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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!

 Sprague Lake

Sprague Lake

 Sprague Lake

Sprague Lake

 Estes Park Lake

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

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. ---->


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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Take a Walk on the Safe Side

When comparing and contrasting Africa and the US one usually has a pretty good sense of what will be said—water, weather, animals, etc.—it's all different. But what I notice the most about my time stateside are the little things; the things that excite the senses and leave me wanting more.

Tonight I went a walk, something I've done many times before, but this time it was just me, the babe, and my spotify radio set to Ben Rector. (can I get an amen?) Normally I'm walking with the hubs, iPhone-less and we are talking about the current ramblings going through our brain, but tonight I only my own thoughts to keep me spinning. 

After awhile I started remembering my walks in the Horn of Africa. It wasn't the heat or the random goat crossing that I remembered, but instead it was the small stretch of sidewalk around the U.S. Embassy that we grew to love. A similarity, a small one, but something to bridge the gap. Then as quickly as the thought entered my mind I smelled something I never smell in my part of Africa—hamburgers grilling in the backyard. My senses had been awoken—green trees lined the concrete creating dancing shadows of sweet relief from the summer heat, fresh cut grass filled the air, water sprinklers played with the setting sun as rainbows formed over the perfectly manicured lawns, and I felt safe.

I wasn't looking over my shoulder for strangers, I didn't feel a sense to hurry through my walk, and I never once got a glaring stare for showing my ankles. (And in this case my shoulders and legs too) But please don't see this as something only attributed to Africa or a third world life. This is still a reality and many places in the US and even in our own city. Walking around the ritzy neighborhood of Dallas I still feel a little uneasy by the amount of people who seem to be up to no good and continue to have my walls up. Part of it may just be my life in third-worlds, but the other part may be for good reason, who knows. What I do know is that tonight I was fearless—not in the sense of bravery, but more carefree. 

So while I can't always live a carefree, fearless life, it's nice to enjoy those moments filled with summer bar-b-que's, fresh cut lawns, and shaded sidewalks. 

 Gotta love the front lawn chairs, a trend I first saw in Dallas.

Gotta love the front lawn chairs, a trend I first saw in Dallas.

 That rainbow!

That rainbow!

 Sidewalks!

Sidewalks!

Refresh My Soul: Past Vacations

 St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida

I've been thinking a lot about vacation recently. Hot season has arrived and my already weary soul is so ready for some rest! It's actually been a long time since the hubby and I have planned a vacation. What I mean is that most of our trips have been tagged on to conferences or taken because we live in unique places. Even our honeymoon was decided based on the cheapest thing out there. But for the first time we have saved and saved so we could go somewhere new for our 5 year anniversary in September. When I floated the idea by my precious mother she decided it would be a great family vacation! So now all of us and little man will be heading on a 7 day Alaskan cruise in July! Say what?! Bucket list location for sure. Reed and I love cold weather and mountains and living in one of the hottest places on earth we are eager for some cooler weather. 

I have often met people who don't take vacation. They throw around the phrase, "You can sleep when you're dead." Guys, don't be this person! Vacations are good and healthy! One of the best pieces of advice we got when we were preparing to move overseas was to "vacation" every day, every week, every month, and every year. What that look likes practically (for myself) is this:

Daily I spent time with God, reading, relaxing, praying, working out, and even napping at times!

Weekly we take a day where we don't do work, we sleep in, watch movies, laugh, explore new places. 

Monthly we have a date night (or family night). We go to a nice restaurant, swim in a pool, take a trip out of town.

Yearly, we take a vacation. Visit somewhere, stay in a hotel, order room service, get a massage, and DO NOT feel guilty about it. 

So for this month's refresh the soul I'm taking us back to some of my favorite vacations since being married. And if you have a vacation planned for this year, comment below, or share your favorite vacation you've been on. We are always looking for new places to explore! 

 Nice, France

Nice, France

 Grand Cayman Island

Grand Cayman Island

 Epcot Center, DisneyWorld

Epcot Center, DisneyWorld

 Amman, Jordan

Amman, Jordan

 Central Asia

Central Asia

 New York City, New York

New York City, New York

 Daytona Beach, Florida

Daytona Beach, Florida

 Fairhope, Alabama

Fairhope, Alabama

 RMNP, Colorado

RMNP, Colorado

 Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park, Colorado

 Verrana, Italy

Verrana, Italy

 Antalya, Turkey

Antalya, Turkey

 Paris, France

Paris, France

 Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

 Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)

Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)

 Gulf Shores, Alabama

Gulf Shores, Alabama

 Grand Lake Lodge, Colorado

Grand Lake Lodge, Colorado

 Marseille, France

Marseille, France

 St. Paul de Vence, France

St. Paul de Vence, France

 Annency, France

Annency, France

 Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas

 Lyon, France

Lyon, France

 Amman, Jordan

Amman, Jordan

 Galveston, Texas

Galveston, Texas

 Monaco

Monaco

 Albertville, France

Albertville, France

 Murren, Switzerland

Murren, Switzerland

Our Life Lately

This summer we've transitioned (yet again). We are currently in the states awaiting the arrival of our baby and enjoying some much needed relaxation and, believe it or not, cooler weather! Anyways, here's a look at June and July (so far)!

30 weeks pregnant and feeling the baby kick!

While everyone else is asleep, I snuck a photo of the sunrise over Africa

half-way through our flight, the flight that turned out to be 24 hours long!

Washington D.C. people, we made it!
 

A little view of Ireland
 

Celebrating the 4th

My drinks of choice: Snow Cones & Lattes

My drinks of choice: Snow Cones & Lattes

Colorado: Part 1

One of the great things about working for our organization is their investment in training, and their ability to pick some of the best places in the U.S. to have these trainings! We spent all of June and most of July in Fort Collins, Colorado. There we had classes and seminars 5 days a week to prepare us for living abroad. We learned about conflict styles, leadership abilities, and language learning, all things that help us live better overseas. After the 5 weeks of training, we had an all-staff conference with everyone across the U.S. in our organization. Around 5,000 people came to Colorado State University as we spent time together, listened to wise speakers, and had open and honest conversations about issues that have plagued our communities. And of course, in between all of that, we spend time exploring Colorado. Below are a few of those photos:

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If A Path Appears, Will You Take It?

I just finished watching the first installment of A Path Appears. Woof. That's really all I can say as a response. While I knew of the reality of sex trafficking in America, it was still a punch in the gut for the darkness that continues to surround us. Then I remember my former friend. I didn't get the privilege to know her for very long as I soon transitioned out of that job, but my time with her was enough to call her friend. I call her this because she entrusted me with her story. And she not only entrusted me, she entrusted me to tell her story to others. 

I haven't shared it very often, as it was originally for a class project and I never ended up pursuing it for publication. However, I think it's time it was told. I wish I knew where Gloria was today or what she was doing or if she was still walking with God and continuing to take the path she was on when I knew her. 

So I ask that if you are one of the few that take the time to read this that you will also take the time to pray. I'd love it if you'd comment below and let us know if you said a prayer. How cool would it be to lift her up through whatever she is facing today! 

I don't really have much more of introduction so here we go: (warning, there may be some graphic details)

Babysitter for Adults

Gloria Howl or Gloworm, as she prefers people call her, resembles Julia Roberts’s character in Pretty Woman. She owned her own prostitution service and fell in love with a rich, handsome client, who wanted to turn her into a respectable young lady. Only this guy behaved nothing like Richard Gere. He led a double life and robbed numerous banks for twelve years, making him one of the most notorious bank robbers in history, rightfully named, The Dapper Bandit.

Howl grew up in Dallas, Texas, around the Oak Cliff area. She attended Cockrell Hill Baptist Church with her mother twice a week, and the preacher baptized her at age four. She went to numerous Vacation Bible Schools and constantly helped her parents with charity contributions.

Eventually Howl dropped out of high school and ran away with a married man to Beverly Hills. He provided for her every desire: money, fancy clothes, expensive cars, and even her own business in the dinner theatre industry.

Today when Howl pulls back her straight dyed black hair; she shows her missing front teeth. “I was like Paris Hilton,” she said. “My mom raised me to be spoiled. I was into clothes and capped all my teeth. It was boob jobs or teeth, and I’m paying the price for it now. It was a great experience, but there is always a price you have to pay for all these things.”

Eventually Howl moved back to Dallas, but the desire for money never left. At age twenty-five she began working for an escort service. Called “the psychiatrist,” she catered toward men who needed a listening ear.

“They were lonely and wanted to get away from the convention they were on and just needed someone that would listen to them. Basically like being a babysitter for adults,” she said.

After two years Howl broke away and started her own service. She found a location, took out an ad in the Yellow Pages, and set up call forwarding. She even paid taxes to keep the IRS off her back.

Howl paid cash for two cars and a house, cleared all her debts, and had about $40,000 in the bank. For her, prostitution paid a lot better than any other job, but to survive she had to develop a keen sense of intuition.

“I had to be a detective, clean minded, not drunk, very articulate in reading people so I didn’t come across [as] some nut case.”

As she told of the musicians she met, her eyes widened and her voice raced as names rolled off her tongue.

“If you’re smart, you will [only] talk [with the person] and you won’t charge as much. No crime is committed if you don’t touch and no germs are involved. But sometimes the person is so cute! When you get with some of these rock stars you’re like ‘wow!’” Howl said. “I had a lot of repeat business. Guys would tell me anniversary dates of when we first met, and they seemed to like knowing you for a long time. It was like having a maid service come out when they needed someone to talk to.”

Her line of business usually involved more than talk. When Howl dropped out of high school she lived a short life of luxury, but she also lived a life of drugs and rock and roll. She followed bands around landing in a different guy’s bed every night. Realizing she could make money off her body, she worked in massage parlors and took out personal ads. Eventually a friend recommended the escort business. An agency hired her immediately, and by the end of the night she met with her first client in the Wyndham hotel. They drank champagne and ate shrimp cocktails.

After two and a half years of prostituting professionally, Howl met Mark Reeves, the infamous Dapper Bandit. At their first meeting Howl remembers him strung out on cocaine, wearing shorts with a Hawaiian shirt that displayed his toned body and golden tan. Roughly a year later, Howl ran into Reeves again. He pursued her, promising to take care of her. After struggling to stay emotionally unattached and unwilling to quit her job, she succumbed to the power of love.

“I took a break from the work because I couldn’t work and date him. He was a good-looking guy who drove Porsches, and I fell hook, line and sinker in love with him,” she said.

Howl dated Reeves for two years, while he continued to rob banks. The entire time Howl had no idea, because Reeves convinced her he drove racecars. Their relationship ended when Howl realized Reeves could not commit to one woman. While he loved her, he refused to stay monogamous. Howl, missing her escort business and tired of Reeves’s tricks, decided to leave.

A year after her break-up with Reeves, Howl discovered her ex-boyfriend led a secret life as one of the most sought-after bank robbers in Texas.

After that, she said, “I stayed with my parents and was too busy to date or be with anybody, so I developed a fear of really getting involved. After you date a famous bank robber and don’t know it, you kind of feel stupid,” she said.

Twenty-three years later Howl recounts those days like they happened yesterday. Currently, she volunteers at a local clothes closet attending to customers and organizing the inventory.

She lays down the article of clothing in her hand, leans forward and in a somber, sincere voice she says, “I miss that life. It was exciting. I was needed. It was a positive experience. It became a dump session for those people, and I was like a psychiatrist. It made me feel like I had a worthy job. But had I known he was a bank robber, I would have turned him in. That’s a kind of mental problem and needs to be treated. I guess it’s like my business and my craving for attention.”

At fifty-three years old Howl continues to search to find her place.  She recently spent a year in Oklahoma City in the faith-based Bridge to Life Recovery Program.  There she received educational, psychological, economic, and spiritual counsel.

“I had faith during those years,” she recounts as she reflects on her time as a prostitute. “I believe God kept me alive for a reason, and he’s not done with me yet. But going to church helps, it’s like a ‘shot’ of Jesus; it’s my daily bread.” 

 

Gloria did an interview with Texas Monthly back in 1989. You can read the original story (and I highly recommend you do) here starting on page 98.