My Late Night Subway Ride

February 2, 2016

sexless in the city / the refined woman


Winter has finally landed in New York City.  As I left my shoot at the Nomad Hotel, the freezing air shoved me hard, like a football player going in for a tackle.  I pushed back with conviction to make my way down the subway stairs, camera gear in tow.

At the 14th Street stop I made my way up and down the stairs, quietly dragging my bags to make my transfer.  Was my camera gear that heavy, or did someone switch out my lenses for a bag of bricks?  I wasn’t totally sure.

It was almost midnight, and in a New York miracle moment my train came as soon as I walked up.  Thank you God!  I sat down, put my headphones in, and inhaled a rice krispie treat.  When my stop came I regretted not biting the bullet to pay for a cab.  The last thing I wanted to do was heave my bags up yet another set of stairs.  But I grabbed my cross body bag and carry-on, and left the train.

I started up the stairwell, and thought I heard someone talking to me.

When I turned around I was face to face with a tall, handsome European man with just the perfect amount of scruff. He was wearing a navy wool sweater and dark jeans, and I stood there for a moment trying to figure out if he had said something.

He looked at me and smiled.  I looked at him probably a little too long before taking my headphones out and saying, “Pardon?”

“Can I help you with your bags, please?”

“Oh, uh, what?  Uh…yeah.  I mean yes.  Yes please.  Thank you so much” I stuttered, half smiling, half trying to pick my jaw off the subway floor.  Do guys even do stuff like this anymore?

We looked at each other and smiled.  He nodded, grabbed my bag, and we walked up the stairwell.   We didn’t speak, but exchanged glances and smiled a few more times.

Once we got to the top of the stairs, he put my bag down and handed it to me.

“Here you go” he said with a smile.

“Thank you so much.”

“Take care.”

“Yeah, you too…”


“Good night.”

He walked to the left and I went to the right.  And that was that.

It was a 90-second interaction, but it felt special.  And romantic.  I felt seen and cared for, and by a complete stranger.

As I walked the rest of the way home I replayed the scene in my head. I didn’t want to forget this tiny interaction.  There was no grand ending.  He didn’t say I was beautiful or ask for my number.  But he treated me like a woman, and he was kind.   I think that takes courage — not just a guy, but for anyone.

It made me wonder if there are moments of romance and connection bouncing around all around us, if only we’re open to it.



Beauty is… Becoming

January 28, 2016


Photos c/o Kat Harris

“Our life is a becoming rather than a simply being.”

I stumbled upon that quote recently, and have been struck by how accurately it describes the shift that’s taken place in me.

Today I feel more beautiful than I have in a long time. The woman I was a few years ago is so different from the woman I am now. I am grateful for every mountain and valley I’ve encountered, but those valleys were deep, and they were dark.


When I was 18, I lost myself.  I was wrapped in a web of anxiety and depression, and I experienced a total breakdown. I was heading to college in the fall, to a school where I knew no one. I was enrolled in a highly competitive, rigorous program, and I was terrified I wouldn’t measure up. I felt totally out of control, and I didn’t know what to do.

So I turned to the one thing I could control — and that was food.

It all started innocently enough. I didn’t intend to have an eating disorder. But I cut out food group after food group, and it didn’t take long until I was starving.

Just three weeks into my first semester, I had to withdraw. I was so sick that the university doctors would no longer authorize me to stay in school. I packed up my belongings and said goodbye to my new friends, too embarrassed to tell them what was actually wrong.

I went home and signed into an inpatient treatment program. My diagnosis: anorexia nervosa. I was told I was so malnourished that if I didn’t make some major changes (and very quickly), I was going to die.


Hearing that left me feeling weak, ashamed, and helpless.

But I was determined to gain my life back. I knew that my story wasn’t meant to end here. This was going to be one chapter in the book of my life.

After a few months I was able to reach a stable weight and leave treatment. I re-enrolled in school and, for the most part, life went on as usual. No one knew about my past. I joined a sorority and graduated summa cum laude. I moved to New York City for a job as a magazine editor, and everything seemed to be going according to plan.

I was consumed with having the “perfect” life: the right career, the right relationships, even the right clothes. I wanted to live the New York lifestyle I’d dreamed of — if I could make it here, I could make it anywhere, right?

Yet as the years passed, the things I thought I wanted slowly drifted away. I have begun to really heal — body and mind and soul. I’ve met women who encourage me to be myself, who love me despite my flaws, and remind me that life is about more than the way I look or what I do. They demonstrate that true beauty comes from every up and down we experience.

We are beautiful exactly as we are.

For much of my life I have been wrapped up in guilt, shame, and debilitating fear. Now I finally understand that I am not perfect, and I do not have to be. I don’t want to be!

I see the beauty in the mess — the beauty in becoming.

Sometimes the desires for perfection, approval, and control crop back up. The difference is they no longer dictate my life. While I still have to be conscious of my health, I am fully in recovery.

Being honest about my struggles has brought a lot of freedom, and I’ve developed stronger, more life-giving relationships because of it. I am happy in my own skin and excited about who I am — a woman who is fearfully and wonderfully made.


I’m weeks away from my 26th birthday, and I’m truly becoming the woman I’ve always wanted to be. I don’t have a wedding ring or a boyfriend. I don’t have my dream job, and I don’t know what’s next for my career. I don’t have a five-year plan (or even a one-year plan).

What I do have is an underlying sense of joy. I’m becoming confident in who I am — what I look like, what I believe, and what I’ve been through.

I know I’ve been put on this earth with a specific purpose. The valleys I’ve experienced are no coincidence, and they have shaped me into the woman I am today. I’ve seen what it means to have real faith and hope, and a second chance. And I sincerely believe God has bigger plans for me than I can imagine.

Beauty is… becoming. Becoming alive again. Becoming a woman who is flawed yet whole. Becoming who I was created to be and believing in myself every step of the way.



I’m Not a Fashion Blogger | Lessons Learned Part II

January 19, 2016


Photo c/o tutti del monte

It’s hard to believe it’s already been four months since I started my Capsule Wardrobe Experiment.  Even though I got off to a rough start, I learned so much about myself.  Most of it is common sense, but I typically learn best through first-hand experience.  And now that I’m gearing up for winter (my least favorite and most traumatizing season in New York City) I feel better prepared than in previous years.

A few of my biggest take aways have been…

I’m not a Fashion Fashion Blogger.
That’s the first thing I have to get off my chest.  I feel so relieved. Okay so that may be a little dramatic…  maybe I’m just not your typical fashion blogger

I’ve shot runway for years, and while I love seeing the new styles each season, they usually feel far removed from my life.  I’m 5’10 and have an athletic figure, so most of the clothes wouldn’t look good on me even if I could afford them.

When I started The Refined Woman three and a half years ago the goal was to be a place where readers could see real style worn by real working women.

Within months, though, I started feeling pressure to keep up with fashion trends, and I dreaded doing outfit posts.  I’m embarrassed to admit that sometimes I bought and returned outfits just so I could come up with a post.

Doing the Capsule Experiment has been the first time in two years  I’ve felt excited about doing style posts. It confirmed to me that I like feeling good in my clothes, but I’m not passionate about fashion trends.  Also, I don’t own a lot of clothes.  I own one pair of booties,  one pair of skinny jeans,  one long black skirt and a few other pieces.

Now that I don’t feel the pressure to keep up, I feel like I can be more myself — which means a workout outfit post is coming soon!

Capsule Wardrobe = Less Friday night melt downs.
Staring blankly at my closet then throwing myself on the bed in my robe minutes before I’m to leave for the evening whining “I have nothing to wear” is no longer my story.  Recently at a party someone complimented my top, and I jokingly replied, “Thank you, this is my going out top.”  (I have one going out top; it’s a Zara silk blouse from six years ago).

Getting ready has turned into a no-brainer.  My closet may be sparse, but it’s full of pieces I feel confident in and don’t have to think twice about.  I have my go-to outfit for client meetings, my go-to Friday night look, and my go-to working-from-a-coffee-shop-don’t-you-want-to-ask-me-on-a-date look.  There are less woe is me moments, and more time to ponder important things, such as which Nars red lipstick I want to wear:  Dragon Girl or Cruella?

If it doesn’t feel good, I won’t wear it.
Period.  Most of what I purged from my closet were pieces I really loved, but didn’t feel good in, like a beloved pair of jeans that fit me for two weeks each year, and a blouse that fell at just the wrong place.

If it’s between something that makes me feel confident versus a piece that makes me feel insecure, I usually go with confident. This revelation inspired me to sell two of my favorite pairs of shoes on eBay this week —  heels that were so high and pointy that my roommate was always afraid I’d break my ankle when I wore them. I’m using that money to save for a pair of shoes I can actually walk in.

Don’t rush to invest.
After I made my list of the items I needed,  I wanted to go and buy everything the same day.  Unfortunately there was the issue of my limited bank account. And the fact that it’s hard to find exactly what you want when you want it.  (I know…first world problems).

My lack of patience prompted me to buy a cardigan that I have worn twice because it is so itchy.  If I’d worn it for more than a second at the store I would’ve noticed this.  But I was so eager to complete my capsule that I bought it, and now it’s acquiring dust in my closet.  It will soon be on eBay, and I will try for round two of my cardigan conquest.

Although I didn’t learn anything life altering with my Capsule Experiment, I have learned some valuable nuggets.  I feel less of the urge just to go and buy something.  And I’m learning the virtue of patience and saving for something nice as opposed to instant gratification, which quickly comes and goes. And I feel free from trying to keep up with other bloggers and trends, and feel more permission just to be myself.

If this is what I learned from round one of the Capsule Experiment, I’m excited to see what round two has in store.



Real Talk | Real Moms | Work and Childcare

January 15, 2016


photo by ashley kelemen

Before I became a mom, I was unsure of how I would feel about my work as a photographer and business owner after having a child.

Would I want to work? And if I did, would I want to work less? Would I be able to work the same amount I had been even if I wanted to?

The reason this post is difficult for me to write is that I am still working out the answers to these questions. 

Some things I know for certain. It’s the details that are still unclear.

I know that I am not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. When I am home all day with my daughter, I struggle to maintain perspective and am easily frustrated by the little things. It’s really hard work. I have a lot of respect for people who care for children, especially toddlers. It’s the most demanding job I can think of. You don’t get any breaks.

I know I want to work. I love the challenges of running my own business. I am passionate about the work I do. I truly believe I was made to be an artist, and when I’m creating images that tell stories I feel like I am living my purpose. I want to work, even if it means struggling with the logistics during these years when my daughter is too young to go to school.

Childcare is a constant struggle. In the San Francisco Bay Area, finding the right childcare is a real challenge. Daycares have long waiting lists. It would be easier to find a full-time nanny, but my daughter loves other kids and daycare is great for her. But dropping her off and picking her up, in traffic, can be difficult. My husband does this and I am so thankful for that. She goes 2 days a week, so I have to make the most of those days. It truly takes a village — I often need more than 2 days of childcare each week, and I rely heavily on my mother-in-law. I am already anxious about preschool. Some of my friends have actually camped out overnight to get a spot at their preschool of choice. It’s dizzying.

Just because it’s a struggle doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. For me, working gives me the perspective I know I need on motherhood. It makes me more grateful when I’m with my daughter. It keeps me grounded on what I need to let go of and what I need to embrace. For example, when I’m at home with her, I get hyper-focused on her sleep. I get anxious and frustrated if she isn’t sleeping long enough or well enough. But at the end of the day, she’s always fine, whether she takes a long nap or a short nap or no nap. She sleeps through the night like a champ. So when she’s at daycare or at grandma’s house, I let it go, and I find that I’m better for it.

Lastly, I never want to take for granted that I am in a privileged position. Many moms don’t have a choice. Either they have to work, financially, or they have to stay home.  I’m grateful that I have a choice. I know not everyone does.

I try to remember that on days where I get frustrated or tired. I feel those things a lot. I still feel a lot of anxiety at times where I feel like I’m trying to juggle too many things. There are days where I wish I wasn’t my own boss and that I could just call in sick to everything.

But it’s worth it. That’s the theme of motherhood for me. It’s worth it all to have her in my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you’d like to read more real talk from real moms – this post is in collaboration with some other amazing entrepreneurial moms I’m amazed to call my friends.

The Effortless Chic

Our Style Stories

A Daily Something

Sacramento Street

AVE Styles

Sarah Sherman Samuel

Apartment 34

Could I Have That

Parker Etc.




More on Motherhood:

My Birth Story 1 / 2 / 3

Real Talk on Feeding / Travel / Sleep



Be Ready

January 12, 2016

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I have been struggling with this article.

Putting words to the spiderweb of thoughts in my head has felt as frustrating as untangling my iPhone headphones when I take them out of my pocket.

Every year around New Year’s Eve I begin to pray and journal about the year ahead.  In order to know where I’m going it’s important for me to know where I’ve been.  I reflect on the previous year and allow myself to celebrate the things that happened, the dreams fulfilled, the prayers answered, the movement made, the goals accomplished.  

And I ask questions like:  
What didn’t work and why? (Saying yes to almost everything coming my way; my travel schedule).
Where did I get distracted and lose sight?  
What do I need to let go of? (Running my businesses on my own. In order to grow I need to delegate some projects and tasks to an assistant).
What do I need to hone in on?  

I also pray for a word or phrase to be a theme for the year, and then I begin to consider my dreams and goals for relationships, family, career, and health.

On the morning of New Years Eve the phrase came to me:  Be ready.

Be ready?  For what?  What does that even mean?  It felt so elusive.  The next day during my workout, the same phrase kept coming to mind, and it soon became clear that whatever this year holds there is an invitation for me to be ready.

There are so many facets of this theme for me.  Some are too personal to share, and others have yet to be fully processed.  But I want to be prepared when the opportunities I’ve been praying and fighting for start to come to fruition.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a small dream.  When I was little I wanted to be either Gloria Estefan or a professional tennis player.  When my mom asked if I had a back-up plan I blinked confusedly back at her.  I never wanted to play small.

There’s this other part of me, though, that feels insecure, and thinks maybe I should have a back-up plan.

My doubts whisper that what I hope for is completely out of my reach.   I don’t have what it takes.  I can’t do it.  I can’t accomplish the things I want to with my photography and with the Refined Woman.  What if I fail?

My fears tell me to brace myself for disappointment and stop before I get too far along.  Play it safe. Fly under the radar. Stay with what’s familiar.

Sometimes I want to throw in the towel.  It’d be so much easier than to hope and pray and move ahead!

But I want to fight against that and say that dreams matter. I want to give myself and those around me permission to play big.  To create beauty, to facilitate conversations about real life, and encourage and empower others along the way.

We all have dreams, and it’s easy to get discouraged, especially when it takes longer than we thought. But leaving a legacy comes with a cost. If you want to make a difference in our world it takes time, commitment, focus, and faithfulness.

A runner would never show up to run a marathon without putting in months of physical training, eating healthy, or having the proper gear.  She’s able to do the marathon because she’s ready for it.  Because she spent her Saturday mornings training while everyone else was asleep.  She drank water and ate clean while everyone else had burgers and fries.

Those same principles are true for other parts of our lives. In order to be ready when the opportunity arises we have to be willing to make both big and small decisions each day that will lead us to the places we long to be.

Maybe it feels like you’re barely inching forward when you have a mountain to climb.  But those small steps matter.  They prepare you for each next step.  The process can’t be skipped or shortened, and by going through it you will be ready for the next part of the journey.

Being faithful to your dreams isn’t pretty; it doesn’t look sexy or feel glamorous.  And a lot of times there are a thousand things I’d rather do (like reorganizing my dresser drawers and dusting underneath my bed — both of which I did while avoiding writing this article)! But I’m here now, and ready to be ready.

I hope you’ll join me on the journey, and step into the invitation to be ready.



Lessons Learned : The Great Capsule Wardrobe Experiment


I am so thankful I did this project. I don’t think I did it very well, but I learned SO much about myself, my style, and my spending and shopping habits. I wish I had done it years ago.

First of all, I broke the no-buying rule. It was too hard! Especially when I’m traveling. I couldn’t resist buying a pair of pants at an incredible boutique in Portland. And when I went to Palm Springs I added some items to my “vacation capsule” (I’m calling it a thing.)

The good news is that trying to maintain a capsule wardrobe forced me to stop my impulse/stress shopping. In the past I didn’t realize I had been doing this. When I had to purge my closet, almost EVERYTHING I got rid of had been an impulse buy.

Now I’m trying to think of clothes in categories. For example, I know I have a weakness for baggy tops, but how many do I really need? Usually I just wear my favorite. So now I feel better equipped to make smart purchases.

Things I learned about my style — I like simple things. I get tired of patterns and too much color. I like minimalism. Pencil skirts or a super tight fit don’t work on my long and lean body. Volume works for me. I love the way high waisted pants make me feel, but I get tired of wearing them all the time.

Lastly, I realized again how much I gained from paring things down. I like spending less time getting dressed. Especially having a child, I LOVE having go-to outfits in my closet for my everyday life that I know I feel good in. The simplicity is freeing.

I don’t know if I’ll follow the capsule wardrobe again to the T, but I’d love to figure out how to apply some of the principles to my closet. I want to have an intentional wardrobe. Just like with every area of my life, I’m striving to spend less time on what doesn’t matter, so I can focus on what really does. Like this little lady. She’s my world right now, and I like it that way.




Photos by the amazing Ashley Kelemen | Hair + Makeup by the ever gracious Melissa Hoffmann



Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2015

So many things come to mind when I think of Christmas and what it means to me. Though I love parties, gift exchanges, ice skating, and watching my favorite Christmas movies, those things aren’t what I love the most about this time of year.  Christmas is when I get to celebrate a pivotal time in my faith.  In the hustle, I always slow down and re-read each account of Jesus’ birth in the New Testament, and am overwhelmed with wonder and gratitude. 

Christmas is also one of the few times my entire family gets to be together.  The greatest gift I have is my family and the opportunity to be with them.


Grace is the youngest.  Mom had her when I was a senior in high school.  With 5 older brother and sisters, she’s wise beyond her years.  Grace is the one who asks me about my heart, and grabs my hand as soon as I get home because she wants to show me her room.  When she found out about my new tattoo she FaceTimed me immediately and said “that’s interesting… and have you told mom yet?”  She’s got an old soul, and she keeps me honest.


My sister Lilly is 15, and she’s almost taller than me.  She has always had a tender soul, but she takes after me in that she does not like to be told what to do (I used to prance around the house saying “you’re not the boss of me,” only to find myself grounded).  Lilly is an athlete, and a go-getter, and her faith is so sweet.  We talk on SnapChat, and I try not to be overprotective, even though a part of me wants to tell her not to date until she’s 25.  Some of my favorite moments with her are right before bed when we get to cuddle and talk about anything and everything.


Laura Lee is 22, and she lives and works in Austin, Texas.  She starts our phone calls with “Hey Girl…” and always wants to know about my dating adventures and dreams, and she constantly encourages me to play big in my life.  Last week I called her after a really hard day. I was so exhausted I was almost in tears, and my body ached like I’d run a marathon.  She promptly sent me some money through Venmo so I could get a massage the next day. That’s how Laure Lee is: thoughtful, outward focused, ambitious, and loyal.  She will drive to Dallas for a few hours to see Lilly play basketball, or to visit our Gaw-Gaw.


Caroline is 25, and a sweetheart.  She finished working for Teach for America last year, and continues to work with at-risk youth.  She’s like a mother hen and wherever she goes she has little chick following behind her.  Caroline has picked up kids and taken them to school, and she deeply cares about and loves her students. I always tell her she’s doing kingdom work, and the ripple effect of her love impacts so many people.  She’s the one who will watch Whitney Houston’s Cinderella with me for the 100th time and sing every song, and then cuddle next to me and talk about life.


My step sister Amanda and my step brother Don are new to the family, along with my wonderful stepmom Sallyanne. Don lives out of state, and I’m looking forward to getting to know him. Amanda is fun, outgoing, and thoughtful, and there isn’t much she can’t do.  During our family vacation this summer she said, “I want to learn how to do a handstand,” and 15 minutes later she did it!  Amanda has been in the Army for years and done multiple tours overseas.  She does it all with ease and she inspires me.


My brother Paul (or Petey as I call him) is a saint for putting up with 4 younger sisters.  Paul rarely misses one of Lilly’s games, and spends time with our little sisters by playing board games or taking them to the movies.  He is a deep thinker, an avid reader, and listens to really cool indie music.  He’s the one that plans all of us to go the Star Wars on opening night, and going to the Dallas Mavericks game together because why not create a new family tradition?

My dad and his wife Sallyanne

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Me and my mom

And then there’s my parents:  Mom, Danny (note to self:  get portrait of Mom + Danny over Christmas…they can’t escape my camera any longer!!), Dad, and Sallyanne.  I think my family is what it is today, and we’re close the way we are because of them.  We’re not an easy bunch, and I gave my parents lots of trouble and heartache growing up.  But I can honestly say that I cannot imagine being in any other family.

I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.  Merry Christmas friends.  I hope and pray for rest, and joy, and laughter, and peace for each of you!  And egg nog!  Lots of egg nog!



The Refined Man Creates

December 22, 2015


When I barely knew how to turn on a camera and was looking for inspiration, my photographer friend Ben Sasso told me about Nick Onken.  I was immediately drawn in by the movement, laughter, and effortless ease of his subjects. Everyone looks like they’re having a blast.  His images are part of what has inspired me to try to evoke life, laughter, and movement from my subjects.

All these years later, it turns out Nick is my neighbor here in Brooklyn!  He has helped me with my business, and challenged me to push the envelope not just on my work, but on my personal growth.

He’s a risk taker and a fear shaker, and he is committed to creating and helping others do the same.  I’m honored to feature him on The Refined Man.




1. How would those who know you well describe you?
Passionate, driven, creative and loyal.

2. What do you do, as a profession? Why do you do it?
I’m a photographer. I photograph people, whether it’s celebrities like Justin Bieber, Usher, Jessica Alba or African kids for Pencils of Promise. There’s something about capturing the essence of a moment or a person that gives me creative resonance. Creative resonance is what drives me, it’s a magical feeling of creating something that hits your tuning fork in the right key. I love capturing people people from all walks of life.

My other passions include my podcast, Shoptalk Radio, where I get to interview and dive deeper into the lives of creatives. I also love hand drawn type and mixed media art, both of which have been evolving into my professional realm.


3. How do you define success? Are you successful?
Success is living a rich life where money is a vehicle, not a means of happiness. Creativity and quality relationships are at the top of what makes me happy. I think success is being able to wake up every day and do creative work while my basic needs are met, and I have the ability to enjoy the finer things in life. I believe I am successful because of that.

4. What aspect of your work do you connect with most?
The freedom to create across different mediums. I love taking pictures, capturing people and moments, but if I want to wake up and do a painting, I can do that too. I also schedule an interview with an insanely interesting person, connect and learn from them. Then share that with the world. I love creating things that influence and inspire people to create a conscious change in their life.


5. Most artists have have seasons in which they feel uninspired. Is that true of you, and how do you keep creating when you feel uninspired?
For me, lately, it’s been creative plateaus — times when my growth flattens out, and it’s a struggle to push through to the next level of my journey. There are a couple things I do to keep pushing through:
– Remember what I love about my work
– Trust that I WILL move through the plateau
– Try out other mediums to inform my primary medium


6. Did you ever imagine you’d be living in NYC as a professional artist? If not, where did you envision yourself at this stage of your life?
I never had an inkling of a thought that I’d end up living in NYC, let alone be making a good living as an artist. I feel insanely blessed to have the life I have now. I don’t think I had a clue of where I’d be at this stage of my life–maybe owning a design firm or studio in Seattle where I’m from, but that was never a clear vision.


7. You’ve started a movement called Create Your Moments (I’ve loved following it online). What’s the vision behind it?
The vision behind #CreateYourMoments is to inspire people that creating their dream life starts from the smallest of moments. Anyone can do it if they so choose. We don’t all have the choice of what circumstances we come from, but we do have the choice to rise above whatever we are to create what we want. It’s meant to inspire people that they CAN and have the POWER to choose. It all lies within.


8. Describe a significant moment you’ve created this year.
My year had many moments of exploration and discovery, and the most memorable are the ones in new places I traveled to. One was Antarctica, my 7th and final continent, which was like another planet. The other being seeing Cuba, a country I’ve always dreamed of visiting.


9. What legacy do you hope to leave, through your life and/or your work?
I hope to inspire people to create their dream life, whatever that may be. To live in a place of color, and do what excites them. Get out of zombie mode, and be proactive in life.

10. Who or what inspires you?
People, interesting conversations, art and photography that make me wish I made it, traveling to new countries and having new experiences. Other artists also inspire me.


11. What are you most excited about right now?
Everything I’m working on, especially my new lifestyle brand NION which is the product form of all the things I’ve talked about.

12. A well-spent day includes…
Meditation, exercise, great conversations, and making cool stuff.

13. Lastly… and most importantly… what’s your favorite Beyonce song? (Don’t blow this).
Drunk In Love

Real Talk | Creating Space when it feels like there’s none…

December 18, 2015

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“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”
– Mason Cooley

When I lived in Los Angeles I spent a lot of time in the car driving to meetings and shoots. One of my favorite ways to unwind was to roll down my car windows and sing at the top of my lungs.  Even when I was having a stressful day it calmed my heart, and if the music was loud enough I felt like I could hang with Mariah and Whitney.

Another stress reliever was to turn off the music and drive in silence, or pray out loud. Car time was me time.

At least once a week I’d steal away to the beach and set up my beach towel and read — even if I could only do it for 15 minutes.

Those little breaks were like water to my soul.  I needed them.

I didn’t realize how much I cherished that time until I moved to New York City.

Although I’ve been here for over three years, I am still trying to find the balance of how to live well in this city.  Most mornings I wake up to the sounds of construction or taxi cabs honking their horns. When I crawl into bed I can often hear my neighbors talking or having karaoke competitions. The walls are thin!

When I leave my house in the morning it feels like I’m gearing up for battle.  I have my bag (which is basically a diaper bag with no diapers and no baby) loaded with snacks and a change of clothes in case I want to go to yoga. Then I begin my walk to the subway, up and down lots of stairs and through subway corridors to make my transfers to wherever I’m headed.

I didn’t think much about this until my mom visited me in August. In true southern form she would say hello to every person we passed, only to be repeatedly disappointed when people looked at her like she was crazy. More often than not people stared at the ground and kept listening to their headphones.

“Why are people here so unfriendly?” she asked.

At first I felt defensive, as though someone was making fun of my little sister. But as I thought about it, I realized that for many of us, the time we spend on the sidewalk and in the subway is “me time.” Instead of having time alone in the car as we get to our next destination, we’re walking on uneven pavement and sitting uncomfortably close to a stranger in the subway.

But that’s the nature of life in a city.  When you leave for the day you have to be “on,” and you don’t let your guard down until you’re back safely in your bed at night, drifting off to sleep.

I can’t speak for all New Yorkers, but I’ve realized I still need space, so I’ve been finding creative ways to make that happen in a place where it feels like I’m never alone. It’s still possible, but I’ve had to adjust my expectations of what it looks like.  It’s no longer a few minutes of reading on the beach, or a quick catch up call with my mom in the car on my way to dinner with friends.

Instead, I’ve decided to take tiny movements to create stillness in my everyday life.  Even if it’s on a smelly subway with a thousand people surounding me, I can create stillness in the midst of chaos if I choose to.   What this has started to look like for me is:

  • Paying $20 for a 20 minute back massage at a nail salon if I cannot go home before my next commitment.
  • Quietly singing along to my Spotify playlist on the subway with my eyes closed (pretending I’m in my car with the windows down).
  • Reading.  I’ve always been an avid reader.  At any given time I’m reading 2-3 books.  My mentor in college told me, “Reading makes you smarter, so do more of it.”  I took his advice to heart.  When I first moved to NYC I would carry my books with me and read and highlight them on the subway.  Now I take my Kindle Paperwhite with me, and am able to enter the world of whatever book I’m reading. Lately I’ve been reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, along with Falling Upward by Richard Rhor My Kindle is small, easy to carry, and I can still highlight and mark my favorite quotes.  Reading allows me to create space for myself, even in tight quarters.

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I’m learning that city life is all about shifting my expectations.  Finding rest in New York is not going to look like it did in Dallas or in Los Angeles.  It’s not worse or better.  It’s just different.  As I let go of how I used to do things I’m trying to create new ways of rest in the city that never sleeps.

And I am up for the challenge.



**This post is sponsored by Kindle Paperwhite.