Monday, June 30, 2014

Straders in Europe: Trip Preparation


Bah! Just looking at that little collage of images makes me SO sad that we aren't still traveling. When people ask how our trip was... I just don't feel like I can truly convey how much fun we had. We explored two of my favorite cities in the world, and escaped from real life for two weeks. It was literally so good.

I've received a few emails about how we planned our trip, so let's start there. :)

As I mentioned here, when we got married we knew this trip was a dream. Because of all my extended family living in England, we thought it would be a sweet thing to go visit. Only my dad's side of the family was able to come for our wedding, and we felt that it was important for Ben to connect with my other side of extended relatives. So yes, this trip was totally glamorous and amazing (I mean.. I can see the photo of the Hall of Mirrors chandeliers as I type this!) but we also felt like it was something that we needed to do. At least the visiting family part. The rest of the fun came later.

Because we have family and people to stay with, we already had a vague framework for the trip. We knew we wanted a few days with each side of the family, to spend some time but not feel like we were imposing for too long. One of my aunts lives right by Heathrow airport. It made sense to start with her, and then go to stay with my other aunt on the other side of the family. So that's just what we did. Followed by five nights in London, a trip on the Eurostar, and five nights in Paris.

Here's a little summary of everything that we did:

1: Travel to London Heathrow from Dallas/Fort Worth
2: Arrive at Heathrow, spend time with Auntie Pee and family
3: Windsor Castle and more time with Auntie Pee and family
4: Travel to Brighton/Hove and stay with Auntie Tracey and family
5: Explore Brighton/Hove
6: Train from Hove to London, explore Harrods, watch World Cup, eat at Langan's Brasserie
7: London Sightseeing (Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, etc.) and attend Hillsong London
8: Go to Harry Potter exhibit at Kings Cross Station, afternoon nap, shopping in Chelsea, USA wins 1st World Cup Game
9: Brunch, Victoria and Albert Museum, Reading in Hyde Park, Sushi dinner, Lion King show
10: rode the London Eye, walked all the way down the Thames river, stopped at the Globe theatre, photos by the Tower Bridge, visit to the Tower of London (logged about 8 miles of walking and feeling like locals!)
11: ride the Eurostar to Paris, get locked out of apartment, loose camera, be overwhelmed by the language barrier and eat pizza in the apartment we finally got into :)
12: Walk to Notre Dame, ride sightseeing bus all around Paris, walk up and down the Champs Elysses, first visit to Laduree, visit Arc de Triomph, walk all the way back to where we were staying, eat our first Nutella crepes, evening visit to the Lourve
13: Put lock on the Love Lock bridge, eat lunch at Laduree Tea Room, ride bus to Monmarte, get sketch done, random meandering of sights
14: Portraits with Stacey Reeves, visit to Versailles
15: Shopping at Galleries Lafayette, more macarons, watch sun go down at Eiffel Tower
16: Travel Home

Okay. That may have been a TMI. But for someone planning a trip to Europe, that might be helpful. Ben's theory is that the ideal time in a city if you're planning to go to a bunch of them across Europe is three days, but I'm so thankful we did 5.. simply because I love London and Paris. I'm going to go into more detail over several posts of what we did and where we ate and including photos.

Before we went I had already penciled in the vague areas and attractions we wanted to see each day of the trip, which I am so thankful for. If we hadn't done that, I could see that it would get overwhelming and you would end up missing things. Also to note, some things are closed on certain days of the week. Versailles, probably my favorite thing of the whole trip, is closed on Mondays. If I hadn't known that, I would be devastated. Ben laughed at me when I started planning everything with such detail, and said "let's go with the flow" but then agreed that in reality that would have taken away from our trip.

A few things:

  • Take the suggested "time to spend" at each place with a grain of salt. For example, if you love art and are educated on it, you may want to spend a whole day at the Lourve. The book suggested at least two hours. We were there for thirty minutes, and spent 15 outside mastering our pyramid photos. :) Call us lame and not cultured, but as you plan keep in mind your interests and habits.. you don't have to do what everyone else does
  • Brushing up on a few language basics is extremely helpful 
  • "Fast Track" tickets are so worth the extra $20, $30, whatever. We bypassed so many lines and it was truly so worth it.
I'll probably have a few more tidbits like that as I continue to go through our whole trip! 


Notes on Packing: 

I tried really, really hard to be prepared. I packed us airplane snacks and two magazines each, three books for Ben, and four for me. However, we were out of snacks and starving on the return trip, and I ran out of books and watched Toy Story2 (skipping every six seconds for three seconds) one and a half times. So there's that. 

I also made sure to bring all of the products that I use at home. In the past I've always been like, well moisturizer isn't a NEED, so I'll just wing it. And then I have dry skin and am crabby. It's worth the space of a travel size container of all your stuff. 

Another one of the best pieces of advice we got is to buy a bunch of blister bandaids in the US and travel with them. Love you, Target. 

Well there's the nitty gritty! The fun stuff comes soon! 

If you have any travel tips or things you want to add, leave them for people to read in the comments below, please! :) 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

We're Home!



Hi! Long time, no talk! We arrived back in Texas on Tuesday after a long flight from Paris. My, my, my! I have so much to share about our trip. It was truly amazing. We loved every bit and experienced so much.

Note: If you've emailed me in the last three weeks, please give me a little grace to get back to you over the next few days! Thanks a bunch! :) 

I can't wait to share a bunch about our trip- from what we did, travel tips (from some non experts haha!), and what were our favorite things. If you have any specific things you'd like to hear about, email me or comment! :) It was so sweet for me to read over encouraging comments from blog friends whenever I posted photos of our journey to social media. Thanks so much for those!

All of that being said, we're coming home to a time of change and transition. Again, thank you so much for your prayers and support through that. So basically this post isn't saying a whole lot. Before our trip, I had fallen out of the rhythm of joy and peace that I know I can hold close through my relationship with the Lord. He was there, and unchanging, but little old me had boogied myself into Funkytown. Hence the few posts on this blog. I've felt like I don't have anything to say. But I'm thankful for the turning point that our trip provided.



We're back in the US, and I'm back to posting and creating and sharing and connecting with people joyfully. I suppose this post is to express my thanksgiving to a lot of things, because I'm thankful for you sticking with reading a blog that sometimes posts. :)

I'm truly excited for what's to come. Next time you come to this blog, you'll be on London overload. Are you ready for this?!


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Plans to be a Stylish Tourist

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You're probably already sick of hearing about our Europe trip, and it hasn't even happened yet. But with only four days until we leave.. it's all I can think about! I've never anticipated a trip for this long before, and I'm giddy! I cannot wait to travel to two of my favorite cities (London and Paris) plus several places I grew up going to visit family, all with my wonderful husband who has never been to any of these places before. It feels like a dream, honestly.

As I mentioned here, part of my vision for 2014 was to be a "strong woman of God" in all senses of the word. This has resulted in a new body, basically. I haven't changed so much that you don't recognize me or you might not even notice (people don't think about you as much as you think about yourself)... but 15 pounds gone plus muscles developed have 1) made me full of confidence, which I think partially comes from just feeling joyful in an active lifestyle 2) being able to wear styles that I never have before.

Let's be honest. Interiors are my styling comfort zone. Not humans. There's a reason people on Instagram ask me where I got my couch and not my dress. Haha! But I have come to believe that if I love seeing beauty in my interior space so much, I should be able to harness that aesthetic and carry it with me wherever I go.. aka in CLOTHING.

As I pack for our trip, I'm trying really hard to try things out of my comfort zone and wear styles that I think are beautiful, as opposed to comfortable/not making me look like an ogre. :) I'm excited to dress up and wear fun outfits in the cities we are visiting. The epic packing starts today.

Does anyone have any tips for dressing stylishly when traveling/just in general? Haha! :)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Almost Halfway through 2014...




Recently, I've been reflecting a lot on my progress throughout this year. I started the year with a very clear vision of what I was desiring to work towards in the months ahead.

The year so far hasn't been at all what I had expected, but I'm still thankful for the vision and goal setting that took place. I believe that's kept me grounded to what is important.

We started the year with me coming down with a stomach bug on January 1st. Somehow that lead to almost a month in bed with flulike symptoms but the absence of the actual flu virus. Watched all of Parenthood that month. What a doozie! I was laying in bed last night thinking... I wonder why that happened at the beginning of the year? What is the purpose for me being in bed and pretty helpless for so long, following such careful planning for a fruitful year. I'm still not sure. Also last night, we were talking about all that has taken place. We've kind of felt like everything is crumbling around us. Yes, that might be dramatic. We are blessed with a wonderful home and jobs that we enjoy and a sweet pup and each other. But it's been hard. We've had trials in areas we never expected to be hard. We've learned a lot about the kind of friends we want to be (I want to be someone who shows up and is present and speaks only life and encouragement into others.. and have friends that treat us the same way) and how we never want to be so caught up in ourselves that we can't care about the needs and hearts of others. I can speculate all day long about the purpose for the things we've dealt with, I guess.. but one reason that has come to my mind often is to build the strength of our still young marriage. I didn't think I could love Ben anymore than I did when I got married, but I do. I didn't think that we could possibly be closer friends, but we are. For that, I am so thankful. But we're ready for a new season.

A week from today we'll be leaving for 16 days in Europe. Holla! I get to adventure the places where my childhood was spent with my husband. What a blessing! (more about our trip, here) We are both so excited and grateful that we have the opportunity to take this trip, and have started to see it as a turning point. When we return, one of the biggest changes is that we will be attending a different church.

When we got married, we visited different places and both felt an overwhelming call to return to the church where Ben grew up and I found a home in high school. So we went. We have nothing but respect for the church we joined, but we have been lacking community. Big time. We both believe that it is vital for us to be plugged in: studying scripture and talking about life and being in prayer with people that we call friends at church. And where we were, there were no other people in our life stage. It is all families and older people.. which is totally fine. But not where we felt we would be filled up and encouraged in the best way. Add in a hard six months, and without the support of anyone around us (that sounds so dramatic and I apologize for that!) it's been a time of being extra weary. We both had so many dear friendships with a foundation of Christ in college and dropping away from that has kicked our hineys. But we also hated the idea of "breaking a commitment" and "abandoning" and it has never been a part of our vision to bump from church to church. But we have let go of that pride in our lives and know that the Lord is leading us somewhere else. So yesterday was our last Sunday.. and when we return we're praying that God will lead us to the place where we will raise our family in years to come. We're seriously, SO excited. It will be really good.

To counteract all the heaviness of this post and bring it back to my 2014 vision...


  I want to live a year cultivating my identity in Christ. 
I want to be a strong, confident, bold woman of God who loves my husband and community well. I want to continue to pursue a career that is flexible and brings light to my heart. I want to cross off some big financial goals. I want to build my body to be healthy and strong and be conscious of what I subject my body to (food, cleaning products, skincare, hair care). I want to simplify and organize our home to make living here leave time for fruit to develop in our lives. I want to host and care for others, with our door always open. I want to be the loving arms of Christ to others. I want to give to and support the people in my life. I want to celebrate accomplishments and milestones big and small.

In a word.. I have wanted to build myself up as a strong woman of God. That's been my vision. Everyday, running through my head.. Strong woman of God. Even through the "storm"... I truly believe that the Lord has blessed that. I've lost fifteen pounds and built muscles I never thought I would have. (I've literally never played a sport in my life so this journey has been new for me!) I've been digging into scripture and weaving it into my life. I'm so proud of those little successes and ways that God has worked and carried me. He is so good.. and Ben and I both are so expectant of what is to come for the rest of the year, after our amazing trip. In my head I think of it as "Honeymoon #2" just because it will be so great!

How has YOUR year been so far? It's not too late to start thinking about a vision for the way you want to live over the rest of the year! It sounds so cheesy, but doing this has helped me so much!