Tuesday, September 16, 2014

4 things I learned from 3 Airbnb experiences in 1 weekend

Celebrating Lindsay's bachelorette from our Airbnb rooftop deck in Washington, DC
Last week Abdoulaye and I got to simultaneously experience Airbnb as both host and guests (learn more about Airbnb and how it works here). Since we host on Airbnb nearly full-time and try to use it for travel as often as we can, I think about Airbnb a lots. I almost always have either an email reminder that a guest is arriving or that a trip of ours is coming up in my inbox. And that's wonderful! But it's rare that we're both traveling (separately) and hosting at the same time, which is what made last weekend special. Here's how our three simultaneous Airbnb experiences played out:

The scenarios: My sister's bachelorette crew (there were 11 of us!) came to Washington, DC and we rented an awesome condo in Petworth to celebrate her pending nuptials. While I set up bridal banners and snacks, Abdoulaye got on a bus to New York with two buddies to visit friends of his from Guinea that are living in Harlem. And as I put the finishing touches on decorations and Abdoulaye unloaded in Penn Station and set out to find his Airbnb, Anke, a German woman visiting the US after being an au pair in the area 20 years ago, arrived at our home in Hyattsville for a week-long stay.

While our three uses of Airbnb were all quite different, there were definitely some common threads that ran throughout them all, which I detail below.

1. Communicate! Each of us had some sort of difficulty in either getting into or finding our Airbnb. My complication came from the fact that the management company renting our condo had two Jennifers checking in on the same day and so the representative got confused and thought we had already spoken multiple times. Oops! Abdoulaye had a hard time finding their Airbnb in Harlem, which, at 11:30pm, is not exactly fun. Anke hadn't checked her email before leaving where I detailed how she could get the key to our house (no one was home at the time). In all of these instances clearer, earlier communication would have been helpful and likely prevented the misunderstandings. In the end, everything worked out fine but the paths could have been a little smoother.

2. Location, location, location. What's awesome about Airbnb is how local you can make your experience. Each of us was looking for an Airbnb that wasn't just close to what we wanted to see and do - but also offered a unique living experience. With our condo in Petworth, we got to see what a DC neighborhood was like and could easily hop on the metro, which was just two blocks away. Abdoulaye and his friends got to see what living in Harlem was like without intruding on their friend's apartment (he didn't have room to host them himself). Anke appreciated living in our calm, quiet neighborhood where she, too, wasn't too far from public transportation and could talk with us about things to see and do in the city (when we got back from our weekends away!). It's great if you're already familiar with a place so you know where you want to stay but if you're not sure about the area, check out the reviews listed below the profile of the place you'd like to go to learn more.
A picture from Abdoulaye's trip to Harlem
3. A local experience. Whenever we get a request from someone who wants to stay at our place, I wonder what made them choose Airbnb over a traditional hotel experience. Of course, cost is probably (definitely?) the #1 factor but beyond that, it's that people are looking to connect with others while traveling or to experience a city from a more local perspective. Since I recognize that's an important factor for myself while traveling, I want to do more to make our guests feel at home and get to know not only Washington, DC but also Hyattsville, MD, which is a pretty awesome city itself. I plan to detail more things to do in the area in our home's online profile and maybe when folks come I could set out a list of things happening in the area during their stay that they wouldn't know about without living here.

4. Enjoy! Sometimes travel means going to a place, setting down your bags and spending not much time in your hotel room. Sometimes travel means hunkering down in a luxury location where it's important that where you're staying is nice because that's your experience. Last weekend, we got a taste of both of those perspectives. It was important to me, and my sister, that we stay at a nice place where we could lounge around with her girlfriends but also visit the city. Abdoulaye wasn't as interested in finding a really nice place as he was in finding somewhere that had a clean bed and a bathroom. Anke wanted somewhere in between the two. Thanks to Airbnb - we all got what we wanted!

I think it's unlikely we'll experience a similar trifecta of separate travel and hosting in the future but I'm thankful for the experience and what it taught me about Airbnb. Using Airbnb to travel makes me a better host and more in tune with what others are seeking in their own experience. We're already looking forward to a trip in October to the Eastern Shore - I wish we could bring a soothing water experience to our own backyard!

If you're interested in either hosting or traveling with Airbnb, consider using my link to sign up!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hyattsville Arts Festival 2014

Take a stroll in Hyattsville; Image Source
A couple of months ago I signed up on the Prince George's County Volunteer website to find an organization in the area who needed some additional hands on deck. Lucky for me, the Brentwood Arts Exchange (BAE) called a couple weeks ago to see if I could help out at their booth for the Hyattsville Arts Festival, which took place this past weekend (September 13th from 11-5) in downtown Hyattsville. I toured the festival in the morning with Abdoulaye, Loretta (dear work friend) and her roommate before joining the BAE table in the afternoon. And even though it wasn't hot, I still got a key lime popsicle from Picnic Pops before getting a chai from Vigilante Coffee - what a treat!
Brentwood Arts Exchange; Image Source
The booths, which featured over 150 vendors, were fantastic and filled with local, Hyattsville-area artists and craftspeople.  My first purchase was for my mom for her birthday (shh, don't tell her!) from Bella Art Mosaics. I know you're reading, Mom, so I won't put up a picture or describe what awaits you but I think you're going to love it!
Jay Durrah painting the original of the print I purchased; Image Source
I loved standing at the BAE booth and chatting with strangers and familiar faces alike.  We've been in Hyattsville a year and I'm slowly starting to make neighbor friends/acquaintances, which makes our little city feel even smaller. The BAE booth was adjacent to Jay Durrah's booth and I absolutely loved his work. I debated getting one of his prints and finally called Abdoulaye to make sure it was OK before taking the (fabulous!) plunge. I hung it in our living room as soon as I got home and am already so thankful - the print is perfect.

Just a few booths down from Jay's booth was the Hope Honey Farm where I met Maggie who produces Certified Naturally Grown honey from her backyard in Hyattsville. As I purchased five bars of soap (lavender & lemon cake, frozen and pumpkin spice), we joked that her bees probably fed on my greenery and then I was coming back to buy the fruits of their labor! It was not only wonderful to make a great purchase (if I have self-control, I'll give most of them away as gifts and not hoard them!), but to also meet a neighbor. She even uses Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified palm oil; work would be proud!

My last purchase was from Karla's Mixed Media Studio - a gorgeous print of the silhouette of a woman in orange with a handwritten quote surrounding her body 'All I can do is all I can do and all I can do is enough.' As soon as I hung Jay's print, I found a frame for Karla's and hung it on the wall as well.

I was disappointed to miss the arts festival last year and even though it was a bit of a drizzy day this past Saturday, the festival was worth the year-long wait! I'm already looking forward to helping out at other events featuring BAE and going to the Hyattsville Arts Festival in 2015. If I plan better, I can stock up on gifts for the whole year in one go!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wollersheim Time 2014

Can you taste the sweat and dust?  In our taxi on the way to Guinea & Sierra Leone - April 2009
After living and loving in Albuquerque, NM for Esther & Alaric's wedding, I headed to Phoenix, AZ to see my buds Joe & Ashley - and their (now two!) babies, Mia & Tucker.  I already waxed poetic about how I know Joe and Ashley in this post when I spent ten days with the Wollersheims in 2011 (wowsas - y'all are some generous friends letting me crash that long!).
Just living the dream on Banana Island in Sierra Leone
 Back in 2011 I wondered what it would be like to visit with the Wollersheims in the US - since all of our friendship initially revolved around Mali.  Of course, I wonder no more and am so thankful to have such dear friends who knew me during such an impactful period of my life.  I loved going down this rabbit hole of memories, too - so many good times.
That time Joe convinced us climbing Hombori was no big deal.  
 This trip, I just spent two days in Phoenix but we still packed a lot in!  We went to Mexican with Ashley's brother, Bubba, and his wife, Becky, to celebrate Ash's birthday and then spent the next day traveling to Sedona and soaking up the cliffs (while eating ice cream :)  I loved getting to know Tucker (who was just three months old when he came to our wedding in 2013!) and seeing how much Mia has grown since I met her when she was just seven months old back in 2011.
One of the most epic pictures I've ever taken.
While our lives have changed considerably since Mali (even since our visit in 2011!), and instead of eating stale bread and laughing cow cheese on the top of Hombori or in the back of a taxi on the way to Guinea we were eating cheese sticks and ginger ale in Joe & Ashley's pool - our friendship has been a true constant.  It is such a blessing to have lifelong friends like Joe & Ashley and to be a part of their lives as their family grows.  I'm already looking forward to our next visit!
 And now here we are five years later - two Wollersheim babies out and one Bangoura baby on the way!  My oh my how life changes in beautiful ways!
Beauties!
 Some of my favorite parts of the trip include: sharing a room with Tucker and him waking up in the morning in his crib, me rolling over to look at him and then him starting to grin like the little sweet pea that he is; Mia asking me if I was able to get ready quickly so we could go swimming (in nearly matching bathing suits no less!); and Mia asking on our way home from Sedona when Jenny (me) would be going home...hah!
Making cleaning out the dishwasher better since 2013



Sedona
See more pictures from my trip here!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Two are better than one: An Albuquerque Wedding

Albuquerque sunrise
Last week I had the honor of attending, and participating in, Esther and Alaric's wedding in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Aside from placing part of my foot in New Mexico in the summer of 2000 (or was it '99?) at the four corners, I had never been to New Mexico before.  I loved the chance to visit Esther and Alaric's new home together and to get to know, albeit briefly, some of their closest family and friends over the three days of wedding festivities.
October 2009 - Mali
But let me start from the beginning.  I met Esther and Alaric in July 2008 when I joined the Peace Corps and moved to Mali.  We not only spent two years in the same wonderful country, we also lived in the same region of Mali - San - and spent most of the American holidays - and quite a few volunteer house parties - together over our two years of service.  I would love to recap all of our adventures here but I realized I already have in some old blog posts!

Esther, Cassie and I had a lot of good times together including visiting Cassie's village for Ramadan in 2009 and riding our bikes the 60 miles from Esther's site to San to celebrate Thanksgiving in November of the same year.  We filmed a video about Moringa in my village and visited the nicest eco-tourism resort in Mali.  Of course our most epic creation was our close-of-service video.
October 2009
In Albuquerque, I had the chance to visit the downtown area and the Sandia Peak Tramway with some of Esther's lovely friends before attending the Mehndi ceremony on Thursday and the Garba celebration on Friday.  On Saturday morning, vendors set up shop outside of our hotel (The Hotel Blue, which was great) for their weekly farmers market.  Some of my favorite vendors were Miss Charlie Bean and Baby Blastoff.  I highly recommend hitting up the market if you're visiting Albuquerque, it was definitely a highlight!
Rehearsing
The wedding took place on Saturday at the First United Methodist Church with a reception at the Hotel Andaluz, which took me back to Rgizlaine's wedding with all the intricate Moroccan-influenced architecture.  Esther and Alaric asked Cassie and I to do a reading from Eccelesiastes 4: 9-12 during their ceremony - but to read it in Bambara - what an honor!  A friend in Mali helped us out at the last minute with the following passage because while a friend here had a Bambara bible, we didn't know which chapter in Bambara corresponded to Ecclesiastes (it's Waajulikela if you're wondering :)

From Eccelesiastes 4: 9-12:
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
In Bambara:
Mogo fila ka fisa ni mogo kelen ye, k'a ma soro u be tono gnuman soro u ka barra la.  Ni u la kelen binna, do be se ka a lawuli.  Nga ni mogo kelen binna, o ye bone ye sabu mogo si te yen k'a lawuli.  O cogo la ni mogo fila be da nogon kerefe, u fila be nene bo nogon na nga nin kelen don, o be se ka nene bo a yere fari la cogodi?  Ni bin kannikela binna mogo kelen te se.  Jurukise saba melekelen nogon na o tige man di.

I love any opportunity to go down the rabbit hole of my old Mali blog posts, pictures and memory lane and Esther and Alaric's wedding is one of the best excuses yet.  We have so many wonderful memories together and it was such a blessing to witness their marriage.  Just over six years ago we all got on the same flight headed to Mali - I don't think any of us could have predicted where that journey would take us six years later :)
Giving baby girl some love!
So much love for my San-kaw!
See more pictures from my trip to New Mexico here!

Friday, July 11, 2014

baby Bangoura: 7-19 weeks

telling Mom & John the news.
When we found out we were expecting a baby back in March, I knew I wanted to take pictures every week with the corresponding fruit size of the baby (for all those who don't/didn't know - you can sign up for emails and each week they email you and let you know your baby has graduated from the size of a blueberry to a raspberry to a mango and so on).  There are examples all over Pinterest but one of the photographers I follow put this post up and I loved what she had done.

Not much happens in the beginning (in terms of the belly growing) and then all of a sudden you're showing so we skipped from week 7 to week 19 (OK, might have been some, oops, we forgot happening there, too) but just imagine me getting incrementally bigger from week 7 to 19 and you'll know what I looked like.

7 weeks and the size of a blueberry to 19 weeks an the size of a mango.  

For posterity's sake, I want to remember here some of my favorite parts of the pregnancy so far:

Finding out!  I took the test and it immediately made that little plus sign (much to my surprise though Abdoulaye said he already knew I was pregnant).  Abdoulaye was making coffee and getting ready to leave for work when I peeked out of the bathroom with a big ol' grin on my face.  I called the doctor that morning to set up a pre-natal appointment and I said, "I think I'm pregnant..."  "Did you take a pregnancy test?" the nurse asked.  "Yes!" "Was it positive?"  "Yes!" "Did you miss a cycle?" "Yes!"  "Then you're pregnant!"

Telling family and friends.  Marija offered me a glass of wine and I said no and she said "You're pregnant!"  This was quite early on so let it be known that if you want to conceal your pregnancy, don't hang around Marija.  Cassie and I were at this movie when I told her and we squealed over the news while sharing candy.  Kate was in the baby section of Target when I called and was so, so happy.  When we told Sheri, Lindsay & Dan, Abdoulaye said "We have some news."  They nodded.  "We're moving to Virginia!"  They looked puzzled.  "Just joking.  Jennifer's pregnant."  Heads cocked to the side.  Mrs. Shellnutt was picking me up at the Tampa airport and said I was taking too long and costing her money on parking as I walked through the gate.  Then she saw my belly!

Going to pre-natal appointments with some of my favorite treasures.  Mom & Memaw came to my 9 week check-up and we saw the baby for the first time (sort of, it was still pretty murky); Marija came to my 12-week appointment and bawled/sobbed at little baby Bangoura when I had another sonogram and Cassie came to my 14-week and we got to hear the heartbeat (now the nurses/doctor wonder where my posse is when I come to appointments alone).  Abdoulaye has come with me to my specialist ultrasound appointments where they take pictures of all the baby's parts.  We found out we're having a girl on Wednesday (at my 20-week appointment) and were totally surprised.  Lots of folks thought it was a boy!

Enjoying the now and getting ready for what comes next.  Thankfully, so far I've felt great.  No morning sickness.  My back feels fine.  I can get around OK.  But I know it's just the beginning and summer isn't over yet and I'm getting bigger by the day.  It's been such a blessing to be surrounded by loving family & friends for the beginning of this new chapter of our lives and to experience the support of colleagues and neighbors.  Thank you!!

And since Abdoulaye finds the expression "We're pregnant" puzzling/humorous, and I take practice shots on him to get the lighting/position right for my photo shoot, here are some outtakes from my fruit shots with my handsome husband. 


7 weeks and the size of a blueberry to 19 weeks an the size of a mango.  Everyone tells him he looks fantastic.

Any and all baby/pregnancy suggestions are welcome - goodness knows folks let the advice pour in when that belly starts sticking out!  :) :)  

Monday, July 7, 2014

Happy 4th of July!

Our little sparkler.
 Last year, Cassie and I spent the morning of the 4th of July making American & Guinean flag cakes (that American/Guinean children begrudgingly ate) for a Guinean 4th of July party.

This year, we spent the morning picking blueberries & beets at Larriland Farms, the afternoon watching the Brazil vs Colombia World Cup match and the evening watching the fireworks from the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH).  I wouldn't have had it any other way.

I forgot my camera's memory card at home for our trip to the farm so I don't have any pictures but imagine lots of blueberries, raspberries & beets.   And sunshine.  And smiles.  And then we got BBQ from the Town Grill - a must visit if you're headed out to Larriland Farms or Howard County.

The World Cup game was actually the first one I watched all the way through and it wasn't a disappointment (sorry, Colombia!).  I always enjoy Africa is a Country's reviews and their summaries of the World Cup do not disappoint - especially this post about racism in Brazil (sorry to read this post about the AP stealing their content).

The AFRH was such a treasure! Beautiful views of the DC skyline, food trucks, parking and views of fireworks on the Mall and in the neighborhood.  It was also an appropriate location to remind me of the reason we celebrate the 4th of July and the men and women who serve our country.

Who knows what our next 4th of July will bring?  There'll be one more of us along for the ride to celebrate - hopefully we can go berry picking and see the fireworks again from the AFRH.

Cassie promised us she would spend every 4th of July with us so we could take the same couch picture (see 2013).
Come on, those smiles.

Peeks of the fireworks on the Mall
Street fireworks going off nearby.
Fourth of July 2013
Fourth of July 2012
Fourth of July 2011
Fourth of July 2010 
Fourth of July 2009

AFRH.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Family, Frolics & Foundry

Memaw and Tyson spending some quality time together. 
A couple of weeks ago Mom and Memaw took the Amtrak up to DC to spend a weekend with Abdoulaye and me.  Well, mostly me since Abdoulaye was hard at work fixing up our basement (hence the limited amount of photos, ahem, none, with my handsome husband).  We visited a nearby lake, tidied house (Mom re-alphabatized our spice rack, among other handy putzing contributions), had dinner with friends and visited the church where Memaw grew up, was married and where my Mom was baptized.  Whew.
Buddy Attick Lake Park (Greenbelt, Maryland)
My little babies (Marija, I think this is my new favorite picture of us, thank you!!)
One of my favorite parts about Memaw coming to visit is seeing Washington, DC through her eyes.  When she inevitably shares with a friend, new or old, that she grew up in DC, they always ask thoughtful questions about her time here and tease out stories I've heard over and over again but that truly never get old.

Having Mom and Memaw around is like having home come visit you.  I don't have to work to entertain them and they are perfectly happy sitting on the loveseat in the sunroom reading their books with a glass of wine.  They're also lovely mini-adventure companions - with Memaw interjecting stories of her time as a little girl, and then student at George Washington University, on the streets of our nation's capital.  It's lovely, too, to be with two ladies who are as enamored with our little bungalow as I am and who gush just as much about Abdoulaye as I do :)
Three generations of matching little nubby noses
Visiting Foundry United Methodist Church where Memaw was raised (and where she was married)
Visiting Foundry UMC was a real treat -and not just because of the 200 years of history (this year!) that fill the sanctuary.  Robtel Pailey, a PhD candidate at the University of London, delivered the sermon, which you can listen to here.  Ms. Pailey attended Foundry with her family while growing up after she and her family came to the US from Liberia.  After graduating from college in DC, she went on to "serve as special assistant for communications to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf." (see more of her writing here and here).  How neat!  I loved learning about her path in life and her roots at Foundry and imagining her growing up as a little girl in the same church as my grandmother and how their lives, though incredibly different, had a similar base in a church that welcomes so many people from so many backgrounds. 
Abdoulaye is disappointed I asked them to take the bus.  DC public transport adventure!
I did get a little teary-eyed putting these two little nuggets on the train on Monday - it gets harder and harder to say goodbye!  We had a lovely lunch together at Union Station and then I left them at the waiting area in the Amtrak station, paper-back novels in one hand and the other waving goodbye to me, cupped and flapping up and down.   

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