Week & End

tumblr_n3n73wHzYe1s79rl8o1_1280Happy Friday from the best coast! A full recap of my time in California will come soon, but for now, enjoy some fun links! Have a great weekend.

I loved this wine & food pairings post. My favorite combination is one that James and I enjoy frequently – macaroni & cheese + Chardonnay!

I adore all things Clare Vivier, so I really enjoyed this tour of her Los Angeles studio. Isn’t it gorgeous? It also makes me want to add several more bags to my ever-growing collection, stat.

I’ve recently been learning more about Paul Quinn College, a school based in Dallas, and it was neat to see Michael Sorrell featured in this list of America’s ten most innovative college presidents. The school’s vision, as summed up in the piece, is so fascinating:

“[Sorrell] disbanded the football team, no easy task in Dallas, and literally turned the field into a farm. The team had been costing $600,000 a year, according to Yahoo Sports, and Sorrell said it would have cost $2 million to save. The farm is operated by students (who are paid for their work), and the resulting produce is sold to local grocers and restaurants, used at the college, or donated to local charities. Students aren’t just picking vegetables—they’re working on the business end, too, getting paid professional experience with a service twist. It’s all part of Sorrell’s vision for what he calls the “New Urban College Model”—a work school that emphasizes local businesses rather than manual labor (like at rural counterparts).”

This post totally affirmed my belief in never washing my jeans. Hurray!

This book keeps popping up everywhere and I’m totally drawn in by the premise: the author cooks her way through recipes featured in wonderful books (think everything from The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird to If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Gone Girl). It’s a combination of two of my favorite things – reading & cooking – and while I super love using my library card to check out books, this title might just be one that I have to purchase.

Image via Topo Designs

Los Angeles & The Yellow Conference

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetI am so excited to be heading back to the best coast again today – I’ve been there every month since May, how lucky is that?!

Remember last year when I dreamed of attending the Yellow Conference? Lauren and I put our heads together in January and started setting the wheels in motion for both of us to attend the event. We bought our tickets, booked our flights, and time flew by as we giddily anticipated our adventure together. I can’t believe the conference is here already! We leave for Los Angeles this afternoon and we couldn’t be more excited. We’re staying at the Ace Hotel, and we’re hoping to enjoy a delicious dinner at one of my favorite spots in Koreatown, The Commissary at the Line Hotel, after we arrive tonight.

Over the weekend, I’m going to stay with Andrew. He’s hosting a cocktail fundraiser party to benefit Touch A Life on Saturday evening, which is going to be so fun! I’m stoked that I get to spend good quality time with him while I’m in his neck of the woods.

Happy Wednesday, and enjoy the rest of your week!

Photo from Becca’s bachelorette weekend in Malibu in June…more pictures to come!

Favorite Podcasts

c4829bf99a19d1e1e9647d08e5785949After reading The Fringe Hours, I knew that one aspect of my life that needed to change was my commute to work. I was finding myself frustrated at the time that felt wasted while I was driving to and from work, and since public transportation wasn’t a viable option, I needed a way to occupy my time that felt productive. I’ve started praying more while driving, which has made a big difference, and I’ve also queued up a great selection of podcasts to listen to while on the road. These podcasts are so good, in fact, that sometimes I find myself circling the block so I can finish up a story before I get home. Here is a list of some of my favorites, in case you’re looking for something good to listen to:

This American Life

Like most of the country, I was obsessed with Serial last year (and I admit that I still listen to episodes from time to time, just for nostalgia’s sake). After the show ended, I started listening to This American Life, the podcast that hosted the series. Instantly, I was hooked. Each episode has a theme, and from that theme stems a variety of different stories, most that are true and based on real-life people and situations, though some are not. The topics explore cultural conversations and ideas, and they open the eyes of listeners to so many new ways of thinking. If I had to choose my very favorite podcast, This American Life would be it.

Happier

I love Gretchen Rubin’s books, so I was thrilled to learn that the author was starting a podcast based on her writings and research. She hosts Happier with her sister, Elizabeth, and they provide so many good nuggets of information along with ways to make daily life more joyful. Listening to Happier is an instant pick-me-up.

After the Jump

This podcast is hosted by design blogger Grace Bonney, who uses this platform to interview creatives of all kinds – designers, store-owners, entrepreneurs of all sorts – and discuss the inner-workings of the world of present-day artists. I love how the podcast’s website sums it up: “From exploring the day-to-day lives of contemporary makers to discussing the challenges they face, After the Jump will take the conversation off the screen and into real life.”

Bon Appétit

A podcast produced by one of my favorite magazines about one of my favorite topics: food! In a word, this series is delicious. BA Editor-in-Chief Adam Rapoport covers a variety of food-related topics, sometimes interviewing celebrity chefs, restaurant owners, and cookbook authors, while other times sharing conversation and ideas with staffers from the magazine. My all-time favorite podcast in this series featured interviews with Ina Garten and Gordon Ramsay but I also loved this one about Waffle House and this one about the best new restaurants of 2015. Thanks to Bon Appétit, I’m now going to check out a few of their recommended food-focused podcasts, including Radio Cherry Bombe, Burnt Toast, and The Dinner Party Download.

Real Simple

Another podcast produced by one of my favorite magazines, bravo! The two series that I listen to are Things Cooks Know and Adulthood Made Easy, both of which are entertaining, informative, and super easy to listen to.

Good Food

Korena recommended this podcast to me (along with After the Jump, actually) because she knew I would adore all of the food-centric conversations and stories. Which, of course, I do (hence the obsession with the Bon Appétit podcast). The episodes are longer, rounding out an hour or so each, and they make for great marathon listening sessions.

Do you have any podcasts to share? I’d love to add them to my list!

Image via p.s. remember this

Village Baking Co. Boulangerie

Mom & Dad came to visit a few weekends ago, and on Saturday morning Mom & I snuck away to Village Baking Co. Boulangerie to reward ourselves for completing a super-sweaty Bikram yoga class. We had discovered the original outpost a few years earlier, but since then the company expanded and built a boulangerie on the other side of town. We determined that this new-to-us expansion was reason enough to justify a visit, so we made our way over to lower Greenville Avenue, where there’s been a revival of restaurants over the last couple of years. Situated in between several new eateries is Village Baking Co. Boulangerie, inviting with its darling patio and the wafting aromas of baked goods and coffee. The interior decor is just as you’d imagine a classic French bakery to be, with white-washed walls and gorgeous pastries glistening behind glass cases. After debating between several scrumptious-looking options, Mom and I ordered a pretzel croissant, a lemon tart, and a pistachio éclair, all of which were just heavenly. We drank almond milk lattes and savored our treats, our environment, and our time with each other. It was the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning.

Week & End

IMG_0013Happy weekend! Are you up to anything exciting? It will be a low-key weekend around here, as it usually takes me a whole week to really get back into the swing of things after returning from Ghana (in fact, my jet lag typically hits me most acutely about six days after I’ve been home – what’s up with that?!). Yoga and City Surf will definitely be in the mix, as will some recipe-testing (likely this salad chock full of summer produce and this fun twist on pasta salad) and maybe some tacos and margaritas for good measure. Lots of reading, too! I’m finally the next in line to pick up Go Set A Watchman at the library. I devoured J. Courtney Sullivan’s novels, Commencement and Maine, while traveling to West Africa – highly recommend!

Enjoy some links from around the web, and have a great weekend!

Is it just me or does this double-chocolate layer cake look in.sane? Now, to find a good excuse to bake it…

There are several new spots around town that I’ve been wanting to pop into – Local Press + Brew, Read Between the Lines, Rapscallion, and especially Set & Co., a gorgeous home goods store in Oak Cliff. Korena snapped the photo of the interior of the store shown above – isn’t it heavenly? I want one of every item, please.

Allison sent me this article about wellness and I found it really, really interesting and accurate in so many ways. Check it out; I’d love to know what you think.

This home tour gave me some serious decor inspiration. The plants, the styling, the guest bedding, the gallery walls, the subway tiles in the kitchen – I love it all.

For the past couple of years I’ve been watching as Nicaragua grows as a tourist destination, and this post pushed me over the edge: I’m ready to plan a trip.

Photo by Korena Bolding Sinnett

Flash Tattoos

5212015_180 5212015_141In December I threw a surprise 30th birthday party for James, and it was a total blast. As an added bonus, I picked up several sets of temporary tattoos (these manly ones for the guys and these gorgeous ones for the girls); I thought they would be fun favors. Little did I know, the tattoo station would be one of the biggest hits of the party (after the beverage cart, of course). Everyone had so much fun selecting their tattoos and adorning them for the rest of the party guests to see.

IMG_8859 IMG_8710 IMG_8872 IMG_8861I had a few of the glittery Flash Tattoos leftover so I packed them in my suitcase when I was getting to ready to go to Ghana in May. On a breezy afternoon during the trip, the older teenage girls and I decided to dig into the stash of tattoos, applying them to their arms and necks and fingers. The jewelry-like tats looked insanely gorgeous on the girls, their dark skin really making them pop, and as I watched them laugh and giggle as they added more glitter to their appendages, I was reminded that these girls – their hearts and stories and reclaimed youth – are worth so much more than gold.

5212015_182I am so excited that, as a result of our fun afternoon in Ghana back in May, Touch A Life and our fabulous teenage girls are featured on Flash Tattoo’s blog today! I was honored to get to write a guest post about the girls, their reaction to the fabulous tattoos, and the story behind our organization. The post turned out beautifully, as did the gorgeous photos by Nancy Borowick. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

With only two other staff members in our Dallas-based office, [co-founder Pam Cope and I] both wear a lot of hats. Pam serves as a visionary for the organization, sharing her story and meeting with like-minded crusaders to champion the cause. I love working with Touch A Life’s friends and supporters, reveling in the opportunity to connect them to the children they support by leading trips to Ghana and creating donor communication strategies. Most of all, we can both agree that the best part of our job is spending time with the children we support. We know that even though we have gotten to be a part of their healing in some small way, they have changed our lives more than we could ever change theirs.

Pop on over to Flash Tattoo’s blog to read the full post, and then head on over to the shop to snag some gorgeous tats for yourself!

On Tech & Disconnecting

tumblr_n9jyg5jdtA1r1vjs5o1_1280I am settling back into my routine after returning from another wonderful trip to Ghana! I am so grateful for all of the amazing travel experiences my job with Touch A Life has afforded me, but this past week was one of my favorites of all time. The team, comprised of 22 volunteers and supporters, was just so, so wonderful. There were so many moments when we were at the Care Center that I found myself looking around at our incredible crew as they interacted with the kids and staff. We hosted a yoga retreat at the facility over the weekend, which was just the absolute best, and the children all had their medical and dental assessments completed thanks to our rock star volunteer physician and dentist. There was a fierce sand volleyball tournament, tons of crafting projects in the Art Center, and plenty of bonding with the kids. Our trips are always about the children we serve, first and foremost, but as I reflect on our week, I keep reveling in how stellar the team from the U.S. was, how passionate they are about Touch A Life and how a mentality of gratitude seemed to cloak every single person as they savored their time in Ghana. It was really special.

While I was there, my phone made itself scarce – whether it was lost or stolen or simply misplaced, I don’t know, but it went rogue halfway through the trip. I was annoyed, to be sure, mostly because I wasn’t interested in shelling out cash for a new device once I got home. But then a moment of clarity passed over me, and I felt pleased that I was able to disconnect from everything that tends to creep into my mind via my phone even when I’m in the most sacred of spaces. Sure, it made it easier knowing that I could get in touch with James or my family if I needed to by using someone else’s phone – I wasn’t totally stranded or off the grid – but I loved not having a device at my fingertips. I procrastinated on buying a new phone when I got home, and since I’ve returned, I’ve lost touch with the gravitational pull towards my social media feeds and text messages, which is something I’ve wanted to do, but failed at, for some time now. I even (finally) bought an alarm clock so I can keep my phone charging in a separate room at night (instead of using it to wake me up each morning), preventing any temptation to delve into the world of email before falling asleep.

Coincidentally (though not on purpose, lest you think I lost my phone as a social experiment), I wrote a post about social media usage for Darling Magazine that was published on Monday, the day I got back into action after recovering from jet lag, and I understood what I had written so much more acutely after having been disconnected with technology myself. I’d love it if you took a peek at the piece and let me know what you think. For now, here’s a taste of what’s in store:

“…if we’re relying solely on an online community to validate our character or our opinions, without having a real life community in place to balance out this feedback, we may be missing the point.

The point is that bonding with a group of people gathering in an online forum is important, but so is intimately connecting with the loved ones with whom we interact in real life, face-to-face. Relationships that withstand the test of time are the ones in which we’re honest and real, both online and in person, and solely relying on the commentary from those with whom we communicate through screens can be detrimental.”

For the rest of the post, hop on over to Darling’s blog!

Image via The Girl With The Curl

Ghana, Again

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI can’t believe I’m already back in Ghana! It’s such a blessing to be able to return to one of my very favorite places so quickly after my previous visit. This trip will look a little different than the last one; instead of a group of 10 travelers, I’m leading a group of 20+ volunteers as we host a health fair for the children at the Touch A Life Care Center. A lot of coordination was involved – we spent six months planning this trip – but I know it’s going to pay off when the children receive their medical & dental assessments, as well as have a blast participating in the health-related activities we’ve cooked up. It’s going to be an amazing week, I’m sure of it.

One of the travelers during the May trip was our amazing photographer, Nancy Borowick. She took this photo of me and Moses, and I know that it’s an image that I’m going to cherish forever. I was able to participate in Moses’s rescue from Lake Volta in March of 2009, and it has been such a joy to watch him grow into such an incredible young man over the course of the last six years. He has grown into such a strong, smart, tall (!), motivated young man (who wants to become a doctor when he grows up), and I can’t wait to see who he becomes in the future. He is going to change the world, I can feel it. He’s already changed mine.

I’ll be back in soon – this is one of my quickest trips yet – so keep checking in! I promise to resume posting as soon as I get back. Happy weekend to you & yours!

Photo via Nancy Borowick

Tips for Traveling to Africa

africa_zebra_ColetteDeBarros_900My most recent post for Darling Magazine was inspired by the 10+ trips I’ve taken to Ghana on behalf of Touch A Life. I’ve learned so much along the way in regards to what to pack, what visas & vaccinations are needed prior to travel, what snacks to bring, and how wildly cultures differ in each African nation. Here’s a snippet from the piece:

People often underestimate the physical size of Africa and, as a result, they often tend to underestimate how vast the cultural differences are from nation to nation.

In 2013, Kai Krause created a powerful graphic that tangibly depicts the true – and massive! – size of Africa. The image shows how, if rearranged in a certain manner, over a dozen countries (including the United States, China, India, and several European nations) could fit within Africa’s mass. Upon seeing this image, it’s easier to wrap one’s mind around the fact that because the 54 countries that comprise Africa cover so much distance, their cultures are similarly spread apart, too.

What is culturally acceptable in one African country may not be tolerated in another; some nations are French-speaking, while others declare English as their national language. Each country is represented by numerous religions and other cultural influences. Women’s roles are different in each nation, too. Spend some time conducting research online, with a travel agent, or with a family member or friend who has been to the destination you’re traveling to, allowing you to be prepared for the cultural climate you’ll encounter.

To read the whole post in its entirety, hop over to Darling’s blog! Let me know what you think. Have you traveled to Africa, and do you have any tips to share?

P.S. Check out this post I wrote about packing for Ghana, specifically. I still adhere to all of the same tips!

Photo via Colette de Barros for Darling Issue No. 12

Napa Valley

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetWe are spending the weekend in Napa Valley to celebrate Mom’s birthday and it’s so much fun to be all together! We realized that this is actually our first Johnson-Brown family vacation, the first time the five of us have traveled together to somewhere other than where one of us lives. It’s so fun to explore wine country together, especially as we celebrate Mom’s special day.

We actually arrived on Thursday and have been doing so many fun things – savoring our hotel in Yountville, wine-tasting at some of our favorite wineries, eating delicious food, soaking up the sun at the pool, and enjoying lots of new adventures together. A full recap will come when we return, but for now, back to the wine! Happy Saturday to you & yours!