A Very Kiwi Christmas: 2011 Edition

by Marian Schembari on December 26, 2011

The fact that this was my second warm-weather New Zealand Christmas is a thought that continues to baffle me. And it doesn’t help that for months I’d been stressed about spending the holiday alone. But thanksbetobabyjesus, my amazing new roommate, Alana, saved the day by inviting me to her family’s house to celebrate.

And they were wonderful. Loud and boisterous and welcoming – just like my own family!

We set out the Kiwi version of milk and cookies on Christmas Eve (in NZ it’s beer and mince pies – go figure).

On Christmas morning I went to church and, well, it’s been a looonnng time since I’ve gone to church willingly. And my have they digitized the experience! During the children’s time they actually played a DVD of this adorable little nativity story. You have to watch it. It’s like the guys who made Where the Wild Things Are had a crack at Jesus:

Then we opened presents! I had forgotten how awesome Christmas is with children and it was so nice to have Alana’s niece, Michelle, there to be all excited about her doll house and new swimsuit (or “togs” as they call them).

While I’m still getting used to barbequing during December, Christmas crackers and spending such a family-oriented holiday with other people’s relatives, it definitely was a Christmas to remember. There’s nothing better than new people and being a fly on the wall for others’ traditions.

I hope your day was as special, magical and filled with love as mine turned out to be. MERRY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!


What it Means to be an Expat

by Marian Schembari on November 23, 2011

Before I started moving to various countries, the concept of an “expat” was completely foreign to me(see what I did there?). I imagined the worldly but spoiled children of diplomats, fancy French people having fancy French dinner parties and the occasional mid-twenties backpacker traveling the world to get as far away from America as possible. The worst was imagining groups of these expats living in whatever foreign country and only hanging out with people from their own country and spending extraordinary amounts of money on foods from home. I scoffed in the face of expats.

And I’ve only just realized I now am one after spendindg $8 on a can of pumpkin to have some semblance of Thanksgiving today (remember: NZ is a day ahead).

Maybe it’s the upcoming holidays that’s making me feel so homesick.

After a lot of back and forth, it doesn’t look like I’m going home for Christmas. While there’s pretty much nothing I want more than to see my family, my best friends and spend the holidays in a country where there’s snow in December, the thought of spending $3,000 on a flight makes me choke. I think about all the other things I can spend that money on – a better apartment, seeing parts of f New Zealand I haven’t yet… even just chucking that money in a savings account for whenever I do come home.

So I’m staying here. And missing Thanksgiving too, my favorite holiday of all time. A holiday that’s essentially been the same event in my family home for my entire life. The food, the company, the music and the strangers and family friends who inevitably end up at our rather loud table.

A few weeks ago I talked to my grandma for the first time since Christmas. We usually only talk for ten minutes or so because she doesn’t want to “keep me” but I couldn’t love that woman more. So the thought of not seeing her for another year kills me.

Then I talked to two of my brothers. Again, for the first time in almost a year. The two of them – buff and manly teenagers mind you – were curled up in bed together with the computer on their laps telling me about Joe’s driver’s permit and Sam’s studies. It couldn’t have been more awesome talking to them, but it only makes the homesickness worse. (Even though Sam has completely taken over my room and the bed I lovingly painted myself.)

It’s funny because I’ve now been living out of the States for over a year and a half and as much as aspects of home drive me batshit insane, I know now for sure I could never live this far from the people I love on a permanent basis.

And now I understand what being an “expat” really means. It means not being able to call your friends and family without a roadmap and instructions because of the time difference. It means hunting down your favorite foods from home because that smell or taste or packaging brings you a little bit of comfort. It means accidentally writing “favourite” instead of “favorite” because you’ve lost the ability to spell properly.

It means constantly wondering what finally coming home will be like and worrying you might not have a place anywhere.

That said, my Thanksgiving in London is one of my fondest memories.

Thankfully, I have real Thanksgiving plans tonight with an American I met on that art tour of K’Rd. This is a giant sigh of relief and I have a feeling it’s going to be another Turkey Day to remember.

But with Christmas looming? While it might be another holiday I’m freaked out about spending alone, my mom’s been saying, “If you can make Christmas a fun day in a new place, you’ve really accomplished something. It will force you to make New Zealand your home.”

Let’s keep our fingers crossed, shall we?


The Blogger’s Fail-Proof Guide to Editing Posts

by Marian Schembari on October 26, 2011

Both of my parents are writers. They write for major newspapers, edit articles, have blogs and publish books. My 20 year old brother has written for The New York Times and Complex. My other brother, 21, has taken photos for the Times and his college essay was better than most bestsellers. It’s madness. I come from a family of geniuses.


But while you’d think it would be a lot to live up to, we all have our own styles. In college, I would send my Big Important essays to both parents for editing and get back two completely different versions. I’ve always SUCKED at editing, but lately… I don’t know what’s happening… I suppose I’m turning into my parents.

I’m loving it though. Not editing my own work, mind you, but I get off on deleting sentences. Reorganizing paragraphs. Adding a slightly different – but radically better – word to really hit the exact meaning.

So I’ve been reading A LOT on editing and writing tricks to make the writing on this blog something I can be proud of. While I can’t pretend to know the first thing about professional editing (let’s count how many errors are on this post alone), I am slowly starting to teach myself. And I’ve come across some amazing blogs and articles that have been really useful in terms of what words are almost always unnecessary, how to break grammatical rules with style and various ways to tweak a blog post so it shines:

Self-editing: 10 ways to tighten your writing

I use this post of Alexis Grant’s for every. single. thing I write. I go through her list and remove all the unncessary words and, when I’m done, my writing is that much stronger.

Improve Your Writing with these Editing Tips

While this Lifehack article isn’t the most creative things on the planet, I do need to be reminded to read over my posts backwards, out loud, watch for fancy words, justify each phrase… Basically, this piece is every single editing basic for whenever you need a good reminder.

Proofreading Tips

It’s absurd how often I turn to Grammar Girl. I even listen to her podcasts on the way to work (much to the embarrassment of my father who thinks I’m weird). While this isn’t her best post as it include the basics mentioned above, I like her emphasis on the fact that nobody’s perfect. That said, if you have ANY grammar questions, search the Grammar Girl site as she’s answered every issue you could possibly come across.

How to Use Language Like a Pro

As usual, Men with Pens knocks it out of the park. Ali Luke, writer extraordinaire, writes here about analysing the writing of your peers and blogger idols. I keep meaning to do this exercise with some of my favorites, but I learned some serious things about writing style and how to tweak my own from reading this post over and over.

How to Lose 30 Pounds of Word Flab Overnight

My favorite thing about editing? Cutting, cutting, cutting. I have a sick obsession with deleting words and turning a 900 word post into a 500 word one. This Copyblogger post by Sonia Simone is EPIC in that she really helps you tone down your words so your copy is as clean, easy to read and concise.

Two Techniques That Help You Embrace Brevity

Another Copyblogger post that’s worth bookmarking. I love the author’s use of concrete examples to demonstrate how much better your writing looks and sounds when shortened (and restructured).

25 Things You Should Know About Revisions

Chuck Wendig should know that I would marry him in a heartbeat. This post, as is common with Sir Wendig, is full naughty words, a no-bullshit-attitude and some seriously good advice. My favorite? “Multitasking is for assholes.”

I don’t even think I’ve broken the ice on all the great resources out there, so please share your favorites in the comments!


Way to Be Thankful

by Marian Schembari on November 25, 2010

I realize writing a post on Thanksgiving morning is a) lame and b) not the best blogging decision as no one will actually read it, but I still want to take a second  to wish you all a happy HAPPY  Thanksgiving.

Turkey Day is my favorite day because it’s entirely about food and spending time with people you love. My family Thanksgivings are always epic. We have a minimum of 17 people each year and always have one or two guests we pull off the streets. For example, one year my mom, who’s big into Middle Eastern culture, invited some Jordanian friends who had never celebrated Thanksgiving before. One year she invited her Puerto Rican hairdresser. Every year an English family my parents are close with show up and now they’re part of our family tradition. This year my Kiwi boyfriend and best friend from college will be here, along with my great-aunt and her son (who I haven’t seen since I was thirteen). Now, in addition to my family of six, it’s usually madness. But in a beautifully awesome way.

Last night we made four pies and around five dozen maple cookies. This is in addition to my aunt’s famous chocolate cake, some homemade whipped cream and whatever treats our guests bring. Like I said, beautifully awesome.

As is tradition in many Thanksgiving households, we usually go around the table and say what we’re thankful for. The past few years we’ve been slack in doing this, so I’m going to use my little blog pedestal to remind myself all the great things that have happened this year. Things that couldn’t be more Thanksgiving appropriate:

I’m thankful for my family. They drive me completely insane and we’re too loud for our own good, but I adore them to bits and will miss them desperately when I move across the world next week.

I’m thankful for the ability to move across the world. Next Thursday will be the fourth time I’ve moved and the third country I’ve lived in this year alone. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to travel and experience so many things.

I’m thankful for my dog. She has a stuffed toy frog that she puts in her mouth and just runs in circles around the house, hoping one of us will chase her. We rarely do and it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

I’m thankful for my Kiwi. It was a massive decision to move across the world for him, but in the last six months we’ve lived together we’ve experienced some pretty fabulous stuff. I couldn’t be luckier.

I’m thankful for my job. I can’t even imagine working a 9 to 5, in some office, doing what a boss tells me to do. I can make my own hours, choose my own clients and experiment with some pretty awesome projects. I am thankful every day for the ability to work for myself.

I’m thankful for my blog. The opportunities this site has presented have been so unexpected and serendipitous and beyond fun. I’m even more thankful for my readers, the relationships I’ve developed and the conversations that go on here.

Enough sap. Like I said, there will probably be two people total who will read this post today, but you should contribute anyway. Celebrate the holiday! What are you thankful for?

{Photo credit}


Stratejoy Celebration!! A little more about YOU…

by Marian Schembari on August 5, 2010

While I occasionally share personal stuff here, the purpose of this site as a whole is to get clients and make some moolah. But when I recently asked you guys how I can make the blog better and more interesting for you, a few people asked for more stories/life updates. Here’s a photo of me and the Kiwi to tide you over until a more London-ey type post (how much do you love his hat?):

I figured the debut of my Season 3 involvement on Stratejoy would be the perfect day to celebrate bloggers as more than just social media or knitting or cooking or rock climbing… whatever their “niche” is, it’s nice to hear more about the person behind the posts!

What is Stratejoy you ask? Only the greatest website in the history of ever. Stratejoy is a website full of awesome and positive energy and is run by the FREAKING GORGEOUS Molly Hoyne. Molly is a Life Coach and Stratejoy is her baby where she’s created The Joy Equation (which I’m currently doing and it’s changing my life) and every few months she takes on a new team of bloggers who chronicle their Quarterlife Crisis, new experiences, struggles, etc etc. It’s pretty brilliant, actually. And this season I’m one of the bloggers! Whooo hoo!

Though as I write these posts for Stratejoy, I’m noticing something interesting – even though my job is awesome and I love this blog, I’m slowly forgetting about the things I adore that aren’t about the internet or social media or freelancing.

More Than You Probably Care to Know

Remember when I wanted to be a pastry chef? Yeah, that dream’s still there. I dragged the boyfriend all the way to Primrose Hill to eat these incredibly delicious cupcakes.

For those of you who haven’t met me, I have a crazy loud laugh. The kind that makes people glare when I do it in public, but there’s no way I’ll ever apologize for being happy.

I’m hardcore into my heritage, even though I’m basically your typical white girl – 2nd or 3rd generation depending (Dad is Italian, Mom is Puerto Rican). Doesn’t matter, I love me some tostones and I still pretend I can speak more Spanish than I actually do.

I can’t live with out travel or nature – two things I’ve been sacrificing ever since I started off on my own. Secretly (but I guess not to secretly now) I want to live in a little cabin in the woods and spend my life baking, hiking and going traveling awesome and new every month.

I hate any form of “working out”, but I could go for long walks all the live long day. I love big dogs like huskies and greyhounds and mastiffs. I hate little yappy dogs and I want to stab them in their little yappy faces. I’m by no means a girly girl, but I own about 50 different dresses and feel the need to decorate every space I’ve ever lived in with Christmas lights. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I don’t have a favorite color. Raisins in anything make me crazy enough to scratch out my eyes. Way to ruin granola, raisins! God! My family is nutty and loud and a little frustrating but they’re also significantly more awesome and bad ass than your family. My brothers own my soul but they don’t know it.

Sometimes I hate technology. Sometimes I love it. Sometimes I never want to hear the word “tweet” again. Sometimes I can spend hours teaching other people how to rock out and think to myself: “Holy hell. My job is awesome.”

Maybe it’s all about balance. Maybe it’s simply about remembering who I really am.

So check out my first post on Stratejoy! Hopefully the site will be a new haunt for you all – I promise it’s the cat’s pajamas.

Your Turn Now!

Most of you guys have your own blogs, but even if you don’t, I want to know: What makes you…. you? Give me a cool fact or story or interesting quirk that you might never have shared otherwise. Let’s celebrate being awesome!