2017 Blogger Recognition Award

I was pretty excited to recently find out I’d received the Blogger Recognition Award from a fellow blogger, Mandi, who pens the brilliant blog Big Tiny Steps. She’s newer to the blogging game, but how awesome for her to find time to encourage and acknowledge other bloggers she loves?! Thank you!

The requirement for this award is that I write up why I started my blog. If you’ve been following along the past few years, you’ll know that the reason I started this whole crazy ball of wax was because I accepted a job working as an au pair in France.

Throughout my pre-au pair experience I blogged about how anxious I was about moving to another country, and then that grew to the pride and struggles and joys and tears of living 5,000 miles from my home city. France was difficult, but having a platform to write down my hopes and fears, and all 7 million emotions I was feeling, made it so much easier. This also became a platform where I could rely on beautiful people to encourage and make me laugh, even on the bad days. It’s always been an interactive experience for me, and I love that. More than anything, travel is something I want to share with those around me. It’s not about me. It was never about me. It’s about sharing experiences so much bigger than myself with a global community.

2 Pieces of Advice:

1. It’s gonna hurt

It’s so hard to keep writing consistently, because life happens and shit (sorry mom) goes down, and you forget to write (or just don’t want to). Do it anyway. If you started a blog because your heart was screaming for you to write (which I’ve found is often the case) then it’s your obligation to yourself, and the universe, to put pen to paper…or fingers to type keys. Set up a schedule. For instance, when I first started off I blogged twice per week NO MATTER WHAT. It took me a while to figure out what day was best for my audience, but once I got the hang of it, things went better. I’d say it took me about 6 months to get “comfortable” about blogging consistently, and to be honest I still struggle with it, occasionally.

2. HAVE FUN!

Finished is better than done. Your blog posts do not need to be perfect. Not saying you should throw unedited work up on your blog, necessarily, but you don’t need to wait until you’re “ready” to post. Especially if you’re a perfectionist, like me, you’ll probably never reach that point. Just hit the publish button. More than likely people reading just really want to hear from you.

Nominations

Here are my nominations for blogs that I think exemplify this award, whether that be because I admire their bravery in what they write, love their style of writing/blogging, or just can’t wait to see what they post next!

  1. Samantha Deubel Photography
  2. Rise Up Mamas
  3. Samantha Farquharson
  4. Joy Filled Wander
  5. Traveling The World Solo
  6. Very Hungary Explorer
  7. Celeste Noche
  8. 22 Stars
  9. The Wandering Ginger
  10. The Bearded Genderqueer
  11. Katie Geluso
  12. Camino Casamel
  13. Life of Fairy Tales
  14. Mikayla Jane Travels
  15. Madison McGhee 

Now that you’ve been nominated— pay it forward, and spread the love to your favorite bloggers!

  • Include who nominated you and a link to their blog.
  • Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award.
  • Write a story about how and why you started your blog.
  • Give new bloggers two pieces of advice.
  • Provide a comment on each nominees blog to tell them about the award with a link to this post.

6 of the Best Style Tips I Learned from France

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A little known fact about me is that I have a degree in fashion design. I don’t usually talk about it because in the professional world I don’t use those skills as much, but I grew up making clothes and sewing and I’ve always loved style. I also grew up watching entirely too many black and white movies, so I have a soft spot for classy clothing and pearl earrings. 1950’s Paris *sigh*. When I lived in France one of the parts that I loved was seeing all of the beautiful European style. I would have loved it more if I was making any amount of money close to a salary so I could buy any of these clothes, but not having the income to splurge made me vastly more aware of the trends and how I would apply them to my own life, once I got back into a position to. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

shoppingSimplicity is Queen
One of the most beautiful things about living in France was how simple the style and lifestyle is. Now it’s important to note that we’re not talking Scandinavian minimalism (although I’m sure there are houses that follow that) but the French have a clean, yet intricate, attention to detail that I absolutely adore. I love the minimalism, mixed with color and patterns and my heart was won over by the beautiful patterns that you can find in so many homes.

Pearls Solve a Multitude of Sins
Having a bad day? Not feeling like feeling you’re usual classy self? Throw on some pearl stud earrings! This is one of my favorite style hacks because it makes me feel like Audrey Hepburn on days when I’m feeling more like Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street. And who doesn’t want to look like Audrey? No hands? I didn’t think so. Not ready to throw down on real pearls? I’ve found some really great pairs of studs at Nordstrom that do the trick, while on a budget.

Mix and Max

You’re probably thinking that the French spend millions each year on clothing. And, of course, for some you’re probably right. But some of the classiest women I ever met taught me the very important lesson to mixing where you shop. This means you may have a designer wool peacoat, but your t-shirt is from Abercrombie. This lesson taught me that it’s not just about what you’re wearing, it’s about how you’re wearing it. And another key is to buy quality, over quantity. When you do splurge, splurge on statement pieces that are going to last you years. There’s a really great book I have called Paris Chic that does a great job of outlining Parisian and French fashion. Your wardrobe will thank you for the $1.99 you spent buying it.

Treat Yourself
The French know how to pamper themselves, and I don’t mean going out and coming back with a carload of clothes charged on their credit card. I mean lotions, bubble baths and perfumes. I mean those things that make you feel like gold – even with nothing on. Spending the extra dollars to buy quality skin care products is worth it. Treat yourself, and your body, by investing in some bath salts or some soothing lotions. You’ll be surprised how lovely you feel without even needing to spend money on clothes.

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Scarves
If there’s one style tip that I’m so glad I learned when living in France, it’s the beauty of scarves. From light and airy to bulky and bold, scarves aren’t really something I invested in before I lived in Europe. But I’m definitely now riding the scarf train! A great scarf can not only double your options on a simple sweater, they’re a lot less expensive than buying a whole new wardrobe. And they’re warm. I’m all about the warm. I’ve found some of my favorites at Nordstrom (because, despite popular opinion, Nordstrom isn’t always crazy expensive, if you know the right places to look), but I also love to buy them at World Market.

Kids Wear
One of the cutest things about living in France was definitely the children. The child style goals I now have are insanely high. Like, I kind of want to fly to France yearly so that I can dress my future children. Yeah, that bad. The cute little animals, the cute little patterns. All of it. If you’re looking to replicate all the cuteness (or just see what I’m talking about), you can type in “French kids clothing” in Pintrest and envy away, or hop over to Petit Bateau which has a U.S. website but totally French kids style. J’adore.

Why I Cut ‘Jealous’ Out Of My Travel Vocabulary

Last week I bought a plane ticket to Europe. In January I’m going to be taking a trip through 5 countries and honestly I’m so excited to be going to my second “home,” again.

With every trip/travel experience I’ve taken, I come across people who say that they’re “jealous.” And while I know it’s not generally meant negatively, I wanted to have a quick housekeeping talk about it.jealousy-quoteObviously I’m not immune to the green monster that is jealousy, but I’ve noticed this conversation happening a lot, lately. I had to stop and think: Do we know what we’re saying?

Note for the love of linguistics: When we say, “I’m jealous!” what we’re actually saying is that we’re afraid of losing something.

“Jealousy is an anticipatory emotion. It seeks to prevent loss,” said Ralph Hupka, Professor of Psychology, Emeritus at California State University at Long Beach.

Despite the common misuse of the word (what’s new? #English) what we generally mean is that we’re envious of what the other person has. For this piece we’ll move forwards with the common knowledge that we, as a society, use the words synonymously, and that ‘jealous’ is interchangeable with the meaning of envy.

And now, back to your regular program/rant…

Why am I even talking about this? Well, in the travel community I think it can be easy to look over at someone else’s accomplishments (I’m lookin’ at you Mr. 153 countries in 2 years) and feel a certain tinge of green.

When you see that someone bought a plane ticket to a place you’ve always wanted to go, your initial reaction, as you’re sitting in your cubicle typing, probably isn’t going to be to high-five them. But guess what? You should. Why? Because that’s how we build community. You have to CELEBRATE.

As a woman, I think a lot of us grew up being pitted against each other. For some reason we’re supposed to be in competition with every other woman on the planet, and we’re supposed to sit in a corner moping, if we don’t sing like Taylor Swift, and have moves like Beyoncé.

When have we EVER been encouraged to throw a party when one of us kicks ass and conquers?!

Three years ago, after a rather tragic and heart breaking experience (#storyforanothertime) I decided to stop using the word “jealous” in my conversations with people (and to be honest, even in my mental conversations).

Why was it that when those people accomplished their dreams, I felt like I needed to protect myself from losing my own. Sound ridiculous? Sound familiar?

Hint: That’s not how it works.

I started my little vocab experiment when I realized how terrible I felt after I said I was jealous of someone. Even if it was meant to be light-hearted, it didn’t feel right. And generally speaking (unless the person was a smug-ass) I noticed that nobody was reacting positively to me expressing my jealousy.

At first it was really hard, I’m not going to lie. And to be more honest, it still is. Sometimes the words bubble up to my lips before I even get a chance to think about them and I have to push them back down. It’s a bit like trying to get a rolled sleeping bag back in its bag.

The Results: What I noticed when I stopped using “jealous” to describe my feelings is that my mindset changed. I started to replace stagnant thoughts with questions like, “How can I do that?”
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A few years ago I wanted to do a lot of things that I didn’t have the courage to do. Mainly because I spent hours on Pintrest/travel websites drooling over what other people were posting.

That’s no way to live.

When you start to ask yourself “how” you can make things happen, you start to open doors, and you start pushing yourself forward. Believe me, the universe knows when you’ve opened yourself up to new experiences. You might even land in another country, attempting to speak somewhat fluent French.

I’m just saying. It’s happened before.

The part that breaks my heart is that society is (generally) not on our side. Spend 5 minutes looking at ads on your TV and you’ll quickly see that we, as Americans, are constantly in competition with each other. MAKE the grass on your side greener so the Jones’ (and everyone else!) has to drool in envy. Go on a Caribbean cruise so your coworkers are envious (not to spend time with your family, don’t be ridiculous). The list goes on and on.

Fight it.

Get off your couch and go DO something. Buy a plane ticket, or start saving to buy one. And stop saying you can’t. Before I really even knew how to budget (or anything about travel), I would put away the tiniest amount of money every month, daring not to hope. When I finally had the guts to buy a plane ticket I had the backup that I needed. Literally EVERY SINGLE person told me not to, but I did anyway. Why? Because that was MY dream.

And now it’s time for yours to start.

Jealousy is a stagnant emotion. It doesn’t move you forward. It’s like one of those stupid gumdrop traps in Candyland that makes you lose a turn.

Stop jealously looking at what others are doing, and start making things happen in your own life. You’re so much more powerful than you know.

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Review: Pilbara Au Pair Service

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Let’s talk becoming an au pair.

I get a lot of people telling me how amazing the whole au pair journey sounds, and I’m always a little bit hesitant to allow them to romanticize my experience. When I was an au pair I signed up using an online service that was great for connecting with a family, but offered about the same amount of the security that a Craigslist purchase does.

After a mess with my first host family, and a less than ideal experience with my second, I would have loved to have worked with an agency that had supported me.

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I don’t write very many posts reviewing services, but this comes from one that a close friends has used, and which, I feel, represents a business that cares as much about the well being of their au pairs as they do their host families.

The service specializes in western Australia, so unfortunately they’re not global, but if you’re thinking about going down the path of becoming an au pair, I can definitely recommend them!

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The best part? If you’ve already gone through other avenues to find an au pair position, this service will also help you work out agreements, contracts or just having support in your current position! Click HERE for more information! Or check out this FAQ Sheet !

You can also check out Pilbara Au Pair Services on social media: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook

Memoirs of A French Au Pair: 1 Year Back In The U.S.

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This time last year I was packing my suitcases and planning on getting the hell out of France. I was so over it. I was over my job. Over my living situation and over the idea that I had made the right decision moving there in the first place. In short, I was over it (and everything that ‘it’ encompassed).

If I sound like an angsty teen here, I apologize. And then I unapologize. Because life is hard sometimes, and we have a right to look up to the heavens and shout, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING BRINGING ME HERE!?” There was a lot of that when I lived in France. And that’s okay. Because I don’t believe that God wants subservient robots and I strongly believe that he likes us having real dialog with him. Even when things are hard. Especially when things are hard.

When I moved to France I thought it was going to solve all of my problems. I was sick of seeing people get engaged/married or posting baby pics on Facebook and I decided to DO something with my life. So I quit my job, bought a plane ticket and went (way harder than that, but you get the point). Then the first bad thing happened… and then another. And another and another and another and finally I started to wonder if I had made the right decision? Had I done something with my life, or had I ruined the perfectly good life I had already had?

Risk.

I’m not usually a very risky person. In fact, I would go as far as to say I adore being comfortable and secure. I don’t gamble. I don’t really like taking chances. I’ve ordered the exact same flavor of bubble tea at the exact same place for six years. It’s who I am. I like knowing what I’m getting into. So when I felt the extreme push in my life to move to France, I felt so certain that it was a divine intervention. Let’s be real, it pretty much had to be.

Fast forward nine months and my little idealistic dream boat had been battered and thrown into the shoals. It wasn’t painted and glowing with idealistic promises, anymore. That shit (sorry, mom) was borderline Titanic-post-iceberg status. All I wanted to do was to run away. So I did. And I’m okay with that decision, but I what I did next was wrong.

I tried to ignore and repress and never ever ever think about France.

In fact, I can honestly say I’ve been almost entirely removed from my experience up until the last couple of weeks. It’s very rare that I’ll talk about my experiences there. In fact, I basically don’t talk about that year, at all. At first I told myself that it was because I was too busy or that I had too much on my plate. But the reality was that I didn’t want to have to think about the fact that I had failed at something (or, at least, my definition of failure). France was not magical, fun, beautiful, a fairytale or anything like Audrey Hepburn described it. That’s a tourists dream. Not this expat’s reality.

And at the end of it all I’m still not sure that I have an answer for, “What I learned.” I know that I’ve become a much different person, because I can see it in the reflection of the people who were closest to me, before I moved. Since those changes were gradual they’re much harder for me to personally distinguish.

But I have changed. And I can feel it.

This year back in the U.S. has been one of the most hectic and crazy that I’ve ever had. At times I’ve felt like I was drowning in an ocean, too overwhelming to overcome. Other times I’ve felt so overwhelmingly loved and supported. Overall, this has been a year of drastic highs and earth-shattering lows.

I can’t even believe that one year has already passed. On the one hand it feels like no time at all, and on the other I feel like five years has passed in the course of one. Such is life.

It’s taken almost the entirety of the year for me to finally start having some pieces fall into place. A lot is still up in the air, but things will hopefully click, soon. Over the past year I’ve been bouncing between more jobs than I can count, I’ve moved four times, and I’ve been dutifully pay off the debt (Paris is hella expensive) that I incurred while living abroad (halfway done!) in addition to my student loans (also halfway there). If there’s one thing I learned in France, it’s that I NEVER want to have to think about student loans again, and the sooner they’re gone the better. I hate how “normal” it is for people my age to have tens of thousands of dollars in debt before they really even start their adult lives. It’s basically nonexistent in so many European countries, and I cannot wait to be done with them for good.

The highlights of this year? I’ve gone to three conventions, which was something I had placed on my bucket list while I was living in France. I’ve taken one trip out of the country (Scotland, Ireland, England) and three smaller trips (soon to be four) within the U.S. I’ve seen Riverdance (twice!) and Lord of the Dance, I started a Star Wars painting that will someday be awesome, and I started the process of writing/putting together a comic book with one of my friends. All in all this year has been so incredibly hard, but I’m so thankful for the friends who have held my hand, wrapped me in wool blankets with cups of tea and given me comic books to help me through.

Moving back from France was a really hard decision. It was a hit to my pride (because I honestly didn’t think I would ever come back) and it was a life lesson in how much I actually do need others to make it through this crazy circus called life. Today I was looking at pictures from just two years ago and it’s insane to think about how different things are, now. I was a completely different person. From my ideals, to the way that I approach life, I can honestly say that basically nothing is the same. Maybe this transformation will prove beneficial in the upcoming year. Maybe it won’t. But the point of this long-winded tale is: Fail you might, but try you must.

So here’s to one year of making shit work (sorry for the swearing, mom). The past few years have been just about anything other than what I thought they would be. And that’s OKAY. I give you all permission to be confused, and angry, and elated and to feel torn in a hundred different directions. Life doesn’t have to be exactly what we plan, we just have to be ready to keep moving forward, not matter what is thrown our way.

Invincible Me

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Memories are funny things. Childhood memories can be filled with imagined wonder, or overwhelming pain. And, looking back at my crazy bookworm artist braided hair younger self; I see so much more insight into who I am, and who I am becoming, as an adult.

Looking back, I see all of the laughter, the imagination, the beauty, the pain, the curiosity, the anger and confusion – and I sometimes think I was so much more intact when I was a child. Because, back then, I didn’t worry about being filtered. I laughed and danced because it was time to laugh and it was time to dance, not because I had been told by society to do, or not to do, one or the other.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about when I was 11 years old.

My grandma, who I had only met once, had died and I was laying on my bed, curled in a crescent shape. Alone. And wondering if I should cry. At the time, I suppose it would have been the right thing to do. But all I could do was sit there, curled up, wondering whether I was supposed to do it.

That was the beginning of a pretty unhealthy relationship with tears.

You see, I was raised in a very non-emotional family. We didn’t cry, hug, say ‘I love you’ or talk about emotions in pretty much any other way. We were strong. We were invincible. Or, at least, in my naivety, that’s what I thought.

Over the next decade I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry at sad movies, funerals, when pets died, or when sad things happened in the world. I was invincible. I was strong. Or that’s what I told myself.

I still can count the number of people who have seen me cry on one hand. It’s a pretty rare occasion, and like any natural phenomena it’s usually brief and then gone, like it never happened in the first place. Crying just wasn’t ever an acceptable means of communication in my life.

Then I moved to France.

Americans make fun of the French, a lot, for how emotional they are. And, to a certain extent, those jokes aren’t always wholly unfounded. In my one year in Paris, I saw more tantrums, and crying fits than I had in my entire existence. And I’m not talking about from the kids.

Maybe it was the culture that was surrounding me, or maybe it was the trauma of being alone in a country 5,000 miles away from your next closest friend. But, when I lived in France I cried – quite a lot. In fact, I wouldn’t even say ‘cry’ is a solid enough word. I wept. A lot.

And while it still wasn’t in front of people, and there still weren’t tantrums involved, I think I have to thank France for giving me back my tears.

You see, something I’ve realized, since being back in the US, is how much more emotional I am. When shit is sad, I cry (sorry, for the swearword, mom). When I’m upset, I cry. When I see something heartbreaking in the news, I care…and sometimes I cry.

And while I may not be single-handedly supporting the Kleenex industry (yet), that’s a really big deal for me. But what’s more substantial, in my opinion, is the realization that for so long, I believed a lie.

Crying and caring hasn’t made me weaker.

It has made me so much stronger. I’m able to invest so much more in the people and relationships around me. It has pushed me forward, and allowed me to focus on creating a solution, rather than trying to control the problem.

I hear a lot about people who don’t cry: they’re tough, they’re cool, they’re manly, they’re invincible. But the truth is that we are broken. And don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – brokenness builds beauty all the time.

But, speaking from the other side, I’ve learned so much more about my own ability to rise higher, dig deeper and pursue and dream more. There’s something empowering about the ability to cry. In a way, I like to think of it like a phoenix burning. It can hurt to feel pain, and to allow your body to process it. But, in the end, it creates something even more beautiful; something renewed.

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Your Questions Answered: Becoming An Au Pair

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I’ve been getting a lot of questions, lately, from various sources about my au pair experience and I thought I would do a kind of “post au pair year” post to answer a few of your questions! So here it is, the good the bad and the ugly.

One of the questions I get the most is whether or not I “liked” my experience. First off, this is a broad question because asking if I “liked” an entire year of my life is about as easy to answer as if you asked a five year old if they liked the last 24 hours of their life – they probably don’t remember, there were probably good and bad things that happened, but they’re still alive so it’s all good.

The thing is, being an au pair is the same as being in any other work profession – there are good days and there are bad days. The thing that is different, is that you don’t get to leave work when you’re having a bad day. You can’t walk away from your boss, you can’t fake sick days (or even take sick days, in general – I knew several au pairs (myself included) who worked through colds, the flu, and even the chicken pox. That’s right – she didn’t get off from work when she had chicken pox). While being romaticized mentally by many, I would say the most accurate/closest portrayal I’ve ever seen is The Nanny Diaries. It’s no piece of cake, that’s for sure.

The best parts of being an au pair would probably be the same as when you’re working as a nanny – you have A LOT of free time. While some families require for you to work in the morning (taking the kids to school) as well as the afternoon, my au pair family only required that I worked after school, meaning I started work every day at about 3pm (NOTE: Except Wednesdays – which, in France, is a no/half school day – depending on the age of your children). Which means I had time during the day to go out and do things, or just stay in my house and work on projects. This also meant that I was able to come back a little bit later from (the many) weekend trips that I made.

This brings up another really great fact and that is: All au pair families are not the same. These differences can include, but are not limited to:

  • Whether you work mornings or just afternoons
  • Whether you have a room in the house or separate
  • Whether your transportation (public transportation card/card/etc) is paid for
  • Whether your communication is paid for – some families will pay for your phone
  • Whether your au pair family will have you babysit on weekends
  • Whether the family will pay you for working additional days/nights (some don’t)
  • Whether your language classes/lessons are paid for
  • How much you get paid and how you get paid (direct deposit/cash each week/monthly)

Most of these things didn’t work in my favor with my au pair situation. While I did have weekend freedom, as well as no need to babysit (generally, since there were older kids who could), I didn’t have any additional resources paid for, which did make living a little bit harder, overall (since actual pay only came to 80 euro/week). This is something to REALLY think about/ask about when you’re finding an au pair family. Look at your own personal finances and make sure that things align with what your  income will be for the next year of living in a foreign country and make sure that you fill in gaps with your own savings, before the move.

My biggest piece of advice, in general, would be for you to check, double check, Skype, phone call, email and talk to your potential family as much as possible. I would also highly suggest talking to past nannies or au pairs that they’ve had. While I wouldn’t recommend the family that I worked with, I have been asked by other au pairs who were thinking about working for them, and I was able to let them know. Communication is key! This is also a great indicator of how you will be able to communicate once you move there – if your au pair family isn’t willing to communicate with you while you’re abroad that might be an indicator of other underlying problems with the position, which will come up once you actually get there.

I would also say make sure you have a really great support system. The only reason I was able to come out sane, after my time in France was because I had such an amazing support system back at home that was encouraging me, sending me snail mail and Skyping me. Asking your au pair family about whether they know other au pair families in their city, s also a really great way to connect with other au pairs.

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When it comes down to it, being in a foreign country is really isolating and can be incredibly lonely (like a whole different level of lonely than I had ever experienced before). Having this support system really CAN make or break your experience. Also – if you know you enjoy living in a city and being active socially don’t take a position in a small town. I know it might seem adventurous, but overall it probably isn’t going to be a good decision. Keep true to yourself, even if the “perfect” family doesn’t come around right away, it’s worth making sure they’re the right family for you, before making the leap.

Maneuvering the realm of being an au pair is an adventure that isn’t for everyone. There are benefits to leaving your comfort zone and striking out in the world, but make sure that you look before you leap. As I always say with any kind of travel, don’t take on something in order to escape something else. Make sure you do your research, and make sure you aren’t settling.

And, as always: If you ever have questions or comments, or find yourself in an au pair position that just doesn’t seem right email me at morehouseemilee@gmail.com Blog Signature