Faces of South East Asia

There are so many pictures I could post of mosques and temples, streets and markets, shopping and eating… but today I decided to focus on faces. Because we are in a huge, spinning, mind-blowingly amazing world full of people. Of individual hearts, minds, and faces. And that’s becoming bigger and bigger to me each day.

-Rachel

The Best Feelings

Swishy skirts

Chocolate melting on your tongue

Hearing the theme music to your favorite tv show

Paint drying on your nails

Open sun roofs on a warm day

Fingers on a keyboard

Saying something at the same time as your best friend

Having a good hair day

Raising your arms in church

Bike rides

Closing a book after a satisfying/sad/sentimental ending

Finding an old picture from a happy day

Getting a text message from someone  you miss

Hearing someone praise something you made

Autumn

Falling asleep with a smile on your face

-Rachel

First Week in Thailand

I debated for a long time whether or not I would post pictures from my trip to Asia, and eventually I just decided “why not?” It gives me a valid excuse as to why it’s taking me forever to post blog entries and get them on FB, etc. HELLO, PEOPLE. I’M BUSY TRAVELING THE WORLD AND WHATNOT.

I’m doing some more traveling next week (headed to Bali!), so I figured I’d go ahead and post some pictures from my first week spent in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Is it lazy to admit I’m too tired to share every little detail of my trip so far? (I’m going to blame the jet-lag. That’s been working for me so far)

Anyway, as a way of some small explanation, most of these pictures are from the night bazaar I visited Tuesday night. It was an overwhelming rush of sights, sounds, and smells. I ate roti (fried flatbread with banana and honey), tried on handmade Asian dresses, and even bought a painting from a fascinating wrinkled artisan with paint-stained hands. It was amazing.

-Rachel

The Nicest Thing Anyone’s Ever Done for Me

[Another old post that I wrote years ago, but that I revisited this week and still teared up over]

In our house, we have a “Hall of Shame”. It’s basically like a hall of photos, but it is extremely shameful. Why? Because we were some awkward-looking children. Well, at least I was. Braces, glasses, chubby cheeks, kinky hair… You name it. That was me.

If you add to all the outward awkwardness the fact that I was also extremely nerdy, carried home library piles that weighed more than I did, and had a framed autograph of Julie Andrews sitting on my dresser, you can probably guess why I didn’t have very many friends. Friends are kind of hard to come by when you’re a five-foot-five fourth grader who thought Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” was basically the greatest movie ever.

Looking back now, it’s easy to feel sorry for my genetically challenged preteen self. Because even though I thought I was the coolest thing ever, no one else really did. But I never felt bad for myself at all in my pre-middle school years. I knew I wasn’t the prettiest or smartest or funniest person ever, but I was happy. Part of this was probably due to the fact that Anne Shirley and Jo March are the two best friends a girl could ask for, but part of it I also attribute to a very sweet young lady, who is probably the nicest person I ever met.

Her name was Nicole. And she was—brace yourselves—a college student. That’s right. In the eyes of a fourth grader, she seemed like the coolest eighteen-year-old to walk the planet.

I grew up going to church with Nicole, and I always admired her and enjoyed spending time with her. I remember that she had some back surgery done when she was sixteen and my mom took me to visit her in the hospital. I read to her from one of my favorite books, and she didn’t seem to mind talking with me. Shortly after that, my family moved a few hours away and I entered into my full-blown awkward phase. One evening, after a pretty rough day, my dad made a casual suggestion. “Why don’t you write a letter to that girl Nicole?” he said. “I think she just started college a few months ago. I bet she would like to get a letter and make things a little less lonely there. I can ask her parents for her address.” He did, and I wrote a letter and sent it. I don’t remember what I said exactly, but I’m sure it was along the lines of “Oh please, oh please, be my pen-pal! Please, please, please!”

And this is where Nicole officially became the nicest, coolest person ever, in my eyes. Why? Because she wrote me back. Not just one or two letters, either, but for almost two years Nicole faithfully wrote me every week. Nice, long letters—sometimes three or four pages long—filled with interesting things that I would want to hear about. She talked about what she was learning in school, and what movies she was watching, and about her friends’ weddings. She sent me pictures of her school and her parents, and copies of drawings she had made. Basically, she clued me in on the all-so-amazing-and-cool life of a nineteen-year-old college girl. And she made me feel like I was interesting, too.

One of the last times I ever saw Nicole was when I was ten years old. My family was going through a bit of a hard time because we were selling the book fair business, but she offered to hang out with me for a day. She took me to the big mall an hour away from my house and shopped with me all day. We saw a movie, ate soft pretzels, and she asked me about my life. She was twenty years old. I was ten. And yet, she made me feel like the coolest person ever. She didn’t care about being seen with me in public, or what might happen if one of her friends caught us hanging out together. She bought me a purse from Limited Too (yes, I was that lame!) for my birthday and I wore it all day long. It was the best day of my life, up to that point.

That was a long time ago. After that day, we wrote and emailed for a while. But things fizzled out eventually. I grew up and became interested in other things, and she moved on with her busy life. To tell the truth, I kind of forgot about the whole thing.

Until recently. Until just yesterday, when I was standing by my mom at some random yard sale while we perused old boxes for cool used junk. Then I saw a little girl, probably seven or eight years old. She was sitting at a little table with a small stash of nail polish cluttering the surface. A homemade sign on the side of the table read:Painted Nails. $1 a Hand. By the looks of it, she wasn’t getting much business. And, I mean, that was kind of to be expected. Two dollars for a nail job by a third grader is a bit of a rip off. But, for some reason, I paid to get my nails done. I forked over two dollars (which, by the way, was more money than probably anything else the family was selling), and she painted my nails “ballet pink”. We chatted a little about nails while she carefully painted my fingers, then I thanked her for the wonderful job and left. But, before I stepped out the driveway, her mom pulled me aside and said, “Thank you. You have no idea how much that means to her. You’re the only person who did that all morning.”

But you know what? I did sort of know how much it meant to her. Because I remember being eight. And wanting to be old and cool and have more than two dollars in my pocket. I remember wanting someone to listen to me and think that I was as important and interesting as they were. And Nicole did that for me. And I think, in a small way, I returned the favor by taking a few minutes to show interest in the little girl with the nail polish stand.

Nicole will probably never know that I still have all of her letters because she’ll probably never know that they meant that much to me. But they did. She gave me confidence when I might have been easily crushed by peer pressure. She encouraged me when I might have felt depressed or lonely. It wasn’t that big of a deal. All she did was write a few letters from time to time. But, over the years, all those words added up to a thick bundle of encouragement and friendship that I still keep in a box in my room. Taking the time to write and show interest was honestly the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.

And all I can hope is that, one day, I’ll be able to show the same support to someone else, and help encourage them, too.

-Rachel

To Do: Have Fun

I have an assignment for you this weekend. It’s very simple. First, find your best friend. Not just any old friend, but the one girl who makes you laugh until your cheeks hurt, finishes your sentences, and doesn’t care if you show up at her house in sweatpants uninvited.

Next, find a trampoline. Or some hula hoops. Or an old fashioned Skip-It.

And finally, have fun. Just do it. Do it without thinking about it. Grab a disposable camera or an iPod and just start taking pictures. Take pictures of you two laughing and jumping and dancing and being generally crazy. Don’t worry about looking good. Don’t mess with doing your hair.

Just be.

Just laugh.

Just have fun.

-Rachel

Learning the Steps

I had a low moment the other night. My sisters were both with friends and my mom was at the library and I was sitting on our couch flipping through tv channels. Since there was no one here to stop me, I decided to watch my favorite show “Chopped”, a choice that is usually met with groans and complaints from my family members. They just don’t get the appeal of watching people combine pickle juice with squid and strawberry preserves. Not sure how they could have such poor taste.

But I digress.

What I really wanted to tell you about was something I saw on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” which happened to be on when I first turned on the television. Since it was at the top of the hour, they were going through the uber “classy” theme song. In case you’ve never seen the show before (I certainly hadn’t!), it opens with each woman posing seductively in a glamorous evening gown. Sparkles tint the edges of the screen and each woman delivers some cheesy-yet-apparently-eloquent line that sums her up in less than ten words. I know. It’s horrid. I hope you never have to watch the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills intro. Ever.

One line, however, caught my attention and I jotted it down on a piece of paper before finding the right channel for “Chopped” and settling down with my chocolate chip cookie. A highly made up woman in a long evening gown batted her eyelashes at the camera and smiled with stiff cheeks.

“Life’s a sexy little dance,” she said in a breathy voice, her teeth straight and white. “And I like to take the lead.”

Her words both shocked and intrigued me. They played in the back of my mind for a while and I glanced over them again before I settled into bed that night. Growing up in a conservative Christian community, it was hard to imagine someone declaring life to be a sexy, reckless, wild thing. Life is sacred. Life is beautiful. But life is not a sexy little dance.

I woke up yesterday morning thinking about those words. I rolled them over in my mind. I stood in front of my wardrobe and contemplated my options. If life was a sexy little dance, what implications did that have my stage costume? Was there a point in restraint? Did subtlety have any place in the wild series of steps and motions that make up this tango we live and breathe? Sundresses don’t seem to fit in with the gored skirts and sequined pleats of others.

I drove with the windows down and the sunroof open, my curls frizzing and separating and tangling in knots. I ate a chicken bbq sandwich for lunch, smearing saucy stains into the white paper napkin on my lap. There was nothing sexy about it. Nothing wild. Nothing breathy and exciting and romantic.

My life was a marching parade of Hondas and smudged sunglasses and garlic cloves.

The insecurities that cluttered in my mind were easy to laugh away because of course my life isn’t sexy. Of course it’s not wild, not reckless, and seriously lacking in romance. There was no way I was taking the lead of anything. I was sitting in the passenger seat watching the world fly by and wondering where the driver was taking me. Will it be safe? Will there be free wi-fi? Can I still text my mom?

But maybe sexiness is overrated. Maybe the idea of a life full of glamour and intrigue and flirtation is just that. An idea. Maybe realness doesn’t originate from Beverly Hills. Maybe it is spouted from the freckles in a sunburn and the crispy green beans coming out of the oven.

Maybe I know more about how to be real because I know what a non-sexy life looks like. It could be I’m happier because I don’t have to worry about my skin and my wallet and the very real sunburn on my left forearm.

I’m starting to realize that taking the lead isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This heart beats for so much more than that.

Life is an awkward, clumsy, whirling, dizzingly beautiful dance that is best enjoyed laughing at your two left feet and stumbling through learning the right steps.

-Rachel

Put Some Spring in Your Step

Most of you know by now that my sister Hannah is the designer behind Hannah Everly Designs. For two years now, she’s created custom-made skirts (and bowties!) for women all over the country through her little online shop. I’m just going to admit that it’s pretty amazing to have a designer for a sister (and my closet would prove that to you), but it’s even more fun to work as her photographer and help her put together lookbooks for her new collections each season!

She just launched her Spring 2014 line, and even I can’t believe how amazingly beautiful this collection is. We shot it in historic Yorktown, and people were literally rolling down their windows and staring as the girls walked by. These skirts are that pretty. Honestly.

You can buy any of these designs in my sister’s etsy shop, and she will make sure that it’s custom made to your waist and height measurements! It doesn’t matter how tall or short, big or small you are. You have the opportunity to embrace your femininity and enjoy a little beauty in life. So embrace it!

So which skirt is your favorite? What would you pair it with?

-Rachel

Life’s Too Short to Search for Matching Socks

I’ve never been one of those people who has to wear makeup all the time. I’m okay with my friends seeing me without mascara or with running to the grocery store with my hair thrown back into a ponytail. For years, I struggled with feeling insecure in my glasses, but even that fear has gotten better with time. I learned that people will still love me with a washed out face and messy hair. It’s okay.

But that doesn’t mean I’m never self-conscious. Because as I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed more and more how my vanity can come out in the silliest, most inconvenient moments. Case in point: I don’t like for people to see me in a sweatshirt and jeans. I can’t go out in public with unwashed hair unless it’s up in a messy bun or covered by a scarf. And I absolutely hate taking off my shoes inside someone’s house and realizing my socks don’t match.

It’s a small, almost insignificant amount of pain, but it still hurts. The jabbing criticisms ping in the back of my head. You didn’t even bother looking for that matching sock before you left this morning. You were too busy putting on your eyeliner and moving your wallet to the black handbag and searching for your keys. You know they’re going to make some kind of comment about your socks.

Yep. There it is. “Oh, haha, look at that! One striped sock and one floral! Oh, how funny! Oh, haha!” I always fight back the urge to roll my eyes and instead force a smile. Yep. How cute, how funny. Mismatching socks. Thanks for pointing everyone in the room’s attention to my unseemly feet.

Like I said, it’s a ridiculous thing to feel silly about, and it’s sad that it’s gotten to the point where I just don’t take off my shoes at people’s houses anymore. The mismatched socks pointer-outers are just too widely spread these days. You can’t escape them.

Until I realized that this fear goes way deeper than people pointing out my funny looking feet. I have an insecurity about people seeing my imperfections. I don’t want people to draw attention to my disorganized appearance because I don’t want people to realize that I actually care deeply about my appearance.

I had a conversation with one of my friends lately when watching “A Walk to Remember” one evening. We were laughing over the scene where they fall asleep in a graveyard while watching stars shoot across the sky. I was rolling my eyes and talking about how I never wanted to accidentally fall asleep in front of my boyfriend, because I didn’t want him to see me drool or snore or worse. My friend shook his head and chuckled at me. “Wow, Rachel,” he said, “You’d have to fall in love with a pretty shallow guy if he’d dump you just because you drooled a little in your sleep.”

It was supposed to be a funny conversation. A little laugh at my expense for the girlish vanity I’d displayed when I said I didn’t want any guy to see my crusty sleepy eyes or wrinkled sweatshirt. But it pinged in my head again. I don’t want to be the kind of person who would break up with someone over a snore or a sweaty t shirt or a pair of mismatched socks. I would never leave my friends over something as silly as snorting out milk or sneezing all over me. So why do I care if others see me do those things? Why do I let myself think for even one second that someone who really cares about me is going to even notice if my glasses are smudged or there’s some spinach in my teeth?

Life’s too short to fret about those things.

I heard once that the average person spends 6.5 years of his or her life worrying. Stressing about grades and money and the future and the current state of his or her appearance. I don’t want that to be me. If I only have a limited amount of minutes on this earth, I don’t want to spend 112,320 of them wondering whether or not anyone can tell if I washed my hair or painted my nails this morning.

I don’t mind caring. I’m not going to magically stop wanting to look nice or act presentably in public. But I’m also not going to make myself late by waiting for my nails to dry. I’m not going to miss out on a grand adventure because I’m so afraid that I’m not doing it right. I’m not going to force myself to stay up late just because I’m afraid some guy’s going to see me fall asleep.

And I’m not going to spend the majority of my mornings searching for matching socks. Because who honestly cares anyway?

-Rachel