I was thrilled to recently write a piece for Stylist, a British weekly women's magazine, on one of my favorite authors, Gillian Flynn. The magazine approached me out of the blue, and I hadn't done a sit-down interview in years. So I spent hours and hours preparing interesting, relevant questions. We met for an hour at a hotel in downtown Chicago, and I left the interview feeling all sorts of excitement and pride about what I knew would be a fun story to write. Read it here.
I took my first pregnancy test on a bright Saturday morning six weeks ago. It was positive. So were the next two I took on Sunday, just in case.Read More
Today I'm sharing my favorite local spots on Racked Chicago. Let's just say my picks include three of my favorite things: puppies, slushies, and pimento cheese. Thanks to my girl Lani Love for deeming my life interesting enough for this column—and for loyally supporting Fly DIY!
It's been nearly one month since the release of Fly DIY, and I'm still pinching myself over the positive responses I've already received. Some of my favorite media outlets and blogs (Design*Sponge, Racked, Country Living, etc) have deemed it worthy of coverage, and people seem to really notice the effort I poured into every page. I could go on and on about how grateful I am for the support, but let's move on to something super exciting!
Madewell, one of my favorite places to shop, took notice of the book and offered their space for a launch party tomorrow night!! I can promise the following: 1) a chance to make your own clothesline bowl craft in fall colors 2) cocktails, duh 3) delicious treats from Bang Bang Pie 4) discounted shopping 5) another chance to buy my book!
In preparation for the serious shopping I'll be doing, I pulled my favorite fall pieces from Madewell to wear while you travel: super comfy track trousers, a sweater that gives a shout-out to my first love, easy-to-slide-off snakeskin sneakers, a purse big enough for my magazines—plus a cool cuff and hat.
Come shop/sip/get crafty with me tomorrow night by RSVPing to firstname.lastname@example.org. It's a do or DIY—so don't miss out!
After nearly two months of hard work, I'm BEYOND thrilled to share my latest project with you! I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into this puppy, so I sure hope you like it. I was even lucky enough to find a photographer (Carolina Mariana) passionate enough to join me for the ride. Buying the book gives you access to 12 original projects for the road, and 10 percent of the proceeds goes straight to funding water projects in Africa. So what are you waiting for?! Go here to book your ticket.
If at first you don’t succeed, try again. And again. And again.
Eventually, you might just get something good. Maybe.
Striving to make something better than average sucks sometimes. The devil is truly in the details, which is a fact I find both exhausting and frustrating. But the result is generally worth the struggle. For this book, I knew I’d need to create a prototype for each craft, then likely make another version or two to get it right. What I didn’t anticipate? Making trip after trip after 25th trip to the craft/hardware/grocery store, and spending over $400 in supplies (more than twice what I’d budgeted for).
I began with a list of potential ideas, most of which I scratched off after giving them more thought. What if I made a journal out of paper grocery bags? Ehh, been done before. Plus, great, cheap journals already exist. How about a cool fanny pack-like thing for festivals? Too much work to make from scratch, and the pre-made cheap ones are ugggly. Tic Tac containers as bobby pin holders? Cute, but far from a new idea.
Eventually, I carved out nearly a dozen projects that I think complement one another and are truly fresh. In the process of creating them, I screwed up over and over. Too much paint, not the right glue, what-the-hell-was-I-thinking design (see above). I almost gave up, more times that I'll admit. But with my husband’s encouragement, I kept gluing, cutting, and painting. Because what do I really have to lose? And I’m sure I’ll screw up a bunch more before putting this thing out. It just takes this kind of editing process to make something worth sharing with the world.
As Oscar Wilde puts it, “experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” So come on, make them with me. I can't wait to see what happens as a result.
It's hard to believe that more than a month has passed since I returned from Malawi. As you can imagine, I have a bajillion thoughts, feelings, and reflections to share, but I'm saving them up for (hopefully!) a published story. My dream is that some publication/website will be so moved by my pitch email that they'll want to know more and share it with their readers.
It's all about patience and persistence, friends.
While I play this waiting game, I decided to do something more immediate for the families in Africa that I was honored to meet. At the encouragement of a few friends (hi Jessica and Dean!), I embarked on my own project with plans to give a portion of the proceeds to Watering Malawi. It's no secret that I love to craft—in particular, I love the idea generation part of it all. It's a skill I developed under the guidance of my former editor-in-chief, who had a crafty brain and the highest standards. Also, when you live on a permanent budget, knowing how to make your own stuff sure comes in handy.
Enter FLY DIY, an e-book full of projects inspired by my travels. Each of the 10 crafts I'm including is completely FRESH (ie, you won't see anything like it on Pinterest!), super CHEAP (I'm talking $1 you guys) and EASY. They're the perfect thing to do before you leave for a trip, and they're completely personal. The book will also feature some of my absolute favorite lady friends—all of whom happen to be successful independent business owners. I even convinced a fantastic local photographer to join forces with me. Check out some of her dreamy test photos below!
I'M SO EXCITED.
Is this terrifying to release my own e-book? YES. Do I worry that no one will buy it? OF COURSE. But I'm having the best time working on it. In the past, I used to wait for great opportunities to come my way. This time around, I'm trying to create the opportunities for myself. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your support, and I can't wait to start sharing some of the projects exclusively with you. Sign up for regular updates (the box is below the photos) so you won't miss out!
Today we drove 45 minutes south of Blantyre to the district of Thyolo for a meeting with TAYO, the Thyolo Active Youth Organization. On the way, we passed the country’s tea estates, filled with row upon row of perfectly manicured tea bushes. According to the Fairtrade Foundation, tea has been grown in Malawi since 1891, and Malawi is the second largest producer of tea after Kenya. We spotted pickers throughout the bushes, working tediously in the bright, hot sun.Once we reached the TAYO headquarters, the founders, Willird Mwambo and Titus Chipomba, updated us on the progress of Watering Malawi-funded school bathrooms and borehole wells. Colleen has worked with TAYO since 2009, and it’s obvious why. These guys have left no stone unturned, no question unanswered. They may be a small NGO, but they are smart and strong. They described the issues they face while completing various projects—headmasters demanding money from builders, village chiefs not getting briefed, parents committees and schools not cooperating—as well as the failures of play pumps (as tracked by PBS). They are problem solvers and take on the challenges with determination.
After their presentation, we headed out to see the work with our own eyes, first at the same primary school that Willie and Titus attended as boys. On our way, people waved when we drove by (“We might be popular around here,” they joked). Because of a broken well on the property, the school’s 3,000 or so students spent two long years without access to water. But with Watering Malawi funding, TAYO fixed the well. Hoorah! We did a little pumping ourselves, and even GoGo took it for a spin. The water came out rather easily, but we know these women and children have to do it 5-6 times a day, and then carry the water-filled buckets back home on their heads. (I make a mental note to stop complaining about carrying the laundry basket down a flight of stairs once a week.)We also examined bathrooms in the process of being finished, as well as ones already completed. The finished ones shine with white paint and fresh red bricks, and feature hand-drawn signs that differentiate the boys stalls from the girls. It just happens that nature called while we were at one school, so I snapped a photo for you to see my view. So nice and clean!We also learned the common rule for deciding if a child is ready to start school. Children less than six years of age actually can’t touch their ears when they reach their arms over their head. In a world with few calendars to mark birthdays, this is a practical measuring tool.Tomorrow will be our last day, so we plan to browse the markets and sightsee. It’s truly hard to believe how much we’ve seen, heard, learned, and experienced in a single week!
I’ve seen a lot of African schoolgirls this week, like this beautiful girl above. They’re vivacious, energetic, sweet. I can picture these kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, and my heart aches for them and for their families. Particularly disturbing are the reports that some have already been sold as child brides to Islamic militants. This deplorable practice is unfortunately very common. In fact, approximately every three seconds, a girl becomes a child bride.In Malawi, approximately 50 percent of all girls are married by 18; nine percent are married by 15. A child bride often stops going to school to become a servant to her husband, and she’s more likely to divorce, be widowed, or catch the HIV virus due to harmful traditional practices.
Why does this happen? Sometimes a father offers up his daughter for marriage to pay off a debt or earn a dowry, without the daughter having any say. Or a girl may be encouraged to sleep with a man to please him, and then she gets pregnant and feels forced to marry him.
A marriage bill has been written that would increase the legal age from 15 to 18, and President Banda pledged her support for it earlier in her term. But with the upcoming elections, the bill has been tabled.
So with Malawi’s girls on our brains, we’re anxious for today’s meeting in Blantyre with the Girls Empowerment Network (GENET). Founded in 2008 by a woman named Faith Phiri (pictured below with Colleen), this NGO works hard to support and educate girls around Malawi, particularly vulnerable, marginalized ones. Through the work of several grassroots programs, they aim to eliminate abuse and violence in girls’ homes, build self-esteem and confidence, and empower girls to make their own choices. Colleen first read about GENET’s great work in this NPR story. She hopes to find a way for Watering Malawi to partner with them on water projects directly impacting girls. In our meeting with their team, we discussed school bathrooms that were in terrible conditions, as well as programs like Keeping Girls In School. One aspect of this program is the distribution of free, washable pads to girls so they don’t have to use old rags, torn mattress foam, and even banana leaves anymore. Many misconceptions surround menstruation, and girls often skip school during that time because they’re embarrassed, uncomfortable, and their bathrooms are insufficient. By finding small solutions for problems like this one, GENET is changing girls’ lives, one by one.
You also might’ve heard of the “initiation camps” that occur in mostly rural areas, where elders in the community teach children false information about engaging in sexual activity at a young age. GENET has begun work to offer an alternative summer camp that teaches girls the truth about their rights and avoiding violence and abuse.
In the non-profit world, it’s a documented reality that if you give a man a dollar, he’ll spend it on himself. But give a woman a dollar, and she’ll spend it on her family. By empowering women to claim their rights, understand and embrace their bodies, and share their knowledge, you change the future for everyone.
After the adventures of yesterday, I felt ready for anything. But what I saw today and last night was mesmerizing. Why? Animals! So many African animals! Last night, we went on a night safari in the Liwonde National Park that overlooks a stretch of the Shire River. I felt like we’d been dropped into one of the nature shows my husband loves to watch.From our jeep, we spotted nocturnal animals like porcupines, plus more rare sightings of three bush creatures: a bush baby, bush pig, and bush buck. So many of these species were totally new to me, and we were seeing them in their natural habitat, rather than at a zoo. It was a beautiful thing. Did I mention the hippo mama and baby we saw just 20 feet from our car? That was enough to make Colleen and GoGo jump (hippos can be incredibly dangerous). The night ended with a bang when Amanda killed this poisonous baboon spider in our mosquito netting. She saved me!The fun continued the next morning as I dragged myself out of bed just after the sun rose for a private nature walk (with an armed guard to protect us from charging elephants and hippos). On the way, I was greeted my hungry warthogs and adorable veret monkeys. My guide, Duncan, filled my brain with dozens and dozens of facts about the trees, flowers, and animals—even elephant dung (which can be collected and used to make paper, among many things) along our path. How about this sausage tree, named for the fruit that hangs from it? Hilarious!The leaves and bark from certain trees are believed to help with fertility, strength, and a host of other health issues. One tree, the Moringa tree, is known as the Miracle tree, and you can even find Moringa powder in local pharmacies. After my walk, we took a boat safari along the river, spotting hippos, crocodiles, and fish eagles.And then Duncan spotted the most magnificent animal I’ve ever seen, the African elephant. He was in the bush, so Duncan cut the motor as we quietly floated closer. This park is home to more than 800 elephants, but you’re never guaranteed a sighting. We patiently waited for him to make a move, and when he did, all I can say is WOW. He moved so slowly, gracefully, and softly as he munched on grasses while a bird perched on his back. He knew we were watching him, and he gave us a great show.How do you follow up such an awesome experience? With another giant, beautiful natural creation! We didn’t plan on this one either. Our driver, Willie, had mentioned that on the way to Blantyre, there’s a tree with a root system that doesn’t end. We had to see it to believe it. It’s the only Banyan tree in Malawi, and it’s located on the campus of an Anglican school, so luckily, it’s protected. I couldn’t quite capture the tree’s size and beauty in photos, but it measures the length of two football fields. I can just imagine local children running through it, climbing, swinging, and exclaiming.