Beautiful Outdoor Spaces

Happy July 4th! It's truly the season of outdoor living, barbecues and entertaining and we've been working to spruce up our backyard to make it more inviting and a place we actually want to hang out in!

We've lived in our current home for 18 years, and over time, our backyard has been through a few refurbishments. None of them big until this past fall, when we decided a major overhaul was necessary. My husband & I have gone back and forth on what our goals for the space were, and we had some major differences to work out. He wanted a lawn, while I wanted to go drought tolerant and low maintenance.

Considering the size of most Southern California yards, ours is large by most standards. We live on a street that curves uphill at the side of our property, so we have one of the largest lots in our neighborhood, just under 10,000 square feet, which affords us a nice sized backyard and a bit of side yard. The previous owner had put in a large cement patio which would be a fortune to rip out, so we've had to work with it. 

I'm in love with the idea of "garden rooms", where there are different areas and spaces for entertaining or chasing the shade on a lazy day. Since I've been dreaming of a beautiful backyard space for years, I set up a Pinterest board long ago that has since come in very handy. A few of my favorites that I used to draw inspiration from are below.

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I love the idea of a Pergola, and this space designed by Chip & Joanna Gaines is beautifully laid out with separate conversation areas as well as dining.

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This is so simple & organic, and I love the natural elements. It isn't clear how much sun this space would get, but in the evening it would be a lovely place to entertain, especially with the string of lights and a few well placed lanterns.

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I would have never thought to tile a patio, but holy cow this is gorgeous! Emily Henderson is a design hero of mine and she knocked it out of the park on this one. Seriously, click through on the image above to see the entire reveal, as well as the before photos, it's truly breathtaking. Through her use of color, texture, and layers she has truly created a beautiful and welcoming space that begs to be used for cocktail parties and entertaining every. single. day. (I would!)

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I'm super into this natural and boho design, and love that they didn't need a lawn to create a beautiful outdoor area. Gorgeousness aside, and as simple as it looks, those leather chairs and cloth poufs would need to be brought inside every night, especially here on the coast where the fog rolls in almost nightly.

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This is probably one of my favorite backyard redesigns. I like that they did the majority of the work themselves (we're huge DIYers) and worked with what they had in terms of size, climate and grass area. I love the pergola (which isn't in the cards for us) and the cute separate conversation areas. I probably got the most inspiration from this, adapting our space to fit our needs and budget. 

Today we will have a simple barbecue with a few people and I'm looking forward to using our new space fully. I'll try to snap some photos when everything is set and share a little before and after so you can see the progression. Enjoy your holiday and stay safe!

Two Days in Santa Ynez

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We just returned from a quick trip to Santa Ynez, and it was simply the best. We discovered the region 28 years ago when the parents of a close friend retired there, and we've been stealing away ever since. 

Santa Ynez Valley is located in the Los Padres National Park, above Santa Barbara, and is an easy 2-hour drive from Los Angeles. It was made famous by the movie Sideways in 2004, and the area really exploded after that. There are currently over 120 wineries in the valley and more are opening all the time. The valley encompasses the towns of Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Ballard, Solvang & Buellton, with Lompoc, Los Alamos and Santa Maria to the north.

Santa Ynez is one of those places that as soon as you drive into the valley, you can feel the stress of urban life melt away. And because it's only 2 hours away, it's an easy day trip for us when the feeling strikes, which is often! In fact, this was the first time in a few years that we actually stayed for two nights. 

This was a last minute trip that we planned when we realized that friends of ours from Florida would be there for a couple of nights before a wedding in Southern California, so we decided to crash their party. They're sweet, so they didn't mind!

We always strategically plan our time there and have our favorites that we always return to. Our typical MO is to drive almost to the end of Foxen Canyon Road and work our way back to town. I'm sharing our favorite stops below that we visited over the two day period, not all at once! We typically visit 3 wineries in a day, with snacks and lots of water between! I'm usually the designated driver since I'm not a big drinker, but I still really enjoy the scenery and vineyards.

Cambria Wines

Cambria Winery is way down almost at the end of the trail, off Foxen Canyon Road. It sits high up and has a gorgeous view of the vineyard. Of course, I didn't get a photo of that, but they have a window into the barrel room from the tasting area and the whole production always amazes me!

Waylan Wine Co.

Los Olivos is a sweet little town just outside Santa Ynez and has many tasting rooms lining the main street. This is actually a really nice way to experience the region without having to drive. Waylan Wine Co. is the new kid on the block in Los Olivos, and they have a gorgeous tasting room. They've only been open for a couple of months but we had a great time learning about their wines and their backstory, plus the host was so enthusiastic, we couldn't help but purchase a couple of bottles in support. They're still young, but they have a lot of potential.

Refugio Ranch Vineyard Tasting Room

Refugio Ranch Vineyard tasting room is another old favorite of ours, and even though it's not politically correct right now, I love their logo. They recently acquired another winery down the street, Roblar, that we visited the next day and had a beautiful picnic on their veranda (see below).

Hitching Post Restaurant

For dinner the first night, we tried Leonardo's, located in Solvang, and owned by the former co-owner and chef of Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez. If you saw my Instagram, there was a little story about Chef Leonardo & I from a cooking class 10 years ago - we tried to recreate the photo as best we could, but we've both aged! After dinner, Scott and I had a quick nightcap at the Hitching Post, another throwback from Sideways, and ran into David Crosby as we were leaving! 

Riverbench Winery

The next day we started at Riverbench Winery, one of our favorites. It's right on Foxen Canyon Road, and is so beautiful. We are members of this wine club and love coming out for the pick up parties, which include small bites, wine and live music. They also have a tasting room in Santa Barbara, in the Funk Zone, which is where we frequently pick up from when we can't make it all the way into the valley. 

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Foxen Winery is an old favorite and now has two tasting rooms on their property. The shack (first photo) is an old favorite, and it quite literally is a shack. It has a ton of character and in the old days, the two winemakers were pouring while three old dogs wandered around. This is another place made famous by Sideways, and they have since opened a newer, larger tasting facility that is quite nice but lacks some of the character of the shack. 

Roblar Winery

Roblar Winery is just outside the town of Los Olivos, and has a beautiful patio that is perfect for a picnic. If you forget to bring provisions, they have a kitchen and serve up a small menu that perfectly pairs with their wines.

Dinner that night was at SY Kitchen, which is hands' down our favorite dinner spot in Santa Ynez. I neglected to take photos of the meal, but it's a tiny place that seems to always be happening. Plus, we had our second David Crosby sighting there!

When we returned home I realized that this is our last getaway of the summer (and summer just started!). That means fun weekend frolics near home before our trip to Scotland in September!  

Self Portrait with Boy

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It’s been ages since I did a Book Club post, and while I’ve been reading regularly, there hasn’t been a book that has moved me until recently. Self Portrait with Boy is the debut novel by Rachel Lyon, and it isn’t a masterpiece by any means. The writing is good, maybe a bit disjointed, but it was the moral dilemma presented in the book that has been on my mind.

The story centers on Lu Rile, a struggling (in every sense of the word) artist in New York City, set sometime in the early 1990’s. She lives in an illegal loft populated by other artists and works three minimum wage jobs to support herself, and help her ailing father with his upcoming cataract surgery. Her medium is photography, and she is working on a daily self-portrait project on the day the novel opens.

She is at day #400, and as she is sitting in her loft, she notices the light coming in through the windows and the seagulls swirling outside. She sets up her tripod, undresses and practices jumping through the air aiming to time the shutter release at the precise moment she arcs in her jump. Finally, she is successful, and moments later hears a commotion in the stairwell as neighbors who were having a party on the top floor and their guests rush downstairs. She is oblivious and takes the stairs up to the roof, where she discovers that the young son of her neighbors had fallen to his death minutes earlier.

When she develops the slide, it is everything she thought it would be – beautifully composed, perfectly centered and balanced, but there is an image that she can’t identify in a corner that propels her to develop a print. That image is the boy falling, and it elevates the entire image to a masterpiece of composition; her jumping through the air at the perfect arc and the boy falling in juxtaposition to that jump. Both jumps, in opposite directions (for the record, it is never clear if the boy actually jumps or has tripped & fallen) are stunningly beautiful and equally haunting.

I’m not spoiling anything here, the gist of the novel is shared in many places, including the book jacket. What follows in the telling, which I won’t go into, is the moral dilemma she faces as she has to decide how to show this piece of work and the friendship that develops in the aftermath of the accident with the boys’ mother, and how that will be affected by her photograph. What escalates the dilemma is her internal struggle coupled with the extreme financial hardship she is dealing with, and that is what has stayed with me since the last page. The novel does have a tendency to drone on at times, and it certainly wasn’t a book that I couldn’t put down, but it did keep me engaged and provided an escape when I needed a little downtime – and that’s what I look for in novels. That, and a pretty cover ;)

The Weekend in Photos

To say this weekend was eventful would be a huge understatement. I usually don’t like to plan more than one major outing during a weekend because I love the downtime and just hanging out with Scott. For some reason, this weekend started out with only one thing calendered, and snowballed from there!

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Friday night we headed downtown (again!) as I had scheduled a tour & tasting at Lost Spirits Distillery. We have already visited two other distilleries in the area, Greenbar & The Spirit Guild, but I had read that Lost Spirits has a very unusual tour, and we were curious.

Unusual is another understatement, and while it was a little kitschy, we had a blast. Think, a cross between Willy Wonka, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Jungle Cruise & the Tiki Room. I’m not kidding. Housed in an industrial building, that looks quite small from the outside, you are taken on a tour that begins with a tasting of their bespoke rum, and then guided into a boat which delivers you to the still room. The story of their origins is fascinating, and they get 1000% for creativity and enthusiasm. As if the boat ride wasn’t enough, you are shuttled onto a floating carousel (see above) which delivers you to another stop in the production chain. It was very well done, and we had so much fun! Unfortunately, it is kept very dark, so photos are difficult. If you happen to live in the Los Angeles area and up for something unusual, I highly recommend this experience!

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With no plans on Saturday, we found ourselves driving to the Getty Museum in mid-morning traffic, something I’ve been wanting to do for ages! In addition to street art, I’m a total museum junkie. I’m that person that has to stop at almost painting, read almost every description, get up close and personal with almost every piece of art. I’m intrigued with the brush strokes, the use of color and the composition. I’m also that person that often photographs art so I can remember it later, because it almost always evokes a feeling in me, often causing so much emotion I have been known to cry. (true story, ask my husband)

There was a great exhibit of some lesser known Rembrandt drawings and his India inspirations as well as a great exhibit of early American photography. And the gardens – no expense is spared, it is breathtaking and it was a gorgeous day to boot!

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Sunday was Earth Day, and Metro Bike Share was celebrating with free rides. There are several bike stations in Venice, so we headed there and rode around the Venice Canals. In all my years of living in Los Angeles, I’ve not been there! This is definitely on the Be a Tourist in your Hometown list. The Venice Canals are an area of man-made canals built in 1905 by Abbot Kinney in an attempt to recreate the appearance and feel of Venice, Italy. It’s an adorable area, and hard to believe that the hustle and bustle of Venice Beach is so close, not to mention Los Angeles and all its’ traffic. There are little bungalows dotted between modern architectural dreams, with footbridges and one-way auto bridges on a few streets. It’s so beautiful, and even with the remodeled homes has a certain charm that is unfound anywhere else in Los Angeles.

The weather this weekend was perfect for all these excursions! We finished the afternoon Sunday at The Rose Cafe in Venice where we indulged in a little day drinking and people watching. It couldn’t have been better. 

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Downtown LA Street Art Tour

A little-known fact: I love street art. Not the gangsta graffiti that litters the freeway, but actual art. Where an exterior wall is commissioned and painted in a downtown or city area. Whenever we’re driving or walking around, I almost always have my iPhone handy to shoot the street scenes and there’s no place more abundant in street art than Downtown Los Angeles. It turns out, there’s a tour for that – LA Art Tours provides guided, private and group tours of the downtown areas with an emphasis in several different categories: The Brewery Art Complex TourDTLA Graffiti/Mural TourUrban Art & Craft Beer TourAlley Adventure Graffiti Bike Tour, and the Santa Fe Art Colony Tour.

Last Sunday, we took the DTLA Graffiti/Mural Tour and it was so much fun. It’s a 2-hour walking tour in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District (one of our favorite places to hang out and explore), and it was led by a local guide, who is also a street artist. What I loved so much about the tour (besides getting up close to the art) was hearing the history of street art and the techniques that different artists use. Did you know, they don’t usually outline the art before they begin – no pencil, no chalk. They just go in and start layering – almost all of it is done with spray paint, using different nozzles to achieve different stroke looks and blending. It was mind-boggling, the talent!

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We also learned that every artist has their own unique style; with graffiti, the style is their signature. Many of the large-scale murals that are found Downtown are the product of street art groups, and they are usually commissioned for a few months to a year. After that, it gets painted over so another street artist can come in to do their work.

This is a very fun local adventure (be a tourist in your town!) and the perfect activity for out-of-town guests, and very inexpensive – our Graffiti/Mural tour was just $12 per person. There are several different time slots that you can schedule, but I would suggest early on Sunday before the crowds and cars make it difficult to see (and photograph!) the art. Afterward, head over to 3rd Street & Traction and grab a bite at Wurstkuche or Arts District Brewery and check out the free gallery at Hauser & Wirth.

Above all, don’t forget to wander!

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Be a Tourist in your own town!

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Have you ever played tourist in your own town? Probably not, but it’s a super cheap and easy way to spend a beautiful day outside. Yesterday we drove down to 22nd Landing at the Port of Los Angeles, where they have a Metro Bike LA Station next to our favorite brewery, Brouwerij West. A one-day pass is $7.00 (trips less than 30 minutes are only $3.50), all you have to do is download the app, create an account, enter payment information, and then follow the prompts on the kiosk and choose your bike.

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There isn’t a lot of traffic in that area, plus it was Sunday, but we simply crossed the street and rode into the Cabrillo Marina for a little sightseeing and easy exercise. There was just the slightest chill in the air but the wind was blowing against us so that definitely added to the work of the ride. It was such a gorgeous day, the sky was the bluest blue, with just a few clouds it was a perfect Sunday afternoon.

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Just past the marina is a large empty parking lot where motorcycle enthusiasts gather to ride and show off some shenanigans – there was a group of Mongrel Motorcycle Club members, and we watched one of them pop a wheelie, definitely a production because those bikes are large & heavy!

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A little further down the road, you can find the SS Lane Victory, which has self-guided tours daily and actually has a pretty interesting history. It was built in 1945 here in Los Angeles and served in World War II, the Korean War & Vietnam War, as well as part of a merchant fleet.

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You can continue down the road (north, I believe) and hit Ports O’Call Village and eventually the LA Waterfront Park. We did not continue down yesterday, but did this same ride last month on a warmer day and rode to the Waterfront Park and back. It’s a great ride, but Ports O’Call has certainly seen better days and really not worth stopping at.

Instead, we headed back toward the Metro Bike Station and rode through a 22nd Street Park, which is right next to the station.

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And of course, we couldn’t leave before topping ourselves off with a visit to the brewery, which actually happens to be our very favorite way of ending the weekend

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IF YOU GO...

  1. Visit Metro Bike LA for details. There is a map with locations (see below), mostly in metropolitan areas. I think it would fun to do this in Venice and Pasadena too, but I’d be wary of Downtown LA due to traffic.

  2. Download the app, create an account and load your payment information.
  3. Bring a backpack or crossbody bag, you don’t want your camera, phone or wallet falling out of your pocket, and while the bikes do have baskets, there are large gaps and small items will fall through.
  4. Bring water, money and a lock if you plan to stop for a bite or a beer.
  5. Watch the traffic, they might not be watching you!
  6. Have fun!

Crushing on the Black Farmhouse

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I think I first encountered a black-sided home last year while we road tripped through New Zealand. We were there in March, which is their autumn, so the leaves were beginning to change and some of the grasses in the fields had gone brown. In that early dormant state, you’d think the landscape would be barren and cold. But no, it was organic and beautiful. And every once in a while, we’d be driving (and we’d be the only car on the road for miles) and we’d drive through a tiny little town. In fact, the only way you’d know it was town would be the lone post office or feed store that would be on the highway. Other than that, nothing! It was surreal and quaint and felt like such a throwback. We loved it.

Driving through those small towns on the South Island, we passed many farmhouses – some old, some new, some restored. But never had I seen so many painted black with steel roofs. They looked so utilitarian, yet so modern and contemporary.

We are now in our mid-50’s, and retirement is so close we can taste it. What’s been happening is that every little trip we go on, we begin to imagine what it would be like to retire to that place. Certainly, New Zealand gave us that fantasy, but it’s so far away, it really is unrealistic. This past weekend we were in Paso Robles, and I was thrilled when Scott mentioned that he would consider that region for our next chapter (add it to Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, Palm Springs, San Diego & Amsterdam).

Of course, my mind started immediately wandering, and I started fantasizing about building a dream farmhouse, on a small plot of 10 acres with an established vineyard (ha!). I think a black farmhouse would be the perfect structure to stand out on the rolling hills and majestic fields of Central California. A girl can dream

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San Diego Quickie

A friend of ours is moving across the country in 7 days and starting a new adventure – we’re so jealous! But it gave us an opportunity to swing down to San Diego and surprise her at her going away party on Sunday. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to explore some fun spots, we drove down on Saturday and spent some time hitting some very cool new-to-us bars, restaurants, and stores. And I have to say, San Diego, you’re way cooler than you let us all believe.

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We stayed with a good friend in Carlsbad, and because we pride ourselves in being the best possible houseguest you’ve ever had, we stopped at Prager Brothers Artisan Bread to pick up croissants & rolls for breakfast the next morning. It’s in an odd location in an industrial area, but this is the real deal. Traditional, natural, organic bread and the croissants have that perfectly baked, golden outside crust with an airy, light center. I could eat a dozen.

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If you walk two doors down, you’ll find Happy Pantry, which carries all things fermented and has a delicious selection of kombucha on tap. If you’re a local, they also have classes on making kombucha. (If you’re a little further north, a great place to buy fermented goods & learn more is The Fermentation Farm in Costa Mesa).

After we picked up our friend Gina, we headed into San Diego proper. I’m a planner by nature and will research a location for hours to find the fun zones. Thankfully, Polite Provisions was spot on. It’s located in an old pharmacy (I love repurposed buildings that keep the old signage!), and once you walk in, you’d think you were in 1940’s Paris. Even though it was only 5 p.m., the place was packed and we really had to elbow up to the bar.

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The decor is simple – a brass & marble bar, multiple taps for a variety of cocktails on tap (genius) and bentwood chairs. They’re known for their communal drinks – think, Flaming Scorpion for 6. We did not. But I did have my favorite drink, an old-fashioned (first one in 2 months!), and not only did it not disappoint, it was gorgeous. They completely elevate the experience by embossing the ice cube (excuse me, what?).

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Polite Provisions does not serve food, but one of their sister company’s, Soda & Swine, is next door and they will deliver food to the bar.

From there we hopped over to Juniper & Ivy, where, without a reservation, we were able to nab a quiet spot in the bar. What a gorgeous restaurant (sorry, no photos, too busy eating). This was just a pit stop to have a quick bite, and Juniper & Ivy has great small plate selections – I’m talking about a Spicy Tuna handroll in a Sesame Leaf, a Biscuit with silly smoked salt & butter and the Baja Yellowtail Tostada with Shark Sauce.

Not yet satiated, we drove up to Encinitas and had pizza at Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizza. If you go, you must get the Signature pizza with Lemon EVOO, Fresh Mozzarella, Ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, Lemon Zest, Red Onion & Basil. You won’t regret it.

On Sunday, we had some time before the going away party and headed downtown to North Park. What a cool little enclave! The residential areas off the main streets are peppered with little Craftsman bungalows, and we had just as much fun driving around and looking at them as we did walking the main street.

If you go, make sure to stop at Love & Aesthetics. I’m not sure I’ve seen a better-curated shop, filled with fun gifts, beautiful simple jewelry, oddities, and minimalist decor items.

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And my rule is, if you find a Matcha Tea shop, you must go in. Holy Matcha is the perfect pick-me-up, hot or iced, sweetened or not.

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But truth be told, my main reason for wanting to go to North Park is because I have long been a subscriber to the Pigment newsletter, and the little girl in me would have had a serious tantrum if I had been so close and didn’t make it there.

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Another beautifully curated shop, with lots of fun gifts, cards, stationery, jewelry, candles, and behold, a succulent workshop.

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I resisted, but I did come home with a few fun items.

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I love our little weekend excursions. And I love that you don’t have to travel far to have new experiences and explore. I’m hoping to share more of our mini-travels, so stay tuned!

Oh, Hello 2018

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We had some amazing sunsets in December here in Southern California. Part of it, I’m sure, was due to the never-ending Indian Summer we experienced. 80+ degree weather in December and scores of wildfires while the mid-west & east coast started their annual freeze.

2017 was an interesting year. It was the year I let go of all expectation, all my preconceived notions of what I thought I should be doing and instead just allowed myself to be and do. I did some soul-searching and came to terms with many things.

Due to chronic pain and an amazing amount of anxiety, I turned to yoga and meditation (and if you’ve been reading the news and lifestyle blogs – so did everyone else). It has made a huge and significant impact on my mental & emotional state, and I really think I’m a totally different person now than I was a year ago. Hopefully for the better. Who knew that getting into my head would allow me to actually get out of it.

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And here we are in the second week of the year, and I’ve set my 2018 Intentions. This year, they are much more in line with how I’m spending my time. I’m not chasing more work like I’ve done in the past. I’m pretty happy professionally with what’s currently on my plate. And if something new comes along, I’ll consider it, but only if it truly works for me. That in itself is a wonderful place to be and something I’m so grateful for. So, 2018, here’s what I’m hoping for:

  • Travel & explore with Scott: we did very well with this last year, but it was due to a lot of planning and follow through. We traveled to Austin, San Diego, New Zealand, Washington D.C., Ojai, Las Vegas, Napa Valley and countless trips to Palm Desert. We took day trips to Santa Barbara and spent Saturdays & Sundays exploring our favorite places in Downtown LA, West Hollywood Santa Monica, and Venice. I realized that when you make exploration & travel a priority, it can happen.
  • Take no shit/drama/power struggles: This is part of my recovery from a toxic relationship that has continued to plague me. I can finally say it is all behind me and it has left me stronger and more comfortable to establish & sustain my boundaries.
  • Be present: This has been interesting because my job is social media-centric, but this is another place where boundaries are maintained. When I’m with my people (and honestly, that’s any people), the phone stays in my bag or pocket. Everyone deserves our undivided attention.
  • Meditate every day: I started regularly meditating as part of a morning practice this past summer, and it’s a ritual I’ve come to love. Even if my mind is wandering, I still sit there for the length of time I decide on in quiet & stillness. It’s helped considerably with stress & anxiety.
  • Expand yoga practice: I started taking a restorative yoga class a couple of times a week at my gym to help with chronic back pain and stiffness. The first few times were agonizingly slow, but now I look forward to that class and go as often as I can. I’m curious to try some other classes and teachers.
  • Consider Reiki Training: I had my first Reiki treatment early in the summer and another toward the end. It’s actually what jump started my meditation practice, followed by yoga, and it’s incredible. The feeling of clarity and lightness is such a beautiful thing, and I swear it was more relaxing than a massage. I’d love to learn more about it as a personal practice goal.
  • Do art daily: I started drawing again! This was my love early on, but I’m sad to see that the patience I once had for this hobby is not there! It’s a struggle for me to sit and draw, especially when I keep thinking I should be doing something more productive. I need to quiet that voice because art is productive, right?!
  • Hike more: I live in a beautiful place with beautiful trails almost right outside my door. When I can, I try to get out on them a couple of times a week. At the very least, I drag Scott on weekend hikes 
  • Practice mindful eating: I’m 9 days into another January Whole 30, and it’s a lot harder this time because I had fallen so far off the clean-eating wagon. The good news about that is that I’m reminded just how important whole foods are and how they impact your health. My back pain is almost completely eliminated after cutting out sugar (a big cause of inflammation) and bloating is way down after cutting out gluten.
  • Watch sugar, alcohol & gluten: see above.