England, Travel


June 27, 2016


Sometimes I get so focused on checking new countries off the imaginary list in my head that I ignore the very place I call home – beautiful England! An entire planet of landscapes seems to have wrapped itself around these little British Isles and, after a recent weekend in the Lake District, I am newly inspired to see as much of this place as I can.

The UK has these magical things called Bank Holidays. I don’t exactly understand why they exist, but they roll around every few months and we all get off work for reasons unknown to me and I LOVE IT. Some friends and I made the most of the late May Bank Holiday and (along with every other licensed driver in England) followed the motorway signs pointing to “The North.”




Despite booking in the eleventh hour, we found a great converted stable Airbnb in the teeniest little village called Renwick, which was just a little cluster of houses in an enormous expanse of pasture. As we drove, I kept imagining what the Lake District must look like from above – a patchwork quilt sewn with every shade of green, intersected by stone wall stitches and dotted with scraps of an old floral-patterned dress.

Our first day was spent village hopping. We began in Grasmere, mostly because the town’s famous gingerbread had been recommended by no less than ten friends. The village was precious – shops, galleries, little homes, and a tiny church with a healthy dose of wildflowers. Grasmere Gingerbread lived up to every ounce of hype. It was so good, kind of soft and crumbly and spicy. I still think about it at least once a day. (Writing this blog reminded me of how good the gingerbread was and I just ordered some online because I am a weak person. Help!) We grabbed lunch at a teahouse called Baldry’s and I tried the British classic rarebit for the first time, despite being deeply convinced it was a rare piece of rabbit meat. To my delight, rarebit is actually a thick slice of toast swimming in a small lake of melted cheese. The things you learn on holiday!



Ambleside was our next stop on the Village Tour of Cumbria and offered a bit more hustle and bustle than Grasmere (we are speaking relatively, of course). We browsed all the cute boutiques and wandered up to the village church. We excitedly followed signs to a Craft Fair and began dreaming of all the quirky handmade items we’d buy. The signs led us to the dimly lit gymnasium of a community center. It took us precisely forty seconds to see each and every piece of merchandise available. Empty-handed, we took our exit from Ambleside and headed to Keswick.






Keswick offered a new slew of shopping opportunities and sweet treats. We wandered the street market, scored some British Tweed mill blankets, and eventually found ourselves in a beautiful public park on the banks of a stunning lake. After grabbing some takeaway, we enjoyed a few hours of soaking in the rare sunbeams and warm air. Photo evidence says I took a nap that I don’t remember. With sunset quickly approaching, we hopped in the car and headed to Lake Windermere, which came highly recommended for sunset viewing. After finding a place to park, we ran to a nearby overlook. There, with a small gaggle of wide-eyed strangers, we silently watched pink and violet and orange clouds melt into one another like watercolor.

This show plays nightly. Can you believe we live on a planet that has a sunset every single day.







A new day began with with bad directions from Alex and great driving by Jana and encouraging words by Liz. After a brake-burning, twisty-turny “shortcut” through the mountains, we arrived at the trailhead to a gorgeous waterfall. (Please listen to me: do not take roads that end in the word “Pass.” Tears will be shed by at least one person in your vehicle.) Buoyant with the relief of finishing that awful drive, we took the trail past an ancient church, over a wide brook, and through an absolutely pristine wood. Between the trees, the air was dark and cool and calm. After making it to the waterfall, we hung up hammocks and spread out blankets and allowed ourselves a few hours of simply being.










In search of food (as always), we decided to drive to the biggest town we could find on the coast – Whitehaven. The place was a bit sad, sort of deserted, but we decided to poke around the marina a bit despite the bum-me-out vibes. To our great surprise, we stumbled on a huge jetty and enjoyed some pretty gorgeous views of sailboats on the glittery English sea.

My brother-in-law Andrew once spoke the words that have made me the woman I am today: “You have a limited number of meals to eat in this life, so you better make sure each one is good.” That’s some gospel truth, y’all. I want to get it tattooed. With this in mind, we kept driving until we found ourselves back at Keswick and in the booth of a super hip restaurant we’d spotted the day before, Merienda. Avocado fries, halloumi frittatas, corn fritters. Hipster heaven.





We reluctantly awoke to our departure day and decided to make it to Hadrian’s Wall before heading back to London. The morning’s drive felt like trespassing into one oil painting after another – endless miles of misty emerald mountains dotted with sheep. We stopped for a scone at Blueberry’s Cafe (the cutest name in history) in Alston, then navigated to the Wall, ancient Roman ruins near Scotland that spans the entire width of Great Britain. We walked along it for a while and spotted some of the original sections. We also popped into nearby Lanercost Priory, a beautiful old cathedral that sits half-restored, half in ruins in the north English countryside. After coming to terms that the holiday must draw to a close, we pointed our little red car southwards and waved goodbye to the magical Lake District. Our final stop was the town of Carlisle, where we had lunch and a wander before entering the parade of homecomers that stretched all the way to Surrey.











June 22, 2016

Within a month of moving to England I met Naomi and her sister Emily at a church gathering they help facilitate in London. These girls are magnetic and it took about five seconds of conversation with Naomi to realize that this girl was going to be extremely dear to me. She and Emily are my “sister fix” when I am missing my own sisters, as well as my “American fix” because they are half American! My affection for Naomi only deepened when I learned her incredible story, which aligns extraordinarily with my own sister’s story of healing. Check out Naomi’s blog to learn more!


I am from London and I love it because of its diversity, cultures, busyness, loudness and TfL (Transport for London).

My current phase of life looks like fog. I don’t feel like I have much direction, but I am taking each 100 yards of visibility as it comes and making the most of it. (Deep side note: Do I want the fog to clear? If it was a clear view ahead all the time would I miss things along the journey? Walking through the fog is in a searching, seeking, careful way whereas if it were clear, would I get used to the path and end up walking with my head down?) 

My philosophical trademark is seeing a positive aspect in every situation.

I want to be like a lighthouse so I can spread light and hope.

I am inspired by people who make it against all odds.

I love adventures with friends, family holidays, Oreos and lions.

I hate popping candy (Pop Rocks).

Not much makes me cry these days, but sometimes I catch myself crying when I see another life deeply impacted in a way that no one else could know or help but God. I love His heart and seeing it reach others.

Michael Scott makes me laugh.

My purpose is to live for Christ. When people see me, I want them to see that I only live and exist because of Jesus and his extraordinary saving power.

I am most influenced by my family.

I admire honesty in other people.

I escape by being alone while cooking/baking or watching a ’90s film.

To me, perfection is swinging in a hammock in the sun whilst drinking a delicious latte (one so good that you don’t want it to end) in a cute cafe in Paris and it’s raining outside.

My biggest challenge is knowing my identity and where my worth comes from. Knowing I am complete and that I am not lacking.

My fondest memory is catching lightning bugs in America and falling asleep to the sound of crickets.

My proudest moments was being able to eat, walk, and function again after my brain surgery, and then graduating from university!

I wish I could have dinner with Leonardo DiCaprio.

My favo(u)rite meal is a classic hot dogs, potato salad and hamburger.

Your favo(u)rite songs of all time are “In Over my Head” by Jen Johnson, “Beethoven’s 5 Secrets” by OneRepublic “Cello/Orchestral Cover” by ThePianoGuys, “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane

The films I could watch on replay are ’90s films and Tom Hanks films

The books that have influenced me most are Restless by Jennie Allen, Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick, Crazy Love by Francis Chan

My wildest dream is to visit every single person I know around the world and spend time with them.

My most embarrassing moment is some of the hairstyles I have attempted.

Jennifer Lawrence would star as me in a movie about my life.   

If I could get on a plane right now I would travel to America, where the other half of my heart lives.

My morning routine is hitting snooze… more sleep first and then I read my devotional, make coffee and realise I have somewhere to be!

My most recent purchase was a brand new work bag from Accessorise!

My celebrity crush is Zac Efron.

My pet peeves are men with long nails, dirt under fingernails, cupboards that are left open or don’t close all the way.

My bucket list includes going to South Africa, LA, and New York; and being on an active film set.

My guilty pleasures are Katy Perry, Guylian chocolate, binges, watching movies and old TV shows.

My childhood ambition was to be a chef.

My website is naomimay19.blogspot.co.uk.

Something few people know about me is that I don’t do too well with heights, but I somehow always find myself at the the top of the tallest building in the world or climbing up a mountain.

I like my voluminous hair.

I am steadfast.

Naomi, you wrote that you want to be a lighthouse and a lighthouse is precisely what you are – a shining beacon proclaiming to a dark world that hope and safety and light are near! You have crawled through the miry valley of death, yet somehow your spirit remains so beautifully pure. You’ve taught me how to choose beauty over bitterness, laughter over weeping, and trust over worry. You are a friend to all people and have mastered the art of making others feel truly seen. This world is a brighter, better place because you exist. So many of my most cherished memories from England are adventures with YOU! And Emily, duh. Thank you for being my family and my soul sister, Naomi. I proper love you. Keep calling those lost boats toward the light, my beaming Naomi.




June 1, 2016


A year ago, if you had asked me to tell you all the things I knew about Croatia, I could’ve scraped the recesses of my brain for exactly one and a half fading facts from 8th grade geography. Since I’ve moved to the UK, Croatia has popped onto my radar in a major way. Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is a common European holiday spot, probably because it’s a cheap flight from London and yet to be widely discovered by those yappy American tourists (wink). That’s where I enter the picture!





I met a few expat girlfriends in Split, an ancient coastal town famous for its palace walls and gorgeous marina. We rented an Airbnb near the Old City with windows that looked out onto the sea of red tiled roofs… and onto the actual sea. Our first days were spent meandering the maze of narrow alleyways within the city walls – shopping, sightseeing, eating, eating, and eating. My only goal for the vacation: eat gelato at least once a day. (Achieved.) The surprise hit of our time in Split was the art museum, so check that out if your an Impressionist fan. Every corner we turned brought some cinema-perfect scene of linens billowing on a clothesline or an orange cat perched on a windowsill or pink bougainvillea spilling over a terrace wall. I was in HEAVEN, people.







One evening at dusk we wound our way through an old Jewish cemetery to a lookout over the marina. With tea in hand, we watched the sunset at a little cafe and began to understand why Croatia is considered Europe’s hidden gem.








A short ferry ride took us to the island of Hvar one afternoon, where we wandered more gorgeous alleyways and ate more gelato. We had some fancy health food at Vita, then hiked up to an ancient fortress where we took in the rather spectacular views of the Adriatic Sea. Sadly we missed a chance to see Hvar’s famous lavender fields, but I trust you will have that adventure on your own! On the boat ride home the sunset was positively stunning. At one point the silhouette of a cruise liner passed in front of the the hot pink sun as it sunk below the horizon. Like, what?!


















Krka National Park, an hour’s drive from Split, is worth the time and car rental. We spent the day walking the sunny trails, sailing on the lake, and watching the more dauntless tourists take a swim near the freezing waterfalls. Fig trees were growing everywhere I looked, which made me SO happy. No figs were ripe yet, which was probably for the best because I wouldn’t have left a fig in Krka had they been edible. My favorite bit of our day in Krka was a boat trip to a monastery on a small island that four monks and a whole bunch of chickens call home.











A cheap four-hour bus ride (fifteen minutes of which were spent in Bosnia!) carried us south to Dubrovnik, a city recently famous as a Game of Thrones filming location. Our beautifully decorated rental house was nestled right in the Old City and super convenient to all the action. I’ll say it ’til I die: In Airbnb we trust. We had trouble leaving our house because we all loved the beautiful garden and terrace so much! Eventually, we ripped ourselves away to explore Dubrovnik and eat an insanely good vegetarian dinner. Croatia has this whole food thing down, which makes it an automatic winner.

Want to know a secret? Going to the movies is one of my favorite things to do in a new city, so we saw one in Dubrovnik. A lot of travelers would scoff at that (fair enough), but I find something so intriguing about doing such a familiar activity in a foreign place. Plus, movies cost like a million bucks in England, so I gotta soak up the cheap tickets where I can! On a related note: Mother’s Day will not win any Oscars.





Dubrovnik was just fantastic. I wish we’d had more than a day and some change. We took the cable car up a mountain for a panorama view of the coastline and a high-altitude cappuccino. After some more alleyway wandering (which never got old, to be honest), we clambered around where the fortress walls met the ocean and pretended we were mothers of dragons. My Dubrovnik highlight was the hour-long walk along the city walls, which allowed us to see down into the city and out across the ocean. I loved peering into the little pieces of real life being lived inside the walls – a woman watering her garden, three boys kicking a soccer ball, a little old man hanging out his laundry. It was hugely satisfying. I suppose that’s really the best part of traveling –experiencing, if only for a moment, what life feels like to another human being.
















We finished the day lounging on the cathedral steps in the city center, people-watching and chatting. And drowning our goodbye blues in, of course, gelato.



May 14, 2016

I met Alli because she offered me homemade chocolate chip cookies at an airport. To be a tad more specific (and to convince you that I don’t always accept treats from strangers while traveling), we had both flown into town to attend the same job fair and started chatting as we waited for the shuttle bus to the event. The fact that we were the same person rapidly became evident and, despite moving to the opposite sides of the globe soon after meeting, our friendship has only flourished in the two years since. I recently visited Alli’s home in Southeast Asia and had the enormous privilege to see a new place from her unique, lovely, local perspective. So, without further ado…


I am from Apex, North Carolina and I love it because downtown is only three blocks.

My current phase of life looks like constant transition, and a new graphic design position in America.

My physical trademark is touching my nose when I think.

I want to be someone people come to for advice.

I am inspired by architecture, good cinematography, people who beat the odds.

I love organized spaces, Shakespeare, chicken & waffles, sequins.

I hate unnecessarily loud motorcycles, de-pilling sweaters, jello.

Disney cartoon movies make me cry.

Stupid puns and one-liners make me laugh.

The words I live by are “He who calls you is faithful; he will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

My purpose is to know God and enjoy him forever.

I believe in Myers-Briggs. That thing is scary accurate sometimes.

I am most influenced by the people whom I wish to view me as competent.

I admire decisiveness in other people.

I escape by finding a place I’m alone among other people. Normally this means a coffee shop or more recently a large market or city street.

To me, perfection is a clean and house with no dirty laundry, finishing a book, unexpected cool weather.

My biggest challenge was leaving my home for a new culture.

My fondest memory (so far) is contra dancing at River Falls Lodge in South Carolina with the advanced dancers right after my college graduation: I felt invincible, twirl skirt and all.

My proudest moment was the first time I made a joke in another language to a native speaker and they just died laughing.

I wish I could have dinner with Jessica Hische and Anna Bond.

My favorite color is yellow because it’s the color of the sun, happiness and I only wear it when I’m feeling particularly joyful.

My favorite meal is breakfast, but at any time of day.

Your favorite songs of all time are anything from Mae or Nickel Creek. Especially Mae’s  “A Melody, The Memory.” Also “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Bootstraps’s cover gives me chills.

The films I could watch on replay are The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, You’ve Got Mail, and anything with Michael Scott Steve Carell.

The books that have influenced me most are Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz (who hasn’t been floored by this?), Knowledge of the Holy by Tozer, and the Book of Ephesians.

My wildest dream is to one day travel in outer space. I wanted to be an astronaut when I was younger, even more so when my brother started studying aerospace engineering. Once I found out how much math and science education was required (not just guts and willpower), I gave up on that.

Emma Roberts would (probably) star as me in a movie about my (very polished) life.   

If I could get on a plane right now, I would travel to Prague.

My most recent purchase was a round trip-ticket to Bangkok.

My celebrity crush is Sam Claflin.

My pet peeves are smacking while eating, when people don’t make eye contact during conversations, straw-spoon combos, slamming doors.

My bucket list includes “go on a solo vacation,” “design a deck of cards,” “learn to ride a horse–fast.”

My childhood ambition was to live in another country for part of my life. I am now taking suggestions for a new ambition.

My website is allipq.com.

Something few people know about me is I swam competitively for five years.

I like that I have a crooked smile. The muscles in the right side of my mouth are weaker than the left, so my smile is naturally quirky.

I am lighthearted.

Al, you make things beautiful. You see life for exactly what it is: a chance to make art with the materials you’ve been handed. You notice the details in the big picture. You sift the gorgeous from the grime. You recognize and celebrate and document all the precious moments that so often go unnoticed when buried beneath the ordinary. I cherish your wit, wisdom, and levity. You make me laugh hard and think deep and crave adventure. You are organized and sharp, steadfast and honest, patient and gracious and invested. While we’ve only spent a total of about ten days together in real life, I just know that you are a forever friend. Keep chasing beauty, my Alli girl.




April 23, 2016


Our trip to Thailand  included two mini-trips (THREE if you count China!) because my hostess is a massively gifted and ambitious planner. We’d been in Chiang Mai for about eighteen hours (enough to get street food, soak in a midnight city view from a mountainside lookout, and drink coffee at like ten different cafes) when we hopped on a southbound flight to Krabi.






Even months later, I am still strangely obsessed with the trendy little guest house we stayed in. The Mini House had clean lines, tons of lush greenery, loads of natural light, and a great cafe. And obviously lots of miniature potted cacti. My weakness. Pro tip: when you’re the only Westerner at a hotel, you’ve made the right decision.






Our first big adventure was a sea kayaking tour of several islands. Admittedly I was kind of nervous about kayaking when we booked it, since I’m not particularly athletic (don’t let my muscles fool you.) But plot twist! The kayaking tour was without question my favorite part of the entire trip. I felt as though we’d jumped into a preloaded computer screensaver image, one of those gorgeous island photographs I always figured were Photoshopped. We paddled the entire circumference of an island and my brain could not fully compute that I was really floating on this bright turquoise ocean.







After kayaking for a few hours, we got to relax on the beach and eat a homemade Thai lunch. We explored the forest where a few boats still remained stranded high in the treetops, just as they’d  landed during the 2004 tsunami. So eery. Aye, our sweet kayaking guide, recounted how he’d survived the tsunami, which struck as he was fishing out at sea.











Tiger Temple is a must-do in Krabi. But be warned – those 1,600 steps feel every bit like 1,600 steps. Also, the first 500 steps are littered with the most ferocious monkeys and I am still suffering a tinge of PTSD after being chased by what I can only assume was the alpha. There may have been tears. The views from the peak of Tiger Temple were stunning and (maybe probably) worth the monkey attacks.


Funny story: Before climbing to Tiger Temple, we wanted to leave our luggage with a friendly vendor (normal, right?). He happily agreed to store our bags under a table for the price of a few Cokes. When he lifted the table cloth to tuck our bags away, he brought out a plastic container and opened the lid to reveal several baby hedgehogs. It was kind of horrifying and kind of adorable. Should I have rescued them!? I feel guilty every day!





We went out to dinner and happened to turn a street corner just in time to catch one of the most gorgeous sunsets I’ve ever seen. The sun looked just like that glowy pink bubble that transports Glinda the Good Witch around in The Wizard of Oz. You know the one? Then we got rotee, this amazing Thai dessert that’s a magical French Toast/crepe combo drizzled with Nutella. 100 emoji. (Full disclosure: I’m not sure how to correctly use the 100 emoji. Embarrassed monkey emoji).








We spent a gloriously hot Sunday morning on the gorgeous public beach and grabbed some food at a beachfront restaurant. We took a songthaew (think a truck with benches in the bed that serves as a taxi) over to the town center, where we wandered and soaked in all of Thailand’s charming little details, colors, and vignettes. We even browsed a Thai bookstore, which was such a great dose of culture. Long on the hunt for Thai Tea, we finally hunted down a street vendor and purchased a few. In the spirit of transparency, the Thai Tea did not live up to my dreams. Maybe I was put off by the large can of Carnation condensed milk poured into each tea?








Full of sunlight and newly-minted memories and Pad Thai, we grabbed a late night flight back to Chiang Mai. I will never forget that divine weekend getaway to the southern coast of Thailand and I cannot recommend Krabi highly enough to you, dear reader!

Check out Alli’s blog for a view of this trip from a different lens!

Life, Thoughts


April 22, 2016


I was wearing a green dress and eating Cheetos in my dad’s blue armchair. It was 3pm. The phone rang.

My mom answered and listened to the voice on the other end, then hung up. “Katherine’s going to the hospital. Looks like she has some strange food poisoning.”

The following hours would reveal that Katherine definitely did not have food poisoning. She was instead having a massive stroke. My brother Jay made that panicked phone call from his car while following Katherine’s ambulance down the Pacific Coast Highway and into a strange new life.

The news of Katherine’s stroke sunk into our brains as the sun sunk into the horizon that night of April 21, 2008. A group of men in dark suits materialized in the middle of our living room and practically held my dad up as they pleaded with Heaven to spare our beloved Katherine. A stream of friends poured in and out of our home all evening to pray and cry and feed us.

One friend even slept on our couch that night. I remember thinking how strange it was to see this church lady, perpetually primped and put together, in a sweatshirt.

My dad caught a redeye from Alabama to Los Angeles to help carry his firstborn son through this unfolding nightmare.

We picked at a tray of deli sandwiches and went on a walk and watched the Home Shopping Network because how else do you fill the time until a sixteen-hour brain surgery ends? When the hour was appropriate, we called my sister Sarah across the world in Ethiopia and started her day with the worst news possible. Then we bought her plane ticket to come home.

None of us could have imagined the sea of trouble we’d waded into that day. As the sun rose on April 22nd, the phone rang.

“Katherine lived.”

With those two words, hope showed up.


I’ve always been ashamed to admit it, but I couldn’t go past the doorway the first time I visited Katherine’s room in Intensive Care two days after her surgery. The tangle of swollen limbs and wires and roving blue eyes sprawled on the hospital bed could not be the beautiful, bright sister I’d known since I was eight. I willed myself to travel the five feet to her bedside, but the stomach-churning scene rendered my legs useless.

I went into the hallway. My sister Mary had to sit on the floor and put her head between her knees.

This is not the story Katherine is supposed to have. 

Yes, she was alive and yes, we had hope. But this hope wasn’t pretty or shiny like I thought it was supposed to be. This hope was gritty, desperate, and difficult.



Hanging-on-by-a-thread days slowly turned into stable weeks, which morphed into learning-to-walk-talk-and-swallow months. Katherine was soon dubbed the “slow motion miracle”, but a lot of those early days didn’t feel so miraculous.

We are now in the still-healing years of Katherine and Jay’s story, one that began with the pen strokes of tangled nerves in an unborn baby’s brain. What a strange way to begin a love story. But, as he so often does, our Author of Life used the unlovely details and plot points and characters to weave an unlikely gospel allegory.

Life where there was death. Beauty where there were ashes. Dancing where there was crying.

Jay and Katherine have become master storytellers and grace-filled characters, championing the truth that we are all stewards of our God-given stories. We may not get to write our stories, but we can trust the One who does.

We must surrender the story we think we deserve for the story we actually got. Jesus is a much better writer than I am, anyway.

The book of Psalms carries a running motif of proclaiming God’s good works to the world: I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done… Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done… I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people… I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, LORD.

We are formed in the image of God, the master storyteller. It logically follows (and Scripture corroborates) that we are made to mimic our Maker, to declare His story and our story to the universe. May we never mistake a difficult chapter for a defeat, or death for a final page.

We owe this to one another: daily preach the good stories to your brothers and sisters. Tell the hope-giving stories to the world in whatever way you know how.


Jay and Katherine have recently written a book, every word of which was borne of blood and hardship and pain. I cannot emphasize how much you – and our hurting world – need this book because in this life we will all have our own April 21, 2008. But the message of Hope Heals is this: April 22nd is coming. Take heart because life follows death.

ORDER HERE TODAY: HopeHealsBook.com

(The photos in this post are a cobbled-together album of moments from the days and weeks after Katherine’s stroke. They’re not exactly professional quality, but they tell more of a story than any photos I’ve ever taken.)



April 12, 2016

Chiang Mai Thailand white walls plants

I’ve got a confession to make: I have never once been interested in traveling to Asia. The bug just never bit me, so I didn’t prioritize taking a trip there until my dear friend Alli invited me to visit her in Thailand. Free place to stay + amazing company + an escape from the English winter = YES.

In a complete surprise to me, I fell head over heels in love with Thailand. Warm weather, friendly people, laid back culture, and the most photographable details in every nook are basically my idea of paradise. In my opinion, Thailand strikes the perfect balance of accessible and exotic. Maybe that’s why it’s been nicknamed “Asia Lite”. Take the advice that I shrugged off: visit Southeast Asia, like, TODAY.

Chiang Mai Thailand wat temples Buddhism

Chiang Mai Thailand wat temple take off your shoes

Chiang Mai Thailand white wall brick moat color Buddhism

Chiang Mai Thailand temple wat Buddhism

Chiang Mai Thailand wat temple Buddhism flowers lanterns

Wats, or Buddhist temples, can be found all over Chiang Mai and smiling monks in vivid orange robes are a fixture of city scenes.

Chiang Mai Thailand Alli Quattlebaum coffee portrait

Chiang Mai Thailand Samanmitr House coffee cafe

Chiang Mai Thailand I like you and I love you

Chiang Mai Thailand beautiful people

As a kindred spirit, Alli fluently speaks my love language: food. We spent my first morning in Chiang Mai popping into the most gorgeous bakeries and coffee shops. It’s like some Asian wizard peeked into my dreams and built all these places just for me! First stop was Rustic & Blue for an acai smoothie bowl, then Samanmitr House for an iced coffee, and finally Khagee for banana bread French toast. I heart Khagee. I will name my firstborn Khagee.

Chiang Mai Thailand Khagee bakery white wall cafe

Chiang Mai Thailand Khagee bakery food french toast

Chiang Mai Thailand sunflowers birkenstocks

Chiang Mai Thailand Alli Quattlebaum songthaew

Chiang Mai Thailand home paper lantern

Chiang Mai Thailand neighborhood gate alley

Chiang Mai Thailand cactus cacti paper lanter


I became slightly obsessed with the perfect little vignettes that seem to be in every corner of Chiang Mai. Cacti, paper lanterns, colorful walls, gritty streets, and buckets of natural light make for one photogenic city.

Chiang Mai Thailand Diff Home Bakery Kitchen cafe food

Chiang Mai Thailand Diff Home Bakery Kitchen cafe food

Chiang Mai Thailand Diff Home Bakery Kitchen cafe food marquee sweet

Alli set Mary and I loose one morning and we found our way to Diff, the sweetest little mint-colored bakery I’ve ever seen.

Chiang Mai Thailand Sticky Falls Bua Thong kids

Chiang Mai Thailand Sticky Falls Bua Thong ferns

Chiang Mai Thailand Sticky Falls Bua Thong

Chiang Mai Thailand Sticky Falls Bua Thong

We spent a glorious afternoon at Sticky Waterfall, which is nearly impossible to describe well. These natural limestone formations are the texture of sandpaper, which allows you to climb/walk/run up the waterfall like Spiderman. We visited the falls during a Buddhist holiday, so we were surrounded by tons of Thai people just chilling out in the water. I would climb that waterfall every day if I could because we all need to feel a little more like superheroes.

Chiang Mai Thailand Chinese lanterns temple wat sky red

Chiang Mai Thailand Bay's Cafe cactus cacti birkenstocks

Chiang Mai Thailand Bay's Cafe mint tea green

Chiang Mai Thailand Bay's Cafe sun dried tomatoes

Chiang Mai Thailand Bay's Cafe cat kitten green couch sofa white wall

Because we refused to leave a latte untasted in the city of Chiang Mai, we headed to Bay’s Cafe, which is owned by a friend of Alli’s and sadly not called Bae’s Cafe. I ordered a mint tea, and Bay literally picked the mint leaves from the back garden and brewed them in front of me, which took “farm to table” up a notch.

Chiang Mai Thailand street art mural brick wall painting

Chiang Mai Thailand Graph Cafe coffee

Chiang Mai Thailand Graph Cafe cactus cacti coffee

Chiang Mai Thailand Graph Cafe coffee iced latte

Chiang Mai Thailand Graph Cafe coffee

Graph Cafe was my favorite stop of the Great Thailand Coffee Tour. This tiny, too-hip-to-be-real shop filled with antique cameras and tiny plants served the most bewitching coffee elixir that will make all other beverages pale in comparison for the rest of time.

Chiang Mai Thailand Woo Cafe fresh flowers

After giggling our way through a Thai massage (which a friend accurately described as “yoga being done to you”) and bopping around the bustling night market, the last stop before our redeye flight to Beijing was Woo Cafe, Alli’s favorite spot in Chiang Mai. I’m a tiny bit devastated that we visited so late at night because my low-light photos do not do Woo justice. Every surface of this sprawling restaurant was positively spilling with fresh flowers and greenery. Heavenly. Woo also doubles as an art gallery and a home goods/apparel shop, so you KNOW I left the rest of my baht there.

Thailand, I miss you every day. I’ll come back for you soon!

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March 25, 2016

Next month, I will visit my thirtieth country. Pretty cool!

But can I tell you a secret? Despite how frequently I get to visit new places, travel often really intimidates me. We’re talking sick-to-my-stomach anxiety over flights and language barriers and unknown situations. I was already a bit nervous about traveling to Thailand to see my friend Alli, but when she suggested I try to see the Great Wall during my 8 hour layover in Beijing, I thought, “Ha. Nope. A visit to Panda Express will do.”

I put the idea out of my head. But after some of life’s lines intersected perfectly, my sister was able to join me on my trip to Thailand and she insisted we try to see the Great Wall together on our way back to London. Many emails and bad dreams and TripAdvisor searches later, I found a tour company, said a prayer, and booked.



Six surreal days in Thailand ended with a red-eye flight to Beijing, where we disembarked the plane with those bleary eyes unique to airports at 4 am. Thanks to China’s new 72-hour Visa Free policy, we breezed through passport control, struggled through an order at Starbucks, and met our driver Tony – the friendliest man in all of Beijing! (Voted on by me.)



Don’t tell my mom, but both Mary and I fell asleep in the car (driven by a stranger I met on the internet) en route to the Wall. Wise choice, I know. But after an hour of driving and snoozing and watching the sun rise over Beijing, we arrived at one of the oldest sections of the Great Wall. With all of our organs and belongings in tact, thank you very much.




We scrambled up a dirt path and through a farmers’ village, then began climbing the Wall itself. The air was frigid and the sky was clear and the hike was hard. And we were in China. WHAT!? After a couple hours of breathless climbing and numb-fingered shutter clicking (Tony was a big fan of the looking-thoughtfully-into-the-distance pose), we made our way back to the airport.


In a span of a few hours, we had touched one of humanity’s most significant accomplishments. The knot in my stomach had finally untwisted and I was riding the high of overcoming fear.

I don’t know if I will ever return to China, but I sure am thankful that we went. I’m also thankful for friends and sisters and a God who beckon me to bravery, even when that just means my own small kind of bravery.

I am already looking forward to the next opportunity where my “Ha, nope!”  becomes “I’m so glad I did.”





March 13, 2016


My darling sister came to spend three weeks with me on this side of the Pond and we tried to stuff as many adventures into her trip as humanly possible. We waffled back and forth about visiting Scotland, but an email about Virgin Atlantic’s £15 tickets from London to Edinburgh made our decision for us. We only had about 48 hours in the city, but every one of them was saturated with magic! All cities have personalities, I believe, but Edinburgh’s character was more potent, more pronounced than any other place I can remember. It was gloomy and heavy and mysterious, yet a dash fanciful and droll. The place was so charming, in fact, I felt like I was cheating on my lovely London!

 Keep reading for ideas on how to spend your next weekend in Edinburgh…







to SEE & DO

Edinburgh Castle: Kind of a “duh” suggestion, but a visit to the castle is non-negotiable. Mary and I especially enjoyed the exhibition on the history of the Scottish monarchy and seeing the rooms where Mary Queen of Scots spent her days. (Anyone else a Reign fan?!) Snow began falling as we were wandering through the castle, which added an extra glint of magic!

Walk the Royal Mile: We fought the snow and rain down the Royal Mile, the stretch of road between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. Expect to see beautiful cathedrals, an abundance of pubs and shops, bagpipe players, and owls!

Scottish National Gallery: Admittedly, the National Gallery was a free place to escape the cold at first, but we ended up spending hours soaking in the collection. The Impressionism exhibit was especially gorgeous.

Pop in and out of shops: Edinburgh has a wealth of adorable, winding streets with shops full of wonderful knick knacks and artwork. Check out Grassmarket, Victoria Street, Cowgate, Candlemaker Row, and Cockburn Street.

Wander through the kirkyards: The graveyards of Edinburgh were so intriguing. In fact, Mary and I were lured into a kirkyard en route to almost every destination. We made the rather irresponsible decision (but the RIGHT decision) to risk missing our train home to track down the grave rumored to have inspired J.K. Rowling’s Tom Riddle. We had to run all the way to the train station, but that one was for Harry, darn it!

Arthur’s Seat: We had the best intentions of making the hike up to this famous Edinburgh overlook, but the freezing rain won. Arthur’s Seat was recommended to us over and over, so I will be making it a priority on my next trip to Edinburgh.








to EAT

CiverinosWe ducked into this hip pizza restaurant to escape what felt like the coldest snowstorm of the century (don’t believe the photos… it was pouring snow). The food was delicious and the atmosphere was so trendy and fun.

Mary’s Milk Bar: I know I employ this hyperbole a lot, but Mary’s Milk Bar changed. My. Life. We ordered the Hot Chocolate Shake (hot chocolate with a scoop of hazelnut ice cream) at this precious throwback of a cafe. I was ready to quit my job, buy an apron, and beg Mary’s Milk Bar to hire this poor American girl with a love for all things dairy.

Under the Stairs: You’d expect a place like Under the Stairs, with it’s mismatched retro furniture and avant-garde menu and ironically bespectacled wait staff, to feel inaccessibly cool, but it didn’t! Instead we found it to be a cozy, funky peek into Edinburgh’s foodie scene.

Lovecrumbs: Mary and I shamelessly planned our itinerary around what bakeries were open when. We reached Lovecrumbs just in time to grab the last piece of Rose & Raspberry cake, and they threw in a bunch of free cookies since it was closing time. The little white-walled shop was spilling with live plants and beautiful pastel cakes and twinkle lights, which is basically my idea of heaven.

The Milkman: This rustic little shop, tucked away in a stoney nook on Cockburn Street, was such a pleasant place to people-watch and enjoy a latte and (free!) hot chocolate.







The Caledonian: Nice hotels are my love language, so I was really excited to find a great deal on this stay thanks to Agoda. We got so much good rest in this tranquil. sprawling old castle and found it so conveniently located (about a fifteen minute walk from Waverly Station and Edinburgh Castle).

The Balmoral: We didn’t stay at the Balmoral, but I would love to someday. Fancy and located in the heart of the city, it is a guaranteed win.

Airbnb: An Airbnb rental is my accommodation of choice almost everywhere I travel because they are often far less expensive than a hotel and you get the experience of real home life in your destination. Check out these 11 gorgeous Edinburgh Airbnbs and prepare for a bad case of wanderlust. Ugh, take me back!









Thank You Notes


March 8, 2016



Thank_you_for(1) Another check off my Afternoon Tea Bucket List, this time with my favorite person in my favorite neighborhood. (2) Blooms that look like spring, even when the weather hasn’t gotten the memo. (3) Too-cool-to-be-real coffee shops and free hot chocolate for no reason. (4) My first murder mystery dinner party and friends that look good in any decade. (5) Spotting a blue-doored hidden treasure while lost in South Kensingtson. (6) Hands that can do that to marble. (7) White-brick-walled heaven and the banana bread French toast I have thought about every day since eating it. (8) The most profound bit of wisdom I’ve heard in a while. (9) Hammocks and huts and havens in Thailand.