Inspiration

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


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! 

Ethical Gift Guide

This might be a little late, but at least I got it out before Christmas! Besides, we always need gift ideas all year round, birthdays, mother's days, etc. So here it is, my gift guide that gives back.

One of the things I've been wrestling with lately is understanding where our goods come from. I'm not even close to having an ethical shopping life, but slowly maybe by thinking through our purchases we can make this world a little bit better place.

Here are six of my favorites from this year:

1. AKOLA PROJECT

I've been following Akola for a few months now. "Akola is a nonprofit jewelry brand that empowers women in Uganda and Dallas, TX to redesign their stories. Each piece is handcrafted by 1 of 500 women in poverty working to redesign the future of their families. 100% of Akola revenue is reinvested in our mission to help these women transform their families and communities."

 

Another similiar jewlery company is 31 bits. They also just released their home collection, and I'm in love! They also have some great ideas for little girls. 

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Premptive Love Coalition works across Iraq, Syria, the United States, and beyond. They started in 2008 helping children receive life-saving medical care. As they have grown so has their work. They started the Sisterhood Collective, which turns refugees into business owners. They make handmade soap, candles, and other refugee-made products. Buying from them helps provide jobs, income, and hope for Syrian and Iraqi families.

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I found out about Starfish Project earlier this year and have been eyeing a few pieces of their amazing jewlery. Even better, they have an amazing mission behind what they do. Starfish Project restores hope to women escaping human trafficking and exploitation in Asia. They provide life-changing opportunities through their Holistic Care Programs and their social enterprise where women create beautiful jewelry and become managers, accountants, graphic designers, and photographers.

 


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I couldn't leave out gifts for babe, now could I? Cuddle + Kind makes beautiful handmade dolls for kids, and each purchase provides 10 meals. The dolls are also made by women in Peru and create sustainable fair income for these women.  


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I love Seek the Peace because they are working locally in Dallas to help refugees. I have personally volunteered with them and know those behind the scenes working tirelessly to help refugees acclimate to live in the U.S. I love their new shop and am eager to try out the candles! 


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Another great company that I have had the pleasure of getting to know on a personal level. Stephanie, the founder, is an amazing woman with an even better heart. She started Vickery Trading Co. in order to help empower refugee women through jobs. They make the most beautiful girl's clothes and also have Christmas pajama pants newly released this season! 

Here's a photo of my cute little niece wearing one of the dresses. ---->


Lazy Man's Guide to DIY Christmas Decor

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This post has two purposes. For us, it's a post on how to decorate for Christmas in a country that has limited supplies and those supplies can either cost a pretty penny or be anything but pretty. The other purpose is for all of you who may want to decorate for Christmas on a budget. You really don't want to spend money on things only used for a month and Amazon and Target just don't get you as excited as say...myself. 

So here's my lazy man's guide to DIY Christmas decor. 

1. REUSE GLASS JARS

Where we live there is an amazing yogurt brand imported from France. It comes in little glass jars and over time you end up having tons of jars lying around the house. We've used them for mixing essential oils, heating up baby food, and now crafts. I actually got this idea from my friend Rebecca who did an amazing job at painting the jars and making them say "Give Thanks" and adding tea lights to them. The only paint I had laying around was a small bottle of chalkboard paint, so I painted a square on several of the jars, so after Christmas I can just change them to match the next season. On each square I then used a chalkboard marker to write "Joy To The World", one letter on each jar. Afterwards I added a string of battery operated lights I had and voila. 

2. BATTERY OPERATED LIGHTS

Obviously this isn't a DIY, but a good pair of lights will make any project look better, this is the lazy man's guide after all. Best part is that these lights are only $12 on Amazon and you get three strands! They are wire so you can bend them and shape them for anything. I used them for the glass jars above, hung one above our entry way in the living room, and the other one above our advent calendar. I actually got these lights for our play tent for Ezra, but they turned out to be the perfect Christmas decor, and if you live overseas and can't use Amazon, they are so small you could fit them in your pocket, the perfect thing for a friend or family member to stick in their luggage.

 

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3. FREE PRINTS

So this is my favorite hack. Again, lazy man guide. You can always make your own, but painting glass jars was about as much time as I have around here. Besides I always like other people's art much better than mine. So in looking for advent guides (see next number) I found Tasha's blog. She has some gorgeous FREE watercolor Christmas prints, and when you print them out on cardstock they look like you purchased them from your local art fair. Seriously, these things are beautiful. Check out her blog, sign up for emails and you'll get a download to all her free prints. I ended up having some cardstock lying around so I have no idea what kind it was, but I recommend getting the thickest you can find. And if you aren't lazy and want more DIY Christmas guides she has some amazing blogs. 
Free Printables: (I used her 2016 ones)

 

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4. ADVENT CALENDAR

Okay, so believe it or not, this is the first year I've actually done an Advent Calendar. I have no idea why, I just don't think we really did them growing up so I was late to the game on this one. But I wanted it to be more than chocolate (because I can't eat it, stupid dairy, and it melts so it stats in the fridge and I forget, plus I want it to have more meaning on what Christmas really is) Sooooo...I had this great idea to make my own advent calendar and then I would use this guide that corresponds with the Jesus Storybook Bible and write that day's page to read on the back. But in my research I ended up finding some amazing advent calendars already made for me! Hello, yes! So I'm linking the one I've used, but you can always use Pinterest and find other ones. I already had this spot above our table where I usually hang a "gather" sign. I just took it down and tied a string from one end to the other, then used clothespins to hang the cards. This actually did take some work as I had to print them off and make sure I printed the backs correctly (failed the first time), then cut them out and punch holes, tie strings, and manuever behind my large table to hang them up. Still much easier than making one from scratch. 
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That's it! I mean besides the tree, but I don't have any special tricks for that one. So I would love to hear from you all. What your lazy man decor ideas for Christmas? 

Standing Against Evil: My Thoughts on #MeToo

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I often find it hard to process campaigns, politics, hard issues, and fad movements. I think one reason is because I usually see the brokenness with a movement and how it seems to focus on absolutes. But I don’t want to write about my problems with a movement, especially one that is so important, instead I want to talk about my takeaways with #metoo.

Again, this is MY story, not yours, so please don’t assume I am speaking for anyone else other than myself.

1.     Since seeing #metoo in the last few days I’ve started paying attention to movies and tv shows in a different way. I’ve noticed that women are often subjected to the very thing we find offensive, and it’s often without a blink of an eye. In some instances I have seen people stand up and point out the accuser, but I can’t help but wonder why more isn’t done. I don’t want to call out anyone or any show so I’ll stop there, because my point remains the same. 

2.     I know just as many men who have faced #metoo worthy statuses. I think we need to focus on not just the way women are treated, but how humans are treated. This is in NO way to take away from women who have been abused or taken advantage of, this is simply to say that it’s not just women.

3.     Along with number 2, I have also seen a lot of women make remarks about men in passing…just watch your status updates during The Bachelor. For some reason it seems okay when women make remarks about a “hot guy” or they talk about how they’d like to make-out with him or worse. I’ve even seen this from married women. My thought is that as you read this spelled out, you find it appalling, but most of the time we don’t even notice that we are sexualizing another human being, only giving them worth based on their appearance.

4.     I have visited and lived in many countries and I have limited experiences with sexual harassment in the U.S.  That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, again, it’s just my story. I have however, seen and experienced sexual harassment in almost every country I have lived in or visited. Male stalkers, butt slaps, groping, strangers kissing you on the lips…and can I just say that all of these involved NO alcohol and no dark corners of a club. They were in the broad daylight walking down the street, standing in the metro, and doing my everyday life. I also believed it was because of the “culture” and country I lived in, and therefore I should just ignore it. Now I’m learning how wrong this is…I also knew it was because I lacked a male presence. Since marriage I have not traveled alone and I also have not had one instance of sexual harassment—yes, there is a correlation.

As humans we must stand up and fight against all evil. Evil will happen in the darkness and it will be hard to see, it will be disguised, it will “feel” like something that is our fault, it will seem as if we are responsible, but we must not be fooled. We must push back with truth and courage. Challenge those around you, don’t be afraid of what people will think, stand tall in knowing that you can be part of world change.

And if you are someone who has experienced traumatic harassment of any kind, please seek counsel. Seek trusted friends or family, tell your story to someone who is safe, let a counselor walk with you through healing. It will be the hardest thing you will ever do, but one day you’ll hopefully be able to look back and see healing and forgiveness in your own life and in turn hopefully be able to help someone else through their journey.

Refresh My Soul: Alaska

It finally feels like fall so to celebrate I'm posting part 1 from family vacation earlier this summer. If you were following along on Insta then you may already know that my parents took us on an Alaskan cruise. It was amazing! We had some great family time, got to see nature, and experience cold temps, which meant boots, scarves, and lots of hot coffee! My dreamland. 

So grab a blanket, sip some coffee, and enjoy the beauty of Alaska!

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