My Travel Bag for 2019

Someone did a study a while back and quoted something like hard-sided suitcases were a sign of declining civility. What bunk! Hard sided suitcases were the standard until the sloppy seventies came along and some poor sop decided that a duffel back should be used for traveling rather than as something to carry to the gymnasium or on safari. No, even on safari people used gorgeous leather trunks and cases. HELLO?? Out of Africa, people.

To prove my point, I give you the Singita Sabora Luxury Safari tent. NO ONE is going to throw their backpack on THIS bed and live to talk about it. So if you don’t want to be fed to the lions, consider the many alternatives to grubby, stained, sloppy duffels.

Singita Sabora Tent Safari Camp.jpg

If anything, hard sided suitcases seem smart. And the choices are endless. Even UO is getting in on the game. New-ish darlings, Away, seem to have stolen people’s hearts. And Rimowa is always a classic. But a Louis Vuitton trunk is where it’s at. The ULTIMATE in luxe travel gear. However, it’s just not practical when you’re a woman on the go. And who has TIME for managing all those people to CARRY the thing?


I may not be able to lift a trunk, but I can definitely carry my own bag just like these toughies can. So after a whole year of trial and error on multiple journeys, I’ve finally chosen two travel bags for different types of travel. Both of them are on the small side, so click away now if you’re not in the market for minimalism.

MUJI Hard Carry Suitcase 35L

So, if you’re a guy or gal who uses packing cubes, or vacuum bags, this case is a dream. If you’re someone who just throws it all in there and goes, this is going to make you look put together and classy. It’s different than the Away suitcases and I prefer it above all others because of this:

It will not roll away. Commuters, well-seasoned travelers, multi-city visitors know that surfaces around this incredible world are not even or level or smooth. It’s got four double wheels all right and they’re quieter than a whisper in a vaccuum sealed room. BUT THERE’S ALSO A WHEEL LOCK. Thank God, because I didn’t lose it around a curve in the L-Train in Manhattan, and it didn’t go rolling into the elderly woman beside me on the ramp in Grand Central. It stays put with the gentle push of a button. No furtive glances and pulled attention. Click it and stick it, y’all.


It’s secure and the TSA secure lock is on the side rather than the top, so you’re not going to scrape your knuckles on the thing or mistake it for the handle.

It’s smooth moving with four double wheels that are as silent as the grave. (Mentioning “grave” along with suitcase reviews might seem morbid, but hey if you’re going to “head west”, let’s hope it’s as silently as these wheels.) They’re like the Toyota Hybrid of roller wheels. You’ll never be clicking or clacking your way through a last minute museum visit or restaurant stop.

Muji 35L Suitcase.jpg

It’s scratch resistant. With a polycarbonate shell and a ballistic nylon overcoat, the surface has a concave-convex texture, which prevents scratches and keeps scratches unnoticeable. One note about this material, it breaks down in constant heat, so store your suitcase in a climate controlled area. I know, but still.

It’s lighter than the Away. I tried the Away suitcase with a battery and without and this Muji case, even at a couple liters less capacity, seems larger. Which means this gal with old lady shoulders can actually get the thing into the overhead compartment (“Wheels first please, madam.”) without having to ask the burly dude, in the seat I really wanted, to get up and help me with it. Although, I might ask anyhow, because sometimes I just feel like using my lady powers for personal gain. (Don’t hate.) Doors, heavy things, jewels. I draw the line at furs though. Faux only! Oh gosh, how did we end up here… onto one other bag.

TSA Luggage Lock Muji 35L Suitcase.jpg

Mother Lode Weekender Junior

I know I just went on and on about not carrying a duffel bag, but this is different. No, really. It’s a suitcase AND a backpack. The thing has never ending space. Just think of it as a weekender to fling in the back of a car or truck to hit the road with.

It comes in seven colors but I chose black. Obviously. I’m a Scorpio. The orange one has the best detail photos though, so check this out.


Hidden Laptop Compartment where it’s padded and safe and you can have your entire bag opened and people won’t know it’s safely stowed inside and out of view.

Junior version fits under the seat for when you fly super cheaply and don’t purchase overhead bin space. The Junior is 19” high and the regular Weekender is 22” in case you’re deciding on size.

3 Handles AND backpack straps so you can carry it like a suitcase or wear it like a backpack. The straps stow away cleanly so you wouldn’t even know it’s a backpack. Again, for when you’re popping into the shops or lunch before leaving, it’s got a good look to it.

Organized like nothing else on the market. The front flap opens to reveal an easy access section for notebook pens, and everything you want to get to in a hurry. Scarf, sweater, headphones, sunscreen. There’s even a key loop so you’re not left waiting on the curb digging through everything to find them. And because of the internal dividers, nothing shifts in travel.

These are the two bags that will be taking me through 2019 in style. Oh, and I chose black as the color for both bags because ALL BLACK EVERYTHING for me when it comes to travel. It’s just the easiest color.

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 9.08.42 PM.png

So, grab your bag and your pals and get goin’… Happy packing!

Sneak Peek of Duane Michals: The Portraitist

Meryl Streep, 1975. Gelatin silver print with hand applied text.

Meryl Streep, 1975. Gelatin silver print with hand applied text.

Yves Saint Laurent, 1983. Gelatin silver print with hand applied text.

Yves Saint Laurent, 1983. Gelatin silver print with hand applied text.

Andy Warhol and his Mother Julia Warhola, 1958. Gelatin silver print with hand applied text.

Andy Warhol and his Mother Julia Warhola, 1958. Gelatin silver print with hand applied text.

I visited the Snap! Orlando space and their latest exhibition of Duane Michals: The Portraitist. If you haven’t yet visited Snap! it’s an experience you shouldn’t miss. The current show was curated by Linda Benedict-Jones, former Curator of Photography at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and current Adjunct Professor at Carnegie Mellon University teaching the History of Photography. This collection is the first comprehensive overview of unique portraits by this influential photographer.

Michals describes himself as “self-taught” and worked for many years as a commercial photographer for Esquire, Mademoiselle, and Vogue. His style differed from that of his counterparts in that he did not shoot photos in a studio, but rather on location with the subject.

Michals photographed numerous artists and public figures, from Grace Coddington to Yayoi Kusama, Rene Magritte, Andy Warhol, Madonna, Burt Reynolds, and the original cast of Saturday Night Live just to name a few. The list goes on and on. They are all shown together in this stellar exhibition.

Michals used two unique innovations in his photographic work. First by implementing a storytelling approach and sequencing photos to take the viewer through a narrative, and second he incorporated writing on or near the photograph to provide additional context that isn’t always conveyed in the photo at the moment.

The photos are displayed in groups of artists, writers, photographers, actors, directors, fashion, self-portraits, and intimate stories. You only have until April 6th to visit this exhibition before it travels to New York.
CLICK HERE for hours and directions.

My kind of photography has really kind of been a wolf in the hen house.
— Duane Michals

Visions and Images: Duane Michals, 1981
Interviewer: Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Video Archive in the Duke University Libraries:

Watch the Townie Tourist sneak peek of Snap! Orlando below.

A Visit To Cassia Fresh Farm


Annette Codding and I are standing in her goat barn.

It was a chilly afternoon, but the sun hitting the farm kept her ten acres warm. We had just stepped out from her garden, in which she was growing onions, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, and more. The most interesting feature was the set of tomato vines hanging off of a frame at the back of the garden. 

“I didn’t even start growing these,” Annette tells me as we approach the vines. “A friend gave them to me and I’ve just been growing them since.” She plucks a tiny orange tomato off a vine and hands it to me. She informs me it’ll be the “best thing I’ve ever tasted”. She was right. I don’t think I had ever tasted a fresh plant of any kind, literally fresh from the vine. This tomato was small, but burst sharply, igniting a vibrant flavor in my mouth. 

After we left the garden, we stepped into her barn where her goats lived. Inside, several female goats stared out from their pens, their unique eyes watching us as we stepped back and forth, Annette telling me about how she became the lady who makes goat milk soap. She’s purchased another property across the street, four times larger than her current property. She’s not intending to add more animals to her farm. In fact, she balked at the idea. “No, I’ve purchased pine tree seeds.” These seeds will take up the rest of her farm, along with her goats, chickens, dogs, steer, her lone horse and maybe a pig or two.

For the extent of Annette’s two hour tour of the farm, we talked nonstop, veering off topic every few minutes or so, and having to maneuver our way back. “Have you heard of this story,” she suddenly starts, “of this guy who lived in California in the late 70s?” She shares a parable, of sorts, about a man forty years ago who was diagnosed with cancer. His doctors gave him six to nine months to live. To live out the rest of his life, he and his wife traveled to his home country of Greece. Specifically, to Ikaria, a small island in the north of the Aegean sea. His mother was there and the man intended to live out his days there. After a while, however, he started feeling strong enough to go work on the fields. He did so every day. After a little while longer, he started feeling strong enough to go play games with his friends in the pub at night. 

The man lived for another forty years, or so the parable goes. And so, late in his life, he returned to America to seek out the doctors who diagnosed him, only to discover all the doctors were dead. Annette is thrilled by this story, and is also thrilled to tell me that the man doesn’t know how old he actually was because, on the man’s island, “no one wears watches.”

Annette looks at her goats, the jar of whey next to us, the barn cat waddling around, the two dogs sitting at our feet, and she seems to feel a kinship with this man. It’s clear to see why.

Annette moved to this property from Apopka ten years ago. When she originally purchased this land, there was no intention for it to lead toward her business with goat milk. The first goat didn’t arrive until a few years after the purchase, and the goat wasn’t even her purchase. Her mother bought the first goat, a female named Coco. Coco had a baby but, due to unfortunate circumstances, lost it. Coco had just became a mother, which meant she needed to be milked. Annette took over these duties herself, adopting the goat. Soon, her property was home to more and more of the friendly farm animal.

The rest, for Cassia Fresh Farms, is history. 

Annette and her goats preempted a boom in the goat industry by just a few months. The past decade has seen a major growth in goat farming, with some counties in Florida tripling their goat population in just a few years. This is largely due in part to the influx of citizens from countries where goat is one of, if not the most consumed type of meat. Australia sits at the top for goat exporting, and America is their biggest customer by a massive margin. The second largest customer to Australia is Taiwan, who spent close to 25 million on goat in 2017. The United States spent close to 180 million in 2017, making up 66% of all goat meat exports from Australia that year.

Fifteen years ago, Florida was in the top 25 for goat milk production. Now, we’re not only in the top ten for goat meat production, but in the top five in the Southeast.

The goat industry is starting to be a big deal around here.

These numbers start to sound harrowing when you’re speaking on a grand scale, but at Cassia Fresh Farms, it’s just part of Annette’s routine. Last September, her milk goats gave birth. She’s been milking these goats every day, once at dawn and once at dusk. She will milk them up until the next mother goats give birth in March. She’ll milk them with the same routine until, likely, September again. 

From the barn, the milk can go to several different places. In one case, Annette and her mother separate the curds (more solid parts, used for cheese) and whey (the watery part) for different purposes. The whey is kept in a large pickle jar in the barn that Annette dumps into a bag of feed and delivers to her pig, Black Friday, who howled and bounced whenever we approached. The curds are used for cheese and cheese spread. Annette put a bowl of this spread in front of me, along with a stack of crackers and a glass of goat milk, and I nearly cleaned the thing out. There really is something about freshly made food that can’t be put into words.

While I ate my snack, Annette demonstrated how she makes her other main goat product: soap. Using olive oil, coconut oil, lye, shea butter and, of course, goat milk, Annette mixes colors and fragrances to create her dozens of unique soaps and scents. She cooks in her own kitchen, clearing the entire space to avoid contamination. Each component is weighed precisely, down to the very gram. She uses a homemade wooden box that she keeps at the perfect length using a stick that one of her sons found in her yard. It takes approximately two hours to make a block, then four to six weeks for the mixture to go through saponification, the chemical reaction that creates soap. 

Her soaps are beautiful and many come with stories. Big Timber is a smooth, musky soap, with black and brown swirls mixed in. It’s named for a town she visited with her family in which she encountered the scent that inspired the soap. Her Lemongrass soap was created as a means to create clean-smelling soap for the kitchen. She creates soap to fit trends, like her charcoal soap or her lavender soap. One soap that is about to be released for the first time has a very raw, floral smell, with decorations that looked like flower petals along the top. When I asked if those were actual dried plants, Annette chuckled. “It’s leftover soap shavings that I colored and placed on top.”

This was all part of a trend that you can see all across Annette’s farm. The whey from the goats help feed the pig. The pig and the chickens feed the family. The eggs from the chickens are sold with the soap. The dogs on the farm watch the larger animals. One such dog, named Maple, has a singular duty, and that is to watch the two male goats, who are kept in a separate pen. Everything at Cassia Fresh Farm is part of a cycle, or a process, or a system. 

Even Annette’s farm shop, which is open on her property every Wednesday and Saturday morning, serves several purposes. Tables along the walls are lined with her soap, and a set of metal trays in a tower in the corner hold soaps still being set. A chalkboard at the back wall lists prices for eggs, soap, milk, cheese and more. Outside of functioning as the shop, this room serves as a schoolroom for certain homeschool teachers in the area. Desks sit in the center of the room, and a diagram of a goat was sketched on the chalkboard when I entered. Annette had taught a lesson in agricultural science to the students that day. One had left his binder behind and Annette tucked it away, knowing he’d return for it tomorrow.

As more time passed at Cassia Fresh Farm, it became clearer and clearer why the story of the olive farmer who forgot to die resonated with Annette. The man had made a life for himself, living off of his own work, working peacefully and supporting his community. Annette and her family are doing exactly that. Lake County, where Cassia is nestled, continues to struggle with the relationship between rural farms and continued suburban development. Despite this, Annette is confident in her new forty acres and the place it will hold for the rest of her life. She’s planning on naming her new property “Ikaria”, after the island that the Greek man returned to over forty years ago. She plans on continuing his legacy. She hopes to keep expanding her soap business, maybe even selling her products on Etsy. 

Regardless, Annette will keep on caring for her animals, and doing her very best to live well.


To visit Cassia Fresh Farm Store, click here: The store is open on Wednesday and Saturday from 10AM to Noon. Feel free to call ahead to see if there are eggs, cheese, or chicken available.

Nick D’Alessandro is a native Orlandoan and proud of it. He is passionate about Florida's history and culture, and loves researching stories around the state. Along with his work with Townie Tourist, Nick is the creator and host of Wait Five Minutes: The Floridian Podcast, which publishes every Friday. He can be found around Orlando desperately searching for the perfect blueberry muffin.

Junior Nyong'o IS Hamlet at Orlando Shakes

Would you rather…
A. Go to jail for something you didn’t do.
B. Commit a crime, get away with it, and have to live with the constant fear of getting caught


First off, big big thanks to Orlando Shakes for the behind the scenes peek at the prop shop and an invite to the dress rehearsal for Hamlet.

Now, the words to describe how riveting this performance is. I don’t think I can do it justice. The madness, humor, murder, leaping, swordplay, tenderness, and gnashing of teeth is almost too much. Three hours of following each character through one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays was enough to keep me up for hours afterward thinking about light and movement and color and story.

It’s so well done. The theatre has been transformed to bring the audience into the set. The rotating stage is set in Denmark with greys and blues and light that streams from above and below. Played in the round, every bit of the stage is used and shared with viewers from every angle. Balconies, stairs, wings. The action comes from all over and the scenes are played so very very well.


Y’all, Junior Nyong’o IS Hamlet. Horatio’s loyalty is exact. Polonius is perfect as a terminally bumbling father. Ophelia nearly steals the whole thing with her madness and gives new meaning to the words “hair sticks.” Gertrude is sat squarely in the middle of her ignorance. And… I may have fallen in love with evil uncle/brother/king Claudius. (#CheekbonesForDays)

Do not miss:
Hamlet’s passionate acrobatics in madness.
Opehlia’s mad rant.
Claudius’ prayer.
Gertrude’s awakening.
Final swordfight.

The show opens February 6th and runs through March 24th, 2019 in the Margeson Theatre at Orlando Shakes.

go. Go! GO!!!! Find tickets HERE.


“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

What You Need To Know About Zika

I’m not putting a giant mosquito photo here. So gross.

There’s an issue at hand that isn’t making headlines right now and I figured I’d share some resources that could help you plan. I know safety isn’t the sexiest travel topic, but Zika is still a thing. It’s in 86 countries, and many of the women travelers I know have Zika locations on their travel destination wish lists.

I did a bit of research on the CDC and World Health Organization sites to get info you can use when planning your next trip.

Facts about Zika:

Unlike malaria or other mosquito borne illnesses, Zika doesn’t have a vaccine yet. What’s worse, it’s difficult to determine whether you’ve been infected and sometimes symptoms are mild or don’t show up at all.

What is Zika?
It was first discovered in the 40s in Ugandan monkeys. In March 2015, Brazil reported a large outbreak of the Zika virus and today a total of 86 countries and territories have reported evidence of mosquito-transmitted Zika infections. 

How do you get Zika?
You can get Zika from a mosquito bite. Once infected, you may feel feverish or get pink eye or have headaches. Beyond the initial period that you have the virus, it can be transmitted sexually or through fluid exchange for months after you’ve been infected. Men can transmit Zika for six months after being infected (Zika lives longer in sperm) and women for two months.

Transmission can happen through vaginal, anal, and oral sex, and sharing of sex toys. Crazy, right?

Want to get pregnant?
Women of a reproductive age who intend to get pregnant should avoid areas with risk of Zika.

Pregnant women should NOT travel to areas with risk of Zika. If you must, please talk to your doctor about ways to protect your pregnancy.

If you or your partner travel to an areas with risk of Zika, you should use condoms from start to finish every time you have sex or not have sex for the entire pregnancy, even if neither of you have symptoms or feel sick.

Click here for sexual transmission information from the CDC.

“Zika causes microcephaly and other congenital abnormalities in the developing fetus and newborn. Zika infection in pregnancy also results in pregnancy complications such as fetal loss, stillbirth, and preterm birth.” In simpler terms, babies are born with smaller heads than normal, shorter limbs and in some cases, have been born with neurological problems and unable to hear or see.

Where is Zika?


Africa: AngolaBeninBurkina-FasoBurundiCameroonCape VerdeCentral African RepublicChadCongo (Congo-Brazzaville)Côte d’IvoireDemocratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa)Equatorial GuineaGabonGambiaGhanaGuineaGuinea-BissauKenyaLiberiaMaliNigerNigeriaRwandaSenegalSierra LeoneSouth SudanSudanTanzaniaTogoUganda

Asia: BangladeshBurma (Myanmar)CambodiaIndiaIndonesiaLaosMalaysiaMaldivesPakistanPhilippinesSingaporeThailandTimor-Leste (East Timor)Vietnam

The Caribbean: AnguillaAntigua and BarbudaArubaBarbadosBonaireBritish Virgin IslandsCubaCuraçaoDominicaDominican RepublicGrenadaHaitiJamaicaMontserratthe Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a US territorySaba; Saint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint MartinSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSint EustatiusSint MaartenTrinidad and TobagoTurks and Caicos IslandsUS Virgin Islands

Central AmericaBelizeCosta RicaEl SalvadorGuatemalaHondurasNicaraguaPanama

North America: Mexico

The Pacific Islands: FijiPapua New GuineaSamoaSolomon IslandsTonga

South America: ArgentinaBoliviaBrazilColombiaEcuadorFrench GuianaGuyanaParaguayPeruSurinameVenezuela

What to pack if you have planned travel to a Zika destination:
Long pants and long sleeved shirts
Mosquito repellant with DEET
If possible, sleep with a mosquito net at night.

Safe Travel Zones:

As of 1/2019 the CDC has listed the following as safe travel zones and some of them are pretty spectacular.

American Samoa
The Bahamas
Cayman Islands
Cook Islands
French Polynesia
Isla de Pascua, Chile
Marshall Islands
New Caledonia3
Saint Barthélemy

I get it. I do. Some of those Zika countries are the hottest destinations right now and others offer incredible travel deals. But be aware, be informed, and be prepared. Here’s to you being a healthy tourist.


This is the jerky Aedes mosquito.

For more information or an updated list on Zika, visit

LIVE at Grand Central Station

Did you know that there’s a tennis court in Grand Central Station? Or that American financier, John W. Campbell’s office is now a ‘secret’ bar? Some of the original chairs are still available to sit in, and you can find the best black and white cookie to take with you on your trip.

I was on my way to LaGuardia and Ariel Viera from Urbanist joined me in a live video. We went behind-the-scenes of this iconic New York City landmark.

Watch here:

The Townie Tourist Gets Real


Most of the people I know come up with a word to take them through the year. This year, for me, my word is REAL.

I’m getting real about who I am with regard to how I label myself (sober, feminist, professional enthusiast…) and how I allow others to label me. Physically being real. Not waxing this year. (Shock and horror!) Getting manicures and pedicures without any polish. (This one was kind of a must-do because of a dip-gel-polish incident that I’m still recovering from.)

And being more real with you. There’s a lot of my life that you don’t see on social media or read here on the blog. I’ve held you at arm’s length for a couple years while trying to figure out how much of myself to share. There’s so much that you don’t know or see. I think that by being more open I can get more real about how I travel and live life and see art in this tiny world, made tinier with social media and live video.

So here are a few things about me that you might not know or realize from what you’ve seen so far.

  • I’m actually an introvert who loves staying home in bed reading or listening to podcasts.

  • I have a heart condition called SVT or Supraventricular Tachycardia. It basically means I have electrical nodes in my heart that compete for beats. (Also why I should not drink coffee. Y’all, do not EVEN start with how many coffee pics I post on Insta.)

  • I have one younger sister who is a barber, and one older half-brother who is a truck driver.

  • My mom has Alzheimer’s. (Alzheimer’s sucks.)

  • I’m sober, and have been for 388 days (as of today).

  • I learned how to drive in a Model A Ford on an abandoned golf course in Orlando.

  • I have four tattoos. (A bird, a fish, my favorite quote, and hops)

  • I knocked out my front tooth in a bicycle accident when I was 12 and now I have a porcelain replacement. (Also why I’m super into bike safety and helmets and mouth-guards. Teeth are expensive.)

  • I love taxidermy. The anthropomorphic kind where squirrels wear pants, or the rogue kind where a rabbit might be mixed with a cat or some other animal.

I have to say I LOVE sharing with you through live video. You see things when I see them. It’s not scripted or planned out more than a couple emails. And I don’t want it to be. It’s not a reality show, it’s real life. UNSCRIPTED.

So, if you have a question about who I am or how I came to be…me, feel free to ask. I promise to be real.

ROCOCOLAB by the De La Torre Brothers


My first experience with blown glass was at the Renaissance Fair. The men (always men) would pull a molten glowing glob of orange out of a fire and turn it into a thing. Moving the hot glass around using metal hammers and pinchers and various tools. Sweat beading up on brows as we kids waited to see what shape would appear. (I don’t want to ruin the mystery for you, but it was almost always a rose or vase.)

My latest experience with blown glass is at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum. Einar and Jamex de la Torre, collaborating artists and brothers, have their first solo museum exhibition in Florida. You have to check this show out. And because CFAM is a teaching museum, there’s plenty to think about. While at California State University, the brothers started sculpting in hot glass and fell in love with its “intrinsic spontaneity.” Now they bring drawings and ideas to their workshop but essentially allow the mood and the moment to direct the outcome.


The brothers have created lenticular pieces. Lenticular printing is a technology in which lenses are used to produce printed images with an illusion of depth, or the ability to change or move as the image is viewed from different angles. I used to have lenticular bookmarks with jumping unicorns and kittens in baskets of flowers. I loved how their heads and legs moved or their eyes followed me as I flipped the bookmark back and forth.

The lenticulars that the brothers have created are completely different, addressing transnational identity and immigration incorporating Aztec iconography and themes of European art along with pop culture. I know that sounds super heavy, but I think one of the comments on the video was that the show reminded someone of The Simpsons. So do what you will with that comment and go see the show.

Watch this unique live interview at the opening of the CFAM show with Einar and Jamex de la Torre:

Cornell Fine Arts Museum

Monday closed
Tuesday 10 a.m - 7 p.m.
Wednesday-Friday 10 a.m - 4 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday Noon - 5 p.m.

Phone: 407-646-2526
1000 Holt Avenue
Winter Park, FL 32789

Instagram | Twitter

Because I love lenticular kittens!!

Because I love lenticular kittens!!



Anna Marie Christmas and I finally met in person at Florida Blog Con a couple years ago. We had already been following each other on social media for months. And when we connected it was like we’d been friends for years. I can’t get enough of her inspired style and professional drive. Read on to get to know more about Anna, her process, and her latest venture, SIDNEY BRUCE.

“I am a business owner, artist and advocate of women to build authentic and intentional relationships. After growing up in the panhandle of Florida, in a beautifully intense and loving family, I worked in the fashion industry for over sixteen years in New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Miami and London. My first passion is creating beauty in various mediums, such as fashion design, the fine arts and creative direction for special events. I now own and operate a creative agency that focuses on content production, wardrobe styling, branding and social media marketing. I am currently expanding my company to the UK and Europe and launching Sidney Bruce, an online shopping platform featuring emerging designers, selective brands and artists from around the world.

My second passion is women connecting, leading and loving each other well. I have worked for years to create events in which women from different walks of life can have a moment to meet each other where they are and to be encouraged to keep growing towards vulnerability, truth and hope.

In addition, I enjoy adventures around the world, painting, yoga and hosting fabulous parties for my close friends and family.
My hope for every woman is to be unashamedly themselves and to live in a fierce strength out of grace and love.”

"You are loved. You are free. You are ready now.” - Anna Marie Christmas


What time of day do you like to start work? 7am

Do you want to be liked or respected? Respected

What does your support team or network look like? 
I have strategically surrounded myself with like minded, ambitious, creative, kind, smart, authentic and driven people. Everything is a choice especially when it comes to relationships. People are the most important part of life and business. I currently am blessed to have a massive support team in more locations than one that embodies the above mentioned characteristics and values. In the next five years, my goal is to build a team of talent that would work out of an Orlando and London office. 

Do you do yoga the morning? Have wine with lunch? Socialize with your team after work? How do you connect and also unplug to do your best work? 
I love hot yoga and spin classes. I need to cry a lot so I go there to do that, sweat my stress out and to simply feel like a Wonder Woman-Beyonce-Warrior whenever possible. Getting into nature is a must for me. I need green, mountains, oceans and sky. It is imperative for me to reenergize in these places. Being at my family’s cabin in North Carolina or my Grandparent’s farm resets my perspective. It makes me appreciate the littlest of things and makes me stop. We are wonderfully and beautifully made and when I see the plants and birds I am reminded of how much I am loved and how my value and identity does not lie in how much I accomplish or fail at. I also adore hosting people in my home. I enjoy giving back to that powerful network that surrounds me by cooking and throwing fabulous garden parties under the stars. 

What would your key management advice be? 
Managing people is like parenting. It is the hardest yet the most rewarding work out yet. Your identity and value has nothing to do with the people you manage. Always do what is right, with no attachment to the fruit. If you make mistakes at managing others, you learn. If you successful at managing others, you learn. That is all. It isn’t about you… so get over yourself so you can lead well. If you do this, then you will not lead out of a place of fear which is the most destructive thing you could do as a manager. 

What do you find the most difficult part of your job? 
Learning to work out of a place of peace but still have drive, focus and ambition. It is a balancing act that I frankly have no idea how to do well. I also struggle with tedious and mundane tasks. #nopatience 

How has rejection in the space you’re passionate about fueled it? 
The minute someone tells me no… I get fire in my soul. I have been told before that I wasn’t a creative director, good enough, educated enough, fast enough, tough enough, dumb enough, pretty enough, small enough, rich enough, poor enough… the list goes on. I haven’t been taken seriously by family members, friends and bosses because of my ambitious goals, dreams and age. With this very project I have had people talk down to me on conference calls because the potential vendor was unprepared and they said no. I have been told no and have had to change plans, visions, goals and focus last minute. Being told no is imperative for growth, creativity and character building. Be thankful for the “no”.

What does ‘style' mean to you? 
Style means one being unashamedly one’s self and that translating into their choice in appearance and presence.

Have you ever made a mistake you wish you could take back? 
100%. I have lost my temper and lost a friend because of it. Nothing is ever worth proving. 

If you could fix one thing about your company today, what would it be? 
MONEY.  I have an ongoing list of the incredible people who are way better at running certain parts of this company than I am. I am looking forward to the day that Sidney Bruce can employ and house these people to do what they do best. 

Describe yourself using only emojis. 🔥🥂👑🌺🐅🗡

What are your favorite art galleries and/or museums in the world? 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art for their fashion exhibits their location by Central Park and Park Ave. 

What do you miss most about home when you travel?
My cats, Sheriff Kitty and Pip Squeak. 

Where do you go online to get inspired? 
Pinterest, Spotify ( I LOVE MUSIC) and podcasts.

Predicting trends is tough, how much does research play into what you do? 
Research doesn’t play into it. If you have to research it… it’s too late and the trend is upon us or already happened. Predicting trends is more about intuition and a little history more than anything. 

Three books, blogs, podcasts, or Instagrams you think we need to read, listen to, or see?
Podcast: How I Built This (all episodes) - It will comfort, inspire and grow you in business.  
Book: Art of War by SUN TZU - It will teach you how to do business.
Show: Game of Thrones - It will make you want to go after, stand up and fight for something. Also the costumes are bad ass.
All three of these bring you back to your humanness. It is important to understand the reality of who and where you are so you have the chance to be and go where you want to. Live in reality, fight for a dream.


SIDNEY BRUCE is an online shopping platform featuring a curated collection of emerging designers, selective brands and artists. SIDNEY BRUCE is all about shopping local without being local. Guests are able to shop a world of makers, creatives and artists. They can have special one-of-a-kind garments, accessories, and art delivered to their doorstep. 

Instagram: @shop.sidney.bruce

Meet the Maker: Anayansi Jones


Amanda Jones is also known by her artist name Anayansi. An Orlando artist and ceramicist from Clearwater, and a graduate of UCF, Orlando is now where she calls home. This month she is curating her first exhibition at Mills Gallery. The show is called TREPIDATION and features artists Peterson Guerrier, PJ Svejda, Jason Littlefield, Ivelisse Perez, Scott White, and Evan Rosato. The opening is from 6-9PM and you may feel feelings if you decide to go. That’s what art does. And these locals are good at making us feel.

What time of day do you like to start working on your art?

I like to start working in the morning, around 9:30 or 10:00. I like working first thing in the morning because otherwise I might get caught up doing something that’s not related to creating and making art. I tend to be intense and focus when I work, however, I do take 5-10-minute breaks to keep my quality up. 

Do you want to be liked or respected?

I think generally everyone wants to be respected as an artist, but not everyone wants their work to be liked. Personally, I want to be respected, however, not everyone has to like me or my artwork. To me there is a huge difference between like and respect. I know the actual definition of respect is different from the way I use the word. To me respect is when you understand another person’s boundaries and you take each individual for who they are and what they create; however, under no circumstances do you have to like them or their work. Ideally, you can walk into a gallery and say, “I don’t like this work” but still respect it enough to recognize its value as art.

What does your support system look like?

I have a husband who supports me all the way. I go to a studio ceramic studio called Porch Pottery that has an open studio membership. All the artists there are very friendly and supportive. I also have 2 dogs and 3 cats that all stare at me when I’m doing work. Does that count as support? (Townie Tourist says YES!)

What would your key artist advice be?

Don’t be afraid to experiment with your work. Try different materials, different subjects, or objects that might not be consider art. AND don’t be afraid to fail or get rejected. 

What do you find the most difficult part of your work?

The most difficult part of my job is being my own boss. It’s both a blessing and a curse. As an artist you’re not just creating but your marketing yourself, managing your website, photographing your work, and going to exhibitions to represent yourself. It can feel very overwhelming and to me, if I fail at any of these tasks, the only person I have to blame is myself. But I remind myself that these things take time and experience is so valuable, so I try not to be too hard on myself. I’m bound to fail and I have been rejected many times. But this is part of the job. I just have to keep pushing forward.

Have you ever made a mistake you wish you could take back?

It’s not really a mistake but I lacked self-confidence when I was at UCF and I didn’t apply myself the way I know I could have.

Describe your typical Florida uniform. What do you wear when you want to feel like yourself?

Yoga pants with paint or clay all over them with comfy shoes and a shirt. I love to be comfortable.

How does Orlando inspire you?

Orlando is full of wonderful and friendly artists that inspire me to keep pushing myself. I love how friendly the art community is here and how many of the artists I’ve met are doing amazing things like murals, solo exhibitions, and just all-around impressive work.

What do you miss most about home when you travel?

I’m originally from Clearwater, Florida by Tampa. I miss the being really close to the beach and having that sea breeze. I miss driving over the Courtney Campbell Causeway and seeing the bay on either side. But when I leave Orlando, I miss my friends and the food. 

Describe your ideal food day in Orlando.

Easy! Beefy King for lunch and Asian food for dinner like Domu, Izziban, or Thai House. Any of those three! So good, I highly recommend all those places.


Get in touch with Anayansi:


Meet the Maker: Val Rodriguez


Val Rodriguez is co-founder of benni. She’s got an incredible take on health and wellness. She and benni co-founder Bryant Joseph both had experienced “toxic relationships with work, food, people and, to an extent, even our sense of self.” They started to explore wellness but realized that “none of the current brands spoke to us because we weren’t typical aspirational wellness customers. We don’t think that feeling good has to feel like punishment and that wellness should be accessible. benni was started as a product for people who see past internet fads and look within themselves for a wellness lifestyle that works for them.”

1. What time of day do you like to start working?

I used to think starting to work early in the mornings would induct me into “The Most Productive Members of Society Club”, but it felt incredibly forced and unproductive. I begin feeling like I enjoy my work more and am the most productive around 10 and 11 in the morning. My mornings belong to me. These days they’re spent practicing meditations, making deliciously messy smoothies, and spending time with my dog.  

2. Do you want to be liked or respected?

Ugh. I struggle with this as I imagine any typical Enneagram Type 3 would. Must they be mutually exclusive? I want it all, Jenny. If I had to choose, I’d pick respected because maybe I’d be able to get more accomplished. I don’t necessarily think I need people to love me, I’d settle for folks believing that my intentions are good and that my mind and heart are in the right place.

3. What does your support system look like?

My partner, Marissa, knows first hand how mentally consumed by work I can become. Her support looks like standing up to me when I’m being unrealistic with myself about the amount of pressure my projects require. My business partner, Bryant, is one of the most anti-bullshit business oriented people that I have ever met. We’re an unlikely match and I think we compliment each other quite well in so many ways. It brings me so much comfort to know I can call him with anything and know he will pull through. My parents, who come from humble roots in Puerto Rico and embody work-ethic and resilience, have unwavering belief in me which is just the best soul fuel I can get. I also have an incredible group of close friends and mentors that I look up to that keep me grounded and dreaming. 

4. What would your key entrepreneur advice be?

I’m still getting used to identifying as an “entrepreneur”, but what I’ve learned thus far is:

  • Invest in understanding who your customer is and what they care about. This takes time and never-ending curiosity.

  • Not everyone’s going to like what you’re doing and that’s okay because not everyone is your customer. 

  • Keep your head down and do the work. I learned the hard way what it meant for me to get consumed by the fear of failure because of what people expected from me and the ways that stress manifests through your mental and physical health. It’s actually what led me to start benni.

5. What do you find the most difficult part of your work?

I  didn’t study business, marketing, nutrition, or food science in college, so it’s all been difficult but I enjoy problem solving and having Bryant to figure it all out with has been invaluable. I wouldn’t say there is a particularly difficult aspect to working on benni, but as an “entrepreneur” I do struggle with the anxiety of not having financial security amongst many other “uncertainties”. There is no better time than the present to risk it all. Seriously, what do you have to lose when you’re already a broke millennial?

6. Have you ever made a mistake you wish you could take back?

I contemplated telling you about my previous startup, but I think all my failures with that were capacity building. I am a better entrepreneur because of that endeavor and my inner voice and gut instincts are stronger than ever.

7. If you could fix one thing about your business today, what would it be?

Rather than “fixing”, I think grasping a better understanding of our customers needs and what product innovations would surprise and delight them is something we’re continuously working towards. 

8. What does ‘wellness’ mean in Central Florida/Jacksonville?

Florida is going through an exciting evolution as people develop a more advanced understanding and appreciation for wellness and self-care practices that conveniently fit into their lifestyle. Making wellness as an industry a more accessible lifestyle to adopt is what we are passionate about and I believe that resonates well with communities everywhere.

9. Describe your typical Florida uniform. What do you wear when you want to feel like yourself?

You’ll find me in a snapback hat, a target t-shirt, and skinny jeans most days regardless of the weather and if I’m headed to kickboxing later in the evenings, I’ll rep leggings. #fashun ?

10. How does your city inspire you?

I’m fairly new to Jacksonville and am awe-inspired by the amount of people here willing to connect and excited to collaborate. I’ve never been surrounded by so many talented, genuine, and intentional people and I’m absolutely spoiled because of it.  

11. What do you miss most about home when you travel?

Besides my dog, I miss the comfort of my space. Usually when I travel I’m constantly surrounded by people and that can be rowdy and noisy and although I’m a true extrovert, I’ve really embraced my “me” time and find myself looking forward to it every day.  

12. Describe your ideal food day in Jax.

I’m still exploring new spots in Jax, but if I were to describe my eating out foodie dreams on a Saturday, I would say I’d start the day by grabbing a honey-vanilla latte with an extra shot of espresso at Bold Bean Riverside (if you ever want to meet up, you can find me there on any day). 

For brunch I’d swing by Community Loaves and get the pancakes. Listen people. These are not your average pancakes. They’re sweet with crispy edges and honestly my mouth is watering as I type. They only have the pancakes on the weekends, so I can’t get my hopes up as it’s only Tuesday. 

Dinner would be spent elbows deep in wine and the cheese plate at the hidden restaurant in Riverside Liquors #wellness


benni is a single-serving plant-based wellness blend that's mixed into your favorite drink for daily sustained energy, sleep, and relaxation.

benni products are crafted around different functional uses such as "Stamina, Sleep, or Relaxation." All benni products are natural, Non-GMO, Vegan, Gluten Free, and Cruelty Free. 

benni is derived from the Latin "bene" (meaning "wellness") and exemplifies the fact that benni blends contain various "benni-fits." benni's herbal blends can be added to any drink such as water, tea, smoothies, and sparkling water.

One of benni's core values is wellness accessibility. We believe that wellness is for everyone not just individuals that meet the traditional wellness industry aesthetic.

Stamina will be the first herbal product benni launches. 

Look for it soon! Sign up on the website for launch updates.