Category Archives: Friendship

Bachelorette Weekend, Thirties Edition

There are many things that change between one’s twenties and one’s thirties. Energy levels, gray hairs, relationships and priorities. Bachelorette parties. In fact, there are many ways I imagine the average twenty-something bachelorette party is different from the average thirty-something bachelorette party.

The Food May Be Better: For real. No broke-post-college-student-cheap meals here. From the moment my friend and matron of honor extraordinaire Kacy picked me up on a Friday evening, one thing we certainly did well was eat delicious food in fancy restaurants. We started the weekend with a multi course feast at The Parrott House in Roseburg. Located in a restored historic home, this spot is as beautiful as the food is good.

We enjoyed craft cocktails and shared all the delicious dishes.

These fried green beans with jalapeño honey are basically the best thing ever
Wood-fired pizza with fennel sausage
Mushroom risotto
Roasted brussels sprouts
And, because there had not been enough food, steamed mussels

For the actual bachelorette dinner, my friend Chelsea picked out a spot that was new to all of us – Novo Modern Latin Table. It was perfect! The staff was fantastic and the food and drinks were even better.

There were, like, lots of different kinds of sangria. It only made sense to (make an effort to) try them all.
I also tried all the tacos
I am so thankful for these friends and for the fun memories

The Accommodations Are Fancier: For our first night, Kacy rented a quaint Airbnb. It was the perfect spot to crash after a late arrival.

But the real star of the show was the next night, which was spent at the boutique Inn at 5th. This hotel had every thing I love in an accommodation – style, comfort, and thoughtful amenities.

There’s even this little side door where room service delivers things so that you DON’T EVEN HAVE TO PUT ON PANTS for any late night snacks you might order. We didn’t order room service, but we did ask for some spoons for the dessert we picked up at the bakery, spoons which were promptly and privately delivered.

The Wine Tour Turns Into a Therapy Session: Of course this could have more to do with having two psychologists in the vehicle, but we learned A LOT about our wine tour driver. Honestly, he should have paid us for the free therapy session. At least we did it in style.

It’s Less About the Scene: We initially had three vineyards on the itinerary, but we were having such a relaxed time, that we didn’t make it to the third. Our first stop was the iconic King Estate. It was, of course, incredible to see the hundreds of acres of vineyards and to taste the fantastic wines. The style and scale exuded class.

And let’s not forget the view

But it was the second stop, the gathering place called Sarver Vineyard, that was our favorite.

It was clearly a place where people came to spend time together. The wine was simply a bonus.

It was mostly Sarver’s fault that we did not make it to a third spot. The wine, the cheese, the company – it was all meant to be unhurried, savored.

There Are Not Bachelorette Banners (but there are Bride flannels and paper crowns): When I saw the cute Bride flannel at a local bridal show earlier in the year, I could not resist.

And to be fair, there was supposed to be a Bachelorette Banner, but in true thirties fashion, my friend Kacy has two little ones who were playing with them beforehand and they got lost somewhere along the way. So instead I had a gold paper crown that we picked up at the bakery.

There Are Naps. And Tums. And Coffee: A girls gotta do what a girls gotta do. Enough said.

The Phallic Symbols are Somewhat Classier: Although perhaps they should have been absent… We decided that penis shaped things are fine for bachelorette parties in your twenties and probably cool again in your fifties and beyond. Even so, it was hilarious when the chef at Novo joined in on the fun and sent penis shaped appetizers to our table.

Thankfully, my friends forewent the penis cake in favor of something a bit tamer. And really, really yummy.

The Morning After Is More Brutal: I settled for salmon hash when the waiter at Marche bravely told me it was too early for a burger.

But really, I think this picture says it all.

Twenties or thirties (or beyond) a bachelorette party (or weekend, in this case) is a great opportunity to spend time with dear friends and celebrate a beautiful moment tin life. But some things really do get better with time – like fine wine and friendships.

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Wedding Dress Weekend

One bride, two days, three friends, four bridal boutiques, and (at least) five glasses of champagne. Add in some fancy restaurants and a chic hotel and you’ve got everything you need for the perfect weekend spent searching for the perfect dress.

It all started when my friend Kacy informed me that there was a BHLDN (pronounced beholden – Dutch for “to keep”) wedding shop in Portland. BHLDN is Anthropologie’s wedding collection and after spending approximately 2 minutes looking at the collection online, I knew I had to try on the dresses. All the dresses. And thus, the plans began to fall into place. When it was all said and done, we had a packed itinerary for a weekend of wedding dress shopping and some much needed friend time.

To be honest, I was not necessarily hopeful that I would find “the” dress, but I was confident I would find something beautiful and flattering and enough to make me happy. Really, the search to find a dress was mostly an excuse to get away to the city for a night and have some fun with friends. Oh, and to drink champagne. Finding a dress would just be a bonus. I had asked my groom if he had any preferences for the dress. His only request was a white dress. The italics might be foreshadowing.

Anyway, my friends – Kacy (also my matron of honor), Chelsea, and Dani – and I set out on a Saturday morning from Roseburg and headed toward Eugene. And although my friends Jessi and Shannon could not be there in person, they spent their entire weekends texting with Kacy about every single dress. Our first appointment was at Blush Bridal. I had been told by multiple people that this was the place to shop for a dress. I could immediately see why. From the moment we walked in, every one was friendly and the consultant I worked with was excited to help me find the perfect dress. It was a little overwhelming first, but this first stop helped me settle into narrowing down what I wanted, beginning to learn what looked best on me, and just generally getting used to having all the attention focused on me.

Don’t worry. None of the dresses pictured in this post are the actual dress I will be wearing on my wedding day.

I actually found two dresses that I loved, but did not feel quite ready to commit at the first boutique, so I made an appointment for the next day, expecting to return and finalize a dress purchase in Eugene before returning to Roseburg.

All that dress trying had worked up an appetite, so we made a quick stop for lunch at Mucho Gusto before beginning the drive to Portland.

Once in Portland we made a quick detour to check out Brides for a Cause.

This is a second hand bridal shop where proceeds go to charity. I think the experience there is likely to be a little hit or miss and for me it was a miss. But I did get a good laugh out of trying on a couple dresses that ended up looking unpredictably terrible on me. I love the concept and I am sure if I lived closer I would have given it another visit or two. No appointment was required, so it was easy to fit around the other activities of the weekend.

Next, it was off to check into the hotel before the final appointment of the day. I particularly love Kimpton Hotels, so when there was a suite sale, I jumped on the chance to book a suite at the Portland Hotel Monaco.

The quirky and stylish hotel did not disappoint. The suite was spacious and just perfect for a girl’s weekend.

We took a few minutes to settle in and kick up our feet before walking to the nearby Ania Bridal.

Ania Bridal was another fun experience, complete with the requisite champagne. It was here where I really narrowed down the style of dress I wanted, noting the similarities between what I liked best at Blush and what I like best here.

To be honest, when you’re the one trying on the dresses, you’re not really the one drinking the champagne.

More dresses, more champagne, more decisions to make. I was feeling good about being able to find a dress I loved this weekend, but was still pondering the options as we headed back to the hotel for the complimentary happy hour.

Every evening, there is a social hour featuring local wines and brews. And because Kimpton is pet friendly, there are always a few cute pups hanging out, too. We didn’t want to ruin our appetites, though. We had plans.

Because it was my wedding dress weekend, we went to my favorite restaurant, Lechon. I have extolled the delicious virtues of this place many times and this evening with friends was no exception.

I could leave it at that, but the food is too beautiful not to share, dish by dish. We shared a number of incredible dishes, enjoyed craft cocktails, and ended the meal with a bit of sweetness.

My favorite cocktail was not currently on the menu, so I branched out to the marecuzco – pisco, allspice dram, demerara, lime, and passionfruit
Avocado and smoked trout toast – it was even more yummy than it looks
Chickpea quinoa fritters
One of the two dishes I think should always be ordered at Lechon – the burrata. The accompaniments change seasonally. This evening it was poached apricots, prosciutto, lemon confit, and herbed toast. Simple perfection on a plate.
A salad so that we did not feel too bad about ourselves. And also because it was an ideal combo of goat cheese, cranberries, spiced pine nuts, and champagne vinaigrette.
The empanadas are my second “must order” dish. This evening, there was a spicy fried piquiollo pepper empanada and a milder but no less flavorful pork empanada.
And finally, another favorite, the grilled octopus.

With all of this, we even managed to save a little room for dessert.

I don’t even remember what this was or what was in it. But it was good.

We walked back to the hotel. I felt happy in a way that only the combination of a fancy meal and the energy of walking in a city after dark provide. We opened the bottle of champagne that had been cooling in the fridge (at the expense of the mini bottles now scattered across the floor to make room for the champagne) and pondered the pros and cons of the various dresses I had tried on that day.

We reviewed the texted feedback from Jessi and Shannon. We discussed our plans for the next day. And then things got a little, well, goofy… Because I like these people and want them to still be my friends, I will refrain from sharing the evidence. Other than this. Because the cool hotel robes must be modeled.

I’ll just leave it at that.

The next morning, my final bridal appointment was not until 11 am. That + being in Portland = brunch. Chelsea had recommended Mother’s Bistro and I am so glad she did.

It was classy and cozy. Most important of all, the food was incredible.

Chelsea and I shared a pot of gourmet french press coffee. We chose the one whose flavor description included “chocolate.”
Sharing a cinnamon roll the size of my head is generally a good way to start a meal
Bacon and gorgonzola frittata
Eggs Benedict
Salmon hash
And a scramble

Being friends means sharing each others’ food. At least in my book.

After a great brunch, we were ready for the last bridal appointment, the one that had prompted the whole trip – BHLDN. At this point, my plan was still to try on the pretty dresses just for fun and then exhaustively discuss which of the Blush dresses I wanted to purchase on the drive back to Eugene.

Located in a corner of the second floor of Anthropologie, BHLDN just felt right. I wanted to touch all of the dresses, not just look at them, as I sipped champagne out of bright pink can. And then I met my consultant, her Southern accent sounding so familiar that I couldn’t help but ask where she was from. Something about learning that she was also from Arkansas set me at ease and made the dress shopping experience even more fun.

The place had some seriously gorgeous gowns. I had one dress left to try on and felt like I had a sense of what I liked. Sure, I had not had that moment you see on TV shows and movies, but I was feeling good about what I had mostly decided to buy. Yes, there was one more dress to try, but I had chosen it solely because it was remarkably beautiful and I simply wanted to try it on because I could. It was obviously not going to be an option because it was decidedly not white and, after all, that had been Brandon’s single request. But how many times do you have an excuse to try on as many pretty dresses as you want? I was not considering in a million years that I would buy this dress. I just wanted to wear it for five minutes.

And then I tried it on and had that moment. I walked out and everyone’s face lit up. I stood in front of the mirror and started crying, choking out the words, “I want this dress” as my friends texted Brandon to reassure him that a not white dress would be okay when it was a dress as breathtaking as this one. My mom called the second she got the pictures of the dress to insist that I buy it. And Shannon and Jessi, who had been bombarded with pictures all weekend, texted this:

This dress was, unquestionably, the one. Sometimes I put it on and just stare at it in the mirror and I absolutely can’t wait to wear it next month. It is stunning. I blew my wedding dress budget without a second thought.

A successful weekend of wedding dress shopping called for celebratory sushi burritos. If you find yourself in the Eugene area, you will not regret stopping by this little drive through sushi stand.

Sushi burritos may sound strange, but they are legit tummy goodness.

I ordered the Black Widow – cajun sesame seared albacore tuna sashimi, crispy shrimp, crab, spicy cream cheese, cucumber, carrots, and seaweed salad served with a cajun sweet soy sauce. And I added avocado. I recommend everything about this.

We savored our meal, discussing our favorite parts of the weekend and continuing to marvel over the dress, the not white wedding dress that was meant to be. I am always amazed how a single night away can make a difference – getting out of the usual routine, enjoying delicious meals, and most of all spending time in the company of friends. I think I should do this more often, although perhaps without spending more than $1000 on a dress. That would buy a lot of sushi burritos.

Love and Arkansas

Love is setting multiple alarms so I wouldn’t miss an early morning flight home. Actually, love is being willing to wake up this early for anyone, ever.

Love is Brandon braving his fears of tornados and water moccasins to fly halfway across the country with me in order to spend a mere 5 days meeting pretty much every person I’ve ever known. And doing it all with a smile on his handsome face.

Love is friends who are willing to drive through Dallas traffic to meet for a late lunch so that I could share the deliciousness that is Torchy’s queso with my boyfriend while introducing him to great friends and the first of many, many new people he would meet within a few short days.

Love is a favorite meal shared with friends, a meal not only of food, but of laughter and reminiscence.

Love is a friend who is willing to share her home and stay up way too late on a work night simply for the chance to catch up. 

Love is a meal of Whole Hog BBQ, another stop on the mission to eat all the Southern food.

Love is revisiting the campus where so many wonderful memories were made and trying to explain Harding to my favorite Oregonian.

Love is fried chicken and staying up late playing games and breakfast with enough food to feed an army.

Love is Midnight Oil granitas and best friends who are willing to create the time and drive hours just to meet the man in my life.

Love is a weekend spent in my little hometown. It is my dad’s blueberry pancakes. It is seeing the beautiful place I grew up through the eyes of someone to whom it was all new.

Love is time spent with family – in the car, over Easter dinner, and while drinking tea and laughing so hard that I couldn’t breathe.

One of my favorite pictures from the entire trip – my people being my people.

Love is the people and places that I call home. Especially the people. People who were so excited to meet Brandon and who welcomed him with open arms and open hearts. Love is, for the first time, visiting the home of my past with the one with whom I am building a future.

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California Dreamin’: Santa Rosa

So all that spontaneity and stress from the drive to California was not pointless. We were going to California for a wedding, a very fun wedding. Although much of the weekend was spent in wedding related activities, we did manage to fit in a few extra activities. It was fun for me to get to see a place where Brandon had lived. And I think it was fun for him to show me around.

But, before I get into all that, this one picture from the wedding must be shared. Because he just looked so darn handsome.

For the weekend, we stayed at a VRBO on a small farm. It was quaint and comfortable and there were alpacas and big fluffy dogs that Brandon may or may not have considered stealing.

We also ate a lot of really good food. When the friends getting married are both professional chefs, you’re in good company. Everything, from the wedding catering (there was an entire pig), to the post-wedding brunch, to simple dinners out, was fantastic.

One of the great challenges for me about living in Oregon is the scarcity of good Mexican food. I couldn’t go to California without getting my fix. We began Saturday morning with breakfast burritos from what had been Brandon’s favorite spot for breakfast burritos when living in Santa Rosa. My veggie burrito did not disappoint. Too often vegetarian breakfast burritos are bland with an overabundance of eggs or under seasoned potatoes to other flavors. This one was perfect, with an ideal balance of eggs, rice, beans, cheese, salsa, onions, and bell peppers. No lack of flavor here!

Crab stuffed deviled eggs should be a thing everywhere. Imagine the best deviled egg you’ve ever had and then multiply that by 100.
Burrata has been a slight obsession of mine recently.
Smoked bacon omellete
A fancy Monte Cristo – I loved all the pickles on the side

The day after a wedding is as good an excuse as any for brunch. We were treated to a delicious brunch at Monti’s. Despite staying out a bit to late the night before and having to drag ourselves to the 11 am brunch, we quite enjoyed it. Everything was delicious.

Our last night in California, we went out for an excellent dinner with friends at Jackson’s in downtown Santa Rosa.

When you have to wait 45 minutes for a table, a pre dinner cocktail is a good idea. I tried the Shredder – Humboldt rum, orange amer, lemon juice, and pear puree.

And then there was the food, starting with way too many appetizers – chicken wings, more burrata (because obsessed), roasted cauliflower, and truffle fries.

And then somehow we ate more. I managed to eat about one shrimp taco and I think Brandon ate about half of his turkey sandwich. Nothing like the post-wedding happiness haze to contribute to rash food over-ordering.

We also fit in just a bit of sight seeing on Sunday. I think I mentioned that we had stayed out way too late after the wedding on Saturday. On Sunday, for every second of the entire day, we were struggling. Just imagine in all of the smiling pictures you will see below that behind the smiles, there are pounding headaches and profound fatigue.

When in Sonoma County, one must go wine tasting. Although the thought of alcohol may have been unpleasant at that moment in time, we somehow forced ourselves to go to exactly one tasting room. Our choice was Seghesio Family Vineyards. Although I certainly want to return to the area at a time when wine tasting is more, ummm, palatable, this was a great choice. I loved see how the vineyard was so different from the much smaller operations in the Umpqua Valley and I enjoyed the wines that are not grown in Oregon. We may have come home with multiple bottles of Zinfandel.

After rallying through wine tasting, Brandon wanted to show me downtown Santa Rosa. Specifically, he wanted to show me the Peanuts. Charles M. Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon, moved to the area with his family in 1958. They eventually moved to Santa Rosa, where he lived until his death. There are tributes to Mr. Schultz and the Peanuts throughout the city, including a museum. We were not really museum material that day, but we did enjoy walking around downtown and posing with the various statues. After stopping for coffee at the impressive Aroma Roasters.

All in all, not too shabby for two people who could barely walk.

The wedding was certainly the highlight of the trip. Even so, we had a great time fitting in some more fun things while we were in Santa Rosa. I can’t wait to go back!

South Korea: Fueled by Coffee and Friendship Part IV

Update: The winner of the giveaway is Courtney Barriga!!

My trip to South Korea had been one of the most impulsive, fun, and exhausting few days of my life. The only appropriate way to end it? More of the same.

Coffee #13: In case you’re still keeping track, coffee thirteen was early Monday morning. It was another morning of waking up extra early because I couldn’t sleep, so I did my usual – drank coffee and FaceTimed the boyfriend.

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I again managed to navigate Seoul independently, finding my way to another palace, Gyeongbokgung, the primary palace in Seoul. Originally built in 1395, it has been systematically reconstructed after it was most recently destroyed by the Japanese in the early 1900’s. It was incredible. One of the things I love about traveling alone is getting to wander at my own pace. So that’s exactly what I did as I savored my final morning in Seoul.

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I arrived at 9 am, just as the gates opened. For a while, I had the entire place practically to myself, although the crowds quickly grew.
I arrived at 9 am, just as the gates opened. For a while, I had the entire place practically to myself, although the crowd quickly grew.

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The only interruption to my morning was being approached by multiple groups of adolescent boys who asked me to take a picture with them. It was either some type of school project or some type of teenage boy field trip dare. I’m not sure which explanation I prefer…

Coffee #14: I was not ready to leave Korea. Absolutely 100% not ready to leave. I consoled myself with yet another cup of coffee.

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After one last stop to say a quick goodbye to Shannon (who was, you know, my entire reason for being in South Korea), I headed to the airport.

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I left Korea unwillingly, completely exhausted, feeling strung out on excessive caffeine and inadequate sleep. I left Korea on the first day that I did not feel like I was going to die, just as I began to recover from jet lag. I left to go home and back to work the day after getting back. And yet, it was perfect.

Coffee #15: After a 10.5 hour flight, during which I was thankfully able to sleep, I drank my last cup of coffee of the trip.

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I arrived back in San Francisco intact, but rather disheveled. And notice that I’m still wearing the exact same thing I was at the beginning of the post. Which was well over 24 hours before. Just keeping the reality of long distance travel alive. #itsnotglamorous

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The things I do for friends.

To wrap things up, I am hosting a small giveaway from my trip. Small to reflect the short time I spent in such an incredible place.

To enter to win this hand painted mirror, comment on this post, perhaps sharing the most fun or impulsive or ridiculous thing you have done in the name of friendship. The giveaway ends at 11 pm PST on Saturday January 23. A randomly selected winner will be announced on this post Sunday January 24.

South Korea: Fueled by Coffee and Friendship Part III

Unsurprisingly, I slept well Saturday evening. Really well. Apparently, not stopping between 6 am and midnight means not having any trouble sleeping despite the time difference. That did not mean forgoing coffee, however.

Coffee #9: We stopped in the subway station for a quick coffee before heading to our first spot of the morning. FYI, this would have been coffee #10, but we couldn’t get the coffee machine to work where we were staying. I also feel that this post needs some real-life, genuine, travel-is-not-all-fun-and-games context. Sure, the pictures make it look like I’m having the best.time.ever. And I sort of was. But I was also rocking the worst.headache.ever. The kind that comes about from fatigue and jet lag and using coffee as a means of staying upright. As you read through this post, know that I felt terrible for the entire day. Behind every smile is an unremitting headache. Behind every exciting picture is a healthy dose of exhaustion. Behind every amazing place I went were two aching and blistered feet. And yet, I would do it all over again.

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I look tired
I look tired
Congratulating ourselves on our perfect timing and flawless negotiation of the Seoul subway system. I think stopping for coffee made the difference.
Congratulating ourselves on our perfect timing and flawless negotiation of the Seoul subway system. I think stopping for coffee made the difference.

Our first stop of the day was Bukchon Hanok Village. This is a traditional Korean village comprised of shops, restaurants, and cultural displays, but is also a place where people still live. Casually walking around the village was a low-key way to start the day. Although it did mean, you know, more walking.

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On the way to our next stop, Changdeokgung Palace, we did some shopping and found a spot for lunch. Our strategy? Keep walking until something smelled really good. It worked!

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We could easily walk from the Hanok village to the palace, but apparently Koreans thought it was too far for Americans to walk. Because each time we asked for directions, we were either directed to the closest subway station or told it was far. Spoiler, it was not. We easily walked it.

Changdeokgung is one of the major palaces in Seoul. I would recommend purchasing the combination ticket, which gets you into four palaces and one shrine. DSC02186Shannon and I walked around the palace grounds, but were especially excited for the Secret Garden tour.

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The Secret Garden is a part of the grounds that was developed for the king and royal family to relax in. It is not open to the public except on a tour.

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Perhaps it was that we were tired, or maybe because it was winter and not the best time of year to see a garden, or maybe the tour was actually not all that great. In fact, it was rather a letdown. After getting a few pictures and hanging in there as long as we could, we snuck away. Like walking quickly and hiding behind buildings snuck away.

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Coffee #10: And what does one do after illegally breaking away from a tour? Buy a coffee, of course.

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Shannon and I shared a coffee and possibly said our goodbyes. She was heading to the airport to pick up her husband. They would be getting custody of their son the following day. Amid all of that, I wasn’t sure if I would get a chance to see her again. There are some moments that, as you’re living them, you can’t quite believe are actually happening. Sitting in a park in South Korea sharing a canned coffee with my best friend talking about how she was going to be a mother the next day is one of them. I am so thankful that I get to live moments like that one.

After Shannon left, I explored more of Changdeokgung on my own.

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I then walked to the nearby Channggyeonggung Palace. It is a smaller palace that was built by the young king Seongjong for the dowager queens.

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And then a practical miracle happened. After all of this, I had to find my own way back to where I was staying. Alone. I can’t even do that when I do speak the language. And sometimes not even when I am traveling between places to which I have actually been before. And yet, I was successful.

To celebrate my accomplishment, I bought myself…

Coffee #11: Bought in a subway station, coffees like this are readily available.

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Coffee #12: This was soon followed by another cup of coffee. Because why not. And because Shannon and her husband Daniel came back to where we had been staying!

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We ended the day with a delicious dinner of Korean BBQ (also called galbi gui. I think…). Served with the traditional Korean sides, this was non-stop deliciousness. The small bites of perfectly cooked beef could be eaten alone, dipped in the accompanying sauce (a type of bean paste I think), or wrapped in a lettuce leaf with onion. All were good options. So, unexpectedly, was the grilled garlic. I ate so much food and regretted nothing.

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Happy to be reunited after weeks apart!

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Yes, I was eating meat. And yes, I was enjoying it. The sweet, soy sauce marinated meat was yummy.
Yes, I was eating meat. And yes, I was enjoying it. What can I say? The sweet, soy sauce marinated meat was yummy.

It was another packed day as I worked on seeing and eating all the things in Seoul in a mere 72 hours.

 

South Korea: Fueled by Coffee and Friendship Part II

This series of posts is pretty much all about what not to do while traveling. It’s generally not a great idea to plan a 72-hour trip to Asia from the US, especially when considering the 30+ hours of travel time. It’s probably not the smartest approach to drink large amounts of coffee just to stay upright and functional. And, although staying active in a new time zone is an important part of counteracting jet lag, going non-stop from 6 am until after midnight the day after you arrive in a new country, definitely not recommended. And yet, that’s exactly what I did.

Coffee #5: My day started earlier than desired. I woke up around 1:30 am, again around 3:45 am, and couldn’t stay in bed a minute longer at 5 am.

What do you do when you wake up at 5 am and can't go back to sleep? Drink a cup of coffee and FaceTime your boyfriend, for whom is it is 11 am of the previous day.
What do you do when you wake up at 5 am and can’t go back to sleep? Drink a cup of coffee and FaceTime your boyfriend, for whom is it is 11 am of the previous day.

Shannon and I got an extra early start toward the Lotte Hotel where we were meeting for our all day DMZ tour. We had booked a tour through VIP travel. Tuesday through Friday, the tour offers hotel pickup, but on Saturdays the tour meets at a major Seoul hotel. Knowing we did not want to miss our 8 am tour time, we left extra early to allow ourselves plenty of time to navigate the subway system. Although what I discuss below will suggest otherwise, it is actually quite simple to get around Seoul. You can buy a reloadable T-card at a 7-11 or CU store and then add money to it at the readily available kiosks inside the stations. The card can be used in the subway, for taxis, buses, and other forms of transportation. Transportation is also affordable. The entire time I was there, I put 10,000 won (less than $10) on my T-card and spent another 5,000 won for the bus ride to the airport. Loading my T-card was one of the few times I needed cash, which I had withdrawn from the ATM at the airport the night before.

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DSC01779But back to the story. Good thing we left early, because we apparently lost all ability to successfully function. We could not figure out how to buy a reloadable T-card, so purchased a single ride card. Which then stopped working, leaving me unable to exit the subway station. Shannon stood on the other side of the barrier as I, only mildly panicked, figured out how to buy another card. Which also did not work (which I later realized was probably because I had not used that card to enter the subway system). Through some combination of desperation and magical thinking, I managed to get my single ride card functioning again, just in time for us to walk very quickly to our next subway…as it pulled away. Despite the series of debacles, we managed to make it to the hotel (and then, of course, take the incorrect elevator) before finally making it to the check-in desk for the tour. It really shouldn’t have been that difficult.

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The hotel was gorgeous!
The hotel was gorgeous!

The trouble we had navigating what is actually a rather straightforward subway system could only mean one thing, time for

Coffee #6: After checking in for the tour and being directed to the bus, we had 30 minutes to find the nearby Starbucks.

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This picture truly captures our feelings about the iconic and beautiful green sign.
This picture truly captures our feelings about the iconic and beautiful green sign. We both ordered venti toffee nut lattes.

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 Now we are prepared to tour the DMZ.

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The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a line running 155 miles east to west across Korea, dividing the peninsula in two. After a cease fire was signed in 1953 a line, referred to as the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), was literally drawn across the country in the form of regularly placed markers. The DMZ is the area on either side of the MDL – 2 kilometers to the north and 2 kilometers to the south. With a few exceptions, this area is primarily uninhabited and makes for one heck of an interesting day tour, even if one has to submit one’s passport in advance of the tour and undergo multiple security screenings. On the South Korean side, there is a highly militarized area just south of the DMZ, called the Civilian Control Area, that is also generally inaccessible to the public.

Our first stop was Dora Observatory. Located on a mountain, the observatory offers a great viewpoint of areas within the DMZ, as well as the southern part of North Korea. For about 500 won (less than 50 cents), you can use binoculars to get an even better view.

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After getting an overview of the area above ground, we headed underground at the 3rd Tunnel. Opportunities to take pictures were limited to prior to entering the tunnel. It is one of the four discovered tunnels that were reportedly built by North Korea in order to infiltrate South Korea.

The hard hats were not superfluous. While in the tunnel, the primary sounds were shoes squeaking on the wet, rubbery, floor of the tunnel and hardhats hitting the very low ceilings. Even I had a couple close calls.
The hard hats were not superfluous. While in the tunnel, the primary sounds were shoes squeaking on the wet, rubbery floor of the tunnel and hardhats hitting the very low ceilings. Even I had a couple close calls.
We took a very steep monorail down to where the tunnel began and could walk right to the edge of where it crossed into North Korea. It was hard not to imagine soldiers quietly marching through the tunnels.
We took a very steep monorail down to where the tunnel began and could walk right to the edge of where it crossed into North Korea. It was hard not to imagine soldiers quietly marching through the tunnel.

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The next stop was Dorasan Station, the northernmost train stop in South Korea. For a brief period of time trains carried freight between the two sides of the peninsula. However, there have been no trains between the two countries since 2008. The station is eerily quiet and now serves almost exclusively as a tourist destination. To me, it also seemed to represent the conflicting and mutually held beliefs expressed throughout the tour: that North Korea is the enemy and yet that reunification is desired. It is certainly a complicated part of the world with no easy solutions.

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Despite the smile on my face, by this point, I was dragging. I felt terrible. I was getting a headache and all I wanted was to take a nap. Thankfully, it was time for lunch. My vegetarian bibimbap was delicious, although rather hard to capture in a photo.

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Shan's dish was some type of beef stew of sorts with all kinds of veggies.
Shan’s dish was a beef stew of sorts with all kinds of veggies.

Despite the venti coffee earlier, not even lunch was sufficient to perk me up. So…

Coffee #7: My post-lunch coffee is a type of coffee that is popular in Korea. It was powdered coffee, sugar, and creamer all in one. Not my favorite, but it got the job done. As in, I no longer felt like I was going to die within the hour. Maybe by the end of the day, but at least not within the hour.

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After lunch, our first stop was Imjingak Park and the Freedom Bridge, a spot where prisoners were exchanged after the cease fire. It now serves as a place to commemorate, and mourn, the lifelong separation that has occurred between family and friends since the peninsula was divided.

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And then we got to the highlight of the day, entry into the Joint Security Area. This was the most intense and controlled aspect of the tour. With multiple passport checks and detailed instructions about what to do and not do, the tension at this point was palpable. The dress code was regulated, pictures could only be taken in certain spots and for a limited amount of time, there was no bending over or using hand gestures (I’ve never felt so worried about unconsciously fixing my hair in my entire life). All of that was worth it for the opportunity to actually put a foot into North Korea. The JSA includes a series of conference rooms literally divided down the middle across the MDL where delegates from the North and South occasionally meet.

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The small concrete line in the ground between the two buildings is the line between the North and the South.

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A North Korean soldier
A North Korean soldier

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Our feet are in North Korea!!!
On the way out of the JSA, we stopped at the Bridge of No Return. We couldn't get out of the bus because THERE COULD BE NORTH KOREAN SOLDIERS HIDING RIGHT THERE AND THEY COULD SHOOT AT US. At least we were allowed to take a quick picture from the bus.
On the way out of the JSA, we stopped at the Bridge of No Return. We couldn’t get out of the bus because (according to our tour guide) THERE COULD BE NORTH KOREAN SOLDIERS HIDING RIGHT THERE AND THEY COULD SHOOT AT US. At least we were allowed to take a quick picture from the bus.

After a very full day, we arrived back in Seoul just as the Christmas lights were coming on in the city.

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Normal people would, at this point, perhaps grab a quick bite to eat and then get some rest. But us? That would just be too predictable, too boring. What do we do? We drink

Coffee #8: We regroup at a coffee shop in the nearby Lotte Department Store and plan how we are going to spend the rest of the evening, although perhaps getting back to a place where we can sleep after midnight was not exactly what we intended.

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The plan was walk along Cheonggyeceon, a scenic stream running through the city, until we got to the Insa-dong area for dinner and perhaps some shopping. We would end the night by taking the cable car to Seoul Tower for an overview of the city at night. Because we had not done enough for one day.

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We found the stream without incident, but ended up wandering a bit trying to get to Insa-dong.
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We eventually found the right area of town and walked around until we found the perfect spot for an extra hearty Korean dinner.

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Enjoying the warm barley tea that was available at the table
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Galbijjim – short ribs, rice cakes, quail eggs, and all kinds of veggies. There are no words to describe how good this was.
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Haemul pajeon – a seafood pancake with large chunks of shrimp, crab, and octopus with strips of onion. This is what food should taste like.
We did some damage
We managed to do some damage to this food
More subway riding to get where we're going
More subway riding to get where we’re going
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Seoul lit up at night was magical

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After dinner, a subway ride, a taxi ride, and waiting in a looooong line for the cable car to the Seoul Tower, it would be tempting to think that we were too tired to enjoy it. But that would be incorrect. The view from the top was breathtaking!

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It was also rather romantic, which made me really miss the boyfriend.

By this point, it was about 10:30. We still had to again wait in line for the return cable car, take the cable car to the bottom, take a taxi to the closest subway station, take a series of subways back to our part of town, and then either walk back to where we were staying or wait for the bus. Incidentally, this seems like a good time to mention the Korea Subway app. It’s easy to use, especially if, like Shannon, you have a wifi egg to access the internet wherever you go. I can highly recommend both the app and the egg. When the Subway app was used in conjunction with the Visit Korea app, it was simple to figure out where I wanted to go and exactly how to get there.

We were tired.
We were tired.
One. More. Subway.
One. More. Subway.

When we got off at our station, we had a difficult decision to make. Take the 10 minute walk back on oh-so-tired feet that had already walked 8 plus miles that day or wait a few minutes in the cold for the bus. Fatigue won out and we decided to wait for the bus. And then we waited and waited and waited. We waited as multiple buses passed, none of them ours. It became a sick game where we would see a bus on the horizon, momentarily allowing our hopes to rise, only to have them dashed moments later when we discovered that it was not, in fact, our bus. After every other bus that stopped at that stop passed by, twice, and thirty minutes had passed, we decided our only option was to walk back. At this point it was midnight. We had been going since 6 am. I had arrived in the country after a 12.5 hour flight only a day before. To say I was tired was an understatement. Somehow, we managed to put one foot in front of the other to make it back. We may have taken turns groaning out loud (I can’t help but think that this would have been easier to handle 10 years ago…), spurring one another on with promises of beds and hot chocolate. In case you’re wondering, this is what I felt like at the end of the day:

Hot chocolate, not coffee!
Hot chocolate, not coffee!

It was a day I will never forget. Despite the fatigue and the sore and blistered feet, I would not change a bit of it. If I was only going to be in South Korea for 72 hours, I might as well make the most of it!

 

South Korea: Fueled by Coffee and Friendship Part I

Some things I have realized about myself in the past couple of years: when I have the opportunity to travel with a friend, my answer is almost always going to be yes (as evidenced here, here, and here). And apparently I am willing to go halfway across the world to do so.

All that to say, I should have known better.

When my friend Shannon was doing her best to cover up her disappointment about being in South Korea alone longer than expected to finalize the adoption of her son, I should have known better than to make a joke about coming to see her. Within a matter of minutes, that “joke” turned into searching for plane tickets, which quickly escalated into purchasing said plane tickets and planning my trip to South Korea. A trip that would occur less than a month later. For a long weekend. You read that correctly. I went to South Korea for a grand total of 72 hours.

The only way to survive the madness? Drink lots of coffee and enjoy the amazingness that is longtime friendship.

Coffee #1: I began my journey early on a Thursday morning with the short flight from Medford to San Francisco.

I drank my first cup of coffee on the quick jaunt from OR to CA. That's the only reason I'm smiling at 5-something in the morning. Oh, and maybe because I am on my way to SOUTH KOREA to see one of my favorite people in the whole world!
I drank my first cup of coffee on the quick jaunt from OR to CA. Coffee is the reason I’m smiling at 5-something in the morning. Oh, and maybe because I am on my way to SOUTH KOREA to see one of my favorite people in the whole world!

Coffee #2: While in San Francisco, I had enough time to eat breakfast, drink more coffee, and walk around the sunny terminal.

Getting to go to the International Terminal? That always makes me happy!
Getting to go to the International Terminal? That always makes me happy!

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After a not-too-long layover, I settled into what would be my very tiny home for the next 12.5 hours.

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The flight was probably the least comfortable international flight I’ve experienced, but the time passed, as it always does.

Leaving the US!
Leaving the US!
As the beverage service began, I was mindful of my goal to actually sleep on the flight. Thus, the vodka instead of another coffee.
As the beverage service began, I was mindful of my goal to actually sleep on the flight. Thus, the vodka instead of another coffee.
A 12 plus hour flight is the perfect time for a Harry Potter marathon.
A 12 plus hour flight is the perfect time for a Harry Potter marathon.
The vegetarian option for lunch was surprisingly delicious Indian cuisine.
The vegetarian option for lunch was surprisingly delicious Indian cuisine.

After a few hours of fitful sleep, it was time to try to wake up again. I wanted to be able to sleep once I got to South Korea, after all. What’s the best way to wake up? Coffee and sunshine.

Coffee #3: I was looking a bit frazzled at this point.

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A peek out the window revealed this snowy view. No idea where this is - Russia, maybe?
A peek out the window revealed this snowy view. No idea where this is – Russia, maybe?
This was breakfast, I think. Unlike lunch, it was not very palatable. I could recognize this food neither by appearance nor taste.
This was breakfast, I think. Unlike lunch, it was not very palatable. I could recognize this food neither by appearance nor taste.

Coffee #4: So I drank another cup of coffee and continued to enjoy the scenery and Harry Potter movies.

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As the flight came to an end, I marveled at the almost magical experience of flying. Despite its drawbacks, which are many, airplanes allow me to leave the US on a cloudy Thursday morning and arrive 17 hours into the future on another continent and to another country around sunset on a Friday evening.

I think this is South Korea!!
I think this is South Korea!!

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And best of all, the magic of flying gives me the opportunity to do this – eat dinner with Shannon on the other side of the world. Because why fly to Tennessee when I can fly to South Korea? Every single uncomfortable hour of restless sleep, the sometimes mediocre food, the vomiting child in the seat next to me, the compression socks I wear on international flights to prevent my feet from swelling. All of it, every bit of it, was worth it for that.

Shannon and her friend, Mr. Song, picked me up from the airport (which has free wifi, allowing you the opportunity to easily communicate with the person picking you up - take note, China) drove me into Seoul.
Shannon and her friend, Mr. Song, picked me up from the airport (which has free wifi, allowing you the opportunity to easily communicate with the person picking you up – take note, China) and drove me into Seoul.
The random restaurant Mr. Song took us to near where we were staying. He ordered for us, in Korean, so I don't actually know what we ate, but it was good!!
Mr. Song brought us to a restaurant near where I was staying with Shannon. He ordered for us, in Korean, so I don’t actually know what we ate, but it was good!!

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In Korea, each meal is accompanied by a number of sides. I think these were some type of kimchi greens, fish cakes, soybean curd, and sprouts. Not knowing exactly what I was eating didn’t stop me from enjoying it!

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Things I know about this – it was wonderfully spicy and had vegetables, tofu, and beef.

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Some experiences can’t quite be put into words. Sometimes impulsive decisions are the best ones to make. And some friends are worth meeting for dinner on the other side of the world.

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Roommate Reunion 2015, cont’d

Y’all gave me more gray hairs today… – Cora

Sometimes the best of friends are responsible for difficult conversations.  As the Oregon roommate reunion continued, a 2-hour drive to the coast was apparently the perfect time to have such a conversation. Which resulted in both more gray hairs and a headache on my part. Thankfully, Jessi and Shannon came to the rescue.

Excuse me, you wouldn’t happen to have any Tylenol, would you? – Jessi and Shannon

We spent Sunday afternoon exploring the small, coastal town of Florence.

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At literally every.single.store., Jessi and Shannon felt compelled to ask every.single.person we met for Tylenol. It was, after all, their fault that I had the headache in the first place. Unfortunately, the embarrassment I felt about the entire process sort of cancelled out any appreciation I felt. Really, what else are friends for than to stress you out and then embarrass you? Thankfully, we got to enjoy some Oregon coastal scenery, which seemed to make everything better.

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Guys! We need a selfie stick! – Jessi

Speaking of the coast, apparently we looked either completely desperate or completely pathetic in our attempts to take a group picture. A complete stranger walked over to us from another part of the beach to ask if we wanted to borrow her selfie stick. It temporarily felt like a new low. But then it was awesome.

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This picture brought to you by the magic of the pity offer selfie stick.
This picture brought to you by the magic of the pity offer selfie stick.

Cora, when are you going to Antartica? – Jessi

I don’t think I actually understand what it is that you do. – Shannon

Proof that even the best of friends don’t always understand each other. I’m going to Iceland, not Antartica. And don’t worry, Shan, I’m pretty sure that almost no one understands what I do, including most of my coworkers! Despite differences and brief misunderstandings and disagreements, best friends talk it out, help each other feel better, and have a great day at the coast in spite of it.

Can we take a picture for you? Oh, would you happen to mind taking a picture of us? Maybe just one more?(after looking at the pics and deciding they were not up to her rather high picture standards) – Jessi

After a beautiful day at the coast, I shared more of Oregon’s breathtaking and unbelievable beauty with Jessi and Shannon by taking them hiking at Crater Lake.

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We hiked Garfield Peak, which is not a particularly long hike, but it is rather uphill.

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Our strategy was generally to stop and take a picture whenever we saw something beautiful. Which was always. It was the perfect strategy for never admitting how out of breath we were.

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Take a pretty picture. Hike a few feet uphill and notice you’re winded. Suggest stopping for another picture (or ten), but certainly not because you’re out of breath.

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Hike. Run across someone else on the trail. Solicit about twenty pictures from them.

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Hike 10 feet. See a chipmunk which demands to be captured in a photograph.

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Stop and individually pose for the same picture x 3.

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Hike. An ultimately effective, but perhaps not efficient method of hiking. The view from the top, however, was more than worth it!

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The harder the better – Name redacted to protect the innocent

For the last day of the reunion, we decided we earned some relaxation. In addition to drinking lots of coffee, another roommate reunion tradition is getting pedicures. This time, we went all out and booked pedicures at the River Rock Spa at the nearby Seven Feathers Casino. Not only did we get to enjoy relaxing and much-needed pedis, we also spent time enjoying the lovely spa amenities. It was the perfect way to spend our last day together. Oh, and the quote? It was said to the man adjusting the jets on the hot tub. Obviously.

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I am so thankful for my friendship with Jessi and Shannon. We laugh, we cry, we reminisce, and sometimes we get on each others’ nerves. Jessi uses me as a human clothes rack. We love each other and the all too brief times we get to spend together.

I wish I could capture in words how well this picture illustrates the dynamics of our friendship!
I wish I could capture in words how well this picture illustrates the dynamics of our friendship!

Shannon and Jessi are the best kind of people and the best kind of friends. I look forward to each opportunity we have to be together. As long as we have been friends, it is not nearly long enough. Here’s to more memories, more gray hairs, and many, many more roommate reunions!

Roommate Reunion 2015

At some point during the past 10 years since I graduated college (side note: how is that possible????), I began trying to get together at least once a year with my college roommates Jessi and Shannon. Of course life sometimes intervenes (i.e., people have babies and by people I mean Jessi) and we can’t always get together, but for the past 7 or 8 years we have managed to make a yearly reunion happen more often than not. But this year, my year to host the reunion, I was no longer living in Texas, a place conceivably within driving distance of Arkansas and Tennessee where Jessi and Shannon reside. I was in faraway Oregon. So it was a bit of a surprise when one day in July I woke up with no notion of an upcoming reunion and went to bed knowing that two of my best friends had plane tickets booked for September. Some things are just meant to be.

September arrived and so did Jessi and Shannon. Although of course it was not quite that straightforward as I will get to in a moment. We enjoyed a long weekend of good times, lots of laughs, relived memories, and very little sleep with copious amounts of coffee to compensate.

I’m trying to pretend that I’m okay with being wake right now -Cora

If a quote could sum up an entire weekend, it would be this one. The trip started off with an unexpected twist when Jessi called to share that her flight had been cancelled. I had picked Shannon up from the airport in Eugene and we were killing time at, where else, Target, before returning to the airport to pick up Jessi later in the evening. Or so we thought. Following a somewhat panicked phone call from Jessi, we quickly worked to get Jessi rebooked on another flight. That got into Portland. At midnight. So we did what any reasonable people would do, we decided to buy matching coffee mugs, supplies to make a welcome sign, and party hats. Because what airport greeting would be complete without party hats?

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How could she say no to this awesomeness?
I quickly downed three cups of coffee at 9 pm before making the drive from Eugene to Portland.
I quickly downed three cups of coffee at 9 pm before making the drive from Eugene to Portland. Desperate times…

Shannon and I spent the 2 hour drive mostly talking about my new boyfriend. After she agreed that she didn’t mind hearing everything twice when Jessi inevitably would want to have the same conversation.

By 11:30, we were feeling a bit less enthusiastic.
By 11:30, we were feeling a bit less enthusiastic.
I had failed to consider that Jessi would not be the only person to see Shannon and I holding the sign. It was like an exposure exercise designed to elicit embarrassment.
I had failed to consider that Jessi would not be the only person to see us holding the sign. It was like an exposure exercise designed to elicit embarrassment.

I loved the sign! It was like a painful joy. -Jessi

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We managed to make it back to Roseburg around 4 am. To Shannon and Jessi, that felt like 6 am and the two of them had both been awake for over 24 hours. What a way to begin. And if one should begin as one plans to continue, we did just that – going to bed too late and waking up too early. That just meant we had a constant excuse to drink coffee.

We even got to meet my other best friend, Kacy, for coffee. My worlds collided and it was pretty much the best.thing.ever!!
We even got to meet my other best friend, Kacy, for coffee. My worlds collided and it was pretty much the best.thing.ever!!
Introducing them to Dutch Bros.
Introducing them to Dutch Bros.
Pre-hiking bagels and coffee
Pre-hiking bagels and coffee

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And, imagine that, we are at another coffee shop!
And, imagine that, we are at another coffee shop!

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Not pictured: At least 5 other instances when we drank coffee. And yes, I realize they were here for like 4 days and we drank enough coffee to last a normal person at least a month.

Because a sleep-deprived, coffee fueled weekend was not quite enough exhaustion for one week, we woke up at 3 am on Wednesday so I could drive them to the airport for their early morning flights… before going to work at 8 am.

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How do I get in on that? -Jessi

One of the benefits of having best friends around is exploiting them for their talents. Like back rubs and fixing hair and fashion advice.

For a 4-day stretch in September, I had good hair thanks to Shannon. IMG_0036

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Cora, you need an Oregon makeover!! -Jessi and Shannon

Shannon, are you really going to wear Chacos with that… – Jessi

In addition to great hair, friends can also provide fashion advice, solicited and otherwise. Which could explain how I ended up with a shopping bag big enough for me to fit into full of new clothes.

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That (insert meal here) was so good/yummy/delicious -improvised by Cora to transition to a discussion of food

Okay, so that quote generally reflects the fact that we ate a lot of really great food while Shannon and Jessi were here. Roseburg is not exactly known for being a foodie destination, but happens to have exactly the number of good restaurants you need to get through a long weekend without actually cooking. Stay any longer than that and you’re out of options and stuck with fast food, but at least you can eat well for a weekend.

This was not in Roseburg, but Shan and I enjoyed a fantastic meal at Cafe 440 in Eugene.
This was not in Roseburg, but Shan and I enjoyed a fantastic meal at Cafe 440 in Eugene.
Fried green tomatoes done right and served with chipotle aioli.
Fried green tomatoes done right and served with chipotle aioli
Salmon over risotto. Can I just eat this everyday, please?
Salmon over risotto. Can I just eat this everyday, please?
And chocolate bread pudding because we were literally not going to bed that night. And I needed something to go with my coffee, right?
And chocolate bread pudding because we were literally not going to bed that night. And I needed something to go with my coffee, right?

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The Lighthouse is a vegetarian bakery that even carnivores love.
The Lighthouse is a vegetarian bakery that even carnivores love.

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The guacamole “burger” is amazing!

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Alexander's Greek Cuisine
Alexander’s Greek Cuisine

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Seafood within driving distance (in this case Florence) is a definite perk of living in Roseburg
Seafood within driving distance (in this case Florence) is a definite perk of living in Roseburg

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Dakota Street Pizza
Dakota Street Pizza
Brix, one of my favorite spots
Brix, one of my favorite spots

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Bagel Tree. For bagels. We needed the calories for hiking obviously.
Bagel Tree. For bagels. We needed the calories for hiking obviously.
We enjoyed a nice dinner at Dino's on our last night together to celebrate over 13 years of friendship in the best way possible - with delicious food and laughter-filled conversation.
We enjoyed a nice dinner at Dino’s on our last night together to celebrate over 13 years of friendship in the best way possible – with delicious food and laughter-filled conversation.

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There is more to share, but a weekend with two of my favorite people cannot possibly be summed up in one post. Stay tuned for more about gray hairs, misunderstandings about trips to Antartica, and probably more coffee.