Ghana Bound

IMG_6857I’m heading to Ghana today, and I can’t wait to be back in West Africa. The climate of the region has calmed considerably since last summer’s heartwrenching Ebola outbreak, and I’m really ready to be back at the Touch A Life Care Center with the children and staff whom we love so much.

I never got around to posting photos from the last time I was in Ghana (way back in August of 2013, oh my gosh!), so I thought I’d share some with you now. I was so thrilled that I got to travel with two of my nearest & dearest friends, Lauren & Patrick Cone. We went to Ghana with a group of about 15 volunteers and we helped lay a mosaic installation in Seth’s Social Center; host tons of fun activities for the children while they were on summer vacation; and visit Lake Volta, the home to nearly 10,000 child slaves, brainstorming with our Ghanaian staff to determine the best way to make space for more children at our facility. Patrick shot this amazing video for Touch A Life on that trip, which I think is the most powerful & beautiful way to sum up what our organization does.

I can’t wait to share photos from this trip when I get back in a few weeks. I had high hopes of scheduling out posts while I’m gone but I didn’t quite get every item tackled on my to-do list, so this post will have to suffice. See you soon, friends!

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Darling Magazine

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I have been blessed with the opportunity to write for the beautiful & inspiring Darling Magazine since the publication’s inception in 2011. Thanks to my college roommate, who was one of the first editors for the magazine, I got in at the ground level, allowing me to be able to write for both the print & online mediums on a consistent basis. It’s been such a special experience to write for a magazine that has so much heart, a publication that has gained a phenomenal following since the debut issue hit boutiques and newsstands three years ago. The reason Darling has so many faithful readers is not only because it’s a beautiful (ad-free!) quarterly publication but also because the articles in the print piece as well as on the blog are written with so much soul, as if girlfriends are sitting down together to hash out interesting, difficult, relevant topics. It’s a wonderful community to be a part of; I feel so grateful to be a member of the Darling family.

To pick up a copy of the quarterly magazine, visit Darling’s website. Check out the blog here, and read my most recent piece on intentional friendship here – this was one of my most favorite posts to write. If you’re in a blog-reading mood, check out all of my posts here!

Fringe Hours

77a739df6567692f00457bfa75adea4fI recently read The Fringe Hours by Jennifer Turner and there were so many good takeaways from the book that I’ve already applied many of them to my everyday life. I admit that I didn’t always relate to the author’s tone, and some of the content didn’t resonate with me (the book seemed mostly geared towards women with young families), but there were some irreplaceable insights in the book that caused me to sit and ponder how I can best use my time. The concept of the book is focused on identifying our fringe hours, the little bits of time that are found in between meetings, while checking out at the grocery store, or while waiting for appointments that collectively add up to create large chunks of time that we can use to pursue our passions, restore our souls, or even knock items off of our to-do lists. In a review about the book, author Laura Vanderkam sums up the concept best:

“Have you ever claimed to be busy but lost an hour to Pinterest? In this gentle yet no-nonsense book, Jessica nudges us to question how we spend our time and to find ways to bring joy into the little and large space of our lives.”

This quote highlights exactly what I loved about the book. The premise initially seems so straightforward, causing me to wonder why I even need to read it – the subject matter appears to be obvious: spend time doing things that are productive and beneficial and you will be a happier, more well-rounded and complete person. But once I started analyzing how you use my fringe hours, I realized that so much of my time that could be life-giving ends up wasted. The book turned m attention to ways that I can be more intentional with the pockets of time that I’ve been gifted with, using them to pursue my dreams or brighten up my days.

While reading The Fringe Hours, I realized that I spend a lot of time waiting, whether in airports or office buildings or restaurants or parking lots. To pass the time, I inevitably end up scrolling through social media feeds, which can be enjoyable sometimes, but usually just numbs my brain. Encouraged by Turner’s insights and advice, I decided to ensure that I have a book with me at all times (especially now that I’m loaded down with great titles thanks to my library card). I’ve found that in just the two weeks since I’ve started tucking books into my bag and stowing them in my car, I’ve actually come to enjoy waiting for airplanes or meetings or appointments; the waiting gives me the chance to dive back into the delicious story I’m reading. The same idea goes with keeping workout clothes and running shoes stashed in my office or my car, making it possible to go for a lunchtime run or pop into an unexpected exercise class after work. Jennifer Turner keeps notecards in her car so she can write letters to people she loves. Those who love drawing can keep sketchpads in their desks; those who love magazines can keep them in their bags and pull them out at a moment’s notice. People who like to take pictures can keep a small camera handy, and people who like to cook can download apps that allow them to categorize recipes on the go. It can take a bit of effort as you plan to have the necessary supplies ready in advance, but the payoff is so, so life-giving. By not wasting precious time and instead using my fringe hours to indulge in my passions and hobbies, I have felt energized and renewed.

One other takeaway I gleaned from the book was related to the way I use my time in the car. I have found myself getting extremely irritable during my daily commute, which can range from 30 – 60 minutes. I tried listening to talk radio but usually ended up on top 40 stations, and I felt frazzled every time I got out of the car, irritated by the fact that I hadn’t used my time to sharpen my mind while driving (I totally wish I could take a train to work so I could read during my commute). Inspired by this post, I subscribed to several podcasts , and mirroring the example above, I find that I no longer dread heading to my car; I actually look forward to it! My favorites are Bon Appétit FoodcastHappier with Gretchen Rubin, and This American Life. Today I even sat in my car for a few extra minutes so I could finish up Bon Appétit’s latest show, which featured fabulous interviews with Ina Garten and Gordon Ramsay. The best part about this new practice is that I feel like I’m feeding my mind and my soul during my commute instead of frittering away the precious minutes I’m gifted with each day.

There are so many more ways that I’m looking forward to applying the principles of The Fringe Hours into my daily life in terms of pursuing my dreams and hobbies and interests and relationships, and I can’t wait to provide more feedback here. Have you heard of fringe hours? How could you better construct your day to maximize the gift that is the little pockets of time that can be utilized for your benefit?

P.S. I’m trying out a new blog template – let me know what you think of it!

Image (& decor inspo!) via Ghost Parties

Library Card

Library CardI have always been a voracious reader. My parents still tell stories about how they used to have to pull books out of my hands so I could focus on getting ready for school or eating my breakfast without spilling on myself. I have always been a book person. I totally appreciate tablets and e-readers, especially when travel is concerned, but I love the feel of holding a book in my hands. That being said, I devour books like slices of pizza, rapidly gobbling up the stories contained within them. As much as I adore them, books cost a few bucks, so I had found myself reading less because I wasn’t willing to sacrifice space in my budget to pick up new titles.

In Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, she talks about identifying the problem as the main way of overcoming an obstacle. When I started feeling frustrated that I had been reading less and began contemplating why that was, I realized that I wasn’t in a place to spend a ton of money on books. I can usually read three books a week, so that would come to about 12 books per month, totaling somewhere close to $2,400 per year! So the problem, then, was money. How should I overcome this problem? I don’t know why I didn’t realize it sooner, but the answer was so simple: get a library card and check out books for free.

I had dragged my feet on this, for some reason fearing that the process of getting a library card would be tedious and lengthy. But on a gray Sunday at the end of April, I finally took the plunge and I cannot tell you how my heart palpitated once I realized that all of the books in the public library were at my disposal (besides, the whole card process took a whole two minutes). I was like a kid in a candy store, looking up titles (and, frankly, re-training myself on the methods of the Dewey Decimal System), checking out books, and adding myself to wait-lists for popular works. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading, and have since knocked out six delicious titles:

  1. Delancey by Molly Wizenberg – my favorite of the bunch!
  2. The Fringe Hours: Secrets to Making Time for You by Jennifer Turner – really applicable tips found here, though the tone/writing style wasn’t always quite my taste; an easy & quick read nonetheless.
  3. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – so captivating, albeit a bit dark, with a touching budding romance at the center of the story.
  4. The Circle by Dave Eggers – a powerful commentary on social media + an amazing narrative.
  5. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – this book was even more engaging than I could have imagined, as I’d heard/read about it for months. I couldn’t put it down!
  6. Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott – another winner by an author I love. There were some amazing gems in here, though I could have used a little more meat in some sections.

Now I’m starting The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, which is actually a book that Mom lent me. And here are the books from the library that I just picked up yesterday:

  1. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
  2. The Chaperone by Liane Moriarty
  3. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
  4. I’ll Drink to That: A Life in Style, with a Twist by Betty Halbreich
  5. One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper
  6. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte
  7. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfield

As you can see, I’m going nuts over my new library card – I feel like I’ve been given a new sense of freedom, and I’m loving getting back into a reading routine (especially before going to bed – it’s so relaxing!). It’s the best move I’ve made in recent history.

Have you been reading anything good lately? If so, I’d love to have your recommendations!

Photo of a darling little mobile library in Dallas via my dear friend, Elizabeth Corley

Mother’s Day

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I know that Mother’s Day was yesterday but I felt so inspired to write a post about it – better late than never, right? I got back from California late last night and I was so thrilled to have gotten to celebrate Mother’s Day in person with my momma. We had the perfect day – I took an early morning SoulCycle class (where I was given the fabulous pink Mom tattoos that Andrew’s rocking in the photo above) before we all had a delicious brunch at one of our favorite Santa Monica spots, Huckleberry. We noshed on fried egg sandwiches, lentils with feta and swiss chard, and tons of desserts – a strawberry tartlet, a vanilla ginger donut, a mixed berry crumble, and the most perfect lemon bar I’ve had in a good long while. We spent the rest of the afternoon taking in the Los Angeles skyline from the Griffith Observatory. The weather was divine and the sky was crystal clear, and we all had so much fun together.

My mom has taught me so much, more than I could ever try to convey here. She is a role model to me in so many ways and I love how adventurous she is – together we’ve traveled all over the world (she’s heading to Ghana with me next week, and it will be her sixth trip to West Africa), explored hundreds of amazing places, and eaten so much delicious food (okay, and drank so much delicious wine). I know that I can speak for Andrew when I say that she’s just the best.

Yesterday I read a beautiful post by Max Wanger on Instagram (originally from his wife, Margeaux) that I just had to share in light of Mother’s Day:

“To all of you who are already moms. To all of you who are soon-to-be moms. To all of you who long to be moms. To all of you who are missing your moms. To all of you who have experienced the joy of giving your entire heart to another living being, human or not. You are amazing and you are loved.”

Happy (belated) Mother’s Day to my beautiful mom! I love you!

Pepperdine University

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This afternoon I’m heading out to my alma mater, Pepperdine University, and I’m so, so excited to be back on campus. I’m actually getting to go to Malibu for my job, as Touch A Life’s work in Ghana is being featured in the university’s annual Bible Lectures. Pepperdine has a beautiful art museum on campus, so an exhibit is going to be set up to showcase paintings from the children at our Care Center as well as photographs by our amazing friend, Nancy Borowick. We’ve been working hard on getting everything ready, so I can’t wait to see the exhibit come to fruition.

Of course, I also can’t wait to be on the best coast. Malibu holds one of the most special places in my heart and revisiting the small quirky beachside town always gets me all sorts of emotional. Malibu is the place where I really came into my own as a young woman, and it’s the spot where I met the very best friends on the planet. It is going to be so good to be back.

For fun, here are two posts (one here, the other here) from my last two overnight stays on Pepperdine’s campus. I love looking at old photos and reflecting on all of the amazing memories from college. What a beautiful place!

Quality Over Quantity

TOAST+++BOTANY+Pop-UpHappy Tuesday! Life has been a bit of a whirlwind around these parts, what with taking care of the most darling puppy, tackling daily to-do lists, and preparing for a whole lot of travel. Over the course of the next eight weeks, I’ll travel to Ghana, Seattle, Chicago, and Los Angeles (twice!), meaning I’ll be away from home, on and off, for nearly one month (28 days, to be exact). I love traveling – it is so very life-giving – but I am also trying to soak up a lot of time at home with James, friends, and the pups so that I have lots of memories to carry with me while I’m gone.

I’ve tried to figure out what that looks like in terms of writing and blogging. Writing is such an outlet for me, but it does take time out of the extra minutes I have to spend with loved ones after work. Usually I am willing to make that sacrifice, but I do think that I’m in a season that demands that I pare back the extras in order to spend quality time with the loves in my life. So I’m working on remembering that that’s okay, and also remembering to value quality over quantity. During this hectic time, I may not crank out as many posts as I’d like, but if the quantity is substantial and important, then the post or piece is something I can be proud of – so that’s what I’m meditating on these days. Quality over quantity. Quality over quantity. Quality over quantity. It feels right.

Image via Botany & Kate Berry