Meet...

ALLI QUATTLEBAUM

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…

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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.

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Travel

KRABI, THAILAND

April 23, 2016

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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).

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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?

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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

KATHERINE LIVED

April 22, 2016

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.)

Travel

CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

April 12, 2016

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

P.S. Want an easy way to keep up with The Delighted People?Follow my blog with Bloglovin!

Travel

THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA

March 25, 2016

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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.”

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Travel

EDINBURGH

March 13, 2016

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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…

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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.

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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.

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to STAY

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!

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Thank You Notes

DEAR FEBRUARY

March 8, 2016

 

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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.

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Thank You Notes

DEAR JANUARY

February 1, 2016

 

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(1) A camera roll full of glowy (stereotypical but nonetheless stunning) sunsets that come a little later every day, Hallelujah! (2) Teeny yellow flowers that open up during the day and close tight when it’s dark. And manage to thrive in England’s most neglected garden…mine. (3) Day trips to Oxford, Land of the Bicycle. (4) Beautiful winter light shining through chilly window panes and chances to thoroughly confuse the office receptionist by taking photos of said light. (5) Long layovers and dear friends and excuses to hang out on the South Bank and views that never fail to give me butterflies. (6) The feeling of being a bona fide female after completing my very first Pinterest craft.  (7) A missed chance to cross the street because bubbly clouds are worth staring at for another light cycle.  (8) Multitasking during Monday morning meetings and dreams of summertime swims. (9) Living in a place that provides ample opportunity to stumble upon thousand-year-old churches during Sunday afternoon walks.

Now tell me, what gifts did you receive this month?

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Links

Have a relaxing lunch!

January 30, 2016

 

16th March 1940: A newly-born lamb suggles up to a sleeping boy. (Photo by Williams/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

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I have watched this sixteen times and I’m grinning like a darned fool.

Can you imagine being the only resident of an entire town? Sounds kind of nice… I mean, what?

I think your Valentine needs this cheeky card in her mailbox. Or you could put it in my mailbox if ya wanna.

This Christmas gift has revolutionized my sad desk lunch experience. And made me feel distinctly Japanese.

Let’s give Barbie a warm welcome to the 21st century!

While I imagine these houseplants are meant to make one feel zen, they just make me want to scream with excitement.

Jonathan the tortoise may have found the fountain of youth.

I’ve made this easy dish for dinner twice in the last three days. To be fair, I am very lazy but it is also very delicious.

Networks versus communities.

Oscar-worthy. Male actors audition for the role of Cher in Clueless.

As a child I had an inexplicably intense fascination with crop circles, so these photos really sent me into a relapse.

40,000 years of London history in under three minutes.

(Image via Daily Dose of Stuf)

Travel

ICELAND

January 27, 2016

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Days can get dull and sleep-work-eat-repeat can wear the shine off life. The endless daily loops that come with desk jobs and homes in the suburbs leave little margin for pondering faraway adventure. In November Liz and I were able to visit Iceland for a few days and now, even months later, my eyes are still sparkling with the splendor of that place. The shine has yet to wear off. Landing in Iceland was like hitting the refresh button on existence. Iceland reminded me that we are spinning through a glittery universe on a wild green planet crafted by a fiercely creative and mysterious God.

Beaches with sand as fine as sugar but black as ash. Red and green and yellow cottages dotting the slope of a smoking volcano. Fissures in the earth bubbling with warm blue water, as opaque as porcelain in my hands. Fields of gold moss and stacks of lunar boulders and an expanse of cerulean glacier tumbling one into another. Speckled grey and cream-colored horses, manes whipping in the frigid wind as they gallop beside the single-lane highway.

Something about this place feels otherworldly

Or perhaps Iceland is exactly the opposite of otherworldly. Perhaps Iceland is the consummate example of Earth –brimming with strange beauty, dripping with paradox, and always incubating some fresh miracle. Iceland startled awake the sleeping and settled parts of my mind.There is wonder yet to be found, it said. None of us has seen it all.

(Keep reading for some of my recommendations for your trip to Iceland!

…because you WILL take one.)

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TO DO

Blue Lagoon: Blue Lagoon is a naturally occurring geothermal spa about twenty minutes drive from Kevflavik Airport. While some friends had warned me the lagoon was too toursity, I found it to be beautiful and relaxing and unmissable. I could not believe how gorgeously blue the water was. Plus, there’s a counter in the water where you can order drinks… I got a blue slushie!

See wild horses: You’re almost guaranteed to spot a pack of wild horses near the road within the first couple hours of your car trip. I’m probably not qualified to advise this, but I’m going to: GO PLAY WITH THE HORSES and bask in the their unbridled (heh, get it?) majesty.

Hike a glacier: Despite my forever crush on Iceland, I am a hot weather girl. The idea of spending hours on a glacier made me want to cry a little, so I wasn’t convinced to book a glacier hike until the very last minute. This little adventure turned out to be one of my favorite bits of the trip. The views of electric blue ice dusted with the black ash from a nearby volcano were unlike anything I’d ever seen. Yes, it was frigid and wet and windy, but I climbed a glacier. I used an ICE AXE! Worth it.

Pull the car over: Whatever you do, leave yourself a margin to pull the car over several times an hour. Truly, you could pull over for some fabulous view every twenty yards if you wanted. The landscape often changes dramatically in a matter of minutes, so allow yourself to soak it in from the side of the road rather than whizzing by in the rearview mirror.

Window shop in Reykjavik: I’m not much of a souvenir collector, but Scandinavian design is my love language. I have a massive appreciation for a well-curated shop abroad, so we spent an entire day meandering the streets of Reykjavik and browsing the beautiful boutiques. Ceramics, wool goods, books, designer clothing, and artwork galore. Everything costs like a million dollars, so all I brought home were photos.

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TO SEE

Hallgrímskirkja: This fascinating art deco church is the focal point of Reykjavik and its bell tower provides a stunning view of the entire rainbow-colored city.

Þingvellir National Park: The Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet at a large rift, inside which can take a stroll during your free visit to this fantastic national park.

Sólheimasandur plane crash site:  A plane crashed on a southern Icelandic beach in the 1970s and the wreckage has been left untouched. Since all the passengers survived, I have no guilt in saying I loved this SO much. Probably too much. Standing in a crashed plane on a black sand beach feels like inhabiting some hazy surrealist dream and you MUST do it. The crash site is a bit hard to find, so make sure to use the directions from the link above.

Geysir: While this isn’t exactly Yellowstone, the Geysir geothermal area provides some up close views of beautiful geysers, the largest of which erupts every few minutes. Entry is free and there is a great cafe in the visitor’s center.

Waterfalls: I’m thoroughly convinced Iceland’s waterfalls outnumber its citizens, so you’ll be able to see all the waterfalls your heart desires. My personal favorite was Seljalandsfoss because we were able to hike into the cave behind it. Watching the sun set through a wall of falling water is pretty unbeatable.

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TO STAY + EAT

KEX: I’ve stayed in a few hostels in my day, and KEX in Reykjavik is hands down the best hostel experience I’ve ever had. The place is almost sickeningly hip, super clean, and feels really safe. We failed to realize KEX would be a venue for the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival, so we were lulled to sleep each night by what I can only assume was an Icelandic screamo band.

Reykjavik Roasters: A great coffee shop with in-house roasting and a staff ready to talk about it.

Snaps: A super delicious bistro in the center of town. The atmosphere is beautiful and the pulled pork belly open sandwich is a 100 emoji.

Laundromat Cafe: As a bit of a Ron Swanson, I’m not easy to impress when it comes to breakfast food. And I didn’t expect to be impressed by Iceland’s cuisine at all. Laundromat Cafe blew me away with it’s breakfast dishes and I’m scheming on how to return for some banana pancakes and avocado toast.

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