Ethical Christmas Gift Guide: 2nd Edition

Last year I wrote a blog with several companies that sold ethical goods. This year I thought I’d narrow it down a bit and list a few individual items from some of my favorite brands. I’ve also tried to include a little something for every one your list! Everything (except one item) is well under a $100 in an effort to show you that ethical doesn’t have to break the bank! I’ve even broken them down into categories of Splurge (above 40), Spend (in the $30 range) and Save (from $29-$12) and at the bottom is a $10 guide.

So no more excuses that ethical shopping is too expensive, it’s out there, you just have to find it. And most of these stores offer coupons when you sign up for their email newsletter list. Including our company, Dreamer & Co…so take advantage!

The Mama/Sister/Aunt/Special Girl in Your Life:

Obviously the most easiest category out there, because most of the fashion market is geared toward women. So here are a few of my picks (see the last category for under $10 ideas)

Splurge:
These Shoes from Root Collective

This necklace from Dreamer & Co

Spend:
This Stone Tray from Noonday Collective

This Scarf From Vickery Trading Co.

This Necklace From Dreamer & Co

This clutch from Purse & Clutch via The Brightly Co

Save:

This pair of earrings from Starfish Project

This tassel from Noonday Collection

This necklace from Dreamer & Co

Our Home Tour: Horn of Africa

I’ve been inspired lately by Taking Route’s blog series on homes around the world. And even though we aren’t currently in our home in Africa right now and when we go back we will actually be find a new place, I thought it would be fun to do a blog about the place we did call home from 2016-2018. It was Ezra’s first home and our first home in the Horn of Africa, and it will always hold a special place in our heart.

I’m also going to try and link some of my favorite things to bring back in suitcases for decorating, because sadly Target, Ikea, and Hobby Lobby haven’t cracked the market where we live. However, there are a few new places that popped up about a year after moving there that have provided a few affordable decorating options! But it’s still nice to bring those cheap Amazon and Target finds from home.

And speaking of home, I’m hoping this helps inspires me for our next place. In case you are interested in our crazy timeline of events our 2019 house hopping looks like this:

Baby Girl arrives end of December 2018

We pack up our belongings and move out of our temporary housing here in the states and head back to Africa mid-March 2019

We find a place to stay for a week or two as a family of four until we move into our supervisors house in April

We house sit for our supervisors while they are away, and slowly try to find a few necessary things in storage (baby bassinet, blender, etc)

For the summer, we make the mass exodus to ???? (location to be determined based on our language needs and availability) If you haven’t been following along or heard me talk about it, everything shuts down for the summer because of the heat. Our programs come to a stop, locals leave to visit family in neighboring countries, and expats take the chance to visit home or brush up on language skills in other countries.

So for the summer we will be living out of suitcases in another country (as we don’t plan to return to the states for summer 2019 due to cost) and hopefully we’ll stock up on a few needed things and escape the heat.

Then in September we return to our host country and begin searching for our new place!

So yeah, home is very relative these days, and I’m about to become super nostalgic for our old/first home in the Horn of Africa.

 The view from our balcony. We had apartment complexes all around us (despite what many people though that elaborate building was) and an empty field to the right. That field gained quite a few things over the months we were in this place. There lived as sweet family there who owned a restaurant on their property often frequented by construction workers and guards. Toward the end there was a giant container out there and usually a pack of goats.

The view from our balcony. We had apartment complexes all around us (despite what many people though that elaborate building was) and an empty field to the right. That field gained quite a few things over the months we were in this place. There lived as sweet family there who owned a restaurant on their property often frequented by construction workers and guards. Toward the end there was a giant container out there and usually a pack of goats.

The Living Room

We were lucky enough to find an apartment that was mostly furnished. The year we moved to the Horn of Africa there was an influx of refugees coming from Yemen and needing apartments with furniture, so most of the places included everything. Now (only two years later) that’s nearly impossible to find, but it also means cheaper rent since there are way more places for rent. However, it also means we have to buy some furniture when we return…a very costly expense in our country.

As a side note, I LOVED this dining room table! It was a beautiful wood and huge! I would decorate it for each season and we did family meals, language study, projects, you name it on this place. One of my goals is to find a table this size for our new place. It’s perfect for having friends over too. It’s hosted many of holiday parties and random get togethers.

BEFORE PHOTOS

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 And speaking of holiday parties, here’s a shot of our set up for a Christmas party with some of our team members. Our place also came with a white patio table so we pulled it in and set it in the middle. This should give you an idea of how huge the living room/dining room area is that it can fit a table for 8, another table, two couches, and three other pieces of furniture! And what’s crazy is that I’ve seen a lot bigger living rooms that ours!

And speaking of holiday parties, here’s a shot of our set up for a Christmas party with some of our team members. Our place also came with a white patio table so we pulled it in and set it in the middle. This should give you an idea of how huge the living room/dining room area is that it can fit a table for 8, another table, two couches, and three other pieces of furniture! And what’s crazy is that I’ve seen a lot bigger living rooms that ours!

 A closer look at the couch. I actually replaced this couch cover with one I got on Amazon. I like the fitted couch cover look better, so that was an easy fix. And if we need to take it off to wash, we have an extra one ready to go. I bought the couch off of our teammates who were retiring for a mere $8, finally a deal that won’t break the bank! (I’ll include links to everything below) I’m also planning on bringing back pillow covers for these three pillows—still searching for the perfect ones, but so far Amazon looks like my best option. The curtains we brought with us from the States and have actually had them since our first apartment as a married couple, I may have even had them before that?

A closer look at the couch. I actually replaced this couch cover with one I got on Amazon. I like the fitted couch cover look better, so that was an easy fix. And if we need to take it off to wash, we have an extra one ready to go. I bought the couch off of our teammates who were retiring for a mere $8, finally a deal that won’t break the bank! (I’ll include links to everything below) I’m also planning on bringing back pillow covers for these three pillows—still searching for the perfect ones, but so far Amazon looks like my best option. The curtains we brought with us from the States and have actually had them since our first apartment as a married couple, I may have even had them before that?

 Here’s the couch with the new cover on it. Not amazing, and I probably would have gone with a different color if I had seen it in person, but the price was right!

Here’s the couch with the new cover on it. Not amazing, and I probably would have gone with a different color if I had seen it in person, but the price was right!

 Another look at the living room, when it’s not set up for a party. We also had an old elliptical machine we found in our team storage that we put in the right corner. I eventually added an exercise ball and a few hand weights. You really need some sort of inside exercise place because it’s so hot and I still don’t feel comfortable running outside by myself.

Another look at the living room, when it’s not set up for a party. We also had an old elliptical machine we found in our team storage that we put in the right corner. I eventually added an exercise ball and a few hand weights. You really need some sort of inside exercise place because it’s so hot and I still don’t feel comfortable running outside by myself.

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 Our balcony which opens from the living room

Our balcony which opens from the living room

 One of my favorite things about our house is this bookshelf. Another buy off a family who was moving and we were lucky enough to get to send a ton of our stuff over on a container. So I packed those plastic buckets full of memories. The decor has been rearranged quite a bit over the years and of course we’ve added a few things, but this is the general idea. It contains our wedding photo book, our wedding guest book, things people made for us for our wedding, and of course photos and some of our favorite coffee table books. I’m still debating on whether or not I want to eventually paint this thing white, but the wood on it is much prettier than a lot of our other pieces so it will probably depend on if I have any paint left. (I bought a paint off of Amazon that’s similar to chalk paint, so no sanding required. I did not bring this in a suitcase so I’m not sure what the rule is on that, I was able to get it over on a container, but I’ll link it below too)

One of my favorite things about our house is this bookshelf. Another buy off a family who was moving and we were lucky enough to get to send a ton of our stuff over on a container. So I packed those plastic buckets full of memories. The decor has been rearranged quite a bit over the years and of course we’ve added a few things, but this is the general idea. It contains our wedding photo book, our wedding guest book, things people made for us for our wedding, and of course photos and some of our favorite coffee table books. I’m still debating on whether or not I want to eventually paint this thing white, but the wood on it is much prettier than a lot of our other pieces so it will probably depend on if I have any paint left. (I bought a paint off of Amazon that’s similar to chalk paint, so no sanding required. I did not bring this in a suitcase so I’m not sure what the rule is on that, I was able to get it over on a container, but I’ll link it below too)

Some other things we added to the living room:

  1. A rug. While I wish I could have afforded some beautiful rug that brings the whole room together, it just wasn’t possible. I mean, even in the states rugs are expensive! But we did have access to the US military base and we bought an off-white carpet rug that ended up being perfect. The main reason is because when Ezra was still crawling (or learning to crawl) the tile floor was too much. Once we got a rug, he immediately started crawling! Plus rugs are just great.

  2. Target dollar finds for the wall. We have concrete walls and even though we got a drill out we still could not manage to get anything hung on the walls with nails. So I gave up and used velcro strips. REally important to note we did not use anything but velcro! Anything else was too flimsy and the heat would just melt it right off! But for some reason the velcro stayed through the heat. I’ll link these things below too. My favorite was a gather sign that I found for Thanksgiving in the dollar section and hung above our dining table.

  3. Even though I had all of these photo frames to hang on the wall, I had to give up that dream. So I took the photos out of the frames and ended up hanging them up with clothes pins on twine.

The Hallway

 Here’s a look at the hallway when we first moved in with all our stuff. The front door is right behind the angle of where the photo was taken and then all the doors to the rooms (bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, and even the living room) are off of the hallway. I feel like maybe the better title for this space is the foyer.

Here’s a look at the hallway when we first moved in with all our stuff. The front door is right behind the angle of where the photo was taken and then all the doors to the rooms (bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, and even the living room) are off of the hallway. I feel like maybe the better title for this space is the foyer.

 We ended up putting quite a few pieces of furniture in this space. The kitchen didn’t hold much so this space held a lot of our fancy dishes, odds and ends, and we had a coffee bar at the end of the space. I ended up replacing the knobs with ones I brought back and got marble contact paper off of Amazon to replace the old contact paper that the previous owners had put on the piece. I also have grand plans to paint this guy white, but we’ll see…as for the pieces you see on there, we got the owl cookie jar at a local garage sale of moving expats, the tree is a handmade gift from Kenya, and the letterboard was a necessity I brought back in the suitcase, along with my assortment of cookbooks. And of course the amazing Ikea foldable boxes. (links below)

We ended up putting quite a few pieces of furniture in this space. The kitchen didn’t hold much so this space held a lot of our fancy dishes, odds and ends, and we had a coffee bar at the end of the space. I ended up replacing the knobs with ones I brought back and got marble contact paper off of Amazon to replace the old contact paper that the previous owners had put on the piece. I also have grand plans to paint this guy white, but we’ll see…as for the pieces you see on there, we got the owl cookie jar at a local garage sale of moving expats, the tree is a handmade gift from Kenya, and the letterboard was a necessity I brought back in the suitcase, along with my assortment of cookbooks. And of course the amazing Ikea foldable boxes. (links below)

 The back of our hallway and to the left is our kitchen. You can see our water tower and after this photo was taken we actually turned that back table into a coffee station. Our coffee collection kept growing and it made since to keep it next to the filtered water. We also had to get a fan for this space because it was the hottest place in the house and where we always ended up talking with visitor forever…equals sooo much sweaty conversations. You can also see the original contact paper of the furniture piece and how much better it looks with new knobs and contact paper, a cheap and easy fix! To the left you can see part of the other piece of furniture we had in this space—holding mostly all of our kitchen appliances.

The back of our hallway and to the left is our kitchen. You can see our water tower and after this photo was taken we actually turned that back table into a coffee station. Our coffee collection kept growing and it made since to keep it next to the filtered water. We also had to get a fan for this space because it was the hottest place in the house and where we always ended up talking with visitor forever…equals sooo much sweaty conversations. You can also see the original contact paper of the furniture piece and how much better it looks with new knobs and contact paper, a cheap and easy fix! To the left you can see part of the other piece of furniture we had in this space—holding mostly all of our kitchen appliances.

 Here we are from the front door, and you can see how the hallway/foyer works as you walk in. The Taco mat was a great find from Walmart. (link below)

Here we are from the front door, and you can see how the hallway/foyer works as you walk in. The Taco mat was a great find from Walmart. (link below)

The Guest Room/Nursery


BEFORE PHOTOS

 This is one of the bedrooms with the bed, night stand, lamp, and curtains that came with the apartment.

This is one of the bedrooms with the bed, night stand, lamp, and curtains that came with the apartment.

 I got a map wall decal off of Amazon and we put this rocking chair on a container. The decals are great, because they peel off without taking off the paint and if you are good enough you can reuse them, but I couldn’t get it off in good enough shape to reuse. However, one thing on this rocking chair. The white part of the fabric turned yellow where our body oil touched it and mixed with the heat and then the screws rusted and rotted and eventually broke. Very disappointing, but I guess you get what you pay for, but now we are on the hunt for something a little higher quality for baby number 2. I’ll link the rocking chair below for anyone who doesn’t live in an extremely hot environment.

I got a map wall decal off of Amazon and we put this rocking chair on a container. The decals are great, because they peel off without taking off the paint and if you are good enough you can reuse them, but I couldn’t get it off in good enough shape to reuse. However, one thing on this rocking chair. The white part of the fabric turned yellow where our body oil touched it and mixed with the heat and then the screws rusted and rotted and eventually broke. Very disappointing, but I guess you get what you pay for, but now we are on the hunt for something a little higher quality for baby number 2. I’ll link the rocking chair below for anyone who doesn’t live in an extremely hot environment.

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 Here you can also see the wardrobe in the corner. Another must have item we’ll need to replace!

Here you can also see the wardrobe in the corner. Another must have item we’ll need to replace!

 I love expat garage sales. We got this changing table from an embassy family who didn’t need anymore and these the small chest of drawers from another family who was leaving. I changed the handles out of the drawers and will paint it white eventually. I’d love for the changing tablet to be white as well, but whatever. The chevron tubs are from target, and we were lucky enough to find the crib in our team’s storage container!

I love expat garage sales. We got this changing table from an embassy family who didn’t need anymore and these the small chest of drawers from another family who was leaving. I changed the handles out of the drawers and will paint it white eventually. I’d love for the changing tablet to be white as well, but whatever. The chevron tubs are from target, and we were lucky enough to find the crib in our team’s storage container!

 We did a lot in this room. We replaced the curtains with navy curtains from Walmart. Added a bunk bed, where we didn’t use the bottom mattress but instead left the double bed underneath for guests. The bunk bed will eventually be part of Ezra’s big boy bed, since the double bed was part of the furnished apartment. We also added a cute tent from Amazon and had a fuzzy rug from Ikea. I’ll link them below, especially since I don’t have photos!

We did a lot in this room. We replaced the curtains with navy curtains from Walmart. Added a bunk bed, where we didn’t use the bottom mattress but instead left the double bed underneath for guests. The bunk bed will eventually be part of Ezra’s big boy bed, since the double bed was part of the furnished apartment. We also added a cute tent from Amazon and had a fuzzy rug from Ikea. I’ll link them below, especially since I don’t have photos!

 So I can’t believe I don’t have more photos of the nursery/guest room. I guess we spend the least amount of time in this room, because half of the year Ezra sleeps with us due to only running the a/c in one room, but here’s the best photo I could find of his crib.

So I can’t believe I don’t have more photos of the nursery/guest room. I guess we spend the least amount of time in this room, because half of the year Ezra sleeps with us due to only running the a/c in one room, but here’s the best photo I could find of his crib.

Master Bedroom

 Here’s the very real view of our bedroom. It’s the room we spend most of our time in during the hot season because we run the a/c at night and it stays cool for most of the day. We also have a TV in here that we got an embassy garage sale for $5! It’s the only TV with HDMI so we usually hook up our computer and can watch netflix. The end tables and wardrobes came with the apartment so we’ll have to buy some for our new place, but the bed and other pieces of furniture we bought from families who were leaving. I am going to paint that dresser white and the handles gold. It’s my first painting project on the list. I’ve wanted to do it so many times, but the task just seemed so daunting, and moving always seems like a good time to paint before you get things settled. There’s our rocking chair which we moved into our room during the hot season and you can see the yellow stains from our body oil/heat…eww. But since it’s broken we probably won’t be using it anymore. We also had a pack-n-play, a small entertainment center, and another small piece of furniture that held our towels and Ezra’s diapers and pajamas during the hot season since he was sleeping in the room with us.  We also had a bathroom to the left with a tub, shower, and bidet. I wish I had a photo of it so you could see the rugs and shower curtain; it made a HUGE difference in making the bathroom look better. I’ll link some of my favorite finds below.  Our bed isn’t made, but we brought our comforter from the states that we got as a wedding gift. I once had a friend who grew up overseas tell me about bringing your comforter from home because it makes your bed feel much more homey, and they are right! We also brought our sheets—the ones on the bed I picked up at Ross and they have little elephants on them, as well as the pillows. When our bed is made it has a white blanket at the end I got at Ikea and had for years and several pillows we got as gifts from our wedding.  As for the decals on the back wall, I picked them up at Target and they are gold feathers. I was able to save those decals when I pulled them off so I’m sure I’ll use them somewhere in the next house. (links below)

Here’s the very real view of our bedroom. It’s the room we spend most of our time in during the hot season because we run the a/c at night and it stays cool for most of the day. We also have a TV in here that we got an embassy garage sale for $5! It’s the only TV with HDMI so we usually hook up our computer and can watch netflix. The end tables and wardrobes came with the apartment so we’ll have to buy some for our new place, but the bed and other pieces of furniture we bought from families who were leaving. I am going to paint that dresser white and the handles gold. It’s my first painting project on the list. I’ve wanted to do it so many times, but the task just seemed so daunting, and moving always seems like a good time to paint before you get things settled. There’s our rocking chair which we moved into our room during the hot season and you can see the yellow stains from our body oil/heat…eww. But since it’s broken we probably won’t be using it anymore. We also had a pack-n-play, a small entertainment center, and another small piece of furniture that held our towels and Ezra’s diapers and pajamas during the hot season since he was sleeping in the room with us.

We also had a bathroom to the left with a tub, shower, and bidet. I wish I had a photo of it so you could see the rugs and shower curtain; it made a HUGE difference in making the bathroom look better. I’ll link some of my favorite finds below.

Our bed isn’t made, but we brought our comforter from the states that we got as a wedding gift. I once had a friend who grew up overseas tell me about bringing your comforter from home because it makes your bed feel much more homey, and they are right! We also brought our sheets—the ones on the bed I picked up at Ross and they have little elephants on them, as well as the pillows. When our bed is made it has a white blanket at the end I got at Ikea and had for years and several pillows we got as gifts from our wedding.

As for the decals on the back wall, I picked them up at Target and they are gold feathers. I was able to save those decals when I pulled them off so I’m sure I’ll use them somewhere in the next house. (links below)

 We brought those curtains from home and since they were too long I just pinned them to make them shorter, that way if our next place has long windows I don’t have to regret getting them cut and sewn! There’s the other pieces of furniture that’s next in line for a paint job, and hopefully that bed will get one too! So many paint jobs around here!

We brought those curtains from home and since they were too long I just pinned them to make them shorter, that way if our next place has long windows I don’t have to regret getting them cut and sewn! There’s the other pieces of furniture that’s next in line for a paint job, and hopefully that bed will get one too! So many paint jobs around here!

 Again, real life. The entertainment center belonged to the apartment, so we’ll look for something else when we move. The rug is one we picked up from the US base and it was a game changer! We eventually hung photos on twine with clothes pin above the tv because I gave up trying to get anything nailed to the walls. (see photo to the right)

Again, real life. The entertainment center belonged to the apartment, so we’ll look for something else when we move. The rug is one we picked up from the US base and it was a game changer! We eventually hung photos on twine with clothes pin above the tv because I gave up trying to get anything nailed to the walls. (see photo to the right)

 Here you can see our comforter in the bottom of the photo and the twine with photos idea I ended up doing around the house.

Here you can see our comforter in the bottom of the photo and the twine with photos idea I ended up doing around the house.

 The before photos of the master bathroom, trust me, the decor did wonders for this space

The before photos of the master bathroom, trust me, the decor did wonders for this space

 We had a small storage piece to left of the sink for our stuff and also had hanging organizer on the back of the door. I’ll link a similar one below.

We had a small storage piece to left of the sink for our stuff and also had hanging organizer on the back of the door. I’ll link a similar one below.

The Kitchen

 We moved this table out onto the balcony and just brought it in when necessary.

We moved this table out onto the balcony and just brought it in when necessary.

 the kitchen sink—real special, I know.

the kitchen sink—real special, I know.

 In place of the white table we put this piece of furniture we got from a teammate. This piece is beautiful and made so well. I think they brought it over from England years ago and I love it.

In place of the white table we put this piece of furniture we got from a teammate. This piece is beautiful and made so well. I think they brought it over from England years ago and I love it.

 So why take photos of the cabinets? Because they are a rarity in homes here! If you want cabinets you have to buy them yourself and have them installed, but we were so excited to see our apartment came with some, even if they weren’t that pretty or straight…

So why take photos of the cabinets? Because they are a rarity in homes here! If you want cabinets you have to buy them yourself and have them installed, but we were so excited to see our apartment came with some, even if they weren’t that pretty or straight…

 And our washer, again it was provided with the house, which is not usually the case, and yet another thing we’ll have to buy when we get back. This washer was brand new because the original one didn’t work, we were spoiled indeed! And Ezra loved watching the wash through the little window.

And our washer, again it was provided with the house, which is not usually the case, and yet another thing we’ll have to buy when we get back. This washer was brand new because the original one didn’t work, we were spoiled indeed! And Ezra loved watching the wash through the little window.

 We got this piece from our teammates as well and I painted it white (despite what the photo shows) and painted the handles gold. Notice our transformer and Ninja blender. :)

We got this piece from our teammates as well and I painted it white (despite what the photo shows) and painted the handles gold. Notice our transformer and Ninja blender. :)

 So another rarity—a HUGE fridge! Seriously, most of the fridges are teeny tiny and also don’t come with the apartment. I’ll probably miss this thing the most and be sad to see what we can buy with our budget.

So another rarity—a HUGE fridge! Seriously, most of the fridges are teeny tiny and also don’t come with the apartment. I’ll probably miss this thing the most and be sad to see what we can buy with our budget.

The Office

 Again, a room I don’t have many photos of, but here’s one side of the office. We actually had three desks in here because it served as our team office when needed. Reed has a desk, I had a desk, and we had an extra one for a team member. We also kept our books and a lot of storage items for camping and whatnot in here.

Again, a room I don’t have many photos of, but here’s one side of the office. We actually had three desks in here because it served as our team office when needed. Reed has a desk, I had a desk, and we had an extra one for a team member. We also kept our books and a lot of storage items for camping and whatnot in here.

 Here’s my side. We ended up moving the bookshelf you see in the photo to the left behind my desk because we got another bookshelf to keep up with our ever growing book collection. We end up taking all the books from families when they leave since no one wants to use up luggage space for heavy books! We also have a really big metal cabinet we used for storage and I loved getting to put photos and magnets of friends on there.

Here’s my side. We ended up moving the bookshelf you see in the photo to the left behind my desk because we got another bookshelf to keep up with our ever growing book collection. We end up taking all the books from families when they leave since no one wants to use up luggage space for heavy books! We also have a really big metal cabinet we used for storage and I loved getting to put photos and magnets of friends on there.

Courtyard

One thing I wish we had more of at this apartment was a place to play outside. Even though it’s hot, there are some months in the year where it’s nice to be outside, especially with a toddler. We only had a small little area and it’s really where the cars went, but I made use of this favorite corner of mine and always took photos here.

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 The gate to our place!

The gate to our place!

 Daddy and Ezra hanging out of the window of the office

Daddy and Ezra hanging out of the window of the office

Links To My Favorite Things


  1. Chalk Finish Paint

  2. World Map Decal

  3. Wall Decals - Since I can’t find the feather ones I bought I just linked a bunch of things from Target, but if you can browse Target you’ll find better deals

  4. Marble Contact Paper

  5. Battery Operated String Lights (I didn’t mention these above, but I love these. I use them for the holidays and also for general decor. I’ve draped them around the tent for Ezra and also put them in glass jars as well as hanging them above doorways.

  6. Foldable Play Tent for Ezra’s Room

  7. Hammock Swing (Which I’ve failed to figure out how to hang yet)

  8. Couch Cover - we bought this one but the price has gone up quite a bit! But there are lots of options out there, just make sure you get the right size

  9. Bamboo Towels - If you don’t have a dryer and hate crunchy towels, then get yourself some bamboo towels! They dry so soft and are amazing! These are the ones we bought, but they are unavailable, so just search for bamboo towels on amazon

  10. Travel Power Surge Protector - This is a must have! We have had a hard time finding a surge protector and already had several issues, so I got another one of these babies and use it for our tv or any important electronics.

  11. Over the Door Organizer - I used something similar to this for our bathroom since bathroom storage was non existence and furniture/plastic drawers are crazy expensive!

  12. Pillow Covers - I haven’t actually purchased any yet as I’m always looking for deals at Ross or TJ Maxx or Target, but I really like this color scheme, however I may have to change my curtains to make it match a little better…we’ll see what I end up with.

  13. Ikea Rug - fits in your suitcase and makes a great background for baby photos

  14. Letter Board

  15. Gemstone Knobs - I got similar ones to this for some of our furniture

  16. Storage Boxes

  17. Similar Taco Mat (I found mine at Walmart but it’s not there anymore, but it’s just an idea, these things are lightweight and great to add a little something to the floor)

  18. Chevron Rocking Chair and the rocking chair I’m thinking of getting for our next container


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If you’re interested I also have a pinterest board for inspiration for our next home. Everything is based on ideas that can be replicated at low cost or brought in a suitcase (minus a few pieces of furniture). You can find it here: https://www.pinterest.com/jessicaleegardner/gabode/

Organizing Photos

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With the amazing cameras on smartphone these days, organizing photos has become even more complicated. I’m still working on a system to get my iPhone photos organized and saved, but for now I want to share how I organize my photos from my “big” camera.

For anyone who has had a external hard drive malfunction you’ll understand the importance of cloud storage. And even though I’ve had a external hard drive malfunction or two, I’m not sure why I haven’t been using cloud storage earlier! I went to a system where I backed up photos on two externals and put one of the copies in a fireproof safe, but hello, cloud storage is way better!

So here’s my process:

1. Get yourself 2 good external hard drives at either 1TB or 2TB depending on what size your files are. I have lots of RAW and high res JPGs for client photo shoots as well as big video and design files, so 2TB works best for me, but for most people 1TB is more than you will ever need. You can find some cheap alternatives on Amazon, just search and look for one with good reviews. (I don’t really have a good brand I recommend, but I will say my Lacie Hard Drive gave out on me, so while I use to only buy that brand, I don’t anymore…) Also, very important, get a case!!! This will help your hard drive not break down on you when you transport it or are not using it.

2. I prefer to organize my photos by date. So when I open my hard drive you will first see folders label as such: photos, design, video, documents, etc. (see screenshots below). Once you click on photos you will then see dates starting from 1999. Yes, 1999! I have scanned images in there and starting in 2003, begins my first digital files.

As you open each folder with a specific year you will then see folders labeled with events. Some people prefer to then go to months, but I can’t remember what dates happened in what months, so I like having events next. For example: Ezra’s 2nd birthday, Arboretum visit, etc…

Then inside each folder I have one folder for all the RAW images and one folder called JPGs. The JPGs are actually all the edited photos I decided to keep when I post processed in Lightroom. So I don’t have to worry about knowing there’s a bunch of non-useful photos in that folder.

3. So now that I have my JPG folders I then take that folder and upload to the cloud! I actually use two different systems for my cloud backup. I have Zenfolio, which is unlimited photo storage! But I only use this for clients. It’s a great system that sends emails and lets you password protect as well as order prints, so it’s great for business, but not as necessary for personal stuff.

For personal photos I actually use Flickr. I went with Flickr because they now offer 1TB of FREE storage! I mean, how can you beat that!? I use to use Flickr all the time back when I first started photography in 2005, but to conserve space I deleted all those photos that weren’t necessary (over processed sideways photos of plants anyone?) . . .

Other places I would recommend for uploading to the cloud are Dropbox and Google Photos. But depending on how many photos you have you will have to pay for these. Also, as a personal organization note I use flags on folders that still need to be uploaded to the cloud so I know what hasn’t been done. Since I started late on uploading to the cloud I have lots of flags…baby steps, y’all.

4. Okay, so now we have our “big” camera photos backed up, but what about iPhone photos? I am taking more and more photos on my phone these days and I really need to figure it out! One thing I do is pay the 99 cents a month for more cloud storage. So if I don’t get to saving them on my hard drive, it’s okay, because at least I know they are backed up somewhere. However, you have to make sure your phone is set to back up photos and you’re actually letting it work! Then I follow the same process for adding these photos to my hard drive. I may add them in photo albums (like Arborteum) but instead of adding them to the JPG folder, I actually call it iPhone photos. Feel free to mix however you want, but I like to keep my separate.


And that’s it! I’ve put a few screenshots below of my folders and if you follow me on Instagram I’ve done a few stories of things as well. I’d love to hear if anyone else has other suggestions for good photo storage, especially for those iPhone photos!!

 PHOTOS & DOCUMENTS

PHOTOS & DOCUMENTS

 INSIDE THE PHOTOS FOLDER (I USE THE RED DOTS (FLAGS) TO TELL ME WHICH PHOTOS STILL NEED TO BE UPLOADED TO THE CLOUD)

INSIDE THE PHOTOS FOLDER (I USE THE RED DOTS (FLAGS) TO TELL ME WHICH PHOTOS STILL NEED TO BE UPLOADED TO THE CLOUD)

 INSIDE THE 2018 FOLDER

INSIDE THE 2018 FOLDER

 INSIDE THE ARBORETUM FOLDER

INSIDE THE ARBORETUM FOLDER


Colorado 2018: My Picks for Visiting with a Toddler

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So instead of just showing you all the photos of the fam in Colorado I thought I'd add a little information to the post. While we've been to Colorado (specifically Estes Park and Grand Lake) for several years now, we have never been with kids, much less pregnant! So that meant adjusting our normal activities for things that were situated for an out-of-breath pregnant woman and bouncy one year old who needs his naps come afternoon time, but who am I kidding, I needed those naps too! 

 The view from the tram on the way down

The view from the tram on the way down

First off a few tips for those going to Colorado while pregnant. My doctor and a few friends warned me it would be difficult and to take it easy the first few days, so plan on that! Schedule your first day to do something that doesn't involve hiking or a lot of walking. We decided to do the tram, even though we were going up in elevation, I figured I'd give it a try and it turned out just fine. Also, they have an adorable gift shop with unique items in the lobby of the tram. Just a little FYI if you're tired of seeing the same 'ol thing everywhere!

Anotehr thing I did was drink water constantly! I cut back on my diet soda intake and some days didn't even have one. I usually have a hard time drinking water unless it's cold, so I ended up carrying my own glass water bottle with me. I would fill it up with ice and add a lemon or lime to it, and I ended up loving it. I never went anywhere without my water bottle in my hand. Honestly, I feel like this was the number one reason why I felt good the whole time. In fact, I felt better there than I do back in Dallas...probably the water. womp, womp.

So what things did we do?

Flat Hikes that were stroller friendly

Okay, so other than that I just said no to any hikes that went in elevation. I knew I couldn't handle it because I get some crazy pain just from a lot of walking, but we did manage a few flat walks at Estes Park Lake, Lily Lake and Sprague Lake. They were also find for our stroller. So it made it even easier not chasing a toddler out of the pond and hanging on to a stroller.

P.S. Sprague lake was my favorite because it's where we saw the mama and baby moose!

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Sprague Lake

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Sprague Lake

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Estes Park Lake

I did have to pass on the fly fishing though, but that's okay, we made up for it by going for a drive in Rocky Mountain National park all they way to our one of our favorite places on the earth, Grand Lake Lodge.

Other things that were great were walking through town and exploring all the shops. One morning they had a great farmer's market. And of course going at dusk or dawn to look for animals in the park. We also had a little date night at the Stanley to eat dessert (kid free) and even managed to sneak away on a few adventure just the three of us.

Honestly, it was a great vacation for kids. I didn't feel like we missed out things and we had a huge house off of air-b-n-b that really made it worthwhile. If you have kids then you know you end up spending a lot of time at your lodging due to naps and early bedtimes, so make sure you have a place with lots of games, scenic views, or at least a pool or something so you don't feel confined to a small room your whole trip (totally felt this way on our cruise last year).

A few of my favorite places:

1. Kind Coffee (grab a kind latte (shots brewed with honey and sugar) and a sit outside and enjoy the view)

2. Inkwell & Brew (the Provencal is to die for (lavender and honey latte) and a store full of journals, um swoon!)

3. The Stanley Hotel - Take in a fancy dinner or just have dessert and drinks at the Stanley. You can also go for a tour or just look around. It's worth it!

4. Fun City - the kids had so much fun! And if your little one is close to two they can do just about anything with an adult!

5. The Tram - you get to ride up the tram to the top of the mountain. There is a coffee shop and gift shop at the top and you purchase peanuts to feed the chipmunks, great for kids!

 Ezra loved watching (and attempting) to feed the chipmunks at the top of the mountain. You get there by taking the tram.

Ezra loved watching (and attempting) to feed the chipmunks at the top of the mountain. You get there by taking the tram.

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 Ezra running the trail at the top of Trail Ridge Road. 

Ezra running the trail at the top of Trail Ridge Road. 

 And lots of evenings spent around the fire the this view...let's just say this is after the kids went to bed. :)

And lots of evenings spent around the fire the this view...let's just say this is after the kids went to bed. :)

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 This was the only place I really had trouble with pain or breathing, I mean you are 11,000 feet up!

This was the only place I really had trouble with pain or breathing, I mean you are 11,000 feet up!

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 Dressed in our PJs looking for elk!

Dressed in our PJs looking for elk!

 We went looking for animals at dusk in the national park

We went looking for animals at dusk in the national park

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 The view behind Kind Coffee

The view behind Kind Coffee

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 The massive slide at Fun City

The massive slide at Fun City

My Top Picks for Toddlers

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Since turning one, Ezra has changed so much—food habits, sleep, speech, play, etc. So I thought I'd do a round-up of some of my favorite things for getting through life with a 1-2 year old. This is only 21 months in, so there may be some more hidden gems, but here are a few things I would highly recommend if you have a little one on the way! 

 

SLEEP

1. Dock-A-Tot Grand
(FYI: It's pricey, and we were lucky enough to get it as a gift. I've heard there are other ones similar and work just as well for a cheaper price)

We were able to borrow the Dock-A-Tot (small one) for when Ezra was under one year old and then received the Grand one for his birthday. Without a doubt the first 7 months without a Dock-A-Tot were a HUGE mistake. Again, this totally depends on the sleeping habits of your kid, but for us we were always pulling Ezra up onto the bed with us after his before dawn wake up calls. So many times we wished we had something we could just put him in where he would stay in between us.

While the Grand Dock-A-Tot is a little too big for this, it didn't matter, because Ezra outgrew the early wake up call. BUT having the big Dock-A-Tot served us so well every time Ezra slept in a new pack-n-play or crib. We were sleeping in a different place almost every week last summer and having the Dock-A-Tot made it an easy transition. Also, I totally recommend the white cover. At first I didn't want white becuase it would get too dirty, but after having the chevron pattern I realized I could bleach the white spots but not the gray stripes. Now I have two covers, because stomach bugs...and the white is so much easier to clean, I can just bleach and stubborn spots that don't come out in the wash. 

The Dock-a-Tot also provided cushion to the incredibly hard pack-n-play we had with us in Africa. Before, I had to place a billion blankets underneath the "mattress" so he wouldn't get hurt when he slept. And with the Grand Dock-A-Tot We plan to use it for transitioning to a big bed. My plan is to make a bed on the floor with a wood pallet, mattress, dock-a-tot, and then his mosquito net or play tent hanging over him. (hard to explain, but here's my inspo pic from Weaversquad on Instagram:

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2. A Lovey

If you haven't found something that your kid can attach to, it's fine. But here's why I like it—every time we are somewhere new or even in the stroller, as long as we have his blanket or stuffed animal he can fall asleep! Without it, ha! He's had the same blanket since he was born and y'all it's naaaasty! So we slowly worked in another item. We really love Scentsy buddies. They have so many unique animals, are super soft, and have a little zipper pocket where you can add a little smell pouch. (Or make one with essential oils) Ezra's favorite is the lemur. They change all the time and you can find old ones online or with people who sell Scentsy. Seriously, I love these things and may have a problem wanting allll the cute animals. 

3. Sound Machine

I really don't know why I didn't use this much earlier. We actually started using it because Ezra was sleeping in our room during the hot season and our door would always wake him up. Once we had the sound machine it would mask the sound of our super creaky door and actually had him sleeping longer in the mornings and during nap time. Now, we don't leave home without it! 

We actually blew out the cord to our sound machine because I forgot to plug it into the transformer, so we ended up using an app on our phone and a small bluetooth speaker. So if you're skeptical about the magic of a sound machine try it out with an old phone or iPad and a speaker before you buy one.

There are so many different sound machines, so I'm linking the amazon search page. But I've heard really great things about the Hatch one (syncs with your phone). Our cheap one is finally starting to go out a little, so keep that in mind with cheaper machines that play for all night and a couple hours during the day, they will eventually give out. 
 

EATING/DRINKING

4. 360 Cups

I've heard so many negative things about sippy cups. While we used them for milk when transitioning from formula we really kept all other liquids to a straw cup or 360 cup. I would have put his milk in this as well, but he usually had his milk while lying down (the only way we could change him at night an morning) but then a few months later he just started rejecting milk and so along with it the sippy cups left our lives. I love the 360 cups because they are still spill proof, but teach kids to drink out of a cup and also it's supposed to be better for their mouth development than sippy cups. We used the trainer cups in the beginning, they are smaller and have handles. But eventually transitioned to the big cups with no handles once we knew he could pick them up with no problem. They also make the cup in an insulated style, which we love for on the road.

 

5. Snack Cups

Just do yourself a favor and go ahead and get a few of these. It's the perfect way to serve snacks, and Ezra had no problem doing it himself at 12 months. We put puffs in there and also do fruit and other things. It's great for carrying snacks in your diaper bag and for giving to your toddler when needed. 

Speaking of snacks, here's some of our favorites

Just know that all kids are different and it seems to change on the regular. We've had a hard time feeding this kids from about 17 months. He just started rejecting everything! But here are a few things we found he loves. 

Jammy Sammy 
(I use to make pb and j's for him from scratch and then he started rejecting those too, so now I just give him these. Obviously when we are in Africa I'll have to go back to forcing him to eat homemade ones, that is if I can find our stash of peanut butter)

Whole Milk Yogurt Pouches 
In America I just buy the pouches because he can feed himself without a mess, but in Africa I just buy regular yogurt. I get whole milk since he won't drink milk I can at least get some milk in him this way.

Trader Joe's Date & Nut bites and Fruit & Nut Discs - I saw another blogger who suggested this for her toddler and thought I'd give it a try. I really didn't expect him to like them, but man was I wrong! You just have to be careful not to give them too many in one day or you will regret all the dirty diapers later... Also, they come in individual wrappers so they are great for on the go!

6. Silicone Travel Placemat

So if your kid is a bit of thrower (like ours) these things will really save your sanity. When we go to restaurants we just lay this mat down on the table and then give Ezra his food on top of it. Yes, he can peel it off the table, but when there's food on top of it he really doesn't concern himself with that! However, if we give him a plate, he just thinks its a fun flying disc...(insert face palm emoji)
Note: this isn't the one I have, but these cloud shapes are too cute!

 

TOYS

7. Mega Blocks

I was very anti-legos (still am), because I'm not much on things with little pieces and bright plastic pieces everywhere, but mega blocks I will take. They are big enough that it's easy to pick up and yet small enough that little hands can still build with them. We've also taught Ezra to pick up his blocks and he loves it; it's like a game! While we can get these in Africa, they price is crazy! I'm also fainted when I saw how much they were on Amazon. I'm pretty sure I could get the same bag for $50, so yeah, totally worth the space in my suitcase...especially since I got ours at a garage sale for $4 and then just took them home and sanitized them all with Thieves soap. #momwin

8. Elmo Alphabet Case

Our new favorite toy is this Alphabet Case. I first saw it on Jillian Harris' Insta Stories with her toddler and fell in love. My mom saw it too and we immediately tracked it down on Amazon, even better that it was Elmo, Ezra's favorite tv character! I also like that we can just fold it up and take it with us to a friend's house or wherever. 

9. Magnetic Letters

My mom bought these for Ezra for his birthday and it was literally been the best gift. Who knew?! he loves arranging them on the fridge, bringing them to mama, and well hiding them behind the fridge for fun. But I love that each letter has an animal on it, like the N uses a Narwal! My favorite. You can also get the cheap letters like we all had when we were kids and they work just as well. I think I found a set at Walmart for a dollar or two. 

 

CLOTHES/BAGS/OTHER

10. Fawn Diaper Bag
(again pricey, and got as a gift, but I cannot tell you how much this bag is worth every penny!!)

I LOVE bags. Ask anyone who knows me well and they will tell you I have a bit of a problem. But here's the thing—bags always fit and I'm always in search of the PERFECT bag. I want it to be multi-functional, big enough for all the things without actually feeling big, and cute and classic. Well Fawn has done it. I love that you can wear it as a strap or backpack and that there are a million pockets inside. It also doesn't look like a diaper bag, so if you want to use it for your personal bag, no one would even know. They also have inserts that match the bag that keep everything organized...pretty much my dream. 

11. Native Shoes

These guys are amazing. Especially for living in a hot climate all year long. They go with everything, are washable, slips ons, and don't make your kids feet smell. And if you aren't into paying full price you can usually find some used ones at a resale shop or my favorite Poshmark.

12. Stroller

So I am someone who is constantly on the hunt for the perfect bag, and since having a baby I've added stroller to that list. However, strollers are a crazy game. There are so many price points and features and it just gets nuts. To be honest, I'm not sure the perfect one exists, which is why so many people have more than one stroller. I first started out with a Graco stroller that came with carseat. And even though it wasn't for off-roading it held up amazingly on the rocky roads of Africa. I loved how the basket was easy to get things in and out of and how the recliner was accessible with one hand (not so on my current stroller). But sadly, the airlines on our flights back to America last summer completely destroyed the stroller and now all four wheels no longer touch the ground...womp, womp. 

So that gave me the chance to look for a stroller that would fit our needs and hopefully last longer. I ended up purchasing the City Jogger on an Amazon sale. the tires are made for off-roading, but aren't the kind that require air, which is necessary, because in the heat of Africa you end up blowing up tires every day...no thank you. But while I loved so many things about the City Select, the basket is hard to get things in and out of and the recliner requires two hands. It also doesn't sit up all the way so Ezra has a hard time reaching the snack tray and seeing over the sides. It does however provide amazing sun coverage, which is a huge plus when you live in 24/7 summer.

That said, I don't have a much to recommend, mostly because it depends on what you need it for. And since we are expecting baby number 2, we are now upgrading to a double stroller. But I do have one stroller to recommend. It may not suit everyone's needs, but if you spend a lot of time traveling like we do or just need something small to keep in the car and aren't a fan of umbrella strollers then this is for you:

The GB Pockit Stroller. It folds up and fits in your bag, which means airlines can't check it and destroy your stroller. It also means that for those flights or airports that won't bring you your stroller to the gate and end up putting it with all the other luggage leaving you stranded with no stroller on your 5 hours layover, well worry no more. Now you have just whip our your stroller and go! 

I also used this stroller on some off-roading adventures in Colorado this summer and was surprised how well it did! I don't suggest doing that all that time, but if you have to, it works. That said, for the traveling family it's amazing. Especially when you can't wear your baby in the carrier due to your growing bump. :)

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Nairobi National Park: Where Safari Meet City

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In February, my mother-in-law came to visit and we decided to meet her in Nairobi, Kenya since she would have a 24 hour layover. We decided to make it a three day adventure and stayed at the beautiful Ololo Lodge in Nairobi National Park. It's a great place if you are okay with just staying in the park and not doing much else, but don't worry there's still TONS to do. 

You can take a safari every morning and evening, walk the beautiful grounds and see their farm and where they make their own furniture. You can also take a 30 minute walk to a nearby glass factory where you can watch them make glass. There's also a fun little place next door where you can buy more glass products and see animals, and just explore the quirky, fun grounds. 

And if you want to just rest and kick back they have the best space for relaxation. Take up a chair by the pool or grab a book and curl up in one of the cozy nooks around the grounds. 

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 They also grow their own mushrooms!

They also grow their own mushrooms!

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 The dirt contrast!

The dirt contrast!

 They grow their own herbs, veggies, and fruits in the greenhouse

They grow their own herbs, veggies, and fruits in the greenhouse

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 Walking to the Glass Factory & of course little man falls asleep

Walking to the Glass Factory & of course little man falls asleep

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 even the pigs have cute houses!

even the pigs have cute houses!

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 I can't get over all the cacti!

I can't get over all the cacti!

 Little man still fast asleep!

Little man still fast asleep!

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 Ready for a Safari!

Ready for a Safari!

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 of course, he fell asleep through all the good parts!

of course, he fell asleep through all the good parts!

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 It's just like the Lion King out here! 

It's just like the Lion King out here! 

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Tips for Surviving the Heat

 
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It's that time of year. The season of shiid (pronounced like sheet) dresses, sports bras, and top buns. In the US many people are starting to thaw out from the winter snow or if you are from my part of the US, you may be nearing the infamous tornado season. So many days spent hunkering down in closets, sleeping with an emergency bag next to bed and always making sure I had a pair of running shoes ready to slip on. You may find this a little much, but once you actually survive a tornado and see your entire house, belongings, neighborhood, and school blown away by nature, then it's really not that crazy.

So what is Spring in our part of Africa? Well first off, Spring is nonexistent, and so is winter and fall. It's Summer all year round here and we have three seasons: hot, humid-hot, and dry-dusty hot. Depending on your preference for humidity there is a debate on whether the humid-hot or dry-dusty hot is worse. I HATE humidity, so I will also choose those months as the worst. So here's  a breakdown of the year:

January - March - hot, but totally bearable without a/c
March - May/June - hot and humid (imagine yourself living in a sauna or a hot yoga room)
June-August - hot and windy and dryish (imagine yourself living in the exhaust of an airplane)
September - aaaaaand back to humid (again sauna)
October-December - the humidity begins to fade into the more comfortable heat


So needless to say the transition in April is always a rough one. You have to drink more water, watch your hours outside in the sun, and check your attitude because heat makes us all a little cray-cray!

So here are my tips for surviving the heat both physically and mentally:

 

1. Hibiscus Tea

Did you know that hibiscus tea actually cools your body? Crazy right, but whatever works! But if you are pregnant, DO NOT drink this. So I make a big 'ol pitcher of it and leave it in the fridge. When I'm super hot or just come in from outside I grab a glass and drink away. Plus I used Starbucks for a little inspiration and made my own version of the Pink Drink:

1. Hibiscus Tea (whatever form you have, I've been using leftover via packets, but you can get the tea in tea bags at the store)
2. Brew or mix with water
3. Add coconut milk
4. Add a sweetener (unless it's a via packet because it's already in there)
5. Chill and drink!

 

2. Invest in some quick dry underwear

Yeah, I know sounds weird, but seriously the best thing my husband and I ever did. Before, I was changing underwear like 3-4 times a day (because wet underwear is gross y'all). And my husband had these amazing quick dry briefs from Exofficio and was totally good. So that summer, I ordered as many as I could find in my size on amazon. Plus you save on laundry.

 

 
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3. Get you some anti-chaffing techniques

So maybe this quote doesn't resonate with you, and that's fine, just skip this point. But if it does, here is my favorite trick—Balmex. Yep, diaper cream. But specifically this one. I just rub it between my legs and it stays on even in the sweatiest of days. And if it does come off, I carry a little travel size one around and apply as needed. I tried using biker short type things under my skirts but they would either roll up or roll down or just make me more hot, so a friend suggested Balmex and it has been the best thing so far. 

 

4. Get that top bun down & a good pair of earrings

Sounds dumb, but perfecting a good top bun is key. When I'm sweating in all the places I want my hair off my neck, but I also don't want to scare people with wild hair, so I finally figured out how to make the top bun work. I added a pair of my favorite earrings and voila! Maybe that top bun isn't your thing, but having a go to hairstyle that you can transition for a nice event and yet still sweat to death has been very helpful in so many situations here. For example, I got invited to a really nice Olympic committee dinner last year. I had a nice dress on, make-up, hair down,  I was so proud of myself. Then I show up and the whole thing is outside...in May! Woof. So bam, switch that hair to a top bun and I still look somewhat presentable. I just felt bad for the rest of the attendees because this was their first time in country and they had no idea what hit them...

My earrings of choice
My top bun method

 

5. Carry a towel

Nothing worse than sweat running off your nose and into everything. The other day I was at the market looking for a shiid dress and sweat kept falling onto their pretty fabrics, can we say embarrassing? So I now carry a small little towel that attaches to my bag and it's perfect for wiping away that pesky face sweat.

The REI mini towel is apparently no longer available but here are a few other similar options:
REI Towels
Amazon Towels

 

6. A mini fan that plugs into your phone

So I've only needed this a few times, but there have been a couple close calls for both Ezra and myself. The heat gets to be too much or we are inside an stuffy airport with no a/c and I whip this thing out to cool us both off. I actually picked it up at the Texas State Fair, but don't worry I found it on Amazon. 

 

7. Makes trips to the pool/beach

I mean who doesn't love a day in the water! While it's hot enough to swim year round here, we really try to save our pool visits for the later months. Pools can be very expensive here and the beaches for swimming require some crazy road navigating. Needless to say it's not as convenient  as when I was a child growing up with a pool in the backyard, but it is possible. So on those weekends when life is just too hot and you don't want to have a $1,000 electricity bills, we just go to the pool and cool off in the water.

 

 

 

 

8. Invest in your mental state

I have so many people ask me how I do it in the heat. Honestly, I hate being hot. I love the cold and will take a rainy day over sun every time. (Unless I'm in Hawaii) But, it's about getting your mental state in order. For me, I just think of it as the easiest diet ever. I know that I'll detox and loose weight by letting my body sweat and get rid of some of those toxins. It's only a couple months out of the year so I tell myself it's for a season and then we are usually traveling during the summer months anyways, so I know I can enjoy a few months in unlimited a/c and cooler conditions.

If you aren't in the physical condition to where you need to loose weight, then this may not work for you. And if that is the case, you have to really take extra caution in watching your calorie intake and how much time you spend exercising. Stay safe, drink water, and if you want to keep up your work-out routine, just run the a/c for a bit or do it first thing in the morning when your room is still nice and cool from the night of a/c. 

One of the most common things I've seen with people experiencing their first humid heat season is they are determined to keep doing their same routine, and get frustrated when it just doesn't happen at the same pace. Life will slow down. You will get tired faster and if you don't drink enough water and eat right you will get sick. People have had migraines, vomiting, stomach issues, etc. It's a real thing, don't pretend your special and exempt from it, but instead lean into it and expect a season of self-care and a slower pace. Take from the locals who have lived here most of their lives. They are slowing down and so should you. 

Okay, so for those who live in hot climates (or Texas) what are your tips for staying cool?

Getting My Life in Order: Part 3, Rest is the New Hustle

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I once saw this quote on a lock screen graphic and I instantly fell in love. We often equate success with a lack of rest and hustling with the only way to live. Instead it leaves us tired, burnt out, and cranky. What if we began to work smarter, not harder, and found a way to rest in between. 

Now you have to realize this may mean letting those dishes sit a little bit in the sink or having the laundry pile up for one more day, or even not getting your inbox cleaned out at the end of the day, but isn't our sanity worth it? 

Did you know that by resting our brains at night it allows our brain to properly store all the information we've absorbed throughout the day? That's right. So all those late nights you pulled in college cramming for an exam might have actually been better spent sleeping. That way your brain has a chance to file away the information and you are rested and ready to go. 

So what does rest have to do with organizing and getting things done? A lot. The more you rest the more joyful you feel and the more energy you have to...work smarter, not harder! 

That said, below I've outlined how I choose to rest. While this schedule is VERY tailored to life in Africa you can still apply the principles in your life. 

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1. REST EVERYDAY

Find a way to incorporate rest into your daily routine. This can happen a number of ways: exercise, quiet time, or naps (my favorite). The culture I currently live in is a nap culture. From 2-4 business close and people sleep, and I mean sleep. They sleep on the street, under a tree, in their car on the side of the road...wherever they are. And this has been a lifesaver for me. Because the weather is harsh here I find myself so tired from the simplest of tasks. Getting to have a couple hours where I can't do anything lets my body gain strength for the afternoon and evening activities. And it also is why I tend to stay up till midnight working...not sure if that's a good thing yet.

2. REST WEEKLY

Every week you should find a day where you do nothing buy play. Maybe it's binge watching Netflix or cooking a gourmet meal at home. Maybe it's eating out and letting someone else cook the gourmet meal. Whatever it is, make it happen! And if it's not feasible to take a whole day for fun, then at least try and take a meal or an evening to do something. We usually do one of two things—stay in our pjs all day and cook really good meals or adventure to the mall and get some free a/c. Other things we might do on a weekend are catching up on movies and tv shows, cooking brunch, splurge and have a little sugar, or take a bath instead of a shower.

3. REST MONTHLY

Every month we take a day to do something fun. While the weekends are for "fun" like Netflix chilling and brunch having, one day a month we do something out of the ordinary. We may visit the pool at the really nice hotel or drive 45 minutes out of town for the only nice playground in the country or even eat out at fancy restaurant. These are the things good for our souls, and we know our budget allows them to only happen once or twice a month so we do it! Other ideas (not applicable in my location) might be to visit a museum, drive to a nature center, or go to the movies. 

4. REST YEARLY

This one is your vacation people, or family trip. Whatever you call it. Find a place, save up, and go! It doesn't even have to be far. Maybe it's a staycation at hotel or maybe it's a trip with the extended fam in Colorado. But plan for it, save for it, and do whatever it takes to make it happen. I cannot tell you how many yearly vacations have refreshed me and given me the energy to keep going, especially in really hard seasons. And if money is tight, just remember you have a whole year to save. Try staying out of town at a friend's house or looking at an Air BnB so you can cook your own meals. There are always ways to travel cheap, you just have to be willing to plan ahead.

So that's my advice for finding ways to rest and recharge your soul. What are some of your ways or things that give you rest? Leave a comment below so we can add them to the list!

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Getting My Life in Order: Part 2, Organizing Emails

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First off, if you missed part one of this series, start here.

Let’s talk emails. 

I am big on communicating via email and I also can’t stand to let emails go unanswered. But answering emails every time you receive one is one of the most inefficient ways to manage your time…at least that’s what everyone swears by! But I also use to work in an office where not being tied to your email wasn’t much of an option.

So here’s my strategy:

I check emails on my phone or computer whenever I think about. So basically I make my rounds through social and then end on my emails. If it’s an email that requires an answer and I know the answer, I respond right away with a short reply. If I need to find out more information I simply let the person know I’ll respond later with more information, but I want them to know I received the email and am working on it.

While there are some people who are not into the answering email thing, I believe it’s important for those in any kind of business. You are trying to establish customer service and genuine connections with people, and one way to do this is by promptly answering their email. I also hold a fast email responder in high regard! Seriously, if I’m ever in charge of hiring an office manager I will ask them how fast they respond to email. Also, I’m a receiver for multiple contact pages for websites and I want my potential clients/donors to know we value and care for them and are on top of their request—even if we don’t have the answer just yet.

That said, it’s also important to set boundaries. If you are working from home or have office hours just put an autoreply on your emails so that if someone emails you outside of those hours they know why. This is especially important because I’m working with a 9 hour time difference for Central Time. This allows me to not feel pressured to answer every email all day long. Again, I’m only checking emails periodically during the day.

 

Okay, so that’s daily replies. If it’s an email that does not require a reply I have a few actions I take:

1.     Flag, so I know to look at it later as soon as I can

2.     Delete it, because I either skimmed it or am not interested

3.     Don’t flag it but leave it in my inbox to read later (this is usually for newsletters or websites I send myself to check out)

As for email organization I have A TON of folders where I then move emails from inbox. For example, purchases with tracking info, important bills, useful newsletters from friends or companies, etc.

 

Then once a week (or sometimes longer) I do a full clean-out. I will get 20 plus emails in my inbox and I take a couple hours to sit down and slowly go through everyone:

1.     Read all the flag emails and either delete or file

2.     Read all the newsletter emails and then delete or file

3.     Answer any unanswered emails and then delete or file

 

Don’t stop until the inbox is done! I usually still have a few emails left in my inbox because they may contain events happening soon or I’m still waiting on some information. But that’s how I stay on top of email, making sure to answer people promptly and keep everything organized.

1.     Check and answer important emails a few times a day

2.     Use flags to mark important emails

3.     File emails that don’t need to be deleted but don’t need to be in your inbox eithe

Alright, in the next post we will talk about taking time to rest. This is the one I'm most passionate about and what I truly believe makes or breaks you in doing anything long-term (or just keeping your sanity).

Getting My Life in Order: Part 1

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I wanted to do a follow-up blog about my day in the life with a one year old. But in this post I want to talk more in depth with how I organize my days. I’ve always been a fan of organization, I mean, I use to play office in lieu of the ever popular "house" as a kid. But over the years I’ve had to adapt to not just an organized way for life, but also an efficient way of life.

I’m a big fan of worker smarter,
not harder.

So here are a few of my tools and tricks that help me work full-time from home for a non-profit, take care of a one year old, and run a side-hustle business, all while navigating the waters of living overseas in Africa.

First off, you have to be dedicated.

These things won’t work unless you actually have the desire to get stuff done. And let’s be honest, most days I don’t! And for those really low days where I have absolutely no energy and no motivation...I just rest. Yep, sometimes that’s allowed. Because, when I am working, I work smart.

So what are my ways for working smart?

I'm going to try and break it down into a few steps. Then I'll expand on some of these things in separate blog posts. Today, I just want to give you an overview so you can get the basics of what I do for my life. 

1.     Organize your day on paper

Be specific! Write out each task that needs to happen and try to write at what time it will happen. Refer back to it everyday. 

2.     Dedicate specific times to work on emails

Be willing to reply back to those who need it, even if it’s only to say I got your email and I’m on it! (Read tomorrow's post for how I organize my email life and why I think it's important to answer quickly)

3.     Take time to rest.

Seems counter-intuitive right? But if you take a little time for yourself each day then you will actually be more productive during the time you do work. (Part three of this series will go in-depth on how I find time to rest daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly) 

4.     Limit social media during work times.

I actually only post to Instagram when I’m in bed for the night and everything else is done.  That’s when I take the time to comment, interact, and post, not just for my personal page, but for my business pages as well. I manage 4 Facebook pages and 2 Instagram accounts, so I schedule everything in advance, but in order to grow anything online you have to interact!

Since I was already using social media at night anyways, I just decided to be intentional about also interacting on the business accounts. (Part 4 of the series will go in depth on how I manage all the social media accounts, as well as my night-time routine for getting things done -- see next point)

sidenote: I also get on social media if I ever find myself in a lull at home or while I'm out waiting in a forever long line. But I don’t do social media why I’m trying to get things done; it never works out!

5.     Take advantage of the times of day that you are most active.

For me, I’m my best at night. Mornings are my enemy and it takes me forever to get going. But at night I get a second wind and it’s all I can do to stop working and go to sleep. For some people it may be that mornings are their best time, so wake up a couple hours before your kids or before you have to go work and use that time to get emails answered or books read or whatever it is. (Part 4 will cover how I use my nights to get the final things crossed of my to-do list and how I use that time for cracking down on my goals like social media, reading more, and listening to podcasts)

6.     Block out Distractions

We are focusing on working smarter, this means we have to limit all distractions. For me I know if I'm working in the same room with someone I will tend to just talk. So if I am in the same room with my husband working I usually put my headphones on and have an upbeat playlist going. This helps me block out the distraction to talk and it allows me to focus on the task at hand. Other times I’m simply working to beat of the clock, which is really my best motivater of all…

7. Use your tribe/village/community/whoever

Who are your people? Do you have any people? There have many many times in my life where I felt I didn't have people, but this season I have a whole team working behind me, many who don't even realize the importance they play in helping me accomplish all the things. And it's really the number one reason why I can do all of this. There have been seasons in my life where I didn't have a tribe and I didn't have the energy, so my workload was less and I just made up my mind to be okay with that. Remember you may not be accomplishing everything because you are in a season of something else! 

Last year after having Ezra I could only manage taking care of newborn, pumping exclusively, getting the bare minimum of my duties done for the non-profit, and figuring out how to live life overseas. That was it. No more. But it didn't last forever. Eventually I found my rhythm, I was no longer pumping, and I had people who came around me to help babysit and offer support. So lean into whatever season you are in and don't beat yourself up if you just can't get it all done. Maybe it's because you are actually getting the most important thing done—like taking care of yourself or your family! 

So what does my tribe do for me?
(Also, I'd do any of things for them in a heartbeat...let me make it clear it's not a one way street!!)

Well, These people are essential to me getting things done. I could not get everything done if it wasn’t for my house helper. I love that having a house helper here is normal and not just a luxury of the upper class. Our house helper is a friend who cleans, cooks, and watches Ezra during the mornings and three nights a week while Reed is at language class and I’m at practices.

I also could not do what I do without the most helpful husband. He changes diapers, cooks meals, gives baths, and basically anything I do he does just as much. We don’t see our jobs as defined by mommy or daddy. (Except when it comes to boogers…) But one person gets the bottle ready and the other helps with bath time. One day he cooks dinner, and another day it’s my turn. We alternate and lean on each other. We both work from home and so we have the luxury to be flexible in our schedules. It also means we have the luxury to pick up the slack when needed. I know that this is a unique aspect to our relationship, but I encourage stay at home mammas to find someone who can help you. Maybe it’s a nanny or a grandma or another mamma or a younger single bestie. It’s about finding your tribe and helping each other when times get tough. I also have a handful of people I know I could call here in Africa and would jump at any chance to help us out.

 

So I want to hear from you?

Is there a tool or trick that really helps you get things done or is there a question you have for me after reading this? Comment below and let's learn from each other!