Nahara and her year back in her home

nahara3In June, I spent some time in Nicaragua and made a few friends. Nahara was one of them. She was actually born in Nicaragua but immigrated to the United States when she was seven with her family. She just graduated college and plans to become a doctor. However rather than jump right into medical school, she decided to spend a year back in the country she was born in. She is currently working with an organization in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Her extended family lives several hours away and she visits them every so often. 

Name: Nahara Saballos
Age: 22
Location: Matagalpa, Nicaragua; grew up in Brooklyn, New York

So you are spending a year in Nicaragua doing volunteer work. What made you decide to do that?

Well I studied abroad in Botswana when I was in college and after that experience, I definitely knew that I wanted to do global health. I am in the pre-med track, so health really does matter, but international health is really important too. One of my passions is to travel the world and see new things, and learn about different lifestyles and people. So I decided that I wanted to take a year off from school and do something that I wouldn’t get a chance to do later on in my life. So before starting medical school, I decided to take a year off. I didn’t know where to go. I was considering other countries but then I decided on Nicaragua because I left when I was seven and I’ve only been back twice before this trip. It’s usually been like family vacations and seeing family but not really appreciating it or understanding a lot of the culture. I wanted to come back and get a full understanding of where I’m from, where my family is from and where I grew up.

So what was that like? Do you have memories of your first seven years here?

nahara blackdressI have very few and they’re more like snapshots, photographs and stories that I heard as I was growing up. I have like very few memories when I was a kid but I do know that I liked it and I liked it mostly because most of my family is here. I think it’s something that’s so valuable that people in the states might not think about or take for granted because their family is there. Growing up in New York and only having my parents and my older sister makes me appreciate having other relatives. It’s something that I really appreciate being here, reconnecting with family, getting to know younger generations of my family and also all of my aunts and uncles.

What was that like when you were seven and first arriving in the United States?

I think a lot of those memories are blurry because of a little bit of trauma. It is a traumatizing experience entering into a new environment that you’re not familiar with at all and that you don’t understand. It’s a completely different language anda completely different way of growing up. I do have some memories of being in bilingual classes and loving the first half of the school day when it was all in Spanish, and then getting to the second half when it’s in English and not understanding anything and just crying. I’m a crier. I remember that. It’s not usually positive memories.

You were probably like what happened? Why are we here?

Well I understood why we were there. My dad had left when I was one. He left for the states in 1994. He got a visa and overstayed his visa. Then eventually got all his legal papers worked out. Once he became a resident of the US, he was able to ask for my mom, my sister and I to come to the states. So I like understood we were in New York because we were there to reconnect with my dad, and live with my dad and be a family. I also knew .. since you’re a kid, it’s ingrained in your brain that the United States is better, so I knew that we were going to have a better life. But it was still hard on me.

So do you remember a time when it sort of clicked or you had your first time where you were like “I kind of like it here!”?

I mean I think it’s like getting used to anywhere else. I don’t remember there being a time. I just remember it being like well, this is life and this where I’m living. After awhile, it didn’t seem so foreign to me. I assimilated pretty quickly. As you can tell, I don’t have an accent at all. Also culturally, I’ve attended boarding school and I’ve attended a private US college. I’m pretty f-ing privileged. A lot of it has been because I’ve been involved in organizations that have helped me academically. That has been really supportive because it’s not easy being Latino and it’s not easy being a woman of color trying to get through school. Especially in New York. But I’ve had a lot of support along the way.

nahara 9So now how does that feel? You’ve experienced a lot of priveledges. You feel pretty Americanized and now you’re back in Nicaragua. How does that feel culturally?

It’s a little bit strange because in the states I feel like I’m neither of these things. I’m not fully Nicaraguan and I’m not fully American. Then when I’m here, I feel like I am both of those things especially when I’m with other American volunteers who aren’t Nicaraguan. I feel like well I am American because I have a lot of these customs and traditions, or just habits that I really enjoy about the states. But I’m also Nicaraguan because I have family here and I have a support basis here. I really do enjoy eating gallo pinto because it’s so delicious and it reminds me of my mom’s cooking. So it’s been interesting that in the states I felt like I had nothing and here I feel like I’m a combination of both worlds. I’m trying to get those worlds to meet in a peaceful way. I feel like as I was growing up, it was easier to just reject being Nicaraguan. Not fully reject it, but focus more on my life in the sates. But now that I’m here and I’ve had this experience, I feel like I might go back and try to integrate being Nicaraguan more with my life in the states.

How do you see that looking like when you get back?

I’m not really sure. I haven’t really worked on that yet because I’m not there yet. I feel like I would definitely be more open about my experience as an immigrant and my experience as a Nicaraguan to my friends and other people that I know. Also just being more willing to share my culture with others because I think that for a large part of my life, I was just trying to get by and just be like anybody else. But now I’m like this really does make me unique and interesting. It’s something that add’s to another’s experience. It doesn’t take away from who I am.

So you’re down here working for a public health organization. What has that work been like? You mostly work with women, right?

Yeah so I’m working with Fundacion Somos Asi Por La Paz y La Vida. It’s a brand new foundation. It was established about three years ago through the Skills to Save Lives project founded by Dorothy Grenada. Our main focus is training health promoters in the rural communities on skills that reduce violence such as domestic violence and also child abuse. Any type of violence you can think of in rural communities. Also health-wise, we focus on women’s health. We did a workshop on dental health that I was leading and my housemate led a workshop on the prevention of cervical cancer through visual inspection of the cervix. So we’ve been focusing on that lately. Recently we’ve gone to Rio Blanco and Weslala for these workshops, and we’ve collaborated with Pronica which is a quaker organization. My work has been attending these workshops and then writing up reports on why these workshops are important to have, why they benefit our health promoters and the impact they’re having on these rural health communities, and then translating them into English for our American financial sponsors.

What sparked your interest in becoming a doctor and global health too?

nahara 8I’ve always wanted to become a doctor. I have an aunt who is a nurse and as a kid here, I used to play with her. We’d play house or hospital. My interest has always been there. As I was growing up, my parents really supported me. They bought me books about anatomy, and anything I was interested in. Then as I was growing up and in high school, I ended up being a blood drive coordinator and continued that in college. I think what interests me the most is the combination of science and the human connection you have with others. So my interest for global health stems from my interest in anthropology, and studying other cultures and populations. I would like to combine anthropology and medicine into my future work. I think also having that experience from study abroad. I know that there is a large need for doctors in under-served, rural areas.

So study abroad. You went to Botswana. What was that experience like?

It was amazing, oh my gosh! It was definitely one of the best five months of my life. I was living in Gaborne, which is the capital of Botswana. Through CIE, we were able to really get to know the country and the culture. We took six weeks of Setswana (the language). We traveled. We spent a week in a rural village as a part of the community health program that I was in. We also traveled to the North where there are the best safaris in the world. During vacations I was also able to travel around to South Africa and Namibia and Swaziland. It’s just such a beautiful part of the world that is under-appreciated. Definitely not understood. There’s a lot of preconceived notions about Africa. It’s been good to call those people out and be able to explain it from my perspective. Like no actually Botswana is pretty well off. They have more BMWs than I’ve ever seen in my life, and they have diamonds. They have a really good industry.

Yeah theres misconception that all of Africa is really poor. What are some other misconceptions you get to call out?

nahara1Mostly the whole starving and poor idea. But the other one is AIDS. Everyone thinks that everyone in Africa has AIDS. Or when I say I studied abroad in Botswana, they don’t really know where that is. When I say Africa they’re like oh, you know Africa is a continent, not a country. So that was one. But going back to the AIDS thing, yeah Botswana does have a huge rate of HIV AIDS in the country, about a quarter of all adults are infected with HIV, and I’ve been able to explain to them that the government actually has really good funding for providing people with antiretroviral treatment. People are actually migrating from other countries into Botswana because they can get cheaper medication there.

So within global health, do you have any interest in working with HIV/AIDS?

I find HIV/AIDs to be very interesting, but I think my main focus would be women’s health. In the future I could totally see myself as and obstrician/gynocologist. But I really think talking about human sexuality in an open manner where we’re not stigmatizing women for having sex, where we can talk about contraception and understanding what it really means. It’s not an abortion. It’s actually preventing ovulation. I could see myself working more in women’s health but also sexual health education. That also has a lot to do with HIV and other STI’s.

How have you seen people in Nicaragua think and react to the idea of sexual health?

Well that’s complicated. Nicaragua is a really religious country. Most people are Catholic and therefore it’s not very accepting of the use of contraception. I think also you have to talk a little bit about machismo culture which affects contraception. Most of my work has been focusing in the campesino life and I did talk to one of my friends. She’s also working in the campo and she’s noticed that women don’t really have a right. If men want to have sex when they want to have sex … they don’t even think about women’s desires at all. So from that side of the story, women don’t really have any say in their sexual lives. Which can affect, for example, cervical cancer rates because they’re not using condoms and men are having sex with more than one woman. In Matagalpa, from what I’ve noticed, there’s a lot of cheating stemming kind of from the machismo culture.

So how do you feel when you see all this stuff?

It doesn’t make me super happy. It can be really frustrating to be here, to be a woman and to be catcalled all the time. To think about what I’m wearing and how that’s going to affect whatever goes on in the streets, to not feel safe. So I think about my own personal safety. It’s also frustrating to be in a country where women are so under-valued. It’s something I’m still trying to wrap my mind around. How can we fix this if it’s so intertwined into a culture?

What does being a woman mean to you?

I think I’ve learned from my mom that being a woman means that you have to be strong. Even though people don’t see us as very strong physically, I think women in Nicaragua and in the world have to endure a lot of things just to survive and get by. I think that being a woman to me means being resilient. Definitely a survivor. We are the backbone of community organizing. Any type of progress is usually carried out by women, even if they’re not noted as such. I’m really grateful to be a woman because there’s so much I can learn from other women here and from my mom.

Yeah, so what sorts of things has your mom taught you?

I think she’s defintely been a big influence in my life because my dad left when we were young, so she raised us for the first couple of years of our lives as a single parent. She’s always given us everything that she can. She’s definitely a hard worker. She’s just shown us that you have to be independent.

What’s been your proudest moment in life?

nahara blackdress 2I think my proudest moment must be graduating college. College was really tough on me. I went through a lot of ups and downs in college. I’m so proud of myself for being able to say that I graduated and that I did well. I did the best that I could.

I think another proud moment is just being here. It’s really hard to be on your own and it does get lonely. To be working for a foundation where a lot of people are older than me. It’s been a really tough four months but by the end of it, I’m going to be super proud that I could do it. That I could get myself involved with a different environment, different culture and different work than what I’m used to.

What have you found most challenging about being in Nicaragua?

Well since I’m Nicaraguan, I feel like the culture hasn’t been super challenging to get used to. But I think something very challenging is being lonely and not having my mom around. Not having my college friends, high school friends or home friends around. It’s just loneliness.

So why did you choose the dresses you chose?

I chose the white lace, which is what I wore to graduation, and I chose the black one that I wore to my senior party. They’re both very simple dresses but I also think they can represent intelligent women, powerful women and not having to cover up. Standing up for yourself showing that you can graudate from college or wearing this little black dress. Whatver you wear you’re still going to be an intelligent, respected and confident woman. I feel like the dresses represent a woman who can do it all.

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Small Business Saturday: Faith and the mobile spray tan

Last Monday, I jumped a bit out of my comfort zone. I got a spray tan and actually enjoyed the experience.

I’m a fair-skinned person who burns at least once a summer. I’ve never been to a tanning bed because of how awful they are for your skin. I just thought paying to damage my skin sounded rather … backwards? Spray tanning has become popular for just this reason. Faith Mueller,who we featured several weeks ago in Coffee with Faith: local entrepreneur and comedian, has decided to jump on this opportunity and start her own business called Cincy Spray Tan.

“It feels really good,” said Faith about starting her own business. “It’s something that I’ve always thought about and am really happy to do.”

In August, she started Cincy Spray Tan out of her home. Her business is totally mobile: she packs up all the spray tan equipment, travels to your home and gives you a spray tan in the comfort of your own abode. While there are other places you can go for a spray tan, Cincy Spray Tan is one of only two mobile spray tan businesses in the city.

The spray tan solution

“We’re becoming more and more a city of young professionals, so it’s a great place to start a business,” said Faith.

The spray tan solution simply reacts with your dead skin cells and never actually penetrates through the surface of your skin. Faith uses an eco-friendly brand of solution called Naked Sun which uses neat ingredients such as green coffee extract, strawberry and mango. Things like this assured the skeptic in me.

The lovely spray tan tent!

When I arrived at Faith’s house, everything was set up and ready to go. The entire set up could easily fit in a car trunk with some space to spare. First, there’s the spray tan tent in which the person stands in. The hose that actually sprays you is hooked up to this machine. You put the solution in the hose part at the top and it turns it to a sprayable tan. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but I was very pleasantly surprised.


Next, I stripped. Okay, not completely. I changed into a strapless bra and my undies. I can see why doing it in your own home works for this aspect. It can be awkward to just strip down for a stranger. I snapped a few before photos:

I’m so pale!


The actual spray tan experience was quite nice. It felt like a mixture of a hairdryer and a squirt gun. At times, it was just a tad cold. In all, it took maybe five minutes at the most. I was told not to shower for eight hours, so getting sprayed down at 5:30 p.m. really worked out.

DSC_0013Here you can see the before/after difference. I took this right after getting sprayed down. I just looked a little tanner all week, but not like a pumpkin. Spray tans last 7-10 days. Someone who maintains a spray-tanned look is recommended to get one every 10 days.

Want to try a spray tan? Faith offers discounted prices for groups, which is perfect for a bridal party. If it’s just you, it’s $50 per visit. However the price goes down to $40 for 2-3 people, $35 for groups of 4-7 and $25 for groups of 7 or more. Also, with bridal parties of four or more, the bride gets her’s for free. Kind of the perfect gift for a bachelorette party! Also, you can get these prices if you buy in bulk. So if you’re a person who gets a spray tan regularly, buying them in bunches of 7 will save you 50% in the long run!

Want to learn more about Cincy Spray Tan? They’ll be at LA Fitness in Oakley (4700 Margburg Ave. Cincinnati, Ohio 45209) next Thursday, November 12th, from 4-8 p.m., offering half off spray tans. So if you want to try it but are not sure about spending $50 on something new and different, come out to LA Fitness. Also, they’re doing some giveaways. Every 50th person who signs up for their giveaway (you don’t even need to get a spray tan) gets a free spray tan.

Also, you should check out their Facebook and Instagram!


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My Closet: Taylor’s world of dresses

I met Taylor on a sunny day in the College Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati last Sunday. While the leaves had mostly all turned to fall colors and left the trees, the weather was quite puzzling. Yet when you had planned a photoshoot with dresses as your main focal point, you’re not complaining! So last Sunday I headed to Taylor’s house in a nice, quiet College Hill neighborhood for a little chat about her favorite dresses. I really had a great time. This is what she picked for her five favorites.

Taylor’s best friend dress

TaylorThis is the dress Taylor wears most often. Some days she wears it with a cute pair of sneakers like we see here and other times she dresses it up with some heels. She’s worn it both for an evening out and for just a more casual day. A true little black dress if there ever was one

“If a dress could be your best friend, it would be this one because I wear it so often,” she said.

I dig how simple and also comfortable this dress seems. I also am a fan of pairing sneakers with dresses. People should do that more often. With this dress, it just seems to work.

The sexy dress

One of the many reasons why I love writing about women is learning about the common struggles we share and giving voice to them. Taylor admitted that this dress is a bit sexier than she usually goes for with the low neckline and exposed back. She said for a long time, she struggled to see herself as sexy or beautiful. I know I and many other women can relate. After all, we are our own worst critic. Furthermore, we compare ourselves to others constantly and we just need to stop.

This dress is a bit sexier than her other dresses, and for that reason, she loves this it. I love what this dress symbolizes for her. She said in the past few years, she’s really been coming around to simply loving herself. I know many of us can relate to the struggle. All I have to say is that this just looks amazing on her!


The bold dress


This dress was found at Kilimanjaro African Heritage on Ludlow Ave. in Clifton. In the past, Taylor would shy away from more bold and vibrant prints. These were things she always wanted to wear, so now she’s branching out and embracing it. She said she loves this store and that she can celebrate her African heritage through her style. Also, if you have not had the chance, you should definitely check out Kilimanjaro African Heritage. They have all kinds of neat jewelry and pieces.

The Birthday dress

TaylorBirthdays are one of Taylor’s absolute favorite things. In fact, she’s adamant about gathering her friends together to celebrate. She loves them so much that she even celebrates half birthdays, which she celebrated recently. This dark blue dress, however, was from her last birthday birthday, which she spent in Chicago with some friends.

The formal dress

When Taylor began studying at NKU, she wanted to be a music major, focusing on voice. I have seen a video of her singing, and it is amazing. However life took a different turn, and she ended up with a music minor. All majors are required to give a senior recital. While she was not required to do so as a minor, she wanted to. This is the dress she wore for the performance. Now she has a formal dress on hand if she ever needs it. 

Overall, Taylor’s style is about what she likes and what she’s comfortable in. I love how she just wears what she wants. Thanks Taylor, for letting us take a peek at your style!Taylor

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2015 Halloween recap

Good evening friends. As we settle into November, we’re trading pumpkins for sweaters, turkeys, Christmas lights, ornaments and festive jingles on the radio. The holiday season has arrived. Yet let us not forget Halloween and how much fun it was. As I scrolled through my social media newsfeeds, I saw many amazing costumes. Several friends have allowed me to post their costumes. So this is a little look back at some of the dress costumes of 2015.

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Lauren the activist


I met Lauren a little over a year ago when we were both hired to do voter empowerment work for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. Lauren and I are like-minded in so many ways, so we’ve naturally stayed friends since. Lauren is passionate about social justice and puts her energy towards making the world a better place. I’m honored to consider her a friend and am excited to see where life takes her.

Name: Lauren Gabbard
Age: 24
Location: Northern Kentucky
Occupation: AmeriCorps Vista Member at Kentucky Campus Compact

Describe to me where you are in life right now?

Well I just graduated (from Northern Kentucky University) with a degree in political science and economics. It was a really fun time. I got involved in a lot groups like Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (a grassroots social justice organization based in Kentucky), Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, environmental initiatives and things like that. I really kind of found myself as someone who cares about justice, activism and community organizing.

What are the things that prompted you to seek those organizations out?

DSC_0014So I guess from a young age, I noticed that things that have motivated me in my life have been injustice. When I see a situation that’s not fair or people being oppressed for certain reasons, it gets me really worked up. I’m like “We need to do something about it! That’s not fair! It shouldn’t be happening.” So when I was younger it was more about poverty issues and then as I got older it was more about issues of race, gender, class and sexual orientation. I really like to stand up for people’s rights when they’re being violated. I also focus a lot on international issues of poverty. For now I really want to get involved in activism, community organizing and national issues. Eventually I want to maybe be doing policy research on the international political economy. Like learning about the legacy of colonization and how it forms that global economy today. Or learning about the global food system and different exploitations that are happening for our benefit.

So was there one particular thing that prompted you to look into issues of poverty?

I was motivated when I learned that places were really poor compared to us. Like people don’t have a bed, they don’t have food, things like that. So I was really just motivated when I found out about the rest of the world as a child.

How do you feel like you’ve grown as a person through college and your involvement in activism?

DSC_0010I really went from someone who always felt on the defense on political and social issues, to someone who feels confident and assertive about myself, my identity and standing up for issues. Before it was like if the entire class is against gay people and I’m over here like “I have gay dads and I’m bisexual and my brother’s asexual, you’re hurting my feelings.” I’ve had the whole entire class argue with me many times through high school and a little bit in college. Instead of getting really worked up about that and going home and crying, I now for one don’t feel like it’s my job to educate every person who I come across. There are some people in the world who are always going to be against you. That’s fine. You can’t convince them all. But also I feel like I’ve gained support from people who feel the same way as me and I’ve gained confidence just to be able to talk about these things more. I guess I’ve just really gained confidence to stick up for what I believe in and knowledge to kind of put that in the right outlets. Me getting in arguments in class and getting worked up does nothing, but me going and volunteering with KFTC or IJPC can do a lot. Me directing my career goals to policy research that I hope will help people will also do a lot.

What was it like in those moments in high school? How did it feel when you felt like everyone was against you?

Not good. You don’t have support from your classmates, you don’t have support from the teacher and the debate is framed against you. You being so young and not having all your thoughts or facts in order, you can’t really lay out your argument. It feels awful for instance if you know something is very homophobic but I can’t conceptualize or verbalize why, and then someone is trying to argue around you with semantics. You’re just sitting there like “I know how I feel is right and you’re just making me feel so wrong.”

Honestly I don’t like to dwell on that because I’ve come such a long way from feeling like that. I haven’t felt like that in years and that feels great. It’s such a relief. Now I do have the knowledge to lay out an argument. I’ve read a lot, so I’ve weighed in on a bunch of different opinions on a bunch of different issues. So I’ve learned to communicate different opinions. And I’m able to take in and accept other people’s arguments even if if I don’t agree. I’m able to go “I see what you’re saying, but if you think about it this way, it might frame it differently for you or the both of us.

So you have what some consider a “modern family.” Your parents are split up, and your dad is openly homosexual with a husband. What’s that been like? How old were you when your dad came out and what’s that been like?

DSC_0005I was in the eighth grade when my dad came out of the closet as gay. It was weird because we didn’t know any gay people before that but it wasn’t like we were grossed out or thought it was wrong. We were just like “oh, that’s different.” He started dating Roger and now they’re married. They got married in 2010. So we have our step dad and our dad. So I have my gay dads who live in DC and then we live with our mom since they moved to DC.

And they seem to get along.

Yeah so my parents definitely get along. I think the first few years after the divorce, they didn’t like each other. But they had to keep seeing each other because of us. My parents get along really well now. When my dads come to visit, they stay at my mom’s with us. We’ve even gone on one or two vacations all together as well.

You also identify as bisexual. What was the process of coming to that realization like?

Everything is so heteronormative, for a long time I thought my attraction to women was just aesthetic. I thought women were beautiful and I talked about how I thought they were beautiful all the time. I could feel myself being drawn towards women but I did not realize it was romantic or sexual until I was like 20. And then I was just on Tumblr one day scrolling through and I just stopped on this image of a woman and thought “oh my gosh, I’m attracted to her!” It just felt natural. It just made sense. Like “oh, I’m bisexual. That just feels right.” It wasn’t like some huge revelation or anything like that.

I think too bisexualism is something that is so hard for people to understand. Everything in society is so one or the other gender. So to be someone who is attracted to both, people just don’t get that. People think “oh, are you just this until you come out as gay?” What do you say to that?

DSC_0007I’ve had people say like “can’t you just pick one?” That’s really heteronormative. You have to either be the girl or the guy, or just straight. In the bisexual community, we define it as being attracted to the same gender and at least one other. So there’s more than two genders. A lot of people transcend the gender binary or fall somewhere in between. Really it’s like “no, I don’t have to pick one.” I can be attracted to women and other genders.

So you’ve got a lot of good stuff going on right now. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?

Right so I’m doing an AmeriCorps Vista term right now and that’s been really great so far. Within five years, I’ll probably go back to graduate school, maybe in DC, maybe in Europe … who knows. I could go anywhere in the country. I’m hoping to do a program with the international political economy that really focuses on politics and economics in an international context. I really would like to target exploitation of land, labor and resources. I just feel like our American and Western multi-national corporations have the ability to around the world and set the price. They have the ability to exploit people for resources and labor. I feel like a popular movement of equality is great, but targeting the policies and the rules that they play by is also really essential. I feel like that gets skipped over by a lot of activism.

What does being a woman mean to you?

Being a woman to me shows that I have a support structure for things that were making me uncomfortable throughout my life that I didn’t know about before. For instance, being made fun of for certain things in elementary school or issues of violence. I’ve had some violent experiences in my life at the hands of men and just knowing that were all in this together. Women have not always been oppressed and it means that we don’t always need to be. It’s a good part of my identity. I will hang out with pretty much any woman. You don’t have to be on your guard. But a man, you don’t know if they’re going to say something really sexist or try to hit on you inappropriately.

Being a queer woman or a bisexual woman makes me feel like I belong to this legacy of awesome women throughout history that I can always band together with.

You’re right. Women are incredibly relational, so it makes sense that we all band together. 

So, how do you feel when you put on a dress?

Cute (laughs). It makes you feel good, it makes you feel confident. Dressing your best is great. Either your really fashionable and your vilified for that, or you’re really not fashionable and you’re vilified for that. It’s like you can’t win either way as a woman, so you might as well do what makes you feel good. So dressing business casual makes me feel good.

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Small Business Saturday: Emma and the 360 Video

Emma in her Halloween costume with a 360 camera!
Emma in her Halloween costume with a 360 camera!

What if I told you that there are true 360 degree videos out there? All you do is view such video on your smart phone and with the simple touch of your fingers, you can literally turn in a 360 degree circle and view all the things that would normally be lost behind the cameraman. With the ability to move around, and look up and down, it feels as though you are actually there in the middle of the action. What if I also told you I know someone who makes said videos? Well I do! Meet Emma Mankey Hidem, owner of Experience360.

Emma’s story is about a big leap of faith. Prior to starting Experience360, she worked as a film maker. After studying film at NYU, she landed her first job working for a successful documentary film maker. Since then, she has always had a full-time job doing what she loves. However she was itching for more.

“If I didn’t make the leap, my side projects would be just that: SIDE projects,” Emma wrote in a blog post she published back in August about why she quit her job to chase after her dreams.

In her last full-time film job, she worked with a company that documented college football. This is where she initially became familiar with this style of video. They would put the camera in the middle of the field as the players rushed in. Having a 360 degree video in that setting provides the viewer with such a neat perspective. Emma felt like this was such a unique product that could really be viable. This was an opportunity she was really excited about, so she seized it!

emmaStarting out, it has been challenging to market the technology as it is new and many people do not know about it. It is a hard thing for people to understand and you can only experience it in full on the right device. When I first viewed one of her videos, I was on a desktop computer and very confused as to why things looked so odd. It was only when I switched to viewing the videos on my phone that I saw the technology for what it was. I was for sure impressed. The technology truly does sell itself, once you can fully experience it.

Through Experience360, she’s had some amazing experiences.

“Never did I think I would get to be a football field with 80,000 screaming fans as the team runs out,” remarked Emma.

Her favorite part, however, is the joy her work brings to others. People react very positively to the technology. They go nuts for it, in fact.

“I love giving people an experience that they wouldn’t be able to have in the real world,” she said.

She is very adamant about creating quality 360 degree videos. The most important factor in this is camera location. Some people are a bit more passive and put the camera off to the side. Not Emma. She described herself as fearless in regards to making sure the camera is placed in the center of the action, even if it might ruffle a few feathers. After all, you’ll really feel as though you’re there.

Emma is fearless both in camera placement and in her business in general. It takes a true badass woman to chase after her dreams. If you would like to learn more about Experience360 and consider their services for an event, feel free to click here. You can also learn more about the wonderfully talented Emma as a Multimedia Producer and read her personal blog by visiting

Also, you have to see one of her videos!

Small Business Saturday is our weekly feature where we talk with a unique female small-business owner. Women being badasses at their best!

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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.


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.



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


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.



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

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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