Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Currently: Turkey edition

I've been working in southern Turkey for more than a month now (crazy!) so I figured it was high time to record a slice of what life looks like right now.

Exploring: the mosaic museum, the old castle, and the Euphrates River. This part of the country is not highly-touristed by international travelers and it doesn't have the flashy Mediterranean views or fairy chimneys of other part of the country, but the corners I have seen of it have been delightful. You can't really travel in the Middle East and North Africa without tripping over a Roman mosaic, so I thought I had seen them all, but the mosaic museum here is mind-blowingly good. And last weekend we drove down to a spot on the Euphrates River where you can take a boat ride past an ancient castle, man-made caves in the hills, and a city that sunk during the Birecik dam project, and eat dam fish in a delightful village.

Enjoying: doing work that's in that elusive sweet spot where I'm comfortable enough with what I'm doing that it's not totally overwhelming, but it's challenging enough that I'm learning. Where I have enough work that I need to keep a close eye on my to-do list but not so much that I want to cry.

Writing: like I'm running out of time. Which I am for submitting a couple of additional grad school applications to Boston-based schools.

Eating: so well. During the day, folks in the office often order in or go out for Turkish or Syrian food. It makes for a quick and delicious route to cultural tourism. Gaziantep is famous throughout Turkey for its kebab and baklava since we are in a major pistachio-going region. In the evenings, I generally cook for myself and it's nice to have that familiar routine to balance it out. As snacks, I've also been eating a ton of pomegranates and Magnum bars. When traveling I am much more likely to treat myself - unfamiliar and sometimes challenging circumstances demand comfort food.  I only occasionally buy ice cream bars at home but here I eat one most nights and I am not sorry. Even better is the fact that they come in pistachio, hazelnut, and tahini flavors.

Running: a lot. I live conveniently very close to the gym within my already convenient gated community and I've gotten in a good habit of regularly going a few times a week. For the last three years I have set the goal of running 365 miles and then as my interest in running waxes and wanes over the year, I quickly fall behind. This year is no exception, but with no Bar Method to keep me away from the treadmill, at least I am finishing strong. Work trips often mean late nights, heavy food (so much shawarma!) and little opportunity to work out, the combination of which leave me feeling sluggish, so I'm glad I've been able to build in a consistent exercise routine here.

Listening to: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. I am always reluctant to subscribe to a new podcast because I listen to so many, so new pods really have to prove themselves if they are going to stay in rotation. This is, as promised, a reading of Harry Potter as a sacred text. I initially thought that meant they would talk about the literary and biblical allegories ("Lupin means wolf!") in the text, which I feel like I've gotten plenty of over the years. Instead it's a close reading of Harry Potter with a view towards its spiritual lessons. done by folks pursuing non-traditional ministries at the Harvard Divinity School. It is like a balm for the soul, especially when my political podcasts have my heart racing and my head spinning. It reminds me a bit of Unitarian church (where, appropriately enough, the head minister looks just like Harry Potter to me).

Laughing: at myself for writing more in the Harry Potter paragraph than anywhere else in this post.

Watching: Outlander. As a story of a 27-year-old stranger in a strange land, it's proving to be surprisingly resonant for me at the moment. And the Scottish scenery feels very cozy this time of year.

Reading: Life after Life. Loving it even if the passages on Hitler's rise to power are hitting a little too close to home these days.

Buying: a lamp, wine, and cheese. Even though Turkey stayed on summer time this year (i.e. did not end Daylight Savings Time) and the sun sets an hour later than it might otherwise, it still gets dark early. Better lighting and creature comforts are making all the difference on long winter evenings.

Missing: Halloween and then the election and now Thanksgiving. I'm so glad to be here but a little wistful about being far away during such an eventful time.

Learning a ton - just how I like it.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving in Turkey

Thanksgiving at the Hagia Sophia seven years ago and Thanksgiving in my apartment elevator today.

This was the second Thanksgiving I have spent in Turkey, with all the delightful pun opportunities that provides (plus the sad irony that Turkey the fowl is difficult to come across in Turkey the country). The first was Thanksgiving 2009, when I was studying abroad in Egypt and a few of us took advantage of the long weekend to get out of dodge. Turkey felt like a breath of fresh air after the chaos and challenges of Egypt and I completely imprinted on it. I don't remember exactly what we did on Thanksgiving day, but we were probably seeing the sights around Istanbul. When we were back in Alexandria, our cohort simulated a Thanksgiving dinner as best we could.  I missed my boyfriend, whose studies abroad had been curtailed early.

I came back to Turkey for the second time in spring 2012, fresh off three months working in the West Bank and less than a year after graduating from college. Turkey again felt orderly and easy to navigate after the complications of life in Palestine. I stayed for six weeks, volunteering on organic farms near Yalova and Fethiye. I missed my boyfriend, who was on a fellowship having his own adventures around the world. I didn't know it then, but a few months later I would start working at NDI and begin the defining chapter of my twenties.

This year, I'm relearning Turkish phrases and paying careful attention to the security situation and focusing most of my attention southward. I'm remembering that travel, at best, lets us scratch the surface of a place. I celebrated Thanksgiving 2016 with friends from DC, roasted chicken and two kinds of stuffing, and a signature cocktail with pomegranate and rosemary. And I miss my boyfriend, who's embarking on his first year of law school.

Much has changed, much has stayed the same -- not least the regional environment and Turkish politics and foreign policy -- and I won't bore you with too much navel-gazing. Basically I have experienced the amount of growth and change that's only natural over the course of seven years in your twenties. But it strikes me that whenever I'm in Turkey, it's during a time of transition, of processing and figuring out next steps. For that reason and many others, it will always have a special place in my heart.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

An elections retrospective

In  2008, I got to vote in my first election, amidst the excitement of hope and change and getting to elect our first black president (and the ugliness that arises when people other than white men run for office). I remember watching Clinton and Obama debate in a living room full of my college friends on Feb break. My boyfriend and I had just gotten together, I was surrounded by new friends, and the world felt fresh and promising. I seriously weighed the choice of candidates in the primaries, but ultimately got swept up in Obama fever. (A choice that I would occasionally doubt over the next eight years when the going got tough for Obama.) On election day, we got Thai food for lunch in our small Vermont college town and watched Obama crush McCain as the returns came in at the student center.

In 2010... I have no recollection. The midterm elections fell during the crazy fall semester of my senior year in college, when I had decided it would be a good idea to take two senior seminars in political science while preparing to write a senior thesis. But I am pretty sure I didn't vote because when a political consultant showed me my profile in the Democrat voter database at an NDI event a couple years later, it showed that I was an inconsistent voter, to my great embarrassment. I'm sure I excused it by the fact that I would be voting absentee in Maryland, a reliably blue state.

In  2012, I had just started interning at NDI - long enough to feel like I had a front row seat on some of the action as we held our big conference in tandem with the DNC, but not quite long enough to get the campaigning itch in time to really get involved. In the days leading up to the election, we hosted a group of young North African party activists for a study mission to learn about how the democratic process works in the US and to get a front-row seat for the campaign. We visited Democratic and Republican campaign headquarters and saw Tim Kaine speak at a campaign stop when he was "just" running for the Senate. On election night, we watched the returns come in from a hotel near our office, and when they called it for Obama, we paraded jubilantly down to the White House as the North Africans shouted Obama a gagne!

I had come to NDI interested in working in international development in the Middle East, and somewhat agnostic about NDI's particular focus on democracy and politics, but that week was a turning point for me - I got to see our work up close as democratic practitioners from across the world shared and debated about political processes.

I was also on pins and needles the whole time because I had applied for a full-time opening on my team. The Friday after the election, I learned I got the job, went to my part-time SAT tutoring gig after work, picked up Chipotle for dinner, then greeted my boyfriend who had driven to DC from Ohio to move in with me and find a job - kicking off four years there together. I remember thinking, giddily, that Obama and I found out in the same week that we would both get to keep our jobs.

In  2014... I shamefully did not vote. Working for NDI brought me to Tunisia for most of the fall to work on programming for their legislative and presidential elections, and I messed up my application for a DC absentee ballot. So the great irony was that as I was working (indirectly) to encourage people to participate in elections in Tunisia, I had failed to participate in my own. I reassured myself that I would be voting absentee in DC, a reliably blue non-state.

In  2016, I was again abroad for election day, this time working in Turkey for NDI. But this time I was prepared. I knew I'd be heading out of the country, so I was vigilant in ensuring that I got an absentee ballot - no way was I going to miss voting for our first woman president, even if in the flurry of packing for Turkey I neglected to get an absentee ballot selfie.

Before I left, I also did a couple days of door-knocking in Philly with the DC for Hillary team, and a couple evenings of phone-banking to contact other volunteers. Once in Turkey, I used the campaign's online call tool to help get out the vote in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Arizona when people in those states were awake. All together, I made 200 calls. In the scheme of things it wasn't much, but it did ease my election anxiety.

I really wish I had gotten involved during the Obama campaigns, but I am proud that did what I could and glad that I've broken the ice. I also learned a lot in my brief canvassing experience. How to make the hard sell and not offer people an easy way out. How to not take rejection personally. And how to talk on the phone even though you hate it.

With the time difference, on election day I made a bunch of GOTV calls between finishing my NDI work, slept for a couple of hours, then woke up at 6:30 am to CNN and a text from my boyfriend saying "this is not going our way." At first it seemed like a solvable problem - some swing states had gone for Trump, but surely the pendulum would swing back and others would go for her - but by the time I left for work a couple of hours later, a Trump victory was all but assured. I went through the day stunned, refreshing Facebook for reactions from friends and #pantsuitnation and receiving condolences from friends and colleagues from across the world and thinking about all the ways this will affect my life.

I have so many thoughts about the outcome of the election that I will not weigh down this post with. But yesterday, I listened to the Keepin' it 1600 podcast - run by dudes from the Obama administration who have been confident in a Hillary victory - as they apologized for being smug and wrong. Throughout the campaign season, they have poked fun at "bed-wetters" wringing their hands about the outcome - and they reiterated that they did so not to allow people to be complacent, but to encourage them to channel those feelings into action. That politics are not a spectator sport.

People often roll their eyes or shut down the conversation when it comes to politics, but if anything is clear these days, it's that politics are deeply personal, and that they matter. I, like I know a lot of people are, am resolving to be much more active in them in the years ahead.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Fun facts

Sometimes I wish I started blogging in the olden days of the Internet, when people tagged each other in interviews and questionnaires and everyone shared their personal quirks. So I'm throwing it back to 2008 and sharing some fun facts.

1. I appear to be through the season of horrible lower back pain that was aggravated by jumping for this picture and I am so relieved that that wasn't the start of a lifetime of deteriorating health.

2. The most important decision when packing for trips and vacations, in my view, is what books to bring. The idea that I might not have enough reading material, or books appropriately themed to the destination, on a trip makes my palms sweaty.

3. I have my debit card number memorized. But also my library card number and my passport number (edit: at least before I had to renew it). So hopefully that balances out.

4. When I was a kid, I would count stairs going up and down, and plan it so I would always end on the right foot. (If there's an even number of stairs you have to start on the left foot; if it's odd you start on the right.) I wrote about this in one of those mandatory journal exercises in eighth grade and my (no doubt well-meaning) teacher suggested I get screened for OCD. I walked through the world like a normal person for about ten years - until I got a Fitbit and started counting steps all over again.

5. Two things that separate me from the rest of my generation - I like Lena Dunham and I do not like getting guacamole with my Chipotle.

6. It seems like 99% of bloggers describe themselves as "planners" and "type-A." I think those are excellent qualities, and when everyone describes themselves a certain way it's easy to think that you fit the description too. But while I am very effective at getting things done, planning is not my strong suit, if I'm being honest. I can fill out a planner with the best of them but rarely do so in advance.

7. My biggest pet peeve is when I'm eavesdropping on a conversation, but one person is speaking much louder than the other and so I can only hear one side. I don't know what bothers me more: the impression that one person is dominating the conversation, or the fact that I can't get a full picture of what they're talking about.

8. I lead a charmed life. In a check-your-privilege, #blessed sense, for sure, but also in the sense that flights I'm running late for are inevitably delayed, and I always get chosen off the standby list, and things that really shouldn't have worked out in my favor often do.

9. I have a very long attention span for things I am interested in. This is great for staying focused on a task, but not great if you are at a museum with me.

10. I do my best blogging when I'm procrastinating on something else. (Doesn't everyone?) 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Currently: September 2016

 Adjusting to life in the suburbs and a new routine. After a summer of lots of travel (I didn't spend more than a week in one place for all of July and August), September has been a long deep breath in some ways. The biggest change, on a practical level, is a commute that can be almost an hour long. The upside is that I have lots of time to listen to podcasts (current favorites are Invisibilia, More Perfect, and Keepin' it 1600). The downside is that it's no longer realistic to make it to Bar Method in the mornings. But after a couple days of bemoaning the fact that I could never exercise again, I got over myself and started going in the evenings. It's a much better fit for this season and a good reminder to be flexible. And on that note -

Figuring out where I should grasp onto my favorite aspects of life in DC and where I should use this as an opportunity to try new things.

Remembering what a long-distance relationship feels like. We've been through this rodeo a few times before across multiple different states and countries - that's just the reality of dating for eight years in your 20s when you have some moderate international aspirations. This round, while certainly challenging in some ways, feels like the easiest in others. The plus side is this time I have a Fitbit and I have gotten into a good pattern of evening walk-and-talks while pacing around my neighborhood - which is just getting more and more pleasant as the weather cools down. I did make it up to Boston for a visit a couple weeks ago and uncharacteristically took very few photos, except for this crazy-haired, windswept one.

Wearing lipstick. Since graduating college (when I pretty much rolled out of bed and down the hill to my 8 am Arabic classes) I have slowly been developing a makeup routine. But I have long had weird hang-ups about my lips. When I was in middle school, I would get horrible, painful, ugly lip rashes that would stick around for weeks at a time. Because of that I have never wanted to do anything that would make my lips look bigger, fuller, redder, or otherwise more prominent - which is sort of the point of lipstick. But a couple of years ago, I saw some photos of myself on the sidelines of a work event that a professional photographer had taken - my face looked super washed out. So I resolved to slap more color on it more frequently, and with four weddings this summer, I had an excuse to experiment with buy a bunch of lipstick. I've found that the trick is you just have to wear it long enough so you don't look weird to yourself anymore, because you probably never looked weird to anyone else to begin with.

Mourning my slowly fading tan. This summer I got probably the best tan since summer 2008 when I was a counselor at sailing camp and got super bronzed (albeit with the telltale lifejacket tan). I'm not sad about it.

I did my decluttering on a solo weekend and it started to show in this Kondo-inspired gratitude photo shoot.

Marie-Kondo'ing my childhood bedroom. As with juicing, essential oils, and a variety of other things that are popular on the Internet, I tend to be a little cynical about the minimalism craze. For one, I think it reflects a level of privilege (the principle being that if you get rid of something you need later, you can always buy a new one!) and for the other, I think it just offers a whole different way to obsess over material possessions. Moving back home, my temptation was to not deal with cleaning my room because this is just a temporary arrangement - but I am here for long enough to make the space work for where I am now. And it was time to let go of some of the stuff I haven't really touched since I was 17 or 22.  (I say as I look at the decades worth of belongings surrounding me.)

Three other big thoughts: 1) If I don't get rid of this stuff now, I or someone else will have to eventually. 2) If you frequently get rid of stuff you are no longer using or enjoying regularly, it doesn't have time to get sentimental (which is probably not a bad thing if you tend to hold onto every. single. thing. like I do) and you can skip the emotional ordeal. 3) The point of holding onto stuff is to smile and remember on the rare occasions when you come across it - so if you do so when decluttering, maybe it has already served its nostalgic purpose and you can let it go.

Learning to live with uncertainty again (as I referenced in one of my first-ever posts here). What this next year looks like will continue to be something of a work in progress, and while that is a little stressful at times, I am determined to make it a good one. The upside of uncertainty is that it's pretty exhilarating to have your life crack open and offer opportunities you hadn't imagined.

(Realizing that it has been a year since I last wrote one of these posts.)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Rushing and waiting

In reality, we're always going to be rushing and waiting at the same time. 

This was an amazing summer - one of the best. (Which is a pretty high compliment considering all those childhood summers when I didn't have to work.) In part because we started making summer plans when I was still planning to quit my job for grad school, I took off three whole weeks, give or take a little bit of working remotely. So in other news - turns out that the secret to an amazing summer is going to work as little as possible.

It was a summer of moving and travel, and a very in-between period in our lives. We came back from a fabulous Caribbean vacation and immediately started packing up our apartment. We moved out of DC at the end of July, spent a week crashing with my parents in the suburbs and chilling on Maryland's Eastern Shore, and then Uhauled Austin up to Boston in mid-August. (That's a very concise summary but the reality involves a lot more boxes, humidity, storage units, confusion, and teamwork.) It was also a summer full of weddings that gave us a chance to celebrate love and friendship up and down the East Coast while taking a step back to ponder the big questions.

A while back, my mom shared this fantastic Lin Manuel Miranda commencement address. I loved it - like wept-openly-in-my-cubicle loved it - and recommend it whether or not you are a Hamilton fan. After discussing how Hamilton and Burr react in opposite ways to the same feeling that time is running out, he gets to my favorite part:

"In reality, you’re always going to be rushing and waiting at the same time. You will pack your things to leave tomorrow while savoring every moment of today. You’ll chase down your friends to say goodbye, but know that the ones who matter the most will be in your life for the rest of your life... You hold the present in your hand as tight as you can, while your other hand reaches out for more."

That's what this summer was for me - it was all about rushing and waiting. It was lists and plans and gearing up for big, end-of-an-era changes. Rush. It was trying to soak up our last summer in DC together. Wait. And at the same time - it was waiting for the next chapter to start while rushing around to enjoy the last of this one. It was long afternoons at the pool while feeling guilty that I was not packing or otherwise dealing with the considerable logistics this summer of travel and moving required.

It was diving right in to the Syria portfolio at work while reluctantly loosening my grasp on Tunisia. At the weddings, it was indulging in nostalgia while launching old friends on new parts of their lives and slowly hurtling onto our own new paths. Above all - it was feeling wistful already for what life was like now at the same time that I was eager to just get on with it.

Usually I feel like I am grasping onto the summer as hard as I can. But by the time Labor Day rolled around this year, this summer felt complete. What this next chapter will look like is still taking shape, but I am so ready for it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Decisions and revisions

Hello hello! It's been a minute. And it's been a busy few months around here.

It never made the blog, but in between making daily cards, I spent most of last fall applying to graduate school. I don't know what it's like for other people, but for me it was an intense process - I applied to 16 schools in total, including a mix of PhD programs in political science and master's programs in international affairs. I hit "submit" on the last application in mid-January, and I fully expected the first few months of the year to be much more relaxed as I waited to hear back from schools and then eventually to make decisions. I did get a couple weeks for drinking red wine on the couch and watching Girls, but I feel like I've been going more or less nonstop since then.

After I finished my applications, I spent a month in Tunisia in February and March, working on public opinion research and an awesome event for political activists from across the Middle East. Then I got into grad school, came home, and spent the next month thinking and discussing and stressing about where I should go to school next year and what that means for my career and future. (No big deal.) There were four options that quickly got whittled down to two, and then slowly to one, when I decided to go to grad school in Boston. That came just in time for things to ramp up at work with a multi-million dollar grant proposal to write.

And just as that was wrapping up, I notified my colleagues of my plans to go to grad school - and they threw me a curveball, offering me a promotion and an appealing new portfolio, including time working abroad, if I were to defer graduate school for a year. Even though this sort of thing is not uncommon, I was entirely unprepared for it - but I thought it through and, somewhat to my surprise, ultimately decided to accept their offer and dive into something new. I am excited - it means more responsibility and the opportunity for field experience in one of my favorite countries. It also means being away from my boyfriend for a year as he moves up to Boston for law school. I still wake up some mornings with this feeling of holy crap, what have I done? I still wonder sometimes, am I crazy to be doing this? And maybe I am. But most of the time I don't think so.

So there were two decision points this spring. The first decision felt gut-wrenchingly hard - even if, in retrospect, one option was clearly better than the other. The second decision came easy - much easier than I expected under the circumstances. I often think back to choosing a college, the first major decision of my young life. In retrospect, that was an easy one; I was choosing between two small, comparably-tuitioned liberal arts colleges in New England. I've made a number of decisions since then. And some of the ones that ended up most influencing my life, in ways I've been very happy about, were no-brainers at the time. Studying Arabic. Dating Austin. Accepting my current job. And all of that gives me confidence that I did the right thing.

For both the grad school vs. grad school and the grad school vs. totally unanticipated career move decisions, I weighed the options. I made pro and con lists and tried to visualize what was balancing on each side of the scale. I talked to anyone who would listen or might be able to tell me which was the better choice (alas, no one stepped in to make the decision for me). I quizzed colleagues and professors and current students and other prospective students looking at the same options I was. And I went for a lot of walks in the woods.

One of my favorite things about living in Columbia Heights is that I am just about a mile from an entrance to Rock Creek Park, a sprawling forest right in the heart of DC. At a certain point in the path, you come to a fork where a sign lays out two trail options. The one marked "strenuous" rolls out flat as far as the eye can see; the one marked "moderate" heads steeply up. But just as promised, the "strenuous" path leads to a cliff that you have to scramble over, while the "moderate" path slopes gradually up and down. As I walked through the woods and thought about my decisions and everything felt very heavy, that fork seemed profound in a way I couldn't quite articulate. It's about not knowing where each path may lead. Or about choices that seem to make your life easier at first, that actually make them harder in the end - or going through tough patches that clear the way for a smoother path down the road. Or making the best use of the clues and information you have now and trusting the input of people smarter and wiser than you.

This past fall, full of writing and applications and deciding what to reach for, was full of growth, as I worked long evenings on polishing my resume and personal statement after working long days on democracy in North Africa, as I sharpened my time management skills and worked the side hustle. But this spring saw even more growth as my labors bore fruit and I had to step back and decide which path I actually want to go down, not just apply to. It has seen a shift in my thinking from "what is the perfect path for the rest of my life?" to "what's a good next step?" From "which is incontrovertibly the BEST decision" to "can I accept the trade-offs involved in this choice, and are they worth it?" It's been realizing that you don't have to, and in fact you can't, map out your entire life, but you can think ahead and position yourself for where you might want to go. Finding that balance between having a plan and goals in mind and staying open to new possibilities. I know (and hope) that that is going to be something I work on for a long time. Here's to new adventures and next steps.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st

I have spent much of the day fighting back tears. In all fairness, this is not that unusual for me. I often joke that my favorite work pastime is weeping openly in my cubicle - not because I have cause to be deeply sad, but because I am so easily moved to tears by music and campaign ads and good writing.

But my high school community lost a beloved, veteran teacher today. He taught us the first sixteen lines of Canterbury Tales and the immeasurable impacts that come when a teacher cares about you not just as a writer and reader but as a person. In the email that went around to the alumnae listserv, the headmistress extolled his commitment to his students - not just in the classroom but at our sports games, extracurricular activities, and summer camps. His life was truly dedicated to serving others - and if his generous laugh was any indication, it was a calling he deeply enjoyed. I spent the day alternately reading Facebook tributes to him and the Shakespeare sonnets they referenced.

Then this afternoon, my organization held its annual service awards ceremony, recognizing staff anniversaries, including a good handful of people who have worked here for 20 years. Our president spoke to their job expertise - whether in Asian politics or office management - and to their dedication to our mission. I always drag my heels about having to go to these sorts of things but then really enjoy them once I'm there. I love the opportunity to see the bigger picture and to get reinspired for my day-to-day work - and yep, I got found myself getting teary at some points.

It made me think about commitment and dedication and the rewards you reap when you invest deeply, over an extended period of time, in a certain place and its people. It made me think about building community and about organizations as communities. And it made me resolve to pursue a career and to live a life as committed and community-supporting as the ones we celebrated today.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A simple year-in-review minibook

I love the idea of Project Life and being able to flip through a year in your life. But I don't have the time or the inclination to do quite that level of documentation. So at the end of 2014 (yep, this post is a year overdue), I wanted to capture the past year on a much smaller, but still representative scale. And I happened to have a letterpressed Paper Source calendar that was the perfect size for a small book.

And so this minibook was born. I chose my very favorite photos for the year, picking just a few for each month, and organized them loosely chronologically. I cropped my photos to 4x5, glued everything together, and wrote a a bit of text capturing the highlights of every month of the year. I loved the way Kelsey's journaling looks in her projects, so I went with something similar. Just a page for each month, single-sided or double-sided depending on how much I had to say. There are no embellishments - I wanted to keep the focus on the words and the photos. It could not have been simpler.

By way of example, here is what August looked like:

Inspired by Kelly's old project life and by an old photobook of Elise's, I included a picture of myself (most of just me) opposite the calendar page every month (except for November where, as much as I wanted to keep it consistent, my solo photo clashed a little too much with the calendar page). I was happy to discover that I have a great collection of photos of myself from 2014 and only a few of them are selfies. The trick is to get over the awkwardness of asking someone else to take a picture of you. They're almost always happy to do it.

This would be a fun project to capture the past year, especially if you have a desk calendar you can repurpose. The best part is, it requires no special scrapbooking skills or supplies - just cardstock, adhesive, a hole punch, and book rings - and you end up with a record of your year that's off the computer and in your hands.

This would also be an idea to keep in mind when you're buying calendars for 2016 - which should either be on sale now or will be very soon. Paper Source unfortunately doesn't make these anymore - they still have a letterpress/gold foil desk calendar but I don't like the size or the design as much, so I am still looking for an alternative for 2016, plus thinking of a way to document 2015 at a glance. I would love to hear any suggestions!

Friday, January 29, 2016


We've been together eight years, lived in four places together (Argentina, DC, DC, DC), traveled to five countries together (Canada, Egypt, Spain, Argentina, Chile) and many more separately, held 14 jobs and internships between the two of us. We've navigated choosing majors, finding jobs, studying and living abroad, having quarter-life crises, and dealing with illnesses, injuries, and disasters major and minor. And I have to say, so far we've come out the other side looking better than ever.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My word for 2016

"Find a place you trust and try trusting it for a while."
- Sister Corita Kent's rules for creativity

For the past few years, I have joined many other women on the Internet in picking a word for the year. This year that word is Trust. Trust that the work I put in in 2015 will lead to wonderful things. Trust the process. Trust my gut. Trust myself. Most of all, trust in the life that I have built. Lean in to the goodness of life right now and trust that whatever is coming next will be even better. Resolutions are often about spurring yourself to bigger, better things - right now I want to trust that what I already have going is great. To doubt and second-guess myself a little less.

And relevant to my creative plans in 2016, it is also about trusting that my year of creative habits has built my creative muscle enough that I'll continue to make creativity a regular part of my life, without the obligation of doing it every single day, or creating a finished product before my bedtime. To be honest, I felt a bit guilty about not making anything on January 1, especially with so many inspiring art journallers on Instagram launching new daily projects for 2016. It felt like watching the boat leave and knowing it was too late to get on. But I know this is the right call for me.

And about the photo: last December we celebrated Christmas in southern California with runs and bike rides along the Pacific; this December I got to go on a few long walks along the Atlantic after workdays full of political party trainings in Mauritania. I hope next December will find me on a beach somewhere too. There's nowhere better to reflect back on the old year and set intentions for the new.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Favorites of 2015

I am taking advantage of snowstorm Jonas to catch up on some of my year-end blogging. (As I write this, we are snowed in - at least as much as you can be when you live in a walkable neighborhood in an urban area. I trudged over to the Giant earlier and it was pretty well-stocked and pretty well-staffed, and half as crowded as usual, so that's a net win.)

The first couple weeks of January were busy for me, so I decided that January 13, the first day of the new year in the Julian calendar, would mark the beginning of my personal new year. (Sort of a joke and sort of not.) Since then, I have been enjoying the slower pace and the chance to reflect on what's happened and what's next. So to celebrate, I present you with a few of the highlights of 2015.

Favorite place to travel to for fun, international edition: Central America, especially Guatemala and Belize. (I never did sort through my hundreds of photos to put a post together, so this is perhaps the least blogged-about highlight of 2015, but trust me on this one.) It was a super easy, super fun trip with a great mix of culture, food, adventure, and relaxation, and I can't recommend it enough.

Favorite place to travel to for fun, US edition: California. It is probably news to exactly no one that California is a great place to travel. But I seriously cannot wait to go back.

Favorite place to travel to for work: Mauritania. In 2013, I traveled to five African countries for the first time, including Tunisia and Mauritania for work and Malawi, Tanzania, and Kenya for fun. 2014 was the year of Tunisia (three trips) and 2015 was the year of Mauritania (two).

It is such a cool place, even when it's 90 degrees at midnight and the forecast is "dust." If you ever have a chance to go, I highly recommend it. I'm still hoping I'll get to venture to Parc National Banc d'Arguin for incredible birdwatching, to the former caravan town and current UNESCO World Heritage Site at Chinguetty, and across the river to St. Louis in Senegal. I am excited to see what kind of personal and professional adventures 2016 will hold.

Favorite place to not move away from: our apartment in Columbia Heights. It's been the first time in three years I haven't moved and I am so glad for the chance to nest a bit, to get to go month-to-month on our lease, and to get what feels like an extra month of my life back. (Sorry if I have mentioned this ten times already but I cannot overemphasize how big an impact it had on my year to not have to deal with apartment-hunting in DC.)

Favorite distance to run: 10k. I ran my first 10k in May with my friends (I'm the one derping around on the left) and then a solo 10k in November. The first 10k gave me some major jitters but was packaged in a fun girls' weekend, and I finished feeling accomplished at having done something new. The second 10k was the race I didn't knew I needed, one I tackled despite not having exercised in months due to some surprisingly intense lower back pain. It was a gorgeous day during a stressful time, and I finished with the reminder that I can dig deep and do hard things.

Favorite leisure activities: listening to podcasts, going on walks, and managing my holds at the library. Extra points for walks to the library while listening to podcasts.

Favorite get-togethers: monthly dinner club parties. This was the brainchild of my BFF, or technically of her mom when she was a twenty-something new to DC. Loved having a standing date to get together with girlfriends and to come up with new stuff in the kitchen.

Favorite regular craft project: the daily card project. I have written more about this than I'm sure anyone needs or wants to read, but it still amazes me that something I did on a whim on January 1, 2015 turned into such a big part of my year. This will be something I remember about 2015 for sure.

Best intentions: Get Messy. I love the six weeks of art journaling I stuck with and I'm going to try again in 2016.

Favorite TV shows, friend edition: The Bachelor. Preferably accompanied by brackets and yelling at the TV.

Favorite TV show, couple's edition: True Detective (the first season). Delightfully spooky, atmospheric, and thought-provoking. We actually haven't finished yet so I'm looking forward to that. And depending on how long we're snowed in it may happen sooner rather than later.

Favorite listening: Hamilton. The obsession traveled from Austin to me to my parents and I am so excited about our plans to see the musical this spring. I think the soundtrack will always remind me of this phase in my life.

Overall, this has been a year of digging in deep, putting in the work, trying new things, asking for what I want, taking on new responsibilities, expanding my creativity, and thinking and talking and figuring out the future. It has fewer flashy accomplishments than some other years might, but I felt like I laid some groundwork for my future self. I am heading into the new year feeling more confident in who I am and in where I am going - or at least more confident that I will figure it out as I go along. And that is a very good feeling. I am so excited to see what this year will bring.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A year of miniature art

As you are well aware if you have spent any time here, I decorated a playing card every day in 2015. I started this project on something of a lark - but it ended up being one of the things that most shaped my year. Which says to me that, as with a lot of things, it's not so much the decision to start but the decision to keep going that matters. I kept it up through quiet winter nights, through adventures in Mauritania and Central America, and through the last busy months of the year.

Over the course of the year, I celebrated my favorite board games.

I enjoyed (more than) a few strong drinks.

And some nights, I got lazy. (See above - there is a pretty robust correlation between "strong drinks" and "phoning it in" in the card department.)
But I also found my way to new mantras and ideas - ones that will stick with me long after this year of creative habits is over.
And while I am a writer at heart, some days didn't need words.

So what did I learn? I won't rehash too many thoughts on daily creativity (since I have shared plenty over the year) but wanted to share some overall reflections.

Basically, I am so glad I did this. While I didn't do much scrapbooking this year, I love that I have a full year captured through this unique documentation method. (On some cards, I wrote a bit on the back about whatever had inspired the front - I need to go back and do that for more of them before I forget.) I have only pulled out my binder a couple times since December 31, but it's already so cool to flip through and see a year of thoughts and feeeeeelings at a glance.

Most of all, this project has shown me the value of working at something every day or nearly every day- a lesson I am trying to apply to my other pursuits, like writing and running. It has proven to me Gretchen Rubin's axiom that things you do every day matter more than things you do once in a while. For all the goals I set for 2015, this daily habit felt the most significant.

Two weeks into the new year, I wish I could say that this project inculcated in me a creative urge so strong that I am still going nonstop. But truth be told, I haven't really done much creating so far in 2016. I could say that's because I've been busy, and that would be true. But I was also busy for much of 2015, with plenty of late nights, long task lists, and jam-packed travel days. That commitment to carving out the time and making it happen is key - and, as Gretchen Rubin also says, finish lines can be dangerous.

I have to say though, I have enjoyed being able to shut down my laptop and go to sleep in 2016 instead of first making a card. And I am excited to wrap this up to have more time for larger-scale art journaling projects.

But the plus side is, this project has made me into - or shown me that I already was - a creative person, if I can only give myself the time and space for it. I'm looking forward to exploring that creativity, giving it some room to breathe, and seeing where it takes me in 2016.

And that's it for the daily card project! Thanks so much for following along and, as always, you can see all past card posts here.