Travel Guide: Portland, Oregon

Between working for a publishing house, filming for several start-ups, and studying for the GRE, I've been craving a change of scenery and a bit of a break. Luckily, flights were cheap, and my globetrotter of a brother has never been known to say "no" to a trip...

We packed our bags and headed off to Portland, Oregon, for a little soul food. Here are some of our recommendations from what turned out to be an incredible visit.

Stay - The Society Hotel

My oh my. I can't even begin to express how utterly obsessed I am with this hip little hostel. The building originally functioned as sailors' lodging in the late 1800s and then transformed into a Chinese dance hall, movie set, and housing for gypsy royalty. (Luckily none of these transformations damaged the absolutely stunning original wooden staircases...swoon). The Society Hotel now serves as a dreamy little landing place for the adventurous and community-minded traveler, and it will completely change your perception of hostels. They offer a few different boarding options ranging from a hostel-style bunk in a communal room to a private (read: tiny) room with communal bath, to an entirely private bed and bath. The space also boasts of several communal living areas, including a homey reading room (complete with gorgeous leather chesterfield sofas and a fireplace), a rooftop deck, and a cafe. The aptly named Society Cafe was so wonderful, I was tempted to list it below as one of the best places to eat and drink, as Kyle and I kept stopping back in during our adventures for iced coffees or slices of avocado toast.

Eat - Ned Ludd 

Ned Ludd was quite possibly the best meal we had all week, which is a tall order since Portland is such an excellent food destination. The restaurant only cooks with fire (!) and uses local ingredients, which pairs nicely with the very eclectic pioneer-esque decor. Kyle and I split an order of spring radishes with green garlic butter (life-changing) over fluffy spiced flatbread, and I also had the handkerchief pasta with local zucchini, fresh cheese, pine nuts, and mint (...are you drooling yet?). It was the kind of place where the chefs make you extra food that you didn't order just so you can try whatever it is that they're perfecting at the moment. Bliss.

Filled with the glow of the fire and surrounded by copper pots, gnarled limbs, wooden stumps, ceramic chickens and a host of kitchen artifacts, we hope the restaurant feels familiar or maybe even a bit like home.
— Ned Ludd

Savor - Salt & Straw

Although I'm a chocolate lover to the core, the gal behind the counter at this (mega-famous) ice cream shop gently bullied me into trying "sea salt" (And no, not caramel with sea salt. The ice cream was actually sea salt), and it rocked my world. I also tried "olive oil" (which was stupidly delicious) and ended up with a generous portion of "honey lavender." We were bummed that we discovered this shop on our last day in the city, as we wanted to go back for seconds, thirds, and fourths (although I think Kyle mostly wanted to go back because he took a liking to the girl working there...).

Sip -  Heart Roasters 

Heart was a refreshingly understated little shop that served as our pivot point between a morning of shopping and an afternoon nap (if you know us, you'll know it was Kyle, not me, who did both the shopping and the napping). I'm still thinking about that basil iced tea that I downed much too quickly.

Shop - Alder & Co.

This sweet shop was pure magic. For starters, it smelled heavenly, and the ambiance was something out of my most decadent daydreams (think Anthropologie, but about seven thousand times more lovely and soft and pure and wonderful). Every item had me absolutely in love, and if I weren't a penny-pinching college student, I would have bought the entire store. (Also, Alder & Co. houses just about the sweetest little flower stand in all of Portland.)

Alder & Co. is a space of timeless and transportive things, as useful as they are beautiful.
— Alder & Co. Website

Wander - Horsetail Falls 

We were trying to get to Multnomah Falls, but we couldn't find parking (it was a perfectly blue, sparkling day, so everyone else in Portland had the same idea as we did). In looking for a place to turn around, we stumbled across Horsetail Falls, which is where we ended up spending the most soul-nourishing afternoon. We picnicked beside one waterfall, munching on Oregon berries and creamy bites of brie, before packing up our knapsacks and heading up the trail. I wasn't wearing hiking shoes, so I wasn't sure how far I could make it before the soles of my trusty white sneaks gave out, but the hike turned out to be more of an uphill stroll. During the hike, we turned a blind corner and were faced with the most spectacular sight of a huge waterfall and pond nestled amongst the forest. Jaw dropping. We sat behind the roaring water, soaked up the perfectly green, lush foliage around us, and thought about how crazy beautiful this world we live in is. How's that for a little soul food? 

Joyfully,

 
rachel1.png
 
 

P.S.: You can find Kyle over on his site, Edward Imaginative.

Emptied of Me to Be Filled with Christ (New Adventures and a Missing Sock)

Sometimes life doesn’t feel real until the bags are packed and unpacked, the boxes are taped up and ripped open, and you’re sitting in the middle of the bedroom floor wondering how you’ve accumulated so many socks and realize that one is missing—potentially stuck to the wall of the dryer in your old apartment 1,700 long and looping miles away—and there is no possible way you will ever see that little pink Nike sock again.

Sometimes life doesn’t feel real until you have one of those trippy moments looking in the mirror, when you really see yourself and realize "this is me... This is my life. I'm a person. I'm living" (Does everyone have these moments? Nope? Just me?)

Life has a way of having long days and short years, with months that drag on and decades that whip by faster than you can say “Beanie Babies” (or Furby, Skip-It, BopIt, or HitClips—I swear we’re still in the ‘90s). I still write 2012 on the headings of my school papers, which was the year I graduated high school (I’m currently a junior in college), not able to digest the fact that we’re almost halfway through 2014.

It didn’t feel real, buckled into my little hybrid, the back window plastered with my sorority letters and the back seat stacked high with Tupperware bins and random, single shoes (we got to the point where my car was so full that we had to stuff clothes and shoes into every pocket of air available—very Tetris-esque). It didn’t feel real as we drained giant cups of sweet tea in Texas, Sonic slushies in New Mexico, and In’n’Out pink lemonade in Arizona (such a California tease!). Even the lease paperwork, endless roadside gas stations/rest stops, getting whistled at by scary truck drivers, and the multiple hotels didn’t really solidify the fact that I was leaving Texas for good.

The road signs kept me updated as to how many thousands, hundreds, and tens of miles we had until sweet California welcomed warmly (literally), but even the giant blue “Welcome to California!” sign in a dusty corner of my favorite state didn’t make it feel real. I wasn’t reciting some sort of Texas eulogy, or caught in the thick of emotions from goodbye and change and a new hello. I was just driving.

It wasn’t till I was sitting on my bedroom floor, exercising my inner obsessive-compulsive, domestic, perfectionist goddess, surrounded by socks and sorority shirts and a pair of brown leather cowboy boots, that I began to physically feel one chapter of life closing and the next opening. It wasn’t a sad feeling at all—just a sweet reminder that God’s hand is guiding me every day, and that I’m back in California for His purpose and by His grace.

I went to a beach bonfire with a friend last week.

After digging a fire pit in the sand (disclaimer: there was no sign saying it was illegal...although the cops showed up eventually), the fire was crackling and the s’mores ingredients were passed around (including S’moreos—s’mores Oreos—my new friend’s creation). After prayer, we all ended up singing worship songs led by a girl with a guitar and a voice that sounded “somewhere between Elvis [...or female equivalent] and angels,” to quote Hannah Brencher. With bare toes buried in the sand, a disposable camera in hand (I’m bringing them back), and the mingling song of the ocean and Jesus-loving voices, I felt the loving sovereignty of God, as he began to tie together all of the loose ends and frayed edges of my life, giving me new adventures, new hope, and new purpose. 

 

Joyfully,

 
 

From Fashion to Philosophy: Goodbye Texas

“The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving. I didn't want to destroy anything or anybody. I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door, without causing any fuss or consequences, and then not stop running until I reached Greenland.” | Elizabeth Gilbert

God is doing some pretty radical stuff in my life--challenging, humbling, life-changing, heart-opening, anxiety-inducing stuff.

Every day I am finessed and shaped and molded by God's hand. I have been growing, blooming, and evolving. I'll think my life is headed one direction, and God smiles, throws his head back, and laughs warmly: "My child," he says, "you're going the wrong way!" And he helps me readjust. He holds my hand a lot. We take baby steps. We talk constantly about the concept of direction... especially lately.

My best friend texted me this quote last week, which I knew was God's doing: "I think God passes by me a lot, and it serves to show me the direction he's going. We don't always know where he's headed or what to expect along the way. But I think direction is the point, the part, and whole of it...Plus, I think God knows that if I found out more than just the direction He was going, I'd probably try to beat Him there." | Bob Goff, Love Does

My life path has been a fragmented yet loopy journey from point A to point B—I’ve never done well with simple or linear.

 

When I came into college as a freshman, I was a little 18-year-old with too-dark hair and too much makeup, wanting nothing more than to study fashion merchandising and have a "real" college experience. I wanted to work for a magazine—TeenVogue was the goal—and live in New York City or LA. I went to mixers and parties and formals, held a can of beer in my hand just to blend in, and spent more time on my phone than in my physical surroundings. With my heart stapled to my sleeve, I was completely consumed with the thought of southern boys. I thought they would be so wonderfulso gentlemanlyopening doors and calling me miss or ma'am with a crooning, twangy accent. They would all sound exactly like the nonexistent lovechild of Scotty McCreery and Josh Turner.

Fast forward 365 days, and I’m in the first semester of my sophomore year. My halfhearted study of fashion, coupled with a wonderful Religious Studies professor and newfound love for my freshman bible class (general ed religion requirement—private Christian school, mind you) leads me to change my path completely. No longer was I studying lighting, consumers, textiles, or illustration—suddenly it was second semester, and I was immersed in Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions.

I traded my sketching pencils for the Torah, fabric swatches for karma, dharma, and bodhisattvas. The designer names on my flashcards became deities, transliterated words, and meticulous sketches of the afterlife (this week's notes are peppered with drawings of the Mormon afterlife, beginning with the premortal world, stretching to the celestial kingdom). No longer was I examining fabric under a microscope or identifying it by its warp or waft (which is truly such a pain). Instead, I was examining relationships, ethics, and doctrines through the lens of a scholar of religion.

Suddenly I found myself on the floor of my little apartment, surrounded by cracked open textbooks and thick stacks of notes, exploring the complexities of the question: "what is religion?" and loving every soul-searching moment. It's a native category, meaning it's so elemental to life and society that people feel like they know what it means without having to define it. But at the same time, it's like explaining colors to the lifelong blind, or describing how water tastes. 

Fast forward one more year.

I’ll be a junior, but no longer in Texas.

My fragmented yet looping path has led me back to the place where my heart overflows—California. It’s been a long process, a quiet process, and a painful process. I believe, with every cell in my body and hair on my head, that God brought me to Texas for spiritual, emotional, and academic boot camp. It was here, and only here, that he could turn this little freshman girl, purposefully spilling warm beer into potted plants at parties to make the cup gradually empty, into a girl with a heart for philosophy and religion, dedicated to meditation and prayer. He knew that Texas could be the only setting for this radical, internal, gritty, and graceful change. It was here when I finally learned to listen to Him and to my own soul.

I had become so apathetic and victim-like. I saw my circumstances as permanent, not temporary. Texas was the place of my first B- (in a class called “fashion illustration,” of all things), my first severe tornado warning (yesterday, actually), my first time being set up on a date (blind dates work better in movies and books), and my first time getting 100% on a science midterm (only after a weekend of crying in the bathtub with my flashcards and eating my feelings in chocolate chips).

I loved studying religion, so I knew my sharp academic shift was part of His plan.

Academics aside, everyone talked of my school like it was this magical and beautiful utopia. And although the campus is gorgeous, I didn’t think these people had ever seen palm trees, tasted an acai bowl, or fell asleep on the sand with a book on their face. I didn’t think these people had ever wandered through a vineyard, climbed a mountain so lush and emerald that even Ireland is green with envy. I didn’t think these people have done yoga on a paddleboard, picked citrus from their backyards, or had a pool party birthday for every single year of their life (and every year, the wet footprints on the pavement, cannonball splashes and homemade birthday cake were even better than the last). I didn’t think these people had surfboards and boogie boards and skim boards in their garages, or had a guitar for home and a guitar for the beach, its wood coated with sand and mottled from saltwater. I didn't think these people knew California like I did. And that was okay. Maybe all of that wasn't magic to them. Who was I to assume that my paradise was theirs as well?

Maybe what was magical to them were the honey-leather cowboy boots, the buzz of the crowd on game day, all yelling and screaming at the ref in unison. Maybe these people were captivated by tall, sweating glasses of sweet tea and line dancing past midnight, hunting on the weekends, and tailgating in the back of a truck. Maybe to them, the Texas sky was a symphony, the clouds wringing themselves out at the end of the day—pink and lavender watercolors dripping down from the atmosphere. Maybe the humid nights and bright stars, the country music, and lake days made their hearts overflow with love and pride.

And that was okay too.

One of the sweetest blessings here in Texas was my book club—a small, deep-thinking collection of happy spirits, each with a dog-eared copy of Eat, Pray, Love. Unbeknownst to these girls, our tiny, monthly book club helped me come to terms with the adventures waiting at my own fingertips. This handful of creative, Elizabeth-Gilbert-loving souls, along with Elizabeth herself (via her book) gave me the courage I needed to pursue true joy.

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” | Elizabeth Gilbert; Eat, Pray, Love

 

And so I’m traveling for it and swimming to it. I’m headed back to my Californian roots where my soul can run free through nature and the sunshine can warm the tips of my toes. I’m headed back to a gentle yoga practice, uncharted beaches (for I won’t be in my well-loved yet thoroughly explored San Diego this time around), and a continuation of my religious studies, with the addition of philosophy. I’m headed back to a barefoot heart, farmers’ markets, and a strand of sea-glass-encrusted possibilities.

As Rumi said,

“Respond to every call that excites your spirit.”

 

And so I’m responding. I’m taking my fragmented, looping, beautiful path to California. Find out what excites your spirit. Seek peace and happiness and chase it--literally run to it and for it and alongside of it. If you don't like where you are or where you're going, pick up your roots and the hems of your pant legs and go somewhere else. Pursue all of the world's light and love. You are your own limitations.

(Extra) Joyfully in Christ-

rachel.png

Wandering Feet, Anxious Heart

It wasn't the first time I found myself being yelled at in Sudanese Arabic.

Actually, it definitely was.

I wasn’t sure if the taxi driver was yelling at me to get out of the taxi—perhaps he wasn’t available—or to get in and close the door. So there I was, perched in an uncomfortable squat, half-sitting in his taxi, half-standing on the pavement. Eventually he managed the word “door” in English, and motioned to the phone clenched to his ear. Enlightened but thoroughly annoyed, I closed the door and sat back in the grimy taxi van seat, embarking on my overpriced journey from the airport to my college campus.

Once he got off the phone, he told me that he was from Sudan. It had been his wife calling from overseas, so he couldn’t hang up when I climbed into his taxi. He was here in Texas and driving this van to support his family back in Africa. At one point he fluidly shifted from English to Sudanese Arabic, forgetting that I was just a little English (-speaking) girl—pun intended. In fragmented sentences and broken English, he talked about war, uprisings, and water. When I got to my apartment that night, and took a drawn-out shower and left the sink running too long, I thought of Mr. Taxi Driver’s wife, and a Sudanese water purification struggle.

Sometimes my world gets a little too small.

As it shrinks, my own problems metastasize. My rapidly narrowing perspective makes running out of coffee into a disaster, or an imperfect outfit or homework assignment into a tragedy. Sometimes it takes a little bit of exaggeration to make a point. Obviously these things are not disasters, tragedies, or heartbreaks, but I will sheepishly admit that I let extremely mild annoyances turn into mildly extreme problems. 

It's like the love-hate relationship I have with my major.

I love my major because I’m a thinker. My brain loves to finesse complex ideas and break down multifaceted concepts. I’m passionate about happiness—the science of it, the thoughts behind it, and the way to get to it. Through my major, I learn about the Buddhist “Six Perfections” that a bodhisattva must practice to become enlightened. I love relationships and examining all that comes with them. I can explore the tensions between the four branches of Judaism, or the many Christian denominations. It’s fascinating to me—I devour the words in my religion textbook like they were tiny, chocolate-laced pastries doused in powdered sugar or sprinkled with sea salt. But other times... I hate my major; studying other people and cultures is a harsh reminder of how small my own world and problems are. I’m glad for this wake up call, but it doesn’t always feel good.

I’m passionate about so many things—healthy oceans and beaches (Surfrider Foundation), nutrition, rainforest preservation, and animal treatment—so how is it that my fading tan and minor stress breakout were all I really thought about today? The older I get, the more aware I am of my little world. I want to preserve it, nurturing and protecting my “innocent” mind, and staying safe within the boundaries of a white picket fence and trimmed rose hedges. At the same time, my empathetic nature makes me hurt for impoverished people I will never meet, abused pups I will never play with, and oil-drenched oceans I will never visit. 

And so here I am, back in the uncomfortable position. I am half-sitting in a taxi that promises to show me a beautiful, corrupt world, and half-standing on the pavement, where life is safe and feet are rooted to the ground.

My anxious, wandering spirit craves both comfort and chaos. My feet and heart and mind want to roam; my body doesn't want to get out of bed. And here you are, feeling the same way. Or maybe you're rolling your eyes, yelling at me through the screen to buy a plane ticket to Sudan--I received an email a few months ago asking me if I had ever stopped to think about the children in Africa, because certainly that is the only meaningful issue in the world. I beg to differ. Although I feel stuck, unsure if I want to venture into the world or stay with my feet on the ground, I know that meaning can be found in daily life. Though some of my worries today were laughable (how did my leggings get so see-through?!), I think you and I can really make some positive change happen here. Here. Where we are. Now. Gandhi said: "In a gentle way, you can shake the world." He was right. Ask someone how they're doing--how they arereally, genuinely doing. Challenge yourself to not engage in gossip. Send someone a letter if their corner of the world is feeling a little broken and gloomy. Hop off the social media and do something productive. Go to the beach and pick up every styrofoam fragment and bottle you can find (recycle when applicable, of course). Buy someone sunflowers. Talk to the cashier (working in retail taught me that small talk is, indeed, meaningful). Find something you're passionate about and pursue it. Do something today that is productive and positive--something that helps someone other than yourself. Besides, those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.

It all began by being yelled at in Sudanese Arabic.

Joyfully in Christ,

Feeling Restless: The Monotony of Routine

"When I look at the galaxies on a clear night--when I look at the incredible brilliance of creation, and think that this is what God is like, instead of feeling intimidated and diminished by it, I am enlarged--I rejoice that I am part of it." - Madeleine L'Engle

I needed a change. I felt restless but rooted; each subsequent day overflowed with equal parts urgency and apathy. How had I let myself become so entangled in monotony? I was reluctant to unclench my palms, letting go of my familiar, comforting, dull, maddening routine.

I tried to push the feeling back down, but it kept sprouting up again. Tireless and consistent, the feeling that I needed to change something felt as if God were knocking on the caverns of my mind, shouting joyfully, “Wake up! Wake up, my daughter! Taste and see the world! I can give you a new perspective if you simply ask me. Wake up, sweet daughter!”

 

& so I got up.

 

I flung open the windows, and blasted John Mayer (the man of my dreams—that “beautiful, tortured soul”). I pulled a few pots and pans on tiptoe from the cupboard, and gathered ingredients. I brought water to a rolling boil, and added pasta. In another pan, I began making a humble, homemade sauce with thick diced tomatoes and little bunches of minced garlic. I moved all of the furniture in the adjacent living room to the edges of the walls, gifting me with luscious floor space. I piled blankets and pillows on the carpet, filled a glass with water and ice and lemon, and put on my favorite “playclothes.”

The breeze drifted through the wide-open windows, as the curtains snapped joyfully in the wind and the sauce bubbled deliciously on the stove. Something about the simple act of moving the furniture and letting in the Earth’s breath made me feel like my little cottage-y apartment was completely new. For a lingering moment, the ordinary—my little herb garden, the guitar jauntily propped against the wall, and the rollout piano stretched across the floor—was thrilling and novel and fresh.

It’s easy to drift into Tedium’s grasp; she gluttonously laps up every drop of novelty, and robs us of our happiness. It's especially easy for students to slip into routine--a huge chunk of our lives is scheduled out and penciled in, neglecting spontaneity.

We have our favorite spot in the library, that one food that we have at least 3 times a week, and the shirt we seem to wear every day. Even the Friday Night-ers are adamant in the order that they “hit the bars.” Routine is a college thing. We aren’t mindful about the food we consume, the conversations we have, or how long we sleep. This heedless “auto-pilot” mode leaves us flighty and distracted, or stressed when the test we were “meaning to study for” is suddenly staring maliciously up at us from the desk.

There is little time for real whimsy or exploration. We wake up—three or four alarms later—and roll over to check Facebook, Twitter, texts, email, and Instagram in tandem, a faithful servant to connectivity. We spend a few moments sitting on the bathroom counter and staring in shock at our reflection (raccoon eyes, knotted hair, a zit, a weird cheek indentation from sleeping strangely...).

Climbing back into my beddish, blankety ocean between classes is no longer a cozy treat. Naps don’t connote restfulness or relaxation, but exhaustion and negligence. Packing a snack to enjoy during long day of schooling no longer alludes to elementary school lunches (sandwich with the crust cut off, veggies in a baggie). Lipstick and perfume and a swipe of mascara no longer wink of date nights or dinners. I am thrilled by these things when they happen rarely; routine unpacks pleasure when small joys become daily actions. I’m extremely analytical and introspective, so when I began to dismantle my feelings of apathy (basically just a case of the “blah’s”), I realized how many other areas of my life echoed the same passive, lethargic, indifference (more “blah’s). The biggest one broke my heart—I'd forgotten the magic of creation.

When was the last time you looked up at the stars and thought, “God made those, in all of their fiery, interplanetary wonder, and he still made me”? Or when was the last time you even looked at the stars?

I am broken and sinful, easily discouraged, and self-indulgent. There are very few days when I feel quite as radiant as the celestial bodies, and even fewer days when I feel as significant or purposeful. Stars just know what to do—they are kindled, then burn and shine for trillions of years, illuminating our backyard campouts, guiding sailors home safely, and proclaiming the place of Christ’s birth. And me? I go to school. I eat lunch. I swim, run, or walk. I sleep. How can I even compare to God’s mighty creation?

This is the magnificent part—we need not be intimidated. We can rejoice simply because we are a part of it (Madeleine L'Engle). Neither tedium nor apathy can erase the marvel of creation. Nothing can wipe away my astonishment that we are special elements of a macrocosmic masterpiece. Routine will still attempt to steal my joy and hamper my productivity. Monotony will still seek to blanket my purpose, but just knowing that I am a small (yet meaningful) part of the brilliance of creation is enough for today.

Laced with History & Salted Air: An Escape

“May I a small house and a large garden have, and a few friends, and many books, both true, both wise, and both delightful too.” –Abraham Cowley (1618-1667)

Had I been a belle of the 1600s, Abraham and I would have been dear friends. We would talk in our British accents and write poetry together as we wring out our tea bags over ancient china cups. Four hundred years later, I dream the same thing. 

It’s a little beach cottage—pre-dawn grey shingles and off-white interior walls. I have a mint green Dutch door in the kitchen; the bottom half of the door can stay shut while the top half is flung open to let in the day. There is a fingernail of a porch in the front, a larger one in the back. The back porch shifts from wooden planks to a small stone path, from the small stone path to a wide sweep of gold sand and a wider stretch of navy water.

On the side of the house, there is a giant garden housed by a short, white picket fence. “The Earth laughs in flowers,” as the soil boasts of tulips and daffodils, irises and sunflowers.I harvest leafy heads of lettuce, deep-green kale and blood-red strawberries without the constraints of the seasons.There are cantaloupes and honeydews, peaches and little tangerines on small-trunked trees. In the summer there are sweet snap peas with crunchy, lime shells (resisting their usual winter routine), and big red tomatoes, thick and fleshy.

I slip my bare toes into sandals, and with a metal watering can in one arm and a whitewashed basket in the crook of the other, I disappear into the dew-studded, earthy embrace of my own big garden alongside my own little cottage.

I have lots of golden retrievers—all ages. There’s Edison and Sebastian, Franklin and Baylee and Ginger. I chase them around all day—through the garden, into the waves. We roll in the sand when the sun shines; when the stars emerge, we lay on the shore, burying our toes and fingers in the cool sand.

There’s a charming little town laced with history and salted air—a white post office, a craft store, an ice cream parlor with long, silver spoons. There’s a newspaper shop selling piping hot cinnamon donuts and a fire station that rings a lunch bell at noon every day (à la Gull Island). The church sits on a soft, grassy hill, fulfilling the metaphor by chance more than intentionality. On Thursdays there is a farmer’s market, tables overflowing with bushels of purple huckleberries and firm green ears of corn with buttery, yellow silk escaping from their tips.

Sometimes when I’m sad, I think of my little placeof my small house and large garden.

When it rains in Texas, I dream of the sunshine on my back as I sit on a kitchen stool, head bent over a watercolor painting. When tragedy breaks my heart and shakes my world—as the death of a friend did this week—I escape to my future life, familiar but uncharted. I know every street, every roundabout, every stitch on an apron that is yet to exist. I’m familiar with a routine I do not know. I savor the friendships I am yet to experience. I touch the hardback cover of a book that I am yet to publish. I love the man I am yet to meet, braid the hair of a child I’m yet to have, and breathe with a peace I am yet to know.

We all have our own little place wedged in a corner of our heart and forgotten in the cupboards of our mind. Sometimes we don’t even know we have a place that is all ours until life is all tears and sharp words, change and heartache, and we are already packing our mental bags and kicking off our theoretical shoes. We slip into a nap, drifting along with sleepy breaths and heavy eyelids to our special neighborhood or forest or village or lake front hidden in our heart.

When the to-do list has been recycled, my water bottle refilled and in the fridge,

When my clothes for tomorrow are set out, and the bath has been drained,

When my teeth have been brushed, and my wet hair has been combed,

When the comforter is turned down, and the blankets outstretched,

When my naked toes touch the sheets, and my head hits the pillow,

My mind tiptoes away from Texas and college and the sorrow of the week, and floats to my place—to my cottage on the seashore.

My place is where moonlight streams through the windowpane, and the glow of the stars tickle the glass. My place is where I wade knee-deep in the sea, running my fingertips along the surface of the water, happy to be a small fragment of His creation. My place is where my phone is a landline, the postman delivers on foot, the smiles are easy and genuine, the laughter is melodic and frequent, and my garden overflows.

 

Joyfully in Christ,

Finding Home (1,600 Big Miles Away)

It starts with coffee. A plain, albeit whimsical coffeehouse becomes the sanctuary for academics and writing—a quiet place of murmurs and coffee drips and tea cups clinking on saucers. On busier days, when the only seat left is in the crowded corner barely boasting the room for my own body, it begins with food instead.

Vegan diners, farmers' markets, organic grocery stores, smoothie shops—my soul is replenished and my stomach nourished. There are a few words exchanged, the warmth of a greeting, the sweetness of a small courtesy (an extra napkin, a door opened). Often there are dreadlocks, contained with an elastic, juxtaposing the orderly and the chaotic. Sometimes the jeans are rolled at the cuff, only once or twice, dragging the eye down to leather brogues. The shirt is usually plaid, sleeves pushed back at the elbows. The smile is always sincere. I give him a few wrinkled dollars for fleshy nectarines. He slips in an extra.

In my hometown, my niche is His creation. It’s the ocean, cliffs, sunsets studded with hot air balloons and hang gliders. It’s the “we aren’t built for this” kind of laughter as friends link arms and take on the rarity of rain in flip flops and tank tops.

My home is the sand, forever living in the trunk of my hybrid and sneaking through the cracks in the seats. It’s the aviators and the messy ponytails, the swimsuits, naked toes, and sunkissed, freckled noses. Home is my old parking spot at the high school, once painted coral and mint, with waves and dots splashing onto my best friend’s inversely painted slice of pavement. Home is the tiny fingernail of an outdoor café, nestled in the neighborhood by the beach, with Belgian waffles and little tin pitchers of steamed milk.

In Texas, it’s the nightly sunsets streaked with orange and pink and lavender, the gold leaves in the fall, and a springtime array of tulips and daffodils, wild by nature but contained by overzealous tender love and care. I brew coffee in my little single apartment and curl up in the oversized armchair to read. Home is my collection of thick, brightly colored paints and humble brushes. It’s my snoring neighbor and the distant sound of laughter and high heels, trailing down the halls and melting into the staircase.

Home is that one really long red light, when I silently curse for just missing the green (oh, knickers!). It’s the greasy burger joint with the sweet buns and my old freshman year dorm, tossing Polaroids of memories down to me out of wide-open windows. That was where we made forts and microwavable cookies and nearly fell out of our lofted beds.

But mostly, home—my own little place in a big, big world—is when I feel connected and peaceful, with a handful of friends over for dinner, laughing over baguettes and pasta with a thick garlic butter sauce, shoes kicked off by the door, phones in a basket, and heart full.

“She left pieces of her life behind her everywhere she went. It's easier to feel the sunlight without them, she said.” | Brian Andreas

L’arte d’arrangiarsi | The Art of Making Something Out of Nothing

"Edison? Sebastian? Whiskey? Franklin?"

We laughed, looping through Northern California, watching the sun peek through the pines and brainstorming puppy names (for a Golden, naturally).  Twisting around the corner, fleecy patches of snow emerged, their surface area increasing with each bundle of moments. We yawned forcibly and laughed again, trying to remedy our popping ears from the steep elevation.

We arrived at the condo and lit a fire, warming our hands, faces, and bundled-up bottoms, dissolving into the squashy couches and fur blankets. I brewed a cup of coffee, carefully boiling water on the stove and pouring it like molasses over the bittersweet grinds. Mug in hand, I began to unpack.

Coat, hat, thick socks, sweats, plain t-shirts, some hair elastics, toothbrush, running shoes, snow boots.

No makeup. No jewelry. No nice clothes. No planned outfits. No hair straightener or curler or brush. No $100 perfume, sorority gear, or mainstream, tasteless magazines. It was just me, a fresh face, some comfortable clothes, a stack of books, and an open heart.

On the first day in our beloved Tahoe, we took to the pathways—dusty, gritty, and icy. We trudged through our favorite lakeside neighborhoods, Kyle shamelessly checking house prices on his phone while we all dreamed of a more permanent winter escape. The sunlight dreamed along, meeting us at every corner, tickling our frosty cheeks and shade-soaked backs. Through large windows on larger houses, we saw peeks and glances of the horizon, a sparkling lake, bushy pines, and frosting-dolloped mountains.

Once we were lakeside, all we could really do was breathe. We stood, silently swallowing gluttonous gulps of crisp, mountain air. We were peaceful, and grateful, and free.

Kyle took a few pictures, but I indulged in the landscape with naked eyes. I had made a quiet promise to myself my phone would stay in the warm, little cabin at all times, safely tucked away in my duffle or resting quietly on the shelf. I was forcing myself to rebuild my technology habit, jumping on the opportunity to begin my resolution before the fresh, new year came knocking.

One night, the boys ventured into town for some rotisserie and a few light-hearted rounds of penny slots while my mom and I stayed home. We closed our books and got cooking. First came the quinoa. Mom boiled it over the tiny stove, and we listened to the water snap and evaporate. Stirring the hearty seed with a thick wooden spoon, I drizzled oil in another pan with my left hand. Once the oil began to dance—leaping and cracking and popping around the pan—I added the garlic, along with fresh onions, carrots, zucchini, and baby tomatoes. The sautéed veggies mingled with the white and red quinoa; the rich, mouthwatering smell of garlic and onions curled in the air. We made a little toast on seed bread and poured towering glasses of ice water, studded with perfect, square cubes. Happily, we furnished our plates, dishing out towering piles of goodness. When we sat, for the first few moments all we could do was stare at our lovely, little feast.

The art of making something out of nothing—L’arte d’arrangiarsi, in Italian—was richly satisfying. Our tummies and hearts smiled much broader from our nonchalant, strewn-together meal than had we gone for a lavish dinner in town.


L’arte d’arrangiarsi. Making something out of nothing. Living simply. I’m so often caught in the trap of excess, enveloped in More’s sticky clutches. More makeup, more ginger ales and macchiatos and text messages. More consecutive movies and Netflix shows and snacks.

More friends (less depth), more videos (less films), more cheap laughs (less clever wit). Blame it on society, blame it on my generation, blame it on my dreaming, pining soul. Whatever its root, I have a resolution on the mind. I want to make somethings out of nothings. I want to throw together simple, hearty meals with what I always have on hand—fruits, vegetables, simple seeds and grains. I want to call a few friends over and bless the food to our bodies, growing in faith and loving Christ together. I want one cup of coffee, thoughtfully made, in which to sip leisurely in the mornings from my hammered copper mug.

In her wonderfully explorative book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin tackles her overflowing closet. She stuffs trash bags with the clothing she constantly justifies—the “could wears,” “might wears,” and “would wears,”—and keeps what she does wear, day-to-day. One of her neat realizations was the newfound ease of getting ready in the morning; she felt like she had more to choose from in the morning from less, because what was left included all of her favorite items. Similarly, many Parisian women indulge in the 10-item wardrobe, investing in durability and class, and mingling the pieces with each other.

While I don’t see myself suddenly jumping to baggy comfort clothes as my daily style (cringing at the thought, actually!), the same simplicity can be translated into effortless sundresses, thick-knit sweaters and rich, solid colors. While leaving my phone at home when I go out isn’t the safest option, I can benefit from my experiences on the mountain by utilizing it less when nonessential. I’m learning a lot about balance here, and I’m excited to put simplicity in motion.

Eat, Pray, Love

My favorite kinds of books are the ones that can be reread over again, and each time offer previously overlooked fragments of wisdom, gorgeously crafted sentences, and subtle, effectively crafted literary devices.

Subsequent to each consecutive read, the pages soften, saturated with my own innovative thoughts and boundless imagination while also emitting wonderful new people and places and ideas. Wonderful doesn’t even cut it—books are glorious. Books are incredible.

Eat, Pray, Love coincides with this sort of glorious text. It occupies a perpetual home on my bookshelf; the book frequently invites me to dive in and sift through Elizabeth’s miraculous spiritual (and literal) journey through Italy, India, and Indonesia. As frequently as the invitation is extended to me, I accept it. The pages are worn and the corners have been bumped and bruised and torn, but each little crevice is a physical reflection of my adoration—my copy of Gilbert’s text has been “well loved.” Perhaps my adoration slips into mild obsession, but I view my affection for the written word as a blessing rather than an oddity.

I crave my own culture-rich, pasta-filled, medicine man-laden spiritual journey. While traveling tends to ignite a shamefully malignant anxiety within me, I am simultaneously itching to experience this Earth. Although I think the world of California, and Texas is my moon and my stars, there’s a small voice in my heart—soft-spoken but incisive—that is urging me to venture and voyage and traverse. This voice resembles mine, for subtle tones of anxiety and apprehension are detectable, but the voice contains an element of audacity and wonder that I’ve never consciously housed before. The key word here is consciously, for this bravery and boldness seems distantly familiar, but recognizably not of this world. I’ve been recently led to understand that this is God’s voice, providing me with a fresh perspective and the armor of Christ. He gifts me with incredible bravery and strength, and ignites my passion for His creation.

Let’s see the world-

Detoxify

As summer comes to a close, my excitement for the incredible year ahead intensifies. While my heart is filled with a lovely longing for porches and sweet tea and Southern football, something is off.

The minute I began the drive back from Texas to California, I knew this summer would be a challenge. The drive took two full days; we drove through Texas and into New Mexico on day one, and through Arizona and into California on day two. On the first day of the road trip there was a small smudge of discontent in my heart, as I felt dispirited to be leaving behind an incredible, magical, novel-worthy school year. This small smudge propagated rapidly; this sort of cancerous negativity began to envelop my mind and my heart. On day two of the drive, each mile crumbled me. I cried the entire way home—11 hours.

While I was overjoyed to have such a precious opportunity to spend time with my darling puppy and parents, this was the first summer that I would not be going “home,” by its standard definition. In February my parents moved up the coast and settled into a new little town, far, far away from my gorgeous, sea salty, seagully, sunshiny San Diego. My summer in the new, fog-rimmed, dirt road-laden, cow-infested town would be filled by working 40 hours a week and taking the most boring and painful microeconomics course that this big world provides. While I feel uncomfortable commenting on my job at this point, these details are crucial to better understanding the monotony yet pure exhaustion of this summer—sorry to keep you in the dark. Professionalism holds firm.

I’ve obviously had ample time to consider (brood over) my summer in “farmland;” I finally understand why my delight at the thought of returning to Texas is being overshadowed by a heavy presence. I need to detox. I feel like I need to be cleansed of microeconomics, retail, annoying neighbors, brown hills, technology, etc., etc., etc. I am thrilled that I will have a few days between my last day of work (and the end of my summer school class) and my departure to Texas. It is in this sliver of time that I plan to unwind, soak up the sun, and savor the time I have with my family. It is then—with the negativity gone—that the excitement can rush in.

Texas bound.

New York City: Day 1

Day 1 NYC:

Not only is this my first New York experience, it is my first subway experience—a similarly great right of passage for an eager, young traveler. I think perhaps they are equally overwhelming and to put it bluntly in the “most teenage” term possible: sketchy. The city of New York however has many delicious, classy, breathtaking sights and aspects. The subway… not so much. As I’m sitting on my little plastic seat in the corner of the subway car, sandwiched between a woman with no eyebrows and a man who looks like he wants to eat me in one bite, I realize how different Southern California is from it’s polar opposite coastline sister New York. The intercom just reminded passengers to not expose their cell phones (and other electronic devices) and to stay alert. How comforting.

When we get off, we’re forced to exit through the little gates where you push down the bar to walk through, as a new bar emerges behind you. I deem this task possible to do with my large rolling suitcase. Needless to say, this does not end up well.

We emerge from the dark and smelly depths of the subway station. It is hot. As we navigate the streets guiding and guarding our large rolling suitcases (note to self: pack in a duffle bag next time), our hearts sink as we realize every food joint in our near proximity is closing. It’s 8pm here. We’re jetlagged, confused, and hungry.

We push aside the gnawing hunger for now as we locate the apartment building we’ll be staying in for the week with a friend. We chuck our bags in his… humble abode and journey back into the relentless, still-blazing sun in search of cuisine. All we find at this hour on a weeknight (in this area) is the gloriously gross TGI Fridays, which I proceed to receive violent food poisoning from later than night.

The apartment is so hot. I’m sharing a full-size bed with my 22-year old brother, and he took all of the covers. Hello New York.

Bigger State, Bigger Happiness: My Happiness Journey in Texas

Well, I suppose tonight marks the bittersweet closing of my Pursuit of Happiness: Part 1.

After spending a week in Texas, I’ve realized that I am no longer fantasizing about sweet California summers, but instead of Texas’ comforting blanket of warm humidity in the evenings, the contagious camaraderie spread by going dancing with complete strangers, and the (overzealous) glowing southern sun, kissing bare shoulders and flip-flopped toes. There’s something special here. Although I don’t return for almost 2 months (wahhh), I am certain that the thoughts of purple will inhabit my mind, taking up a permanent residence until sweet Texas and I are reunited once again. This summer, I plan to proudly wear my purple camp bracelet daily (composed of a worn strip of bandana and plastic beads symbolizing my goals for the upcoming year). I plan to rock—absolutely, proudly, obsessively rock—my school gear to the gym. I plan to learn my way around campus via the online tour and the oversized map inhabiting half of my bedroom wall. I plan to continue to nurture the multitude of potentially fruitful friendships that have been planted this week.

One of the roommates I had in particular this week commented on how crazy it was that “we’re actually the same person.” After spending only one night together in a dorm room (which included staying up the entire night, and then groggily regretting our lack of sleep upon 7am breakfast with my family), we built the foundations for a really wonderful friendship—all from a random room assignment. This is comforting; before this week, I was relatively unaware of the ease that is meeting new people. Not only does this appease my often-anxious mind, it is yet another factor contributing to my rapidly growing excitement for the fall semester.

How thrilled I am to permanently unpack my high school trials and tribulations! They will be left behind on the Southern California coast as I embark on an adventure all my own. Although there are about 10 people from my area of Southern California attending my university, I am confident in my newfound ability to make friends. The familiar California faces will be comforting in a crowd, however I am more thrilled by the thousands of new faces in the mix. A stranger is a friend yet to be met.

Today I spent the morning with a cappuccino (on tap in the cafeteria!), poring over a 3-inch thick stack of paper, compiling my desired classes for the fall. I was giddy. Sifting through Italian, fashion, European history, religion, and literature courses instilled an evident spring in my step. I love the learning process. I love sitting in a new class with a fresh notebook in front of me (there may be a reoccurring theme here…check out my first ever post) Beyond the excitement of a new class is the sheer ecstasy of choosing my own new classes in a subject that I am passionate about.

See you in 54 days, my burning curiosity, my amazing new friends, my potential love interests (I swear they’re there, just waiting for me), and my inspiring future professors. 54 days.

What Could Be

The best feeling in the world is inspiration. It’s that “aha!” moment of absolute enlightenment that incites seemingly boundless creativity.

There are those who strain to uncover this inspiration as they vehemently search, read, and research. Their minds are inquisitive, but not intrinsically so. These are the people who strive for their very own “aha” moment, because they see those around them spilling with innovation; they are people who want to be inspired just because others are. Pitiful. But then there are those who seem to draw inspiration from everything around them; they are the kind of people who would wholeheartedly agree with August Rush in his closing statement in his self-titled movie when he said, “The music is all around us; all you have to do is listen.” I am one of those people.

ne of my favorite sources of inspiration comes from the pages of Pottery Barn or PB Teen catalogues. I spend hours at a time sifting through the pages, poring over every subtle detail.

I draw inspiration from the gorgeous oak dining room tables, topped with crystal glasses full of rich burgundy wine and heaping plates of spaghetti. I imagine life in this dining room. My family and friends would gather every evening, joining me at the decadent table. Glasses would clink and laughter would ring. We would all be extraordinary, classier versions of ourselves, sipping upon our finely aged wines and indulging in professionally crafted Italian cuisine. I continue to flip the pages. The gorgeously organized home office becomes my own, as I envision myself sitting upon the plush leather study chair, pondering over a spread of famous theology works. I would be a focused, intellectual version of myself.

As I turn the page again, I am faced with a bedroom dripping of luxury. Seafoam green and white fill the pages. Floor-length lace curtains drip from mesmerizingly high ceilings. I become the outgoing social queen of the school, inviting over all of my closest friends for a lavish pampering evening of facials, manicures, and chick flicks. like to do that—to imagine what could be.

Every time I travel and my plane is ten minutes from landing, I find myself staring longingly out the window at the southern mansions, urban high-rises, and quaint beach cottages. There is something about décor, both interior and exterior, that inspires me and makes me wonder, “What could life be like?”