My Closet: The Lovely Rita

I’ve known Rita for a good three-four years. The two of us met volunteering for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and have been friends ever since. I have always admired her dresses. Like me, I noticed she has quite a collection. In total, she estimated she has about 20-30 in her closet. When I asked, she agreed with excitement! She specifically chose the dresses she considers more fun! Enjoy!

Starting with the fancy

DSC_0015When I arrived at her Covington, Kentucky apartment Monday evening, she was already wearing this beautiful dress and heels. “I figured, why not start out formal and then get more casual?” she said. Good point. She wore this dress as a bridesmaid in her friend’s wedding. The bride chose the color and allowed her bridesmaids to pick the dress they wanted within that. This dress just works for her. While she has not had the chance to wear it since, she would, she said.

The 1950’s dress

DSC_0024Weddings seemed to be a theme for these first few. Rita wore this dress to both her brother’s rehearsal dinner and friend’s bachelorette party (same friend that she was a bridesmaid for). The bachelorette party theme was 1950’s pinup girl. She just wanted a polka-dotted dress, and this fit within the theme.

My favorite feature of this dress is the back. I love how it comes together nicely.

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The colorful dress

DSC_0027One thing I love about My Closet is learning where people find such unique pieces. For Rita, several have come from local Cincinnati
boutique Pangea. This colorful dress would be one of them. She has found much of her jewelry here as well, she said. Rita collects jewelry like I collect dresses. To spice things up in an office environment, Rita often pairs this with a black blazer and wears it to her job as the Volunteer and Staff Development Coordinator at the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky. It’s always fun to make work more fun!

The dress she considered not getting

DSC_0046Another one of Rita’s favorite boutiques is Ottomon Imports in Covington. For some reason, I have yet to visit this shop. This dress makes me want to go for sure. She found this when shopping with her mom one day. While she initially liked it, she wasn’t so sure about actually buying it. It is so very unique and could be one of those dresses that sits in your closet because you never feel bold enough to wear it. I’m sure all of us have that piece that just sits in our closet.

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However her mom convinced her to buy it and she is now glad she did. She has had the opportunity to wear it out several times. The neckline is incredibly unique as well as the sleeves. I could picture a woman living in Turkey actually wearing it. I’m not sure if the dress specifically came from Turkey, though. Rita did say the owner of Ottomon Imports finds the clothing and accessories she sells from all over the world. I really need to check this store out sometime!

The Starry Night dress

DSC_0061Once upon a time, someone told Rita that this piece reminded them on the famous Starry Night painting. A man named Vincent Van Gogh painted it … maybe you’ve heard of him? Anyway, Rita finds this one to be very versatile. “It transitions well and it’s really comfortable,” she said. It was perfect that we shot these photos just as it was turning to night.

This dress is simple yet fun. I love the neckline and how it gathers at the waist.

 

The flowery dress

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This is a dress Rita has had forever, she said. She wears it all the time for an evening out or hanging out with friends. There’s nothing better than a tried and true dress!

The favorite summer/fall dress

DSC_0071This dress also comes from Pangea. Sometimes she pairs it with some “rockin’ heels” and other times she wears casual flats with this one. The neckline detailing is perhaps my favorite part!

Rita loves literature. In fact, she studied English in college. These last ones were taken by her bookshelf, one of several she that she has completely filled with her favorite works. I love that we can capture that part of her here.

 

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For Rita, planning to wear a dress is one less thing she has to think about. She simply chooses the dress, the shoes and a few accessories, and she’s ready to go for the day! She also said they can be more comfortable than pants. I must say, I have to agree. Rita, thank you for letting us take a look at the dresses in your closet!

 

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5 Life hacks for wearing your dresses in the cold

wpid-wp-1441917499942.jpegAs the weather begins to change up here in the midwest, I find myself grabbing for my boots and jacket more often. Soon the leaves will fully change and snow will be hitting the streets. I find that many women store their dresses away over the winter. I’ll admit, pantyhose is not warm for sure. Yet over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks that have allowed me to continue wearing my favorite dresses during the cold months. So I thought I’d share my tips (hacks) for surviving the cold while rocking your favorite dresses.

5. Boots

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Jai modeling her lovely boots

If I had to choose one and only one pair of shoes to wear with my wintertime dresses, it would be a pair of boots that go up to my knee. They make so much sense for the cold. First, you logically have a larger portion of your legs covered. Second, they are fantastic for trudging through snow. Third, no one can see what you wear on your feet inside of them, so why not a pair of warm, comfy socks. I wear all kinds of socks with my boots in the winter and they rarely match my outfit.

 

4. The maxi is your friend

Jana in her lovely black maxi
Jana in her lovely black maxi

In the last year, I’ve really come to love maxi dresses. When done right, they can look very becoming on a woman. Wearing a maxi dress during the winter is simple logic as well. More material will keep you warmer. Now I do not recommend a maxi dress worn without tights in the winter. You could do that, but you’d be freezing.  This photo here was taken in Nicaragua. While the weather is quite warm there, this maxi is pretty amazing.

3. Sweater tights

Investing in several pairs of sweater tights is a fantastic winter investment. I have at least five pairs that I can think of, each in a different color. These are great on days that are cold but not too cold. As we transition from fall into winter, I find myself wearing a lot of sweater tights.

2. Yoga pants

I discovered this life hack last year. Since I wear boots a lot over the winter, yoga pants were so easy. In fact, people often didn’t even know that I was wearing yoga pants because I wear wearing boots and a dress over top of them. Yoga pants are great because they are longer than leggings, you can wear whatever socks you want with them and they are so very comfy. And if you’re going to yoga after work, you’re already wearing half of your outfit! Just kidding (but maybe not). Yoga pants are great for the early days of winter just as the cold is really setting in. I wear yoga pants with dresses so much that I bought another pair. Both have been put to good use!

1. For the real cold: sweater tights + yoga pants + boots

Last winter, I worked at an elementary school. Each morning my duty was to stand outside for 30 minutes and monitor the children as they got out of their parents’ cars. In the winter, it was brutal. Because I love wearing dresses so much, I knew there had to be another way. One day I decided to put my yoga pants over top of my sweater tights. It was genius! I had tried wearing two pairs of tights in the past. While that idea is also brilliant, I often found that the tights would bunch up around my toes. With the yoga pants + sweater tights tactic, no such thing could happen! You just put on a pair of boots and no one knows you’re wearing two layers!

Surviving the winter with your favorite dresses is easier than you think! Many stores have the three essential aids for wearing dress in the winter: sweater tights, yoga pants and boots! Good luck!

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Catherine’s triumphs over lupus and homelessness

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This week I had a nice chat with my good friend Catherine. We met four years ago when we served in AmeriCorps together. Since then, Catherine has been through some struggles but her spirit remains strong. I’m proud to call her a friend. She discusses everything from living life with lupus to homelessness to how dresses empower her.

 

Name: Catherine Daniels
Age: 47
Location: Living in Cincinnati, originally from Buffalo

Describe to me where you are in life right now?

Well I am 47-years-old and I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve had a lot of career changes but because of my health, I’ve had to re-evaluate what I wanted to do with my life. Where I am right now is trying to figure out whether I’m going to be very passive about my illness or if I’m going to use my illness to help other people. So right now I’m just kind of researching around. I want to start my own non-profit that’s centered around families that are homeless and craft therapy. With my lupus, I want to find ways to help people relax and enjoy, and try to work through their illness. My doctors suggested a long time ago that crafts or writing are a good way to adjust with your illness. So that’s something I want to do.

Can you describe what happens to you when you have lupus? I don’t know as much as I probably should. What’s each day like?

Lupus is an autoimmune condition. There is no cure for it but you can find a way to live with it. Everybody has a different experience with lupus. Your white blood cells are fighting off the red blood cells in your body, which means you don’t have any protection. Your immune system is kind of working against you. So with lupus, sometimes it’s extreme fatigue. Sometimes it’s a lot of pain throughout your body. It’s like an extreme arthritis. It reacts differently with different people. With mine, it was kind of strange. It’s gotten worse over the years with me. When I first was diagnosed with lupus, it was a lot of kind of strange pain. It was almost an immediate diagnosis. I’ve learned how to create ways to work around my lupus. I can’t do the things I used to be able to do, but I can find new things to do to offset some of the pain. There’s a lot of medication involved. But if you’re creative, you can find some holistic ways to deal with it. It’s the anti-hug condition. When you have lupus and fibromyalgia like I do, it’s kind of hard for people to hug you sometimes because it’s a lot of wide-spread pain. It’s trying, it’s difficult, but I’m here and I’m working around it.

When were you first told you had lupus?

I was diagnosed in 2004 back in Buffalo. I woke up one morning and my hands were really, really irritated. They were very red and they felt like they were burned. So I told my husband about it and he took me to the doctor’s. Upon seeing my hands, the doctors knew exactly what was going on. It was an easy diagnosis. It was a little rougher for me because people like to say “oh you have lupus! You’re going to die!” Instead of “Oh you have lupus? How are you going to work around it?” It was a little discouraging at first, but it’s not the death sentence that people try to pretend it is.

So you feel like a lot of people in your life were assuming the worst when they found out you had it?

Absolutely. You’d be surprised. When people find out you have an illness, people automatically are like “Oh I had a cousin with that or my next door neighbor had that and they died.” And before that you’ve never heard of these people in your life. So it was a little terrifying at first. You didn’t want to tell people you had this illness because people were so negative. So you kind of kept it to yourself. As time went by, I just stopped saying I had lupus and just said I didn’t feel well that day. I was a beautician when I found out and I had to retire because my job relied on my hands. A lot of my clientele were like “why did you stop doing hair?” And I had to tell them. It was rough. It was really, really rough. But I’ve learned over the years how to work around telling people.

What were you feeling that morning your hands were red and in pain?

I didn’t know what to think, actually. But when we found out what it was, I described it as a nuclear bomb had just gone off in my life. It was over. I was discouraged and frustrated. I was scared because I hadn’t had the opportunity to research the condition yet. So it was really hard and I didn’t know how it was going to affect my family. I didn’t know how it was going to affect the rest of my life. I just kind of felt lost at that point. I didn’t have any knowledge. I heard ugly things about it. Once I was able to educate myself, I was able to educate other people about it. I learned to adjust and helped other people to adjust with me.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions with lupus?

catherine2The biggest misconception with lupus is that because you can’t see it, that it wasn’t there. Because people can’t see the pain, they assume that it doesn’t exist. But everything is inside. It was frustrating because I felt like people thought I was being a hypochondriac or something. I think that’s the biggest misconception that because people can’t see it, they don’t believe it.

So what do you want people who are friends and family members of people with lupus to know and how should they treat their loved ones with lupus?

I think first people should be open to understanding. The research is the most important thing. When you read up about lupus, you can understand the different degrees of lupus. Thirty-four years ago when lupus was the plague, it was understandable that people didn’t understand it. But now people can live their whole lives with lupus. It’s not a death sentence. There’s all kinds of research that they’re doing now with lupus that they wish they could have had years ago. But people need to stop and evaluate the person they’re looking at. It’s okay. We just want people to understand that when I say I don’t feel good, you shouldn’t go and buy a casket. There are going to be days that I don’t feel good and there are going to be days where I feel really, really good! It’s how you handle it. It’s how you go about living with your condition. You have to live each day with the expectation that you’re going to live tomorrow. It’s a no-brainer: be sensitive to people with lupus that they may not feel good. It’s not personal. We are working through it and it’s going to be okay. It’s a tricky condition to deal with. It really is.

What helps you get through it?

Naturally my friends and family. They are all really understanding of my condition. When I first started getting treatment for lupus, which was medicinal, I was seeing a psychaitrist at the time. He said a few things and one was to find a hobby. Something that you really like to do to occupy your brain. So me being the craft person, that’s what I went to immediately. I started using jewelry-making as my medium. At the time when I started working on my craft, it was all about beads and stuff like that. Butterflies are the mascot for, so to speak, for lupus. So I started making these pins. I went and found these templates online. I would print them out and I would do these beads in the shapes of the butterflies. And my family was like “what are you going to do with these pins? Because you’ve got tons of these things around the house!” It gave me a place to escape to. I didn’t want to find some way to make money. I just wanted an escape from the pain and that’s what I did. I started giving them away. It felt good because with every pin that I gave away, I was kind of sharing with other people how I was going to survive it. It was like giving a piece of me to other people. It just felt good. It was a way for me to not feel sorry for myself. Because I couldn’t do hair anymore, I wanted to do something that I could concentrate on, focus on and still be creative. And it just felt good to do that.

Tell me more about this nonprofit you want to start?

I spend a lot of time online researching. There’s two parts. I’ve always wanted to have my own nonprofit. I’ve always wanted to find a way to give back because my whole life my family has been in a position to help other people. I wanted to do something that would be impactful to other people. My family and I have been homeless for awhile now. It was kind of dysfunctional because I have an adult son, and my husband and I, and we didn’t want to be separated going into shelters. I think our greatest reward is that we were able to stick together as a family. As we were going through our resources, we were finding that there were limited resources for families. We were staying in motels. We were drawing our support from different websites. You know Gofundme is amazing. We were finding that there were no resources, no agencies, that were willing to help us together and help us get out of our situation because we had an adult son, not a child. I want to find a way to partner with agencies and motels or extended living places to find a way to fund a family for a week and within that week the family would come to the organization and we would help resource with agencies that would help them with housing, help them find food, etc. Kind of emotional rescue places for families because there aren’t any organizations that would help a family. So that’s part one.

The other side of that is that craft therapy has been so important in my therapy for lupus but also with our homeless situation. I wanted to have people would find time in their lives to sit down with someone, and work on crafts and hobbies. Something that would take their mind off their current situation. I’ve found it therapeutic for me to do it and I think it would be for others. I’ve not found too many places for people to do that.

What has your whole experience been like with being homeless? What has it been like as a middle class family to become homeless?

catherine4It’s humbling because you never thought it would happen to you. Our situation was kind of devastating because when it first happened, it was crushing. We didn’t understand that it could happen to anybody. My husband lost his job due to illness. He had to go the hospital. It was just my income. I got sick. With lupus you have points of remission and you have this feeling of you could do anything. You know I can go out and work and so all these great things. Then the world comes crashing down on you. When that happened, we didn’t know what to do. You’re embarrassed and frustrated and angry. You didn’t want to talk to people about it. You feel humiliated. You feel less than. It was just really, really rough. It had never happened to my parents. We weren’t prepared. It has brought my family closer. I felt bad for my son who had never experienced any kind of hardship like this. He was forced to mature, grow up and understand that we have to work as a unit now to survive. And that’s what we did. For the first couple of weeks of homelessness, we lived in a minivan. We ate and survived in McDonald’s. We were at McDonald’s for our meals. A dollar value meal and we used their wifi to research. We would spend hours with a laptop at McDonald’s. Honest to goodness at this point if I ever saw another McDonald’s, I could scream. I don’t ever want to see another McDonald’s ever because we spent so much time there. When we gathered enough money to get into a motel, that’s what we did. We had two little dogs and they stayed with us the whole time. We would take turns with the dogs, walking them. We had to work as a unit. I really found a new respect for people that we see on the sides of the roads. I have nice things. If I walk past somebody with nice clothing on, you wouldn’t know what I was homeless just like I wouldn’t have known a person that was a professor with a family living in a nice home who lost his job and his wife was a homemaker and now they were forced, eight people to live in a one bedroom apartment. You just don’t know.

It could happen to anybody. That’s probably the biggest misconception about homelessness. Is there anything else you want people to know?

I think that not judging a book by it’s cover is the biggest thing I want people to know. You never know. I didn’t know until it happened to me. I was working a nonprofit in OTR where we supplied people who were in disadvantaged situations to get haircuts and grooming services. They just needed to get cleaned up and feel good about themselves. The family (professor) I was just talking about … it moved me to tears. When he came in the only thing I could see was this man who supported his family from being a professor but he lost his job and his family just didn’t know what happened. So he wanted his wife and his daughters to have some normalcy in their life. So they came in and he just wanted me to give them a day of beauty. So he left and when we came back, he was reduced to tears because his family was so grateful for a shampoo and just girl talk. He was just so happy that his family felt good about themselves and he could afford to do that. It was humbling for him and humbling for me.

It’s interesting that you worked for Haircuts for the Heart and then several years later this happened to you. Do you feel like this time helped you at all?

Oh absolutely! There were resources that I didn’t know about. Working there did prepare me for a life that I didn’t know was coming. We worked with different kinds of people from students to just low income people to homeless people. Just watching the impact that it had on people, it did affect me when this came about. Just walking by someone on the street now with a sign that says “I’m hungry.” Once upon a time there was a stigmatism that people on the roads or on the streets were drug dealers or drug users or alcoholics. I look at people differently now and I feel good that I look at people differently now because I don’t want them to judge me, so I don’t judge others anymore. When I walk past somebody, that instinct to cringe is just taken away now.

How does it make you feel when you put on a dress?

I was a debutante and I was always groomed to wear dresses and to be very girly. I was a beautician, so the world of beauty was my world. When I wear my dresses, I feel empowered as a woman because that is our thing. You feel good, you feel pretty, you feel light as a feather. It feels good to put on a dress. It just feels nice. I feel like a woman. I don’t feel like a homeless woman or a sick woman. I just feel like a woman.

What does being a woman mean to you?

Being a woman for me is being the backbone to life. We are the nurturers. We are the ones everybody goes to. I’m a grandma and I have a little granddaughter. The first thing she does when she sees me is she sticks her hands out wanting fingernail polish. She’s only one and a half, and she already feels empowered as a little girl to feel girly. We have kind of dismissed the whole culture of wearing dresses. When I was younger, my very southern grandmother would dress me in frilly dresses. The frillier, the better. The lace, the crinoline … it was almost disgusting it was so girly. It just felt good to be in a dress. I’m glad I can share that with my granddaughter.

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3 ridiculous Halloween costume dresses

costumesThis week I grabbed my buddy Amber (My Closet feature several weeks ago) and went searching for a good Halloween costume. Her lovely boyfriend Nick tagged along as well. As we all know, I love dresses. I was also interested in what dresses were out there in regards to Halloween costumes. Amber is the queen of all things costume, so I knew she’d be down for an adventure. We ended up at Party City and had a little photoshoot.

3. What I’m NOT being for Halloween

DSC_0007Our first stop when we entered the store was the sale bin. It did not disappoint. I found a Snooki costume. For those who may be living under a rock, Snooki is a character in Jersey Shore, an MTV reality show about some … less than classy individuals who live in Jersey Shore for the summer for the DSC_0008sole purpose of partying. Snooki somewhat recently, at some point, had a baby. I’m not sure when because I couldn’t care less about the show. So I thought I’d try to look pregnant in this photo. This whole ensemble is just … classy. Also, she apparently had some small dog? The great thing about a photo shoot at a party store is props! We had so many fun props to work with!

2. Your basic witch

DSC_0010I think I’m going to be a basic witch for Halloween this year. You know … kale spells, talking about what magic I get
excited about in the fall when the leaves change, complaining about how I my yoga instructor makes me leave my broom at the door and the struggles of which black dressDSC_0013 goes best with my Ugg boots. Oh and lots of Instagram selfies. Luckily, if you too want to be a basic witch for Halloween, Party City has you covered at an affordable price! I almost bought this, but then remembered that I have a great dress at home for such a costume. The dress on the right was only $15 or less, I believe. Not bad. The dress on the left was a bit more, but one I was a big fan of. The hat was just a bit more, but well worth it.

1. What I went Gaga over

DSC_0003The other treasure I found in the sale bin was my lovely Lady Gaga costume. This was only $10! I am just so very excited about this. I will probably find a blonde wig to go with this. Lady Gaga will for sure be a fun costume to wear. It’s nothing too crazy and will be pretty easy to wear.

So this Halloween, it looks like I’ll be Lady Gaga!

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Friendship Friday: The Clever and Witty Elizabeth

12113331_10102324136194642_6031477205787160775_oPeople of the world, I would like to make a toast to a most wonderful woman named Elizabeth Brooke Rue. It was 9 years and 3 quarters ago that I doth first set eyes on this gal. I remember it like it was yesterday … the Downing University Center all-you-can-eat “Fresh” Foods. I can still taste the watery iceberg lettuce and soft serve ice cream. I was meeting our mutual friend Kelly (last week’s My Closet feature) for dinner and thought “who is this?” when to my surprise Elizabeth was with her. And thus was birthed a beautiful friendship.

Over the years we’ve had many trips to Barnes and Noble together, taken several roadtrips to far off lands and have laughed way too much. She is one of the most positive and empathetic people I know. She makes everyone she is around feel loved and valued. She has a strong sense of justice and would do anything for those she loves. Her creativity is off the charts. She has the wittiest and funniest things to say. There is very a dull moment when she is around.

10848656_10102324136199632_5664220615266973685_oWhile I’m forever and always thankful for Elizabeth, I’ve been especially thankful for her over the past three months. My mother has been having health complications and Elizabeth has been so supportive. Even though she lives in Atlanta and I live in Cincinnati, she has been so supportive. True friends will always be true friends no matter what. She has sent several very thoughtful cards. My mother is also very fond of Elizabeth, so I know this makes her happy as well.

So this Friendship Friday toast goes out to one of my favorite college friends. Also, that dress is simply amazing. Royal blue is a great color on you Elizabeth! Love you!

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My Closet: Alex’s favorite few

For this week’s my closet, I decided to re-connect with an old friend named Alex. Alex and I initially met about six years ago through a church community we were both involved with. I always found her creative side to be intriguing. For many years she worked in a bakery making cupcakes and pastries. She is now refinishing furniture and is excited to see where that takes her. Her creative side was often expressed through her clothing, so I thought she would be fun to photograph and chat with. Due to both of our busy schedules, we met at Carabello Coffee in Newport Monday evening. The space provided for a wonderful backdrop.

Alex is currently going through a de-cluttering process. This is something I commend. It’s called the KonMari method as the book (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up) is written by a woman named Marie Kondo. The idea is simple: you take each item and ask yourself if it truly brings you joy. If the answer is no, you get rid of this. Kondo recommends that you de-clutter by category so that you don’t feel like you’re repeating the same thing over and over as you go through your home. Alex just finished going through her clothing, something I feel is quite fitting for this blog. These are the four dresses that made the cut for Alex. As I asked her about each one, I can understand why each brings her joy.

The dark plaid dress

DSC_0022As we spoke about each story, it became very apparent how important Alex’s husband Cory is to her. This story behind this dress is quite a sweet one. Alex currently works at the GAP. Last November/December, Alex and he were in the store together. She had set aside a few things to show him and this dress was one he particularly like. Since she worked at the store, she put it back in hopes that it would go on sale at some point. Yet the more she thought about it that day, she realized she wanted it. The next day when she came to work, she was devastated that the last one in her size had been bought. She just figured some random person bought it and so she moved on. When Christmas came, she found out that Cory was the one who bought that last dress and he of course bought it for her. How sweet. Also, he’s great at keeping a secret!

The black t-shirt dress

DSC_0032Alex is trying to incorporate more black into her wardrobe, so this is a great way to do so! She said Cory likes when she wears black. She said she finds this funny, though, as most people have too much black in their wardrobe. Not her, however. This t-shirt dress and hat are from Old Navy, and her bolo tie horse necklace used to be her dad’s.

DSC_0038The striped dress

This is another piece from Old Navy. At one point Alex joked that this may seem like a sponsored post for Old Navy and GAP. Not this time around at least. Here she pairs it with a whistle necklace she bought at J.Crew. The black shoes are a GAP find, I believe.

One thing she noticed after she finished going through her clothing and getting rid of the things that did not bring her joy, what was left just seemed to fit together better. While her wardrobe was smaller than before, together it just seemed to all work. As she paired her shoes and accessories with her dresses, I definitely felt that.

DSC_0043The date dress

Honestly, this last one is my favorite. I just love the cute, girly look to it. It comes from Madewell. Several years ago, Alex actually ironically bought it to wear on dates. She said she felt as though she was in a rut and planned to “get back out there” with some online dating. Right as she decided to do that, she DSC_0044met her husband Cory through work. She actually wore it on a few dates with him. It’s also lucky that he came along then … online dating can be an adventure.

Her leather jacket has made an appearance in several of these photos. It’s an Inc. by Macy’s jacket. It was a Christmas gift from her sister.

It was good to catch up with Alex. I’m excited to see where her creative passions take her. Also, since Cory seems to be pretty amazing, we thought we’d give his music a shout-out on here. It’s called Zoo and you can check out their Bandcamp page here.

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Friendship Friday: I’m excited to stand beside Sara!

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetToday’s Friendship Friday shoutout goes to my good friend of 10 years Sara. Sara and I met 10 years ago at Western Kentucky University when we both decided to volunteer our time during our freshman orientation. We both chose the Girlscouts and the ladies who worked there were so excited to have our help. Perhaps they were too excited because they suggested we run a Girlscout troop. While it was fun, looking back it was probably less than ideal for a group of college freshmen who were just getting used to campus life. Nonetheless, this is how Sara and I became friends.

Now 10 years later, Sara is engaged to a wonderful man named Brandon and their wedding is set for early April 2016. I instantly liked Brandon when I met him. He’s just a good guy and incredibly easy-going. I could not be happier for the two of them. A few months ago, Sara asked me to be a bridesmaid. I of course accepted. While weddings are fabulous excuses to wear dress, being a bridesmaid gives you such a special role in your friend’s big day. Also, it’s a compliment to get asked to be in the wedding party. That means you’ve played an important role in the bride or groom’s life.

Taken years ago. We really need more photos together!
Taken years ago. We really need more photos together!

Tomorrow after a morning work meeting, I will drive up to Indianapolis to meet Sara and the other bridesmaids for bridesmaid dress shopping. So it just seemed fitting to write about Sara. I’m excited for both tomorrow, the upcoming festivities and the big day. Sara, I hope it’s all you’ve ever wanted for your wedding day. I’ll do whatever I can to make it amazing!

Sara, thank you for being such a good friend all these years. You’ve always been there to talk, laugh, eat dinner with in DUC, have drinks with and all the other things. I have so many good memories with you over the year. This photo above is from when I visited you in grad school in Indianapolis. We decided to spend the day at the Children’s Museum because it is indeed amazing.

I love how determined you are. You are such a hard worker. It was so fitting that you finished graduate school before any of us. You put 150% into everything. On your big day, I’ll be glad to be there to calm your nerves. I’m sure you’ll be worried about all the small details. Knowing you, however, I know all the things will be taken care of.

Sara, I’m going to leave you with this photo. It’s from that time a year ago that I visited you in Lexington. You were driving us to meet your friends and I decided to take ridiculous photos. Also, when looking for photos of the two of us, I could’t find much. We should have taken some this weekend, so this photo is in place. Were going to change that over this next year.

Love you and can’t wait to stand beside you at the alter this Spring!

 

Two more dress photos. One she chose and one I chose:

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My Closet: The Amazingly Creative Kelly

Processed with VSCOcamThis week for My Closet, were making our way down to Bowling Green, Kentucky to hang out with my good friend of 10 years. Kelly and I met during the fall of our freshman year at Western Kentucky University. It’s crazy to think that time really has flown by. Now were both in our late 20’s, working day jobs and pursuing creative projects on the side. Kelly and her husband Tommy own a home in Bowling Green, and have added a dog, a cat and many fish to their family. Kelly shoots videos for the city of Bowling Green as her day job. She also owns a vintage rental company called Kiss Me Quick Vintage Rentals and Event Services. Kelly is very naturally creative, so I knew her closet would be fun to feature.

Kelly describes her style as “curvy vintage fabulousness meets get-shit-done practicality.” Some of Kelly’s favorite places to shop include Old Navy, Kohls, Lane Bryant and anywhere else she can find good deals on plus-sized clothing. The picture above is her favorite dress. She found it at Rugged Warehouse for only $20! It’s definitely has a nice pop of color. I love the girly sundress look to it as well. I would not have thought to put a light purple sweater with it, but it really seems to work. After all, Kelly has always had a way of matching things together, whether it’s decorating her home, putting together an outfit or making some sort of a craft.

The go-to

Processed with VSCOcamThis dress is Kelly’s go-to dress for work. Shooting video requires lots of moving around, so it’s important that she feels comfortable. She simply pairs this with some leggings and she’s free to move around as she wants while still looking professional. In addition to shooting a producing video for the city of Bowling Green, she also shoots weddings. I know Kelly takes her work very seriously, so it’s important she dress the part. She most often pairs her dresses with a comfy black flats.

The Sassy dress

Processed with VSCOcamThis next dress is what she considers her “sassy” dress. Kelly for sure has a sassy side that I think feeds her creativity. That’s always been a fun side of her personality that I enjoy. She said this one reminds her of 1940’s casual wear. She found this simple wrap dress back in college at Target. Oh and thanks to college pal Elizabeth Rue for taking these photos. Elizabeth just happened to be visiting Kelly this week and has been a great help!

The sexy dress

Processed with VSCOcamFor a nice evening out, Kelly often chooses this little number. Instead of a little black dress, she owns a little red dress. She found this one for only $20 on the Macy’s clearance rack! Kelly often pairs her dresses with classic vintage jewelry pieces. She loves old broach pieces and pendants. She often repurposes them herself.

The favorite dress

Processed with VSCOcamKelly is pictured here with her very friendly dog Margot. Of course Margot had to photobomb one of these … she always wants to be a part of the fun. This polkadot dress is by Elle, a designer that Kohl’s carries. Kelly says that sometimes it can be hard tonfind quality dresses in plus sizes. This was also one of few plus-sized dresses that Kohl’s even carried at the time. She used to work there, so she knows.

The other favorite dress

Processed with VSCOcamLike many women, Kelly’s favorite dress is her wedding dress. She found this for $300, which is an amazing price for a wedding dress. She bought it from a vintage recreation dress designer she found online. I was lucky to be in attendance for her special day. It was so much fun and pulled off so well! I remember there were all these little creative touches that made it very uniquely Kelly. They had the ceremony and reception at an old train depot in Bowling Green.

Kelly said “you do you” and “treat yo self” are her style tips. Thank you Kelly for sharing your wise dress wisdom. Also, if you’re getting married soon or hosting an event, you should consider hiring Kiss Me Quick Vintage Rentals and Event Services. Kelly will not disappoint.

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Jana and Women’s Rights in Nicaragua

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetI spent the month of July in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. I befriended Jana, a Peace Corps volunteer in town. Us American expats just have a way of finding each other, I suppose. When I was back down there this past week, I interviewed her about her experience thus far. This interview is so rich and full of substance. Jana will change the world for sure. I hope that by reading this, you gain a new perpspective on the world.

 

Name: Jana Hodgins
Age: 23
Location: Matagalpa, Nicaragua; from Portland, Oregon

So tell me, why did you join the Peace Corps?

Oh my gosh, a lot of reasons. There’s the total humanitarian aspect of it. I wanted to come to a country that I could help out in. There were a lot of personal reasons as well. I really want to grow as a person. I had never left the United States before. I wanted to see and understand another culture. I think that being in another culture and helping with public and global health is what I want to do as my profession and for the rest of my life. I think this is a good starting off point.

What draws you to public health?

Well I guess I wanted to be a doctor for a large portion of my life and when I got to college, I kind of realized what your day to day life would look like and the reality of it, I guess. As much as I think it would be cool to have patient care and all that, I really want to reach more people. I think it’s a pure numbers thing for me about the amount of people I could see in one day as a doctor vs. the amount of people I could affect in one day as a public health advocate.

received_10156135358485594Do you feel like we are lacking as far as healthcare on a global scale goes?

I think so. I was really shocked to see the lack of general health education. Students said on these surveys that they got a health education but then when they asked if they knew their own anatomy and the anatomy of a male or a female, they didn’t. So they said they got a sex health education and then they didn’t even know their anatomy.

So yeah, tell me about these surveys that you’re doing right now?

So I picked a focus for sexual health and violence, and youth. So I went into the public high school here in Matagalpa and did about 200 surveys, all just kind of gaging. The first page was just gaging when they had had sex, at what age and at what age their partner was, and if they used a condom, and if not, why not. And then the question on that first page also was “did you know about sexual health at this point in your life?” I got a majority of yeses. Like high majority. Like 90%. Then on the back it was true/false and there were a lot of like “I learned a lot from my friends, I learned a lot from my parents, you know like where did you learn this?” Then it was like “I know and understand the anatomy of a male and a female.” No. Or stuff like that. So that was one of the big contradictory things that they’re lacking in education. But another one that really got to me was that both men and women who said that men are naturally more powerfu, which was a true or fale, and they said that was true. Also said that it was false for women to be the victim of violence, commonly. So they said that men are more naturally powerful but that women are not commonly the victim of violence.

Wow.

Which women saying that men are natually more powerful is a form of violence to me, them thinking that. It’s just a big contradictory thing and I think that’s a global problem, especially for women.

So how do you think that women are seen here in Nicaragua?

Well I along with those statistics, I did get another one that said 4 out of 10 Nicaraguan women think women are the inferior sex. So womem actually see themselves as inferior. Yeah it’s just shocking that I think women actually see themselves as inferior and it’s portrayed that way because men think that as well.

So how do you feel as a woman here from the United States? What’s the contrast that you see?

I think I get a little bit of respect. I think it’s known that I come from a different culture in my work place and in formal settings. However I think I am subject to a lot more street harassment just because I look different. A lot of people think that I don’t understand Spanish. That’s a big factor in men treating me, you know, like I’m stupid because I can’t understand what they’re saying.

received_10156135355605594Yeah, what sorts of things do you hear yelled at you?

Oh goodness, well chilita is what I get most often. Chelita guapa, chelita hermosa, preciosa, princessa. And chilita means “little white girl.” So I get that pretty frequently. Sometimes it gets a little more vulgar when they’re saying rica or … what’s the word for papaya? I can’t remeber, but rica is very vulgar in the sense that they’re saying that I’m delicious. And then the word for papaya, which I can’t remember right now, is a slang term for vagina. So they’re saying things like that at you. Lot’s of slang about female genitals and a lot of like what they would want to do kind of thing.

So how does that feel to you when you’re walking?

It’s really hard. I tried … I feel like I went through some stages of sort of like acceptance. I was ignoring it at first and then I was talking back, and now I just take measures to try and avoid hearing it in general because it’s just so frequent and so forceful. I don’t know it imacts me more than it might other people. I’m a pretty sensitive person, so it’s really hard for me to hear these things and then let it go, and then hear these things five seconds later. Even if I do let one go, the next one is … it just really grinds my gears.

So when you would confront them, what was that like? What reactions did you get? Because you would confront them in Spanish too, right?

Yes, I’ve confronted several. But I guess as an example, let me tell you what happened this morning. On my way to the rural health post, I got cat-called by this group of three young men sitting on the curb. And I turned around and said “no, I don’t like that,” which is my general, like … that’s harassment, so you’re supposed to say “I don’t like that” and you take measures if it continues. And often times, unfortunately, when I say I don’t like it, they refute. They say “well I like it!” That’s what the men said this morning. One of them said “Well that’s Nicaraguan. Welcome to Nicaragua.” He said that to me in Spanish. And after that I just kind of brushed it off and I didn’t say anything more because I was on my way to work. So on the way back down, I came back and I walked right up to them. They didn’t say anything to me … because I was walking right up to them. They were like shocked. And I was like “what’s the point of your cat-calling? Like what is the point? Like I want to know.” No answers. Nothing. Like were like staring up at me and one of them was just like “just decir adios.” Which is the normal greeting and I have no problem with. And I was like “if a girl says she doesn’t like it, there’s really no point, right? Like there’s no point at all?” And they were just staring at me. Like blank stares, just no responses. They don’t know what to do with themselves, basically. I don’t think that they can come up wkth a point, honestly. As I started walking away I was like “yeah, there’s no point.” So I started walking away and then as I started walking away, they’re again yelling like “chile, chelita..” And it was just like “seriously? I was just over there asking you!”

Yeah, so that’s really interesting! I mean it is so much a part of the culture. I don’t know.

I’ve heard several times, I think it’s an example in Nicaragua as a part of the culture. I also think street harrassment happens everywhere. And a lot of arguments I’ve heard in favor of it, by men, are that men are supposed to be, if they want to get with a woman, if they want to date a woman, if they want to be with a woman, whatever it is, they have to be the forward factor. They have to be the one stepping out. That’s what women like. I think perhaps that’s true if you’re in a coffeeshop or a bar setting, and a guy comes up to you and asks how you’re doing, if he can get you a smoothie, or whatever. That’s a forward factor that I would enjoy. I really want to make a clear distinction that street harrassment is not about obtaining a woman. I think it’s a power situation and everytime a man yells something at a woman in the streets, it takes away her personal power, in that situation, in that moment.

received_10156135353660594So now you’re just in a place where you’re trying to maintain your personal power?

Yeah and that’s what it feels like to me, and perhaps I’m going a little strongly on that opinion and that’s why it’s getting to me so much. But I want men and women alike to recognize that this is harrassment and it if they can’t even come up with a point as to why they’re doing it, why is it still a part of everyday life?

So have you talked to Nicaraguan women about this? And if so, what have they said?

I have. Before my surveys, I had to interview community leaders to kind of see where I should focus and I asked about piropos, which is the cat-calling. Most women said that they didn’t like it but I did have a few women say that it was fine. They’re fine. I had one psychologist woman say “that’s fine. They’re bonito excepto cuando esta vulgar.” Like when they’re vulgar, they’re offensive, but otherwise if you say I have nice eyes in the street, fine, whatever.

That’s really interesting. So women don’t really like it and yet …

I think some women do. Some women would rather receive a “you have a nice dress on” in the streets than not. But they do get vulgar and that’s a big point. Peace Corps gives you a lot of information when you get in-country and there was one study that said that the men thought, well … I guess the reason that it’s a part of culture I guess in the nicer sense, non-vulgar cat-calling, the men thought they needed to tell a woman she looked good because otherwise she wouldn’t know. Some of the women even said in this study “how would I know if I looked good that day if they weren’t saying anything about it?”

Oh, so your opinion of yourself is wrapped up in what a man thinks of you? What is that?

Precisely.

That’s like a cultural thing that probably goes back pretty deep that could change, but … so I guess what do you see your role as? I think this rightfully riles you up in a way that you want to make statements and do things about it. But yet you’re also a foreigner in the culture, so not that you can’t make change but …

No it’s really hard because I came here to learn this culture and I don’t want to strip a culture of it’s body basically. You know what it embodies and everything. I guess I see my role as far as I can see it as educating the youth. There were several campaigns, I guess, educating the youth to let them know that that’s not really an appropriate thing. I think that’s probably where the future of it lies. I definitely don’t think that I could change a man’s opinion on the street and have him stop hiroping. I’ve tried to have conversations with some of the men who frequently harrass me on the street and they’re very unwilling to change. So I think the youth is really where I’d like to target and basically in education for sexual health and violence, because I think it is a form of violence and I think it could be done differently if they still want to continute yelling at people in the street.

Well I think too, from everything I’ve heard about Nicaraguan education, they focus a lot on memorization and less on critical thinking, so when you have these conversation, I wonder if these men can even think critically?

Yeah.

received_10156135358685594So has there been anything else that has been particularly culture-shocking?

I think my biggest culture shock was the passed-out, drunk Nicaraguans in the street. Which is few and far between but does happen. I have seen people just sleeping. They look like they’re homeless, but they’re faced down, passed out, drunk on the street. It was the biggest culture shock to me because I’m an EMT and you’re supposed to check for a pulse and breathing. The first time I saw one I was like “is anyone going to do anything abouy this?” Were just like walking around this guy. I was told “No, don’t touch him. Don’t do anything about it.” So that was very interesting.

Because in the United States, you know …

If that were to happen in the states, you would call 911. That person would be transported off in an ambulance and have an IV in their arm rather quickly.

What’s your longtern vision for your time here?

My vision, what I’d like to see, is younger girls about the time before they start their periods, like 8 and 9, getting educated by the older girla, 16 and 17, that I’ve educated. So I educate these senior girls who educate these younger girls, who have their information changed from what they’re going tk absorb and what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives. That would be sexual reproductive health and a better understanding of women, and women’s power and women’s empowerment.

What are some of the things that you just absolutely love about Nicaragua?

They’re very open people. This is my first experience out of the United States and there is just less of a personal barrier. People ask you straight up stuff that might be a little pushy or politically incorrect. There’s a lot of hugging and holding. Life if you’re sitting with your mom at coffee, it’s not uncommon to just be in an embrace. Or in the street I see mothers holding hands with their teenage and adult children. I also love that women pop their boob out to breastfeed here. There’s no blanket or coverup. It’s not seen as anything sexual like it is in the states. Here it’s 100% natural.

So what do you see after the Peace Corps?

I’m a little bit lost on that. I think that this is a good time to explore options. I have been looking at a few things. Another part of the culture that I really like is that it’s very very interdependent. You don’t need to move out of your house until you want to. People live in their houses until they’re 30 or even when you get married, your husband comes and lives in the house with you and contributes to the house. Grandma lives with you. Families live together or familes live next door to each other. I’m all about that interdependence. I’ve never appreciated my parents more. Never wanted to live with my parents more. I will be going back to my parents house and making dinner for them and cleaning up. And my grandparents are going to move to Portland so I’m hoping to stay in Portland.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetWhat do you think needs to change most in our world?

My mom sent me an article yesterday that said “ISIS soldiers told to rape women to make them muslim.” So I think that the ideas of women being inferior need to go. We are way past that. I’m 100% equality and I don’t see it in any part of the world, so I think everyone could work on it.

Why did you choose to take the photos like you did?

The first one, the pink dress, I got from my boyfriend when he was here. When I picked it up, we were both just like it’s so Jana! I chose that one because it is so me and it’s an example of something I really shouldn’t wear here. So I got that to embody how I am, my style, how I’d like to portray myself but I can’t. I chose the black dress to be a bit more of an example. I usually wear an urban poncho over it. I put headphones and a hat with that one because walking down the street I often use headphones to avoid hearing piropos. If I can’t hear them still their eyes … their eyes are just hungry. They look you up and down, they lick their lips. It’s also offensive, so I keep my head low and try to avoid seeing and hearing those things on a day where I just don’t want to do that. The last one, the pink one, is a dress from my host sister. She got it for me for my birthday. It’s a little rischae. It has that backless part but with a sweater it’s not so bad. It’s a little bit long. I put the boxing wraps in that photo because I often use my boxing wraps and leave them on after practice and walk home in them as a way to kind of deter. I don’t know if it works, but it seems to work.

How does that make you feel? Not being able to wear what you want to wear sometimes?

Oh my gosh so hard. It’s weird because I planned on it. When I was packing I brought all these clothes … I just changed my style. I didn’t bring the things that I really like to wear. And then I was really saddened because I was with Peace Corps for like a whole week at this retreat and everyones wearing like their swimsuits and dresses, and I was just like I didn’t bring anything like that at all. It’s hard recognizing that I can’t really wear my style. I have dreams about picking out outfits at home. Like stuff I would be wearing at home.

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Friendship Friday: Brittany, my savior in Nicaragua

I’ve decided to start another new weekly column called Friendship Friday. I like alliteration and I like friendship more. Specifically, I love supporting and encouraging female friendship. Women are constantly told to be in competition with each other, whether directly or indirectly through messages in the media. Yet women are so relational and sensitive. My life has been so positively impacted by female friendship. So each Friday will be a little toast to a friend.

Processed with VSCOcamI write this from the airport in Managua, Nicaragua. I’m able to sit in a bar and have a drink in peace thanks to my friend Brittany. I’ve only been friends with Brittany since June, but there’s a special sort of bonding that comes from a shared experience in a new culture.

I moved to Matagalpa at the start of the American summer and had planned to work with a community organization for a year. Brittany was doing the same and was hence my roommate. A little over a month into my time in Nicaragua, my mom had a brain aneurysm. I rushed back to the United States with the essentials … a small bag with a week’s worth of clothing, toiletries, my passport, debit card, etc. Basically, I left stuff that I cared about in Nicaragua because I thought I was returning. Afterall, they stabilized my mother and I had committed to a year in Nicaragua.

Without getting into too many details, the option to return was not there after the three weeks I spent with my mother. I was devastated. At the crux of it all was my stuff. It wasn’t just my lap top, but my favorite clothing too. My dresses! I’m so excited to have my favorite dresses back.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetBrittany is my friend of the week. Actually, I called her “amiga del año,” which means friend of the year in Spanish. It was a hard transition to have to work through on top of my mother being in the hospital. She was just there to skype or talk things through.

I originally was going to ship my things back, which made me nervous. You cannot entirely trust the postal system in Nicaragua. I then found a very inexpensive flight out of Chicago and jumped on it. Brittany was just so amazing in helping me make my short trip to Nicaragua a smooth one. She packed my things up for me and took them to our other friend’s house where I stayed. She also arranged for a driver to take me to the airport since I have a late flight and a lot of luggage. She really made my time in Nicaragua fun and stress-free.

Brittany, thank you for your support. I’m sitting here in the airport content. For my own sanity, I have my things accounted for and headed back to the states with me. You rock! I hope the rest of your time in Nicaragua is simply amazing.

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