Tuesday, April 22, 2014

the gift of dark chocolate & a few kind words.


Today I dropped my husband off at the airport for a long business trip.
 
Sidenote* I want to quickly mention--purely because I am amazed by this man--that my husband never EVER complains and always works so hard for our growing family. Whether that means plane delays in airports, 4:30am calls with Europe, or a serious lack of sleep from late nights/early mornings...he comes home with a smile on his face, a kiss or two for his wife and a positive attitude about life and the days ahead. 
 
That being said, I know I shouldn't have been, but after dropping him off I was feeling bummed and a little absorbed in my own self-pity. I selfishly wanted my husband with me (we're freakishly attached--probably to an unhealthy level), had to pee for the fourth time in a hour and was feeling like a beached whale behind the wheel of my car (30 weeks pregnant is not a pretty site--I don't care what anyone says)
 
I hesitantly decided to stop by the mall to run a few errands I had been procrastinating. Last thing I enjoy doing these days is shopping for cute new clothes when I feel like a waddling blob. But I picked up a few things I had been needing and as I was checking out of the store, the darling little sales associate at the front counter started chatting up a storm with me. Asking when the baby is due and what the gender was...and then going on and on about how "petite" and darling I am for a 30-week pregnant lady (Not true BTW--but super sweet of her nonetheless). I thanked her graciously and couldn't help but smile a bit as I walked out of the store. Maybe she felt bad for the flushed, sweaty pregnant lady, maybe she was just sincerely that nice...whatever it was, I was truly grateful for her taking the time to chat with me. Sometimes I forget how powerful some encouraging sweet words from a stranger can be.
 
On my way out of the mall, I had to swing by See's Candy for some chocolate (I wish I could say this a pregnant thing, but it's totally just a normal "mall stop" for me, pregnant or not) Don't judge.
 
I walked in and ordered a few of my favorite chocolates. I chatted briefly with the lady behind the counter and then went to pay. I pulled a few dollars out of my pocket and asked how much. She smiled and responded, "Nothing."
 
Slightly thrown off by this--I asked, "Are you sure?!" She nodded a yes, smiled and told me to have a great day.
 
Okay so...I realize it was only a few dark chocolate truffles (super delicious dark chocolate truffles at that)...not a huge deal, not something that would be covered as a human interest piece on the evening news, but it was such a big deal to me.
 
Again, I'm not sure if it was my large pregnant self that they just felt sorry for or whether they were just inspired by a higher power to make a random girls day. Whatever it was, I was reminded of how self-absorbed I had been and how powerful a small, kind action can be.
 
This is something I need to do better on.
 
I'm reminded of one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes, "The best way to cheer yourself up is to try and cheer somebody else up."
 
When we focus on others, we stop obsessing over our own issues and channel that energy in a more positive way. I can and will do better at this, and I'm promising this now--to the universe and to anyone who may be reading, that I am going to focus on others rather than myself and try my hardest to find small ways, each and every day, to brighten someone else's day.
 
 
....and now I'm going to go enjoy a dark chocolate truffle.
 
 


Saturday, April 19, 2014

happy easter weekend.

 
video
 
 Take a moment to watch this & remember, it's because of Him that we have everything we have.
 
#becauseofhim
 
Happy Easter everyone!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

texas hill country: bluebonnet season

We drove up past Navasota, TX with some friends this past weekend. They have family land up that way, and we wanted to find some open fields of bluebonnets! It's probably my favorite time of year in Texas.
 
Lucky for us, their land was covered with them! It was stunning.
 
Here are a few pictures from our day...
 
 
Texas Bluebonnet Season

Texas Bluebonnet season
He's the official model for my blog :)
 
Field of Texas Bluebonnets
 My friend Erika and my pregnant self...
Texas Bluebonnet season
 
Texas Bluebonnet Season
Ask my husband, and he will tell you straight up--I'm not one for maternity pictures, but he was insistent that I take a couple with the bluebonnets. I'm really glad I listened to him, because I love having these pictures. I may feel like a beached whale, but it will be nice to remember that beautiful day when I was 28(almost 29) weeks pregnant...
 
and next year we'll be able to bring baby girl with us!
 
His classic "high-jump" pic. One of these days I'm going to make a collage of all his high-jumps from around the world.
texas bluebonnet sightings
If you're looking for a good place to see bluebonnets, you can check out this website:

Friday, April 11, 2014

siena, italy

 
 Okay guys, I'm very excited about this post because I'm obsessed with Siena. It's hard to decide, but it may have even been my favorite stop on our Italian adventure.

[How to Get to Siena]

We stayed for two days/one night. There is a bus almost every hour that leaves from Florence to Siena (If coming from Florence, do not take the train--take the bus) It is only about an hour ride--and it's beautiful! The busses have plenty of room for all luggage sizes.
More info on the bus can be found here but I would also recommend asking your concierge about it--whether coming from Florence or somewhere else.
B&B Il Corso Siena Italy
[Where to Stay in Siena]

The B&B we stayed in was in a PERFECT location and the service was wonderful. The concierge was so helpful and polite. I would 100% recommend it--B&B Il Corso.
 
[What to do in Siena]
 
Siena can definitely be seen in a day, but I enjoyed having the extra time there.
It's a completely charming little Tuscan village dating back to the middle ages. You might recognize it by Piazza del Campo known for its famous Palio horse races.
 
(Fun sidenote* The horse races [Hollywood version of course] can be seen in 2008's James Bond hit 007 Quantum of Solace)
It was obviously much quieter and emptier when we were there...and sadly there were no James Bond sightings, but it is a beautiful square--full of character and history. We were lucky to experience it on one of the most beautiful days of our trip.
 
Blue skies, fluffy clouds, and perfect temperatures...
Siena had us smitten.
I would start here. Enjoy the main square and get a feel for the city.
While in the main square, visit Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia. The tower was built in the 14th century to be taller than the tower in Florence.
Rivalry maybe? :)
 
travelling to sienna italy
 Next, head over to the Siena Cathedral. I'll be honest--at this point, we had definitely seen our fair share of cathedrals and churches in Italy, but I must say that this one was one of my favorites!
 
You can buy a day pass that will get you into the Siena Cathedral, Baptistery of St. John, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, and the Piccolomini Library. They were all exquisite, but I was particularly captured by the library. It was quite the site! I definitely recommend buying the pass to get into all of the sites. It's also a better deal than buying them individually.

sienna italy travel guide
 The highlight of the day was the view from the top of the Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana. It was breathtaking! Check out the view of those rooftops. Oh hannah, I just couldn't get enough of Siena!
sienna italy travel
Love my handsome main squeeze. He's such a world traveler. He keeps me on my toes for sure!
Behind us you can see the main square--Piazzo Del Campo.


View of Sienna Italy
I mean....
How much prettier can it get?

Things to do in Sienna Italy
 
 sienna italy
 View from inside the Museo dell'Opera Metropolitiana.
We did not do a tour guide or a guided audio tour just because of time, but I would recommend doing one if you can. There was so much to see and learn about!
A couple shots from inside the cathedral....
 It really was amazing--one of my favorites from our time in Italy.
I'm so glad we had Siena recommended to us by multiple people, because our trip would not have been the same without it!
things to do in sienna italy

I was 20 weeks pregnant...and this was a common site for my husband.
I was sitting down every chance I had!
We did a lot of walking, and as y'all know traveling is tiring in general (especially the touristy-type of travel when you're constantly on the go seeing different sites) but being pregnant and traveling is a whole different level of tired.
We also stopped at the Basilica di San Francesco.
I honestly wouldn't recommend this stop if you are only there for a day, but it was beautiful and not that far out of the way. If you have time--it's another great piece of history in the city!
On our way to dinner we stopped to admire this sunset view!
This city is so colorful and full of life.
 
Please--if you have the time--make Siena part of your Italian Itinerary even if it's only a day trip! It's a perfect day trip from Florence, and you definitely won't regret it! 
 
[What to eat in Siena]
 
 There are lots of great food options in Siena & we aren't wine drinkers but from what I've read it is a very popular destination for wine tasting! You can read more about that here, and TripAdvisor also has a great list with restaurant ratings that you can see here.
 
One quick tip that may or may not matter to you: most of the restaurants don't open for dinner until 7:30-8:00pm. For a pregnant lady, I found this to be a surprisingly frustrating challenge (This also happened to us a couple times in Florence)
 I would get real hungry for dinner by 6:00pm, and we found that most the highly rated eats we wanted to try were not open until much later.
 
Not a big deal, but something to remember when making dinner plans.
 
Siena Italy
[Conclusion]
 
As you probably have already concluded, I really encourage you make time to stop in Siena on your trip to Italy. It was so beautiful, so charming, and simply can not be beat.
If you're in Florence for a few days, just take one of the days to make a day-trip out that way.
It's a refreshing visit to the Tuscan countryside
and you can definitely see all the main attractions in one day! 
 
Stay tuned for the final destination of our Italy trip--and one of my favorites--ROMA!
To see our other Italy destinations visit here!
 
 
(All pictures seen above were taken with our Canon Rebel T3I or iPhone5)
 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

traveling cinque terre, italy in the off season

 
If you are thinking about traveling Cinque, Terre Italy in the off-season--this post is for you!
We were there in February of this year, and we learned some things that no other travel sites had really educated or warned us about beforehand (and one of my favorite parts about writing/documenting our travels is that I get to share what I learn with all of you--because I love reading what other people have learned and want to share with me.
 It makes traveling so much more fulfilling)
 
Oh, and if you really just want to see pretty pictures of Italy, this post is also for you!
 
We arrived late afternoon in La Spezia. It was a beautiful February day--chilly but quite lovely. We were able to check into our B&B and then take a walk down to the pier before the sun went down.
 
We loved the B&B Lia. Check it out here!
Good ratings and lovely service.
Walking distance to the train station and in the heart of La Spezia.
 
When you visit Cinque Terre, you most likely will (and should) stay in La Spezia. There is a short train ride from there to visit the 5 villages of Cinque Terre. You can buy a day pass so you can travel back and forth from the different villages as much as you like. Also, you can buy the hiking pass and hike along the coast to all the different cities (we were not able to hike due to the time of year we went, but more on that later) 
 A shot of Robert at the pier in La Spezia.
It was absolutely stunning.
The mountains in the background against that blue water were breathtaking!
Sadly, that beautiful weather did not keep up for the next day we were there.
It wasn't overly cold, but the next day did get windy, cloudy and we had a bit of rain. As you can see below though, it did not stop Cinque Terre from being charming & beautiful!
cinque terre travel guide italy
There are five small Cinque Terre villages.
The villages are: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
 
Our favorites were Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Vernazza.
cinque terre italy travel
We obviously were traveling Italy in the off-season. February is not a high tourist time and it's not the most ideal weather for coastal locations.
However, the colder temperatures weren't really a problem at all during our trip
...until Cinque Terre.
 
I'm going to be honest with you, mainly because nobody told me before we went out there. I did tons of research and never saw anyone say anything about this, but I do not recommend spending the time and money to visit Cinque Terre in the winter. Don't get me wrong, it was beautiful but let me explain why I wouldn't do it again...
 
First off, it is definitely a spring/summer destination. All the villages felt a bit like ghost-towns, with most of the shops closed, repair/construction work going on, and the weather causing other problems, we felt that it was not worth the money and time we spent to head over to that side. I can see how it would be alive and bustling in the summer time--but it really is a bit deserted in the winter.
The weather also caused us some other disappointments. Because it had been extremely rainy, they had some landslide warnings and had closed off the hiking trails. Taking the train probably worked out for the best, but we were really disappointed that we didn't even have the option to hike the coast, because it was actually decent weather the day we were there and we would have loved to explore a bit more.
 
cinque terre italy travel in winter
 Despite the empty villages and weather-related issues, we still really enjoyed ourselves. I mean let's be real-- it is still stunning!
 
P.S. I was probably 20 weeks pregnant in this photo and I remember feeling SO big. Now I'm approaching 29 weeks and my belly has probably tripled in size. Pregnancy is so crazy!
cinque terre italy travel in winter
Look at all that color!
cinque terre italy travel

cinque terre travel guide italy
To see more reviews and to-do's for Cinque Terre, check out TripAdvisor!
Always a go-to for us!
 
cinque terre italy travel
Overall, both my husband and I agree that Cinque Terre is extremely "touristy". I don't mean that in a bad way, but it definitely caters more toward the touristy season. I can see why people would love it when it's hot and the villages are alive with music, food, and sun--but I have to be honest, unless you're going when you have guaranteed good weather or when it's high-tourist season--I would focus your time, money and efforts on locations that will better serve the conditions. 

cinque terre italy travel
 
That being said...
 
I look back on these pictures and I'm completely amazed that such a beautiful place exists and that I've been so blessed to have seen it with my own eyes.
It's pretty magical--even when it is deserted ;)

To see the other Travel Guides from our time in Italy visit HERE!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

pisa, italy

 
Okay, I'm going to be very honest with you all--there really is not a ton to see or do in Pisa. However, if you'd like to stop for the famous pic with the leaning tower, I recommend just making it short stop in the city for an hour or two.
We went on a lovely day, and were able to get some fun pictures--but other than the famous quirky tower, there really is not a whole lot to do.
 
We stopped on our way to Cinque Terre from Florence which worked out great. My friend recommended it and I'm so glad we took her advice and only planned a lunch stop there.
 
(P.s. Cinque Terre Travel Guide coming this week!)
 
travel to pisa italy
We had bags with us, so we just checked them at the train station for a couple hours
 (I believe it was somewhere around 3 or 4 euro per bag)  

pisa italy
It was such a nice day, we just walked from the train station to the leaning tower and it's surrounding buildings. It was about a fifteen minute walk, and we were able to stop and eat lunch on the way.
 
 
My husband is known for his freakishly good high jumps (top left corner) and for those of you that don't know him...he pretty much takes at least one high-jump pic everywhere we travel. It's become a fun tradition. This time was extremely funny though, because it was a very crowded area and he attracted a lot of attention. This jump won him a round of applause from the crowd (no joke)
 
Why is this so impressive? Mainly because he's 6'5" and somewhere around 240lbs...and was a football player his whole life...not a yell-leader...not a gymnast...not a yogi. Just a football player with amazing flexibility (and good looks!)
 
 
 
It really was such a beautiful day.
I have to make a confession though. This may hurt a bit...but I have to be honest:
the leaning tower was SO much smaller than I ever imagined! I legitimately thought it was going to be much taller then it is. It's really not very big at all.
Also, I know you can buy tickets to go inside! We did not do this, but if you want to spend a little bit longer there--that's always an option. You can read some more reviews on TripAdvisor here.
 
leaning tower of pisa

Overall, I would suggest making the stop--but it's not going to change your world or anything. It's a little cheesy and as my husband likes to say--part of "eurodisney" :)
But hey, we're tourists and love a good quirky picture stop!
 
Stay tuned for the Cinque Terre Travel Guide!


Thursday, April 3, 2014

interior design: one of my greatest passions

So, we're in the process of buying a house...
and while battling (literally battling) our way through this crazy Houston real estate market (seriously--it's a real estate frenzy here right now)
I've been doing some day dreaming of what I want to do with my main living area.
 
I already own the sofa pictured below, along with the rug & the coffee table.
My goal now is to find a large side table (the sofa is very deep with wide arms), an occasional chair (or maybe two), some shelving and wall décor. Here are some of my ideas!
 
 
How dreamy is that mirror?!
I just came across it a couple days ago and it literally took my breath away.
 
Here are links to all the items shown above...
Sofa  Chair  Rug (Sadly it's no longer available)  Coffee Table  Side Table  Lamp  Mirror   Floral/Botanicals
 
Interior design is probably in my top 5 passions in life. In fact, if I had to number them...
 
1. My loving Heavenly Father & His son Jesus Christ
2. My superhero of a husband (aka my bff)
3. This little baby girl princess in my belly (July come faster!)
4. My family--both immediate and distant (LOVE my fam!)
5. Interior Design....yep, it's true. I love it THAT much.
 
In fact, it's one of those things that I have to be really careful about because if I don't keep myself in-check, I can spend some serious $$$--with ease.
And folks, I'm a budgeting-cheap-never-pay-full-price kinda girl but I love me some crisp fresh interior spaces.
 
 
Here are a few more of my ideas! Which pieces do you like best out of the two concept boards?
 
 
Links to the items shown above (again-- the sofa, rug, & coffee table are the same as above)
 Sidetable  Flowers/Botanicals  Bookshelf  Chair  
 
How fun is that sidetable?!
My only concern is that it that has a similar color palette as my coffee table, and I don't want the room to be matchy-matchy, but I do love that little darling!
 
And now for a little #tbt and some background on my love for interior design...
 
My favorite job to-date was at a perfect little design boutique/firm in Utah called Alice Lane Home Collection. I worked on the showroom floor and eventually as marketing manager, and I loved my job. I think one of things I loved most about it was being in such a beautiful environment that was constantly changing and oh-so-inspired by brilliant talent! My tastes and eye for design developed more over those couple of years than ever before. I just stumbled across these pics the other day...such fun memories!
They were taken at a bloggers event/night-out that we hosted at Alice Lane.
I can't believe how long ago this was!
 
Visit their fabulous blog and be inspired!