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

Beauty Truths

5212015_177There are so many things I love about writing for Darling Magazine. The publication, both in print and online, serves as inspiration for so many readers, and being a small part of that is such a blessing. One of the things I love most about writing for Darling is my relationship with my online editor. She is a smart, sharp young woman who gives me the freedom to present her with pitches concerning a variety of topics, many of them personal to my own life and interests. Most recently, I got to write about beauty truths that I’ve learned from my trips to Ghana, lessons I’ve taken to heart about body image and self-worth and what’s really important in this world. It was an honor to get to share some sentiments that I’ve learned from my experiences working for Touch A Life. I love the picture above of three of our amazing girls, Patience, Janet & Forgive. They have taught me so much about gratitude and self-care and peace and happiness that comes from within, ideals I try to focus on instead of worrying about first world problems, like how my jeans fit. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

In Ghana I am reminded that good health is the utmost privilege, the most important and valuable aspect of anyone’s life. I am reminded that curves are gorgeous, that a smile is truly a window to the soul, and that everlasting beauty comes from within. I am aware that these are also lessons I could learn in the U.S.; they are embraced and exhibited by incredible women all around the country on a daily basis. But for me, I needed to be removed from the cultural influences that seep into my consciousness without my awareness in order to fully understand them. I needed to literally and figuratively step outside of my comfort zone in order to understand how greatly I had been impacted by messages from the media, and for how long.

Head on over to Darling’s site to read the post in its entirety, and let me know what you think!

Photo by Nancy Borowick 

Back in the Rhythm

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As I alluded to here, I’ve felt a bit out of my writing rhythm here on my sweet blog. While I really do believe that quality always trumps quantity, I feel ready to get back into a schedule of sorts, a regular posting plan that not only engages you, my lovely readers, but also inspires me and feeds my soul. I’ve always equated writing to exercising; if I get out of shape, out of stride, it’s harder to get back into the swing of things. My muscles atrophy and my endurance weakens. But once I establish a good, solid, rhythm, carving out a schedule for myself, I find my groove and realize that I’d been craving the consistency all along. I was rereading various posts on my previous blog, Through Painted Deserts, and it made me realize how much I love reflecting on all of my old pieces, allowing me to travel back in time to relive all kinds of experiences and memories. I want to recreate that same vibe here on this space. So on this Thursday evening in July, I’m committing to getting back into a writing rhythm; I hope you’ll join me on the journey.

Image via House Doctor for sfgirlbybay

Callie

CallieHappy Tuesday, folks! I know I keep marveling over how quickly time is passing, but can you believe that it’s July 14th already?!

It’s been quiet around here, and if you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen the photo and update I shared about our beloved English mastiff, Callie. Two weeks ago she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer. For consistency’s sake (and so I don’t drown my keyboard in tears), here’s what I posted:

Over the weekend we found out that our sweet, precious Callie girl has an aggressive form of cancer, one that gives a heartbreaking prognosis of only a few months left with us. We are, in a word, devastated. Our sweet love is only 6 years old; I took for granted how much time I would get with her, watching her & Coach grow up together, having her around when we have children someday. We are going to spend every single day making Callie feel even more loved & cherished than she already does. We don’t know for sure how much time we have left together but we are going to make every minute count.

THANK YOU to our family & friends for loving us so well, for supporting us, crying with us, bringing us meals & adult beverages & dog toys. To quote my wise friend Katelyn, people give pets a varying degree of worth, but to us, Callie has always been FAMILY, our first baby. To our people, our home team – thank you for embracing her as your family, too.

And to my Callie, I love you more than you will ever know. Thank you for allowing me the honor of being your mama. You have taught me about love, grace, and patience, and you have brought me out of the darkest of moments and celebrated alongside me during the happiest of days. Cheers to so many more adventures. I’m praying for a miracle for you, my love.

Callie underwent surgery yesterday, an amputation process that will hopefully eliminate the cancer for the time being, allowing her to be pain-free and to enjoy her remaining days (which will likely be prolonged, thanks to the procedure). It was difficult to have to make such a big decision so quickly but thanks to the support of our family & friends and to the peace we found through prayer, we truly believe that we did the right thing. Our main focus was providing Callie with a peaceful, pain-free existence; we refused to simply allow her to undergo this medical procedure just so we could enjoy her for longer. We consulted with many talented veterinarians, specialists & surgeons and ultimately decided that this route was the most humane way to go. Callie is home already and while she’ll definitely be on the mend for awhile, she is happy as can be; getting used to life post-surgery, certainly, but already gobbling up peanut butter and barking at the neighbors just like she was yesterday morning.

We are immeasurably grateful for so much – for God’s peace & grace that we’ve felt so intimately, for the consistent and generous outreach from family & friends, for the resources to be able to move forward with this procedure, and, of course, for our sweet Callie (and for Coach, too!). Thank you for continuing to keep her in your prayers as she recovers!

Back Home

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I got home from Ghana on Friday and I feel like I am still figuring out how to adjust back to life in Dallas. Don’t get me wrong – I was more than ready to be home with James and our pups, to meet my friends for margaritas and catch up on a few weeks’ worth of happenings, and to sleep in my comfy bed. But this feeling inevitably arrives after every single trip to West Africa and even though this was my 12th journey, it doesn’t get any easier: every time I get home, I’m a little shaken up, a little pushed out of my comfort zone, a little out of sorts. And honestly, while that feeling can be uncomfortable, it can also be really good. It’s easy to get stuck in the rut and go-go-go of everyday life here in the States, and returning from Ghana always gives me a fresh perspective, one that brings me back to my roots. I’m reminded that it’s okay to balance out really productive days (as well as distinctly not-so-productive days) with a really good nap. It’s okay to want to be a little reclusive and reflective instead of hopping straight back into the social scene. It’s okay to follow a delicious meal of spinach salad & homemade vinaigrette with a serving or two of Ben & Jerry’s The Tonight Dough. It’s okay to wake up really early on a weekend to clean out the garage only to spend the rest of the day lounging in pajamas and reading novels. It’s okay to feel all the feels, to allow the aches and creaks and changes occur in both body and soul. The children in Touch A Life’s care in Ghana teach me so many things, but one of the resounding lessons I learn over and over again is that it’s okay, that rest is good, that stress can be a luxury, a concept embraced by first-world nations. I’m reminded that busyness should not be a commodity that determines our worth, that time with people we love is the best thing there is, that God created this big world for us to explore and enjoy. For these lessons and so many more, I’m grateful.

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!

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

One Year Anniversary

filmscans089Monday was our one year anniversary, which I can hardly believe. It feels like such a cliché to say that it seems like our wedding was just yesterday, but that really is the truth. The past 365 days have absolutely flown by, and I feel so grateful to have shared in them with my perfect partner.

filmscans024 IMG_9047I remember every detail of the day so vividly. I remember going for a run with my brother in the morning and enjoying breakfast tacos, coffee, and green juice with family and friends at Jo’s, all of whom had traveled to Austin for our special day (I thought that was a fun fact – not one person on our guest list lives in Austin, so it was a true destination wedding for everyone involved, bride & groom included!). I remember feeling pampered as I had my hair and make-up done while my bridesmaids and family got ready in our amazing suite at the Hotel San José. I remember rocking out to a playlist I had made specifically for our wedding day, and I remember feeling overwhelmed with love for my best girls, my parents, and my brother as we drank mimosas together and noshed on snacks. I remember excitedly piling into the limo to head to Le San Michele and dancing the whole way there (everyone got particularly stoked about singing along to “Timber”).

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rachelandjames 0544I remember bursting into tears as we pulled up to the venue because it was all really happening. I remember seeing the floral arrangements for the first time and being astonished by the weight and beauty of my bridal bouquet. I remember putting on my dress and feeling like I was floating on air. I remember waiting anxiously for the ceremony to start, sipping champagne with my bridesmaids while peering out the windows as the guests arrived and took their seats.

filmscans029rachelandjames 0352 rachelandjames 0357 rachelandjames 0378rachelandjames 0428I remember the sound of the string quartet as they played “Make You Feel My Love” while Dad walked me down the aisle. I remember seeing the first glimpse of my groom’s sweet face as he started to cry, watching his bride walk toward him. I remember every detail about the ceremony, about our brother-in-law’s incredibly thoughtful presentation as he officially deemed us husband and wife. I remember Callie sitting at our feet, posing like the perfect flower dog she was.

rachelandjames 0348 rachelandjames 0411 rachelandjames 0510 rachelandjames 0475I remember taking photos all around the property after the ceremony concluded, basking in the energy and glow of the evening. I remember having a few stolen moments with James, enjoying margaritas and appetizers and reflecting on the fact that we were married. I remember listening in rapt to the amazing toasts read by my dad, James’s dad, Karli, Erin, and Andrew. I remember inhaling more green chile macaroni and cheese than anything else, and I remember how delicious our chocolate wedding cake (appropriately named the James Brown cake) tasted, especially when paired with an ice-cold flute of champagne.

filmscans084 rachelandjames 0510 rachelandjames 0536 rachelandjames 0742I remember the dance party – oh, the dance party! – that ensued after dinner, concluding with my favorite people forming a circle around James and me as we got down to one of my all-time favorite jams, “Forever” (thanks to Karli requesting that the DJ play it as the final song of the night). I remember running to the getaway car with James and Callie, so overwhelmed with love and joy. I remember crying once again in the car, feeling so grateful to be embarking upon our new life together but just a little sad that our special day was over already. I remember it all, and I’m so thankful.

So, to my husband – thank you for being my person, my love and my life, today and always. Here’s to a million more years together!

Photos by the amazing Heather Hawkins

On Writing

tumblr_n4crhlHAVh1rjezt2o1_1280In February I read this compelling blog post by Jen Hatmaker and I was totally drawn in by the first few sentences:

“Just to be clear, let me see if I’m describing you right: You love to read, you always have. You think words are powerful and beautiful and devastating when used correctly. You have a story, ideas, a lot to say. These things rattle around in your brain and if you don’t get them on paper, YOU JUST MIGHT DIE. You’ve always been a good communicator; you prayed for an essay test over those devil-sanctioned multiple-choice scantrons. You stare at your laptop like a frenemy. If you could just sit down with it for an extended time and write your words, or maybe if you could just set it on fire and be free of it, or both, you would finally be happy. And, of course, there is teeny tiny, oh so tiny part of you, so tiny you have to whisper it, tiny tiny little bit that says I want to be published because that will make me real.”

The words coursed through my veins, lighting up my insides. It was like Jen Hatmaker knew me or something, especially in regards to the part about the essay test vs. the multiple-choice scantrons. (An aside – I did get to meet and HUG the incredibly talented, hilarious, and insightful author & speaker at a conference in Dallas at the end of March and it easily made my week. So now I sort of do feel like we know each other.) Writing can be such an isolating activity and it helps to know there’s a community of established writers out there who are willing to impart wisdom and advice about the process. Here are a few gems from the post that really encouraged and inspired me:

“Don’t disqualify yourself from writing before you even get started. A writer is a person who writes words. The end. Do you know who asked me to write my first book? Zero people. No one said, you should do this hard thing or we really want to hear from you in print form. Writer: 1, People Who Asked Me to Write: 0. I wrote for two reasons: I wanted to and had something to say.”

“If you want to and have something to say, write…Writers don’t wait for someone else to tell them they should or can. You should and you can.”

“I am devastated to bring this bad news, but writing requires work. Kind of hard, brutal, sanity-threatening work. All the writing dreams in your head have to transition to your ten fingers on a keyboard, and I’m afraid there is no other way. (I’m sorry. Take your time.) Work requires time, which of course, you have none of. This is the writer’s dilemma. You will not miraculously become a writer by carrying on exactly like you are. It’s a whole thing and you have to make room for it.”

There is so much goodness in the post; what I showcased here will just give you a little taste of all that Jen’s post has to offer. Head on over to her site to read the post in its entirety, and I’ll leave you with this, my very favorite part:

“Do not become immobilized by good writing already out there. Stop that this instant. Literature is not an exercise in scarcity. The world always needs good writing. There is room for you. Don’t be intimidated by successful writers; be inspired by them. Every good writer wrote his or her first piece at one point. Do your time; there is space for you at the party.”

Image via Design Savvy

Stuck In A Rut

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Even though I adore the holidays, I always welcome the calm, quiet, peaceful spirit that follows afterward. In January and February, I find myself craving alone time more than usual, and I like hunkering down at home to work on projects, take long naps, and try new recipes. But when March rolls around, I start to feel antsy. Even though we don’t experience frigid winters here in Dallas like others do around the country, we still do get a healthy dose of yucky weather that confines us to our homes just as I’m feeling the itch to get out and about. Last month I really felt stuck in a rut – I wanted to plan nights out with friends and check things off of my to-do list and embark on more adventures, but at the same time I felt low on energy and enthusiasm. I had to remind myself that it was okay to feel a little stuck, and I actually channeled that sentiment into a piece I was writing for Darling Magazine. I started actively pursuing ways to reenergize myself and get back into the swing of things. Going to Florida and New York helped immensely – travel always gets my creative juices flowing – but if you can’t hop on a plane, I tried out some other surefire ways will help you feel rejuvenated. I found that taking a walk, focusing on my hobbies, changing my scenery, and stepping away from my devices helped me immensely, and I wrote all about it on Darling’s blog here. I think that, to date, this may have been my favorite piece to write – it was not only an interesting topic to think about but it also helped me snap out of my own winter-themed funk!

Image via Emma Lucy Watson