Remembering an Old Friend

There are people who help you along your journey in life that you’ll never forget. Along the way, you find people who understand you inside and out, who challenge you to realize your full potential, who make you understand things about yourself you may never have realized.

Robin was one of these people. She was also a journalism student at the University of Maryland. She was hilarious. You couldn’t be in her presence without being entranced by her energy. She was also one of the most phenomenal writers I’ve ever known. She was my best friend in the whole world. She became part of my family. She looked more like my little sister than I did. She came to all of my family events after her mom moved to North Carolina. I connected her to her very first job, and introduced her to her college boyfriend. I could tell her anything without her passing judgment. She always wanted the best for me, even after we lost touch.

She was my college roommate, and my very first roommate in Manhattan. Our first year living on our own in New York was challenging – she was messy and emotional and I was anal about cleanliness and uncomfortable dealing with emotions – mine or anyone else’s. Through the challenges, we had some amazing memories of that first year in the city. We sat on our couch in our tiny apartment watching America’s Next Top Model and binging on junk food. We spent Thursday nights going to local bars in our neighborhood and singing the theme song to Winnie the Pooh on our way home. In college, we wanted to open up a new restaurant chain next to the Potbelly’s in College Park called “Fatbelly’s – we’re fatter than you.” I have lots of memories with Robin through college and afterwards, but these are the memories that were shared only between the two of us. And now that she’s not around, I need to cling to these memories because I’m the only one in the living world that can preserve them.

Robin died earlier this year. She was 25. She was engaged.

I wasn’t part of Robin’s life during her last year on earth, but we still talked every once in awhile and I always had updates on her life through mutual friends. Her death shook us all. To know that we could lose someone so quickly sent us all into shock. Now, I see her every day. She is walking down the street in Manhattan; she is sitting on the plane next to me. I close my eyes and she is rolling around on our couch on the Upper East side, laughing hysterically. She is curling up with me in my bed, watching a movie late at night. She is gushing about her first day at Conde Nast and her encounters with Anna Wintour in the elevator. She is pulling clothes out of my closet, dressing me in outfits I never would have thought to put together. She is letting me cry to her about something trivial.

Today is Robin’s birthday. I stare at the picture of us from the day we moved into our very first apartment, and I hope that wherever she is, she knows how much she meant to me.

Also, check out Don’s tribute to Robin

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FEED Guatemala Bag Launch at Lord & Taylor

Last week, I met Rebecca after work and we headed to Lord & Taylor for an epic moment in Nest history. We attended the launch party of the limited edition FEED Guatemala bags. FEED is an organization that donates a percentage of their sales to help fight child hunger in developing nations. Rebecca met the founders, Ellen and Lauren, at an event we threw at the Ralph Lauren Rugby store last summer, and their friendship evolved into a partnership where the FEED ladies agreed to create a limited edition line of bags that were to be handmade by the artisans Nest works with in Guatemala.

After a year of hard work and collaboration, these bags were finally produced and shipped to Lord & Taylor, where they are now being sold exclusively. Seeing our bags on display at this department store reminded me that it was that very trip to Guatemala in 2008 that transformed my own personal involvement with Nest into what it is today – needless to say, that trip changed my life.

I wear my FEED Guatemala bag every day now, and find any excuse to tell people the story behind it. I’m like a proud mother, gushing over the pattern and handiwork of the bag, and mostly over the label inside that reads, “Handmade by Nest Artisans in Guatemala,” with our logo and website stitched right into it. Yes, maybe I’m a little obsessed, but wouldn’t you be?


SURevolution Dinner Party

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a dinner party at the SURevolution showroom. Founder Marcella Echavarria has travelled all over the world and collected unique jewelry, bags, furniture, kitchenware and other sustainable goods from artisans in South America, Africa, India and more. Everything is handmade, and the beautiful showroom overlooking Little Italy was the perfect setting for our small gathering.

I first saw Tamara, the amazing interior designer who sits on our board, who I hadn’t seen in months. While we caught up, she told me all about a psychic she had been talking to, who had given her an interesting perspective on life, business and love. She mentioned how the psychic could feel the energy about the people around you and could tell just from reading your energy how they relate to you in a positive or negative way. As hesitant as I was to believe any of this, by the end of our conversation she had me taking down the psychic’s number and seriously considering calling her.

Then, we met a woman from Chile who drew portraits based on the psychic energy of a person.

Eventually, I was introduced to Anna, who is throwing a Yoga event next week. Anna is a wellness consultant who got her Yoga studio to agree to donate all proceeds of their upcoming health and wellness event to Nest.

I also met Katharine, who has her own line of beauty products that use Aragon oil from Morocco. She usually travels to Agadir to get the oil for her products, but after I tell her about Tim’s community in Tigmijou and the Aragon oil they produce, I suggest she start buying from them. She’s immediately interested, and I go home and introduce them via email, thrilled to make any excuse to reach out to Tim and feel a connection… to Morocco.

Rebecca makes a speech to all the guests and tells the story of Lolita, the loan recipient from India who fell prey to the loan shark after she broke her leg and couldn’t work to support her family following the death of her husband. Luckily, Nest was able to help her out of this situation and help Lolita create a new life for herself and her family.

As I was trying on some of Marcella’s beautiful gold plated leaf bracelets, I laughed as a woman from Columbia made fun of our board member Ian, joking that he looked just like Juanez, the Columbian pop star. Once again I found myself surrounded by fascinating people, amazing sustainable goods and the satisfaction of knowing we were all gathered together for a good cause.


How My Friends and Family Inspired Me When I Returned From Morocco

Adjusting back to the U.S. after our amazing journey to Morocco went more smoothly than anticipated. The transition was made easier by the enthusiasm my friends and family showed in listening to me go on and on about my trip, looking through hundreds of photos, and reading the in-depth recaps I posted on this site.

But I couldn’t have expected how much the people around me were about to surprise, overwhelm, shock and inspire me two weeks after my return. Remember that fundraiser we talked about doing for Rachida so she could rebuild her house and her loom that were lost in the fire? Well, that fundraiser went live on our website on May 3rd. I sent around an email to my friends and family, telling them about Rachida and what had happened, and asked them to throw in a little money towards rebuilding if they could.

A little more than 24 hours later, I was astounded by the generosity these people showed. By May 4th, we had raised enough money to rebuild Rachida’s home, and more than half of those funds came from my friends and family – my two amazing roommates and some of my favorite brides-to-be, my incredible mother, and even an old friend in St. Louis. Even a dear friend in danger of losing her job contributed. A few ex boyfriends even kicked in some cash – and donated very generous amounts! You never know who will come through and rally together when you believe in a wonderful cause that has genuinely touched all our lives.

Needless to say, I’m incredibly lucky to surround myself with these people every day, and they’ve certainly made the post-Moroccan transition much more bearable.

Morocco, Day 10 – Marrakesh to New York

The last night in Morocco, we sit down to dinner and talk about our trip highlights. Every single person reminisces about a memory they had with a loan recipient, either in Brian’s village of Midelt, Tim’s village of Tigmijou, or meeting Naima from Khenifra at the craft fair. I talked to Brian on the bus earlier that evening, about what he would do when he gets back to the US. He wants to go to business school, or maybe work for US Aid. I can’t imagine what it will be like for him to come back to the US and assimilate after spending so much time in this beautiful place, adapting to Moroccan culture for so many years. I’m worried about how I’m going to adjust after only ten days.

We say our goodbyes after breakfast and leave for the Marrakesh airport. The airport is filled with stranded European travelers. Joya’s boarding pass reads “Joshua,” but she gets through security anyway.

About ten hours later, I’m looking out the window of the plane as we pass over Long Island. I’m not sure I’m ready for this. We’re landing at JFK in ten minutes and I know I won’t be happy to go back to real life, to work, to the materialistic culture of NYC. But even here at home, I still have Nest. And I need to keep this experience close over the next few weeks…and for the rest of my life. Knowing what I do, when I’m running around the city trying to get restaurants to donate food to our event, when I’m stressing out trying to convince venues to host our event at no cost, I have to sit back and remember that every little effort we make helps the women we personally met here, who invited us into their homes and broke bread with us – knowing what we do every day helps them and people like them – that will make the post vacation transition more bearable, and will bring me back to how I felt in Morocco. This is why I do this, why all these amazing people around the world have come together for this cause. This trip made me realize that I’m living my dream, and helping others do the same.

Morocco, Day 9 – Tigmijou

April 19 – It is a rough morning. We’re all feeling the effects of the night before, and Joya almost kills me when I open the window to light the room (to find the advil and antacids). We go upstairs to breakfast on the roof and scarf down croissants, yogurt, crepes and assorted pastries. Joya and Kate want to order five more rounds of coffee, but I need air. I go to stand at the railing where I’m looking out at the ocean. I spend about a half hour out there, enjoying the beauty of the scenery in front of me. I can’t remember when I last felt this peaceful. I try to etch this morning into my memory so I can revisit it for years to come.

I finally pull myself away from this scene to go with Rebecca, Kate, Joya and the boys to the souk to buy olives, fruits and nuts to give the women of TIgmijou – they want to serve us food when we visit, but they don’t have the means to provide enough food to our group of 14. I buy a package of bracelets to give out to the girls and young children of this village. We spend the rest of our morning walking on the beach, looking at the camels and horses around us, taking in a view of the “castle in the sand” Jimi Hendrix supposedly wrote the song after, Joya riding a horse on the beach and some seashell collecting, we sit down to an outdoor lunch of mixed salads and tea.

The road to Tigmijou is incredibly scenic, with rolling hills and wildflowers of red, yellow and purple. The village is small, with four little clusters of houses. Tim lives in a house on a hill, a little removed from the rest of the village. We see three teenage girls giggling at us as we walk up the path to his house. We can’t go inside because it seems as though his roof has fallen over in the week he’s been gone. We walk through a meadow to get to the house of the family we’re going to visit. Along the walk, we pass a stray donkey grazing in the meadow. We enter a hut, built in the same Moroccan style of homes and guest houses we’ve been seeing – a structure with an open courtyard in the middle. Upon peering into the home, we see two young children – a boy and a girl, giggling and laughing and running up to us, then bashfully running away when we wave and smile at them. We enter into the courtyard and introduce ourselves to the women, kissing them twice on each cheek. We peer into one dark room where a woman is sitting at her loom, already strung. She is rapidly weaving the water reeds through the loom. Hicham, Tim’s young artisan who we met at the craft fair, says hello to all of us and Tim explains that all these people are part of Hicham’s family. We peer into their bedroom, with no door and rugs laid out for them to sleep on. The next room is the storage room, filled with these magnificent, completed water reed bags. We sell them back in the U.S. as market bags. My mother will purchase four of these bags from Nest’s website after hearing this story.

We enter another room off the courtyard, removing our shoes first. We sit around a bench with cushions and the women bring us the olives and fruits we purchased in Essouria. They also bring us bread and olive oil. I’m on the far side of the room – most of the women are sitting at the other end of the room near Tim and Brian, the only Arabic speaking people in the group. One of the family members comes over and sits near me. She starts breaking the bread and motioning for me to eat. I take a bite and say “beneen,” one of the two Arabic words I’ve learned – meaning delicious. The little toddler girl walks into the room and bursts into giggles. Everyone is laughing and smiling at her. The woman next to me is also laughing, and we exchange a glance, which sends us into a whole new fit of laughter. She tells me to eat more and I obey. I point to a water reed bag sitting next to her and ask if she made it (using hand motions). She nods and smiles. A child’s laughter, food, art, these are all universally appreciated. I couldn’t verbally communicate with this woman, but we were able to carry out an entire conversation while eating in her home.

Tim goes around and tells us about each of the women, how they are all related, and explains that they have a wedding to go to that evening because one of the girls from their town is marrying a man from the next village. When we’re done, we all walk out of the room, slip back into our shoes, and the women lead us to another house with a loom in it. I give out bracelets as we pass little girls and teenagers on our walk through another field of wildflowers. We take a quick look at the loom, but our driver is getting angry that we’ve taken too long, and threatens to leave without us if we don’t get on the bus immediately. He actually begins removing our bags from the bus at one point. Moroccans make their own rules. We say goodbye to the women, apologizing for our abrupt departure, and as we pile onto the bus a group of small boys laugh and bully each other as they watch us. Again, behaviors that transcend languages and continents.



Morocco, Day 8 – Essouria

April 18th – Today we leave Marrakesh to visit Essouria in the south, a lovely beach town close to Tim’s remote village of Tigmijou. The three hour ride seems insanely short after the previous seven hour journeys up and down the mountains. We arrive in Essouria and once again are staying in a beautiful Riad. We go up to our room and look out the windows in the hall to see ocean and waves crashing on rocks and jetties stretching out from the coast here on the other side of the Atlantic. We go up to the roof and find an even more amazing view – looking out to the ocean on three sides, with the colorful rooftops of the city behind us.

We go out into the town and sit down at a seafood stand on the water. This stand has a display of raw fish, which I can’t stand the smell of. I’m slightly hesitant to eat here. I sit down with the rest of the group and soon find myself digging meat out of odd looking types of shellfish, some unidentifiable, but all delicious. We eat grilled calamari and sea bass fresh from the ocean next to us. I even muster up the courage to try sea urchin. After lunch, we walk around the town and pop into the small shops we see. Rebecca is having a tough time bargaining over a lantern she really wants. We stop at a rooftop wine bar to enjoy the sunset. We spot Tim and Brian sitting on the sea wall, enjoying the same view. A group of Irish people next to our table ask if we’re also stuck in Essouria because of the airport situation in Europe. We comment that it wouldn’t be tragic to find ourselves stuck here for a few extra days.

After dinner, we go back to the hotel with several bottles of wine and head up to the roof. The stars and the ocean provide an incredible setting for this late night gathering. Kate, Joya, Rebecca and I lay out on lawn chairs. We light candles so there’s a bit more illumination than just the stars. At one point, Rebecca pulls me aside and says how appreciative she is of all the work I do for Nest year round. I get a little teary eyed as she talks. It sounds stupid, but I never truly took the time to think about how what we do affects the people we’ve met here. As we go through the process of planning an event back in the U.S., I’m not thinking as I try to secure food sponsors about the woman who will send her child to school because of that event. I never stop to think about the effect one person can have, and the effect I’ve personally had over the years. I guess I should’ve realized this two years ago, when Rebecca asked me to step up as president of the NYC board, but it’s not until now that I’m really seeing the big picture. I’ve always thought of Nest as my hobby, something I can feel good about doing in my spare time, and truly proud to be part of it, but it’s not often enough that I stop to think about the difference we make across the globe.

We walk back to the group and Han gives me and Rebecca a huge hug. Rebecca comments that she loves how most Nest people are huggers. I remark that I’m usually not this touchy feely with people. They laugh and I think about how emotional I’ve gotten during this trip, particularly tonight, and I assume it must be the atmosphere, the vacation, the wine, or the overall sense of connection to the women we’ve spent so much time with on this trip, both Moroccan and American.