Our Life

Quarles in Iceland: A 5 Day Itinerary

 photo 5daysinIceland_zps7qkeimki.jpgIf you aren't planning a trip to Iceland, this may not be a helpful blog post for you, and feel free to skip right over it...or just look at some pretty photos and move on. But when I plan trips, I google the heck out of things like "sample itinerary for five days in Iceland," so I figured for someone, this may be helpful.

The #1 rated travel book for Iceland is from Lonely Planet, and while we really loved it for a lot of reasons, the itinerary suggestions are pretty vague and weak (especially compared to Rick Steves Itineraries which aren't available for Iceland). So, here is a sample itinerary for a first timer's trip to Iceland in 5 days. I did a lot of research and came up with an itinerary that we were really happy with! We were so sad to leave this beautiful country after five days, but we felt like we made the most of our time!

The key for us was 2 days of taking it easy and soaking in Iceland, and 3 days of nonstop roadtrips. The best roadtrips of our lives! We didn't let jet lag get us down, and we didn't feel stressed throughout the trip!

At the end, I also included a budget breakdown. It may seem like TMI, but we are major budget people (which is how we find a way to travel to new places), and I find that kind of information on other people's trips really helpful! And I had a hard time finding a lot of pricing information for Iceland.

We flew Icelandair out of Boston. We left at 8:45pm ET and landed at 5:45am in Iceland. Day 1 started at the airport...

Day 1 - Reykjanes Peninsula, Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik 

We landed at Keflavik and picked up our rental car which we booked with Budget (via Expedia)and we drove off into the Reykjanes peninsula. We had Blue Lagoon tickets first thing at 9:00am (you must book in advance for the Blue Lagoon), but we had about two hours to kill, so we explored the Reykjanes Peninsula, saw the tectonic plate divide, drove out to some amazing cliffs by the power plant (sounds like an oxymoron, right?. When we left the airport, we both said it felt like being on Mars. At 7am, there were hardly any cars on the roads and we didn't see a single person anywhere. We just saw miles and miles of lava fields with geothermal steam rising from the ground. The cloudy skies and harsh winds against the harsh landscape had us feeling like we had landed on another planet.  photo 1-FirstDay1_zpsmh7ndvi9.jpg

We stopped for breakfast at Bryggian in the fishing village of Grindavik. This was the best meal to start off our trip! There was no menu, but the kind man behind the counter brought out the "fisherman's breakfast"--aka the works. Pickled herring, smoked salmon, veggies, rye bread, skyr, fresh jam and butter, cheese, coffee.  photo 1-FirstDay10_zpsubgdczhu.jpg After breakfast, we went to the Blue Lagoon, a checkbox on many traveler's bucket lists. It was a lovely couple of hours, but I have to admit that while I'm glad we did it, it was not the biggest highlight of the trip compared to some of the other amazing sights we saw.  photo 1-FirstDay27 2_zps7m87imep.jpg After the Blue Lagoon, we drove into Reykjavik and headed down to the harbor. We explored the quaint streets lined with colorful, petite houses that reminded me of a storybook or coloring book and stopped for the best lobster soup I've ever tasted in a cozy, rustic atmosphere at Saegriffin on the harbor. We walked around and explored a bit more and then checked into our hotel (www.numer29.com. Definitely recommend!) for a quick afternoon nap before heading out to dinner at Nora Magasin where we had some incredible beef and lamb burgers. Then we finished the evening in the rooftop, geothermally heated hot tub and sauna at Numer 29. We loved just strolling the streets of Reykjavik, but I have to say that one day there felt like plenty. We were ready to head into the wild and glad that the rest of our nights were not booked in town.

**A note about jet lag. I feel like we really beat jet lag well this trip and made the most of our first full day after a red eye flight--a must do for a short trip in Iceland. Three primary keys for us were (1) sleeping on the flight as best we could. We didn't let the movies tempt us and we went straight to trying to sleep. (2) going to the Blue Lagoon in the morning. It's in the perfect location to hit after the airport, and we were able to enjoy a relaxing soak in the spa, feel like we were doing something, but not overexert ourselves. (3) Spending our first day in Reykjavik. If our first day had been a full day of nature sightseeing, I think we would have worn ourselves ragged. Reykjavik is a great town to leisurely enjoy and relax. (4) Taking a nap. We let ourselves sleep for an hour or two in the afternoon before getting back out and enjoying the city some more. It gave us that extra burst of energy!   photo 1-FirstDay22_zpsrj6ewryi.jpg

Day 2 - The Golden Circle Total time spent in the car: around 3 hours Total day length with stops: around 10 hours (we really took our time and also had to stop for groceries at the end)

Perhaps the most famous day trip in Iceland is the Golden Circle which consists of three very popular natural attractions on an easy to drive route. The drive started out very foggy, and we were a little bit disappointed that we couldn't see into the distance past the fog hovering over the mountains, but by the afternoon, the blue skies made a grand appearance, and it was the start of three days of the most glorious April weather we could have asked for in Iceland.

We started out at Þingvellir National Park, where the first ever known parliament meetings were held by early Icelanders over 1000 years ago. It also sits on the continental divide between the tectonic plates.  photo 2-GoldenCircle1_zps6xubmetu.jpg We broke up the day with lunch at Fridheimar. This is a must! It is this amazing greenhouse where they grow tomatoes that are used all over Iceland. They've figured out a way to use the geothermal energy and water to grow the tastiest tomatoes year round in a very volatile climate. They have the cutest cafe where you can eat the best tomato soup of your life with fresh bread and basil you cut fresh off a basil plant on your table. It's a wonderful stopping point on the Golden Circle drive.  photo 2-GoldenCircle30_zpsyy4f6zyx.jpg The last two stops of the day are Geysir and Gullfoss. Both of these places are incredible, and there is a plethora of information everywhere on the internet, so I will spare you tons of detail.

After the waterfall, we headed to find our Airbnb cabin which was just northeast of Reykjavik near Lake Medalfellsvatn, but we stopped at a grocery store first to stock up for the week at our cabin. There are NO GROCERY STORES along the road headed from Gulfoss to the Reykjavik area until you get back almost to the capital city. Also, grocery stores keep really short hours (especially on Sundays), but we found a Kronan open in the town of Mosfellsbaer.

Grocery shopping when everything is in another language is a challenge, but it was kind of fun, and we came away with food for a couple of dinners at the cabin, breakfast for the rest of the days, and plenty of coffee and snacks for the week. We still don't know exactly what the ground meat was that we had for breakfast every day, but that's the fun I guess.  photo 2-GoldenCircle68_zpsv4esf5nw.jpg

We ended the day at the cabin that I had booked online and prayed was as blissful as it looked. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was even better. We felt like we had stepped into a dream. It was the perfect place to relax every night, and we were glad to have a home base to come back to. With only a few days in Iceland, I recommend picking a place and doing day trips from there rather than moving locations every night. For us, it made for a much more relaxing vacation. With a longer trip around the ring road, the scenario would change, but we loved having a home base.  photo 5-Cabin13_zpsakhebuur.jpg

Day 3 - Snaefellsness Peninsula Total time spent in the car: around 6 hours Total day length with stops: around 12 hours

I was looking forward to our day on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula most of all because it is a little bit off the beaten path, and because it is the site of a lot of filming for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty which is fun to see. This part of the country is an easy day trip from the Reykjavik area, and it is a part of the country filled with interesting landscapes and a sort of magical feeling. Over half of Icelanders believe in the existence of huldufolk or "hidden people," like trolls and elves and fairies. No other place will be more likely to convince you that they just might just be hidden from visitors in the lava rock.

We started off with a drive through the town of Borgarnes where we stopped to fuel up our car and get a cinnamon roll at Geirabakari, which was the site of the Papa John's in Walter Mitty. The entire town of Borgarnes has a beautiful view of the ocean. I can't imagine living somewhere with five star views to pump your gas.  photo 3-Snaefellsnes5_zps548zhsuj.jpg We then headed off for our lunch spot at Stykkisholmur, the biggest town on the peninsula and we stopped for a photo op at the Gerduberg basalt columns along the way. The columns are really amazing, but looking back, I may not have taken the time to stop and see them. You will see lots of other basalt formations on your trip and these were our least favorite.

Stykkisholmur is a great stopping point to grab a bite before circling the peninsula. We had an amazing lunch of seafood soup and asparagus soup and fresh bread at Narfeyrarstofa. We also climbed to the top of the basalt island, Sugandisey, at the top of town and just enjoyed the quiet streets (where there is free wi-fi everywhere) for a few minutes.  photo 3-Snaefellsnes13_zps2w1vukhq.jpg We then headed west around the peninsula. We stopped at Kirkjufellsfoss for a photo op of the waterfall and the mountain Kirkjufell in the background. Then we continued around and drove through Snaefellsjokull National Park. We made a stop at Dritvik beach which was eerie on a foggy afternoon with the remains of a shipwreck from hundreds of years ago still scattered on the black sand. We saw the rock formation known as the Elf Church.   photo 3-Snaefellsnes251_zpsx1fbuglv.jpg  photo 3-Snaefellsnes37 2_zpscfu1edyz.jpg We drove through lava fields and climbed to the top of the Saxholl Crater to look down at the jagged rock landscape. We finished the trek around at the cliffs of Hellnar and Arnarstapi--my favorite part of the day. We were running out of time and getting hungry, so we rushed our time there a bit, but I wished I could spend hours sitting along the dramatic cliffs and watching the sea birds as they socialized at the end of the day.  photo 3-Snaefellsnes55_zpst5d7pomi.jpg We didn't get back to our cabin until around 10pm, but the long day was well worth it.

Day 4 - The South Coast Total time spent in the car: around 6 hours Total day length with stops: around 12 hours

Another very accessible day trip is along The South Coast. From our point Northeast of Reykjavik, we weren't directly accessible to the South Coast sights, but it was pretty easy to head down south as far as the town of Vik and see some beautiful places along the way.

After a couple hours of driving and just enjoying the countryside, we stopped at the first natural wonder: Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. We put on our waterproof pants and went behind the waterfall and around it. Beautiful! We knew Vik was going to be our stop and turn around point so we hit a couple stops on the way and a couple on the way back.  photo 4-SouthCoast8_zpsep0ahz9h.jpg We walked to the base of the Solheimajokull Glacier which was a highlight of the day. Even though we couldn't hike it without a guide, it was great to see it up close.

The one thing we would take off the list in future was our trip to see the downed plane Solheimasandur. In March of 2016 (one month before we were there), they closed off the driving path to get to it, and what we thought was a 10 or 15 minute walk to the plane was actually a 2.2 mile walk. Our trip to see the plane took us over 2 hours! It was cool, but not cool enough for that.  photo 4-SouthCoast28_zpsszcnshcb.jpg We stopped in Vik for an Icelandic hotdog and then spent some time on the black sand beach at Reynisfjara. This was one of my favorite spots in all of Iceland! I wanted to spend a lot more time there and so wished we hadn't spent two hours seeing the plane so that I could go to the cafe, grab some coffee, and just sit on the black sand and listen to the waves and stare at the basalt formations.  photo 4-SouthCoast49 2_zpsxkuwrrvu.jpg On the drive back, we stopped at Skogafoss waterfall--my favorite waterfall of the trip. Then we went for a swim at the Seljavaullaug hidden pool. This was a wonderful place to stop for a dip in a warm pool and a view of the surrounding mountains.  photo 4-SouthCoast57_zpsvzrror1q.jpg  photo 4-SouthCoast69_zpsfvwmxvlj.jpg We finished off the day with dinner in Selfoss. There were a number of good restaurants, and it was a good stop on the way back!

Day 5 - Slow down and take it in. 

Our flight left the airport around 6pm on Day 5, and I didn't make any big plans for the day before that. I'm so glad I didn't because after three days of non-stop roadtrips, all I wanted to do was just relax and soak in the atmosphere before having to leave this amazing country.  photo 4-Cabin15_zpsip9buoqf.jpg We took our time with breakfast and I went for a hike around the cabin (another reason I'm so glad we chose a scenic place to stay). I hung out with the sweet horses that surrounded us and cried as I said goodbye to them. We truly just had a leisurely morning and it felt like the perfect way to end a trip. Then we went back to Reykjavik for lunch at Icelandic Fish & Chips, coffee at Cafe Haiti, and another stroll through the colorblock streets before heading to the airport late afternoon.  photo 5-Cabin11_zpstz7paxhx.jpg We could have tried to jam pack another day, but I don't regret taking it easy one bit. It was the best ending to the best trip in an absolutely unforgettable country.

Until next time, Iceland.

Trip Budget

**We are strict budget people; we log every purchase and put every dollar in its place (thank you, Dave Ramsey). One of the things that affords us is the opportunity to intentionally make travel a priority and save our pennies toward trips like this. That being said, it's sometimes hard to plan a budget to an unknown place without any knowledge of how much that will cost. Hopefully this helps! 

(This budget is not including airfare which will vary by time of year and airline. But I will say that we used Icelandair out of Boston after using airline points to get from Nashville to Boston, and roundtrip flights Boston to Reykjavik were just over $500 each in April!)

Lodging: $474 (4 nights Airbnb) Food at Restaurants: $258.24 (7 full meals and plenty of coffee stops, snacks, etc) Groceries: $74.55 (3 breakfasts, 2 dinners, coffee and snacks) Gas: $152.30 (5 days of driving in a little economy car) Sightseeing: $123.69 (Blue Lagoon and a few little costs here and there) Rental Car: $153.00 Total Cost: $1,235.78

I hope this was helpful in some way! Happy to answer any questions!Signature

Quarles In Iceland Part 1

In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.
Psalm 95:4-5 

 photo 2-GoldenCircle76 2_zpsdsdgbffj.jpg Jeremy and I just got back from a week in the land of fire and ice. Inspired by beautiful photos and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Jeremy suggested a new vacation locale, and we booked this trip on a whim less than two months ago.

Those two months were very busy. We were both working overtime and trying to balance too many things, so I counted down the days to a getaway. I told myself I needed to clear my mind, to have the space to think about the future and to have deep conversations and quality time with my husband after weeks of passing like ships. I needed to not think about politics or the state of our country or career choices or emails or social media or to-do lists.

Turns out, I did need all those things (and I got them), but the thing I truly needed, and found, was much better.

Author Hannah Kent wrote, "I do think people can have a spiritual connection to landscape, and I certainly did in Iceland."

I echo that sentiment.

I didn't make any big life decisions or have a profound epiphany in our five short days in Iceland. But I experienced a spiritual wonder that settled my soul. 

I rode in the passenger seat as we drove for hours on winding roads flanked by epic mountains and rugged lava fields. I stood at the base of a glacier and wondered at the free-form patterns made in the packed ice by the water runoff. I closed my eyes and listened to the roar of mighty waterfalls and opened them to see rainbows reflecting across the water.  photo 4-SouthCoast62 2_zpsdd5vsgvc.jpg Icelandic horses wandered through the fields outside our cabin window as I drank my morning coffee. They seem noble with sure-footed gaits, but also like unruly teenagers with their thick, shaggy manes and playful banter.  photo 3-Cabin2 2_zpsrdnfx7fq.jpg I marveled at the intensity of the blue ocean. The cold, north Atlantic waters were a deeper, richer blue than I have ever seen, and as we stood on top of peaks and alongside fjords, the water seemed to stretch forever.

The grandeur seemed to minimize my daily struggles. I was so awestruck by the wonder of a God who could create such a place. If he can make a planet so diverse, powerful, and beautiful, how much greater will the next world be?

It was the best possible vacation. One that not only provided more "me" time, but also more worship time. More time to simply stand in awe of God. No agenda. No schedule. No questions to answer or problems to solve. More of HIM in the world around me; less of me and my daily concerns, comparisons, complaints. Although, I can't deny that I also received one of the most enjoyable weeks of my life and some memories that I want to keep forever.

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I don't have to travel to Iceland to experience this kind of wonderment. I want to find time in my daily life to simply allow myself to be awed by the God that loves me. Not to try to do something or accomplish something or solve a problem or fix my flaws. There is a place for all of those things, but it is amazing the kind of soul-soothing, mind healing peace that comes in just pausing and looking around and worshiping God because He deserves it.

But on a very practical note, I'm convinced that you, too, should go ahead and buy a ticket to Iceland because I guarantee you will have a blast. :-)

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On cynicism and the freedom to be creative...

 photo 3998DB44-A609-496D-B3B6-95A4A6FCBC24_zpsyywswizp.jpgAt the age of 25, I have become a class A cynic. It's a self-diagnosed disorder in which I choose to search for and highlight the flaws and failings in the creative expression of myself and others with the belief that it makes me some sort of expert or enhances my cool-factor.

I am reading a book by Elizabeth Gilbert called "Big Magic" about the magic to be found in creative living. And I realized it's been a while since I truly believed in magic. Not pixie dust and Santa Claus magic, but the spark of joy from my creator that can be found in the love of creativity...especially as it pertains to music.

I moved to Nashville almost 8 years ago with very little cynicism and a lot of joyous expectation. I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed college freshman on the campus of one of the most well-respected contemporary music schools in the country. I had stars in my eyes--not because I expected to become the next big superstar, but because being in a place where my primary focus was creative expression among other talented creatives was just so thrilling.

I voluntarily spent my evenings in the practice rooms writing very average songs with above average conviction and learning to play the piano because I believed I could. I had dreams of singing in an artist showcase--the big kahuna of student performance events. I recorded a very amateur demo in the smelly closet of a freshman audio major. I had a professor tell me that I should have been a pageant girl and that I should probably quit the voice program, and after a tearful afternoon, I picked myself up and chose to disbelieve his rash judgment of my talent.

As the years progressed, I became acquainted with a new friend. Her name was cynicism. I can't remember who introduced us. Maybe it was an older student I respected or a jaded professor or a weary industry veteran. In Nashville (or any creative place for that matter), cynicism has a lot of social connections. She came with me to the practice rooms and assisted me by reminding me that nothing I did was ever really good enough and everyone else was more talented and qualified than me. She sat with me at church and at concerts and helped me nitpick the performers and worship leaders. She introduced me to self-doubt and fear; we made a really powerful team. Under their influence, I began listening to music less for fun and seeing practice as a chore rather than a joy. I mastered the art of crippling self-editing and procrastination.

Many times I ignored cynicism and her posse, and throughout college I still maintained a overriding sense of joy and optimism in my craft. I achieved many of the goals I set out to accomplish. I released my first short album, I spent two years in the jazz vocal ensemble that I so aspired to be a part of, and I made the cut for that showcase. The Lord continued to remind me that my creativity is a gift from him to be used and enjoyed.

Now, four years later, I have spent the last four years working on the business end of the music industry. And boy does cynicism have a fan base in this world. Her friends are not ill-intentioned (for the most part), but they are everywhere.

I now find myself joining the masses who fold our arms at concerts instead of raising our hands and have a judgment and criticism for every aspiring or existing artist. I read articles about how the music industry is dying and Christian music sucks and streaming is taking the place of digital music sales which took the place of cds and nobody can make a living and touring is hard and marriages are failing and only the lucky few can ever really find happiness and fulfillment in the art of music making. The rest of us just try to do our best to get by and maybe our art can make one person happy. Sometimes I can't remember what it was like to love music just for the sake of it.

I see those same college freshman, or highschoolers, or young aspiring creatives, and I shake my head and say, "just you wait. It's a rough world out there, kid”, with a feigned sense of superiority. Ew. I'm embarrassed to admit that I actually think that way sometimes.

Moral of the story: I have taught myself to believe a whole lot of bull.

The truth of the matter is: it is a rough world out there. Making a living in art is not and has never been an easy road. It's a world of harsh criticism and apathy. The decision makers are subjective. There's not a clear cut path to success.

But I think I've missed the point completely.

The most joyful moments of creative expression in my life thus far didn't make me a single penny. I didn't do them for the acclaim or for the pat on the back.

At least in this stage of my life, when I have a great day job, I don't have to rely on my creativity to make a living, so why am I not the most joyful creative on the planet? There's so little pressure in reality, so why do I not create with freedom and abandon? And, more than that, why do I judge and envy those who do?

When I was writing my first songs at the age of 7 (remind me to sing you the masterpieces called God Is The Light and I'm Going On a Mission With God), I honestly didn't care if someone successful said they were the best thing they'd ever heard. (Although, I'm sure my naive seven-year-old self probably thought they were amazing.) I just created because it came out of me and because it was so fun.

God didn't make peonies and tulips and sunsets and butterflies because he wanted us to say "Good job, God. Here is a prize for creative excellence and a paycheck to prove Your worth." Honestly, I'm not completely sure why He created those things. But, I imagine it had something to do with the fact that He is God, and He is good, and beauty is a natural outpouring of that.

I am a child of God, a representative of Him here on this earth. Shouldn't I find joy in creativity just because it's good and wonderful? I've never been in a life-or-death creative crisis. Nothing truly serious rides on my success or failure. So why am I so afraid to try?

As Gilbert would say in Big Magic, fear is boring. Everyone fears. Why not be bold and actually enjoy the art of creativity? Why not think to myself, "Wow! What a complete honor to be able to write songs about God's goodness!"?

It's human nature to want approval and to seek success. And it is also important that we pursue excellence in our craft. A little bit of cynicism is healthy. There's nothing wrong with making a living of art. But, art is really all about joy anyway. We don't create art to save the world or to solve world hunger or to cure cancer. We create art because it enriches life. And, if it's not bringing me joy in the creation, why do I force myself to participate?

I recently released an EP. Five songs that I carefully crafted and recorded. There was a lot of fear tied up in the creation of that project. People keep asking me how it's doing, and I feel like I need to give them some impressive stat about its success. The other day someone asked me, and I felt compelled to simply say, "I released it. It's on iTunes for people to hear. I'm really proud of it, and I count it a personal and spiritual victory that I released it at all. It was a lot of fun."

And that's really ok if that's all there is to it.

I have had people say some nice things about it. Some people have bought it. I think it's pretty decent music. But why do I always temper my joy with qualifications like "I mean sure it was fun, but, you know, it's not like it's going to be that successful or anything"?Sure, it probably won't, but why give that disclaimer? Why, when people ask if I'm an artist, do I respond with "No. I just try to do music on the side. It's tough, you know?"?

Why do I harp on the struggles and bemoan the difficult creative existence? Why do I make excuses?

There is certainly a place for criticism and for objectively looking at art and thinking "that isn't any good at all." Everyone is entitled to their opinion about artistic expressions. It is also unrealistic for everyone who finds joy in creativity to believe they are destined for a career in the arts. But so what? What if the only thing that happens is that they created something that glorified God and brought them joy? Is that really so bad? And what if someone writes a scathing review or tells them it stinks? If that's the worst that could happen, is it truly a reason never to have created it in the first place?

I'm not going to stop critically assessing music, and I'm certainly never going to achieve complete separation from my good friend cynicism. She is like a live-in relative, and it's best when she has her own kitchen so she doesn't have to share my space all the time. I could use her help in distinguishing between my own works of excellence and stuff that's better suited for the waste basket. But, above all, I'm going to try finding joy in art again. Because that's why we love art in the first place. I'm going to try not to emulate my peers who look at the music industry with disdain while simultaneously devoting their lives to it. I just don't see the point in that. I want to find joy in creating art and cheer on others who do the same. I want to be an encourager.

God gifted us with art, and we have the privilege to partner with him in creating it and reveling in it. What joy. Whether it's blogging, poetry, drawing, painting, or simply enjoying those things.

"Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs." Psalm 100:2

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On flight delays, busy schedules, anger management, and time with Jesus...

 I wrote this a couple of weeks ago. I'm a little less stressed now, but writing out my feelings helped. I hope you find encouragement from the lament of an over-extended woman. :-)  It’s been one of those weeks. One of those months.

Last week, I reached up to find the back of my earring hanging on while the front had vanished somewhere in Baltimore. The next morning, I responsibly donned my blue and white lacy apron to cook breakfast. When I removed said apron, my shirt was covered in grease…under my perfectly pristine protective housewife garment—a feat that defies the laws of basic physics. Thursday, my computer turned all of the perfectly readable English into gibberish symbols, and I was suddenly trying to decipher paragraphs that looked like ∏◊©¢⇑ßß∏∇∩. Half an hour with the IT guy later, I was once again able to read my desktop icons and file menus.  I took naps in my car in random parking lots in between one meeting and the next to try to catch up on the sleep that has eluded me lately. Monday, I returned from the supermarket to find that the main ingredient I needed for dinner was somehow left at the checkout counter and another major ingredient was spoiled before I even opened it.

In the midst of a hectic schedule, all of these little annoyances could not have been more poorly timed.

Thursday evening, I sat at the airport waiting to board my sixth work flight in 2 weeks that was two hours delayed and was set to put me at my destination at 1 a.m. Little did I know that I would encounter numerous other travel and car rental mishaps before the day’s end that would result in me yelling at a guy outside the airport to leave me alone and my mommy driving 45 minutes to pick me up on a business trip at 2:30 a.m. My exhausted delirium from a week that started and ended with 3 a.m. frustration had me reflecting on the chaos.

I have been working days, nights and weekends and also trying to fit in housework, promotion for a recently released EP, Bible studies, healthy eating, and a home decorating/renovation side business that Jeremy and I will be officially launching soon. Life isn't always as crazy as it is right now, but I do tend to overextend myself.

Recently several people have mentioned how much they admire Jeremy’s and my ambition. I hear exclamations of “How do you do it all?” and “Wow. You keep so busy. I’m so impressed!” I usually take those compliments and store them in my chest…the perfect packing material with which to puff it up and strut around with pride. Meanwhile, several weeks of jam packed schedules left me feeling depleted. The easiest thing to let slide was my morning time with Jesus. My work schedule kept me from my Monday night Bible study anyway, so my accountability was sparse. And when I woke up in the mornings in a frenzy, I chose breakfast over Bible and shower over scripture.

As each day passed with little more than a “Jesus, give me strength” or a quick psalm reading in passing, anxiety and stress began filling the spaces where joy and peace used to live. I found myself quick to anger and quick to tears. A tearful meltdown in front of my boss was a surefire sign that I needed some rest and rejuvenation.

This morning I woke up and felt a yearning to spend time in God’s word. I prayed for guidance and felt drawn to Philippians where I found the familiar words:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7)

I have read that passage innumerable times, but in my weariness, it hit me in a fresh way. I know that prayer and supplication will give me peace, but I was struck by the truth that the reverse is also true. When I don’t pray or give my requests to God, I am willingly denying myself the PEACE OF GOD which is beyond all understanding. It’s no surprise that weeks spent away from the refreshing water of God’s word have me also feeling a LACK of peace and a feeling that my heart and mind is unguarded. His peace and guarding are free for the taking, but the further I walk in the other direction, the less I experience them.

Last week as I paced the airport in angst over a delayed flight, I kept thinking that my emotions were too raw and my spirit too quick to anger. When I don’t give everything to God, that promise of having a guarded heart and mind is no longer being fulfilled in me. When I give my stress to Him, He guards my heart from anxiety and my mind from frustration.

When the Lord is front and center in my life, I am often amazed at the things I can accomplish in His strength. But when I push Him to the side in favor of those same accomplishments, my own weakness flashes neon bright.

Shortly following the passage mentioned above is one of the most quoted scriptures of all time:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

He gives me power I don’t possess. In reverse, I fall apart when I try to do all things in my own strength.

So today I am breathing deeply, accepting that I cannot do it all on my own, and praying for the peace of God to restore my soul.

When I don’t pray or give my requests to God, .

Whole30 Food Favorites

 photo C8ABA1BE-D1E3-4EB8-8EAD-995A7688ABAB_zpslgkgagmn.jpg Yesterday, I shared about our Whole30 experience. Today, let's talk FOOD FAVORITES!! I am happy to share some of my favorite recipes later, but for now, here are some of the staples we wouldn't want to have done without these 30 days.

  1. COFFEE. I love coffee. Even black coffee. In fact, especially black coffee. Prior to this challenge, I always put a tsp of real maple syrup and some half & half in my home brewed coffee before, and I opted for lattes at the coffee shops, but now, I can't get enough of a good cup of high quality organic brewed beans in my aeropress. Thank you, whole30, for letting me keep my daily joe.
  2. Ghee. It was nice to be able to make clarified butter from my Kerrygold and use it as a cooking fat.
  3. Fried Plantains. We didn't discover these until the last week of the program, but we LOVE THEM. Seriously, we are obsessed with salted plantains pan fried in coconut oil. Amazing snack.
  4. Almond butter. Yes, please.
  5. Toasted Coconut Chips. These are delicious and divine.
  6. La Croix. We didn't drink soda before, so we weren't replacing other carbonated beverages, but when you can't have any treats, there is something so refreshing and exciting about getting to have a flavored sparkling water.
  7. Lara Bars. Not for everyday use, but when you're in a pinch and need some food STAT, we loved having a few of these on hand. (Not all flavors are whole30 approved. Check for added sugars).
  8. Epic Bars. These were especially appealing when we were traveling. A little protein/meat boost is the perfect thing for a hungry traveler.
  9. GT's Kombucha. As if I didn't already love this stuff already. Every once in a while we treated ourselves to a GT's Kombucha because they don't add sugar to their brews. Our favorite flavors are Gingerade, Trilogy, and Gingerberry. Yum!
  10. Aidell's Chicken Apple Sausage. This is the only flavor I could find that was whole30 compliant, but it was a breakfast staple for us.
  11. Eggs. We have never gone through cartons of eggs as quickly as we did this month. We found that we were eating full breakfasts every morning, and eggs were a staple of that.
  12. Sweet Potatoes. In soup, as a side, for breakfast. Sweet potatoes all the time.
  13. Avocado. The yummiest of healthy fats.
  14. Spices. I am certain that eating lots of meats and vegetables does not mean it can't be full of flavor! Thanks to lots of garlic powder, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, Bragg's seasonings, allspice, etc.
  15. Nuts. Almond butter. Raw Almonds. Pecans. Cashews. Almond milk. Thank the Lord for nuts!

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Over the next few weeks, I will share a few more recipes that we have loved! If you are planning on trying the Whole30, be sure to follow @whole30recipes on Instagram! That was a really helpful resource for me.

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Things I Learned On My First Whole30

 photo 2E5E587F-612A-4293-BB20-F00904DCF656_zpsfs5ijzly.jpgAs of tomorrow, Jeremy & I will have completed our very first Whole30. The re-introduction process is slow, but today is our final day of super strict, read-every-label-or-start-over eating. Woo!

If you have never heard of the Whole30, it's a 30 day eating challenge that is "designed to change your life in 30 days." Basically, for the last 30 days we have eaten meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and eggs. And that's about it. No grains, dairy, legumes, or sugar of any kind (except fruit). As you are reading this, you likely have one of two responses. Either: 1. You've done this before or thought about doing it before and you are nodding your head in solidarity. 2.  You think we are crazy.

I have considered myself a healthy eater for many years, and over the past few years of marriage, I have learned so much about how to eat and feed my family well with whole, real, delicious food. We hardly eat any processed food, limit our grains, and eat lots of produce and fresh foods. I have developed a serious interest in and affinity for cooking and spending time in the kitchen. But, I have always been really skeptical of the Whole30. I thought, "I already eat healthy enough. Why deprive myself of all of those things for 30 days?"

But I am really glad I did it.

I am writing this post mostly for my own benefit and the benefit of others who are planning to try the Whole30 program. I want to recap our adventure and share some of the tricks I learned along the way. (I'm sure I will have even more thoughts and reflections after we complete the re-introduction phase of this process. I will keep you posted!) 

Let's start with the positive. Here are some of the benefits we experienced from doing the Whole30. 1. Energy and motivation. After I got past a few early days of exhaustion, I found that I had increased energy and alertness. I was accomplishing more and feeling overall more energetic and focused in my tasks. This is a huge benefit! While I can't say that I was never tired in the 30 days, I didn't get the draining afternoon lulls that follow grain and sugar filled meals.

2. My sugar cravings decreased. I may not eat bakery cakes, oreos, or Blue Bell ice cream very often, but I had become very dependent on the "healthier" versions of such treats. Almond flour cookies, coconut milk ice cream, and gluten free chocolate chip pancakes were regular treats in my weekly (ahem, daily) diet. My sweet tooth was the hardest to kick in the early days of Whole30, and I rolled my eyes that I couldn't even put honey in my wellness tea or have uncured bacon if it contained any maple syrup or cane sugar. But I'm happy to say that I don't have those same seemingly insatiable desires for just a bite of banana oat cookies that I once did. Although, I can guarantee, I will be making some coconut milk ice cream as soon as this is over.

3. We both slimmed down. I haven't weighed myself since the end of Whole30, but whether or not I've lost weight is not of huge significance to me. I look slimmer and I feel better. Jeremy's change was more noticeable than mine (isn't that always the way, though?), and he has definitely dropped a few pounds. Also, despite the fact that I have been inconsistent in working out this month, my muscle tone is more defined.

4. Overall feeling better. In addition to more energy, I just felt better overall. Better PMS symptoms (sorry, guys), fewer stomach aches. Also, I have been less stressed and overall just a little peppier.

5. I feel a sense of accomplishment. I didn't know if I could deprive myself of so many delicious things for 30 days...especially in the midst of business travel and appointments, but I did it! And I feel better for it! And I realized that food doesn't have as much power over me as it once did. I can say no...even to a fresh crab cake staring me in the face on the Florida coast that wouldn't have been that bad but still broke the rules. Yes, I did that. And I survived. If anything, this was a really good test of willpower. I feel like I won the game.

6. I learned new skills and developed new habits. I tried recipes I never would have tried. I learned to use ingredients I didn't usually use. I started cooking a big, healthy breakfast every single morning.

Now let's talk hard stuff. Here were the most challenging/frustrating things about the 30 days.

  1. Eating out and having to be that person. On week 2 of the challenge, I went on a work trip and I had to eat out every meal for 5 days straight...often at greasy spoon restaurants that I did not choose. I made it work, but there was some frustration at the hassle. Also, you know that person across from you at the restaurant who asks for every single thing to be customized? The "is there butter on that salmon? What oil do you use to cook the broccoli? Can I have that without soy?" girl. I was that girl.
  2. Having to carefully avoid things I know don't bother me. I haven't done whole30 before, but I have done similar, less strict versions of the paleo diet. I know that a little bit of grass fed butter or some honey in my tea or soybean oil on my Chipotle veggies isn't a big deal. So I had to curb the eye rolling and just suck it up and avoid those little, not such a big deal things. For the sake of the cause. It is also quite annoying to have to read every single label looking for small amounts of added sugar.
  3. My skin didn't really improve. I have struggled with not-awesome skin lately, and I was hoping 30 days of the cleanest possible eating would leave me with a glowing, blemish free complexion. Unfortunately, it seems, clean eating wasn't the ultimate solution to everything.
  4. HUNGRY. I feel like eating this way increases my metabolism almost too much. We found ourselves so hungry before meals...like we could barely wait to scarf down those vegetables and meat.
  5. Cost of food. We are budget people, and this month definitely stretched our budget. Partly because I was so concerned with feeding us well that I didn't pay as close of attention to money, but it's expensive when all you can eat is produce, meat, and nuts. Also, winter is a tough time of year because not very much produce is actually in season.

The truth is, I am so glad I finished the 30 days...despite the things listed above! Are our lives changed? I'm not sure about that, but they are certainly enhanced. I think this program really could change your life if you were starting from a more unhealthy place. But even as "healthy" eaters already, this program is definitely something I would recommend!

Tomorrow, I'll be back to talk about my food favorites from the month and share a few recipes.

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The Books You Read...2015

I wrote a blog post earlier this year about my affinity for travel, and I shared a favorite quote: You will be the same person you are now in five years except for the places you go, the people you meet, and the books you read. 

One of my new years resolutions at the beginning of 2015 was to read a book a month for a total of 12 books this year. As I closed the year out, I am proud to say that I saw that goal and raised it. I finished 28 books in 2015 (not including books of the Bible), thanks in part to my recent addiction to audiobooks. There's nothing like sitting down to physically read a book cover to cover, but in the craziness of life, sometimes an audiobook is just the thing! This year, I have kept two books going at once: one in print and one in audio format.

I have found that I prefer fiction on tape because it doesn't require as much active processing. I can simply listen and enjoy the story. I prefer to visually read non-fiction books for the sake of my own comprehension as a visual learner.

I have borrowed all of my audiobooks for free thanks to my local Nashville library and both the Overdrive app and Hoopla app on my phone.

So, for those of you that have any interest in a booklist and recommendations, and for my own documentation, here is my reading list of 2015 as well as my rating (on a scale of 1 to 5) (* = audiobook).

First off, my top 3 recommendations from the year: 1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Historical fiction. Takes place in France during WWII. So beautifully written and a wonderful story. 2. Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. Memoir and business book by one of the men who runs Pixar and now Disney Animation Studios. Great for creatives, but good for everyone! 3. The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. I read this at the top of the year, and it really shaped and grew my prayer life.   photo 2C0A966C-7FE8-4700-8651-AE661DA700DB.tif_zpsolawbtqk.jpeg

     NON-FICTION

  1. The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson - 5
  2. For The Right Reasons by Sean Lowe (Don't judge) - 3
  3. Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff by Stephen Altrogge - 4
  4. Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist - 3
  5. Scary Close by Donald Miller - 2 (I know this book is wildly popular; it just didn't click with me.)
  6. When God Doesn't Fix It by Laura Story - 4
  7. The War of Art: Break Through The Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield - 3 (First 2 sections were definitely a 4/5, but the last section took the rating down significantly for me).
  8. Shattered Perspectives by AJ Luck - 3
  9. Call The Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth*4
  10. Call The Midwife: Farewell To The East End by Jennifer Worth*4
  11. Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull - 5
  12. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo - photo 4078B4B7-3945-4430-976F-2DE424A8F243.tif_zpst742uzza.jpeg FICTION
  13. Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers - 5
  14. Echo in the Darkness by Francine Rivers - 5
  15. As Sure As The Dawn by Francine Rivers - 5
  16. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - 4
  17. The Help by Kathryn Stockett* - 5
  18. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers - 5
  19. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley* - 4
  20. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter* - 2
  21. The Prince by Francine Rivers* - 4
  22. All The Light We Cannot See* by Anthony Doerr - 5
  23. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee* - 5
  24. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery* - 4
  25. Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery* - 4
  26. Anne's House of Dreams by Lucy Maud Montgomery* - 4
  27. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee* - 3 (As a long time lover of To Kill a Mockingbird, I was disappointed by this long-awaited followup!)
  28. The Christmas Angel by Jane Maas* - 5

I've only finished one book so far in 2016! I guess I better get to work!

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2015 Life In Review

This year took me by surprise. I didn't have particularly grand expectations for 2015, but as I look back, I realize that it was one of my favorite years yet. I feel like I have grown a lot in my understanding of myself this year. Our marriage is richer and fuller. I feel more confident, more humbled, and more assured in who I am in Christ than I have before. We did a lot of major projects around the house, and all of a sudden our home feels a lot more like "us."

We traveled a lot. We took a trip to Italy around our third anniversary which was at the very top of my bucket list. It was the trip of a lifetime and some of my favorite days of my life. This year I also found myself in Portland, northern California, South Florida, Chattanooga, New York City, Orlando, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Texas and a handful of other places.

I started a new position in a new department at my record label job in January. That has brought with it more travel and a large learning curve, but it has been an exciting and great change.

This year, we left a church we loved and joined a new one, joined a new Bible study, and started leading 7th graders on Wednesday nights. It's been a year of spiritual growth for us as a couple and individually.

Perhaps the most personally significant for me is the recording of my second musical project, The Color EP, which will release at the top of 2016. I've been thinking of releasing new music for several years as I have struggled with a lot of fear and insecurity, but music was one of the biggest parts of my life for most of my life, and it has felt like a re-awakening as I have been reminded of the joy of following my God-given passion and recorded music once again.

This year has been full of big life events and little moments. Births of sweet babies to two of my best friends. Saying goodbye to the house that raised me. Visits with family near and far. Memories made with my husband as we continue to grow into adulthood together. Quiet moments on snowy days. Colorful trips around the world.

2015, you were absolutely exactly what I needed. I greet you, 2016, with open arms.  photo backyard1_zps21319c6f.jpg  photo IMG_8391_zpsvejirfjd.jpg  photo Rome-6_zpsi3wkgc0h.jpg  photo F0F75539-1696-4B1A-A4F6-BAA0D3EFC51D_zpsvap4rqju.jpg  photo 2A77E5D7-2C0B-40C4-A85F-A4E1FE0E9044_zpsvhoznfdy.jpg  photo FDBB0055-377A-4379-99C1-5464BA4177A9_zpsqviq4qga.jpg  photo 3A2A0271-B957-4789-B504-EC3A1E077C8A_zpsatlgq0rb.jpg  photo 34A1A685-2342-40AD-BE58-68521A4D5D40_zpsqy4wub3v.jpg  photo 15C9D3B3-A0E2-47CE-9BB4-72E6FA95E744_zps4uklhkp9.jpg  photo A2650EAD-2AC6-4445-A329-D51290061B71_zpsjtpjqs12.jpg

But God.

 The blog has been quiet lately. Life is busy, and I haven't quite known what to say here. I'm recording a 5 song EP and fundraising for that. I've been traveling for both work and pleasure. I've been preparing for hosting my family for a few days at Thanksgiving. In the midst of activities, plans, and duties, I have been wrestling with emotions and worries about my own life and the world at large. Yesterday, Jeremy and I tucked under the covers for our standard Sunday afternoon nap. While he slept peacefully and the kitties purred beside me, I lay there for an hour--physically tensing with fear and unrest.

Life is unsafe. It is ever shifting. It is scary. Terrorists have death wishes, politics is complicated, and people are hurting. Innocent people get cancer. Children, husbands, and wives die unexpectedly.

Meanwhile, I live comfortably in my little ranch house in bustling Nashville and show you pictures of my decorations and DIY projects. I sing songs and record music. I put on a clean outfit every day and drive to work in my climate controlled SUV and sit at my desk and make phone calls and answer emails. I hang out with my two cats and my sweet husband. I tell Jeremy how much I love him and he tells me the same. We invite our friends over and laugh over home cooked meals. We go to the store and buy everything we need and many things we don't need. I put up my Christmas trees and deck the halls and listen to Nat King Cole and slide around the floor in my fuzzy socks.

All of those things are so good, and I am so grateful for the everyday joys. I treasure the community, hobbies, and comforts. God delights in us and desires for us to experience happiness. But there is another side to the story of life.

Outside my red brick walls, some of the world is in agony. At any moment, my comfortable little world could be shattered by any number of things. Meanwhile, many others have already experienced the shattering.

I feel helpless, and, at times, hopeless.

BUT, the Gospel. BUT GOD.

I love the book of Ephesians, and chapter 2 is especially great.

The passage starts out in doom and gloom. Paul, the author, talks about the weight of sin on the world.

"Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else." (Eph 2:1-3. NLT)

Ok, Paul. We get it. We are sinful, the devil is bad. Then, just when everything seems at its bleakest, Paul inserts two crucial and defining words: BUT GOD.

"But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much,  that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)...God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."  (Eph 2:4-5, 8-10. NLT)

Our church just finished a series on the Gospel. That is a word that evangelical Christians throw around frequently, and sometimes it becomes watered down by cavalier exchange. However, the GOSPEL in and of itself is a powerful, transformative thing that gives us HOPE in all circumstances. The Gospel means that despite my sin and mistakes, and despite the horrible things in the world around me, GOD IS STILL GOOD. His grace covers every sin, his comforting arms are outstretched to every hurting soul, and he promises ETERNAL LIFE that is free of the fear, pain, and trial that we know to be so real on this planet. He has a plan for this world that far outstretches our understanding. As the children's song so plainly states, "He's got the whole world in his hands."

Sickness is real. BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much.

Terrorism is a threat. BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much.

Poverty is rampant. BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much.

I can't control my own life. BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much.

I easily hold tight to this truth and to the hope of Grace at a time in my life when things are going pretty darn well. It is my prayer that I will continue to hold tightly when trials come my way. That is a prayer that I have been afraid to pray lest I somehow invite those trials; however, the Lord has been trying to teach me that I have nothing of eternal significance to fear, despite the emotions I feel in the moment. I still haven't learned that lesson, but God...

This doesn't negate the difficulty of this world. This doesn't always make it easy to discern truth in every situation. Life will have trials, and uncertainty is certain.

BUT GOD. 

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Life in Color: A Musical Journey

Today I take you away from our normal talk of pillows and paint colors to share my heart with you and share a very exciting announcement. Have you ever felt stuck in a rut due to your own fear of failure? Have you fought off a calling or desire simply because it's easier to stay still?

   Today I launched my very first Kickstarter to fund the creation of a 5 song musical EP that will be releasing early 2016. I have a pep in my step and a lump in my throat simultaneously as I talk about this project as it is so near and dear to my heart.

For as long as I can remember, music has been a huge part of my identity. I was the singer and the songwriter. That was my label, and I wore it like a proud badge. I began writing songs when I was probably 6 years old, and I was constantly performing for family and friends and anyone who would listen to me. Music has always made me feel alive.

I began performing publicly around age 10 and leading worship at my church around age 13. I started voice lessons at 12. I sang my way through middle school and high school. All I wanted to do in college was sing, so I got a commercial voice (think contemporary music rather than classical) degree at Belmont University with an emphasis in songwriting. I thrived. I spent hours every week in the practice rooms and really fell in love with songwriting more than ever before. Once again, I proudly wore the nametag that said "I'm a singer."

I released my first recorded project in February 2012 at the tail end of my senior year of college. It was a senior project for my then-fiance (now husband), and we did the best we knew how. I'm proud of it because it is a timestamp of the season of life I was in at that point (even though I would do a lot of things differently now).

In the first year after the creation of that project, I graduated college, got married, began learning to be a wife, started a full time job as a marketing manager at a record label, and bought a house. Throughout that year of change and of learning who I am as an adult, I began to have doubts about my musical abilities. Little lies about my worth began creeping in, and I struggled with fear, writers block, and apathy. I carried fear of failure around like a weight and let the excuse of being too busy dictate my dreams.

Life has continued in a wonderful, colorful, vibrant blur over the last three years. I have worked hard at a 9-to-5 job in the music industry that I never thought I would have. I'm a radio promoter at a record label, and I get to work with the best team. I didn't picture myself on the business side of the music industry, but I love it and I have been blessed to be placed in it.

Marriage has been the most wonderful experience of my life. I have begun to understand myself better and what passions drive me. I have developed a love for interior design. I have spent time learning how to cook and keep a home and budget and be a grown up.

I have kept up with songwriting over the last few years. I have scheduled cowrites (songwriting sessions with other people) in the evenings after work and spent time writing on my own. I have dreamt of a new album or EP, but I didn't actually get serious about it until the top of 2015 when all of my stalling and fear hit me over the head and I realized what I had been doing.

God has been preparing me. He has been shaping my heart and teaching me that my music is NOT about me. My voice is not my own. My songs are not my own. My career is not my own. My home is not my own. God is in control, and life is so much better when He is.

For so much of my life, I have put my identity in my music. I didn't realize I was doing it, but I was. When I started to think about not being successful as a musician or releasing music and having the people around me tell me it was bad, I became paralyzed. It's easier to do nothing than to take a risk.

But I realized something important. I realized that all I can do is be faithful with the gifts God has given me now. 

So, I'm releasing an EP. I'm being vulnerable, I'm sharing some songs, and I'm recording a 5 song album.

But, I'm asking for help. YOUR help if you're interested.

I need to raise $7,000 in 30 days. That's scary! That money goes toward recording the album, kickstarter fees, marketing, and some really fun rewards. If you are able to donate any amount, I have some fun gifts and prizes to give back to you. There are all kinds of details here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/930334933/chandler-roberts-the-color-ep

If you follow me on Instagram, you will likely see some posts about this. Don't worry. I'm not abandoning my design ship. I still love home, decorating, and DIY. I just have another project that has been quiet for a while and is now something I get to talk about more!

Thanks for reading this little life update and a diversion from home design. Coming soon...I want to show you an update on the cutest little patio we created!

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Italy...Video Montage.

Today's post is short and sweet. It's hard to believe it's been 2 months today since our final day in Rome when we marveled at the Colosseum and the ancient ruins and finished off the day with a fancy dinner of spaghetti carbonara, mushroom risotto, and veal with prosciutto. I know nobody else cares as much about our travels as we do, but this blog is as much for my memories as anything else, so I wanted to post a little montage video we created from Go Pro footage we took on the trip. It's fun to remember...

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHgYsAfa1us]

The places you go...

"You will be the exact same person you are right now in five years except for the places you go, the people you meet, and the books you read." I scribbled those words studiously while sitting at a student leadership conference in high school. I was already completely entrenched in thoughts of the places I would go, the people I would meet, and the books I would read, and I wondered what life might look like in those five years. Little did I know, in those next five years, I would move to a new city, meet my future husband, and read countless mind-shaping books through my personal studies and college education. I still believe that statement to be true, which is one of the reasons I love to travel (and read and meet people). Whether it is to a new part of Nashville, a quick and easy roadtrip, or halfway across the globe, traveling enhances our perspective and enriches our understanding of the world. There is a depth to people who are willing to experience new cultures and places.

I started this blog post a few months ago on a day when I woke up in Portland. I was there for 24 total hours and then off to another city for some meetings for my job. Lately, I have found myself in a new place every few weeks, and I want to let these tiny snapshots shape my view of life. I tend to record those snapshots in my head like little paragraphs in an essay. Welcome to my world.  photo 4B0310B9-A1CB-4559-818C-671B01624C22_zpsnzawqmrx.jpg Have you ever felt the way a city breathes? It inhales and exhales like a human being. Every neighborhood, small business, industry, and landscape adds to the ambience. In most cities, it doesn't take long to start to feel it. Like a first handshake reveals so much about a new acquaintance, a single day in a city is like a wide panoramic snapshot.

After a day on the outskirts of Portland for a lunch and a dinner meeting, I drove into the city and took a drive around. As per usual, I started writing sentences about it in my head. Even with no one reading, I tend to think in essays and songs.

The waxing street lights begin to illuminate the well worn sidewalks and cast shadows on every corner; they make the show posters and neon signs appear eerie in the moonlight. 

In Powell's City of Books, millions of pages line the aisles with voices telling a million stories. Books do not discriminate; they speak to anyone who will unfold the spine and listen. A petite millennial with a purple pixie cut, worn acid washed overalls and tie dye Converse browses the classics section next to an unassuming middle aged man with a salt and pepper mustache and receding hairline; they are simultaneously engrossed in words written decades if not centuries ago. Worlds apart and yet caught in the same trap set by the written word.   photo B44C5C41-24FC-44D0-9FC0-7A94DEF95749_zpstmrpfdfl.jpg There is something about traveling to new places that awakens childlike wonder and deep, philosophical thoughts in me. Sometimes all it takes is a step outside the norm to get us thinking deeper, dreaming bigger, and loving a little bit better.

As you probably know from reading my blog or falling victim to my excited storytelling in person, I just came back a little over a week ago from a trip to Italy with my husband. I feel fortunate to have taken several handfuls of trips to other countries in my life, and each one reminds me that the world is so much bigger than I give it credit.

Our nation is less than 300 years old, and yet we sometimes believe we know everything as a society. There is so much we can learn by stepping outside of the life we know as Americans. I even get so wrapped up in an even smaller world--my life in South Nashville--that I begin to believe that everyone experiences the norms that I do.

As I walked through Italy, I once again took snapshots by writing descriptions in my mind.

In the midst of the Roman Forum ruins. Small and large cobblestones grouped together form the pathway through the Ancient epicenter of Roman life. I squint at the sun and try to imagine the grandiosity that once existed where now only columns stand. Temples to the Roman gods were clustered together to make worship easy amidst the chaos that would have been the market, political buildings, and important residences beneath the shadow of the mighty colosseum. I stand in the place where Julius Caesar drew his final breath. I climb up to Palatine Hill and pretend I live in one of the palaces of the nobles with the perfect view to watch the world below with an upturned nose. I walk back toward the Colosseum, and I am struck by the incredible similarities between this ancient, decaying culture and the one in which I live. We flock to stadiums not dissimilar to the Colosseum. They brought their tickets on fragments of clay pots. We bring ours to be scanned on our iPhones. They cheered at what we now consider barbaric fights to the death while we cheer for men dressed in helmets and body pads to score goals. Perhaps life has not changed as much as we think.   photo FAFA3B9B-974A-4599-8758-F37074B0A563_zpsnfny0lgk.jpg In small town Vernazza: Tourism has a different rhythm in the small Mediterranean town of Vernazza. Intermingled with daytrippers in swimsuits and adventurers on the trails is the essence of real Italian life. I can feel it on a morning walk by myself. An elderly woman waters her plants on the stone patio in a narrow back alley away from the main drag. Locals pass by and share jovial greetings in Italian. Even without understanding the language, I can sense the camaraderie that implies they have known each other for their entire lives. Local fishermen drag their boats into the harbor, and I think about the fish that will be freshly fried, grilled, and baked in local restaurants today. Scrawny wild cats wait patiently in hopes that a single sardine will drop to the ground for breakfast. I savor a cappuccino and listen the music of water against rocks, boisterous Italian laughter, and instrumental music coming from storefronts as shopkeepers prepare their stores for the day. 

It's these little snapshots that I've taken in my mind in the rolling hills of Tennessee, the outstretched highways of Texas, the stone villages of England, cramped townships of South Africa, concrete markets of Bolivia, picturesque piazzas in Italy, and everywhere in between that have begun to expand my view of this world God made and the people in it. I never want to stop exploring. The world is so much richer and deeper and more vivid than I even know.

It's true. You will be just about the same person five years from now except for those places you go, people you meet, and books you read. So, go places. It doesn't have to be expensive. Try a new ethnic restaurant. Take a walk in a different neighborhood. Spend your Saturday at a new coffee shop. Volunteer at a non-profit. Take a drive an hour in the same direction even if you don't know where you're going. Take your own snapshots. They may not be as wordy as mine. Take pictures, collect leaves, write down the names of the people you meet.

You won't be the same.  photo B79479BD-7E36-439E-B70A-9FC38A8BFA8B_zps548rweiu.jpg  photo 2496D8DB-ED6D-4647-AEC8-85C3CF4CDA3E_zpsa3wslkiy.jpg  photo 4E334E82-0248-4935-84A9-15F8FF34653B_zpsetazi3lq.jpg

A Rookie's Tips on Italy Travel

blogheader I don't claim to be a travel expert. While I have visited quite a few countries over the years, most of the trips have been with organized groups in which I had very little control over the planning portion of the trip. Other than a mission trip to England last fall (which requires a very different planning skill set), this trip to Italy was my first time planning an overseas trip by myself. I absolutely love planning, and I love travel, so it made for a fun combination. Also, Jeremy is pretty go-with-the-flow, so most of the planning was happily done by me. I dove into learning about the tips and tricks for Italy travel, and I also loved learning about the culture and history of every place we went before we got there. We also took our budget pretty seriously, and I feel like we were able to do things economically without sacrificing an amazing time. So, while there are many people with more experience in the field of travel planning, I thought I would share a few of the tips that we picked up before hand that made our trip smooth and amazing, and a few things we learned along the way.

1. Rick Steves 

For European travel lovers, Rick Steves is no secret. He is the American travel guru for all things Europe, and we felt like we were in a club because everywhere we went, we saw Rick Steves' travel books in the hands of tourists. We even bonded with other tourists over our Rick Steves recommendations. But, if you're planning a trip to Europe, get a Rick Steves book. He has them for every country in Europe. His Italy travel book is the best selling travel book in the US, and I understand why. This book was invaluable, and he has done 30 years of research in finding the best places to stay and eat, and the best way to travel with the least amount of stress . We almost always chose Rick Steves recommended restaurants, and not one disappointed. We found hole in the wall sandwich places, incredible wood-fired pizza joints, and high class restaurants that we would have NEVER stumbled across on our own and that weren't flooded with clueless tourists ordering pepperoni pizza and spaghetti with meatballs. Because of his tips, we figured out how to skip lines, how to get around on public transit, and were able to sift through the best things to do in each city. I've used other travel books for other trips, but I will never buy another brand again. He also has a TV show on PBS, and I watched episodes on YouTube of the places we were going. I consulted Rick Steves on everything from packing to pricing, and I know it helped our trip run more smoothly.  photo traveltips1_zpsekzlksys.jpg

2. Get Off the Beaten Path 

"80% of Venice is not touristy, and 80% of tourists will never know it." - Rick Steves.

This is true everywhere we went. Tourists stick together in crowded masses with the street vendors, average food, and long lines. If you're a smart tourist, you will get away from all of that. There are times we couldn't avoid the masses, and those were my least favorite times. We absolutely loved exploring the paths less traveled on our own. There is so much more to Rome than just the Colosseum and Vatican City, and although those places are worth braving the crowds, we found such respite in the quietness of places like the Appian Way, quiet cafes, and evening strolls down moonlit streets.  photo Venice-11_zpson08ozpw.jpg

3. Get out early, stay out late, and take a nap in between. 

In the spirit of getting off the beaten path, we found that the crowds are the worst between about noon and 5pm almost everywhere. Day trippers and people coming off cruise ships have to concentrate their time in these hours, but if you're staying in the city you have the advantage of enjoying things earlier and later. We had the best sight seeing experiences early in the morning and in the evenings, and we took naps almost every day. We stayed in very convenient locations everywhere we went which allowed us to come back in the heat of the day to take a nap. The locals do it, the businesses do it, and we did it. It gave us the energy to stay out late at night when the lights of the cities and towns create the most romantic moments imaginable.

A couple places that this served us well...we visited St. Peter's Basilica in Rome at around 7:45am (it opens at 7), and we only waited about 10 minutes in line at the most and enjoyed a nearly crowd-free visit. By the time we left at around 9:30, the line was about 7 times longer than when we got there, and we heard it gets even worse after 10am.

Also, we bought a night time Vatican Museum ticket. In between April and October, the Vatican Museum opens on Friday nights...but you have to have a reservation. We have heard the Vatican Museum can be brutally packed, but on a Friday night, we were able to leisurely enjoy it, and there was an evening Jazz concert in the courtyard. Winning!  photo Rome-4_zpsnkqg4aib.jpg 4. Check your exchange rates and your check cards. 

It's important on a European trip to have both a credit/bank card that works internationally and to have access to cash. Most sit down restaurants, train ticket terminals, and larger tourist sights will take card, but many mom and pop stores and smaller tourist sights are cash only. A couple of our hotels were even cash only! I learned a couple things this time that I will do differently next time. First, our cash withdrawal exchange rate was worse than our credit card exchange rate. We didn't realize this until about halfway through the trip. But, when we withdrew cash from our debit card, we were getting an exchange rate of 1.19 dollars per Euro (as set by the bank we were withdrawing from), and when we paid with our credit card, we were getting an exchange rate of 1.11 dollars per Euro. That 8 percent can make a difference on larger purchases. We paid for every hotel room in cash, even though we could have paid with card a couple times. Had I found out about the exchange rates in advance, I would have paid with card every chance we got and only used cash for smaller purchases and for the room in Vernazza that required cash. I assumed the exchange rates would be the same, but they weren't. Good to know!

Also, we encountered a problem withdrawing money when my debit card chip stopped working, and Jeremy's debit card had an 8 digit pin number. Most european banks won't accept anything more than a 6 digit pin number to withdraw cash at their ATMs, and you can't change a pin number over the phone! We desperately called our credit card and were able to work out a cash advance to pay for food and our hotel in small town Vernazza until we could get to a larger bank or international ATM in Rome. Next time, we will make sure we have a shorter pin number!

5. Find out what the locals eat. 

Please please don't go to Italy and only order American versions of Italian food. Even though Olive Garden serves lasagna and breadsticks, and you might think Papa Johns makes a mean stuffed crust pepperoni pizza, that does NOT mean that is what real Italians eat. It would be like going to Mexico and ordering a Taco Bell stuffed gordita (I haven't eaten at Taco Bell in years...do they still serve that?). When in Venice or a coastal region, order regional seafood specialties. Our favorite pasta was squid ink pasta in the Cinque Terre. Sounds gross...tastes incredible. That's the local and restaurant specialty, so that is what we tried. When in Rome, enjoy the rustic thin crust pizza with very simple seasonal ingredients or a fried zucchini flower or creamy risotto. We ate so many meals and still didn't even scratch the surface of everything we wanted to try, but the best thing was going to a locally owned restaurant and trying what they recommended. Learn about the regions you're visiting, and eat what the locals love.  photo Venice10_zpsahs1qfsd.jpg

6. Do what you want...not what everyone says you have to do. 

Florence is a top destination in Italy, and we planned on spending an afternoon there in between locations. We were limited on time, but we were going to rush in and have lunch and explore. In our travels, we discovered the most stressful part is finding your bearings in a new city, so we decided last minute to skip Florence altogether. With more time, we would have gone, but we were letting the pressure to do Florence because it's what you should do get to us, and we decided a more relaxed pace would serve us well.

We also planned on riding a gondola in Venice, but we realized gondolas only run in the busy tourist parts of Venice, and they cost about a hundred bucks, so we decided we would enjoy our time better by exploring the quiet streets for free than paying to ride on a crowded river in an expensive gondola, and we didn't regret it.

If everyone says to tour the Colosseum, but you don't care about it (It is pretty amazing, by the way), don't tour the Colosseum! But if it's something you've always dreamed of, do it no matter what! This is your trip, and you will know the best way to spend your own time. This may seem intuitive to most people, but I have a fear of missing out, so this was a good lesson to learn. I decided I would rather miss out on a tourist sight than on enjoying our time.

7. Download the right apps.

In our modern age of technology, there are some pretty great apps for your smart phone to make travel easier. Besides a handy translator app for reading menus and basic phrases, here are a couple we found useful.

Ulmon Citymaps2go. 

I can't tell you the number of times we said how grateful we were for this app! It has maps of cities all over the world, and you can pre-download them to your phone and use them without data! We didn't have unlimited data in Europe, so without wi-fi, google maps would have been difficult. But this app has all the major cities, and it uses location services to track you. It kept us from getting lost many times!  photo A49BC841-4DE7-4139-8ACD-7DEDC38501A3_zpsraftzufi.png Rick Steves Audio Europe 

I already mentioned Rick Steves, but this app has audio tour guides to many of the major sights all over Europe. Rather than paying 7 euro for an audio guide to St. Mark's Basilica or the Pantheon, just download the Rick Steves guide for free and bring your phone and headphones.  photo 1EAC25A5-96BA-4E95-ACF2-6C052B9D61A1_zps0naymjxv.png 8. Backpack if you can. 

Backpacking isn't just for college students staying in hostels. We borrowed backpacking packs from friends, and we fell in love with this way of travel. We packed light, but after 10 days we still felt like we could have packed even lighter because there are things we didn't even wear. We saw people struggling to bring massive suitcases onto trains and carting them up cobblestone staircases, and we would just look at each other and high five as we walked by with our hands free and all of our belongings strapped to our backs. With the waist belts on larger packs, they honestly don't weight heavily on your back, but if you feel like you can't carry a pack, at least narrow down to a carry-on sized suitcase. You honestly don't need more than that. You can wash clothes, and you will be so glad you packed light.  photo traveltips2_zpsh722gknd.jpg

9. Enjoy a quick bite...sometimes it's better than a sit down meal. 

Food in Italy doesn't have to be expensive. We allowed ourselves a couple of splurge meals, and that was worth it for a fancy sit down dinner with waiters in black tie, but some of our best food experiences were cheap and fast. In the Cinque Terre, split a cone of fresh caught fried fish and vegetables for 7 euro or a sandwich on local Focaccia bread for 4 or 5 euro. We had some of the best pizza in Rome for around 7 euro for a whole pie. Local markets have incredible fresh fruit for a quick snack or breakfast. In Venice, the Cicchetti (like Tapas or finger foods) make for a quick and fun meal.  photo 5terre34_zpsj0pdcwth.jpg

10. Buy train tickets as you go. 

Part of the fun of travel is being flexible. We didn't buy any train tickets before we left. We either purchased them online the night before we left a location or bought them at the kiosk at the station. Prices are consistent either way, and it allows for more freedom if you decide to leave a place earlier than expected or stay around longer!

11. Bring your own water bottle. 

I don't know about other European countries, but in Italy, there are fountains everywhere with fresh, clean drinking water. Every fountain looks like a piece of history; I'm not talking gross 1970s water fountains mounted to the wall. The only time we paid for water was at meals; we just brought our water bottles everywhere in refilled them in piazzas and at stone fountains. All that walking and heat will make you thirsty!   photo Venice-10_zpsmgx2lmwv.jpg

 

12. Stay in a central location 

I'm sure not everyone would agree with me on this one, as central locations can be slightly more expensive than something a little further away from the action, but I was able to spend just a few euros more to stay in hotels and rooms that put us close to important sights, and it was worth every penny. We ran into a couple of girls (several times...our itineraries lined up) on a 27 day Europe trip who were (wisely) pinching pennies and stayed on the mainland in Venice (rather than on the island) and a bus ride away from a town in the Cinque Terre, and I know they had a very different experience than we did. We stayed in central locations everywhere we went, and it cut down on stress significantly as we could easily make it back to our hotel for a wardrobe change, a quick rest in the middle of a hot July day, or if we forgot something. I'm all about having a home base. In Rome we stayed in Monti, within walking distance of all the Ancient Rome sights, and after seeing how dismal their public transportation is, I was so glad we didn't have to rely on it every time we needed to get back to our hotel!   photo Rome-9_zpswfipllm1.jpg

Those are my quick tips! Anyone traveled to Europe recently? Any other tips and tricks?

Bella Roma

Venice was floating opulence, the Cinque Terre was picturesque peacefulness, and Rome was epic history. Every street corner, lamp post, church, and water fountain seem to tell a tale in Rome. There are thousands of years of stories stamped into the cobblestones and carved into the sculptures that line museums and streets. We arrived in Rome via train from the Cinque Terre which took us through Tuscany, and the views were lovely. Next time in Italy, we will add Tuscany to the list. As soon as we left the train station and walked to our hotel in Monti, one of Rome's old residential neighborhoods, I began to fall in love with Rome. Grandeur, importance, and beauty run down the streets like rainwater. Our first night there, we walked to the Pantheon, ordered rustic Roman pizza at a quiet restaurant in an old church, and explored the floodlit streets from the Spanish Steps to the Colosseum. I think the first night was the best part of our time in Rome. We relaxed and soaked in the splendor.  photo rome1_zpsy9lvowwe.jpg

 photo Rome-9_zpswfipllm1.jpg In addition to undeniable importance, excitement, and romance, Rome also has the qualities that challenge every big city. Difficult, outdated public transportation, hoards of crowds, and heat that radiates off the stone and concrete. We found a peace and retreat away from the noise of the city along the Appian Way, Rome's ancient highway and an engineering marvel of its time. The early apostles would have traveled this way, and we visited one of the catacombs where early Christians were buried. The breeze flowed more freely along the Appian Way, and despite some frustration figuring out the bus system, it was worth the trip.  photo Rome-10_zpsequnraip.jpg We soaked in all the major sights of Rome. The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel (which surprised us by how much we loved it), the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, St. Peter's Basilica, The Palatine Hill. We wandered around hipster Monti and shopped in vintage clothing stores and leather shops where I purchased an Italian leather bag. We listened to an evening jazz concert on a bench in the Vatican Museum courtyard, we celebrated our trip with a fancy dinner at Ristorante Fortunato on the Pantheon square. We walked for miles and tried to appreciate the history that was before us. We waited in line in the rain and waited for what seemed like forever at bus stops. We missed a concert hosted by the Pope because we didn't understand Italian. Every inconvenience and confusion was worth it for the Roman experience which is unlike any other city or culture. For 1000 years, Rome reigned as a world power, and that power is still palpable.

At the end of our few days in Rome, we reluctantly said goodbye to Italy. Jeremy is always such a good sport about going home; however, I tend to pout about it a bit. I'm so grateful for the adventure and for all that we saw, and I hope someday we can return. Ciao, Italia.

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Dreaming of the Cinque Terre...

In between the hustle and bustle of city life in Venice and Rome, we traveled to the coast for a few days in the beautiful Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre means five lands, and it consists of five small towns built into the mountainside along the Meditteranean coast. Armed with castles originally designed to fend off pirates, the Cinque Terre is pretty much only accessible by train, boat, or hiking path. Until about a hundred years ago (before the train track was built), locals only traveled between towns on rocky mountain paths that are now available for hiking as part of the national park which envelops the region. The Cinque Terre was our favorite part of the trip. We stayed in beautiful Vernazza, the fourth of the five towns. It only has one main street running from the train station to the town square which is right up against the harbor.  photo 5terre45_zpsbgiieoak.jpg  photo 5terre-11_zpsmlydckmj.jpg  photo IMG_8391_zpsvejirfjd.jpg Hillside terraced vineyards line the mountainscapes surrounding the villages which are all painted in shades of pastels to make it easy for early fishermen to spot their homes upon returning from long days at sea. The advent of tourism in the 1970s hasn't squelched the small town charm that oozes from every cobblestone pathway, hillside church, and rocky harbor along the coast. The uphill hikes give way to the most beautiful vistas imaginable where brilliant aquamarine waters lap against the rocks. The sun sets every evening over the water; it is the most picturesque setting to enjoy fresh caught seafood, homemade pesto pasta, and a glass of local white wine.

During the days, we hiked, swam, and meandered through watercolor streets. In the evenings, we ate amazing cuisine and watched sunsets hand-in-hand before returning to our private terrace with a view of Vernazza and the Meditteranean for late night talks and the sounds of music coming from restaurants below. It feels like an exaggeration, but it really was that wonderful.  photo 5terre29_zps0xb4wovf.jpg  photo 5terre-7_zpsu7pnyiq4.jpg

When we first arrived in Vernazza, we had a little issue with our debit card, and we weren't able to withdraw any money to pay for lunch or for our cash only hotel room, and we had a rough few hours. In a larger city, we could have resolved it more quickly, but our banking options were limited, and we were absolutely so hungry and annoyed from our 6 hour train ride, but once we got past that, things went uphill quickly.

On our anniversary evening, we had a wonderful dinner with the most beautiful sunset dinner view I have ever seen. That anniversary is going to be hard to beat.  photo 5terre-9_zps9ptlelwt.jpg  photo 5terre-8_zpsc7i9kgls.jpg I think our favorite of the five towns was Manarola (below)....followed closely by our home base of Vernazza. Every town had its own charm and style.  photo 5terre-10_zpstikl6rvk.jpg  photo 5terre-2_zps4vrdhltm.jpg One night, I asked Jeremy what activities make him the happiest, and he said "just being chill and relaxed." That is so my husband, the chill and relaxed to my busy and active. But, the Cinque Terre taught me something about being chill and relaxed...and I think it's one of my favorite things now too.  photo 5terre-3_zpsk4kyzodw.jpg  photo 5terre42_zpswij70ydm.jpg  photo 5terre32_zpstjkmmtae.jpg

Snapshots of Venice...

It's been a while since I've posted, and I have quite a few home updates in the queue, but I interrupt our regular programming to tell you a little bit about our trip to Italy! We got back on Sunday from the trip of a lifetime.  Let's take a step back and talk about how we got to go on this adventure. Italy has been my dream trip for years, and we have often discussed when we could plan a trip there. In April, as we took a look at our vacation budget, I said, in jest, "Wouldn't it be fun if we could just go to Italy?" We both thought that wasn't in the cards for us, but we talked about maybe a five year anniversary trip in 2017. 

Two days later, Jeremy got an offer to do a job in Italy the weekend before our three year anniversary. God has been teaching me a lot about trusting him with my dreams, big and small, and this felt like a confirmation that he can surprise us with joys when we least expect it. God is good whether we got to go to Italy or not, but this was such an amazing testament to his goodness. With Jeremy's flight covered, we could afford the trip this year, and I set about planning the heck out of it. 

After Jeremy finished his job outside Milan (a country music show at the Cowboys Guest Ranch...in Italy. Think bad American food, a wild west style petting zoo and saloon, and Italians line dancing in boots and cowboy hats. It was a bizarre 36 hours, but we were grateful for the opportunity and we met some great people), we left on our own adventures...starting in Venice.   photo venice-1_zpsklyi5pub.jpg

"Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it, or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little." - Italo Calvano, Invisible Cities 

There is no where else in the world like Venice. It's a city of romance built upon petrified wooden stakes driven into the lagoon centuries ago. Layers of history add character to the patina of the plaster covered brick buildings. Every canal has a story, and the charm of the city grows with every winding turn, every quaint bridge, and every ivy covered palace. The decadence of the early Venetians informed every architectural choice, and despite the obvious signs of age that time and flooding have worn on every corner of the city, the old grandeur is unmistakeable. The city is a floating engineering marvel and a time capsule.

Some of the charm is masked by the flood of tourists in the center of the city. I understand why thousands of people want to see Venice every day, but when we first arrived in the center of town along the walk from the Rialto bridge to St. Mark's Square, we were distracted from the romance of Venice by endless souvenir stands, hoards of confused and pushy tourists, and street salesmen around every corner trying desperately to sell us selfie sticks. After a couple hours of getting our bearings, and once the cruise ships pulled away from the docks at the end of the day, we roamed the streets away from the rush of the center of town, and we fell in love with the quiet romance that the Venetians created.

If I close my eyes I can still smell the salt water and hear the lap of the canal against the palaces and the sound of accordion music coming from gondolas just off the main drag. As our first real introduction to Italy, we reveled in the culture that was brimming around us. We tried Gelato for the first time, wandered aimlessly in the parts of the island that were nearly tourist-free, explored St. Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace, ate seafood fresh from the lagoon, savored seasonal fruit from the market outside our hotel, and attended a Baroque concert at the most famous theater in Venice, Gran Teatro la Fenice.

Other than a couple of tourist hot spots on the main square which we finished in a single morning, we did not have much of an agenda. We explored the narrow, winding streets and took comfort in knowing that we couldn't truly get lost without swimming off the island.

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My favorite memories of Venice happened after the sun set and the lights in the buildings started illuminating the rivers. Venice was such a romantic start to our journey.

 

Goodbye, house.

My parents sold their house this week. photo FDBB0055-377A-4379-99C1-5464BA4177A9_zpsqviq4qga.jpg

I must have been around eleven years old when my Dad drove us out to the new property he and my mom had just purchased. I was going through a phase in which I determined to be disgusted by nature. Bugs, sticks, and vines were a recipe for disaster, but this trip to the property was worth it. Strategically placed on a cleared patch of land in the middle of the woods were wooden stakes driven into the ground with strings linking them together to form an uneven grid pattern that represented our future home. Like a settler in the old west pridefully showing his bride his plans for their log cabin, my Dad carefully followed the blueprint from our architect and measured out the main level floor plan of the house they had been dreaming about for years. It was my mom's dream to live on a private piece of property with room for us to play and her to garden and private views from the back windows, and my Daddy gave her that dream. One of his favorite songs is "In My Dreams" from Josh Turner, and he loves to say "In my dreams, your dreams come true." I felt safe knowing how much my Daddy must love my Mommy. He still does.

Over the next year or two, my parents self contracted the building of that house. They picked out every light fixture, baseboard, sink, and paint color. They dragged me and my sisters along to tile showrooms and wholesale warehouses as they curated every corner of the house to my mom's specifications. For health reasons and job reasons, that was one of the toughest times I can remember, but we made it, and we moved into that little dream. By the time we moved in, I was in the throes of adolescence and the youngest days of childhood were behind me; however, I still feel like I grew up at that house in the woods. I made lasting memories with friends and formed new and stronger bonds with my sisters. I had some of my biggest fights with my parents and some of our best late night talks in which they imparted important wisdom that I would not appreciate until later. I had my first crush, my first boyfriend, my first heartbreak. I taught myself  how to play the guitar and wrote some of my earliest songs. I spent hours journaling, reading, praying, and studying the Bible in my corduroy bedroom chair, and my relationship with God came alive in a new way. I tried my hand at interior decorating as I attempted to create a "New York Loft" style bedroom in hues of reds and browns with broadway show posters and accents of cheetah print on the sheets and the bathroom wallpaper border.

My parents built that home with the prayer that it would be a ministry. They are leaders in our church youth group, and there have been innumerable gatherings of students at that house for dinners, swimming parties, Bible studies, driveway pickup basketball games, and weekend retreats. It is a place where people felt safe; I saw my parents touch lives over and over.  Teenagers came for my Dad's homemade burgers, the pool, or their friends, and they left feeling loved and accepted.

The summer of 2010, my dad determined to finagle a way for my then-boyfriend Jeremy to live in Houston. Jeremy had already passed the initial Dad interview test (another story for another time), but over a year later, my Dad wanted to know him a little more closely. Jeremy and I interned at our church, and he lived a few minutes away with another family. Nearly every morning, Jeremy met Dad and a few other brave souls to do P90x workouts in our garage at 6am in the intense Houston summer heat. I would wake up at a slightly later hour and come to the kitchen to find them sweat-drenched and desperately downing ice water congregated around the island or swiveling on the barstools. Jeremy became part of our family that summer, and I fell in love with him with my parents' home as the backdrop. Our love story was pieced together with chilled watermelon and Blue Bell mint chocolate chip ice cream outside on the porch, family water volleyball tournaments in the pool, game nights in the room above the garage, and goodnight kisses on the driveway.

In a similar way, that summer was a chance for all of us to get to know a freckled faced kid named Timothy Goodwin who had been friends with my younger sister, Sydney, for years. Tim and Jeremy instantly became buddies, and that summer Jeremy coached Tim on the ways of dating a Roberts girl. In my family, we were not allowed to date until our senior year in high school, and that summer was Tim's chance to win Sydney's heart. He told her how much he liked her on the wicker bench on the front porch while all of us sat inside and tried to discreetly peek out and spy on the conversation. A little over three years later, we all spied once again while he got down on one knee in that same spot on the front porch and put a ring on her finger.

I searched through my digital archives for photos of the house and regretted not taking more pictures of what now seem like important moments. But the memories we all hold onto are not captured in pictures. They are the things that made the house into a home.

I will remember the sound of a thunderstorm from the safety of the wide covered porches. The times I, my friends, and my sisters grazed garage doors and trees with our bumpers and side mirrors while backing out of the driveway in our early days of driving. The cozy dormer window in my bedroom where I penned frantic journal entries and songs in my teenage angst. Waking up to the whirr of the lawnmower on Saturday mornings. Afternoon adventures in the treehouse in the backyard. The time my sister asked for goats for her thirteenth birthday and we ended up with pygmy goats for pets.

My heart warms with memories of my dad coming up behind mom in the kitchen to kiss her cheek as she scrubbed plates. Long talks with my mom sitting in her favorite living room chair or on the end of my bed. Gilmore girls marathons with my sisters. Sleepovers with cousins and friends piled on air mattresses and in bedrooms. Musical theatre chords and melodies filling the house from around the piano in the living room. The time that I broke into uncontrollable sobs when my missing cat, Tabby, came home, and my parents delivered her to me while I was practicing guitar.

Holidays at home will always be special. The smells of roasted turkey, herb filled dressing, and my family's traditional corn pudding wafting through the house as aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents came through the front doors and the bells on my mom's artificial evergreen wreaths clinked politely with each new guest.

Jeremy and I visited Texas last weekend, and we slept in that house in the woods the last night before my parents moved out and the movers came to pack up the memories. Dad and Jeremy loaded into the car for the airport in the morning, and I took one last walk inside and said, out loud, "Goodbye, house" with tears in my eyes.

It's true that I am sentimental to a fault, but for anyone who has built memories in a special place, saying goodbye stings a little bit. My parents are thrilled about the new home they bought across the creek, and they are ready to have a smaller property with less maintenance. The timing is perfect, God is faithful, and the new family that is moving in will fill the house with their own joy and memories.

The moral of the story is that houses are made for memories. I want to remember that as I build memories of my own in our little brick ranch. Houses aren't for keeping; it's good to let go of material stuff. But, I'm thankful for the meaning of a house when a family makes it a home.

The details don't really matter. I don't love that house because it is beautiful (although, it is). It is not special because of the chandeliers or the paint colors or the furniture. It matters because of the people.

So, goodbye house. I'll keep the memories.  photo 60E367BA-2FDF-4FEB-89C6-E73F009BE4EC_zpszboyur9i.jpg  photo IMG_6909_zpsaycfb8a1.jpg  photo IMG_0019_zpsmshrc9sr.jpg  photo IMG_1738_zpsk34gqkgu.jpg  photo 1014270_10200757337087203_164252704_n_zpssdxswlzv.jpg  photo 2012-11-21_19-28-57_758_zpskicsarxp.jpg  photo IMG_4687_zpsqcadwhum.jpg  photo 995100_10201684572546795_1142244445_n_zps9ioiqo93.jpg  photo IMG_6887_zpsmfe8txfo.jpg  photo IMG_6883_zpsq6ckb59o.jpg  photo IMG_4688_zpsfhv876fr.jpg  photo IMG_4593_zpslscusaiy.jpg

Snow days and a clean house...

 photo 5AA66A82-5C5E-4858-ACB2-2137E72813A0_zps1jtevxmh.jpgIt has been a strange week in Nashville. This is my seventh winter in the great state of Tennessee, and in all that time I have never gotten more than one day off per winter for weather. Usually, we get a few dustings of snow every year--the kind that looks beautiful in the morning and melts by noon. This week, however, we got an inch and a half of ice on Monday followed by snow on Wednesday morning, and we haven't left the subfreezing temps all week, so nothing is melting, and everyone has been stuck in their houses! I didn't leave from Sunday night until Wednesday afternoon. Now I am back to work, but it's still been a strange week. Wednesday night it got down to something like -2 degrees. We just don't handle that well in the south, y'all.  photo 7C3557C4-42FE-458B-961D-8F58F589D416_zpsefpxn6or.jpg

All you northerners are rolling your eyes at me. Go ahead and roll those eyeballs all you want. But, Nashville doesn't have the right equipment and ice is downright dangerous,  y'all.

So while the world has been stuck in a FROZEN state, I said to my husband, "Do you want to build a snowman?" and Jeremy replied "let it go, honey." So, instead we decided to take care of our own little fixer upper and did a complete organizational overhaul for the first time in forever... or at least since we started this renovation. Now we are waking up to a clean house, and these few snow days turned out to be even better than vacation days in summer because when you stay at home with your honey, all you can say is that "love is an open door." 

Wow. I just wrote that paragraph. And it's actually true. Fist bump, Disney fans. (If you have no idea what I just referenced above, go watch Frozen).  photo frontyardsnow_zpsf662831d.jpg  photo backyardsnow1_zps1039c53b.jpg

So, now I ask...is there anything better than a clean house? I am not naturally tidy. I wish that were not true. When I get busy, I get messy. But, I am starting fresh with our new bedroom.

Starting fresh with a clean house on these snow days got me thinking about how we need to start fresh in many areas of our lives. I was feeling so overwhelmed before this storm hit. My brain was foggy. We have had a lot of change in our lives lately, and I have just felt the weight of stress on my shoulders. God knew what I needed because he trapped me and my husband together in our house.

While I opened up closet doors and reorganized what I was hiding back there and swept up dust bunnies and vacuumed furniture, my introverted little self was being revitalized. I found time to spend alone with God and a cup of coffee. I held my husband's hand on the couch. I was refreshed both physically and emotionally.

What do you do to keep yourself tidy emotionally and spiritually? How do you unwind and keep your focus straight in the midst of life's little tasks?

And, on a practical note, do you guys have any tips for keeping the house clean? Do you do a daily cleanup routine?

The cold never bothered me anyway.  photo backyard1_zps21319c6f.jpg

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Merry Christmas From The Quarles Family

It's Christmas week. How can that be true? Every year, this season passes more quickly. I love the Christmas season. This year, I have really felt an internal, quiet peace and enjoyed such simple moments with God, friends, and family. Our first year of marriage, we did Christmas cards. Last year, we skipped it. This year, I brought it back. Jeremy took some convincing, but he was willing to put on the outfit I picked and come out to the front porch for some quick photos.

We just set up our tripod outside the front of our house and I staged the little porch we have with some of our decorations from inside. Also, I only know how to use the timer on the camera in continuous mode, so it took about 10 photos at a time. But we got a few keepers.

Then, I designed the cards myself on Photoshop and printed them via Vistaprint.

Here is what we came up with...

FRONT  photo MerryChristmasHighRes_2_edited-1_zpsfca55c4a.jpg BACK  photo merrychristmasback3_edited-1_zpsb83c7b80.jpg Here are a few fun extra photos and outtakes from the shoot. I'm really happy with the way it all turned out!  photo IMG_8561_zps6896a251.jpg  photo IMG_8476_zps0be74171.jpg We even brought Jack and Mittens outside for a rare outdoors experience. Jack thinks being outside is the greatest thing and he puts on his best behavior. Mittens is terrified and would rather be inside.  photo IMG_8567_zps8bb597c0.jpg  photo IMG_8577_zpse5f7fa79.jpg

So, here is a virtual Merry Christmas if you didn't receive a card in the mail from us this year. Next year, I'm definitely ordering more (don't tell Jeremy that I mentioned doing this again...photo shoots are not so much his thing. :-))

Love this season,

Chandler & Jeremy

An ode to Nashville...

Lately, I have been reminded of how much I love the city we live in. There is nowhere I would rather live. All my Nashville friends, can I get an amen? photo nashville-skyline_zps220595f6.jpg

It's such an amazing place to be a 20-something. This place is growing and changing as my peers and I grow and change into adults. People go to college here, and they never leave. This city has a way of working its way into the hearts of the people who live here and making you feel like it is all your own. Like you own a piece of it and it owns you.

It is alive and exciting. It's city life and tree lined hills. It's college students, single professionals, and families. It's new buildings next to old. It's historic and modern. It's southern hospitality. It's live music everywhere. It's the best place to dream big, even if everyone else is chasing their own dreams alongside you. It's jaded and optimistic. It's impossible and full of possibilities.

The weather is unpredictable. Last Monday we had temps in the 80s and this weekend we had winter weather advisories and snow chances. The people come here full of wonder, and many don't "make it" in the way they hoped and become discouraged and jaded. In a land of hipsters, everyone tries to be individual and unique, so, often, no one is. No city is perfect, but this imperfect city is my favorite one on the planet.

Love your city today.