A Documentary: The True Cost

striped teesIf we’ve met or if you’ve ever seen a list of links on this blog then you might realize that I like clothing and I really like shopping. It’s therapeutic and fun and I honestly don’t need to buy something to feel the thrill of shopping around. I suppose it’s the gatherer in me, this desire to see what’s out there and available.

The other day I watched the latest exposé documentary about the fashion industry and it’s well-publicized cruelty to sweatshop workers and their families. It was heartbreaking and upsetting to say the least, and much like Food Inc and Blackfish, it’s made me re-examine my own thoughts and practices.

The True Cost, like it’s predecessors and contemporaries, relies on a shock-and-awe approach that can be heavy-handed. Indeed, in this film the scenes and first-hand accounts of horrors come one after another with barely a breather in between. It’s a lot to digest. And this can be a bit of a turn-off, but overall I thought director and narrator Andrew Morgan did a thorough job of suggesting the true cost of buying into fast fashion trends and companies is so large and vast that we cannot fully comprehend the damage we are doing to one another, the environment, the economy and so on. There’s a montage toward the end on the juxtaposition between Black Friday insanity and over-stuffed, over-crowded sweatshops that is truly chilling. I’d recommend watching the documentary and making your own conclusions.

IMG_4631I’m not suggesting that I stop shopping or suddenly purge my wardrobe of fast fashion offenders such as Zara and H&M, but I do think it’s always a good idea to re-evaluate habits and impulses. Do I really need something or do I have a case of The Wants? How many times will I wear or use an item? How does it fit in with the rest of my clothing? Where was it made? How was it made? Will it fall apart, or become a special piece?

The film also explores what happens to clothing that we donate or give away, citing that only 10% of those items are actually sold in charity shops and the rest are shipped overseas to third world or impoverished nations like Haiti. These countries, overwhelmed with Western-style clothing, have since lost some of their own traditionally sewing and weaving skills since they are no longer needed as much. Does my well-intentioned donation thus lead to the decline of a culture?

I can see how this logic can spiral out of hand and lead to a paralysis that resists change or introspection. It’s all very daunting. This desire to create and effect change feels akin to New Year’s resolutions: ideas that are so big that they are quickly abandoned in favor of old habits and relative ease. But, for now, it feels compulsory to at least examine my own impulses and see how I can make better decisions for myself, and hopefully, indirectly, others.

Here’s the trailer for The True Cost if you’re interested. I watched it on Netflix but you can find it through a lot of other venues as well.


(striped t-shirt image via)

Tuesday Book Club: NW

IMG_0552I’ve mentioned several times how much I love a character-driven novel, which made Zadie Smith’s novel NW a book I simply couldn’t put down. Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan grew up together in a council estate and have evolved into adults with varying degrees of success. Throughout the novel we get to know them, either just a little or quite a lot, and to be frank, not much really happens. There are a few plot points and we can feel the book move in a certain direction, but it’s rather introspective and I like it that way.

Smith’s writing is all about voice and perspective. Her ear for dialogue is impeccable and you’ll often find yourself having to read phonetically to make sense of a certain phrase or expression. Her characters and settings feel all the more rich for it. And while she is speaking to a certain city, a certain culture, in this novel—much like Aravind Adiga was in White Tiger—a lot of her criticisms feel universal and timeless.

I hiccuped and stumbled my way through White Teeth, her debut novel, five years ago and had been too intimidated to pick up any of her novels since then. She’s a complex author and I suppose I didn’t feel like doing the work. But, NW feels more accessible and I’d highly recommend it if you’re into character studies as I so obviously am.

What are you reading right now? I read NW while we were in Italy, as well as The Knockoff. When I go on vacation I like to bring a fluff book and something a little more literary and serious. I have to say, however, that The Knockoff was the fluffiest of fluff, almost unreadable. I hated it! ha! I know it was meant to be a gossipy of-the-moment beach read but it was so steeped in online culture and vocabulary that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes as the authors spent yet more paragraphs describing how Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other fictitious social media platforms worked. Furthermore, the characters were so flat and stereotypical that I found no enjoyment in either their successes or failures.

But, I have a hard time putting down a book once I start it so I pushed through it, finished it, and left it at the farmhouse where we stayed in Tuscany. Have you read it? What did you think? I wanted something light, but this was too far. Any recommendations on this front?

In case you’re interested, here is an interview with Zadie Smith about NW, and here is a great interview between Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who wrote Americanah, which I LOVED.


Italy: Two Days in Florence



IMG_9975It always feels overwhelming to come back from vacation and distill everything that happened over the last several days. I couldn’t even look through my photos until yesterday because that would require looking for a narrative thread that would give form to these blog posts. I prefer to hold onto the memories as something beautiful and personal for a few days before viewing them through the lens of family, friends, and blog readers.

But, I love digging through people’s vacation photos (both people I know and those only through virtue of the internet) so here they are! The first installment at least. We spent two and a half days in Florence with, oh, about three hundred thousand million other people. Remember when I talked about shoulder season and the beauty of traveling with less people? Well, not the case in Florence. Ever. It seems that there are maybe two months out of the year when that place isn’t swarming with outsiders. I can’t help but feel bad for the locals.

Nevertheless, we were there, hitting all the usual spots and few sneaky ones I remember from my study abroad days. It was pure pleasure to be back and revisit my summer there eight years ago. That trip really solidified my love for traveling and being abroad and it was a definite catalyst for my decision to be an au pair after graduation. It’s funny to think how my time there has impacted my life today.









IMG_9840Our flight from Zurich took less than an hour so we arrived in early afternoon to our Airbnb rental. It was in a great spot by the Ponte Vecchio in the Oltrarno neighborhood. I would highly recommend staying in this area, as it’s a bit away from other tourists (but not by much) and has a cool nightlife scene with lots of cozy outdoor wine bars and cafes.

After dropping off our stuff we headed right into the thick of things with a walk across the famed bridge and into the giant plaza outside Palazzo Vecchio. We checked menu prices to find a place to grab a drink and people watch but they are absolutely criminal. We ducked into a side street instead and grabbed sandwiches at I Due Frattelini, the famed hole-in-the-wall snack bar run by two brothers. I used to grab sandwiches here all the time and it was a treat to revisit this spot.

We then walked to a few other of my favorite haunts, including Santa Croce and The Lion’s Fountain, an Irish bar my friends and I used to go to on late nights (no judgment!). We spotted the massive, hugely impressive Duomo in between bites of gelato before making our way to see it up close.




There is no way around it, the Duomo is incredible. The size and scope, not to mention the incredible colors and details of the marble, are astounding. You’ll be rather surprised to find the interior is very conservative given the vast ornamentation outside. Nevertheless, it is a truly special sight that never gets old.

We walked around that afternoon and made our way to a little wine bar around the corner from our apartment, Le Volpi e l’Uva. They have a great selection of wines by the glass and lots of delicious snacks, which are perfect for an aperitivo. We stayed for a couple of glasses of Tuscan wine and then left for dinner, which was a bit of a disappointment. But at least there was wine : )




IMG_9879The next day we went to Mercato Centrale to peruse the hundreds of stalls that surround the building before making our way inside to ogle all the delicious foods. One could spend a good chunk of the morning admiring the colorful produce and watching in awe as a butcher cuts a bistecca fiorentina, a local steak specialty.

Upstairs you’ll find a dozen food vendors and communal tables. It was a perfect place to have lunch and rest our feet. I went bold with pasta but you can find lighter dishes there, as well as desserts and a shop selling items from Eataly.

We left with full bellies to continue walking around the winding alleys and streets. I did a little shopping, but mostly we walked and walked. And walked and walked. I must confess that part of that walking occurred in the Uffizi Gallery, which was packed. We pre-booked our visit, which I would recommend, though there doesn’t seem to make much difference during these busy times. I really like this museum and have been several times before (when I was there with my family we saw Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick–she’s as tiny as you imagine), but it was nice to see some of the masterpieces again. Like everyone else I was interested in revisiting some of Botticelli’s most famous works and they did not disappoint.






We stopped for ice coffees at Ditta Artigianale, which is just around the corner from the exit of the Uffizi. It sits on the corner of this very quintessential Italian intersection and there was an old man just walking around the street, greeting everyone who came by and generally keeping his eye on things. It’s not a terribly bustling corner, but we stayed there for almost an hour just watching, absorbing this fascinating Italian culture. SO different from Switzerland!


IMG_9827Our apartment sat on this amazing staircase that looked right onto the Arno river and across at edge of the Uffizi. Every evening we would sit out there with some wine and snacks and watch people walk by or scream by on their motorbikes with a little less caution than I would like. But, you know, this is Italy. The staircase was large enough to host lots of people and it was fun to sit out there with others and pretend like we were all neighbors. One night as we were coming out to sit we actually saw a couple get engaged! It was so sweet and Phil took a picture of them to mark the occasion. That city, so much love!

We ate dinner at Il Latini, a traditional Tuscan kitchen that caters to tourists seeking an authentic experience. They offer two seatings each night and I would recommend making a reservation in advance, though we called earlier in the afternoon and it was no problem to accommodate us. We opted for the prix fix menu and sat and overindulged in everything they brought out. The antipasti, the pasta (including an especially memorable gnocchi with rabbit ragù), and main dishes were fantastic. It was a fun night but we all went home absolutely stuffed.





The next morning we got up early to climb to the top of the Duomo, something I had never done before. A tip: go early! We went around 10:00 and there was no line outside and the top was bearable with all the other people. Also, don’t forget to buy your ticket at the office across from the baptistry. And lastly, be ready for the stairs! There are something like 460 of them and the last bit, the part that’s actually inside the dome itself, is less than pleasant if you find yourself stuck in there for a good ten minutes, not moving. Stay calm and remember that someday you’ll make it to the top and to fresh air : )

It’s such a beautiful view and it feels incredible to be standing on such a magnificent structure. It’s fun to look out and see all the winding streets you’ve been walking on, as well as having a bird’s eye view of the churches, museums, and bridges. And, we saw another engagement! In fact, the guy asked Phil to take pictures of it and I got a front-row view of the action. It was so sweet. I just love love!








IMG_4305That evening, instead of taking drinks to the staircase, we headed to Piazzale Michelangelo for the best sunset in Florence. Of course it was an absolute zoo up there, but if you can find a little real estate on the steps or along the railing then you will certainly be rewarded with a lovely evening. We brought our aperitivo with us—though there are lots of over-priced vendors in the plaza—and marveled at the changing colors in the sky. There was no engagement but there was a wedding so it all evened out.

We had a wonderful dinner at Il Santo Bevitore in the Oltrarno neighborhood. A funny story: the night before we were walking home from dinner and I saw my friend’s parents sitting in the window seat of this restaurant. What a small world! We went in a shared some wine with them while we caught up on our respective travels. They highly recommended the spot for dinner so we returned the next night. That kind of thing hardly ever happens to me but it’s such a trip when it does. Anyway, we would also recommend dining here as well, though I would suggest a reservation.

The next morning we taxied to the rental car offices near the airport to pick up our car for the week. It took much longer than I thought, but by lunchtime we were on the road, headed south. Florence, you were a vision. We loved getting to see you in all your glory, even if your streets were teaming with others just like us. We’re excited to visit again someday and spend even more time south of the river.

More posts on our week in Tuscany to come!


Off to Italy!

Italy 1 093

Italy 1 100

Italy 1 142

IMG_1472.JPGAdam, Phil, and I are on our way to Florence today! I haven’t been since I studied abroad there 8 years ago and I am looking forward to revisiting some of my favorite sights and apologizing for being a silly 20-year-old in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

We’ll be visiting the Uffizi, walking along the Arno, eating too much pasta and gelato, looking at sculptures, ogling the Duomo, and enjoying the slower pace of Italian life. On Saturday we are renting a car and driving to a Tuscan villa to camp out for a week. We’re staying at a working vineyard and we’re just in time for harvest. Plus, it’s truffle season! It will be bliss.

Adam has a very generous vacation leave and we’ve been hoping for a chance to take a holiday that is longer than one week but it hasn’t been in the cards for us this year. Finally we are getting ten full days in one place and it will be so lovely to stretch out and enjoy ourselves and not feel so rushed. Long weekends in a new city are always fun, but ten days in a country: yes!

I’ll be leaving this space for a while as you can probably understand. Our Tuscan location will be remote so I’m not sure how reliable our internet connection will be, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can always find me on Instagram, but like I mentioned, we’ll see how active that is.

Wish you and yours a lovely couple of weeks and I’ll be back the last week of September, by which time it will be fall. Can you believe it?!

Until then.

Tuesday Book Club: White Tiger

IMG_4106When my back is really bothering me I immediately think of two soothing stretches to relieve tension. One is a basic runner’s stretch: front leg firmly planted, knee at a 90-degree angle (knee and ankle stacked) and back leg fully extended, balancing on the ball and toe of the foot. I sink down low and hold for at least 30 seconds. Our hip flexors are connected to our lower back and this stretch acts as almost immediate relief.

The other stretch I like to do, especially if I have a little more time on my hands, is legs up the wall. It’s a yoga pose and it requires only a bare wall and 20 minutes. Lie on the ground and scoot your butt as close against the wall as you can and let your legs rest on the wall, feet pointing straight up. I like to have a pillow under my head, and you can also keep one under your bum if you are new to this stretch. Again, I can feel the relief begin along my lower back, and you have the added benefit of re-energizing your circulation.

I mention this because whenever I’m in legs up the wall I like to bring a book and I usually find myself laying there longer than 20 minutes. Sometimes it’s closer to 30 minutes and I only start to move because my feet begin to tingle and I know it’s time to get up.

Last week I finished White Tiger in this pose and it was a book I really didn’t want to end. I haven’t enjoyed a narrator this much in quite a long time and I was so entertained by his fantastic tale. Balram is feisty and entrepreneurial (a very important part of his story and identity) and I developed a love/hate relationship with him.

Balram is writing a letter to the Premier of China, explaining the self-made man in India and why he is essential to the country’s structure. He tells about his life in the Darkness, the extreme poverty and servitude that characterized his upbringing. He describes working as a driver for a rich mobster family, and why he had to murder his boss.

Initially I was charmed by Balram, then disturbed, and then sympathetic. He’s a complicated character living in an unforgiving world, a world which is hard for many of us to imagine. Aravind Adiga’s writing is precise and similarly unforgiving in its close examination of the corruption and blackmailing that keeps India churning. It’s a world of greased palms and extortion. But it’s also a world of close family ties and loyalty; it’s a world of gumption and confidence.

Adiga was a journalist for a long time before writing White Tiger, which is his first novel. It won the biggest, most notable prize in literary fiction, which is incredible when you remember that it was his first major effort. The novel was funny and sad but mostly very thoughtful. I’d highly recommend it.

And I’d highly recommend finding yourself in legs up the wall next time you’re looking to zip through a couple chapters or soothe a tense lower back. Let me know how it goes.

Traveling During Shoulder Season





Do you travel during the shoulder seasons? They are the small windows between high seasons (and low season) when prices are lower, tourists seem to be less prevalent, the weather is still decent, and locals looking for adventurous travels are genuinely pleased to see you. These seasons are typically April through mid-June, September, and October. Of course this can vary by location and hemisphere, but they are generally a safe bet.

For us, it has proven to be a lovely time to travel. Two years ago we went to Lake Como and enjoyed quiet streets, long dinners, mini golf, and walks along the lake. Last year we went to Bali for our honeymoon and not only had amazing weather but also braved smaller crowds and saved money, to boot (Bali parts 1 // 2 // 3 // 4)







We’re off to somewhere new on Wednesday for another shoulder season trip so I thought it was worth mentioning. It’s a great time of year to travel and I hope we make it a family tradition, though it appears we already have!

What about you? Do you like to travel this time of year? Where to? We’ve done a lot of traveling this year (and we’re not done yet!) but my list of places to explore keeps growing like crazy.

Hoping for a Restful Weekend











IMG_4093Last weekend we went on an amazing hike through the Val d’Anniviers in canton Valais. For those not in Switzerland, this valley is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, just north of the Italian border. It’s a quaint region that we rarely explore, though I’m guessing that after this weekend we’ll be back with increasing frequency.

We spent the night in Vissoie, a very sweet mountain town, and took a bus to Zinal to start our hike. We chose the route over breakfast that morning and hoped for the best. We were surprised in the best way possible by the beauty and magnitude of the mountains around us. We were also so totally knackered after what turned out to be a tough hike with an impressive climb. Adam and I were in bed by 8:00 that night totally beat from the day and the weekend in general.

The wine tasting event on Saturday had been planned for a while but the decision to stay the night and hike the next day was all very last minute. The case for “just go and do it” grows larger and more convincing with each impromptu trip we take or activity we organize. I’m learning to be better at spontaneity and going with the flow, though I do believe myself to be laid back and easy going. Still, sometimes I can get lost in the details and I’m trying to remember that it’s always worth it if you’re on the fence about making plans. Just do it!

That said, what are you up to this weekend? We’re taking it easy since we’ll be out of town the next two weekends and Adam would like to get some serious work done on the record player he’s building. I’m hoping for more time with my magazines and maybe even a few friends. I hope you have a lovely weekend and enjoy a few links I rounded up over the last week. Until Monday!

A song for the weekend

An important practice in our house

This butter chicken is my new favorite recipe. It makes a ton so prepare yourself for leftovers! (it’s better the next day anyway)

Inspiring books for your career, creative or otherwise. (I bought four 🙊)

Are female BFFs the new power couple?

The Instagram rules. A bit cheeky, yes, but some of them make good sense…

Turning 30 described in charts and graphs. Made me laugh. Something to look forward to?

How not to embarrass yourself in Germany.

I did this workout, followed by this quick one, on Wednesday and was sore all over on Thursday. Success!

Mindy Kaling on books and reading. Her imaginary book club made me laugh (and want to be invited)

Thank you, Claire, for sharing this. #dadjokesforever

The final act from this week’s This American Life podcast is so funny. I laughed out loud while I was finishing up my run yesterday.

P.S. Fourteen years ago today I was sitting in my freshman geography class when the twin towers were hit. It was surreal at the moment and continues to be to this day. I feel awe and compassion for those who were so personally affected by the tragedy and I remain ever proud to be American.