Palm Springs

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetMy family and I had so, so much fun in Palm Springs. We celebrated Mother’s Day by renting a super cool mid-century modern house, where we posted up for four whole days and soaked in the sunshine. We ate at several delicious spots like Tyler’s (yummy burgers), Birba (authentic Italian with such good pizza), and Cheeky’s (heavenly brunch), but we also did our fair share of cooking and mixing up cocktails at home, which was so fun. I got to have dinner with my parents all by myself on Thursday evening; since James & Andrew had yet to arrive, it was just the three of us, which was a rare and cherished treat. We spent hours upon hours at the pool at our rental house and playing Bocce ball in the backyard court, and we lounged at the Ace Hotel for a blissful afternoon. We wandered through the grounds of The Parker and added a stay at the gorgeous property to our bucket lists. We drank iced coffee and ate yogurt parfaits for breakfast near the pool every morning and we took lots of long walks around our pretty neighborhood. It was such a great weekend filled with quality family time. I can’t believe that our next family vacation will include our baby girl, so exciting!

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Santa Monica & Malibu

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetLast weekend my mom and I snuck away to the best coast for a girly getaway. Santa Monica and Malibu are two of our most favorite places in the world, and while we love exploring new spots, sometimes it’s so comforting and relaxing to revisit an old haunt. We both agreed that we love doing this because even though there’s always new sights to see and restaurants to try in LA, we don’t feel pressured to do anything new because we’ve already been to the city so many times. It truly feels like home at this point (and it was my home for five whole years), so coming back for a relaxed weekend was an absolutely perfect plan.

IMG_2361We checked into our favorite hotel in Santa Monica on Thursday night and we were feeling a bit worn out after a few travel delays, so we cozied up in our plush robes and ordered one of our favorite treats, the famous salad pizza from Abbot’s Pizza Company. Topped with greens, feta, vinaigrette, and the ripest avocados (and accompanied by the most delectable spicy sauce), this pizza is such a special culinary experience.

IMG_2374We both woke up super early on Friday morning thanks to the time change (a daily occurrence for Mom, a rarity for me) so we lingered over breakfast by the pool, enjoying eggs and crispy potatoes with caramelized onions and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and New York-style bagels and grapefruit that tasted better than candy. We headed out for a long walk on the beach – the weather was truly perfect and I am always so inspired by the nature and colors on the best coast. It was such a great way to kick off our first day.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetAfterwards, we took a beautiful drive north on Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu, the city that stole my heart 12 (!!) years ago when I started college at Pepperdine University. Our first stop was cult favorite Lily’s for the best breakfast burritos (appropriate to eat during any time of day) that you will ever have in your life. They’re made with refried beans, scrambled eggs, bacon, and cheese and they’re wrapped in the softest flour tortilla known to mankind. The burritos are served with the most delicious spicy green sauce and a mild red salsa. The flavors are just amazing. We needed another long walk after such a delectable treat so we headed to Westward Beach to watch the (huge!) waves and stick our toes in the sand. It was heavenly. As an added bonus, we popped over to my gorgeous alma mater, Pepperdine, to hike around the campus (and if you have ever been to Pepperdine, you understand why I’m using the word hike) and take in some gorgeous views of the ocean. We capped off our Malibu day with frozen yogurt before heading back to Santa Monica.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset IMG_2408 Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset IMG_2416Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetEven though we had intended for our weekend to be a girls getaway, of course we couldn’t exclude brother-bestie Andrew, who lives in LA. He met us for dinner at cute, cute Pono Burger (I just salivated thinking about their fries + dipping sauce) before we all crashed at the hotel for the night.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset IMG_2477 Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetOn Saturday we had a super fun and inspiring outing at The Broad, LA’s newest contemporary art museum. Curated and financed by the Broad family, this gorgeous museum is free to the public. You do have to reserve tickets in advance, but Andrew was able to score some from a friend who was no longer able to use his. Truly, this museum is the most perfectly curated space I have ever seen. I really do love most modern art, and the collection The Broad has is so interesting and amazingly displayed. My favorite pieces were every sculpture by Jeff Koons, the mind-blowing Infinity Room, and the hauntingly beautiful “Visitors” video installation by Ragnar Kjartansson (those vocal harmonies!). A note for potential visitors: we had to sign up to get a spot in line to go into the Infinity Room, as each person gets to go in alone for 45 seconds, making it take nearly an eternity to earn your turn. Our estimated wait time was legitimately five hours, so we thought we would just skip it. We ended up heading out for a quick Parisian-inspired lunch at Pitchoun Bakery and as we were finishing up, we got a text message that our turn was coming up two hours earlier than anticipated! Since The Broad kindly allows visitors to exit and reenter the museum, it was no problem to hop back in to take advantage of our time in the special exhibit. I wished I had 45 minutes to spend inside of it instead of 45 seconds, but the experience was so neat nonetheless.

IMG_2453 IMG_2553 IMG_2499 IMG_2471 IMG_2488 IMG_2451 IMG_2558Afterwards we retired at our beloved hotel for the night. Mom and I caught the sunset and we all agreed that, even though Mom and I had just enjoyed salad pizza two nights prior, it was in the cards for us as we planned on having a low-key evening in. We watched The Martian (I loved it!) and noshed on our pizza before drifting off to dreamland.

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetOn Sunday Andrew had an early soccer game so he snuck out before I was awake. It was really rainy and windy, so Mom and I had breakfast at the hotel and then I curled back up in bed to read for two hours (I was so sucked into Room that I couldn’t put it down). When the weather started to clear a pinch, we headed to Abbot Kinney, one of our favorite parts of Venice. We put our name in for lunch at The Butcher’s Daughter and had an hour to spare. We sought refuge from the rain at Salt & Straw for the creamiest ice cream (dessert first, right) and we perused the TOMS store (now I want these and these), Cuyana, and lots of pretty home decor stores. Our meal at The Butcher’s Daughter was impeccable (cauliflower grits with cheddar cheese and mushrooms, the best ever avocado eggs benedict, green juice, the tastiest flat white) and the interior design was so inspiring – I wanted the staff to come make over my house!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset It was time for me to head home to Dallas after that. The weekend felt too short, as usual, but it also felt packed with so much love, delectable food, memory-making, and time with the best mom and brother in the whole wide world. I am grateful!

 

The Best Christmas Gift

Companion Pass

How was your Christmas? Ours was an absolute blast! We spent the holiday with my family in my home away from home, Florida, and I’m actually still here. James had to head back to Dallas to hold down the fort but I couldn’t resist spending a few more days at the beach with my parents and brother.

This year my family decided to treat our Florida trip as our mutual Christmas gifts, which I really loved. As much as I enjoy gift-giving (okay, and gift-receiving), I thought this was the perfect idea – truly, none of us need anything except more time with each other. But James and I were treated to a gift from our favorite airline, Southwest, that we are so dang excited about: a Companion Pass! This means that James and I will get to fly together for two for the price of one for a whole entire year. AMAZING. We earned this through our Southwest credit card, as points added up through a combination of purchases on our card, flights around the country, participation in the Rapid Rewards Shopping Program, and an extremely generous credit card sign-up bonus of 50,000 points. We are already plotting out the trips we want to take together (you can even apply your points to the fare, meaning that on some adventures, both of us can travel for free!), and we feel totally liberated and empowered by the fact that we have all 0f 2016 to plan more travel. Three cheers for Southwest!

Paris Photo Shoot

PPRJ-01bOne of my most favorite memories from our Europe trip is the photo shoot we had in Paris. There is truly no better souvenir than wonderful photos, so when my friend Lauren told me about Stacy Reeves, the Texan photographer behind L’Amour de Paris, I knew I wanted to book a mini-session with her during our visit. It may have been one of the best decisions I made all year; when I got the photos back from Stacy, my jaw dropped. That girl knows what she is doing, no doubt about it. She was so much fun to be with, and our photos turned out so beautifully – I already have many plans to use them in frames and books, and we chose two to use in our Christmas card. The session itself was short and it took place at an outlook near the Eiffel Tower early in the morning, which left us with the whole day to play. Stacy gave us fun tips about things to do and places to eat (Breizh Café, one of her recommendations, became a favorite of ours), and overall our experience with her just took our trip to the next level. We are going to cherish these photos forever and ever. Thank you, Stacy!

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All images credited to the super talented Stacy Reeves of L’Amour de Paris

Tips for Traveling to Iceland

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetI have been missing our Iceland adventures ever since we returned from our wonderful trip, and I got the opportunity to relive them in a super small way by writing about them for Darling Magazine. Hop on over to Darling’s blog to read the piece in full, and enjoy some of my favorite photos from our adventures! I’m also including some of the places, restaurants, and excursions we loved the most. We traveled with our dear friends, Rachel & Nick, and they are excellent planners, so they helped so much with finding amazing things to do on our trip.

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How to Get There

We took full advantage of Icelandair’s Stopover program. We purchased tickets and chose Paris as our final destination but we opted to participate in the stopover program, which offers travelers the opportunity to enjoy a layover in Iceland for up to seven days. How cool is that? We loved the airline – the amenities were great, the flight attendants were lovely, and the prices were absolutely amazing. It was incredible to travel to two countries for the price of one flight.

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Where to Stay

We loved our stay at the Icelandair Marina Hotel. Nestled right near the water, it offers really nice views and it’s located in the heart of Reykjavik; we found that our favorite restaurants and local spots were easily within walking distance. The decor at the Marina is spectacular, and the hotel is continually expanding the building and adding more amenities as tourism to Iceland continues to explode.

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Where to Eat & Drink

Reykjavik Roasters – we drank the best coffee here. Sometimes we would pop by multiple times in one day to caffeinate! The coffee shop makes their own unsweetened whipped cream, and we couldn’t resist adding a dollop to our lattes and cappuccinos.

Sjavargrillio (or Seafood Grill) – hands down, our favorite restaurant in Reykjavik. We would have eaten here for every meal if we had allowed ourselves to. The seafood, as you’d expect, was astounding, and we are still dreaming about a pork belly + langoustine appetizer that we savored here. I ordered a seafood pasta that was served with a creamy tomato sauce, and it was out of this world. The wine list was great, too.

Sandholt Bakery – we popped in here while we shopped and explored Reykjavik’s main street and we devoured the tastiest pastries. My favorite treat was a delicious, citrusy lemon tart, and we also ate yummy quiche and pretzel bread.

The Laundromat Café – yummy spot for brunch. We loved the coffee and fresh-pressed juice, too.

Kex Hostel – we came here on Friday night after spending the day at the Blue Lagoon (more on that below!) and we were in the mood for a cozy meal, which we definitely found here. The carrot soup I ordered totally hit the spot – it was luscious, and it was served with an unending selection of thick, soft bread and salted butter. We also noshed on homemade Parmesan crisps and burgers, and we drank really refreshing local beer. The decor at the Kex is just perfect – imagine if Anthropologie outfitted a hostel and you’ve got the right idea.

Snaps Bistro – really good French food and an awesome cocktail program. This was a great spot for the four of us to kick back, have long talks, and drink good wine.

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Things to Do

Spend an afternoon (or a whole day!) at the Blue Lagoon. This may seem like a touristy activity but I can promise you that, based on our experience, the experience did not feel touristy at all. There were Icelandic locals and experienced travelers alike enjoying the geothermal spa. If forced to choose, I think I would say that spending 6+ hours at the Blue Lagoon on the day that we arrived in Iceland was my very favorite activity. The warm water is so relaxing and refreshing and there’s a super fun swim-up bar where we refilled our glasses of Prosecco. There are tubs strewn around the lagoon full of mud packed with minerals, so we made plenty of masks and relished in how good they felt on our faces. We all opted to get hourlong in-water massages, which were insanely amazing – definitely an out-of-body experience, a splurge that I highly recommend.

Take a tour of the Golden Circle, and book a private jeep. Rachel booked this excursion for us and while it was pricy, it was worth every single penny. Our driver was an absolute gem who imparted so much wisdom about Iceland and the various sites we saw. We stood between two tectonic plates, frolicked atop a glacier, and off-roaded through rivers and volcanic rocks. We marveled at geysers and waterfalls and rainbows and the fact that one minute we were standing on ice but the next we were soaking in the sunshine. We stopped at a cafe and noshed on delicious grilled cheese paninis with tomato soup (bottomless bowls of it!) and drank the best hot chocolate. The whole day we were so acutely aware of how obvious it was that God really knew what He was doing when He created Iceland. If I had to pick between this adventure and our afternoon at the Blue Lagoon, I don’t think I could choose.

Spend time wandering around Reykjavik’s main street, popping into shops and cafes and just generally enjoying the slow-paced life that Iceland natives enjoy. There are so many cool Scandinavian-influenced home decor stores that we just loved, especially Hrim. We went up to the top of Hallgrimskirkja, the large Lutheran church that boasts beautiful views of the city. It was so fun to peer through the windows and look at the brightly colored rooftops.

We also did a Northern Lights tour, and while it was seriously amazing to see some of the gorgeous lights, I don’t know that I would do this again…probably because I like to go to bed early and the tour starts at 10:00 a.m.

IMG_2187 IMG_2262 IMG_2385 (1) IMG_2232 IMG_2183   IMG_2395 No pun intended, but this is the tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of guides and things to do in Iceland. James and I are already plotting our inevitable return to this beautiful country – there is so much more exploring to do!

We’re Going to Europe!

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetJames & I have been busily curating our packing lists and checking them twice because in just a few short weeks, we’re heading to Europe! We’ll be gone for 14 luscious days and we’ll be exploring Iceland, Paris, Florence, and Rome. We have so many fun plans in store (like massages at the Blue Lagoon, a Northern Lights tour, a photo shoot in Paris, and noshing on pizza here), which we’ll balance out with plenty of days filled with absolutely no plans, armed only with the intention to wander around, pop into any store/café/watering hole that delights us, and enjoy our time together in Europe. I absolutely cannot wait!

Passport via Gigi New York

Lake Tulloch

IMG_8154Happy Labor Day Weekend! We are jetting back to the best coast to spend the long weekend at Lake Tulloch, one of our most favorite places in the world. Karli’s family owns the most gorgeous lake house in northern California, so our core of best friends from college and our spouses gathers there annually to soak up the sun and play in the water together. We always have the most perfect time, so I’m counting down the seconds until we arrive! Enjoy some photos from our last trip, and have a wonderful weekend!

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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!

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