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Reality TV Time: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo

Let me ask you a question: Do you know about Marie Kondo?

Of course you do! Everyone does! The whole world has gone Kondo Krazy. I don’t know about you, but my Instagram and Feedly feed is brimming with images and posts and videos of neatly folded clothing, scaled down closets and piles of “komono” to be sold, donated or thrown out.

KonMari, or the art of tidying and organizing, originated with Marie Kondo’s 2014 book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I never read it, but I heard about it and understood the premise: Uncluttering by going through all of your possessions in the five main categories and deciding if the item “sparks joy.” If it does, it stays. If not, thank it and let it go. Like, forever.

KonMari is back in the consciousness and our Instagram feeds for two main reasons: 1) New Year’s Eve resolutions and 2) in a moment of pure marketing genius, Netflix released the first season of its show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” And, here’s the genius part: they released it on New Year’s Day, right when everyone was itching to tackle those resolutions to unclutter but still wanted to procrastinate a little bit longer by binge watching a show about uncluttering.

I have a third theory about why we’re all obsessed with purging and organizing right now which is this: the world feels completely out of control, so we want to control something, anything. Our own home environment is a place where we can start and feel some sense of control and order in the midst of all the chaos.

Now, I wouldn’t say I’m a full-on minimalist, but I’m a notorious purger. In fact, I’ve actually thrown away perfectly good money (albeit, on accident). Just saying: I am pretty ruthless. (I also accidentally threw away a box of jewelry once during a move. Mostly sentimental stuff, but still. Gone. I didn’t even turn the car around to go through the dumpster to look for it. I know full well that the Kondo Krazies can have unintended consequences, as this Georgia family also knows.)  KonMari with Kare, y’all.

Anyway, the point is I really don’t get too attached to stuff. I donate and get rid of items on a constant basis. This was especially true after consciously uncoupling from my office job. I donated so. Many. Clothes. Bags and bags of office-appropriate suits, blazers, skirts, pants, sweaters, work tops, belts and shoes went to our local Goodwill. I didn’t even bother to try to sell or consign stuff. I just wanted it all out.

Konmari’ed House

I also secretly dream that in another life I was probably a professional organizer. I love to organize and bring order to some chaos. And literally, everyone is talking about this show. Even my manicurist when I got my nails done recently was gushing about it. So, of course, I watched.

Dear reader, I could only take about 20 minutes of the first episode before I started to feel all itchy and annoyed.

The best way I can describe it is: “Hoarders” meets “Super Nanny” with a dash of some therapy thrown in. Because, like in the vein of other redemptive-themed reality shows like “Hell’s Kitchen” or “Bar Rescue,” Marie Kondo isn’t just there to help people declutter and clean. No, no, no. She’s also there to help save the family relationships. Through the magic of tidying up, of course.

So just like in “Super Nanny” where Joe the Nanny would be brought in to ostensibly help discipline the kids, the real lesson is that the parents are the ones who need help in learning how to be a parent. (On a related note, here’s a very interesting article in how the show is exposing gender biases, ie: society expects women to be the home/memory keepers and women feel they are overwhelmed and failing. Very fascinating.)

Back to the show: The first episode featured the very telegenic Friend family, who, quite honestly, had a very nice home. Obviously, the very telegenic mom probably had too many clothes but not a totally unmanageable or unreasonable amount, in my opinion. And yes, the kitchen was definitely a bit of a disaster (I mean, who doesn’t throw away leftovers before the TV crew shows up?).

Oh girl. You about to get some.

No, what bothered me about the Friends wasn’t the “mess” but just were how needy they appeared. They kept trying to get Marie Kondo to validate that they weren’t that bad and begging her to confirm that sometimes, she’s disorganized, too, and they were just normal people who have to hire someone to come and fold their laundry for them. Honey, if you weren’t that bad, our little Kondo sprite friend wouldn’t be there.

Also, y’all do know that Ms. Kondo is shilling products, right? She’s got her own line of boxes that she’s selling for $89. For boxes. That she displays/product places all over the show. Listen my little organizers: if you are looking for boxes, I got ’em. I get fresh new boxes almost every damn day from Amazon (catkid items) or Sephora (Poe goods). They may not be as cute and pastel as those Kondo boxes, but I’d be willing to sell them to you for a deeply discounted price of $80 per set.

I set “Tidying Up” aside and went back to it a couple of weeks later. I finally got through the rest of the Friend’s episode (and their embarrassing comment about how tidying up has improved their sex life) and went to the next one, which were these empty nesters, the Akiyamas.

That was it for me. They had so, so much stuff. It was insane. Mrs. Akiyama had clothes stuffed in like, four different bedroom closets and Mr. Akiyama had a whole wall of boxes of baseball cards piled precariously on top of each other in the master bedroom. And the Christmas decorations. I just could not. Watching the teeny tiny Marie Kondo skip over the dangerous piles of crap while giggling gave me hives.

I managed to watch it all the way through and guess what? The Empty Nesters did get rid of a TON of stuff, but they still kept a TON of stuff! The closets were still full and boxes and boxes of stuff still lined the walls all over their house.

Oh, and while clearing out, they found a whole collection of these little Japanese dolls (probably like, 100 of them) and they decided those (THE WHOLE COLLECTION) “sparked joy” and they were going to keep them and display them. In their garage. No doubt, these antique dolls were beautiful, but the whole collection? In the garage? It was too much for me.

While our blessed saint of organization Marie Kondo is totally and completely judgement free in the face of incredible mounds of acquired (and even newly discovered) crap, I find that I am not. I can’t help but judge and I was judging. Harshly.

I had to give up on Netflix’s Tidying Up. I’m turning it off and going back to RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 4, which is messy, messy, messy in all the best ways.

Love/hate me some Valentina!
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Twiga Everywhere: How We Met All of the Giraffes in Kenya and Tanzania

*Twiga is Swahili for giraffe.

The lovely and long-lashed Sir Harry was not the only giraffe we saw during our 18-day trip to Tanzania and Kenya. Not by a long shot.

We saw. So. Many. Giraffes.

All the giraffes in the Mara

Usually on safari, we see a couple of giraffes a day, if we’re lucky. They’re not as ubiquitous as say, impala or even zebras. But they’re not as scarce as let’s say a rhino (seen it – white and black) or a honey badger (seen it) or a pangolin (still have not seen it, alas).

So giraffes are certainly around and since they are my favorite (after the pangolin), I’m always excited to see them, even if they aren’t particularly elusive or rare.

The grin of a girl excited to see giraffes.

But this trip? This trip we saw all the giraffes. Like, all of them. We did a roll call and I’m pretty sure we saw every last one that could be found in the Serengeti or Masai Mara. And then some more in Nairobi, just for good measure.

We saw so many giraffes we actually learned what groups of giraffes are called: a tower is a group of giraffes standing still and a journey is a group that is on the move.

This guy is neither a tower or a journey. He’s just a giraffe.

For example, we saw a journey of about 50 giraffes on our way back to Bushtops Serengeti one evening. We had just pulled around the corner and there they were, slowly walking and grazing, completely surrounding us on both sides of the road while the sun set in the distance. We sat gobsmacked and tried to count how many there were, while they just chewed and strolled.

We also saw a tower of about 30-40 giraffes on our last game drive on the private reserve surrounding Mara Bushtops.

This group was taking a breather near a watering hole, so we got to see them bending down to take a drink from the water, which, if you’ve never seen a giraffe drink water, let me tell you: it is a nerve-wracking feat of engineering by nature. Because they are so tall and their necks are so long, giraffes have to gingerly splay their legs and carefully dip their heads down to get a drink of water. But they can’t stay in this position too long because all the blood would rush away from their hearts and to their heads. It’s an extremely delicate maneuver and the whole time they look like they’re going to tip over. Or, as this Inside Science article puts it, “defying gravity.”

Luckily, they get most of their water intake from vegetation and only need to drink water every couple of days.

During this watering hole giraffe extravaganza, we also saw some behavior that we mistook for affection but turns out to be aggressive – two giraffes rubbing their necks together. This is known as “necking” and what we saw was actually a pretty mild form of it. When it escalates, necking can include the giraffes swinging their head at each others’ necks, like fists.

Then, there was the morning we rolled up on a tiny, newly born baby giraffe that was basically born minutes before we found it in a field in the Masai Mara National Park. It was all wobbly and wet and still leaning against its mom, trying to figure out the whole nursing thing.

Before our Harry experience, this was by far my favorite moment of the whole trip. It was so beautiful and moving and fraught with worry about unseen dangers and whether the baby would survive.

Good luck, little fella.

Finally, many people know about the Instagram-famous, Giraffe Manor in Nairobi. Giraffe Manor is a gorgeous old house that has been turned into a stunning hotel where guests (rooms are steep — around $620 per person per night) can feed pellets to the dozen or so resident Rothschild giraffes, right on the grounds, through open windows in the breakfast room or out on the lawn during afternoon tea (at 5 pm). Non-guests can also come (and pay) for the high tea experience (I think it’s $50-$75 per person).

But what most people don’t know is that adjacent to Giraffe Manor is the Giraffe Center, an education and conservation site where you get to feed the exact same Rothschild giraffes for like $10 bucks. It’s open from 9 am to 5 pm and it does get pretty crowded. But the giraffes are super friendly and will do just about anything for those damn pellets, including give you a kiss.

Clearly not afraid of a little giraffe slobber.

It’s a wonderful place, even if it’s bit of a stretch to call it an education center, but the docents on the grounds handing out pellets are very nice and informative. They do, however, limit you to just a couple of handfuls of pellets, so be judicious with your pellets. I was pretty excited and gave all of mine too quickly, but one girl was nice enough to give me an extra handful as long as I promised it would be the last.

All in all, I thought we’d be there an hour, but turned out, 30 minutes was enough time to run out of pellets and get your full pet giraffe fantasies fulfilled. Plus, I had already met and hung out with Harry at Mara Bushtops and he didn’t even require any pellet payoffs. My giraffe expectations were pretty high by the time we got to the Giraffe Center.

Pack it up: Travel plans for 2019

A new year (and, let’s face it, the winter weather) always puts me in the trip planning mood. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane during these dark, cold months. Well, that plus Bravo and wine.

Via Giphy

In general, XFE and I take at least three big trips a year – one around my birthday in March, one in the summer somewhere beachy, and one around his birthday in the fall (October-November timeframe).

2018 was a bit of an outlier – we only planned one big trip last year. But it was a doozy in terms of time and money (18 days in Tanzania and Kenya). On top of that, we had some work/friends/family/obligation travel that took us to Las Vegas, New Orleans, Denver and Chicago.

It was a different type of travel year for us. And, I don’t know if it was better. On the one hand, we both enjoy having several exotic, big trips and experiences to look forward to throughout the year. But we also liked having a bit of breathing room to really appreciate that one big trip to Africa. And, workwise, it probably worked out a bit better that most of our travel was domestic since it was a very busy year for both of us, but XFE in particular.

So far, 2019 is looking a bit similar travel-wise, with work obligations cutting in a bit on our travel life. First up, a trip next week to San Francisco for a client’s conference. We’re going a couple of days early to meet up with XFE’s parents and enjoy a quick city break before the conference gets started. I’ve only been to San Francisco/wine country one other time (in May), so I have no idea what to expect weather-wise in January (I guess, rain?), but we have plans to go to the racetrack, tour Alcatraz and visit Muir Woods (Maybe. If the government shutdown doesn’t keep it closed, which is currently the case).

via Giphy

Originally, we had planned to go to Morocco for my birthday in March, but we just couldn’t make it work. I have some work deadlines that conflicted with when we could get flights using miles and it was just turning into a lot of stress. So we’ve ditched Morocco for now (it’s still high up on our travel bucket list) and we are instead going to the equally exotic Asheville, North Carolina, aka the Morocco of the mid-Atlantic.

Actually, I’ve always been obsessed with that Gilded Age palace of excess, the Biltmore, so we’re finally going and I am really excited (I love a stately home). We’re doing the whole Biltmore experience: private tour, falconry, probably some high tea, plus there’s some sort of Land Rover experience XFE has signed us up for. We’re finishing up the trip with a couple of days in a remote cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

via Giphy

In June, I’m going to Anaheim for a work trip. I’ve never been, so I’m excited to see that city during my free time and the evening events for this particular conference are insane, so I’m sure I’ll get a chance to go to some venues and attractions that I’d probably never make it to otherwise.

Our big trip this year is New Zealand for three weeks (!!) in Oct-Nov. New Zealand is another one of those destinations that we’ve been meaning to get to, especially after we went to and fell in love with Australia several years ago. Seven years later, we’re finally going and we cannot wait. We’re still in the planning stages, but this place is definitely on the short list of places we want to stay.

That’s it so far for travel 2019! But you never know what the year will bring and if a crazy, last-minute mistake fare shows up (like that time we went to Chile for Thanksgiving like a week after returning from our second trip to Africa), we have our passports ready and our packing strategy worked down to an art form.

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Wild About Harry, Mara Bushtops’ Giraffe

I have a new boyfriend. His name is Harry and he is a giraffe.

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It’s ok. My current, longtime, long-suffering boyfriend, XFE knows about him. He’s even met him. And I gotta say….he seems a bit in love with Harry as well.

I realize that this is all a bit nonlinear and out of context and is in no way the proper manner to start writing about our most recent African safari. But, meeting Harry at Mara Bushtops really was the most exciting part of an overall incredible trip to Tanzania and Kenya in November and, well, I’ve been busting at the seams to talk about him. That’s how love goes, right? You just want to gush about your object of affection to everyone who will listen.

And when I say that meeting Harry the giraffe was the most exciting part of our trip to Tanzania and Kenya, let me assure you that that is no tall order (giraffe pun: INTENDED. Thank you, you’ve been a great crowd and don’t forget to tip your waitress.)

 

This trip, y’all. This trip. I’m still not fully recovered from the awesomeness of this trip. I’ll get into it a bit more in some upcoming posts, but let me assure you, there was no shortage of amazing moments.

But meeting Harry was definitely my favorite. Perhaps because it was so unexpected.

Me and Harry 2

We had just gotten back early from a morning game drive. We’d been going pretty hardcore, full on, all day safari mode for the previous 12 days, leaving at 5:30 am each day and staying out till 5:30 or 6 pm. On this particular day, we decided to come back to camp early to have a late breakfast, enjoy our room, and get massages at the spa in the afternoon. We had just gotten in our room and set our stuff down when we noticed a giant giraffe hanging out right off the porch, peering in at us.

Mara Busthops giraffe Harry through our Leopard tent doorway

Turns out, his name is Harry and he’s pretty well known. Harry is a super chill, super friendly giraffe who likes to hang out at Mara Bushtops. He seems to really enjoy watching us humans. It’s like a safari in reverse: we came to see him, and he comes to see us. Except, instead of having sundowners and samosas like we did, he chews leaves. Acacia, I think.

Needless to say, I totally geeked out when I saw him. I know I sound pretty cool and calm in the video but I was squealing inside like a little kid. He must have hung out just watching us watching him for like 10 minutes. We started to get a bit antsy about getting to breakfast, but we didn’t want to disturb him by tromping off our porch and onto the path that connected our tent to the main hall/kitchen. So we went back out the front of our tent and around the other side to backtrack over to the trail. He still stood there, just watching us stand in awe on the trail for a while longer before he finally grew bored and walked away.

Harry the giraffe at Mara Bushtops, Kenya
Bye, Harry

Then, a couple of hours later, we headed over to the Amani Spa for some wonderful massages (Best Spa in Africa according to the World Luxury Spa Awards for three years running and I wholeheartedly agree), and on the walk over to the spa, who do we see on the side of the road but our good old friend Harry! And, of course, neither of us had a phone or camera on them. But we were able to get really, really close and just marvel at his size. He was so, so big. And not at all bothered by us walking by and gushing.

Then I had what has to have been the world’s most exciting and not-at-all-relaxing massage (not because of the massage technicians, who were wonderful, especially Caroline).

You see, the massage room at Mara Bushtops is a tent, similar to the rooms, so it’s open sided. It’s really nice. You can hear the spa pool’s fountain gurgling, see animals at the salt lick off in the distance, and you get a nice cross breeze.

Amani Spa at Mara Bushtops
Photo from Mara Bushtops website. 

I had just settled in for 90-minute Afrique Gold massage when I heard a weird noise, sort of a snapping, tugging, chewing type of noise. The sound of leaves being ripped off a tree and ground into a pulp. I snuck a peek and there he was, on my side of the tent to my left, near the entrance to the massage tent….HARRY!! He came to watch us get massages!

Did-You-say-Massage

I tried to relax but every time the chewing would stop, I would lift my head and open my eyes to see if he was still there. He must have been there for like, 20-30 minutes, just eating and watching us. I could not believe it. We had gotten a massage with a giraffe. Bushtops Camps motto is “Wild Luxury” and this experience really was the epitome of that. It’s something I’ll never forget. Oh, and the massage was excellent, as well.

"It was the most relaxing massage I've ever had."

 

Procrastinating on my New Year’s Resolutions

Hey, have you heard? It’s a new year or something. And we’re all supposed to make big resolutions or goals or intentions or whatever.

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Going blindly into 2019.

I’ll admit it: I do get caught up in that whole resolutions business. It’s just the excitement of closing a chapter on something old and getting a fresh new start on something new. If my unconventional, nomadic childhood taught me anything it’s that you can totally run away from your current, crappy situation and start all over somewhere else with a new fake life and backstory. (Just kidding. Mostly.)

But to be honest, 2018 wasn’t that bad for me. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like earth shatteringly great of anything either, it was just…..there. I guess it was better than 2017, but not “my best year ever!” or anything. And that’s fine by me. There’s something to be said for just an average year with no major highs or lows.

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Professionally, 2018 was a pretty good year. I’m getting the hang of the freelance life cycle. I had a couple of clients cut back or go away completely, had some new clients and new projects to work on, the usual ebb-and-flow, and I was prepared for all that, both financially and emotionally.

Last year, my professional freelancing resolution was two-fold. The first was: Say yes to everything, even things that I think I don’t know how to do or areas where I don’t consider myself an expert. And I did do that, for the most part. I took on projects in areas that were challenging and guess what? I figured it out. I had to Google a lot of stuff but I got it done.

The second part of my 2018 professional resolution was to walk away from projects that weren’t worth the time or trouble. Which I did in a couple of instances. I went with my gut and walked away from a couple of projects that were more stress than payoff.

Now, I find myself thinking about what I’d like 2019 to look like. And, I don’t really have any great answers yet. I’ve read a bunch of other blog posts on setting goals, listened to a couple of freelance podcasts, and even recently joined in on a freelancers Twitter chat on the topic.

And what I learned is, man, freelancers really REALLY love to make goals. Like, really specific, actionable goals. And they love to make lists of all those goals. Lots and lots of lists.

It made me think that I really need to get my shit together. To really sit down and think about this a whole freelancing business a whole lot more. Maybe I need to do like a whole Poe Communications Freelance Business Retreat.

So, after all this, my resolution is this: I resolve to make some really good resolutions at some point in the future. Maybe in like 2020.

planning-some-big

But if you too are looking for some resolution inspiration and can’t wait for my retreat, the fine people at Goop have a list of some incredibly inspiring and impossible ones (because….of course they do). I do suggest, however, ignoring anything that Mario Batali has to say: he’s gross and we all know the real reason he wants to “unplug” from social media, emails and texts.

Poe’s Packing Panic: Safari Edition

We leave in a few days for Africa. So, you know what that means.

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Packing panic. It’s a thing. And for me, it’s a repeat thing.

It’s not like this is my first African safari. Or even my second. No, this is the third time we are going on safari. You could say, we really, really, really like it.

I should know the drill by now.

Even still, in the last few months, I’ve vacillated between, “Nope, I have gobs of clothes, I don’t need to buy a single thing for this trip,” to “Oh my damn, I have nothing appropriate to take on safari, I better buy a whole new wardrobe.”

I have a few excuses. First of all, it’s a really long trip. We are going back to Serengeti Bushtops in Tanzania for eight days and Mara Bushtops in Kenya for five days (plus a couple of days in Zanzibar and one day in Nairobi on our way home, and a whole lot of time on very long flights). All told, I have to pack for 18 days, which is a LOT of days.

A-lot-o-luggage

(Oh, and I have actually packed for an 18 day trip before).

Secondly, I’ve lost a little weight since our last trip two years ago. Not a lot but enough to go down a size or two.

Third, I’ve purged my closet several times since our last trip and got rid of things I thought I’d probably never wear again, ie: clothes bought specifically for a safari. (Except my safari jacket. I wear that thing all the time).

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Warthog approved: My safari jacket in use in an actual safari in 2016.

And fourth, I also tend to buy really cheap items to take on safari (t-shirts from H&M or Old Navy, linen or cargo pants from Gap Factory or Kohl’s), and well, those don’t generally hold up that well. Which is fine, but obviously necessitated some shopping.

In case anyone is wondering, the reason I buy cheap, fast fashion stuff for safari (besides the cost, obviously) is that these clothes are going to take a bit of a beating. It’s not that safari is extremely physical (it’s not like your climbing a mountain or something) but you are getting in and out of a very tall Land Rover multiple times a day and walking through some dusty brush, primarily, at least in my case, to squat and pee.

You also really only need a couple of outfits since they do daily laundry at the safari camps we stay at. So the cost per wear is actually pretty high. Plus, if anything does happen to my safari clothes during the trip, say a laundry mishap or a tear from getting in and out of the truck, I won’t be bent out of shape about it.

I actually learned this lesson the hard way on our first safari to South Africa, where I bought these really nice $100 hiking pants from Athleta. I was so excited about these pants, I can’t even tell you. I ordered them online and put them right into my suitcase, still encased in plastic and everything. When I went to put them on our first morning in Sabi Sands, I saw (or felt, actually) that there was a big tear in the fabric, right across the right butt cheek. I was crushed. I used my little in-room sewing kit and stitched them right up but they were ruined, in my book. Lesson learned: no expensive, fancy safari clothes.

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These were my fancy pants on safari in South Africa in 2014. 

A few other considerations:

Colors: White and light colors are a bad idea since they show dirt so easily. And dark colors like black and navy attract mosquitoes and even tsetse flies, which hurt like hell.

As for agitating the animals with bright colors? Animals are mostly color blind, so the sight of bright colors doesn’t send them into a tizzy at all. Plus, you’re in a truck most of the time, so they just see you as part of a large, dark mass, and most likely think we’re all just another large animal. But, having said that, I tend to stick with neutral colors like gray, tan, olive. Especially if you go on a walking safari, when you definitely need to blend into the surroundings a bit.

Weather: It’s going to be pretty warm while we are on safari, highs mostly in the mid to upper 80s, lows in the upper 50s, low 60s. Still, I wear long pants and bring long sleeve shirts to help avoid bug bites. And a hat for sun protection. But not a pith helmet, or any other colonialist gear that smacks of racism and oppression.

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Nope. Just. Nope. 

And even though it’s the short rain season in the Masai Mara and Serengeti while we are there, we don’t need to bring waterproof gear. They usually have rain ponchos in the trucks (along with binoculars, which is why we don’t bring our own).

Dinners & downtime: This one is tricky and all over the map. Each camp has its own vibe and the dinner attire varies. Sometimes people wear the same clothes they wear on the game drives, which is fine. At Savanna Lodge in Sabi Sands, people (including the staff) got a bit dressed up for dinner (sundresses or linen pants and camisole tops for the women, pants and button up shirts for the men).

I try to just go with a happy medium and bring something nice, then wear it over and over and over again.

Here’s my safari packing list

Clothing

  • 3-4 t-shirts
  • 2 long sleeve shirts (I’m taking two lightweight button downs to wear over t-shirts in the morning)
  • 1 sweatshirt/fleece (I’m taking my olive cargo jacket)
  • 2 pairs of cotton trousers/pants – a pair and a spare while the other is being washed.
  • 2 light dresses/2 dressy tops/1 pair of jeans – for dinners while on safari and time in Zanzibar & Nairobi.
  • A scarf – good for blocking dust or sun or bundling up on a chilly morning.
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • 6 pairs of underwear (I also bring a net lingerie bag for our socks and underwear to keep them together and it just to make it a bit less embarrassing.)
  • 3 bras (including one sports bra – VERY bumpy roads. I wash this by hand before dinner and let dry overnight.)
  • Sunglasses (for the dust as well as bright sun)
  • Pajamas/linen pants for hanging out in our tent.
  • Hat
  • Swimsuit
  • Lightweight, durable, waterproof shoes (I’m taking this tennis/hiking shoe hybrid pair I already have. Not terribly lightweight, but durable.)
  • Sandals for around camp/wedges for dinner & city

Toiletries/First Aid

  • Anti-malarial medicine
  • Sunscreen
  • Antihistamine (for bug bites/stings and allergic reactions)
  • Aspirin for pain/headaches
  • Mosquito repellant (I especially like the wipes or toilette versions)
  • A couple of large Ziploc bags (to keep things like your camera dry or free of dust)
  • Pepto Bismal plus something stronger (we travel with Cipro after the Great Peruvian Giardia Adventure of 2013)
  • Band aids/antibiotic ointment for blisters, cuts, scrapes
  • Personal toiletries in small travel sizes, including hair and skincare products, or formulas that aren’t liquid, ie: powder or stick sunscreen, solid shampoo/conditioner)
  • Minimal makeup – really, just the basics: tinted bb cream, mascara, tinted lip balm.
  • Prescription medications/spare glasses and contacts, in my case.
  • Tissues — (I found having little packs of these in the pockets of my jacket VERY useful when “checking the tires” — ie: peeing – during those 6-hour game drives.
  • Antiseptic gel or wipes (handy for washing your hands when there’s no water around)

Gadgets and Gizmos

  • Converter plug to fit local sockets (if needed. We did not need one on our last trip to Bushtop. All the plugs were universal.)
  • Camera (with zoom lenses/tripod/whatever. I just use a Canon point-and-shoot)
  • Extra memory card for your camera
  • Binoculars (Again, we found we didn’t really need them and our safari trucks had them)
  • Spare batteries and/or battery charger for electronics (Bushtop’s safari trucks even had USB ports to help keep batteries charged)
  • I-Pad or Kindle for all your entertainment needs
  • Cell phone. I don’t take my computer but I will take my cell phone. But, while the camps do have wifi, but it’s always a bit iffy. I try to just unplug and be in the moment, which is what safari (and any vacation, really) should be all about.

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A Little Summer/Fall Reading List

This summer, instead of working on my tan or my fitness or my blog producing skills (hello! Zing!), I’ve been reading. Like, not just US Weekly but actual books.

I’ve turned to actual books, in part, because I cancelled my subscription to US Weekly after about seven too many glowing cover stories on a certain family headed by a bumbling Nacho Cheese Dorito who, (and this makes me shudder every single day) will one day have his very own presidential library, even though he can’t even be bothered to read anything more complicated than a tweet.

Speaking of books: here’s what I read this summer. And all of them were longer than a tweet.

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April — For me, the summer reading season kicked off with the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize winners. As a former journalist, I love to read the stories that win this prize every year, but since I’d already glutinously consumed so much news this year, I decided to take a slightly different approach and read the Prize winner in fiction, Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less.”

I would describe it as “Eat, Pray, Love” with a gay protagonist. It was good, very, very funny.

May — Next up, since I needed some book recommendations, I decided to join the Girl’s Night In book club, which has a chapter here in Old Town, Alexandria. Unfortunately, the first book out of the gate was Meg Wolitzer’s “The Female Persuasion.” I’m afraid I didn’t like this one at all.

It’s ostensibly about womanhood, loyalty and ambition. I just kept thinking to myself, “How does this female protagonist end up writing a book, living in a Brooklyn brownstone, and becoming a key voice in the feminist movement by her mid-20s after literally having just one clerical job?”

June – This month, I plowed through three books, in part because they were all kinda fluffy, quick reads and in part because work slows down quite a bit for me mid-summer.

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I stumbled on Tara Isabella Burton’s “Social Creature” on Twitter. I think someone I follow mentioned it when it was published, and the way she described it totally hooked me in. It’s a story about obsession and status featuring a con-artist/grifter/murderer (sort of an Anna Delvey-type but more murder-ey, obviously) who uses Instagram and social media to continue her con and cover up a murder. Perfect summer read. Vastly unsatisfying ending.

Another GNI book club read. “The Ensemble” by Aja Gabel was ok, not great. It’s about a group of friends (but are they though?) who are in a musical quartet and how their friendships with each other change over the years. It was difficult to understand whether they really liked each other or whether they were only with each other because they needed the quartet to stick together. Needed more rock-and-roll.

Since we were still in the throws of the Summer of Scams, I read “Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director” by Gary Vikan. I’m actually a tiny bit obsessed with art heists. I blame it on Pierce Brosnan’s Thomas Crown Affair – still one of my favorite movies. I already read “The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft” and loved it.

But the main reason I read Vikan’s book is because of an art heist much closer to home. A few years back, a former PE teacher/driving instructor/blackjack dealer tried to anonymously sell a Renoir she had “discovered” at a flea market to The Potomack Company, an auction house here in Old Town. Major family drama ensued as “Renoir Girl” and her brother fought over who owned the stolen painting. Exactly who stole the painting back in 1951 is still unresolved (it’s got to be the mom, right?), as Vikan details in his book, but it has been returned to the Baltimore Museum of Art.

July – For the GNI book club, the powers that be selected Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. I had wanted to read this one for a while, but figured it’d be hard. While I did not grow up in a fundamentalist Mormon family in Idaho, I had a similar upbringing to Westover’s in a lot of ways. There was abuse, neglect, and (undiagnosed) mental illness. And like her, I knew from an early age that the way out of my circumstances was through education.

I also knew that the road to getting that education would not be easy, but like her, I probably wasn’t quite prepared for how difficult it would be or the costs that it would require. I personally have found that getting out in the world and changing your life can cause a huge chasm between yourself and those you leave behind, and sometimes that gulf is just too large to bridge. I’m different because of my experiences and education. There is no going back. When people say “don’t forget where you come from,” I just don’t get it because every single thing I did was specifically to distance myself from where I came from, which was a very bad place.

Anyway, this one really struck home and I really, really liked it even though it brought up a lot of bad memories.

The next book I read was recommended by another GNI book club attendee and since I was looking for something on the opposite end of the spectrum after “Educated,” it was a welcome relief to escape into “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou. Thankfully, I have no experience with Yale students who drop out of school to start a revolutionary blood testing startup in Silicon Valley, all while wearing black turtlenecks a la Steve Jobs and taking gobs of money from venture capitalists and investors while lying about the entire company, its technology and capabilities.

This book was head-shakingly, gob-smackingly good. I could not believe what Elizabeth Holmes got away with from a lot of smart people who should have known better. Seriously. If this was the Summer of Scams, she is the undisputed queen. The balls on this chick. Maybe my favorite book of the summer. Although…..

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August – I really, really loved “Rust & Stardust” by T. Greenwood. It’s a historical novel based on the true kidnapping story in the 1940s of 11-year-old Sally Horner, which ended up inspiring Nabokov’s “Lolita.” Not gonna lie: it was creepy, definitely was on the edge of icky, but it was so, so good and just heartbreaking. I could not put it down.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – This was another GNI selection and was also on the summer reading list of the two big O’s – Obama and Oprah (Oprah’s Book Club 2018 Selection). It’s about a newlywed man who is wrongly accused of a crime and ends up going to prison for five years before his sentence is overturned. Obviously, the marriage takes a hit and he returns home to try to reclaim his life and his wife. Another heartbreaker and also good, but a bit frustrating. It definitely made you think. What’s fair in a young, fledging marriage that’s been interrupted like this? What do people who were once in love owe each other? When is it ok to let go? Ever?

Finally, one of my favorite Instagram feeds, @notenoughhangers mentioned he was reading this book: The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married into the British Aristocracy by Anne de Courcy. It’s about the many, many American Gilded Age heiresses who married into British aristocracy at the turn of the century and how that worked out for everyone. Spoiler: mostly not great, but I did love hearing all about their amazing stately homes, fabulously over-the-top parties, and all other ways they blew through their daddy’s fortunes to console themselves.

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SeptemberThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn – Only got about 20 percent into it before I ditched it for my current read. Loved the history angle and the female empowerment idea of the story (based on the true story of female spy outfit in France during World War II), but couldn’t stand the writing and the way the story was being told.

Which brings me to my current read: Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Wall Street Journal reporters, Tom Wright, Bradley Hope. Someone on Goodreads described it as “Bad Blood” meets “Crazy Rich Asians” and I was hooked. Just started this last night and I’m excited.

 

 

 

Hotel Crashing: The Underwater Room, Manta Resort, Pemba Island

There is a place where you can belt out The Little Mermaid’s “Under the Sea” without a lick of irony, a smidgen of skill, or any regard for your neighbors’ eardrums.

A place where you can “sleep with the fishes.” Where you literally sleep with fishes darting all around you. Except, if you’re like me, you won’t be “sleeping with fishes” at all because the whole experience of watching fish swim around your room all night while lying in bed makes sleep completely impossible.

Underwater room at Manta Resort, Pemba

I’m talking about the underwater room on Pemba Island, one of the islands that make up Zanzibar right off the coast of Tanzania.

Let me start by telling you a bit about Pemba Island. It is lush and green. It is surrounded by impossibly clear aqua waters, teaming with coral and fish. Pemba is also the leading producer of cloves, according to Brittanica.com.

Pemba is very, very off-the-beaten path. According to one tourism source, Pemba’s sister island, Zanzibar has 150 hotels. Pemba has just seven (including a couple that may be more B&B style lodging)

It is very remote – you can take a small plane from Dar Salaam on the mainland to tiny Karume airport in Pemba’s main town of Chake-Chake. Then you’ll need a driver to take you on the hour-and-a-half drive through Ngezi Forest Reserve and up to the Manta Resort on the far northern part of the island.

Pemba transportation options
A Pemba “bus”

Along the way, you’ll pass by thatched huts, the only other traffic on the road is the insistent mosquito-like drone of a scooter or two.

Pemba auto shop
Pemba auto shop

Manta Resort is pretty remote. You won’t be venturing out to any neighboring villages to grab a drink or dine in an area restaurant. There aren’t any. Nor are there any TVs, telephones, gym. Wi-fi is only really available at the lobby/reception area and it is spotty at best. I pretty much gave up on checking email or Instagram after the first afternoon.

The accommodations are spartan – small, private stucco villas with open bathrooms and no air conditioning but stunning ocean views. It’s an all-inclusive setup and there is no menu. You’re server (or “fundi”) gives you two options at each meal and you pick one. But it’s all very fresh and healthy, and there’s almost always a fish option.

The entire vibe at Manta Resort is unpretentious, laid back and friendly. It’s clear that the resort is community-focused and gives back in many ways – jobs, schooling, fishing and coral conservation. Their foundation, the Kwwanini Foundation, has several initiatives aimed at sustainable economic development with an eye towards preserving what makes the island unique.

But what really makes Manta Resort unique and is, quite honestly, the main draw is its’ underwater room.

Photo via Manta Resort
Photo via Manta Resort

Continue reading Hotel Crashing: The Underwater Room, Manta Resort, Pemba Island

Wasted Years*

(*The title is an Iron Maiden reference, off the 1986 “Somewhere in Time” album.)

It was a friendship built out of a kindly act and a wave of gratitude.

I was the new kid at school. I was always the new kid; we moved around all the time, like a ragtag band of trailer park gypsies. It must have been 7th grade (?) at H.D. Hilley Elementary School.

It was before class (I don’t remember what class it was) and we had all trickled into the classroom and were waiting for the teacher to show up. A boy asked to copy my homework. Me, being the little prig I was back then, said, “No.”

He kept trying to intimidate me, hovering over my desk, reaching for my assignment, but I held my ground and just kept saying, “No. I’m not going to let you copy my work.” He started calling me names—“stuck up bitch,” “ugly white girl,” “you think you’re better than me,” “puta,” —that sort of thing—on and on.

I could feel the tears starting to build up in my eyes, and my nose running and my lip trembling. I clenched my fists. I could feel the blood rushing to my face. I tried to stay looking down, not looking at him. I tried to block out the embarrassment as he humiliated me in front of the whole class.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a voice from the back of the room said, “Dude, she said no. Leave her alone.” I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more surprise or relief than I did at that very moment. And with that, at the ripe old age of 13, Jacque Jean Parks of Socorro, Texas got herself a Stage 5 Clinger Best Friend For Life. Whether she wanted it or not.

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Probably the last time the rocker chick  on the right ever wore shorts.

She was my best friend through the rest of middle school and most of high school. I practically lived at her house. The Parks had a swimming pool, a fridge full of sodas, a microwave (we did not have a microwave in my trailer), a VCR (Beta at first, then VHS), and they were always ready to throw a frozen hamburger patty on the grill if us girls got hungry. Hamburgers! Already formed into patties! I thought they were rich.

I would go over there to spend the night and to get away from all the chaos of my own home. They would let me stay for days on end.  Jacque and I would sit on the couches in our wet swimsuits, eating microwaved pizza rolls, and yelling out the lines from “Weird Science,” “Bachelor Party,” and “Labryinth,” which she insisted on watching in rotation, pretty much non-stop. I didn’t care. I was just so happy to be there, in a safe, normal house with normal parents. I never put up any opinions or questioned our entertainment options.

Jacque and me
Throwing up gang signs to piss off her mom, who was just trying to get a nice picture of us, probably on our way to church. As you can see, I didn’t know any gang signs.

Jacque (and her older brother) both loved heavy metal. They lived for it. They’d both crank up Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Dokken, MegaDeath, Slayer. Which, of course, annoyed the hell out of her parents, who were already a bit older than other parents. They were also very Catholic and pretty straight-laced. I would try to play mediator, urging Jacque to just turn it down a tiny bit. I didn’t care much for metal either, but more importantly, I didn’t want the Parks to send me home as punishment for Jacque’s disobedience.

Jacque and Kenny
Oh man, I remember that look so well.

Jacque would spend hours on her hair and makeup, perfecting her rock chick look with lots of Aqua Net and black eyeliner. And she really was gorgeous. I would sit on the floor next to her while she did her makeup (Sidenote: She used to give me a heart attack using a safety pin to obsessively separate her individual lashes between coats of mascara. We’d both sit there with our mouths agape the whole time she worked on those damn lashes) and we’d make all these big plans for after high school. We were going to become photographers and writers and move to England. We were both obsessed with everything British, even going to El Paso’s only British food store to buy PG Tips and McVities Penguin Biscuits.

I wasn’t as into makeup and hair in middle or high school, but I did let Jacque talk me into bangs one time. I also let her talk me into allowing her to cut them. After all, she trimmed her own bangs all the time, almost obsessively. However, Jacque had straight hair. I had curly hair. I remember sitting in her kitchen, looking to her cousin for reassurance and watching her shake her head. Jacque kept saying, “Let me just even them out,” as more and more snipping occurred. I ended up going into 9th grade (high school!) with a half-inch fringe of tight curls sticking straight out from my forehead.

Yearbook photo of Jacque and I
(From my yearbook, which my sister marked up); Jacque and me at registration for 9th grade at Socorro High School. Note the “bangs.”

A couple of years into high school, our interests diverged. She liked boys and going out, I was still that little prig from 7th grade. We each made new friends and pursued new interests, but we always came back together. We worked on the yearbook together and started our high school’s Photography Club. She picked me up and drove me to school every morning. Sometimes we’d hang out after school or on weekends, but usually I had extracurricular activities I was pursuing and she had her new friends to hang out with.

Photo Club with Jacque Parks
The SHS Photo Club, Jacque the hatchet barber in the middle. Me, still growing out those bangs.

After high school, I got married and she was my only attendant. A few years later, she got married and we fought about it. I didn’t like the guy and I didn’t think she should get married. I was going through my divorce and I was bitter. I felt that I had put my life on hold for five years, had finally gotten away, and was now ready to make good on our high school plans. I was totally selfish and childish, and I expected her to just go along with my plans now that I was ready to pursue them.

Jacque and I on my wedding day
My wedding day. Can’t blame her for those bangs. Or that hair color. Or that lip color. That was all me.

Once my divorce was final, I moved to Dallas and Jacque and I didn’t talk again for about 15 years. She got in touch with me about 5 years ago through my work email. We caught up on each other’s lives—work, relationships, travel. We talked about loss—of time, of friends, of family members. We promised we’d stay in touch.

Jacque Jean Parks

Then I was let go from my job and all her contact information, including her phone number and email– was on my work computer. Occasionally, I would Google her, try to find her on Facebook, but I came up blank. She was using a shortened version of her name on social media. I figured she’d find me again, at some point, and just like the time before, we’d pick up right where we left off.

A mutual friend texted me this weekend to ask if I’d heard about Jacque. The same friend who had texted me about her brother. I reached out to former classmates on Facebook, made a few calls, and found out that she was gone. She had died on July 5 at just 46 years old.

Hearing that news—confirming that news—is like a punch in the gut. I feel like I did that day in 7th grade. I’m clenching my fists. I’m looking down, lip trembling, trying to keep the gathering tears from spilling out of my eyes. I’m trying to block out all the voices in my head chastising me for not doing more, for not being a better friend, for not sticking with her like the Stage 5 Clinger BF4Life I had been in the beginning. And I’m waiting for the sweet relief that came from that voice from the back of the room.

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From our SHS yearbook. I was one of the editors and wrote this foreword. Gotta say, pretty corney, but also, pretty prescient.

 

 

 

 

How to Have a Päntsdrunk Weekend (with Wine Pairings)

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UGH.

This week though, am I right? It’s felt like an entire year of bad news and gut-wrenching images rolled into one giant horrible week.

Which is why I think most of us are just really looking forward to sitting at home, drinking wine in our underpants this weekend. Like, REALLY looking forward to it.

Well, good news. 1) You can (at least, I think you still can in this current, messed up iteration of America) and 2) the Scandinavians have already beaten us to it and they even have a name for it. Because—of course, they do.

Yes, the genius people from the cluster of countries who have already brought us the awesome celebration of all things cozy and comfortable (#hygge4lyfe especially in winter), have now given us a new lifestyle/wellness trend. Or, if not new, at least have given us a name for it. Two, actually.

Päntsdrunk, aka: kalsarikannit

Kalsarikannit

And, it’s specifically the Finnish who are responsible for this one. I don’t know any Finnish people (other than that they are consistently ranked as some of the happiest people on Earth), but I feel like it isn’t really overblown to describe them as geniuses.

As Elite Daily describes it:

“Päntsdrunk is basically what happens when you refuse to let FOMO get the best of you.”

OK, I’m already in. But, please, tell me more.

Päntsdrunk is a ‘path to recovery and self-empowerment,’ defined by utter relaxation and temporary escapes from real-world stressors, such as work emails or annoying small talk.”

I am all about self-care. I love to relax and escape. But not the type of self-care I have to actually leave the house to enjoy or participate in or be around other people to partake in. I get annoyed by people at THE SPA. Do you know what kind of self-involved, anti-social hermit you have to be to get annoyed by people at the spa??

So, it goes without saying that I’m only interested in self-care that can be practiced in the privacy of my own home in its utmost, laziest forms. This one, according to Finish journalist Miska Rantanen, simply involves “drinking at home, alone, in your underwear.”

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Oh yeah. I’m (mostly) down. I do have a couple of slight alterations to make, though. 1) Change “underwear” to pajamas or loungewear, and 2) swap out “alone” for “with my beloved significant other who is in the same room but likely doing his own thing, with his own drink and doing it silently.”

I love this bit in the Elite Daily article, because holy hotdog, this roundup of activities just speaks to my soul.

“To be clear, at no point does Rantanen suggest that Päntsdrunk should be equated with binge drinking. Rather, it’s all about allowing yourself to relax while being totally sequestered from the ‘real world.’ An ideal Päntsdrunk night for me would assuredly be homemade cucumber jalapeño margaritas, along with a few seasons of Girls, a face mask or two, followed by a bedtime of 9 p.m. sharp……It allows everyone to do exactly what they’ve always wanted to do (and have probably already been doing in secret), without feeling bad for it on a Friday or Saturday night.”

Since I am so here for this trend, I want to offer up some wine pairings with some of my favorite self-care activities.

  • Reading celebrity magazines at the kitchen bar while XFE cooks us an amazing meal – This is one of my favorite activities, and one that I am very good at. I usually offer up a weak, “Anything I can do to help?” while distracting him with various celebrity gossip tidbits. Pairs well with a nice, rich Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Playing with/grooming/caring for Pinot and Port (our cats. Yes, they’re named after wine) – There’s a bit of an age discrepancy here, so I actually have two wine pairings. For Port, who is just over a year old and very active, I recommend a glass of crisp, dry Sauvignon Blanc. Because odds are pretty good that either myself or the cat are going to knock the glass over and spill wine all over the cream living room rug, so white wine = easier clean up. For Pinot, who is 7 years old, kind of lazy and literally plays while laying down, a bold Pinot Noir, naturally.

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The squad, ready to chill. 

  • Bubble bath and face mask – Light a scented candle, fill the tub with a healthy dollop of Laura Mercier bubble bath, slap on some Caudalie instant detox face mask, and pour yourself a glass of spicy Malbec. Just don’t fall asleep. I always do that and there’s nothing relaxing about being startled awake by a mouthful of heavily perfumed bubbles. Or spilled wine.
  • Organize and purge – There’s just something about color coordinating your closet/significant other’s tie rack/pet supplies and/or throwing out all your unused and unloved crap that is so, so satisfying and relaxing. You’ll need a mellow Chardonnay, some equally mellow music (Might I suggest some 90’s trip hop, ala Portishead or Sneaker Pimps?) and a couple of hours to just disappear into the trance that can only be brought on by Marie Kondo folding techniques.
  • Pinteresting – While I mostly think you’re supposed to keep distracting and upsetting technology at bay, I’m pretty sure Pinterest gets a pass. It is probably the most used app on my phone and my go-to when I want to kill time and dull brain cells. I can save and organize pretty pictures of pretty things all damn day. Plus, Pinteresting is just so hopeful for the future! Am I ever going to live in a mid-century modern bungalow in LA with a sauna room built in? Eh, probably not. But it doesn’t stop me from pinning every damn photo I see. Will I ever have a need to make frozen bowls with delicate herbs and greenery suspended in them to hold votives in? No! But their so pretty and Scandinavian! Do I really need to save all these fondue recipes when Trader Joe’s has a completely serviceable fondue kit? Nope. Not even a little bit. But I like to save and organize all these ideas. Which calls for a delicate and eminently drinkable Rose that can carry you through a wasted afternoon of picture sorting.

So go ahead. Get Päntsdrunk this weekend or sans-pants-drunk, if semi-nudity is your thing. We’ve all certainly earned it. Plus, we’ll probably need to store up our emotional wellness reserves to face the next 942 days.

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