Off to Sweden

Friday, July 31

Kevin and I are just landing in Sweden today.

Sweden is special to me for so many reasons. 
My dad's family came from Sweden, and he grew up in a little Swedish town in Northern California. This meant Swedish services at church, Swedish meatballs at Christmas, and letters back and forth between family in Sweden. My dad lived in Sweden for some time, and his stories of working the farm always captivated us! 

As a child, being Swedish was such a part of who I was. 

In both kindergarten and second grade, our Swedish cousins came to live with us for a year, so I grew up with Swedish older "brothers" who made us laugh and took care of us! I did my 4th grade country report on Sweden, and was obsessed with the American girl doll Kirsten (who was from Sweden!). My parents house is littered with Dahla Horses (the little red wooden Swedish horses), Carl Larsson prints (like the one above), and maps of Sweden! {all just "subtle" tributes to our heritage, haha!}. And Christmas…don't even get me started…! 

I traveled to Sweden for the first time when I was 14, and was so wonder-filled. It was milking cows on my cousins farm, hiking the forests to pick lingonberries, swimming in the never-ending lakes of cold water, and pitter pattering down the cobblestones of Gamla-Stan (Stockholm's old town). It was lazy summer crawfish dinners, having fika (coffee) and eating ostakaka (cheese cake) all while sharing our lives. It was the relationships that made me so filled to the brim! 

I've been back to Sweden since that first trip, and cannot wait to return today! We have no plans (our cousins have literally planned our entire trip…bless their heart!!) Of course we'll stay with my family in Stockholm, then travel to the heartland of my family's home in central southern Sweden, and then hopefully pop over to the west coast for a day or two!!

 I love the simplify of Swedish style, and am sure to be inspired!! I hope you'll follow along on our adventure in my homeland:) Happy weekend!! xoxo 

Top 4 Things to do in Jacmel, Haiti

Wednesday, July 29

 As I mentioned numerous times, Haiti has little in the way of tourist infrastructure. But that doesn't mean there aren't incredible places to visit! Jacmel, only two hours away from Port-au-Prince is a must see! It has everything you could want….a charming historic old town, beautiful beaches, hiking and swimming! Here are the top 5 things to do in Jacmel!

1. Stroll the Old Town 

Hundreds of year ago, this was a bustling, successful, colorful waterfront port transporting coffee to the world! Today, it is a sleepy waterfront town selling all sorts of artisan goods...everything from baskets to artwork! If you plan on going, pick up a guidebook of Haiti, and do the walking tour of Jacmel! It will take you to waterfront, the old square and market place, and to hotel Florita. See more pictures and read more about it here. 

2. Lay out at the Beach and Swim in the Ocean
Haiti is, after all, an island in the Caribbean!! Therefore, it's bound to have beautiful beaches:) There are a few beaches to visit in the Jacmel area, but the one we loved most was Timouillage Beach. Long stretches of sand, palm trees, beautiful water…and the best part, no people!! Katharine and I spent the whole day there and only a few other souls were anywhere to be found! See more pictures here. 

3. Bassin Bleu

If you like hiking and swimming combined, don't miss Bassin Bleu. Basson Bleu is a series of 3 swimming pools cascading down the mountain by way of 3 waterfalls. The top swimming hole and waterfall is the most beautiful, where you can jump off rocks and into the deep blue waters! To read more about it and see our pictures, click here. 

4. Eat and Relax at Cyvadier Resort 
Cyvadier is the most wonderful gem in all of Jacmel. If you travel to Jacmel, stay here! The grounds are absolutely gorgeous, the food delicious, and the view INCREDIBLE! Cyvadier is located in a sweet little cove overlooking a beach, and is such a refuge after spending all day around town! Even if you don't stay here, make the trip to eat a meal here…yum yum!! To see more pictures and read more, click here.

Hope this is helpful:) xoxo 

Bassin Bleu // Jacmel, Haiti

Monday, July 27

Jacmel, the colorful colonial city only 2 hours from Port-au-Prince, is such an amazing place to visit in Haiti. Not only is old town adorable, but the beaches (especially Timouillage) and natural beauty were a blast to discover as well! Bassin Bleu was no exception! 

Bassin Bleu is a series of 3 waterfalls and pools, nestled into the lush mountains up against the ocean wall. We took a scooter taxi up the mountain (which was quite the adventure in itself, ha!) and then hiked up the mountain. The first two swimming holes are pretty, but not so tempting to swim in. The third, considered the most beautiful is quite lovely. There is a waterfall, and plenty of big rocks to jump off of!! 

If you plan to visit Bassin Bleu, make sure to get a tour guide for the experience (which you can find in old town, or call from your hotel. We stayed here). Like many things in Haiti, not much is properly marked and we would have been completely lost without the guide! You hike up and down big rocks, and at one point have to do a little bit of rappelling! Another tip is to make the trip early in the morning. We were the first ones to arrive at the pools, and by the time we left a few hours later, there were swarms of people coming in!! 

Going to Jacmel anytime soon? Here are a few posts so far…

Where I am this weekend…and some other fun items!!

Friday, July 24

We are at Kev's family reunion in Arkansas this weekend. Yee Haw! Do I get to check another country off my list?? (haha, I kid, I kid!) All I know about Arkansas is that Wal-Mart was invented here (such classy history), the Duggars live somewhere in the state, and Bill Clinton calls it his home state. I'm hoping my Arkansas trivia skyrockets in content after visiting! 

I hope you have a lovely weekend…any fun plans? My plan is to wear a matching shirt with about 100 people i've never met, eat southern food, and maybe sing some karaoke! All in the name of "family bonding" right? Except it's my husbands family... so for me it will be more like a family meet and greet…good times! But at least we have matching shirts? #itstheimportantthings

And next week we leave for Sweden!! Gahhh, can.not.wait! In the meantime, here's a few fun little things for your weekend….

1. Even think about riding the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul?? Ever since i've read Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" i've been fascinated by this train!

2. Cutest towns in Germany! Trying to convince my family that we need to spend Christmas in one of these sweet places!!

3. Wanting to watch a cute British period piece drama? Check out Wives and Daughters, so sweet! It's on Netflix and such an adorable little movie!

4. 100% Pure is offering 20% off your entire order from now until July 26th!! I just stocked up!!

5. Tell me this isn't just the cutest room redesign EVER! I'm dreaming up our future room now:)

Happy Weekend friends!!! xoxo 

Sponsor Hope Engaged

Wednesday, July 22

Early on, when I started blogging, sponsorship was such a great way for me to start networking with other bloggers! I met so many lovely people through blog ads, and soon found that my blog was growing! Sponsorship definitely does work, and in the end, i'm so grateful because it led me to this incredible community of women I now call friends:)

If you are interested in growing your blog, consider sponsoring Hope Engaged. My rates are:

$15 for a one month Ad
$35 for a 3 month Ad

If you are interested, slip me an email to letting me know how many months you are interested in! I'll send you an invoice, and then you'll be well on your way!!

Sound fun? Let's talk:)

Happy Wednesday Friends!

Our 2 week itinerary through South America: Ecuador & Colombia

Monday, July 20

Last year, it dawned on Kevin and I that while we had visited almost 40 countries, we still had not touched foot in South America. We knew exactly where our next trip would take us!

However, South America is a huge continent with too many gorgeous sites to pack into two weeks, so we had to narrow it down. During dates at our favorite coffee shop, we would spend hours researching the best places to visit in South America, and let me tell you, there are many! We thought about Machu Pichu in Peru, but it was the rainy season during our trip dates. We thought about Buenos Aires, but it was a more expensive option. Taking into account weather patterns, costs, and ticket prices, the information led us to our choice…Ecuador and Colombia! You can read my post on the Top 5 Reasons you should Visit Ecuador in 2015! 

Ecuador and Colombia are bordering countries, but oh how different these two countries could be! Ecuador was more akin to Peru with it's high elevations and Spanish influence. Colombia (or specifically Cartagena, where we stayed) was all Caribbean charm! It made for a sweet trip! Technically our trip was 12 days, so just short of two weeks, but could easily be made into a 2 week trip by adding 2 days in another city. If we had more time, we would have tried to see Medellin, Colombia!

Here is our exact itinerary:

Cuenca, Ecuador

We started our trip in the quaint colonial Ecuadorian town of Cuenca. Cuenca, sitting high above sea level at 8,400 feet, is small enough to explore in a day, but beautiful enough to keep you there a little longer:) With it's cobble stone streets, sprawling parks, flower markets, and local cuisine, there's so much charm to be had!

Getting to Cuenca: From Los Angeles, California, we flew to Quito and spent the night at the airport. From Quito we bought a domestic flight down to Cuenca. The flight is less than an hour, and relatively affordable!

Days Needed: You really only need one full day to see Cuenca, however, we stayed two! We met up with some friends there, who took us around to surrounding cities. The town is small, but we found it so charming!

Where to Stay: We stayed at Hostal La Posada Cuencana, which we couldn't recommend more! We loved this place! It's an old colonial house with a  courtyard in middle, so quaint!

To see more pictures of Cuenca, click here

Banos, Ecuador

I do not have enough space to rave about this incredible spa town! If there's one thing I can promise, it's that you'll never run out of activities to do in this amazing hamlet!! It's the extreme sport capitol of Ecuador and offers everything from zip lining, to bridge swinging, to biking, to white water rafting, to amazon excursions, to horse back riding! You'll also find it's the perfect place to relax, with it's various thermal baths (public and private), and amazing massages!

Getting to Banos: The bus system is Ecuador is really great! We took a bus from Cuenca to Banos early in the morning. The bus ride is 5 hours from Cuenca (or 3 hours from Quito!).

Days Needed: You will want at least two full days in Banos because there is so much fun to had at such affordable prices! We spent 3 days there and were kind of lamenting we didn't have another day!

Where to Stay: We stayed at Hotel Marianne, where you get a good bang for your buck! We paid $40 a night for a basic room with hot water in the shower (a must in this city!). A total bonus to the hotel was that it was centrally located and walkable to everywhere, but it was also on the outskirts so very quiet and peaceful with lovely hammocks to lay in! My favorite part of the hotel was the in-house french restaurant (Cafe Marianne) with a roaring fire and delicious food!

To see more of our experiences of Banos:
Banos, Ecuador          Thermal Baths (Public & Private)     Zip Lining                     
Bridge Swing             Swing at the End of the World         Top 10 Things to Do in Banos, Ecuador 

Quito, Ecuador

If ever there were a dreamy city 9,000 feet off the ground, Quito would be it! Honestly, Quito surprised us with how beautiful it is! It is the largest historic city center in all of South America, nestled between rolling hills and huge cathedrals, lying colorful and newly renovated!

Getting to Quito: We took a bus from Banos to Quito for just a few dollars each! It only took 3 hours, and was a pretty ride.

Days Needed: I'd say you need at least 2 full days in Quito! There is so much to do and see, and then even more excursions you can purchase that are just right outside the city:) We were in Quito about 2 and a half days and it was perfect!

Where to Stay: We stayed with friends at Casa Victoria (where we volunteered with an after school program there!). However, Quito has many gorgeous options so check out Trip Advisor!

To see more pictures and learn more about our time in Quito:
Quito Day 1             Casa Victoria
Quito Day 2             Market in Quito
Top 10 Thing to do in Quito

Cartagena, Colombia

Old Town Cartagena is pure magic, there is no way else to describe it! Especially at night, when the twinkly lights reflected the colorful buildings, the horses clip clopped in their carriages down the cobble stone streets, and the talented musicians strummed away on their guitars. I'm telling you, Cartagena is really something else and I feel so blessed to have experienced it! As I walked the old city walls, I felt like Elizabeth Swan from Pirates of the Carribean haha!

Getting to Cartagena: We flew from Quito to Cartagena (you have to make a few lay-overs, but it's not too bad!).

Days Needed: We were there 3 days, which I felt like was the right amount of time! There are so many things to do in and around Cartagena! We spent our first day in the old city, our second day on Boca Grande, and our third day on an island beach excursion which was beautiful!

Where to Stay: We stayed at Casa Relax, an affordable hotel that included breakfast! Definitely stay in Getsemani, a super hip and historic district right outside the old walled city!

To see more pictures and learn more about our time in Cartagena: 
Cartagena Day 1               The Best Place to Stay in Cartagena      Isla del Encanto 
Cartagena Day 2               Castillo San Felipe de Barajas 
Top 10 Things to do in Cartagena, Colombia 

After Cartagena we flew to Bogota, and then from Bogota we flew back to Los Angeles! We spent a day in Bogota, and I have to say it was not my favorite (however maybe we just didn't see the right sites!! Anyone have suggestions for what to see in Bogota?). Hope this itinerary was helpful for you!! Can't wait to continue to explore this great continent of South America!

Happy Monday friends! And the winner of the Sari Bari quilt give-away is….Olivia McCash! Congrats Olivia!!

Looking for another itinerary of where to visit?
2 weeks in Turkey & Greece
3 weeks in SE Asia

Seasons of Friendship

Wednesday, July 15

 I'm one of those people that just feels most loved when I'm washed in the kindness, excitement, and love of others. This past weekend was incredibly refreshing as I literally went from one life-giving person to the next! I unexpectedly got to meet up with a friend who spent the last year and a half being a midwife all around the world, welcoming babies with love and joy, even in the most sterile environments (her crazy stories from India and Zambia were giving me chills!). My cousin made such an effort to come to visit me this weekend for a few hours, and we spent a very hilarious time playing cards which made me laugh…the kind of laughter that is medicine for the soul. Dinners on Friday and Saturday night consisted of friends who cooked for us, and affirmed us. And then I got to visit my sister-in-law and their new baby. Holding a new baby was just wonder-filled. As the weekend waned, and Sunday night began to end, I curled up in Kevin's arms with the biggest smile on my face. "You're filled to the brim, aren't you?" he asked. I sighed something heavenly, and burrowed my way further into his shoulder…"yes, yes I am".

If only life was like this all the time, right? I think God gives us glimpses of a heavenly love when we have a friend that pours into us with laughter and games and food and a listening ear. But not all seasons are filled with such intense friendship. I can remember back to junior high and early parts of high school where I longed for a deeper connection with my peers, for someone that "got" me. I recall a few times i've moved somewhere new in my "20's" and had to start all over again with friends. It's hard, and can be so discouraging at times. It requires us to put ourselves out there, and expend so much energy in the "small talk". I mean, how many times can you REALLY tell your life story in 3 minutes to 5 different people in the room before you want to pull your hair out! I get it! 

But friendship is so important, so necessary for our souls. It is where our God given selves can be exposed for what they truly are, and loved so fully. It is where we can learn to give and receive love, where service and sweet times take root. So therefore, it must be worth our investment. If you're in a season where you feel a void of true friends, i'll be the first to stay you're probably not alone. I've been there, and I can imagine so many other women are in that place right now too! But keep your chin up darling, God's got something special for you. Keep trusting him in this season. It may take weeks, months, or even years, but never back down from understanding the importance of community, and praying from something special! It's worth it:) 

Praying for you today friend, wherever you are, that rich and laughter filled community finds you in a special place!! Happy Wednesday! 

ps- don't forget to enter the give-away from Monday to win a gorgeous Sari Bari quilt!! 

Sari Bari Quilt Give-Away

Monday, July 13

I've literally been waiting months to share this post with you, and am so excited I finally get to reveal a very fun project i've been working on lately! 

You see, a few years ago I heard about an incredible organization called Sari Bari that works in Calcutta India, employing women who have been exploited in the sex trade or who are vulnerable to trafficking. Sari Bari's heart is to see women restored and cared for, as they teach women new skills such as sewing. 

Friends, I cannot even tell you how absolutely GORGEOUS Sari Bari's products are….like literally  right out of an Anthropologie catalog! Every last piece makes me swoon in delight. Each piece is made from Indian sari's…vibrant, gorgeous patterns, sewn into a patchwork! I now have my very own Sari Bari quilts and throws adorning my room, and am eying a few more for the future (when we actually have our own house, hehe!)

A few months ago, Sari Bari contacted me about doing a product photo shoot for their new 2015 quilts, bags, coin purses and scarves. I was so excited!! You can see the lookbook they made here. 

Today, I wanted to share some of the gorgeous products they have, and give away an incredible Sari Bari quilted throw! This small quilt is perfect for a picnic blanket, light throw when you're outside, or for cuddling up with on the couch! 

To enter to win the quilt above:
- Go to the Sari Bari website and pick out your favorite product, and write it in the comments below
- Like Sari Bari on IG and FB
- Like Hope Engaged on FB and IG 

That's it!! Winner will be pick this Sunday night (7/19/15), so make sure to enter before then! 

I love that we can use our purchasing power to support organizations that empower women around the world!! Happy Monday!! 

(if you can believe it, this is only a small little sample of the pictures I took!)