I received this lovely "Keepsake Blog Award" from Garf at A Garf Secret. A testament to technology's awesome power to connect people, I have had the pleasure of getting to know Garf, who lives on the other side of the globe in India. He is a kind, generous and thoughtful person, who values love, happiness, kindness and friendship above all else. Who couldn't get on board with that?

The "Keepsake Blog Award" is on of my favorite blog awards out there, because whoever receives it is supposed to post a photo of a keepsake that they hold dear to his/her heart. 

Just like looking through an old photo album, objects can remind us of fond memories, of loved ones who have long-passed, and of our former selves. 

These ceramic elephant plant stands that now decorate my home belonged to my grandma Libby. She had them at her apartment in Baltimore, and at her apartment in Perryville. And, at her apartment in North East. My grandmother followed us each time we moved to a new town--she always lived within five or ten minutes of us. 

She smoked like a chimney, so her apartment walls had a slightly yellow tinge. These elephants guarded the entry of each of her apartments, topped with spider plants with waxy leaves that touched the floor. When I was really little, I liked to run my hand along the smooth, cool ceramic and drive my matchbox cars around the base. I always loved these elephants, and just before my grandma Libby passed, she gave them to me. 

My grandma was not the kind of grandmother who brought you gifts and baked cookies, but she did knit me lots of sweaters. Itchy, wool sweaters that I hated but my mother made me wear. As a kid, I didn't understand that each sweater was stitched with love. 

She had a nasal voice (think Fran Drescher, without the Queens accent),  a sharp tongue and a critical eye...and don't think she cut me a break just because I was her only grandchild. When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I had a tie-dye folder with a peace sign on it. My grandmother took one look at it, sneered and said "What are you some kind of hippie now? I hate hippies. Your mother was a hippie, you know." That was my grandmother. She was hard on those she loved, and she certainly loved me. 

Tell me about one  of your treasured keepsakes?


My first mosaic!

I took an intensive mosaic class at the Creative Art Alliance on Saturday.
The class was led by local artist Rick Shelley.
His work is amazing.
He created this beautiful map mosaic for the Walters Art Museum.

Mosaics are my new favorite art-form to create.
Cutting and breaking glass is quite therapeutic.
Arranging the pieces is like doing a puzzle,
without any wrong answers.

Part of me regretted spending the day indoors
—Saturday was a gorgeous day—
but seeing my finished mosaic sparkle made it all worthwhile.

I ordered glass cutting tools online last night.
My next project will be to mosaic the raised flower bed Jack and I built in spring.
I need a lot of practice before I can start my big mosaic project next year.
It's all part of my plan to beautify my little corner of Baltimore.


Reversing a trend {week 6}

Each week (or so :) I post a compliment to myself and a compliment to a friend. The goal of this project is to help myself and all the amazing women I know to embrace our inner-beauty.

have an adventurous spirit. Without hesitation, I have traveled alone to foreign countries. Without fear, I tested my paddling skills last summer by taking on a stream with raging post-storm rapids. I've trekked through the Andes Mountains, camped at the bottom of a crater in Israel, climbed a volcano in Nicaragua, danced at a rave on a desert-island off the coast of Honduras, and tried surfing in Costa Rica. I've eaten everything from quail eggs to raw conch straight from the seafloor, and from guinea pig to tepezcuintle. If you're looking for a road-trip partner, I'm your girl.

Nicole of Nicole K. Photography is an amazing photographer. She is able to capture the essence, beauty and character of a person on film in a way that few others can. Just look at these powerful photos she took of a soldier and his family for Operation: Love Reunited. Or, these amazing images she took of a friend's new baby. Nicole is also one of the photographers team behind The Littlest Heroes Project, a nonprofit with a mission to "help provide and capture memories for families who are dealing with hectic schedules due to having a child who is suffering from a serious illness or life altering disability."

I addition to her shear talent and good will, I admire Nicole's ambition to use her passion to start her own small photographic services business. How awesome is that!?! Nicole specializes in family, baby and maternity shots and is considering adding wedding photography to her offerings. If you're in the Maryland-D.C. area and need a photographer, check out Nicole K. Photography!


It's nice to feel loved

Since yesterday's tragic Metro accident, friends and family have been calling me to make sure I wasn't on one of the trains that collided.

My mom was the first to call. When I picked up the phone and said hello, the first words out of my mother's mouth were "thank god you answered." She proceeded to tell me about the collision on the red line, which apparently had happened right in the middle of my commute. On the red line.

I had spent 30 minutes stuck on the tracks near Gallery Place with no information except, "there's been an incident ahead." It wasn't until my mom called that I knew the severity of the "incident."

The next phone call came from my friend Stephen in Philly. Word travels fast. Then Jack's parent's called to make sure I was OK. Within three hours of the collision, three people had called me. By 8 a.m.this morning another friend had sent me a concerned text message.

It's nice to know that there are people out there who care about me. It's nice to feel loved.


I can, I will, I should...

I can't...stand having to wait...do a cartwheel...imagine life without cheese...believe it's only Thursday....sing worth a damn,

but I can...
speak Spanish...keep dreaming...take time to stop and smell the roses...kick your ass in Rummy...drink most men under the table...see past superficial bullshit.

I won't...take "no" for an answer...
budge on my beliefs...play the blame game...step on people to get ahead...watch reality TV shows,

but I will...
tell Jack everyday that I love him...drop everything to help a friend in need...accept responsibility for my actions...never stop learning.

I shouldn't...
think about work on the weekends...feel bad about things I can't control...take things so personally...worry so much,

and I should...write an "updates" post, it's long overdue...quit smoking...exercise regularly...learn to control my road rage.

What's in a name?

In modern Judaism in the United States, it is customary to give your child two names--one a secular, English name and the other a Hebrew name. Hebrew names always have a meaning--it's an important part of Jewish culture. I have known my Hebrew name my whole life, but I never knew what it meant until I went to Israel this past March.
"Nechama," he said, the letters of my Hebrew name rolling off his tongue smoothly and naturally, "means compassion." "It's a beautiful name, but it comes with a lot of responsibility. It's your responsibility to care for and help your family and loved ones."

At first his words stung. I slowed my pace and dropped back from the hiking group, allowing myself to be alone on the trail that snaked through hills and hills of yellow wildflowers in northern Israel, along the border of Lebanon. With each thump of my hiking boot against the hard, packed dirt, dizzying thoughts rushed into my mind--I don't deserve my name. I haven't been living up to my responsibility. I don't have the capacity to care. I can't live up to the responsibility I have been given. I don't want the responsibility. I didn't ask for this.

I thought of my father who I can't seem to forgive for all that he did to me as a child. I thought of how I gave up on my junkie (ex)step-sister and her new baby. I thought of how I don't talk to my grandparents as much as I should because of my strained relationship with their son. I thought of my tendency to drop out of people's lives when I feel we are growing apart.

Images of every person I had ever given up on or let down swirled in my head until my mind simply went blank.

With my mind quiet, I again became aware of the buzz of the bees busily moving from flower to flower. The happy voices of my fellow group members hung in the air around me, and the babble of the stream became audible. I found comfort in my steady hiking pace. One foot in front of the other.

Then it happened. Acceptance.

I am a compassionate person, but I can't care about everyone. It's OK to pick and choose those who are worthy of my concern. I can't help everyone, and that's OK. There's simply not room in my heart for the disappointment and pain that so often comes from caring to much. Those in my life who are good, those in my life who are deserving, they are the ones I have a responsibility to.

Nechama. A name I've had my entire life suddenly meant so much.


Reversing a trend {week 5}

Each week I post a compliment to myself and a compliment to a friend. The goal of this project is to help myself and all the amazing women I know to embrace our inner-beauty.

I am a great cook. My signature dishes range from Latino-delights like pastel de pollo and mole de guajalote to Asian-inspired meals like pad thai and mee krob. I think that my creativity and willingness to experiment, combined with my skill at separating out the flavors in the food I eat, are what make me a great cook. I know. This compliment to myself was kind of lame. I'm only on week five, and it's getting hard to find something nice to say about myself :(

Floreta at The Solitary Panda is one tough chick. In fact, she recently earned her 2'nd level white belt in poekoelan, a style of martial arts from Indonesia. Through her study and practice, Floreta has not only learned to kick ass but has achieved a level of self awareness that I completely respect and admire. She is among the most introspective people that I have ever meet in the blogging community, or in real life for that matter. She accepts and explores her sexuality and other primal urges. She writes poems wrought with emotion and explores her artistic side. She writes intelligently about her views on society and she openly shares her life experiences, past and present. To sum it up, Floreta is awesome. Read her blog!


This one hit too close to home

On Wednesday morning, 39-year-old Stephen Tyrone Johns woke up and put on his uniform, carefully placing his hat and tightly lacing his boots. He probably rode the Metro to work that morning, with his mind occupied on the mundane details of his life--What do I have to do this weekend? What's for lunch in the cafeteria at work today? Should I switch to satelliet?

The Metro doors opened at Smithsonian Station and Johns stepped off. He entered the Holocaust Memorial Museum--1 1/2 blocks from where I work--and took his post at the front-door security checkpoint. It was a day just like any other. Except it wasn't.

Johns watched as tourists passed through the metal detectors and he searched their bags carefully following protocol. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Suddenly, around 1 p.m. a man walked through the front doors of the museum wielding a rifle. He opened fire in the crowded vestibule. BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! Five or six shots are fired, Johns has been shot. The wound is fatal. Just like that a man's life is over.

My recount of Johns' morning before the shooting is pure speculation, but the details of his tragic death are not. This man woke up and went to work, just like he would on any other day, except this time he didn't make it home.

The shooter was an 88-year-old anti-Semitic, white supremacist. He shot up the Holocaust Memorial Museum to show the world his hate for Jews. For my people. My family. Me.

Writings attributed to the gunman on the Internet say the Holocaust was a hoax and decry a Jewish conspiracy to "destroy the white gene pool." Reading these words make my mouth go dry, my head throb and my eyes fill with tears.

I have relatives who are Holocaust survivors and had relatives who were not so lucky. My great grandfather was believed to have been murdered by the Nazis. My grandfather Max spent his entire adulthood searching for answers, but his father's body was never found. My grandfather's brother, Bernard, can recount horrific tales of Jews being shot point-blank in the head by Nazi soldiers right in public. My great aunt Sarah almost died of starvation in a ghetto in Poland and narrowly escaped death by assuming a false identity.

To deny the Holocaust is to deny my family history and to devalue my loved ones' pain and suffering.

After this tragic event, this disgusting hate crime, I feel an array of dizzying emotions from anger and fear to guilt and a sense of responsibility.

I am angry at those who hold hate in their hearts and have no respect for the life.
I am afraid that something like this could happen "in my own backyard."
I feel guilty for all the times someone has used "Jew" as a derogatory term in front of me while I stood silent instead of standing up for myself and my people.
I feel a sense of responsibility to share my family's story, to let people know that the Holocaust was real. The people who died was real. The emotional scars left on the survivors and their families are real. I am real.


Lists, lists, lists...I love making lists.

I make lists of things to I have to do—pay bills, pick up dry cleaning, call mom, clean kitchen.
I make lists of things to buy —bananas, apples, cucumber, cilantro, yogurt.
And, lists of things I want for the house—juicer, bean bag chairs, composter, new computer desk.

Once I write something on a list, it becomes my focus, my obsession, and I must GET IT DONE. Unfortunately, I have a nasty habit of making impossible lists with a flurry of bullet points and a dizzying array tasks, which I then stress over completing.

Since I don't expect to change anytime soon, I've decided to embrace and exploit my OCD this minor character flaw by making a new list. This list will not feature errands to be run or necessities to purchase, instead this list will contain things I have been wanting to do but have not had time to do. I figure that if I make the list, I will make the time.
»» My List
  • Speak Spanish more often. I used to speak Spanish fluently, but it's been years since I've used it on a daily basis so my vocabulary and pronunciation are suffering. More importantly, I have lost confidence in my language skills and find myself too shy to speak with Spanish-speaking people. I will suck-it up and shell out the $400+ for Rosetta Stone, levels 4 & 5, and get my practice on and my confidence up.

  • Explore a different neighborhood of Charm City each month and takes lots of photos for my other blog.

  • Design and launch a Web site for my friend Lora's up-and-coming nonprofit Wednesday Spaghetti. A couple of weekends ago I bought a brand-new 24-inch imac and the entire Adobe Web Premium Creative Suite—I've got the tools, so it's time to get crack-a-lackin' on this project!

  • Quit my gym membership and use the monthly savings to justify purchasing an iphone to accompany my new imac. They will play so nicely together!

  • Prepare to "break ground" on my public art mosaic project by the end of next summer or early next fall. The wheels are churning and the ideas flowing. I will write about some of my ideas for this project later this week, so be sure to stop back by!

  • Finish remodeling the basement. Jack and I completely gutted the basement last year, but have done nothing since. We are planning on creating a laundry/mud/storage room, building a bathroom, and having a TV/exercise/dance floor and turntable area. There will be bold color paint and glitter involved.

  • Put together a professional digital portfolio of my Web- and graphic-design projects.

  • Cook one new dish a week. Maybe my Scrumptious Saturday! ladies will volunteer to be my guinea pigs?

  • Make time to practice yoga and pilates more often.


Aspirations of world domination

The entire world will beg to bow before me, their charismatic despot. MUUUUUUAAAAHHH!
I am often accused by friends and co-workers of plotting to take over the world, but I assure you, I don't really have aspirations of world domination. I mean come on, what kind of arrogant prick would I have to be to believe I could rule the entire planet? I'm just looking to change my immediate surroundings for the better. Is that so wrong?

My most recent undertaking (what is this a morgue? anyway....) is a grand plan to clean up and beautify my block.

The neighborhood I live in could be described as "transitional" or "up-and-coming." If you walk three blocks east, you come to half-a-million dollar condos, but walk three blocks north and you'll find a "blue-light district" with drug dealers on every corner.

My block is somewhere in the middle. There's no one yelling "ready-rock, ready-rock, I got the rock" on my corner or anything, but there are some lingering sketchy corner bars where gun fights are the norm, and there's a lot of garbage on the streets and no one cleans up after their dogs.

Instead of sitting around and passively bitching, I have decided to take action. I am applying for a "block beautification" grant from the city. If it works out, I will assemble a small army of neighbors to pick up garbage, plant flowers and kill the weeds that plague our sidewalk and back alley. I also hope to use the money to get trash cans, with lids, for all my neighbors.

Also, I am attending a Highlandtown Arts! meeting next week to find out about tax breaks for community art projects and to meet representatives of local art groups. This is step one of my goal to turn the big, blank, brick outer wall of my home (I have an end unit rowhome) into a canvas for a giant, sparkly mosaic. Step two is to take a class on making mosaics, where I will learn to cut glass and mirrors among other techniques. I am thinking that I will do a mosaic garden scene, with the help of some local arts organization. Finding an organization to collaborate with will be step 3.

So, there it is. My (not-so) evil plot to "take over" my block.


Reversing a trend {week 4}

Each week I post a compliment to myself and a compliment to a friend. The goal of this project is to help myself and all the amazing women I know to embrace our inner-beauty.

I don't judge people based on superficial standards. My friends range from scientists and educators at prestigious institutions to career bartenders and construction workers. I have friends who grew up on the streets, as well as friends who lived in mansions as kids. If you put all of my friends together in a room, you'd think you just stepped into a commercial for the UN or something. My friends come in all shapes and sizes, all colors and shades, all religions and sexual orientations. I even have a friend who's a Republican. GASP!

This is not to say I am indiscriminate. Just this weekend a friend of mine, gave me an interesting compliment. He said: "When I first met you I couldn't figure you out. I couldn't understand why you got along with me but didn't like my friends. I thought you were snobby, but then you wouldn't like me...." He continued: "You aren't snobby, you just know what you have and appreciate it."

My friend hit it on the head. I am not snobby. What I am is a real-no-bull-shit person. I judge people and accept them as friends based on their ability to laugh at life and themselves, their willingness to talk openly and honestly, and the way they treat other people . I don't see eye-to-eye with all my friends on everything, but I respect their convictions and confidence in their thoughts and beliefs.

Life is too short to allow yourself to be bogged down with people you can't trust, people who aren't nice or people who don't treat you well. You have a choice. I have a choice. I choose to surround myself with "real" people. Fuck da' bullshit!

The Wife in Stilettos is a strong, brave woman. Around Mother's Day, she wrote a series of beautiful poems to her mom. To open-up and speak honestly in such a public way takes a lot of guts. Also, not to long ago, I read a post by The Wife in Stilettos where she wrote: "We're in limbo. The husband and I may be in Canada today, but we quite frankly don't know where our shoes may take us tomorrow." I respect and admire her ability to face life's uncertainties shows with a care-free and fearless attitude.

She recently (by recently, I mean sometime last month) bestowed upon me "One Lovely Blog Award." Thanks lady!

Be sure to check out The Wife in Stilettos!