2 small interior design projects this summer: one local client in Portland, and one remote client on the East coast. Its been great being a student again, and meeting like-minded, ambitious, forward-thinking problem-solvers. When I started the program, I'd originally wanted to take my love of interior design, passion for travel and social responsibility, and create sustainable resorts. Now I'm really interested in sustainable assisted living communities. I'm realizing that with every new class, and exposure to the evolving ways of doing business and being socially responsible, there are so many paths to my dream job. Who knows what opportunities will arise in the next two years?

In the meantime, I'll continue to take on interior design projects as they come, but I'm not ardently pursuing them. In the projects that I do take on, I really want to focus on making the most of what clients already have versus acquiring more stuff. In fact, in the spirit of Marie Kondo, I'd like to help clients deaccession, creating more space in their lives for experiences rather than clutter. Admittedly, I've been one of the world's most acquisitive shop-a-holics, and know what it is to lust after a well-designed object, but as the effects of our throw-away culture become more prevalent, I have to acknowledge my role in an industry that encourages buying and having more. New. Stuff.

Don't get me wrong: I strongly believe in remodeling spaces to increase functionality; updating tired, outdated rooms; refreshing with a new coat of paint; upgrading to energy-efficient appliances; story-telling through design. But I'm going to focus on doing those things while keeping sustainable practices in mind.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

These paint colors, wallpaper, lighting and accessory choices are for a Portland home with a limited budget. Its a good example of how small changes can make a big impact, especially in the foyer. The individual rooms didn't need additional seating but lacked lighting and reflective surfaces. I think its a handsome, graphic solution; each individual piece combine to make a cohesive statement.

GIVING BACK

Last night was Bradley Angle's annual fundraiser ball, GlamHer. The theme was "Unmasked: Celebrate Your True Self" and it was a costume ball, of course. Bradley Angle provides shelter, services and education for victims of domestic violence. Everydayish sponsored a table and I invited some of my interior design friends and classmates from the Heritage School of Interior Design. I couldn't think of a better crew to mingle, dine, dance and bid on silent and live auction packages with. We took advantage of every photo op with some of Portland's most FABulous drag performers. It was my first opportunity to give back to my new community and contribute to a cause close to my heart: supporting domestic violence survivors. It felt good to do and it was so much fun. What causes and organizations do you support?

MOTHER'S DAY

Its not too late for that last minute Mother's Day gift! Here are a few bright & fresh ideas for your interior-loving mom.

  1. Serena & Lily Montara Mirror
  2. Owens & Co Mahalo Porcelain Ornament
  3. India Hicks Treasure Box in Mint
  4. Josh & Main Penelope Table Lamp
  5. One Kings Lane Calhoun Jute-Blend Rug in Yellow
  6. Anthropologie Folding Fans Pillow
  7. Kathy Kuo Savita Global Bazaar White Rattan Hand Woven Basket

decorating around a statement piece

Designing a living room around a statement piece is tricky; like this settee. I want to honor the style of the piece, without making the room feel kitsch-y. The accompanying pieces need to reflect the bright, cheery personality of the settee. I chose to find an area rug, table lamp and accessories in the navy blue, turquoise and chartreuse from the settee's pattern. I kept the coffee and side table light, to keep the room from feeling too heavy. What do you think?

  1. Joss & Main Caroline 49" Settee
  2. BSEID Lacefield Designs Sahara Midnight Lumbar Pillow
  3. BSEID Lacefield Designs Navy Linen Pillow
  4. Deqor Company C Staccato Throw
  5. Belle & June Rosanna Jet Setter Nesting Dish Set
  6. Kathy Kuo Kathmandu Global Bazaar Navy Blue Japan Inspired Bottle Lamp
  7. One Kings Lane Billy Rug - Navy
  8. Joss & Main Josie Coffee Table
  9. Deqor Candence Cross Back End Table
  10. Kathy Kuo Folly Coastal Beach Turquoise Ceramic Double Bulb Vases
  11. Kathy Kuo Bianca Blue & Gold Hollywood Serving Trays

P.S. If you use the links to the right to purchase anything from the vendors mentioned, you get a significant discount.

Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water

When it comes to designing a room, my good friend and all-around creative, Lisa G, goes by the rule that every room should contain the 5 elements: wood, fire, earth, air and water. I did some research and found that its based on the idea of balance in Feng Shui, which aims to create a space that allows chi/qi to flow naturally. Besides creating an aesthetic balance, interior design Feng Shui practitioners use the theory to "treat" imbalances in a space: like improving sleeping habits in the bedroom, calming spastic teens in a high school, or encouraging expansive thinking in the work-place.

Materials that correspond to each element are as follows: 

  • Wood: green, blue, vertical elements, fresh plants/flowers, natural textiles, wood furniture
  • Fire: red, pink, purple, natural light, sunburst mirrors, candles, electronics, animal prints
  • Earth: brown, green, beige, squares or rectangulars, low surfaces
  • Metal: white, grey, silver, pastels, round or oval shapes, anything made of metal, rocks/stones
  • Water: black, deep saturated colors, reflective surfaces like mirrors, curvilinear or organic shapes, aquariums or fountains

Each element symbolizes a different energy and evokes a different mood:

  • Wood: creativity, expansion, cycle of life, strength, flexibility, intution
  • Fire: passion, enthusiasm, leadership, expressiveness, inspiration, boldness
  • Earth: physical strength, order, grounding, balance, stability
  • Metal: clarity, logic, organization, focus, justice, intelligence, 
  • Water: spirituality, inspiration, wisdom, intuition

I'm applying this practice to a living room that I'm collaborating on with another designer. The rustic home is on a mountaintop outside of Portland, and the walls and ceiling are lined with pine (wood element). The client has already furnished the room with a brown, leather sofa (earth element). His fireplace surround is stacked stone (metal element). As you can imagine, it feels masculine and solid; perfect for this single, male client. Fortunately, walls in the adjacent hallway are a cool green, balancing out all the warm tones. My collaborator has created a perfect Pendleton blanket/mountain cabin theme, incorporating the clients collection of framed Mount Hood posters, adding a gold wall-sconce, masculine chandelier, and red area rug (fire element). I'm going to suggest adding a reflective surface (water element) in a round wall mirror, gold lanterns for accessories by the fireplace. and wood, nesting, side tables with skinny metal legs to keep the room from feeling too heavy. This was great practice in designing a space that doesn't necessarily match my personal taste, but truly representing the client's.

Kitchen & Bath

Today I completed a course in kitchen and bath design at the Heritage School of Interior Design. Our final project involved taking a given floorplan, designing a layout, choosing appliances, fixtures, cabinets, countertop, backsplash, flooring, shower/tub surrounds and decorative lighting. It was an intense class; our instructor, AKBD Hannah Hacker, crammed alot of information into a short amount of time. I've learned so much, but honestly, I'm glad this class is over. Going back to school when you're almost 50 is no joke. I need to regain some life/sleep balance, but there's still one more to class complete: Advanced Sketchup for Kitchen & Bath on 4/29. Then, MBA school starts on 5/17. I must be completely out of my mind. 

Apartment Therapy's Small Cool Contest 2016

Some girls grow up knowing exactly what they want to be when they grow up. Although I always loved moving furniture around, and beautiful interiors, I never thought it was a professional transition I could make after so many years working as a graphic designer. It took me until I was in my late 30s to even entertain the thought, and my late 40s to actually make it a reality. Today I received an email from Apartment Therapy telling me I made it into their Small Cool Contest 2016. Winning the $5,000 grand prize, or even the $1,000 division prize would be great. But I'm absolutely over the moon just having been accepted into the contest. Its the first of hopefully many validations that I made the right choice in leaving the familiar world of graphic design behind, and venturing into the exciting industry of interior design. 

Small Changes

An e-design client lives in a small, NYC studio and is looking for just 2 items to help organize her home: a bookshelf, a hallway runner. She's a photographer who works from home and already has an abundance of furniture, so my job is to design a furniture plan to make her live/work space feel more spacious yet retain all the necessary pieces of equipment and furniture that allow her business to thrive. Her style is clean, contemporary, black, white and grey. She already has some quality furniture pieces like a DWR bed and a Ligne Roset sectional in black. She uses essential Ikea pieces in white for office furniture. I'd like to throw in just a hint of color with the hallway runner. And some warm, wood tones in the bookshelf; and a touch of the outside with staghorn ferns.. Since it's a rental, we can't paint, but I'd also like to introduce some visual interest on one wall using removable wall tiles. I'm also going to suggest some plug in wall sconces for either side of the bed. Do you think these pieces work together?

  • DWR Min Bed Queen
  • Ligne Roset Togo Sectional
  • Hygge & West Removable Wallpaper Tiles in Petal Pusher Gray
  • West Elm Ladder Shelving 
  • Wayfair Nourison Karma Blue Hallway Runner
  • Schoolhouse Electric Holmes Sconce
  • Pistils Nursery Staghorn Ferns