Archive | September 2016

7 months, 10 trips

So far this year, I’ve had the chance to travel A LOT. Sometimes for work, sometimes for pleasure. And I’ve loved it all.

Since there are so many places I’ve been wanting to share stories and photos from, I’m just going to focus on the highlights. This isn’t all the trips, but it’s the top 10.

1. Hawaii

In February, I was in Honolulu to cover a work event and got to tack on some vacation days while I was down there. Pete met me in Honolulu once the event was over, then we flew to Maui for a few days. Highlights:

  • On my flight to Honolulu, I discovered a love for chocolate covered macadamia nuts, which they offered on the plane. On Pete’s flight over, he sat next to a man who introduced himself as Shamu. We had very different experiences.
  • Because Pete’s flight was delayed, I had extra down time once I wrapped up with work. I made a trip to Pearl Harbor, where I watched a video about the bombing, walked through some exhibits and took pictures of the harbor. It was windy that day, so the ferries weren’t able to take anyone out in the water. I expected the area to be bigger, but I did only see a portion of the harbor, so that’s probably why. I could see a large, rusty part of the USS Arizona still sticking up out of the water in the distance.

Pearl Harbor

  • The night Pete got there, we walked around a park in Honolulu and saw what I’m guessing were street performers practicing on the beach. There was a girl twirling hula hoops and a guy dancing around with fiery torches.
  • The next day, we flew to Maui on a tiny plane where the stewardess’ name was Ariel. Given my love for The Little Mermaid, I almost squealed when I saw her name tag. She gave us tiny plastic juice cups, the kind with peel-off aluminum lids like I used to get in school.
  • Maui isn’t that big, but there’s quite a bit to do. After picking up a rental car and eating at Denny’s (hey, we visited local places, too), we got on the Road to Hana, which is basically a jungle version of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It took about 6 hours to get to Hana and back, making several pit stops to see waterfalls, sea turtles, a black sand beach and super green cliffs plunging into the ocean. Pete enjoyed zipping around the blind curves in our rented Dodge Dart.

Road to Hana, overlooking the black sand beach


One of the incredible spots along the Road to Hana


One of my favorite views on the Road to Hana


A rock meant for sitting


See? A Hawaii version of the Blue Ridge Parkway.


Wai’anapanapa State Park, Road to Hana

  • Afterwards, we stopped in Paia and ate pizza. The pineapple on the pizza was the only pineapple I had in Hawaii, but it was good. The pizza place was really hot inside, though, with brick ovens not far from our table.

View from our hotel

  • The next day, we got up early to take a private kayak tour on the ocean. We paddled around the shore, watching humpback whales come out of the water just feet away, then swim under our kayak. We snorkeled for about 15 minutes on the way back. I forgot Pete gets seasick til we were a couple of hours in. Thankfully, he was fine.

Kayaking in Makena Bay, Maui


Yep, that’s how close the humpback whales were.


We could hear a whale singing under the water.




This guy made me think of Finding Nemo.

  • That night, we explored more of the island. We checked out Iao Valley State Park for a little while, and by the time we headed back to the car, we were the only ones there, except some roosters walking around. I’d also found a lighthouse on the map, so we drove there, but it was dinky. Pete said it looked like a traffic cone. We did see a gorgeous sunset, though, then made our way to Lahaina for ice cream. Lahaina is really touristy which isn’t our speed, but it’s also home to an ENORMOUS banyan tree that, according to my thorough Wikipedia search, was planted by a guy in 1873 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Christian missionaries. I also saw a sign advertising teacup pigs at this 2nd-floor pet shop as we were walking around, but when we got up there, it was closed. That was probably the saddest part of the trip. 

Sunset by the dinky lighthouse


The dinky lighthouse


Iao Valley State Park, Maui


A short walk around the state park


The crazy big banyan tree—it’s all connected!

  • Other random things of note: watching a hula show on the beach (did you know men hula, too?), petting a parrot, getting a postcard from Guadalupe the housekeeper who left it in my hotel room, buying a strawberry parfait from an ABC store (which also sells sunscreen and souvenirs), bear hugging a mayor, getting stuck exiting a parking garage, eating at an Irish pub with a real Irish waitress, having an amazing meal at Tommy Bahama, watching a man in loincloth blow a shell while his more fully clothed comrade lit a tiki torch, eating quinoa by the ocean and seeing a cream-colored crab while eating said quinoa.

Mountains, beach, what more could I ask for?


Sunset across from my hotel in Honolulu

2. Arizona

In March, I had another change of scenery when a co-worker and I went to Lake Havasu, Arizona, for work. We first flew into Vegas and had to drive to Lake Havasu, taking a detour to Hoover Dam on the border of Nevada and Arizona. Highlights:

  • Driving through Vegas was an experience on its own, with billboards for places like Sexy Steakhouse. Blah, no thank you.

Overlooking Hoover Dam


Hoover Dam


Hoover Dam

  • The rest of the drive through the desert was like being in a different country almost, it’s so different from North Carolina. There are miles of nothing but brown-red dust and mountains. It was a bit calming, and we did have a blast hiking with some other co-workers one afternoon, but I don’t think I could live there. I need green. Our computers and jackets got really dusty during the outdoor event.

My co-workers are always up for an adventure.




You can’t tell, but I’m sitting on a steep cliff!


Mountain goat?

  • One of the craziest things I saw on our drive to Lake Havasu was a dilapidated shack on the side of Highway 93 with graffiti that said, “This is it! Santa’s Land.” Pass.
  • I also saw lots of Ross Dress for Less stores.
  • Lake Havasu itself was beautiful. We were there during Spring Break, though, when hundreds of spring breakers descend on the lake, specifically the canal, wearing next to nothing, drinking too much and hooking up. There’s a family friendly side of the canal and a spring breaker side, but it doesn’t really matter because you can easily see one side of the canal from the other. On the plus side, the scene provided a great ministry opportunity.

At the canal in Lake Havasu


You can see a sign advertising our ministry event, a Will Graham Celebration, in the middle.


Sunset in Arizona

3. Oklahoma & Kansas

At the end of April, I was in Oklahoma and Kansas for another work trip. The drive from Oklahoma City to Topeka was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken, minus the toll roads. Highlights:

  • There were a LOT of cows. Black ones, white ones, tan ones, brown ones, all in bright green pastures as far as you can see against pink and purple skies. And tons of white windmills. I wish I had stopped more to take pictures.
  • I learned that you can get $5 showers at the Cowboy Travel Plaza or stop in at Boots Barbecue for the “best pork butt in Pain County.” Quite a claim, Boots.
  • Oklahoma and Kansas love them some Subway. I can’t even tell you how many I passed.
  • I also passed an Oldsmobile with a bumper sticker that said “Honk if parts fall off.”

Downtown Oklahoma City


On the drive from Oklahoma to Kansas


Cowboy outside the gas station


Train going by


A pit stop at the Monroe School, where Brown vs. Board of Education started

4. Amelia Island, Florida

For Mother’s Day, I took Mom to Amelia Island in Florida. We rented a condo in Amelia Plantation, where I decided I’m going to retire. Highlights:

  • The first night, we walked to Fisherman’s Pier. I climbed a sand dune and Mom took selfies with me.

1st selfie of many on this trip


Fisherman’s Pier

  • We got plenty of beach time. We read, collected seashells, dozed off and took more selfies.

Made for the beach

  • One night we got ice cream at DeNucci’s, even though we were already full. I mean, you can’t go to the beach and not get ice cream. Mine was good, but they forgot the Nutella inside the cone. Tragic.
  • Amelia Island Plantation was a great place to bike. We rented bikes and took off for a few hours, stopping at a couple of parks along the way. It was shady and wonderful. We stopped at a smoothie place that’s part of Omni Hotel on the plantation and drank our smoothies by the fancy pool.

Biking around Amelia Plantation


I want one of these.

  • On Mother’s Day morning, we headed to Peters Point to go horseback riding on the beach. Mom rode Jen; I rode Jesse. They stuck together the whole time, to the point where my legs were up against Mom’s horse.

Me, Mom, Jen and Jesse

  • Mother’s Day night, we ate at Ciao in Fernandina Beach. We got to sit on the patio right by the sidewalk and people watch, which was mostly fun until a guy on a bike came by selling pineapples and playing a harmonica. He didn’t leave until a lady at the table nearby gave him money.

At Fernandina Beach

  • After Mother’s Day dinner, we went looking for a lighthouse on the map (yes, another lighthouse fail), but couldn’t find it to save our lives. Instead, we found a swing set! 

Like mother …


Like daughter.

  • Other fun things: Being the only ones at the pool right behind our condo, watching a documentary on Gabby Douglas and going for runs in the morning while Mom got ready. I’d love to go back soon. We also stopped in Savannah, Georgia, on our way out of town, had lunch and iced chais.

Mom reluctantly poses after lunch in Savannah.


I love the Spanish moss.


In Forsyth Park, Savannah

5. Missouri

In mid-May, I was in the Missouri capital for work. It was a short trip, but I try to find something fun or unique to do on each trip. Highlights:

  • I had the best peach smoothie of my life at Arris’ Bistro in Jefferson City. … That was about it for this trip, minus the cute downtown. It poured down rain for the work event, but it was encouraging to see so many people participate anyway.

Jefferson City, Missouri

6. Minnesota

In mid-June, I went to Minnesota with our summer intern, Maddie. It was a work trip, but we got to tack on some vacation afterwards and stay with my in-laws. Highlights: 

  • Seeing my extended family! Maddie loved meeting our nephews, and we both enjoyed dinner out with my brother- and sister-in-law.

The oldest


The youngest

  • Of course I had to take Maddie to the Mall of America. We definitely got our walking in.

At the Mall of America

  • We also discovered the best chicken wings of our lives at Doolittles near my in-laws.
  • The best part was a day trip to Duluth, with a brief hop over the Wisconsin state line so Maddie could say she’s been there. 



I ended up framing this one for my desk at work. Can you tell I have a thing for lighthouses?


Bridge in Duluth


And a five-minute trip to Wisconsin

  • On our way up to Duluth, we actually went past it a bit and spend some time at Gooseberry Falls in Two Harbors. We saw an awkward engagement and almost walked into a picture of the couple. We stopped at Betty’s Pies afterwards (pre-lunch).

Somewhere on the way to Two Harbors, on one side of Silver Creek Cliff


Gooseberry Falls


A trail at Gooseberry Falls


A guy watching Maddie take this picture said I was brave. 🙂


Where I had some apple pie a la mode before lunch

  • While in Two Harbors, we visited a different lighthouse, too. (Shush, I like this kind of thing.) It overlooks Lake Superior.

Two Harbors, Minnesota


Cheesin’ for the camera

  • Another highlight was Duluth Grille, where we had an amazing dinner. Grandma’s Marathon was happening that day, so there were a bunch of sunburnt runners limping around the restaurant.
  • We did some artsy stuff, too. We went to an art show one day, and then to a performance at my mother-in-law’s university another day.

On campus at St. Kate’s University


At an art show somewhere in St. Paul

7. Asheville, North Carolina

For the past several years, my best friends since middle school have tried to do a girls’ weekend. This year, we ended up in Asheville in early June. Highlights:

  • We toured the Biltmore, which Sara had never seen. (!) We also got exciting news from Alex!
  • Alex found a house for us to rent in the mountains, which was a lot of fun. 
  • We had plenty of time to walk around downtown, grab some chips from The Gourmet Chip Company and hit up a cute coffee shop.

Besties since middle school


Overlook on the back porch of the Biltmore


Caught in a selfie


A lovely day for the Biltmore

8. Wisconsin

In July, I flew to Madison, Wisconsin, to visit Sarah for a long weekend. Highlights:

  • The first day I was there, we had dinner with her husband at The Old Fashioned. It poured down rain while we were there and we got soaked running back to the car. Driving back to their apartment, we had to drive through a flooded intersection, but thankfully we weren’t washed away. It was crazy. Sarah handled it well and we all sopped up the water that got into her car afterwards.

The scary flooded intersection

  • One of my favorite parts was exploring the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We stopped at some food trucks on campus one day and ate on the Memorial Union Terrace overlooking Lake Mendota. I got to sit in a big yellow chair.

Finally, a chair my height.

  • We also checked out the farmer’s market by the State Capitol, then went in the Capitol to cool off. We walked up to the Capitol roof and got a 360 view.

Inside the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison

  • Sarah and her husband took me to the botanical gardens one afternoon. Things like that make me wish I could grow stuff.

Botanical gardens

  • Another favorite part was celebrating Sarah’s new job with a trip to the local coffee shop and walking on some trails afterwards. I got pretty sweaty and gross, but it was worth it. We don’t get much one-on-one time.

Pointing the way


A field of wildflowers

9. Montana, Idaho & Wyoming

In early August, I visited three states in a row to cover events for work. I spent 18 hours on the road and stayed in 5 hotels in 5 days. Highlights:

  • The first stop was Montana. The day our team was supposed to fly out was the same day Delta had the power outage, so it was a scramble that morning to rearrange our plans. I was originally supposed to fly into Helena, but flew to Great Falls instead. It ended up being a good thing for me because I had time to pull over and take pictures on the hour-and-a-half drive from Great Falls to Helena. I was in Montana for a mission trip in 2005, and it was just as beautiful as I remember. So open.

Taking a short detour on my way from Great Falls to Helena

  • I like how outdoorsy everything is in Montana. When I landed in Great Falls, I went to pick up a rental car at the airport. I asked the attendant where the restroom was and she pointed toward a baggage claim conveyor belt behind me with a bright yellow kayak displayed on top. “It’s back there, right behind the kayak,” she said. That’s the first time someone has referenced a boat when giving me directions to the bathroom. 
  • Just like the drive from Oklahoma to Kansas, I passed lots of cows (and a steakhouse) on my way to Helena. Someone asked me when I got back if I’d had a burger while out west, but I couldn’t say I had. I did have Chinese food in Helena.
  • I called Mom on my drive from Great Falls and told her a little bit about the scenery. When she heard there weren’t many people around and I was driving by myself, she gave me some advice: “It’s always good to have some moves in case you have to punch somebody. Or have a little can of hairspray handy to squirt in their eyes.” Fortunately, I didn’t have to get scrappy in Montana.

I found another park!


Apparently you can rent these and stay in the park.


Before a downpour

  • After Helena, I rode the team bus to Boise, Idaho. I didn’t get to do much non-work stuff there, except eat sushi at Dharma Sushi and Thai. It was amazing.
  • Next stop: Wyoming, where one of the hotels I stayed at in Rock Springs had a Cowboy Room. I wish I’d peeked in now just to see what it was. 

Outside the hotel in Cheyenne, Wyoming

  • The absolute highlight from Wyoming was seeing a meteor shower with some co-workers in the middle of the night outside of Cheyenne.
  • Since several from our team flew out of Denver, Colorado, to go back home, I got to spend time with my friend, Maddie, who as I mentioned before, interned with us this summer. We grabbed dinner, walked around the city, then stood in line at Little Man Ice Cream. The guy gave me a HUGE scoop of salted Oreo ice cream, and I wasn’t complaining.



Before my big scoop from Little Man

10. Vermont to New York

A co-worker and I covered events in Montplier, Vermont, and Albany, New York, at the end of August. Highlights:

  • Exploring Burlington, Vermont, which is a really cute town on Lake Champlain.

Burlington, Vermont


Lake Champlain


I guess you can’t tell this was taken in Vermont, but imagine the lake in front of me and cute, old buildings behind me.


A Burlington mural

  • Visiting the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters and splitting a pint of ice cream on the patio.

We missed the tour of headquarters, but this is basically just as good, right?

  • Picking up white cheddar popcorn and Dove dark chocolate for our late-night, 3-hour drive from Montpelier to Albany after a long day of work.
  • Passing cute inns, general stores, a life-sized superman statue, signs for moose (which I never thought of being in Vermont), along with advertisements for maple syrup, guns, tubing adventures and a battlefield.
  • The New York State Capitol was impressive on its own. Absolutely gorgeous. It reminded me of the Biltmore. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go inside since we were working during the open hours.

New York State Capitol, Albany

I’ve been so blessed to get to visit all these places and never would have guessed this time last year that I’d be buzzing around the country, from one end to the other.

So after all this travel, what’s next on the agenda? 

IRELAND!!!!! And maybe a couple of other places. 😉 Lots and lots of pictures to come.


Keith Scott: What do you do when a shooting hits home?

NY Daily News.jpg

Photo credit: NY Daily News

Just two months ago, I wrote a blog in response to a string of shootings across the country. I mentioned how these shootings are hitting closer to home.

But none have hit as close as Tuesday’s shooting in Charlotte, just half an hour away from me. It was a mile from UNC Charlotte where I went to college, half a mile from my old apartment and one neighborhood over from where I used to babysit. Close.

It’s the latest story adding fuel to the fire of deep-seated emotion, stemming from a history of racially charged clashes between police and civilians. Anger, grief, distress, a tiring fight for justice all come to a head, exploding in chaos.  

As I browsed through pictures of protesters and police officers who flooded a main road shortly after the afternoon shooting, I couldn’t help but think about all the times I drove down that exact road on my way home. Like thousands of others, I’ve also driven tons of times on the same section of I-85 that was filled with adrenaline as protesters and police with shielded helmets held up traffic for miles. I still have friends who live in that area.

After more protests last night, I thought about the many times I’ve walked the same sidewalks in uptown overflowing with shouts, busted windows and tear gas, and the time my dad stayed in the same hotel caught in the thick of violence. The protests had been so peaceful hours earlier.

The danger of watching events like this unravel on TV, the radio or online is the distance. All these shootings may start to blend together and seem to follow the same script: man dies, people outraged, tension between police and civilians.

What makes the Keith Scott shooting different for me is the proximity. For months, I’ve watched similar scenes unfold in other cities, but now it’s in my own community. I knew we weren’t immune, but it’s still surreal.

It’s strange seeing pictures of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police cars with smashed bumpers and broken windshields as protesters stand on top of them. It’s crazy seeing video of our officers in riot gear, holding back what could be their own neighbors in a time of emotional turmoil.

It’s not that I didn’t care about the number of shootings before this one, or that I didn’t comb the news for more details when this happened before, but now I care even more. Now it’s not fading into the background as quickly as it would if it happened elsewhere. Now I feel more sad about a community being divided. Now I feel more aware and more responsible for what’s going on around me.

So what happens when something you’ve experienced only from a distance actually hits home?

Personally, I wonder what I can do to help alleviate the tension, to understand the two (or three or four) sides better, to be part of a solution. But what exactly does that look like?

For me, it’s trying to show compassion when discussing anything regarding race or policing. It’s listening to people who see things differently, and letting it sink in. It’s fighting the temptation to draw my own conclusions to a story five minutes after it happens. It’s owning the issue and realizing that even if I’m not directly involved, things like this still affect me and where I live.

Most of all, it’s remembering we’re all God-designed with inherent worth and loved beyond measure, no matter what our race, occupation or background may be. That alone is a good place to start, and a good thing to share with others who may not know it.

What about you? How can you help prevent this kind of tension where you live? What can you do to unify your community now—before another victim’s face, another officer’s name, becomes the new story?


Photo credit: WSOC

Bare-faced Alicia Keys makes me wonder why women wear makeup


We’re used to stars baring all, but not always from the neck up.

When Alicia Keys walked the red carpet sans makeup at the VMAs, people responded in a couple of ways.

Some were inspired: Good for her; there’s a strong woman making a statement.

Others were annoyed: Well of course she can get away with it; look at her perfect skin.

If it’s so refreshing to see women bare the skin they were given, why do we feel the desire to cover it up or add to it? Photo credit:

The makeup-free look is something she started back in May, saying she didn’t like feeling that she had to cover up to be beautiful. Even cover photos for her new album, In Common, were shot without all the dolling up we’re used to from major artists.

Alicia Keys has said many times in the past few months that she’s not against makeup; she’s just making a personal decision to be more raw and go against the grind of what society deems beautiful.

It’s made me wonder about my own reasons for “putting on my face” before I go anywhere that I might run into people I know.

There was about a year in high school when I wore hardly any makeup, and I’ve experimented with it at work, too, when my skin is cooperating. But more often than not, I turn to some light makeup to enhance what’s already there, blur imperfections or to fool people into thinking I’m more awake than I actually am. It makes me feel more confident and put together.

Sure, it can be a hassle, potentially pricey and time consuming, but I usually like the way I look better with it on. (Although there have been some disasters I don’t care to repeat.)

On the other hand, it can be nice to skip a step in my morning routine and let my skin breathe.

A couple of articles I read in response to makeupless Alicia Keys said in a society where the pressure is on for women to look a certain way, we can forget what they look like naturally. I spent a good 20 minutes earlier this week scrolling through pictures of celebs without makeup and was delighted to find how normal they look—like women I might see at the grocery store or Walgreens.

As I battle my own insecurities, it’s nice to know that they don’t all wake up with dewy skin, rosy lips, defined eyelashes and every hair in place. (Well some do, but let’s not dwell on those.)

So ladies, what are your reasons for wearing makeup? Could you go makeup free for a day? A week?

What a night in Wyoming taught me about God

Meteor shower 1.jpg

That’s me, somewhere outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo by Ryan Carl Smith.

“He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”
—Isaiah 40:26

Three weeks ago, I visited Wyoming for the first time. I was there for work, but did have a little adventure one night with a few people from our team.

A couple of them had heard there was going to be a meteor shower, so we waited ’til it was good and dark and ventured outside of town. We turned down a gravel road surrounded by trees, parked and looked up.

Back home, it’s never dark enough to fully appreciate the millions of lights shining down on you. But in that field in Wyoming, it looked like a giant had filled both hands with glitter and blew it into the sky.

As the other folks on the team worked on getting video footage of the meteor shower, I thought about how each of those sparkling specks has a name—each and every one.

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.”
—Psalm 147:4 

That means for every dot of glowing gas suspended in the sky, there’s a name assigned to it. It is known by God. He put it there and knows exactly how many of them there are.

Over the years, I’ve heard people talk about the vastness of God. I’ve read verses about it and even taught Sunday school lessons about how big and great and mighty He is.

But when I stood in that field, freezing and tired, it really hit me just how limitless God is. His reach is immeasurable. His boundaries non-existent. Even when I laid on the ground, gazing up to take it all in, I couldn’t wrap my head around the enormity and power of our God.

In the weeks since, I’ve thought about that meteor shower often. I’ll go back and look at pictures of it and for a moment pretend I’m there again.

It’s not just that it was a gorgeous night or that I got to see something I don’t normally see. When I look at the pictures, I think about how God’s got this. Whatever concern I have, whatever unknown I’m facing, whatever my shortcomings or limitations, He is bigger than that.

And just like each of those flickering stars up there, He put me here and knows my name.

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“You have set your glory in the heavens” —Psalm 8:1. Photo by Ryan Carl Smith.