Lover of nature, color, art, life, adventure. Choosing to find beauty. I hope you can find inspiration and joy while you're here.


Photo Book Project

I just wanted to show a little peek of the latest project I've been putting together:

And now that Christmas is over and gifts are unwrapped, I can share it without spoiling any Christmas surprises! This digital album (from is a recap of all things Pepper for last year. It includes her silly moments, our family adventures, and the fun Baxter events that we've enjoyed, and it's full of photos that are too cute to not print up. Even though it is a lot of work (turns out we did soooooo much last year!), it's definitely worth it! Our little bumpkin loves to thumb through the 'books about me' when she visits Grandmas' house. (She even loved the book so much she couldn't let me just take a picture of it by itself, so she made sure to present it properly for photo-taking.) And Grandma said she loved it too. Yes! This book is one of my prouder gifts this holiday season.

So, what gift were you most tickled to share this year? I'd love to hear!


Advent Calendar

Each year we find ways to refresh and test out new traditions just to keep things interesting. But when one is successful, we don't need to do much to change it. Something we've enjoyed doing for the last several years is a Christmas countdown advent calendar:

We still like to tweak the contents every year to make sure this tradition stays relevant. Last year, we had a few different items we rotated through the boxes, but the biggest hit turned out to be the Christmas books. So, we made sure to repeat that this year, too. We wrapped a bunch of Christmas books with calligraphed number tags on them and put corresponding tags inside a few select boxes. We like being surprised by the contents of the boxes, but when we discover one that says we get to open a book, we stop everything and have a little impromptu reading sesh. Our kid gets so excited to open a present and then we all get to cuddle on the couch as a family and read the book together. It's been a good tradition this year.

What sorts of traditions does your family look forward to during the holidays? Do you change up your traditions? How have you found ways to instill meaningful family time into your days?


Family Display Tray

I love putting family photos around the house to make it feel homey, but I noticed that overnight most of the pictures we had up of our family were outdated because our little pepper sprout is just growing so fast! In a tale of perfect timing, our company craft day happened to land on the very week I was considering how I would remedy such problems, and I was lucky enough to come away with this:

(All materials are from Close To My Heart.)

I know putting up photos of the people we love seems like a seemingly insignificant thing to do, but it helps remind our family to live intentionally, so it's really important to us. It keeps our loved ones on our minds when we can't be with them and keeps our daughter interested and thinking about them on a daily basis.

What small yet important steps have you taken to supporting an intentional lifestyle? I'd love to hear!


New Sketchbook

I'm not easily excitable, but there is one thing guaranteed to make me giddy on any day: a new sketchbook!

Not only does a new sketchbook represent all the progress I just completed, but it also opens the door wide for incoming inspiration. I pretty much love everything about a new sketchbook from the smell, to the crisp feel of the pages. Nothing is as exciting to me as a book full of blank pages! Fresh starts, directional changes, style many things feel optimistic. The opening of the cover marks a new era, and anything is possible...hooray!

Do you feel the same way? What is one way you mark fresh starts in your goings-on?


Peace Out, Peace

Oh, friends. I gave it the good college try this year with my word of the year (WOTY). Here's how it went down:

The word I picked for 2014 was 'peace' and it was much needed. I realized that I was driving my family crazy with my busyness and non-stop to-dos. They wouldn't ever say anything to me about it because they are super supportive and way too nice, but I could tell they were getting exhausted being dragged around all willy-nilly.

So, in one of my little self-evaluations at the end of the year when I was considering a word to explore, I became keenly aware of the need in our lives (because of mine) to introduce peace. I realized I had to get to know peace a little more personally and learn how to incorporate it into my life.

I knew the most efficient way to make that happen would be to settle down a little bit...or a lot. I took a much-needed break from my to-do lists and considered the level of burnout I was about to encounter. As is usual with the whole WOTY experience, I considered and incorporated many avenues of exploration. This year, though, the most significant change I made was to not be driven daily by my to-do list and to take some time to relax.

Although it was hard work, I managed to take a chill pill and turn into a lazy person. I think my family really loved it, but I only made it approximately 9.5 months before I couldn't take it anymore. I'm happy to say my to-do list is back and I'm finding that motivation I thought I had lost for good. I made a good effort, but I'm relieved to be back!

It's not like my WOTY went unused (as if anyone could benefit from peace), I merely realized that one aspect of the word wasn't working so well for me. And, I still learned a lot. I'm making a bigger effort to not let my to-do list exist for the sake of doing things, but to use it as a tool to focus in on the things that are most important.

And, good news: I already have a great word for next year and I'm excited to see where it leads me! I love how adopting a word for a year really influences my perspective. It's become a meaningful practice for me that I will continue for a good long while.

Do you have a word of the year or another meaningful practice you'd like to share?


Forest Cones Watercolor Series

Inspiration is so easy to come across in the forest. It's a place of peace, refuge, and full of raw reminders of the life and death experiences we will all eventually share. Often on my hikes I'll pick up little nature mementos of the places I go and the feelings that grow in those places. I bring them home where they serve as gentle reminders to choose goodness and gratitude.

Mini-me has exhibited similar habits (...maybe it's genetic? ...maybe environmental?) and for most of her little life has collected pretty much every single pine cone she's come across. She still presents me with fistfuls of cones, and although I don't keep every single one she gives me, I do take the time to look each one over and see what it's all about.

Even though I've examined an infinite amount of pine cones in the last few years, I always find something that surprises me. I have noticed that each one is unique when I take the time to really examine it. I think people are a lot like that, too. When you look at something as part of a collection, you focus on the similarities, but when you look at something individually, you notice the quirky beauty that makes it unlike any other. I selected some of my favorite cones that we've gathered from evergreens in our area to showcase some of the variety we get to enjoy around here in a series of life-size watercolors:

Black Spruce

Lodgepole Pine
Douglas Fir
Blue Spruce
Jeffrey Pine
I spent some serious hours on these, and let me tell you, I got to know these guys pretty well, like, at a personal level. We're pretty much best friends by now, these cones and me. When you get to know something so well you really learn to love it. I love their tiny details and color nuances.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised at seeing details for the first time on something that previously seemed everyday? It's quite the refreshing perspective!

If you'd like to, you can also see a similar watercolor series of found feathers here.


Gratitude vs. Thanks

I love this time of year! I love that people focus on gratitude and the most meaningful aspects of their lives. I love the positive vibes, especially around Thanksgiving in the US. It's a time for us to gather with our families and pay special attention to the blessings we have received throughout the year.

I don't know about you, but I have been blessed with so much! I came from a (relatively) sane background with parents who wanted the best for me. They made sure I had a good education and encouraged me in my pursuits. I have a nutty family that I love so much (and who love me back!) anyway. I have kind and intelligent friends who are spiritual giants. I have an amazing relationship with my Dreamguy. I have a smart and cheerful daughter. I have a comfortable and adventurous life and have had many opportunities I wouldn't have dreamed would have been afforded me. I have chances to reconnect with nature on the regular, and have been to some incredible places in this huge world. I have truly been blessed.

In the spirit of the season, I've been sharing a #monthofgratitude post every day this month on Instagram. I've pondered on the many things I have in my life to be thankful for, and I've realized that there is a definite difference between gratitude and thanks. I wish Thanksgiving were called Gratitudegiving because I think it would be taken more seriously with more intention. Gratitude is more like an attitude or way of living, and thanks is a reaction.

Don't get me wrong, thanks is wonderful, but it is giving thanks that begets gratitude, the more deep-rooted and wise mother of the two. Thanks is shown through words. Gratitude is shown through actions. Gratitude requires an added measure of maturity and an extra step. It requires a follow up and a reciprocation of your thanks.

So, I'd like to invite you to join in this tradition of gratitudegiving. It's never too late to start showing gratitude, and if you start now (if you don't already have such a tradition), your mind will be in a thoughtful and open place come Thanksgiving Day. Warning, though: once you start counting your blessings, it's hard to stop!

What have you done lately to express your thanks and act on your gratitude?


Behind the Scenes: Mistakes

So, we all know the internet tells lies all day long. It fibs about people and their lifestyles and it has this knack for making people feel less than they are. It proposes ridiculous expectations and stretches the reality of actual real life by showing only the sparkliest of sparkles. One reason for such glittery goodness, though, is to project professionalism, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Being selective about the content and making it more beautiful (or highlighting the found beauty) isn't anything to be ashamed of.

However, I was pondering this very topic the other night and as I was flipping through my sketchbook realized that it might be interesting to see the all-too-truthful context regarding an  Instagram post from a few weeks ago.

And this is what that sketchbook page looks like in its entirety:

(I threw in the messy counter as a little peek into my reality. You're welcome, extra bonus. Obviously I have better things to do with my life than keep that huge counter spotless all the livelong day.)

As you can see, the little doodle I posted was not my first attempt. And, it also wasn't a finished piece of artwork by any means. It was even doctored up a little to increase the contrast. And it still wasn't perfect. I mean, take a close look at that "N", would you?

However, it was still the best out of the few attempts I took at doodling this phrase. The other two took a skiwampus turn for the worse and had to be abandoned. So, mistakes. They happen. You can either get dejected and turn it into a huge deal or you can study it and improve the next time. What I'm trying to say is that all those effortless photos that are plastered all over the internet may not be that effortless after all. More likely, hours of work as well as trial and error went into the production (and post-production, let's be real) of something beautiful, and you shouldn't expect immediate perfection from yourself or others without first encountering a few mistakes.

I'm not one to become easily discouraged when I make a mistake. Sure, it's embarrassing (darn typos!) but by golly, I'm human, so I do what I can and get over the rest. It's more of an means and less of an end, you know? Also, I feel relieved and trust people easier when they are real about their little lives. I always feel more at ease when I know someone is just a regular person after all.

Do you feel the same way? What do you think the difference is between editing + curating and living a life full of lies?


Hand-drawn Sympathy Card

Just popping in real quick-like to share this little hand-drawn sympathy card I doodled:

Because of the peeking window, I layered the pine bough, feather, and berries wreath on both the inside and the outside of the card. Honestly, though, I was having a difficult time of it trying to find the right words to say, so I kept drawing and adding to my doodle until I had my thoughts collected and could write the message that was in my heart. You can see I had to think for a while on this one.

That's one of the things I love about drawing. It is my heart's purest message when words fail. And it's therapeutic. It helps me concentrate on the important things in my life.

What helps you concentrate the best or share your heart when you otherwise struggle to?


Deadwood's Mount Moriah Cemetery

Deadwood was a charming little stop on our trip to gorgeous South Dakota. It's a tiny historic mining town tucked up inside a narrow canyon. We could have stayed forever exploring every nook and cranny (there have got to be like two dozen haunted sites there, just saying) but we went with a purpose: to check out the Mount Moriah Cemetery.

You may or may not know that we love cemeteries. Like, we could geek out about them for forever. Visiting them is something we would do if we had all the time in the world. We've been known to pull into cemeteries that look particularly interesting and take a couple hours perusing them. (Weird fact, we got engaged in one! So fitting.) And, I married me a history buff, who has an affinity for the wild west, so we made sure to hit up the cemetery in Deadwood, for sure.

Guys. This cemetery is one of our top three we've been to. We went there to pay homage to Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane and found their resting places without any troubles. It's up on a mountain (surprise--the name is to be taken literally--some hiking required) so the grave plots are terraced, which gives an amazing affect. It is beautiful and rich with character.

Well, this concludes the last installment of our South Dakota trip. (If you haven't already, check out the previous posts here, here, here, here, and here) Thanks for hanging out through all these pit stops! I was blown away with the beauty and grandeur in South Dakota. (Who knew?) I know it's nothing new to some people, but It's like we discovered one of America's most best-kept secret gems and I would see myself going back several times. I can't believe we waited to long to plan this trip.

So, what about you? Are you cemetery traipsers too? I know it's not for everyone, but I'm curious to know. If not cemetery-goers, are you South Dakota-goers? Because you totally should be.


Visiting the Badlands

As part of our getaway to South Dakota, we also spent a goodly amount of time in the Badlands National Park. Guys, I love our national parks so much! They're amazing, in case you didn't already know. The Badlands reminded me a lot of one of my favorite places in the world, the Valley of Fire in Nevada. (You can see one of our past visits on my old blog, here if you'd like.)

The terrain and inhabitants are rugged and will probably outlive the apocalypse. Or, in other words, it's pretty incredible:

It's definitely not the average beauty one expects from nature. I have to say I've been blessed with an affinity for loving relatively ugly things because I think everything deserves a chance to be looked at with eyes of love and wonder. Because my soul is made out of mountains and deserts, I've also been raised to find the beauty when others can find none. However, for all you by-nature ugly haters, I think it's a skill that can be learned, for sure, so don't worry.

Have you ever been? Do you usually find beauty in harsh or so-called ugly things?

And if you want to see some additional wonders South Dakota has to offer, you can see some previous excursion posts on the blog here, here, here, and here.


Autumn River

There were so many great things about our trip to South Dakota (see here, here, here, and here if you haven't already), but it might be time to break it up with a fresh little fall shoot:

Our family took a little excursion up the canyon to capture some fall goodness and revel in the lingering summer warmth while it lasts. We ended up spending most of our time by the river, feeding it rocks and sticks, because according to our 3-year-old, it was really hungry. Makes sense. It does a lot of running. Autumn is pretty much our favorite, and this year Mama Nature put on quite the show for us! I keep seeing encore after encore, and I couldn't be happier.

What is your favorite season? What is your favorite part of autumn?


Hiking Cathedral Spires

Along Needles Highway is what happens to be one of the greatest hikes ever, to a rock formation called Cathedral Spires. The trail treks through the shade of jutting stone turrets and quiet forests. It is a peaceful place that fosters meditation by providing everything from tiny immaculate details to sweeping vistas, and to top it off, the wildlife was simply magical. It will surely steal your breath away and fill your spirit with goodness and freshness.


Please go here if you get the chance! This was surprisingly the pinnacle of our trip (no pun intended), and is one of the most awe-inspiring and uplifting places I've been. I will never forget how it made me feel. That place really does feel sacred. I was just wrapped in this incredibly verdant grace. And lest you worry, the hike isn't that difficult (I bet our 3-year-old would have loved it, and if not, she would have at least survived) and there is so much to see that you could walk three steps and stop to soak in another wonder, then walk three more steps and stop again. So basically, if you take your camera, you won't get winded at all because you'll probably be stopping every other second to take another picture.

Have you been? If so, I'd love to hear what you think! It makes me so excited just reminiscing and I feel like I may need to hike that at least a hundred more times in my little lifetime. It might just be worth the 11-hour drive.

P.S. If you'd like, the previous posts about this trip to South Dakota are here and here.


Needles Highway

Probably our favorite excursion while in the Black Hills was driving along the breathtaking Needles Highway in Custer State Park. (It was so great we had to drive it twice!) We oohed and ahhed over the incredible rock formations...

 breathed in the brisk ponderosa-scented air...

 squeezed through some crazy small one-way tunnels...

drove on winding roads with ridiculously steep dropoffs...

 and just stood forever, soaking in the dizzying and indescribably beautiful views.

Guys. You HAVE to go here if you haven't already! I won't even take no for an answer. Because I can't just open your heart and put this vast, blue, clean experience, I just need you to go see it for yourself. It's the only way. I want you to be able to close your eyes and feel that South Dakota sun on your eyelids. I want you to get a fresh perspective on the Mount Rushmore experience. I want you to feel how big the world is and how small you are compared to the universe and how connected you truly are to the natural world. I want you to see the amazing wildlife and maybe even test out your precision driving skillz, too.

So what do you say? Will you add this to your bucket list?


Crazy Horse Monument

Is it possible to visit Mount Rushmore without also visiting the Crazy Horse Monument? Only if you hate equality, culture, and America's original inhabitants. Since we don't hate any of those things, we of course visited Crazy Horse, too:

I love the pride behind this ongoing sculpture and what this artwork represents. It promises to be incredible. Not surprisingly, my favorite part about visiting this monument was looking at all the Native American artifacts and appreciating the patterns, colors, and cultural perspective. Amazing!

Have you been to the Crazy Horse Monument?