Treat Yo’Self >> Braid Creative Courses

Twenty years ago (yikes!), if you had asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, you would have gotten a myriad of answers. On any given day, I wanted to be a pediatrician, an artist, a stay-at-home-mother (seriously), a graphic designer, a dancer, an animator….clearly, my interests ran the gamut, and my impulses reigned supreme. Shoot, why am I speaking in past tense?! 

But despite this seemingly foggy image of my future being, my present self, this twenty-years-later self (it doesn’t get easier to say), she’s got goals. Personal goals, career goals, if you can believe it. Finally, after my thirtieth birthday, the whole of the person I’d like to be is becoming clearer. It sure took long enough.

But still, I’ve got a ways to go before I become that person.


While back in the states last Fall, I started delving into the world of online classes. To expand my horizons, to learn some new techniques, but also to become one step closer to the person I had in mind – because that person is wise to the ump-teenth power.

I signed up for a Braid Creative Course, titled Personal Branding: Blending Who You Are With What You Do, hosted by blogger extraordinnaire Kathleen Shannon. I had been a follower of her blog for quite some time, which had evolved from a simple, home-improvement, soul-searching, travel-focused, newly-married lifestyle blog, into an ambitious and creative outlet for pursuing a life of, well, ambition and creativity. It was exactly the inspiration I needed, in my simple, soul-searching, travel-focused, newly-married lifestyle.

(It’s an inspiring place, if I’ve ever found one. And, her manifesto is killer.)

I’m here today to tell you to TAKE THIS COURSE. Because I loved it, and because it’s online again, and because what have you got to lose!! Well, other than $75 $50 now with the code BRAIDECOURSE50 !!


This Braid Course won’t tell you how to write a website, how to put text over an image, or how to make a desktop pattern. Instead, it will serve as a guide to help you create a creative manifesto. It will help you create a voice. Which, as I know for fact, can be some of the hardest things to put down on paper.

But such is the great thing about this course. You’re forced to put things down on paper, to make things sort-of-permanent. In the world of control+z and del-del-del buttons, it’s pretty remarkable. For me, the act of revisiting my writings, months later, was most rewarding. Somehow, seeing my own penmanship made me more accountable for my ambitions and my achievements, or in some cases, the lack thereof (womp womp).


The course talks about incorporating your own personality into your career, and your lifestyle into your work. It talks about the difference between corporate, large business and creative, small businesses. About project goals, about work and life balance. About personal style – which, though I hadn’t thought about it before, is very much a part of creative work these days. I liked that last one a lot. The idea of work, and life, of maybe combining and  maybe separating the two, are important for me to consider as a writer working from home and blogging about my life and travels. The idea that there is a lot of overlap in life/work, and you can allow your own passions to dictate your career path – those are points that I remind myself every day.


If you’re working on your own blog, or starting your own business, or even just dreaming about an escape from your current work situation, I encourage you to check out the classes that the Braid Courses are offering. I think this course would also serve well to those in the spiritual arts : yoga, massage therapy, stuff like that. You don’t have to be a major blogger or a crazy-successful entrepreneur already. Heck, it’s better if you’re not. I started this class when I was unemployed and had like, 5 clicks on my blog a day. And look at me now! Just kidding. I’m still unemployed, doh!


What about you, what kind of online classes and tutorials would you recommend? Any goodies out there I should know about?

Like I said before, use the code BRAIDECOURSE50 to get the class for $50 rather than the usual $75!

ps – I’m also a fan of these classes, big time. I’ve been taking one course a month!

The Real Dar >> a letter of hope and a plea for acceptance

Dear Dar es Salaam,

I’ve been living here for 2 months now, and part of me feels like my life has been a make-believe world. I’m not going to lie, I’m struggling a bit coming to terms with this sudden lifestyle-of-the-rich-and-famous living of which has been served up on a silver platter. This lifestyle that includes hired help, roof deck soirées, barbed wire fences, and a yacht club membership. While it’s not completely unnatural to me (a point that scares me a bit), and of course it’s quite nice to have someone work our garden so we don’t always have to, it’s not real, not in the scope of where I’m living. But you know that.

Bagamoyo Beach

Side of the Road

So when friends from home ask, “how are you doing?”, it’s with a genuine smile but much hesitation when I say, “I like it here”. Sure I’m settling in, but I have a feeling that I might never really experience the real YOU, nowhere near as real as I experienced during my time in China. And that saddens me, that I can live in a place and call it my home, yet never really know its substance and its inner-workings.

I’m learning, though, and seeing, and observing. It’s taking awhile to see, but I’m seeing little things. For example, the fist that you hold in the air. A fist wound tight and held palm forward, in place of a wave sometimes, or simply as a gesture of recognition. To allow me to pass in traffic. I can’t yet hold my fist up in the same way, with the same amount of effortless finesse, but I’m sure after two years I’ll be throwing my knuckles up with the best of ’em.

It’s an American fascination, perhaps, to immediately expect to understand and acclimate to a culture, to blend in, and to be recognized as “one of them”. One of you, actually. While I’m starting to come to terms that this won’t be fully possible in my two short years in Dar es Salaam, I hope to at least gain a more than just a glimpse into this city and this country, much more than a kind, yet distanced, fist in the air will tell me.



This weekend, on my first trip out of your city, I drove along 75 kilometers of the real Dar es Salaam. The Africa that scholars, novelists, economists, and peace corps volunteers describe so much better than I am able to. It’s the real Africa, the Africa that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Blood Diamond so often mutters, so succinctly, with the three letter acronym: T.I.A.; This, Is, Africa. I kept saying it to myself in the car as I drove down the long stretch of highway. This Is Africa. This Is Africa that keeps passing me at 100 km per hour while I’m driving at no more than 80. Pole pole!, or, slow down!, please!!!


All traffic critiques aside, This Is Africa, that lives in poverty, surrounded by community, plagued with disease, swathed in fabrics, rich with history. It’s an Africa that has separated us from them, me from you – out of obvious wealth differential, cultural disparity, and a more subtle yet deeply subversive historical context. Damn you, colonial expansion!

Anyhow, I drove past a vast valley of shacks and shanties along that long stretch of Bagamoyo Road, where many of your residents call home. The topography was not unlike my home state of California – a stretch of highway road, dropping down to a barren valley of homes speckled with dry greenery, dusty footpaths, and a view further out extending and dropping into a blue and expansive ocean.

dar highway views

And while I arrived home Sunday afternoon thankful to be connected to wifi once more, thankful to have access to my filtered water and icebox and collection of too much stuff, I thought of the scenic likeless between my home state and that strip of highway that I witnessed. And wondered what other likenesses there are between myself and my new home. Hopefully, really, it is with GREAT hope that I have, I’ll be able to recount other likenesses, more personal likenesses. It’ll be a challenge – between the crime and the how-many-different-levels of how I simply don’t fit in here. But hopefully, I’ll see the real Dar in these next two years.

Respectfully yours, with a fist in the air,


Settling In, Getting Out

We hired a housekeeper this week. She’s coming three times a week – and before you scoff at the manner in which I’m so easily taking up colonial ways, just know that I live in a house with a LOT of tile floors here, people. Those floors are definitely not cleaning themselves. Plus, she’s a nice lady who will teach me how to make a local coconut-meat stew, it’s been promised!! This was mentioned during our initial meeting and my heart straight up skipped a beat.

This recent acquiescence of colonialism, in conjunction with the fact that we’ve set up our Ikea closet system, means that it’s official. We’re settled! And that’s all it takes in this household, really – a semi-permanent closet setup and a housekeeper. Says a lot about our priorities, shoot.

So naturally, now that we’ve settled in so nicely, the DiploMan says to me, let’s get out. Of course.



It’s been two months, and he’s looking for these outs. For example, there’s a minor medical procedure I might have to get done in Pretoria, and we’ve talked about how it’s a great excuse to explore a new place. We’re twisted. Hence a mad hunt for cheap flights today, for no other reason but because it’s been awhile since we’ve hopped on a plane ($500 to Johannesburg and back, btw. Not bad, internet, not bad).

For now, we’ll stick to wheels. This weekend, we’ve planned a short trip up the coast to Bagamoyo. It’s our first trip out of Dar, and I’m stoked. Of course in planning this one-hour drive, two-day excursion, I can’t help but think of the possibilities. You better believe that $500 flight was just the start to a long string of internet queries.

Let’s not forget Cape Town and Johannesburg. Or Namibia, and Zambia. There’s the entire Serengeti to explore. We have to climb Kilimanjaro (or as it’s known locally, just Kili). We must go to Ngorongoro and trek around the crater. We should probably see the majesty that is Lake Victoria. I want to count how many wildebeest I see during the migration. Drive through deserts in a Land Rover and trek through jungles holding a machete. That’s only sub-Sahara, too. I can’t forget Egypt, Morocco, Algeria. We’ll skip Somalia for now…and during these two years we’ll have friends in Ghana, friends in Rwanda, friends in Kenya, friends in South Africa. Friends in the U.A.E.. Friends all over.


This profession that the DiploMan has taken up, it’s not for everyone. It takes a certain type of person – A person for whom traveling is not an escape, but a way of life. It’s a bit of a freakish thing, I think, this lifestyle, but I must admit I’m getting the hang of it. I like spicy food and I’m totally down with The Wire. I studied abroad for one summer, and I speak about 2.75 languages (these are all common threads I’ve found with Foreign Service folk). Am I fooling anyone?

But you know the real reason I know I’m getting the hang of this crazy lifestyle? How I know I’m fitting in with the band of traveling circus monkeys that we call our friends? Because I, too, am straight up itching to get out.

I know, I know, we’ve just settled in…


All photos from this post were taken in Point Reyes National Park during our trip home to California this May. Bay Area, we love you!

Kitchen Romances >> Cashew Nut Milk

I’ve been spending more time in my kitchen lately.

There’s a number of factors contributing to this intimacy I’ve rekindled between me and this one room in the house. Mainly, it’s because I am reunited with all my kitchen belongings, ones that were previously scattered about in China (or thereabouts), in DC, and in San Jose.

cashew milk glass


Sometimes I find myself stealing loving glances at the shiny ice cream scoop I picked up from the kitchen market in China, that one that I never used and had to pack into a moving box right away, so I actually forgot I had it. Other days I stare, mesmerized, into the holes of my Foldable Berry Colander– not to be confused with the ceramic berry bowls I own or the three four five colanders sitting in the cabinet, and my eyes glaze over with happiness. Really guys, these are the things that go on in my kitchen, and those are examples of the unnecessary yet awesome gadgets that I own.

Secondarily, I’m spending more time in the kitchen because there are some amazing ingredients here. Cashews and hazelnuts by the bulk! Exotic spices – whole cardamom pods! Vanilla beans!!! I haven’t been this inspired in awhile, and it feels good.


So what to do with my elicit romances with my old culinary possessions and these constant flashes of new inspiration?

Nut milk, natch. Flavored with a spoonful of local honey, a dash of cinnamon, one amazingly fragrant vanilla bean, and a pinch of sea salt.

You inspired yet?

cashew milk blended

straining cashew milk Nut milk is totally new to me, guys, so don’t be afraid to join me on this exploration. Previously relegated to the hippie vegan aisles of Palm Desert health food stores, I’ve been seeing more of nut milk these days, I assume thanks to greater lactose intolerance and general skepticism of milk.

My personal reason for switching to nut milk? I like knowing exactly where my food comes from, which is a difficult thing when we’re talking milk overseas. In fact, here in Dar, much like in China, the general population drinks shelf-stabilized milk, something that my American upbringing will probably never get used to, both in terms of concept as well as taste.

I also personally like nut milk over regular milk because it tastes really really good.


Speaking of pressing blend – you can make this milk in any ol’ blender, although we have a super high-tech thingymabobbo I would recommend in a heartbeat. It can, supposedly, blend anything. This, combined with straining the liquid through a cheesecloth
, makes the concoction luxuriously milky. And despite what you might think, it’s a great summertime beverage – it’s refreshing and thirst quenching. I heard there’s a bit of a scorching heat wave back home. Maybe this will help?

So go! I encourage you to have a romance with cheesecloth and vanilla beans. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. Says the girl who can be found cradling her new Cuisinart food processor…

cashew nut milk w label


  • 2 cups unsalted cashews, soaked overnight
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp Honey
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • Pinch of sea salt
  1. Soak cashews in water in a small bowl overnight. Cashews should be puffy and plump the following day.
  2. Drain cashews. Combine in blender with water, honey, cinnamon, and whole vanilla bean. Add a pinch of salt to heighten flavors, I really recommend this!
  3. Blend on high for 30 seconds, or according to your blender’s specifications- ours has a setting for ‘WHOLE JUICE’ which blends on high for about a minute. Blend until vanilla bean and cashews are thoroughly pulverized.
  4. Set a strainer lined with a cheesecloth over a medium sized bowl. Pour cashew milk into the strainer, and let it drain for 5-10 minutes. When most of the liquid is drained, gather the corners of the cheesecloth, twist, and wring out remainder of the liquid. Discard solids (or, use in a smoothie!! I saw this online somewhere, and am excited to explore the options)
  5. Transfer to an airtight and/or glass vessel. Refrigerate at least a few hours, or overnight if possible – the colder the better. Drink cold, drink straight from the vessel!

Makes approx. 4 1/2 cups cashew nut milk

Note: the vanilla bean is totally optional; since the cost of including a whole vanilla bean with each batch of milk will probably make you dig into your first child’s college fund. Here in Dar, vanilla beans are a lot cheaper, can you hear me swooning with love?!