Sarah, a fellow Dressember blogger

I would like to thank Twitter for this week’s My Closet feature. Twitter is how I met Sarah, the South Carolina woman behind the blog Bows and Clothes. She blogs about style, clothing, inspiration and encouragement. We initially found each other through Dressember.

If you are unaware, Dressember is a month-long campaign to raise awareness to end human trafficking. Women all around the world are committing to wearing a dress every single day for the entire month of December. The idea is that it is in solidarity with so many women who are being oppressed. Men can participate too. Many are choosing to wear bow ties all month in solidarity. Each participant can have their own fundraising page. Sarah and I both have one. The money goes to International Justice Mission and A21.

One day I was on Twitter retweeting some of the Dressember tweets as usual when I noticed that a girl named Sarah was retweeting me and liking my tweets. So naturally, I clicked on her profile and saw that she was also a blogger. I then of course clicked on her blog and learned that she was also participating in Dressember! That made me super excited. So I thought “I had better e-mail her!” She responded, of course. Sarah seems to be very engaged with her followers. Then, as what typically happens with good ideas, about a day later I decided that I should feature her on My Closet. So thus, here we are. These five dresses are special as they are some of ones she has worn for Dressember.

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This first tunic-style dress is from Old Navy. She said she actually found it in the kids section. She doesn’t normally shop in the kid’s department, however these dresses were running large. I would have never guessed this came from the kid’s section, so she fooled me! She said the high-low hem is one of her favorite parts of this dress.

“If I were to just wear one dress for a whole month, I would pick this one,” she said.

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This green dress is one she found at Ross. She said she initially bought it because of the bright green color and capped sleeves. It makes it easy to pair with a sweater. I really liked how she put the hot pink scarf with this outfit. Both shades of pink and green seem to pop, and thus work well together. Here’s another look at the dress:

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This was another Ross find. Sarah says that Ross is probably one of her favorite places to find dresses as they have a large selection at reasonable prices. She felt like this one was very versatile.

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These next two are Kohl’s finds. The pink one is one she instantaneously fell in love with when she saw it. She had to buy it. The striped one is one of those convertible dresses. It can be worn as a maxi, midi or skirt. Pretty neat

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Sarah hopes that through her blog, readers will be inspired to be themselves. The quote “you are the only you, so you better be you” is in the “About me” section of her blog. While she has always been a fan of style blogs, her spirituality is what inspired her to start Bows and Clothes.

“One day I felt that God was calling me to have my own style blog since I love style and fashion,” she said. “I also want to inspire people, not because I think I’m perfect, but because God helps me with my imperfection.”

She has been blogging for about 13 months now. She just hopes her blog can inspire women. When she is not blogging, she can be found singing, making crafts, shopping or cooking.

Thanks Sarah! Best of luck in Dressember!

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Life with lupus: My friend the meds

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This is my good friend Catherine. I interviewed her for the Q&A about a month ago. She has lupus, a chronic condition she will have for the rest of her life. Lupus is often called the invisible disease because much of the suffering is not necessarily visible to all. This week she writes about medication and lupus.

People with lupus take lots of medication. I easily take over 20 pills each day, which can create an adventure in and of itself. A few of the different types of medicine used to treat and manage Lupus:

  • Aspirin
  • Anti-Inflammatories
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol®)
  • Ibuprofen (Motrin®), naproxen (Naprosyn®), indomethacin (Indocin®), nabumetone (Relafen®), and celecoxib (Celebrex®).
  • Corticosteroids (also known as glucocorticoids, cortisone or steroids)
  • Antimalarials
  • Immunosuppressives (Immune Modulators)
  • Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan®)
  • Methotrexate (Rheumatrex™)
  • Azathioprine (Imuran®)
  • Anticoagulants
  • Monoclonal antibodies
  • Benlysta (belimumab, formerly called LymphoStat-B™)
  • Repository Corticotropin Injection (H.P. Acthar Gel)

As you can see, there isn’t just one medication for lupus. When taking many pills, it can be hard to keep up with it all. As I mentioned in previous columns, you have to just laugh to keep going. What else can you do in this situation? Here are a few funny things I’ve done or have had happen to me:

  • You’ve looked for your sun hat while wearing it.
  • You have to count the amount of pills left in the bottle to tell whether or not you remembered to take your pills that day.
  • When you know another month has passed, only because it’s time to refill your meds!
  • You’re embarrassed to admit it’s because you’re lost, 3 miles from home.
  • Your husband calls you by your Native American name “Dances with Lupus.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg. In my conversations with other Lupus sufferers, there are so many other medications. I know that I take at the minimum of 22 pills a day. All combined creates a totally new drug with all the side affects you can think of.

With there being so many different types of lupus, medicine can be totally different combination. It can be very frustrating to have a doctor visits and have them tell you that they would try a new treatment. It’s hard not to feel like a lab rat when trying to treat your particular type of lupus.

In the words of Mary Poppins” a spoon full of sugar make the medicine go down.” True words!!

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Dressember after week 1

This year, I’m again participating in Dressember. If you follow me on my Instagram or Twitter, though, this is probably not news to you. Last year it was just me on my team and I raised $510 from my circle of family and friends. This year I have several ladies on my team with me. It feels like a wonderful, sort of natural progression. Each year I plan to participate in Dressember and do my part to make it bigger than the year before. The more people who know about Dressember, the better.

Social media has many great benefits. I love clicking on #Dressember or #Dressember to see how far and wide the campaign is this year. Another popular hashtag I’ve seen is #itsbiggerthanadress. That phrase comes to mind as I get dressed each morning and multiple times throughout each day. Women all over the world are wearing dresses each day this month not because it’s cute or trendy. In fact, it has nothing to do with us.

I’m constantly reminded of the privilege I have in my life. Millions of people around the world are being forced into slavery. Girls as young as 12 are being forced into prostitution. They are being robbed the innocent childhoods they deserve. If you are a mother, just imagine the anger you’d feel if your daughter had to go through that. It’s sickening.

It’s Bigger than a Dress could almost be the motto for my blog. I love dresses. Anyone who is close to me knows that. But I also have a strong passion for social justice. I have a passion to tell stories of women from all different backgrounds. I want to use dresses to make the world a better place.

Dressember is such a great way to do that. The hopeful thing is that International Justice Mission and A21 are strong, functioning organizations. They rescue trafficking victims, provide them with the aftercare and serve the perpetrators with justice. In order for them to be the light of hope they are, they need funding. The money from Dressember goes to both of these groups. The funding pays for case workers, therapists, attorneys and other trained professionals to commit their life to ending slavery. With 27 million people in the world in slavery, the need is great.

My hope is that during this most wonderful time of the year, you give a little bit of thought to those who are not having the most wonderful time. Perhaps you can help be that light by giving to Dressember. My goal is $650 and I plan to reach that. I would love it if you can help me. You can view my page here.

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Q&A: Kelly the comedian

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This week, I decided to interview my improv pal Kelly. I’m in an improv troupe called Highly Improvable and she’s currently the Assistant Director. We have show Friday, December 11th. You should go. In other news, this may have been the funniest interview/photo shoot I’ve done thus far for A World of Dresses.

  • Name: Kelly McAndrews
  • Age: 23
  • Location: Cincinnati/Lebanon, Ohio
  • Graduated from BGSU
  • Majored in film studies, minored in French

How did you get involved in improv? It started in college, right?

Yeah my friends did long-form and I went to the first show, I think, freshman year. I feel really bad saying this, but I was like “I can do that so much better than they can!” So I got involved the next year with that. I didn’t know there were rules to improv. I just thought I was going on a stage and like pretending. That’s why I was like, “I can do this way better than anyone else! I love make believe.” And then I got on there and there were rules, and you have to learn to really respect your scene partner and stuff like that. So it was like oh, this is like an actual craft you have to learn. So that was a blast.

You just thought you jumped up there and started talking.

Yeah seriously. Because the way that they did it was the armando form which is where you do a monologue first and then you go into an act. The way that they did their monologues were a lot like standup routines. They were always making people laugh, so I was like “I love standup! I’ve been watching standup since I was a little kid! I can do this perfectly! I would love it!” But it was a lot harder than I thought.

Have you ever done standup?

Three times in my life (laughs).

Is it something you like or do you like sticking with improv more?

I mean I love it because you control it yourself and you don’t really have to depend on another person to like support you. Like in a scene you have to. But you think it’s going to be just you talking to a crowd and them laughing at you, but there’s so much work that goes behind it. Like you have to write enough to have meat of an argument or a funny story that you have to tell. And then you also have to have it memorized so well so that you’re not standing up there sweating like “Oh, let me check my notes! Ohhh, sorry!” It’s kind of tough. But improv is a lot more like a carnival. You just go and explore different things.

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Like a carnival. I like that!

Yeah.

So this was your sophomore year of college that you started going to improv. So I would imagine that that’s probably four years now that you’ve been doing it.

Yes. Maybe it was my junior year. Oh, I don’t remember.

So three or four years.

Yeah because I watched a lot of them and I hung out with those guys so much that I think I auditioned junior year.

So you had to audition to be in your college improv group?

Yeah.

What was that process like?

It was kind of weird, I guess because there were a lot of people like me who didn’t know there were rules. Like comedy standards you had to uphold, so you could get anywhere from people just standing with cold feet like “I have no idea what I’m doing!” and then other people who had been through the audition process already and were already in the group and were made to audition again. They were phenomenal, so you had different kinds of talent, I guess.

Yeah. Was that scary a little bit?

The first time it was. I was made to audition again because I wasn’t like a regular member the next year, so I went through those audition processes a couple of times. By a certain point I was comfortable and I was already friends with everyone before I actually went into it. So it was easier for me because I had that experience with those people already and I could see the way their groups worked, so I could kind of take that style for myself. But it was scary. Every audition process is scary, I think.

Yeah absolutely. There’s always that possibility that it’s not going to work out, which is scary in and of itself.

Yeah.

What keeps you coming back to improv?

The fact that there is so much variety, and that you can get such a variety of players and audiences. Also a difference in creativity. Like certain people will come out of left field with something that really creates a challenge for you. That’s what I like when I’m presented with people who have a completely different comedy style than my own and I have to kind of adapt to that. But then you also get people who have been your friends for years and you can go up on stage and know that it’s going to be hilarious every time. So you really work up trust and friendship.

Yeah! It’s like a team.

Yeah exactly.

Now that you’ve been at this for a bit, are there any sorts of practices that you take with you? Or any sorts of things you do in a scene to save yourself if it’s not going well?

One thing that my very first troupe director told me was “You go on stage and your job is to make the other person look as good as possible. And if that person goes on stage knowing that their job is to make you look as good as possible, then it’s going to be great every single time.” So if I have a scene that’s failing, I’ll turn it around and try to explore the relationship between me and whoever is on stage with me. Or I’ll try and add some new element to the scene to take it a different direction. It’s all about trust and all about joy, I guess. You can’t take out your anger and frustration on your scene partner. You have to show them that you still believe in the scene.

Yeah so it all comes back to that teamwork and that whole idea of “yes and!” where you’re accepting what they throw out.

Yeah.

So I know you got involved in Highly Improvable through your brother Ryan who was a member and now lives in Boston. So yeah, now you’re a post-college graduate. Do you see any differences between our group and what you did in college?

Yeah absolutely because Highly Improvable is a teaching troupe, first and foremost. So we are so much more accepting of everything whereas back in college, we did have an audition process in the first place, so it was kind of elitist. Like “Well if you’re not the best, you can’t get in.” But here all the focus is on learning and growing together. I really like that open environment a lot more. Because I did have conflicts with people in college, like with players I just didn’t gel with. It was all about “We gotta be the best! We gotta be the best!” because there were four troupes on campus, I think. So we were friendly with each other but we were always like in competition with each other to be the best. That was a lot more pressureist … that’s not a word (laughs). It’s an environment of pressure, I guess.

Yeah so do you find that the environment we have in Highly Improvable creates community for everybody? Everyone just seems to get along well.

Yeah yeah. I think our issue is the distance. If we were closer to the city center, then we would have so much more … the rest of the Cincinnati improv community would be able to join in and year about us and stuff like that. But the troupe that we do have right now seems to gel real well. We’re kind of feeling each other’s strengths and weaknesses. So we’re all kind of learning together.

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What has improv taught you?

More than anything to listen because I used to be one of the people who would wait to talk. It’d be like “Oh yeah great. Here’s my opinion.” But now I try to seek out what another is … I guess their essence. What they want to be and why they’re talking about what they’re talking about. I try to pay attention. I’ve become more observant as well.

So you feel like these things are things you carry with you over into your every day life outside of improv?

Yeah. And there’s also the concept of what you were saying, yes and! Half of it is accepting what happens and the other half is adding to what happens. So you can sort of apply that philosophy to any aspect of life. You have to accept what’s going on, whether it’s some sort of turmoil or good thing, and then you have to contribute to making it better or escalating it, if that makes sense. So just being part of the fun and taking it up a notch.

Yeah. Do you have any examples of ways that you’ve used “Yes and!” in your everyday life?

I think more often than not, in daily conversation, I try make people laugh in conversation. So like if I have a bit going on with somebody, it’s just a question of like adding and adding to whatever it is that we’re talking about. For example I have a friend and we talk about goblins a lot. It’s so stupid. We talk about goblins working because we work at a cafe together. So goblins just mess up stuff in the cafe. And then we keep adding to like “Oh, it’s Peter the goblin. He’s done something again.”

Tell me about your transition to becoming director. Everyone who becomes director starts out as assistant director. What made you decide to go that route?

The first reason I wanted to be assistant director is because I love running warmups. That’s all I wanted to do. Just run warmups. But I knew that it came with the commitment of becoming director and I just assumed I would learn it in this period. I don’t feel super prepared, but once again it’s a learning curve. I just have to dive in and hope that I’m doing what’s expected of me for the troupe. Right now I’m kind of trying to establish myself as a link between Harrison and the rest of us. So like if anybody in the troupe has problems, they can come to me. Which it has kind of happened, in a way. I feel a lot more authoritative than I did. But once again a lot less like one of the cool kids.

Yeah you have to lay down the law.

Yeah like I’m not the class clown anymore. I’m the teacher, which is weird.

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How do you feel about becoming director?

It’s terrifying. Mostly my biggest concern right now is what present to get for Harrison when he’s not director anymore. That’s my biggest concern. He’s not a girl. He won’t like flowers, probably. Probably a gift card. I’ll get him a gift card and have everybody sign the card. But he’s been the one who gets cards for everyone when they leave. I’m like “Man, that’s my least favorite part of this. I have to go buy cards for everyone when they leave.”

Well the thing with Harrison is that he’s quite possibly one of the nicest guys in the entire world, so if you get him something he hates he’ll probably just be like “Oh, it’s great!”

I will now take extra effort to get him something that he does hate and I’ll try to catch him in the act of returning it (we both laughed … a lot).

So how does it feel to be a female comedian?

My personal experience hasn’t really be shaped by my oppression as a female. It’s kind of been more like a celebration of the fact. In the few standup bits that I did, the troupes that I was in that were integrated, because I was in one that was all female, I never really felt excluded because of the whole trope that women aren’t funny. I more so felt like people were trying to include my presence and other females involved in our troupes because we were women and because we did have talent and we wanted to be showcased.

So for you, it’s super empowering to be up there as a woman and be like “Yeah!”?

Yeah I love it. And my thing is that improv is so fluid that you can step on stage and it doesn’t matter who you are. What matters is what you become when you’re on stage. So I play men. I play women. I try to switch up my identity as much as possible because there is that whole thing of character work. Like you have to be good at switching between characters in the first place. But I mean that could be as simple as just changing your voice. But I really try to step outside of the box and be as many different identities as possible.

What advice would you give to female comics or females interested in getting into comedy?

Be as big and boisterous and rude as you dare to be. Honestly, like tell dick jokes, tell vagina jokes. Whatever things people have told you not to say, because an audience will respect you for going there nine times out of ten and they’ll remember you for it, honestly.

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What does being a woman mean to you?

You know like having a vagina and having breasts (laughs). And like having a menstrual cycle and like the ability to have children. I don’t know, I think deep down it’s a like blessing but also a curse. Like we have something to prove as a race but at the same time we have so many gifts that we can exploit and put out into the world. Like we’re all beautiful and talented.

What do you think are some of women’s strongest gifts?

Our fierceness. Like if you are faced with hardship, I think it’s natural to want to run away. But as women, we are all so strong.

Is there anything else you want to add?

Yes, and!

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L’BAE Hair, Makeup and Apparel

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Pamela Carter-Pitts is a woman of many talents. I met her several weeks ago at the Contemporary Dance Theatre’s fall Performance and Time Arts show. She directed a fashion show that was a part of the act (which you can read about on Not Your Mom’s PTA) and we struck up a conversation before the show began. This woman does a lot! Her business L’BAE, standing for Living Blessed and Empowered, provides hair and makeup services, has it’s own cosmetics line and it’s own apparel line. When she’s not working for herself through L’BAE, she can be found working as a sign language interpreter, playing wife to her husband or mom to her five children. Oh, and she also hosts a weekly radio show called Living Life the L’BAE Way on 1050 WGRI. I actually had the privilege of going on her show last Wednesday to talk about A World of Dresses.

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Pamela and I at the radio station!

Pamela started her career as a cosmetologist in 1995. She started off working in various higher end salons, which was great to learn the business. However hair has always been a gift of her’s, so she was always able to build up a solid client base. She started getting deaf clients and thus decided to go back to school to become a sign language interpreter. She completed a bachelor’s program at Wright State and became nationally certified in 2010. Since then, she’s had many unique opportunities through interpreting. She’s had the privilege of working as an interpreter for Michelle and Barack Obama. She’s also worked with many government officials and gospel artists. Music, she said is her favorite. Thus, she ends up interpreting at all sorts of concerts.

“I love music and I love the stage,” she said.

In 2007, her daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Synovial Sarcoma that eats your organs. It swallowed her entire left kidney, so today she’s living with only her right one. However she’s cancer free and does not need dialysis. During this time, Pamela really sought out her Christian faith. That was where the idea of L’BAE, Living Blessed and Empowered, comes from. She said that during this time, she kept this sort of mantra with her. No matter what, she would get out of bed with the belief that she was blessed and empowered through her faith.

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“I’m living blessed and empowered because despite the hardships that I’ve gone through and you don’t even know my story,” she said. “That is why I’m living blessed and empowered. My God gives me the joy to keep going despite what may be going on in my life.”

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Pamela looks at all of what she does as an art form. From a young age graduating high school from the School for Creative and Performing Arts, she has always loved performance. So makeup, hair and clothing design all go hand-in-hand with her creative side. In fact, her slogan with L’BAE is “Where the concept of art and beauty create a new you!”

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For Pamela, L’BAE is more than just her business. It’s a lifestyle brand. She’s all about promoting positive self-esteem and feels like her business is her tool in empowering everyone she meets through it.

So in 2011, she began brainstorming and putting her business plan together. She started figuring out how she wanted the makeup to look, what she wanted the t-shirt designs to look like and all the other fun things that go along with creating your own business. Now she has her own space on the West side of Cincinnati where she sees clients by appointment. She can also be found going out to various events such as the one I met her at. In the summers, she travels around with L’BAE. Her cosmetics line was even endorsed by Reggie Wells, Oprah Winfrey’s former makeup artist.

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Through L’BAE, she landed her radio show. Life is full of so many chance encounters that lead to amazing things. This was one of them. She was at a gospel concert and ran into one of the producers at 1050 WGRI. He had heard about L’BAE and was asking her all about it. The concept was one he found intriguing. Through several interactions, she read to him some of her poems and writings she had that inspired L’BAE. She didn’t think much of it, though. Then a few weeks later, he asked her to come read them on the station. This is how L’BAE Moments came about, a short two-minute radio segment with Pamela saying different inspirational things. From this, the radio show was born just about two months ago. It has blown up, she said.

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Overall, Pamela seems to have a sense of joy and gratitude. She feels blessed with all of her successes.

“I love being my own boss and entrepreneur to where I dictate what happens in my own profession,” she said. “I love that. It feels really good.”

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Jenni’s salsa dresses + more

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In high school as a basketball player, Jenni never thought in a million years she’d end up salsa dancing. She probably never even thought she’d find herself in a salsa club, let alone salsa dancing as part of a competitive team. Yet as an adult, she stumbled upon the hobby which led her to where she is today: a competitive salsa dancer with Salsannati, a competitive salsa group based in Cincinnati.

She sort of stumbled upon salsa dancing randomly and started doing it as a hobby. When she was out at the salsa clubs, she got to know some of the Salsannati coaches as they were also doing what they loved. A few years in, she expressed her interest in taking salsa dancing to the next level and was welcomed with open arms.

“From being an athlete growing up, I’ve always had a competitive side in me and even though I played basketball forever, I still loved being girly and feeling feminine,” Jenni said.

Salsa dancing was a great way to combine both things. Her love for dresses, however, started back in college. She also played college basketball, and would find herself feeling sweaty and gross afterwards. It would have been easy to just live in that space, but Jenni knew she didn’t want that. She still wanted to be able to carry herself in a feminine way, so she turned to dresses, heels and makeup. Today, she has between 50-70 dresses in her closet and lots of high heels to match.

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“I feel on top of the world,” she says about wearing a dress. “I feel good about myself.”

The dresses Jenni chose for the shoot were a fun variety. A few were current or former salsa costumes. Others were fun pieces for nights out on the town. The common thread is that they are all tied to good memories. Every single one of these dresses is something Jenni feels good in the minute she puts it on.

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We met up at her Hyde Park studio apartment on a cold and rainy Sunday morning. The top floor space, however, provided for a nice and cozy backdrop for all the photos we took. When I arrived, we instantly seemed to hit it off chatting about all sorts of things. She had her dresses all picked out on a rack by the mirror. Each one was unique in it’s own way.

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First, she showed me her newest one. This dress is technically being debuted on A World of Dresses as she has not had the opportunity to wear it yet. The solid dark green and simple style makes it a perfect dress for when she’s feeling something a little more classic. However she also noted that she could dress it up with a pair of leopard print heels for a crazy night out with the girls.

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These next few are our party dresses. As a salsa performer, Jenni spends much of her off time out at salsa clubs dancing and hanging out. This requires a fun wardrobe and she definitely has that!

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She said her friends always poke fun at how over-dressed she often is. Whether it’s just a casual dinner or a late-night evening at the club, she takes every opportunity she can to go all out. She loves it.

“I always walk in like five stars, but it’s just how I am,” she said. “I feel most comfortable expressing myself through the dresses.”

Next we have the salsa round. I was especially excited for this. Her blue salsa dress was actually specially-made to fit her body measurements. It also came from overseas.

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This white dress is what she considers to be a milestone dress. She wore it the first time she ever performed on stage with Salsannati.

“I remember the first time I put that on, I felt like I arrived,” she said. “I felt official. I felt confident and sexy, and just like I was ready to go out there and show all the hard work I had put in.”

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This white one was worn at a Salsannati fundraiser. The team will actually host a fundraiser this Friday in Northside. Proceeds will benefit their trip down to Miami, Florida to compete in the Latin World Cup. She and the seven other members of the team plus a few supporting members will travel there December 15th. She’s excited for sure.

“When I salsa dance, I feel free,” she said. “I feel like I can just be myself and just interact with who I’m dancing with. I can just let loose and have a good time.”

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Findlay to the People: Jai’s storytelling event

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I love keeping up with the women I feature on my blog. Each and every one of them has their own unique and complex life. Each has her own interests. For Jai (My Closet: the dresses of Jai), storytelling seems to be her jam these days. On Sunday, she acted as Mcee (although no mic was needed at a storytelling event on a Sunday afternoon taking place in a bakery) as several people told stories on the theme of abundance. I just wish I had gotten there sooner. I’ll admit, I was running a tad late coming from a morning photoshoot for the blog that day.

When I walked in, I found the group seated around the side room in Findlay Market’s Cake Rack Bakery. Sarah Mancino was telling her story about farming and working as a Findlay Market vendor. She told of the abundance in her harvest as well as her interactions with regular customers week after week. Clad in work boots and jeans, you could just picture her working in the dirt to grow the food into what is sold at the market.

Next George Hibben from Rookwood Pottery took the stage, so to speak. He spoke of the pottery studio, which is now located in Over-the-Rhine, in close proximity to Findlay Market. He spoke of the history of Cincinnati and past pottery groups located in the neighborhood. It was fascinating to imagine Cincinnati in the late 1800’s. The economy of the city in regards to pottery and how the studio in turn positively affects the economy of Findlay was also discussed.

Both speaks I had the privilege of seeing were so open to sharing with the group. Both gladly welcomed questions. Overall, the event was attended by about 15-20 people. It was a nice and intimate gathering. The room felt full of good energy.

Jai, as always, greeted me with a warm hug. Jai’s warm enthusiasm mixed with her passion for authenticity are what make her the wonderful person she is.

These storytelling events happen the last Sunday of every month.

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Life with Lupus: about intimacy

A weekly column written by Catherine Daniels about her life with lupus.

If that’s the case, it’s time to get creative.

“Redefine what sex looks like for you as a couple,” Rose says. “Some women tell me they take two Tylenol half an hour before sex, or they have intercourse in the tub or on their sides. When they’re having a flare and can’t stand penetration, they can do more foreplay or oral sex.” – Web Md.

There is no easy way to say it, but lupus tried to kill my marriage. At least it tried to. But being stronger than your condition means you have to think outside the box. Love, sex and lupus can coexist when you’re patient with your body. I have found that creating a relaxing environment works on the mind, body and spirit. In my 24 years with my husband, I have to say that the last 10 have the most creative. Sometimes a relaxing bath can prepare the body and music can sooth the soul.

However studies have found that women who experience more intimacy are overall happier. I found this one interesting:

This study examined whether self-rated physical and emotional intimacy of 74 women with their heterosexual partner, during an illness episode of lupus, was related to their affect and relationship satisfaction. It was predicted that greater intimacy would be related to better psychosocial adjustment. Women who engaged in physically intimate behavior with their partner more often reported greater relationship satisfaction. Women who frequently avoided or who were often the initiators of physical intimacy, however, reported greater negative affect. Concerning emotional intimacy, women who disclosed more information about illness symptoms and women who concealed more information about their symptoms and feelings experienced the highest levels of negative affect. Results identify dilemmas that women with recurrent illness may face when trying to maintain intimacy during illness periods. 1Department of Psychology, Kent State University, Ohio 44242, USA. jdruley@kentvm.kent.edu

There’s always something with lupus. I don’t know if everyone feels like this, but I am usually waiting for the next shoe to drop. I never thought my love life would suffer, but it did. Lupus is such a selfish condition. When your honey bunny has laid (no pun intended) out the red carpet, and romance is in the air, mean old lupus comes in and crashes the party. Your body aches and it’s hard to be in the mood for love. So what does that mean for your relationship? You have to be creative. Romance and intimacy go hand in hand, even though they are two different things.

“Every human is a sexual being.”

With these words, Iris Zink, B.S.N., M.S.N., a nurse practitioner at the Beals Institute in Lansing, Michigan, and President-elect of the Rheumatology Nurses Society, begins the lecture she gives to health care professionals across the country. The Beals Institute treats people with autoimmune diseases and osteoporosis. In her role there, “I’m known as ‘the sex lady,” she says with a laugh.

Sometimes the sexiest thing can simply be to smile through your pain!

Next week, I plan to write about medication overload!

catherine3Catherine is a wife and mother living in Cincinnati. In 2004, she was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune diseases where your white blood cells attack your red blood cells. Your body basically looses it’s line of defense. Lupus is often known as the invisible disease because it manifests itself in ways that aren’t outright and visible. Some days it’s extreme fatigue and other’s it’s extreme pain. Through this weekly column, Catherine hopes to help the world better understand what it means to live life with lupus.



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Post-reunion musings

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My best friend, some nametags and a Snapchat filter at my high school reunion

Saturday morning, I woke up feeling a bit odd. The night before had been my high school reunion. Leading up to the event, I had imagined what it would be like, everything ranging from the best to worst. After all was said and done, the evening was probably maybe a 60-70%. The food was great, the beer tasty and the location amazing. The organizers really out-did themselves in that regard. However the so-so feeling is more in regards to the social nature of a reunion and how you see that played out 10 years later. In some ways, it’s different and some it’s totally the same.

In high school, I was not the person I am today. I bet we all feel that way when we look back 10 years or more. I know I’m not alone. In high school, I was quiet and kept to a small group of say four or five girls. I dated no one. I got passable grades and was involved in a few extracurricular activities. For me, high school was just about passing the time in a way that would allow me to go to a decent college. Looking back, I have no regrets. Some of those friendships are still close friendships today. I had great teachers and learned a lot. And I went to a great college.

Today, though, I am not that girl. I scored 89% extrovert on the Myers-Briggs test years ago. Furthermore, the reaction I often get when I tell most people that I’m an extrovert is “I know,” because I could probably start a conversation with a brick wall. I’m incredibly social and have no issues approaching strangers. In fact, my extroversion is what drives this blog, a project based primarily on interviewing women each week. Heck, I also voluntarily perform improv comedy and actually enjoy it. I can spend an entire day going from one social activity to the next feeling completely energized because that is simply how an extrovert is wired. We get our energy from social interaction. In high school, I was not comfortable in my skin. Now, I am. This also is a very common story of moving from high school to adulthood. Again, I know I’m not alone.

So I went to the reunion thinking that perhaps those silly cliques we clung to in high school just would not matter. That me in my raging extroversion would sift through the crowd and truly mingle with everyone. That we would have conversations going beyond “What’s up?” and “How are you?” While I did chat with many people outside of my direct clique, that entirely did not happen. There are a good number of people who I didn’t even speak a word to. As I reflect back, though, I’m the one to blame just as much as anyone else. After all, I spent much of the evening next to the people I came with.

For me, high school was the only time where that clique dynamic existed. Everywhere else in my life, I talk to everyone. Many of the people I didn’t speak with at the reunion I felt like if we met as adults working the same job or through mutual friends, we would have a much different dynamic to our interactions. While we may not always be best friends, we’d certainly be way friendlier. In the adult world, while you may not be best friends with everyone, you’re nice and friendly with everyone. I know at least I am.

In the moment at the reunion, it was intimidating to walk up to an entire group of people you barely knew in high school and go “what’s up?” That sort of behavior was so taboo in high school. At least for me it was. I never did that. Furthermore, you wondered if they even wanted you to do that, much like you did in high school. You ended up having all these same fears as you did in high school. It was weird. But you had alcohol and your friends you came with, which was safe. So you hung there.

As I reflected back on the evening, maybe we were all just in that safety bubble that is hard to break considering that it was a part of our daily lives for four years. I found myself operating off of impressions formed about people over 10-14 years ago. All of those impressions are false in one way or another. We are all different people. We’ve all grown up and changed. Some of us have been through tough things that have shaped our characters. Reflecting back on that evening, I should have told myself that more.

So if you’re a person I didn’t talk with at the reunion, I apologize. I truly wish I had spoken with you. I’m sure I missed out on learning all the fascinating things you’ve been up to for the past 10 years. Like me, I’m sure you’ve grown and changed, in some painful ways and in some not. So I’m sorry we didn’t have a real chat. If we run into each other over these next years, maybe we can have that chat.



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Che the traveler from China

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I met Che about a year ago through her husband Daniel who tutored me in Spanish. The two of them have the most fascinating story. Che grew up in China and decided to get her undergraduate degree in Malaga, Spain. While Daniel got his undergraduate degree in Cincinnati, he studied in Spain for about nine months. Some how the two connected on Facebook and began chatting. Now Che has made her second big move to the United States to marry Daniel. She currently works at a logistics company and is getting settled into her new life in the US. I knew her experience with so many different cultures would make for a very interesting interview.

Jing Che Braun
Age: 26
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio. Grew up in Chongqing, China.

What made you decide to attend college in Spain?

I just felt like I wanted a different life. I don’t know. So after I graduated high school, I said I want to study abroad and I just picked Spain because I wanted to see the world.

What was that like when you first arrived in Spain?

I was so excited because it was a different world for me and I never traveled out of China. So the destination was the South of Spain. I learned a little bit of Spanish before I went to Spain. I prepared a little bit, but it was still so difficult because the first city I got to in Spain was in the South of Spain. Everybody speaks so much faster than the people in the North and they have a strong accent. I just could not understand. I don’t know. But I was still very happy. I didn’t care. I just felt like I’m going to start my new life here. I was excited and happy, and not scared at all. I was just excited.

So were you looking at other countries or was it just Spain?

After I graduated high school, I needed to pick a college in China and I just didn’t feel like I wanted to go to college in China. So one day I was just reading a newspaper, and there was something about Spain and contacting them to get more information. So I took it to my mom and said “How about Spain?” And she said “What?” So we went together to that place and they gave us more information about how this worked. I didn’t really care where I went. I just wanted to go out of China. Japan, USA, Korea, France … but I just saw Spain just accidentally.

So you got there and everyone was speaking fast. What was the hardest part of moving to a new country?

I think the hardest part in the beginning of course is the language. You cannot understand them really well but you really want to talk with them and get involved in that culture. But little by little. The most difficult thing I think is missing your family. Because I’m the only child for my parents, I just missed them, I missed my girlfriends and everything. But when I first got to Spain, I was so excited and I didn’t miss them much. But year after year of living there, because I lived there for five years, I just missed them … Also in Chinese culture, family is so important. Every year I have two months to spend with them. The summer vacation. The winter vacation is very short, so I didn’t go back to China.

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So what did you learn from moving to Spain? What did it teach you?

I really think that that five years was the most important. It was very important for me because I’m just a normal Chinese girl looking for a good college and good job. Going to Spain totally changed my life. If I had never been to Spain I would have never met Daniel, I would never speak Spanish and I would never meet so many people from different cultures. It was just so cool. It made me feel special and unique.

That’s cool! What did you learn from the people you met from other cultures?

I think most of them were very friendly. It was really cool to get to know their culture … It is so easy to get in contact with people from other cultures because the city where I was living, Malaga, it’s a really popular place for people to have vacation because the weather is so good. The people … European countries are just so close. My classmates were Spanish or from other European cultures. Everybody was really friendly and normal. Before I was really shy so I just thought the people from other cultures might seem totally different but they are the same. They just look different. Bigger nose, bigger eyes, taller … but they are the same. I don’t know.

How did you meet Daniel?

On Facebook. So I think it was my third year of college and I was cooking in the kitchen. One of my friends was playing with my computer. I had my Facebook up because I would post things sometimes. Daniel and I had added each other a couple of months ago, but I never paid attention to that. Daniel always told me I sent the request. I’m not agreeing but I don’t know. So that day Daniel sent me the first message while I was cooking in the kitchen. My friend, her name is Gloria. She’s a Chinese girl and was playing with my computer. She says “Che you have a message.” I say “What’s the name?” And she said “Daniel.” I was trying to think of all my Facebook friends … Daniel, Daniel, Daniel. I said “I don’t know who it is.” It didn’t matter because I was cooking. She just came over for dinner and a girl chat, so I said I don’t know who it is, so nothing happens.

The next day I checked out all of Daniel’s pictures and think “Oh, this guy is cute!” So I started to get back to him. I don’t remember what I said like “oh hi, how are you? Last night I was cooking.” And so we started to talk every day. We had six hours difference between the US and Spain, so every day I remember I would talk with Daniel around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. That’s maybe Daniel’s 3, 4 p.m. So every night I would just go to my room to talk with Daniel. I was so excited. We were in love, I don’t know.

So after three or four months was my summer vacation. I told you I had two months. So I lied to my parents and said I could only go back home for one month. I said I had an activity at the college. I needed to go back to Spain. My family is super open and they said “Okay, fine!” So actually I prepared all the documents before I went back to China because I needed a visa. Chinese people, we need a visa. So I got a visa and I flew back to Spain and then to the US. It was my first time coming to the US.

So you came to the US to meet Daniel?

Yes. That day I got here, I had no idea. I had never met Daniel before in real life. Daniel wore a T-shirt sweating with sandals and gave me big hug. I would have passed him because I was not wearing my glasses. Daniel’s roommate had brought bed bugs into their apartment and he was trying to fix that because he knew I was coming. He wanted to prepare the apartment. He still lived in an apartment close to UC. I didn’t care, though. He still looked cute. First I was so nervous. We were talking with each other for a long time. So I met Daniel that day and in that situation.

So were you guys officially a couple then?

After one week Daniel asked me in his room. I remember it very well. He asked me “Do you want to be my girlfriend?” Because Daniel’s American, I never had contact with American people that much. So before I came, I did some research on American relationships. So I read that in America, it’s really normal to date with someone. You can date with this girl today and this girl tomorrow. It does not matter because you just date. But if you have a relationship, that’s different. If you have a relationship, you cannot date this other girl. So in the beginning we just dated. After that, Daniel asked me to his girlfriend, I thought I was official. So we became boyfriend and girlfriend after one week, I guess.

But you guys were chatting for a while?

Yeah e-mails. I saved all my e-mails and I think it was like 100 pages in e-mails.

Oh my gosh! And you guys were both communicating in Spanish.

Yes in that moment, all Spanish.

How did that feel? It was your third year, so I guess you could speak Spanish pretty well.

Yeah I was doing very well in Spanish. Daniel in the beginning was a little surprised because I was an exchange student and he was studying in Spain for nine months in the North of Spain. He had maybe a couple Chinese classmates and he always felt that Chinese people were very shy. They don’t speak Spanish in public or speak very well. But he was so surprised that I spoke better than him. He thought I was special … maybe that’s why he was crushing on me.

(laughing) Who knows.

I don’t feel anything because for me talking in Spanish is very normal. I was with Spanish people every day. I went to school, talked with my roommate, with my landlord … everybody. Daniel I think felt a little different because he only spoke Spanish with me in that moment.

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Che being a cat mom

When did you know you wanted to marry him?

I think it was very natural for me that we were going to get married because we were so in love. Every time, I’m telling you every time when I left, because I would always come to the US for breaks and holidays, every time I cried and Daniel cried. So I think we were so in love.

Was there a moment though?

I think in the very beginning when I first came to the US and we went to Charleston, that was my best memory.

Charleston, South Carolina?

Yes. Oh, so good! Because Daniel reserved a big room for just us and he opened these big doors and from the balcony you could see the ocean. It was the summer, there was music and downstairs was a swimming pool. I just felt like “oh my gosh! I think I could marry this guy!”

What has it been like moving to the United States?

It’s so different. Sometimes I feel frustrated because I always say I’ve traveled to a lot of different countries a lot. And every country is different … culture, food, weather. They never gave me the same feeling like America gives me. I just feel like the USA is really hard to handle. I don’t know. At times I really miss my family or I feel down. I just miss my family. I met Daniel really late in my time in Spain. But in the beginning I had to do everything by myself, so I didn’t feel like I needed help from someone else. I had to do that because no one was helping me because I was there by myself. But when I moved here I knew my fiance was here. I was not trying to do everything by myself because I knew he was going to help me and that his family was going to help me. So I kind of rely on them. It’s a different feeling. And this country is so different. Like I don’t know … everything. I spoke with someone else and they said “No, America is just like a European country! The people are just different.” I said “No, America is different. It makes me feel different.” I’m trying, really. I’m trying my best to get involved with this country and this culture and make myself feel happy.

Yeah, what has been the hardest part about moving to the US?

I just don’t feel … It’s just hard, the culture. Everything. Everywhere you need to drive. I don’t feel very free or flexible. Everything is great. You can go to the grocery and get everything. But I feel like nobody is walking outside. Just maybe in the morning some are running. It’s just not …

Do you find that the people are friendly?

Yeah! The people are extremely friendly! I don’t feel like people are racist to the foreign people because everybody tells me that this is an immigration country. Everybody’s from a different country before. So everyone treats me very nice. I like that so much. You guys do better than European people, at this point. I think it’s really hard to say which part makes me feel different. It’s just different. I’m still discovering the best way to handle this country.

Well and I think you’re right. In Spain, you would go outside and there are people laughing and dancing. You don’t always have that in the United States.

Yeah! I would go to the center of Malaga, the city I lived in, and it was very easy. I knew all the bus lines. For example, right now I know how to drive to Kenwood but I never feel good about driving to Kenwood by myself. I don’t know why. I know which high way I need  to take and I know which exit I need to take, but every time I feel a little scared. I always want Daniel to stay with me. I don’t like that. I hate that. I still need time to be like how I lived in Spain where I could do everything by myself, no problem.

And you’ll probably get there.

I will, I just need more time.

What do you miss most about China?

My family, my girlfriends and the food. The food actually is fine because I can make something similar, but my family and my girlfriends are really the biggest part that I miss about my city. I can go shopping with them, I can do yoga with them, talking and gossip … I miss that.

What surprised you the most about the United States?

I don’t know. For Chinese people, the United States is a very cool culture. We watch a lot because you guys do such a great job with movies and TV series. I just thought like “oh, the people are so cool!” Coming here it really is true! Like you guys have drive-throughs. I know it’s so normal and a tiny thing, but for me at the beginning I said “oh, this is so American!” Or you guys watch football and are so passionate about it. Something so similar to what I would watch on TV. It surprised me.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I can say that I’ll probably be a mom, and a more independent and confident woman.

What was it like growing up in China?

I had a very beautiful childhood because my dad and my mom gave me the greatest freedom. It was very normal. I went to school. In China it’s so modern now and it’s growing so fast, but I just had a very happy life.

Was it just you and your parents?

Yes, because I’m an only child.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions that people have about China here in the US, or Spain too?

Every time people tell me things they think about China, I feel like they are so stupid. They must not watch the news. Because if you go to China, it’s just like the USA, I’m telling you. It’s totally true. And China is not like the North of Korea. Not at all. There are big cities, people are so open. The city and country looks great. Of course we have many farmers, but I lived in the city. The people who live in the city are just like here, I think. It’s really modern.

So people think it’s different when it’s really just like the United States?

Oh people think it’s still just like 15 years ago how the people would never have power to show their opinions. I feel so free and so happy the 20 years I was living in China.



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