Category Archives: Gratitude

Nothing Worthwhile Is Easy: My First Backpacking Trip

You may remember that last summer was my first camping trip in several years. I loved it so much that this summer I decided to take the next step and try backpacking. Because what on earth could be not fun about strapping on a 35-pound pack that’s as big as you are and trudging to a campsite with absolutely no amenities?

But that is exactly the point. The things in life that are the most meaningful, the most wonderful, are usually the things that do not come easily. I was reminded of that over and over again during our days in the woods.

It is probably no surprise that I spent weeks preparing for this trip – researching where to go, gathering tips from friends, taking stock of our camping supplies and spending an unmentionable amount of money on Amazon filling in the gaps and buying backpacking supplies, creating a meal plan and spending half a day shopping and prepping the food we would eat (for the curious, I plan to do a separate post on exactly what food I packed and what we ate – I spent a lot of time putting a plan together and it seems worth sharing). This was no small feat – weeks of work for a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip.

And then the day arrived, the day we would load up the car and drive to the Beaver Swamp Trailhead for the start of the hike. I have no doubt that Brandon could have carried his 50+pound backpack for an extended distance. Me, on the other hand, not so much. In fact, I was a little worried about carrying it at all. But you can bet once I got myself strapped into that thing, I documented the heck out of looking strong and sporty with my giant backpack.

Not wanting to overcommit on this, my first backpacking trip, I had found the perfect spot. Fish Lake (not to be confused with THE Fish Lake, the larger lake located near Mt. McLaughlin) is a small lake located in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. It seemed like the ideal spot for a first trip – it would be a 2.5 to 3-mile hike in (depending on the final campsite), we could set up a single camp for both nights, and would have access to many trails for day hikes.

I’ll be honest, the hike in was not as bad as I expected. Of course, that could be because I was somehow blissfully ignorant of the fact that it was downhill pretty much the entire way. Troubling thoughts of the uphill hike that would be required on the way out were far from my mind as I took in the scenery and enjoyed being outdoors on an absolutely gorgeous day. And the trail was clear, too, so there were few obstacles to surmount… Yet.

Sooner than I expected, we got our first glimpse of Fish Lake.

Surrounded by mountains still topped with snow, the small blue lake was quiet and sparkling in the afternoon sun. After a bit of searching, we found the perfect spot and set up camp. Most importantly, we set up the hammock with an unobstructed view of the lake.

We spent the remainder of the day settling in, relaxing in the hammock, reading, fishing, preparing dinner, and simply enjoying 100% of each other’s attention as we sat with warm drinks in hand and talked by the campfire, uninterrupted by technology or the need to do anything except be present and together.

When Brandon said he wanted to make a bow and arrows while camping, I kind of thought he was speaking figuratively. Apparently not.

That night, we (including Sydney) cuddled in the hammock as the sun slowly set and counted the stars as they appeared. Soon, the night was dark and the stars shone brightly in the kind of darkness that can only be found in the wilderness. I noticed I was crying, from the peace and beauty of it, from the perfection of sharing the stars with my love. I could not imagine being any happier and more content than I was in that moment.

Perhaps, other than the whole peeing in the woods thing (an unexpected skill that I have now mastered, by the way) backpacking wouldn’t be so bad, after all.

Cue music that darkly foreshadows things to come.

This is where things really started to become difficult. The silent starry night, the romantic campfire far removed from distractions, the perfect camping spot near the lake – all of that would come at a cost. And that cost would be sleep. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the unenviable experience of “sleeping” literally on the ground, but it does not seem to usually involve actual sleep. Despite our fancy new sleeping pads and inflatable “pillows” (which are not even deserving of the word), it really felt like we were basically sleeping on the ground, uncomfortable slope, pokey sticks, and coldness included. Not to mention the raccoon that came sniffing around (yes, all smelly stuff was hanging a safe distance away from the campsite) that Sydney and I were both certain must be a bear out to get us. Needless to say, there was not a whole lot of sleeping going on.

The next morning, exhausted, Brandon volunteered to be the first out of the tent to make the campfire and the coffee. Because he loves me. And values continuing to be in this relationship.

After a slow start that involved breakfast and fishing and staring blankly ahead at the calm water, we decided to spend the morning on a “nice little hike.” I estimated that the hike I had planned would be about 6-miles and “it didn’t look too bad.” Uh yeah, famous last words. We set off, marveling in the cool morning and the magical golden sunshine filtering through the trees.

It was not even 8 am.

And then there was this:

I do not exactly have the best coordination and walking across a moving body of water with nothing but a tiny, unflat log between me and getting soaked and/or a concussion from falling onto rocks? Not my idea of a good time. I was, however, quite proud of myself and relieved after I (slowly and painstakingly) made my way across. Surely the day was won after such a feat.

But no. There would in fact be multiple water crossings that day. Sydney and I both protested each time. She had it easy though. When she refused to cross, Brandon would pick her up and carry her. When I refused, he would impatiently insist that I stop being a baby and walk across the stupid log. Not fair.

And it was not just the water crossings. There were also the countless spots along the trail that were completely blocked by fallen trees. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the trails had not been cleared in a wilderness area early in the summer.

When I wasn’t precariously balanced while walking across a log, I was climbing over, under, or around one. And did I mention that somehow the trail managed to seem uphill for pretty much the entire day? And that the 6-mile hike turned out to be more than 10? Oh, and there were mosquitoes. And snow.

I think I’ve managed to make the case that this was not an easy day.

And yet, there were the moments that made it worth the effort. My sense of accomplishment each time I managed not to fall as I balanced my way across a log or climbed over an obstacle; the moment when, after we were certain we had somehow gotten on the wrong trail and would have to (to my horror) backtrack, we saw the sign confirming we were on the right path and not totally useless at reading a map; the picnic lunch we enjoyed atop a rock overlooking Buckeye Lake; being able to go an entire day without talking to other people (am I the only one who gets excited about that?); the privilege of getting to spend time in an Oregon wilderness surrounded by beauty – all of these things and more made the challenges of the day worthwhile.

I love this picture

Although I will admit this one last water crossing just about did me in.

We had thoroughly earned some relaxation. We spent the remainder of the day trying to move as little as possible and intermittently complaining about which parts of our bodies were hurting the most. We did more of our favorites – I read, Brandon fished, we napped, we were both perfectly happy. And, thanks to the strenuous 10-mile hike, we, almost, managed to get some sleep that night. Bonus!

She was so tired
She kept trying to get into the tent to go to bed

The next morning, we reluctantly repacked our bags. Although I am not certain whether the reluctance was more about leaving our little haven in the woods and returning to reality or whether it was a sudden realization that we would actually have to hike some more.

Of course, I still had not realized that the 3-mile hike out would be mostly uphill. That quickly changed. As I trudged along, my pack feeling heavier with every step, I comforted myself with the thought that at least this trail, which we had hiked two days before, would be clear – no fallen trees across the trail, no logs to cross. You would think I would have learned by now.

Just when I was ready to power through the last bit, Brandon and I having decided that, screw it, we were eating pizza when we got home, there was this little surprise:

The log he’s leaning against is the one we climbed over. I also found Brandon a “man bouquet” aka a really big pine cone

Yep. Somehow in the less than 48 hours since we had last been on this trail, a giant tree had fallen and rolled across the trail. It was a large enough obstacle to require taking off our backpacks and then boosting ourselves over the tree. From the moment I removed my backpack, all my stamina, the rhythm I had found moments before, was gone. Every single step of the remaining hike was painful and effortful. Every. Single. Step.

But I made it.

I feel like you can really see the pain in my eyes

Moreover, I would absolutely do it again. It may not have been easy, but it was worth every bit of it.

And that whole nothing worthwhile is easy thing? It’s not just about camping trips. I cannot help but draw the parallel to my relationship with Brandon. This was so perfectly illustrated in how the trip began.

What I have not yet shared is that my first ever backpacking trip got off to an especially rocky start. Dismissing the sort of funny noise that Brandon’s car was making as air conditioner related, we set out on the 2.5 hour drive to the trailhead. Approximately 2 hours into that drive, the sort of funny noise suddenly became a worrisome and loud noise, leading Brandon to quickly pull over the car. What we learned, to our chagrin, was that the serpentine belt was broken. Being unfamiliar until that very moment with what a serpentine belt was, I had no idea the extent to which I should be worried.

What I did know was that we were in the middle of nowhere, a solid hour away from anywhere remotely likely to have cell phone service, and even farther than that from a place that could help us fix the car. Imagine my relief when a nice family in a truck, likely out to camp for the weekend as we were, stopped and offered to help. They even offered to give us a ride to the market about 45 minutes behind us so that we could make the necessary phone calls. Imagine my disbelief when Brandon’s response was “No thanks, we will just limp our way back.” Despite my silent outrage and rising panic as I imagined us walking the 30+ miles back to anything resembling a building, I kept my concerns to myself as I watched the nice family in the truck slowly drive into the distance and out of sight. Brandon, love of my life, quickly explained that the car could technically function without the serpentine belt and his plan was to “limp our way back” inside the vehicle – thankfully, all limping was to be done by the Subaru, not by my feet.

What he did not explain, and what would later help me understand just how quiet and tense he was on the hour and half drive to the closest auto parts store, was that one of the systems operated by the serpentine belt is the cooling system. Without the cooling system, the car could overheat at any time. Oh, and by the way, the battery could completely stop working, too, because of some reason I cannot remember. Both not overheating/blowing up the engine and having a functional car battery seem sort of important. Needless to say, we were both quite relieved when we pulled into the Napa Auto Parts store in Canyonville, ironically across the street from the diner where we had stopped for breakfast a few hours before. Brandon, with his full knowledge of just how much worse the situation could have been, was especially relieved. We purchased the necessary parts and worked together, me using my internet searching skills and Brandon doing almost everything else, to replace the broken part that led the belt to break and then to reinstall the serpentine belt.

I mean, how can I not love this guy?
My invaluable contribution was finding a diagram of exactly how the serpentine belt needed to be installed

As we high fived and celebrated in the parking lot, apparently observed by the amused store workers, I was so thankful for what we have. No relationship is easy. There will always be the proverbial broken serpentine belts and moments spent stranded on the side of the road. And when those things inevitably occur, it is not easy to be patient with one another, to be kind, to not give in to fear and yell “What are you thinking, you idiot?” when your boyfriend declines the car ride back to civilization. But those moments of loving each other when it’s hard, being selfless and sometimes sacrificing your own wants and needs for each other, that is what makes a great relationship. It takes a lifetime of work to build and to keep a relationship worth having. I am going to get mushy just for a moment, but I love Brandon for the way he loves me when it is not easy to do so, when I am not easy to love. I am thankful that when Brandon is worried and frustrated, he can feel that way without directing those feelings toward me. I am thankful for the way we work together as a team. And I am thankful that even when things do not go as planned, we can still love each other through it. Because nothing worthwhile is easy.

SaveSave

SaveSave

On Ethan in Oregon and Getting Older

Although I generally accept getting older with stoicism and acceptance (after all, what can I do about it?), sometimes another birthday can bring out the less than stoic and accepting thoughts and feelings about adding an additional number to my age. Last year, I managed those thoughts and feelings with a trip to Hawaii. I’ll be honest, spending a few days on the beach with the occasional tropical drink in hand certainly helped ease the pain. Sadly, that was not gonna happen for this year’s birthday. So I arranged for the next best thing – a visit from my brother. It was his second trip to Oregon and we had just as much fun as the first time. And this time, Brandon got to tag along for our sibling adventures. Spending my birthday weekend (because after all a single birthday day is not quite enough) with two of my favorite guys was just about perfect.

We kicked off our weekend with a day trip to Crater Lake. This was a spot we had not made it to last time Ethan was here, but it was at the top of his list of places to go. So we went. Even though it was a bit cloudy that morning, we hoped that the weather would clear by the time we made it to the lake.

Off on our first adventure! The only thing that could make this picture better would be Evan.

All the catching up and scenic driving worked up an appetite, so we stopped at the quaint and delicious Beckie’s outside of the park. 

And we just couldn’t pass up the homemade pies. After all, we would be facing unknown risks in the still snowy mountains, so we needed plenty of fuel. Rather than choosing a pie of my own (because how can one choose among all that sweet deliciousness), I ate a bit of Brandon’s blueberry pie and a bit of Ethan’s pecan pie. Two kinds of pie instead of one kind of pie? Yeah, I think I made the best choice.

Our appetites adequately satisfied, we eagerly anticipated views of the bright blue lake. Brandon and I excitedly shared how amazing Crater Lake is, how Ethan would be almost unable to believe his eyes, that when one gets a first glimpse of Crater Lake, it is absolutely breathtaking. And then we were temporarily distracted from all this talk by the sheer amount of snow. Although the roads were clear, there were still feet of snow piled alongside the roads and on top of the buildings. In May. It was incredible.

After all of that – the drive, the talk of the amazingness of the lake, Ethan’s anticipation of finally seeing the much spoken of wonder that is Crater lake – this was the best view of the lake that we got:

Yep see that little sliver of grayish blue hidden under the clouds? That’s the lake. And it only got more cloudy from there. This was literally the best view of the entire day.

Sadly, this was actually Ethan’s best image of the lake – the short video about Crater Lake that we watched at the visitor’s center.

Despite the disappointment, we strapped on our rented snowshoes and made the best of the afternoon.

As you can tell, we still managed to have plenty of fun. We played in the snow, threw snowballs, attempted snow angels, and were generally silly.

We had taken a picture by this tree when we were at Crater Lake the previous September. The view was just a teensy bit different.

My first time snowshoeing, which has been on my Oregon Bucket List.

Action shot
The look on my face when I am considering forgiving Brandon for pushing me into the snow…

And the best pic of the day, even if I have no clue what is happening

Even though the lack of lake views was a bit disappointing, Ethan not really seeing Crater Lake means he will just have to come back to Oregon for another visit!

So, perhaps I have sort of given the impression that Ethan came to Oregon just for my birthday. Which he would totally do because he’s one of the two best brothers in the world and I’m certainly the best sister. But I may have left out the teeny, tiny little detail that he chose this particular weekend to come to Oregon because he was running in the Eugene Marathon. Which, of course, meant that I would be there to cheer him on. We headed up to Eugene the night before so Ethan could carb load at Olive Garden and because the next morning would be an early start.

Ethan picking up his race packet

It was that evening that I fully began to appreciate just how much my boyfriend and my brother have in common. Specifically, how nerdy they both are. Sitting between the two of them while watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (and the various previews prior to the movie) was amusing. They would laugh hysterically at the exact same moments. Freak out and demand my attention in their nerdy excitement about the same previews. It was equal parts heartwarming and humorous.

And then there was race day. I was rather surprised by how emotional I was about the whole thing. This certainly was not Ethan’s first race or even his first marathon, but it was the first one of which I had been a part and it brought out my proud big sisterness in unexpected ways.

Like the moment early in the morning when we sat in my car and talked, Ethan staying a bit longer than necessary to calm his nerves, me feeling strangely protective and worried as he walked away from my car to head to the start of the race.

Or when Brandon and I found a spot by the river to cheer him on around mile 18. I think I surprised both of us when I started crying rather intensely because I was so proud of Ethan and watching him do something so difficult and wonderful made me more than a little emotional.

And then there was the finish line. I was inspired watching so many people complete the challenge of a marathon, but there has been no experience in my life like watching Ethan finish the race. I know it might sound dramatic to be emotional about watching my brother running a marathon, but it was such an amazing experience and I could not be more proud of him.


A completed marathon called for a celebratory meal. We settled on Hop Valley Brewery for burgers and beer. Ethan may have been a bit delirious from exhaustion at this point, hence, the following series of pictures.

The food and drink were excellent and exactly what Ethan needed before passing out in the backseat on the way home. Which I documented in pictures, of course. I may have been a proud and emotional big sister, but I was a big sister nonetheless.

The following day was my birthday and Ethan’s last day in Oregon. Despite his aching body, Ethan was willing to make the drive out to the coast to celebrate. He may have requested Brandon to slow down, though, as his abs hurt each time the car took a curve. If you’ve ever made the drive to the coast, you know that curves happen frequently, poor guy.

We had no specific destination other than “the ocean” in mind when we left. Our first stop was a little seafood spot in Coos Bay. We ordered our freshly caught seafood from the restaurant sitting on the water and had a nice little picnic in a waterside pavilion.

From there we headed to a little spot we call “Secret Beach.” It may technically have another name, but sharing it here would make it rather less than a secret. And I like that there are few, if any, people there. Of course, that might have something to do with the crazily rutted, unmaintained, gravel road that you have to take to get there.

We spent the afternoon as one does on an Oregon beach – exploring, walking, relaxing, carrying logs, throwing a hatchet Brandon found abandoned on the beach. You know, the normal stuff.

And for my birthday dinner? We returned to the spot in Florence where we had found a crazy delicious pistachio drink when we had been there the previous year. Yes, I chose my birthday dinner spot entirely for this drink. It’s that good.

Thankfully, the food at 1285 Restobar was almost as good as that drink.

Steamer clams in a white wine sauce
My choice was a crab stuffed ravioli in a creamy lobster sauce that was absolutely delicious.
And because it was my birthday, I also got to sample Ethan’s fried oysters…
…and Brandon’s seafood pasta.
No birthday dinner would be complete without dessert. Despite being quite full by this point, we did manage to mostly finish off the tiramisu between the three of us.

It was altogether a lovely birthday. Getting to spend time with Ethan for an entire weekend certainly distracted me from turning another year older.

As we made the drive back home that evening, I couldn’t help but feel thankful to have had another year of life, a great life full of love and laughter and adventure, a beautiful life that I get to share with Brandon and Ethan and so many others. Getting older might not be so bad, after all.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

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.

SaveSave

SaveSave

Sometimes It’s The Simple Things

2016 was quite a year. It was a year of excitement and adventure, a year full of exploration and fun both across Oregon and in all new places. And it was a year that ended in the most perfect way possible, a much needed day full of the simple things that make life worthwhile.

A day of walking hand in hand along the beach with my love.

A day spent watching Sydney run up and down (and up and down and up and down) the sand with abandon, playing tag with the waves.

A day to appreciate the unparalleled beauty of the Oregon coast, often feeling like the only two people in the world as we listened to the waves and noticed the details of the nature surrounding us.

A day where we got to enjoy the freshest of fresh seafood.

A day when it was easy to find gratitude for each other and the life we live.

He makes my life better

A day, and a year, that ended with a sunset that seemed like it was meant just for us.

A day perfect in simplicity.

 

 

 

 


 

 

The Year I Resolved to Go

I was never one to make New Year’s resolutions. I mean, I appreciated the idea, but it was just not something I did. But as 2013 changed to 2014, I found myself resolving to have a better year. And I did. As 2015 transitioned to 2016, I resolved to be grateful, making the most of every day while being open to new possibilities. And I believe I was generally successful, those resolutions in many ways leading to me meeting and falling in love with Brandon.

The beginning of this year, though, felt a bit different. As I began 2014 and 2015, all I could see were the possibilities, the potential of all the things that could happen in the course of the year. Equal parts scary and exciting, those were years where I did things like move across the country and take a last minute trip to South Korea. But as 2016 began, I felt a subtle shift, an almost imperceptible nudging at the edges of my mind. Now, as I look back on the year, I think what I was perceiving was that this was, perhaps, the end of something. Somehow, after this year, life would be more settled, my (carefully) impulsive decision making would need to be curbed, and my life would become simultaneously smaller and yet bigger, too, I think.

And that’s why I believe, without fully knowing why, I quietly resolved to simply go. My half-formed idea was that at least every other month I would take a trip. It didn’t have to be far or long, but I wanted to take at least six trips over the course of the year. I think I wanted to fit as much travel and adventure as I could into a single year (while also working full time, living far away from family, being responsible for a dog who is rather emotionally needy, etc.).

With that idea in mind, these are the places I went:

January: We rang in the New Year in Bend and enjoyed a weekend getaway to the coast.

February: Brandon and I spent Valentine’s weekend in Portland before I took a solo trip to Iceland later in the month.

March: My aunt came to visit and I got to show off Oregon.

April: I think I actually managed to stay put, other than some local hikes (or attempted hikes…).

May: This month brought an amazing birthday trip to Hawaii! And let’s not forget, my first camping trip in several years.

June: We camped and got to share the amazing Oregon summer with my parents.

July: I attended my first music festival ever – the Cape Blanco Country Musical Festival was a weekend of camping, music, and friends.

August: I bought a house. I think packing and moving and, you know, buying a house, pretty much ruled out going anywhere for a few weeks.

September: Brandon and I celebrated a year together with another trip to Bend. At the end of the month, I flew to Arkansas for my annual roommate reunion and to see family.

October: I took a work trip to North Carolina. It was my first time in North Carolina and I got to catch up with some old friends. And eat Southern food. It was a great time.

November: We celebrated Brandon’s 30th birthday with a trip to Washington (details to come, I promise!!).

December: This was, other than April, possibly the least exciting month of the year.

If you were counting, that was a grand total of twelve trips, an average of one per month. That number doesn’t even include the weekends when I hosted company, a full count of the camping trips, or the many single day adventures we enjoyed. Whew! I feel tired just thinking about it. 2016 was a great one!

Yes, this year may have been the end of something, the last of its kind in my life, at least for now. I have LOVED this year, the adventures, the new places, the lightness and carefreeness of it all. And most of all, getting to do so much of that with Brandon. I do feel sad about leaving this behind sometimes. And scared and excited. But the end of one thing means the beginning of something new. The next season of my life will be its own kind of adventure I imagine, full of unexplored territory and beauty and sometimes pain. But most of all love. A love that encourages me to let go of the past and move into the future. And although I will miss this phase of my life – it has been one of the best – I think I’m ready for the next one. Maybe there won’t be quite so many faraway trips and the weekend getaways will be less frequent, but I am guessing there will be some great surprises in store. Here’s to 2017. Here’s to new beginnings.

A Year Isn’t Long Enough

Fair warning: This could get mushy. Proceed at your own risk.

We had a lovely summer: hot afternoons spent floating the Umpqua River or relaxing half in and half out of the river’s pleasantly cold water, weekends of camping and hiking that were over before they began, my first music festival, and, most of all, falling even more in love with this man whose adventurous and fun-loving nature had pushed me out of my comfort zone and whose kindness and substantial love created a safe place for me to be myself. This had been the most absolutely wonderful summer of my entire life. I even managed to buy a house and move into it almost exactly two years to the day after arriving in Oregon. It was simply perfection.

But the summer, as do all good things, ended. September snuck in with its subtly cooler nights and a hint of frantic energy as the world around us returned to routines and regularity. We could not let the summer end without one last hurrah and our one year dating anniversary  provided the perfect excuse. Our destination a secret until almost the last minute, I anticipated our weekend away and reminisced on what a summer, what a year, it had been.

Brandon planned a weekend full of the things we most loved to do – appreciating beautiful scenery, preferably by foot, having adventures with at least a slight possibility of injury or death, exploring new places, eating an almost embarrassing amount of mouthwatering food, and most of all, spending time together.

We began the weekend with a stop by Crater Lake. A place I have visited and written about multiple times since moving to Oregon, I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing the unbelievably blue water and incredible views to be found in the national park.

We arrived right at lunchtime and decided to eat lunch in the lodge restaurant before setting out to explore. The lunch was delicious, especially considering that Crater Lake is in the middle of nowhere and that bringing in supplies cannot be the most straightforward matter.

Staying here is on my Oregon Bucket List. Maybe next year.
We shared the soup of the day, which was a flavorful, brothy soup with sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts.

Brandon’s choice of the frittata was, no surprise, shockingly similar to breakfast food.
And I chose the crab salad in avocados because everything is better in a bowl made out of an avocado. And because calories do not count on vacation.

After lunch, we set out to explore a bit of the park.

At this point we needed to burn off at least part of our lunchtime calories with a hike. Plus, the day was absolute perfection with blue skies and sunshine for days and a temperature in the low 70’s. It was the kind of day that makes you happy simply to be alive to witness it. Such a day should never be wasted indoors. After considering our options, we settled on Watchman Lookout Trail.

See that teeny, tiny building at the top? That’s where we were going.

It was short enough, less than a mile to the top, to easily fit with our other plans for the day. Plus, it was challenging enough to feel like an actual hike, not just a walk, with a steady uphill climb, but the switchbacks were not so steep as to make you regret your life (I’m looking at you Garfield Peak). And then there were the views.

The hike offered open views of the surrounding scenery with glimpses of the lake. Once at the top, which is an old fire lookout (hence the name of the trail), there is an unparalleled view of Crater Lake, the kind of view that makes it hard to breath because it is so beautiful.

It is moments like this, where I am in a place almost too beautiful to be believed, arm in arm with the man I love, that gratitude comes most easily. It presents as a sense of overwhelming joy that tangibly wells up inside of me until I am full of emotion, inexplicably crying because I am so perfectly, so undoubtedly, happy.

What a way to start the weekend!

After Crater Lake, we headed toward our ultimate destination for the weekend, Bend. As you may recall, we had started the year in Bend amid the snow and the cold. Brandon wanted to return in the warm weather and while the caves were still open for the year.

At the last minute, the vacation rental he had reserved for the weekend fell through. The silver lining of that is that we ended up staying at Riverhouse on the Deschutes.

As an (obviously relevant) aside, the Deschutes is the major river in this area of Oregon. Thus, there are many places and things with Deschutes in the title, much as you find with the Umpqua River in Roseburg. Although my southern accent is generally not too noticeable, when I pronounced Deschutes, my accent was not just present, but entirely unmistakable. Which meant Brandon took every opportunity to have me say “Day-shoots.” Apparently my elusive accent is both endearing and quite funny.

But back to the hotel. It was lovely. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, with understated design that fit with the hotel’s overall modern-with-a-hint-of-rustic feel.

Built along both sides of the Deschutes River, river views were plentiful. Although our last minutes plans prevented maximizing the trip with a river view room, there were certainly plenty of opportunities to enjoy it while we walked across the pedestrian bridge to the main part of the hotel or to the pools.

I should probably mention that immediately prior to the trip, Brandon had spent 2 days singlehandedly moving 10 yards of dirt that had been delivered unceremoniously onto my driveway to the backyard so that we could plant grass. Not only did that effort make me feel incredibly loved (I mean, the guy literally moved a mountain of dirt for me), but it also meant Brandon was really in need of a hot tub to sooth aching muscles. Good thing Riverhouse delivered with not just one, but two, hot tubs.

Here is the point when I would normally tell you about the amazing dinner we had after settling into our hotel. You know, the usual unique spot with locally sourced food that we tend to frequent when we travel. However. Upon consulting some of our usual sources for finding the previously mentioned type of restaurant, I happened to notice that there was a Johnny Carino’s nearby. Brandon had never been to Carino’s and I had not been since I moved to Oregon. In that moment, I knew that if I really loved him, I would allow him to have Italian nachos in his life. And by allow, I mean freak out and demand that we go to Carino’s for dinner despite all of the other amazing options available in Bend.

True love on a plate. We both felt good about this decision.

So perhaps our day did not end on a typically “gourmet” note, but it was pretty much a perfect day full of beauty and love and, yes, delicious food. I can’t think of a better kind of day and this was just the beginning.

 

Sleeping in Seattle Day 3

Of the things I love in this world, time alone to recharge and to think is surprisingly high on the list. I say surprising, because I absolutely love the people in my life. I have said before that they are simply the best, most wonderful, and amazing people that could possibly exist. But sometimes, I just want to be by myself. More recently, I’ve discovered that I also enjoy the luxury of alone time while traveling. Of course I love exploring with others, but exploring alone is an entirely different and utterly enjoyable experience. My last morning in Seattle, I took the opportunity to do just that. Without the pressure of conversation or the need to be aware of another person, I could fully notice.

Notice the delicious tastes and textures and sounds as I treated myself to breakfast at Shaker + Spear, the Palladian’s onsite restaurant.

IMG_6179

IMG_6183

IMG_6182

Notice the smells and the noise and the color of Pike Place Market on a Saturday morning. Notice the lives that were being lived all around me and yet were separate from my own.

DSC01512

DSC01559

DSC01550

DSC01523

DSC01522

DSC01521

DSC01520

DSC01519

DSC01516

DSC01515

DSC01513

Notice that what I really wanted to eat for lunch was the taste of authentic Chinese food, which I had been craving for months (thanks, Natalie, for the perfect recommendation!).

IMG_6204

IMG_6199

IMG_6203

IMG_6195

And notice how so very grateful I am for the people and places, the sights and sounds, the tastes and travels that make up my life. What have you noticed today?

 

A Better Year

Last New Year’s Eve I rung in 2014 with friends and tried to ignore the fact that I should have been celebrating my 8th anniversary. Still devastated from my recent decision to move out, I was thankful to be with friends who could both make me smile without expecting me to feel happy and acknowledge the pain I was feeling without increasing my sadness. At midnight we toasted the new year and made the obligatory resolutions. When it was my turn, I paused to try to put into words my hopes for the upcoming year. Ultimately, I settled upon the resolution to “have a better year.” These inadequate words were responded to with enthusiasm and smiles by people who genuinely wished the same thing for me. It would not take much for 2014 to be better than 2013 – the previous year had been the worst of my life. But I could not have imagined what an amazing year I would have.

Looking back, it’s almost impossible to wrap my mind around the past year, how much my life has changed and – most of all – how much I’ve changed. I began the year an anxious and worried person and have become someone who is, if not exactly easy going, willing to more completely trust that life will work out and to be open to new and unexpected possibilities. I went from a postdoctoral fellow to a for-real psychologist with an actual job. And that job is in Oregon. After making a last minute trip to Oregon in February, I decided I wanted to move there and then I was fortunate enough to see that happen.

IMG_1774

IMG_3455
I went from the uncertainty of living alone for the first time to confidently moving halfway across the country in August.

IMG_2065

I travelled to Oregon, Arkansas (as many times as possible), and Tennessee, before taking a road trip through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, and Oregon with just my dog. That Grand Canyon thing? Pretty amazing!

IMG_2606My nephew was born and I felt my heart get a bit bigger as my family did, too.

IMG_3023

IMG_1253

I rediscovered my love of hiking and the outdoors.

I also love my brother. Brother + hiking = one of my favorite days
I also love my brother. Brother + hiking = one of my favorite days

IMG_0017_2

My heart began to heal. I realized that it might be possible to one day love someone again and that, more importantly, I can be content and happy on my own.

I started to build a new life in a new place, a place I have only just begun to explore.

IMG_3176

IMG_3333

My partner in crime.
My partner in crime and exploration.

IMG_3097

One of my brothers encouraged me to “become Cora with no apologies.” So that’s what I did. I embraced my love of wine with dinner and country music and the occasional fantasy or science fiction novel. I accepted my essential nerdiness without being embarrassed (yes, as a matter of fact, Doctor Who is my favorite TV show). I pierced my ears and got a tattoo (I am honestly still a bit surprised about that one).

IMG_4153

I became more confident both personally and professionally. I had amazing times with friends and began to look forward to the future with excitement and anticipation for the first time in many, many months. There was certainly loss this year – the loss of my grandmothers, the changing nature of friendships due to the move, the distance from family – but the loss was tinged with gratitude for what amazing people I have in my life and for their influence on the woman I am and will become.

The person now greeting 2015 would hardly recognize the person who resolved to have a better year. But I do know that I kept that resolution. Sometimes with heart-rending pain, I kept pushing forward without looking back (at least for long) knowing that despite the uncertainty of the new path I chose, that only along a new path was there hope for something better than what I left behind. I don’t feel like I can resolve to have a better year in 2015. Last year was so incredible that I can’t imagine a better one. But, I never want to live a life limited by my imagination. So, my resolutions are these: to live each day to the fullest, to be open to the possibilities, to be continually grateful. And obviously to travel as much as possible. What are your resolutions for 2015?

After 100 Happy Days

One hundred days ago, more or less (okay, really just more), I decided to participate in the 100 happy days challenge via Instagram. And what a hundred days it has been: I was offered my first job as a psychologist, my sweet nephew was born, I got a tattoo, and I moved halfway across the country, just to name a few of the changes that have occurred. Not that all of the changes were pleasant ones; I experienced loss and grief in the past 100 days, as well. The 100 happy days challenge coincided with a time of significant change in my life and I am grateful that this time was documented in a unique way. In choosing to participate in this exercise of gratitude, I knew I would probably learn a few things, and I did. So, of course I am sharing.

100hd1

Although this was not surprising, I noticed that at times I felt self-indulgent documenting my happiness. I knew that the intent behind a picture was not for me to say “Look at how awesome my life is.” First, because that is not necessarily true (as those who know me well can attest, this past year has not been an easy one) and secondly because I was genuinely focused on documenting things for which I was grateful or that made me happy and had no intention of being in any way boastful. However, I worried that it could be perceived that way. But then I reminded myself that everyone interprets others’ behaviors through their own lens and the conclusions they draw often have more to do with that lens than with others’ behavior. So, I shared my daily bits of gratitude and sometimes overflowing happiness hoping for the best interpretation from others, but also accepting that I had no control over the way anyone else perceived it. This is something I need to continue to remember. Relatedly, I think that we could benefit from having more conversations about gratitude, so that we are more comfortable having those conversations without feeling that verbal (or otherwise shared) gratitude is the same as bragging or being prideful. And please do not ask me to define who “we” is in this scenario. Use your own lens 😉

As I mentioned in the original post, I was already in the habit of jotting down a daily gratitude in my planner. However, when documenting gratitude via photographs, I had to put more effort into noticing what made me happy. The need to be more effortfully aware led me to look at the world differently. Like any other pattern of thinking, this became more habitual over time. By the end of the 100 days, I noticed that I was almost by default looking for the good in my world, rather than focusing on the negative. For me, that was a powerful change.

100hd2

There were some common themes in my pictures: family, friends, Sydney, being outdoors, and (towards the end) my move to Oregon. Oh, and good food. This tells me that these are the things that should be priorities in my life (well, maybe not the food, although I will not complain if I enjoy a nice meal now and then). Too often, we let things that do not matter crowd out the things that do. It may be easier to sit on the couch watching TV than to go out and hike with my dog or to call one of my friends, but the latter activities will actually make my life better. Often, if not always, the most meaningful things in life take intentional effort. Happiness does not just happen – it is a daily choice to choose the meaningful over the easy.

If I am being entirely honest, some days I did not share the things that made me the happiest. This could be for a number of reasons. Sometimes it was too personal to share in such a public way, sometimes it was someone else’s happiness I was joining in and I did not want to take away from that in any way, and sometimes I was just enjoying the moment and did not want to interrupt it in order to take a photograph. I documented some pretty amazing things on Instagram over the previous 3+ months, but some of the best things were never captured, or could not be captured, in a photograph. In some moments, pictures, and even words, are totally inadequate. There exist different kinds of happiness – sometimes it is the kind you share with the world at large, sometimes just with a few close friends, and sometimes maybe with no one. Regardless, each type of moment is important to notice.

100hd3

I was reminded of the complexity of emotion. In some moments, I was both completely happy and completely sad. For instance, at the farewell party thrown by my friends in Texas, I was overwhelmed with feelings of love and friendship, thankful to have such amazing friends, amazed that we all managed to get together, excited about the future, and extremely sad that I would soon be moving so far away. The picture I posted of the party with #100happydays in no way captured the complexity of what I was feeling. It only captured the smiles on the faces of my friends and me as we posed for a (quite fabulous) picture. I can think of so many other examples of times when the picture only showed a fraction of the emotion behind a particular happening and almost always neglected to show the sometimes negative emotions underlying the happiness or gratitude. In other words, life cannot truly be simplified into a series of photographs reflecting a single feeling… and we should not expect that of ourselves or of other human beings. Embrace the complexity!

I noticed that there is truly a lot of good in the world. I just had to look for it. It is so much easier to notice the negative, but choosing to notice the positive will completely change your perspective. It is amazing how one shift in your thinking can change your life. During the 100 days, I had some difficult days and heartbreaking moments, but there was always, always, always something for which to be grateful. I began to look for the good in situations when I previously would have complained or seen only negativity. One moment I might have felt that my heart was being torn in two, but all I had to do was reach out to a friend for comfort. Yes, I might have had a difficult day at work, but when I get home, my dog was literally shaking with excitement to see me. Perhaps I was feeling worried about the future, but I chose to go for a hike and noticed that as I did I felt a sense of peace. In the recent loss of my grandmother, there was, and is, grief, but there was also a celebration of her life and of the wonderful woman she was. There was always good. And I was reminded of my own ability to be that goodness for someone else. I can be kind to the frazzled sales person, I can send a friend a quick text message just to say I’m thinking about her, I can be helpful to a co-worker. Look for the good, but perhaps even more importantly, choose to be the good to someone else.

100hd4

At the end of the 100 days, I know I am happier and more content with my life. I realize part of that is probably due to the fact that I have actively pursued a different kind of life that fits better with my personal goals and desired lifestyle (less commuting! more hiking!). Moreover, I have been fortunate enough to experience the fruition of some of those desires, namely having the opportunity to move to Oregon. At the same time, I have noticed a change in how I think about things that I can only assume has impacted my overall mood and outlook on life. I realize committing to taking a picture for 100 days in a row is not for everyone, but I would encourage you to find someway to document and share daily gratitude, whether that is in a journal, with a “gratitude buddy,” or in some other way. Life is too short to overlook the blessings.

Happy Days

I recently learned of a project named 100 Happy Days. The idea is to document via photographs one thing per day that makes you happy for 100 consecutive days. Intrigued by this idea, I have decided to give it a try. This fits well with research I have been reading related to gratitude and the changes that can occur when one intentionally chooses to be grateful. For instance, research has linked gratitude to improved emotional well-being, improved physical health, a more positive outlook on life, goal attainment, altruism, and more connected relationships. A lifestyle characterized by gratitude may even be a protective factor when faced with stressful life events.

There are many ways to cultivate gratitude. For much of this year, I have been writing down a daily gratitude in my planner (have I mentioned how much I love my planner?!?). Committing to 100 Happy Days feels like a logical and challenging extension of this. For me, it is not about being constantly “happy” for the next 3+ months. That is a goal that would be neither healthy nor realistic. Rather, it is about taking the time to notice that, even on the unhappiest of days, there is always something for which to be grateful. In other words, my goal is to make a choice to be grateful and to seek moments of happiness regardless of my circumstances. I would love for you to join me! I will be documenting my 100 days on Instagram (@cgplatt) with the hashtag #100happydays if you would like to follow along, although if you are opposed to cute pictures of dogs, you might not appreciate the many pictures I will probably be posting of Sydney.

So, to begin as I will likely continue, day one’s moment of happiness is Sydney being cuddly after we took a (embarrassingly long) nap this afternoon.

IMG_2372

I am certain that the next 100 days will hold good days and bad days, challenges and hopefully a few triumphs (let’s hope the job search falls into the latter category…), and maybe, if I’m lucky, a trip or two. Regardless, I intend to notice the glimpses of happiness – even if small or fleeting – each day brings.