culture · international · life curation

Embracing The Year of the Ox

We recently saw the beginning of a brand new Lunar Year on February 12th. Somehow, I was a bit late this year, and I didn’t realize that the Lunar New Year occurred until two days after.

What can I say? It’s been a challenging year for all of us, and if I miss a couple of holidays, it’s only because this year has done a number on most of us.

Anyway, back to the Lunar New Year. I thought of the significance of this year’s animal, the ox. I reflected back on the last lunar year, the year of the rat. I think of mice and rats, and how these animals, while indicative of abundance (they are always in places with adequate food supply), can overconsume and leave desolation where abundance used to reside. I think the year of the rat, marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, was a collective wake-up call. We are abundant, but, as a society, we have taken too much from nature, and balance must be restored.

Enter the year of the ox. This hardworking beast of burden only consumes what it needs to sustain itself, and it’s purpose for existing is to produce through manual efforts. Unlike rats, whose body waste is toxic and often spreads disease, oxen are useful all the way down to their fecal matter, which can fertilize and restore balance to the soil. The ox is sturdy, reliable, and work-oriented. It is the animal that’s most representative of the attitude we need in these times.

I think this year will be a year of restoration and balance. Life will get back to normal, more or less, but what is considered baseline normal has changed. We’ve had roughly one year to stay close to home, spend more time doing domestic activities, and to closely examine what matters to us. Now, we have our work to do.

It’s time for us to produce. We’ve been incubating our skills and talents during lockdowns and quarantines: now is the time to put out into the world what we’ve been creating during our downtime. And yes, I understand that many of us were too stressed and otherwise limited to “create” in the traditional sense. But, our creations need not be tangible: they can be our musings, creative nudges or even inklings of necessary change in our personal lives or in society. We have all created “something” in the past year: now it’s time to unleash it.

May the year of the ox give you great favor and lead you closer to a wonderful existence.

That’s all for today. I’ll talk to you all tomorrow. Take care!

culture · international · life curation

What Stepping Away From Royal Duties REALLY Means

Happy Monday, friends! I don’t know about you all, but the past few days have been wonderful. The weather is becoming milder here on the East Coast, and COVID-19 seems to be FINALLY decreasing. Let’s hope that these good things continue!

Recently, I read Buckingham Palace’s statement on Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan and their decision to step away from royal duties. As a result of this decision, they will be stripped of their royal patronages. This could not have been easy for the Sussexes, as they have made service a crucial theme in their personal and professional lives. In particular, I think of Prince Harry, who, as a result of this decision to step away, will have his honorary military titles removed. This must have been a very painful outcome for this proud veteran, who dutifully served the Crown for ten years.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (Photo as shown on People Magazine [Karwai Tang/WireImage])

As painful as it must be, I am so happy for and proud of this couple. There is far more at stake with this decision that simply losing titles and patronages. The decision to step away from royal duties is the decision to forge a brand new path. No one so close to the Crown has opted to become a private citizen since Edward VIII, and we all know how much of a crisis that caused. This is truly untrodden ground, as the world that we know today is quite different from the one occupied by Edward VIII and his beloved, Wallis Simpson.

The decision to step away, closing the door leading to life as a royal, has opened a myriad other doors for the couple. Walking away made it possible for them to create Archewell, a revolutionary media company that will distribute the content that the Sussexes want to bring into the world. The Archewell umbrella will also allow them to support causes that are near and dear, and will allow them to influence people in ways that they feel are most impactful, without the limitations imposed upon royals. Stepping away from royal duties will allow the Sussexes to step into serving on their terms.

Ultimately, this is what the couple truly wants to be known for: service that matters to them, and done in the way that they feel will do the most good. The Sussexes demonstrated this almost immediately after the Buckingham Palace statement was released, by supporting a Dallas woman’s shelter that was badly damaged by the devastating winter storms that slammed Texas last week. The unexpected act of kindness is the first public contribution made by the Archewell Foundation, and is likely a small preview of the many charitable acts that we can expect from Harry and Meghan in the future.

This entire discussion brings to mind the famous poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken. The poem references how the speaker, considering two paths, “kept the first for another day”, but he also knew well, “how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back”. I doubt that the Sussexes will ever decide to rejoin the royal family in the capacity that was expected of them, but their decision to step away is undoubtedly a choice full of promise and potential. They can make a bigger impact in the way that they see fit, and they can author a spectacular story that starkly contrasts anything that royal life could offer, yet remains true to them. That, I believe, is why they chose to step away, and that, to paraphrase Frost, will make all the difference.

beauty · culture · life curation · luxury

Five Easy Ways to Be More Like Meghan, Duchess of Sussex

Happy Monday, friends! I hope the beginning of your week is pleasant and everything that you need it to be.

Recently, I reviewed Archewell Audio, the podcast project started by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan. I’ve been fascinated with Meghan for quite some time: I love that she is graceful, elegant and intelligent, and she uses her influence to create positive changes in society.

As part of learning more about this brilliant woman, I read a bit about her and found that there are many things that she’s done to position herself as a woman of status and influence. I made a video highlighting five of those qualities.

The qualities I discussed are as follows:

  • Learn a foreign language
  • Take up a luxurious hobby
  • Eliminate or reduce meat from your diet
  • Wear blush
  • Start a blog

By engaging in one or more of these activities, you can live a little more like Meghan.

Do you have any Duchess-worthy tips? Let me hear about it in the comments below!

art · culture

The Scribe – Egyptian Keepers of Culture and Subjects of Timeless Art

I’ve started this post multiple times (and even accidentally posted it once or twice) but I struggled with putting this into words.

Until now.

A couple of years ago, I went to Virginia Museum of Fine Art (VMFA), my favorite local museum. I always try to spend a little more time in the permanent collection, so that I can be really familiar with the contents of the museum. On this particular visit, I focused more of my time on the Egyptian collection. I was struck by one particular piece.

Statue of Seated Scribe, Sema-tawy-tefnakht is more than 2500 years old, and appears just as wise and intuitive today as it probably did when it was first sculpted. The scribe looks toward the horizon, with a soft smile on his face and hands resting comfortably on his thighs as he holds a roll of papyrus. He appears to know a lot but, instead of it filling him with arrogance and an unapproachable energy, his face seems to invite you to ask questions that he will gladly answer. The piece is sculpted from alabaster, and still features the original text at the base, no doubt describing who he is and his role in the kingdom.

I loved, too, the plaque posted next to the Statue of Seated Scribe. The museum notes that being a scribe was often a hereditary role, with fathers preparing their sons for positions as bureaucrats for future pharoahs. It also touches on the significance of Thoth, the patron deity of scribes. Thoth himself was a scribe within Egyptian mythology, recording the judgments of human souls who had entered the afterlife.

What’s significant about this piece to me is the power held by a scribe. In the spiritual realm, it was believed that all information about whether a person would live in peace or eternal torment was captured by the scribe. It’s true, in a sense, that the “scribes” of today – journalists, novelists, memoirists, and the like – function much the same. We as writers keep the records of the actions of others, whether they be good, bad or neutral.

Another thing that really impacted me was the fact that this role was more than a job: it was an inheritance. Being the male child of a scribe meant that you were born into a legacy of being a gatekeeper of the empire’s history and secrets. This made me think of the children being born to us today: how many parents are preparing their children for their legacy? As a mom, I understand how overwhelmed we all are right now, with many schools being closed due to COVID. But what little things are we doing daily to prepare our children for the heavy roles they will have in the future, as responsible citizens, future artists and patrons, the builders and organizers of society, and possibly parents themselves?

It’s a lot to consider. I’ve been toying around with these ideas for years, which is why I knew I had to write this post. I’m just glad I finally got the words for it.

Anyways, that’s it for today. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, when I share with you all my amazing body balm recipe that is great for muscle and nerve pain. Take care, and I’ll talk to you soon.

art · culture · travel

Throwback Thursday Travel: China, Part 2

Happy Thursday, friends! I first posted about my trip to China several years ago, and then I shared a Throwback Thursday Travel post highlighting my time in Beijing. But my trip to China didn’t end with Beijing: I also traveled to Hangzhou and Shanghai. Today, I’m sharing some pictures from Hangzhou, my favorite city in China. I loved West Lake, and I learned that many Chinese citizens love Hangzhou for weekend getaways. It’s such a picturesque city: I can’t wait to return!

At The Ramada in Hangzhou: such a beautiful lobby!

Touring the Dream Town Incubator

At beautiful West Lake

Shopping at Hefang Old Street

Riding around in Hangzhou

Visit to a tea plantation

art · culture · luxury · travel

Throwback Thursday Travel: Las Vegas

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Sin City. What happens there, stays there. The Entertainment Capital of the World.

Of course, I’m talking about none other than Las Vegas, Nevada. I went there in November 2019, and I loved it! Much like last week’s Throwback Thursday Travel post, I think I’ll have to break this one down into two (or maybe even three!) posts to capture all of the things that I saw and did. However, for today, enjoy these pics from what is sure to be the first of many trips to Las Vegas.

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We’ve arrived!

For this trip, I rode with my friend from San Diego to Las Vegas. On the way there, we saw Seven Magic Mountains, a vibrant art installation that offers a striking contrast of color against the desert backdrop.

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I couldn’t get a good picture of Seven Magic Mountains, but I still loved it

I stayed at the luxurious Bellagio Hotel. However, staying at just one luxury hotel would be a disservice to yourself: there are so many exquisite hotels in Las Vegas, so why limit yourself to one? The next time I go, I’ll definitely try either the Venetian, the Waldorf Astoria (formerly the Mandarin Oriental) or Caesar’s Palace. Here are some pictures as we drove to the hotel, as well as photos of the pool and courtyard area.

Valeting at the Bellagio and views from my hotel window

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The entrance to the courtyard surrounding the pool area

The Bellagio’s pool area

My motto is ABS: Always Be Shopping!

Souvenirs for family members that enjoy novelty shirts

 

That’s all for today’s Throwback Thursday Travel post! Have you ever been to Las Vegas? How did you like it?

art · culture · travel

Throwback Thursday Travel: New Orleans

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Laissez les bons temps rouler! (Let the good times roll!)

I went to New Orleans in 2011, a few weeks after I got married. So, this trip was almost like a honeymoon, though we had an official honeymoon trip several months later.

I fell in love with the Big Easy, and I hope to return within the next year or so. However, I’ll be sure to visit during the cooler months: the summertime is unbearable hot! In any case, here are some of the pictures I snapped during my trip. Enjoy!

I loved seeing the street names in the sidewalk

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A souvenir shop on Canal

Fun in the French Quarter

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I wish I had a chance to go into Harrah’s, but we were having way too much fun taking in all of the sights

 

As I look through my photos, I realize this post really needs a Part 2. So look out for some additional New Orleans pictures soon.

Have you ever been to New Orleans? I’d love to hear all about it. Have a great Thursday!

culture · food · international

Snack Review: Mama Wu Mango & Sticky Rice Spring Rolls

While quarantined, I haven’t been enjoying takeout as much as I used to. However, I still enjoy trying new foods, especially snacks. So when I saw this food that combines two of my favorite snacks – spring rolls and Thai mango and sticky rice – I couldn’t resist. I had to try it!

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Mama Wu Mango & Sticky Rice Spring Rolls were easy to prepare. The rolls had a crispy exterior after baking, and I was excited at how the texture of the baked spring roll was similar to a fried roll. I was concerned that the roll would be a tad bit soggy, but it was crispy, crunchy and delicious.

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A perfectly crisp spring roll

Now, when it comes to the filling . . . Let me qualify this by saying I’ve had many different mango and sticky rice desserts. I’ve eaten at over a dozen different Thai restaurants in different cities and I usually have my mango and sticky rice at each one. So, I feel really comfortable saying that I know what the dessert should taste like. This interior was not as tasty as I’d hoped. It was especially chewy, and the mango flavoring wasn’t as prominent as I’d like. So the filling wasn’t as delightful as the exterior, unfortunately.

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The interior wasn’t as tasty as I hoped

Here’s the rub: I was looking forward to the filling more than the outside, yet the outside was the best part of the snack. But, I don’t think that this product is a complete fail: in fact, I can think of a few ways that it can be improved. First, the company should tinker with the rice recipe to see how to prevent the rice from getting too “tough” when baking. Also, a little more mango would be wonderful. Finally, this needs COCONUT SAUCE! These rolls practically begged to be dipped into a creamy, sweetened coconut sauce to amp up the flavor and to add a contrast to the crisp exterior.

Would I try this again? Sure, especially if I had my own coconut sauce (or if the company started including sauce with the rolls). I’d be sure to have some additional mango to accompany these rolls, too.

Have any of you tried these before? Or, do you have another Thai dessert that you prefer? Let me know all about it in the comments below!

art · culture · travel

Throwback Thursday Travel: Kenya, Part 1

Nairobi remains one of my favorite places on Earth. I wrote a while ago about my Kenyan adventures. Here are some few more pictures from that trip that I hadn’t shared before. I’m breaking this into two parts, because one day of my trip involved a trip outside of Nairobi (to my friend’s family farm) and there are pics from the Nairobi National Museum that weren’t shared in this post. Today’s post features pics from the farm. Enjoy!

This particular cow was my friend’s favorite on her family’s farm

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Just a turkey, minding his (or her) business

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Adorable piglets and their momma!

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Because the climate in Nairobi and the surrounding areas is favorable for gardening during most of the year, my friend’s family farm basically produced food year round.

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Lush views surrounding the farmland