Category Archives: Trip Report

Hood River, Oregon

I did it. After making a very public commitment to do so, I took my first solo trip. Well, that is if you don’t count my move halfway across the country chronicled here and here. Ultimately, I chose to go somewhere within driving distance, both to minimize costs and because I can’t really take time off work yet. Starting out early on a Saturday morning, I drove north to Portland and then headed east toward the Columbia River Gorge, where I spent the night in Hood River. Based upon my single case study of traveling alone, I offer the following insights gleaned from what was a quite pleasant weekend.

1. Do things you like. This may seem obvious, but too often we do the things we think we ought to do or see when traveling, rather than considering what we might actually enjoy. Or the opposite occurs, we avoid the “tourist traps” because going there would be trite or, gasp, uncool. The point is this: do what you want, regardless of what anyone else may think of your choice or choose to do themselves.

On this, my first solo trip, my first stop was Multnomah Falls.

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Arguably in the “tourist” category, it was nonetheless a place I wanted to see. And I’m so glad I did. From my first, spectacular glimpse of the cascading, tiered waterfall to the breathtaking view of the Columbia River Gorge after I had hiked to the top, each moment was beautiful.

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IMG_4313Sure, it was crowded, but sharing the beauty of the falls with others in no way diminished the experience. If I had been looking for a bit more solitude, I could have hiked to the nearby, but less visited, Wahkeena Falls. But this time, I wanted to see Multnomah Falls. So I did.

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The other big thing I planned for my weekend getaway was a drive around the Hood River Fruit Loop. After my stop at Multnomah Falls and a detour for lunch, I continued to head east toward Hood River for a drive around the 35-mile loop of vineyards, fruit stands, and farms.

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Despite visiting in the fall, many of the stops were still open and I got to enjoy all of the beautiful fall colors on display. In the spirit of doing exactly what I wanted to do, I stopped when I wanted to and bypassed places in which I was less interested.

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I saw vineyards aflame with fall, walked through pumpkin patches, tasted cider, petted alpacas (and yet again got the sudden, but transient urge to learn to knit), smelled freshly baked pies, and just generally appreciated an exquisite autumn day, made more beautiful against the backdrop of Mt. Hood to the south and Mt. Adams to the north.

Although when traveling with others, you will often have to compromise to do things that others want to do (and there is nothing wrong with that!), one of the joys of traveling solo is the opportunity to do precisely what you want. Don’t let the expectations or perceived judgments of others be what prevents you from doing so.

2. Explore a bit. I’m a planner by nature, although not having a plan has become somewhat more tenable for me during the past year or so. As much as planning in advance how to spend my time while traveling is something that is both a fun pastime and a mental comfort to me, I know some of the best things happen when I let go of my plans and explore new places and unexpected opportunities.

This time, I made an unplanned stop for lunch after my morning at Multnomah Falls. Despite being a bit out of my way, the Yelp reviews of Beacon Rock Cafe were too good to pass up – phrases like “hole in the wall,” “located in a general store,” “brioche buns,” and “lamb burger” were bandied about with the end result that I didn’t care how far I had to drive to eat there. It was worth driving to an entirely different state. Of course, that just meant paying a toll to drive across the Bridge of the Gods into Washington, but saying I drove to another state for lunch sounds like major commitment to my food choices.

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Breaking out to explore a bit (and for me, going anywhere my GPS does not work is exploring; I clearly live life on the edge) resulted in a delicious lunch and a lovely drive along the Washington side of the Columbia River.

3. Spend time outdoors. Okay, I know this sounds a bit like I’m telling you how to spend your precious vacation time, which I expressly contradicted in number one. So take it as a general suggestion. Whether strolling through the countryside or exploring a city on foot, spending time in the sunshine (or the clouds as is often the case for me these days) will bring a whole new perspective to your travels. Plus, outdoor activities can be a great way to either meet people or avoid them all together, whichever is your preference at the moment.

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On my trip, I enjoyed nature amid the crowds at Multnomah Falls and in a solitary ramble along the Columbia River. Both were wonderful.

4. Eat great food/drink great beverages. And yet again I’m sort of telling you what to do, so feel free to disregard as needed. However, I truly believe that food can connect you in a unique way with a place. When eating a meal alone, there are no distractions from the experience of the meal. Of course, I’m often tempted to seek shelter behind a good book when dining alone, but this time I was intentional about focusing on my meals free of distractions and enjoying every bite.

After considering several options, I decided to have dinner at Celilo in downtown Hood River. I made a  good choice.

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I truly struggled (my life is soooo difficult) to choose which of the delicious options I wanted to eat, but I eventually settled upon the pappardelle pasta because it was a (much) fancier version of one of my favorite meals to make at home.

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The house made pappardelle pasta was mixed with wild mushrooms, carrots, and ricotta and then topped with a perfectly poached egg. Paired with a fantastic glass of Oregon wine, I could not have imagined a more delicious dinner. And then, just when my meal seemed like it could not get any better, I ordered the creme brûlée for dessert. And there was a chocolate chip cookie.

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The best part? I did not have to share.

The next day, I spent a rainy and cold Sunday morning shopping in downtown Hood River.

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I needed to warm up. And I was craving pizza. That is how I ended up at Double Mountain Brewery. The place was seriously cool and would have been fun to see at another time. Perhaps on a night when they had live music. But on this particular morning, I was quite content with a house brewed root beer and brick-oven pizza.

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My pizza was topped with mozzarella, goat cheese, kalamatas, peppadew peppers, and basil. They had me at “goat cheese.”

Also considering the delicious cider I tried at Fox-Tail Cider the day before, I tasted many delicious things during a 30-hour trip. Thinking about it now, I am surprised I had time to do anything else.

5. Make time to relax and be in the moment. I will admit, I struggle with this. When I travel, I have a tendency to be constantly on-the-go with an itinerary planned down to the second. In the past, this was counterbalanced by traveling with someone who was much more easy-going and who would insist that I not over schedule. When I am traveling on my own, I have to be more intentional about this. Although taking time to slow down and relax will inevitably mean missing out on doing “more” (thus why considering and prioritizing what you want to do is so important), those are the moments that give you the energy to appreciate the busier parts of a trip.

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One of my favorite moments during my trip was curling up with a cup of coffee watching the sunrise over the river. I was not doing anything, but those moments brought beauty and energy into my day. As did the coffee I consumed.

6. Talk to people. Okay, I might actually be worse at this one than at relaxing. In the past, I have avoided this at all costs. But recently I have been working on this, whether it was talking to the cute guy at the craft cider tap room or chatting about the best places to shop with my waitress, I’m slowly working on pushing myself out of my comfort zone. It’s definitely a work in progress, but meeting new people can be a meaningful part of solo travel. I’m learning that the more I do it, the easier it gets. And sometimes I actually like talking to people. Imagine that.

7. Make an effort to feel reasonably safe (and comfortable). I don’t think I will ever be as worried as my mother is about my personal safety, but it is a consideration when traveling. For me, this often starts with staying in a place where I feel safe and comfortable. The Best Western Hood River Inn was perfect.

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It was in a good area, it was well reviewed, and the rooms were clean and updated. And then there was the view.

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I mean really. I was pleasantly surprised that my free night (I earned a free night from the 3 stays I had during my move) was in a river view room and included breakfast in the restaurant. Even when I am not too far from home, I like knowing that there is a comfortable place I can return to at the end of the day, no matter how much I have ventured.

8. But…don’t hesitate to go outside of your comfort zone (in travel or in life). Because that is where the real fun/growth happens.

My first solo trip is officially done! I am sure it is no surprise that I am already planning where I will go next…

Oregon Moving Trail: Lessons Learned Part II

Picking up from where I left off last time, here are a few more of the lessons I learned in the process of moving to Oregon. I apologize in advance for the overwhelming amount of Grand Canyon pictures, but it was unavoidable.

  1. The Grand Canyon is beyond words amazing. I knew this intellectually. I knew this to the extent that I chose to stop for an extra night in Arizona for the sole purpose of seeing the Grand Canyon. I knew this enough that I could not even wait until the next day to see it and drove there almost as soon as I checked into my hotel. But nothing could have prepared me for that first breathtaking moment, standing on the edge of an incomprehensibly large canyon wholly in awe of the colors and the textures and the utter awesomeness of it. IMG_2340IMG_2379
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    Even Sydney was impressed

    And that was just the beginning. Before the end of the day, I had savored every moment of a spectacular sunset. IMG_2433 IMG_2528 IMG_2520 IMG_2450IMG_2537The next morning I woke up at 3 am to ensure I made it back to the Grand Canyon in time for the sunrise. Despite the early (oh, so early) hour, it was truly one of the most memorable and magnificent mornings of my life – each moment more exquisite than the one before, the skies an ever-changing arrangement of color as the stillness of darkness slowly intensified into the magical light of early morning. Although I had enjoyed the sunset of the previous day, the quiet, uncrowded early morning was by far my preference. IMG_2554 IMG_2586IMG_2601IMG_2609IMG_2632IMG_2651IMG_2657As if having a most extraordinary morning were not enough, I then experienced the canyon in a whole new way as I hiked a portion of the Bright Angel Trail. Even as I slowly made my way up the trail (as they say – hiking down is a choice, hiking up is not; and it is both hot and steep), I could not help but appreciate the enormous complexity of the Grand Canyon. Sometimes I would pause and just touch the surprisingly cool walls of the canyon, awed by the history written upon and in them. IMG_2825 IMG_2785 IMG_2780 IMG_2772 IMG_2746 IMG_2730 IMG_2720 IMG_2719 IMG_2715 IMG_2702This day was one of the great ones.

  2. Sydney is a man magnet. IMG_2303So, maybe I already kind of knew this, but I appreciated her cute guy attracting skills even more as I made my way across the country alone. Being rather introverted, it is sometimes difficult for me to meet new people or to feel confident talking to someone I do not know that well. Enter Sydney. Thanks to her, I had no difficulty having interesting conversations or finding someone to talk to other than a hotel front desk clerk or a waiter. As an added bonus, many of the above mentioned people whom I met happened to be good-looking and have accents. I knew I brought her along for a reason. Although, to be fair, she really is a people magnet more generally, but man magnet was more alliterative. Plus, cute guys with accents…
  3. I learned what a desert really is. And what it is is Nevada. Having never been to anywhere in the state other than Las Vegas, I never grasped how truly desolate much of the rest of Nevada is. It was almost a surreal experience driving through so much nothingness. Between Vegas and Reno, there was the occasional small town (and by small I mean maybe 100 people and a couple of donkeys).
    Really, there were donkeys. Walking down the road. In a town.
    Really, there were donkeys. Walking down the road. In a town.

    Each time I passed one, I would uneasily wonder what life would be like in such a place – isolated from most of the world and seemingly far from modern conveniences. And yet, such isolation made a place like Tonopah, Nevada possible. I had added this as a stop because it was a relatively convenient stopping point between the Grand Canyon and Oregon and because, as I researched my trip, I found that this old silver mining town (for that was the only reason the town ever existed) is considered one of the best places in the US to see the stars, largely due to its isolation from pretty much everything else. As soon as I verified that there was a pet friendly hotel other than the Clown Motel (which was somehow even more unimaginably creepy in person), I knew I had to stop there. IMG_2905 IMG_2913 IMG_2924I was still reeling a bit from my day at the Grand Canyon, so it would take a bit to impress me at this point. Regardless, I drove out into the desert, because a single woman driving out into the desert at night in one of the darkest places in the US is always a great idea. I am so glad I did. I sat on the front of my car in the cool desert air almost unable to believe my eyes. As my eyes adjusted to a whole new level of darkness, I could see literally thousands of stars. Thousands. And the Milky Way. The Milky freaking Way. I was laughing out loud and crying at the same time (seriously – are you picturing how completely ridiculous I must have looked at that moment?). The immensity was beautiful and humbling.

  4. I am capable of more than I ever thought possible. More than anything else, I think this was what I learned during the trip. I can move to Oregon, I can drive across the country, I can talk to people I have never met, I can deal with challenging and unexpected situations, I can finally be a psychologist. The list goes on and on and includes some things I never could have imagined myself doing a year ago, or even six months ago. But I have done them. Not because they were easy or unscary or because I thought myself capable of them, because most of these things were hard and terrifying and seemingly impossible. Instead of waiting to be sure of myself, I jumped in with both feet and no life raft and figured it out as I went along. I am still figuring it out. But I have learned that I do not have to have it all figured out in order to move forward. That is a lesson I always want to remember. IMG_2311

I Love Arkansas: The Places

I am going to keep this one relatively short. Notice I said “relatively.” My idea of short seems to be everyone else’s idea of long-winded. The reason for the brevity is mostly related to needing to unpack and wanting to explore my new home in Oregon. I will be honest, there has been much more exploring than productive activity happening. Plus, I do not have any furniture yet and sitting on the floor to type a blog post is rather uncomfortable. And just like that, I have written a paragraph about nothing except how I am going to keep this post short. So much for that…

As I may have mentioned a few times, I feel it is my obligation to share some of the amazing things about Arkansas because it is a state so often overlooked. In fact, I met a couple the other night (when I went to a dinner concert at a vineyard BY MYSELF – who is this person and what have you done with me?) who previously lived in Texas. They had been to every state except Arkansas and something far away like North Dakota. Seriously – they had lived in Texas, had travelled extensively in the US, and yet had never been to Arkansas. See what I mean? It is totally overlooked as a destination. In the interest of trying desperately to keep this post moderately shorter than usual, I will not attempt to list every fun thing to do in Arkansas and I will not write much about each one, but I will try to provide a reasonable overview. I will say that I was glad for the monthly delivery of tactical gear throughout the trip! As opposed to the last post when apparently my goal was to list every. single. restaurant in Arkansas.

So, my (maybe) quick list of awesome places/things to do in Arkansas includes:

1. Anything outdoors: While one of my personal favorites is hanging out anywhere on the family land, I realize this is not exactly an option open to everyone. But if you have a chance, it is beautiful.

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Thankfully, Arkansas has plenty of other options. From floating the Buffalo River in the Ozark Mountains to exploring Mount Magazine to spending time on or near one of Arkansas’ lakes or rivers there is so much to do outdoors. One of the amazing things is that even if you live in or are visiting one of Arkansas’ larger cities, outdoor activities are never far away. In fact, within Little Rock, there is a portion of the Arkansas River Trail, including the Big Dam Bridge, where I spent part of a morning with my cousin and her family. It was a fun spot to let her kiddos run off a bit of their abundant energy before lunch.

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It is even more amazing at night when it is lit up and it is not a bajillion degrees outside.

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Also in Little Rock is Pinnacle Mountain State Park if you are in the mood for some hiking. Elsewhere in the state there are countless outdoor opportunities accessible from cities. For instance, Petit Jean State Park is relatively close to Conway. In fact, hiking at Petit Jean was something I had always wanted to do, but finally had the opportunity to do on my recent trip home. And, I managed to drag my brother along.

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Even though it was cloudy and rainy, we had a great time. We decided (and by we, I mean I – I do not seem to have outgrown being bossy) to hike the Cedar Falls Trail, and then used the Canyon Trail and parts of some of the other trails to loop around rather than hiking in and back. It was a wonderful day outdoors and the perfect way to catch up with my brother.

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If you need more mountains in your life (and who doesn’t), both the Ozark Mountains and the Ouachita National Forest are scenic and accessible. There are also plenty of opportunities for fishing and hunting. Of course, these are just a small sampling of the outdoor activities available in “The Natural State.”

2. Hot Springs National Park: Arkansas is home to one of the few National Parks located in the South. It is definitely worth checking out the thermal springs!

3. Mount Magazine: Okay, technically, this is outdoors, too, and I have already mentioned it, but it deserves its own category because there is so much happening here. Check out their website for more information.

4. Unique towns throughout Arkansas: Arkansas has small towns throughout the state that are unique and fun to explore. Some that come to mind right away are Mountain View, Eureka Springs, and the above mentioned Hot Springs. Of course, the larger towns like Little Rock and Fayetville (which is also in a gorgeous area) are not to be missed.

5. City Life: Speaking of Little Rock, it boasts such attractions as the Clinton Presidential Center, the Heifer Project, and a great reparatory theatre. Murry’s Dinner Playhouse is also a fun way to spend an evening (which is far more innocent than it sounds). I also love the River Market. And, I may have mentioned that I love some of the restaurants here? There are also a couple of fun music venues like Juanita’s and Stickyz (please forgive me if these are no longer cool. And also don’t remind me how old that makes me. Thanks). Plus, Little Rock is relatively close to Memphis if you need even more music and barbeque.

6. Wineries: Okay, I have to admit that I’m kind of digging being literally surrounded by wineries and vineyards. Like, literally surrounded. I could probably start walking in any direction and end up at a vineyard. But, Arkansas also has a small number of wineries. I know next to nothing about them, but I should probably correct this.

7. Crater of Diamonds State Park: Ummm, you can dig for your own diamonds. What more do you need to know? Okay, well maybe it would be helpful to know that I have done it (more than once) and it is mostly hot and dusty, but still fun, and I have known people who have actually found diamonds.

Okay, what am I missing? I know I must be missing something because I wrote this post in about 30 minutes and basically just typed whatever popped into my head. Quality blog research right there. I clearly know what I am doing. If you leave any cool Arkansas things in the comments, I will update this post with that information. Which will probably be better than anything I have written so far. Except the diamond thing. That is pretty cool. Also, there is a great tourism website (http://www.arkansas.com, strangely enough), that covers even more of the things to do in Arkansas. Which, now that I think about it sort of makes this entire post irrelevant.

That’s it for the Arkansas posts. If I were completely writing about the things I love about Arkansas, I would also have to include a people addition. But, I am guessing that the world at large is less interested than I am in my family barbecue, the cutest baby in the world (aka my nephew),

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the quiet moments I spent with my Granny, how much joy I felt meeting my best friend’s new baby for the first time,

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or the afternoon my dad and I spent hanging out on “the mountain,”

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not to mention the many other amazing people I had the privilege to spend time with during my week in Arkansas. For me, the people I love are the best part of Arkansas. No other place in the world can hold the same claim on my heart, so I admit I may have a bias. But, even if most of the people you care about do not live in Arkansas (although Tennessee, Texas, and Oregon are in the mix, too), it is still a great place to visit! And to all those people on my “People I Love Who Live in Arkansas” list, Oregon is also a great place to visit. Hint, hint.

P.S. – I do not think I did a great job keeping this post short. Maybe next time.

P.P.S. – Don’t forget to leave other fun Arkansas things in the comments and I will add them to this post.

I Love Arkansas: The Food

I apologize for falling a bit behind with the blog. Something about moving halfway across the country has taken up most of my time lately. I have arrived in Oregon. As I write this, I am sitting on the floor of an empty living room (my stuff is still en route from Texas) greedily taking in the view of the mountains that I can see out of my backdoor. My dog, Sydney, who went from somewhat anxious to completely neurotic during the course of our cross-country trip is now resting quietly and seems to be adjusting. With a major move behind me and a new life in front of me, it feels odd to again think about my trip to Arkansas. Nevertheless, there are still some things I would like to share.

So, let’s start with the food, because food is awesome. Arkansas has some great restaurants. During my trip, I visited old favorites and tried a few new places. In no particular order they are:

  1. Stoby’s: Two words: Cheese dip! If you have nothing else at Stoby’s, you must have the cheese dip. IMG_1225Their sandwiches are pretty good too and their breakfast is supposed to be excellent, although I can’t personally attest to that. This tiny restaurant in Conway is always packed and the Tuesday night I was there with my family was no exception. IMG_1235I of course shared some cheese dip with my family and then followed that with a burger for my meal. As if cheese dip and a deliciously spicy Jamaican jerk burger were not enough, I decided to split dessert with my sister-in-law and niece. Made at PattiCakes – the bakery next door – the Reese’s-Cup Cake that we ordered was HUGE.IMG_1232Despite three of us giving it our best effort, there were still leftovers. The only problem was my sweet niece just wanted to eat the peanut butter icing part. We had to have a small chat about how it was totally unacceptable to have more than her share of the peanut butter. And I may have told her she was crazy for not liking chocolate.
  2. The Root Café: This was a new to me spot in LR. On Wednesday, I went to LR with my cousin, her husband, and two kids. Because they are various combinations of gluten and dairy free, this is one of their favorite places. Basically The Root offers lots of deliciousness straight from Arkansas farmers and caters to all sorts of diets. IMG_1340My cousin,  Holli, and her family especially love the gluten-free bread, which is made at a nearby bakery. I tried a bite of their toast and I have to admit, it was tasty.
    These two adorable ones were obviously enjoying their lunch
    These two adorable ones were obviously enjoying their lunch

    IMG_1345The vegetarian  bahnmi and sassafras cream soda I ordered were both so delicious.

    Bahn mi made with fried tofu
    Bahn mi made with fried tofu

    IMG_1355The Root is open for breakfast and lunch. We arrived at 10:55 to an empty restaurant and by the time we sat down after ordering there was a line out the door.IMG_1342There is not much indoor seating and I would definitely recommend trying to find a spot inside when it is August in Arkansas, so it may help to arrive early – they close at 2:30.

    Lily insisted on a "girl picture"
    Lily insisted on a “girl picture”
  3. Green Corner Store: The Green Corner Store is across the street from The Root. IMG_1328The store is a mixture of an old-fashioned soda fountain and small store selling eco-friendly products. IMG_1363It only makes sense to follow a yummy lunch at the Root with ice cream. In this case, the ice cream is from Loblolly Creamery. IMG_1370Not only are there a variety of ever-changing handcrafted ice cream flavors, they also offer two flavors of dairy free ice cream at any given time. IMG_1373Their homemade ice cream cones are gluten free, making Green Corner Store another recommended stop for those with food allergies or sensitivities. My choice was salted caramel ice cream in a (gluten free) chocolate cone. IMG_1379It was an exceptionally delicious ice cream cone. P.S. – the items I purchased for the giveaway were from Green Corner Store.

    Spending time with my cousin and her family made the day even more fun!
    Spending time with my cousin and her family made the day even more fun!
  4. Blue Diamond Café: I had never been to the Blue Diamond Café in Morrilton prior to this trip, but it was a convenient place for lunch with my brother after we spent the morning hiking together. We relaxed over a long and delicious lunch. The Blue Diamond represented the best of what you can find in many small towns in Arkansas – a local diner with excellent food and friendly service. IMG_1550
    It only makes sense to eat fried pickles after hiking.
    It only makes sense to eat fried pickles after hiking.

    And to also enjoy a yummy ice cream sundae.
    And to also enjoy a yummy ice cream sundae.
  5. Arkansas Mexican Food: Okay, this is my own description of what you find in almost any town in Arkansas. Throughout the state there are locally owned Mexican restaurants that serve remarkably similar food that is distinct from what I have found anywhere else. Until last week, i lived in Texas, where all varieties of Mexican food and Tex-Mex abound (one of my few regrets about moving to Oregon…), and yet I always look forward to a meal (or maybe two) of “Arkansas Mexican food” when I visit. One of the distinguishing characteristics for me is the white queso, which seems almost impossible to find in other places. If you are feeling especially indulgent order arroz con pollo. Although sometimes offered under a different name, the dish is essentially rice topped with fajita chicken and covered in queso. Trust me, it is delicious, especially with a little salsa on top.
  6. Janssen’s Lakefront Restaurant: My parents wanted to take me out for a nice meal while I was home. One of their favorite spots is Janssen’s on Greers Ferry Lake. IMG_1566Not only is the food yummy, but there is also a great view of the lake. IMG_1569If it is not 90+ degrees outside, there is also a really nice patio outside. We settled for a seat by the window instead. I ordered a BLT with avocado and sprouts with a side of sriracha fries (ummmm, yes). IMG_1572My dad had never heard of sriracha, so that sad, sad oversight obviously needed to be corrected. While my sandwich was delicious, it did not quite compare to my dad’s fried chicken.IMG_1574 Next time, I will just order the fried chicken for myself. I ended the meal with a slice of homemade pecan pie. IMG_1576My only excuse is that I am moving far, far away from delicious Southern food like pecan pie, so I had to eat it while I could.
  7. Midnight Oil: This little coffee shop in Searcy has a special place in my heart, but also happens to have earned my undying affection by serving the best coffee drink ever, as well as the second and third best coffee drinks ever. IMG_1617These are the  granita, the Mr. Blond (white mocha) shake, and a Kick in the Face – an espresso float that served to  caffeinate many late night study sessions.
    And, as if all of that were not awesome enough, there is now a blond version of the granita. It is basically perfection in a cup.
    And, as if all of that were not awesome enough, there is now a blond version of the granita. It is basically perfection in a cup.

    The coffee and food are excellent and the atmosphere is everything you could want from a coffeehouse – the walls are covered in cool art, proceeds benefit communities in East Africa, and you will always run into someone you know. IMG_1626I spent many, many days and nights studying here, gossiping here, and both laughing and crying here with friends, sometimes at the same time. Even now, when one of my college friends is having a tough time or an especially joyful time, we will say, “I wish we could go get a  granita together to celebrate” or “Ugh!! I hate that, I just want to take you out for agranita and give you a hug.” Of course I realize that this little coffee shop and the oh-so-amazing  granita will not represent friendship and good times to most people in the world, but if you are in Searcy (although to be fair, there are not too many reasons to be in Searcy), MO is definitely worth the stop. Enjoy a  granita for me!

    And maybe also try an "Untitled" sandwich
    And maybe also try an “Untitled” sandwich

    This just so happens to be one of the friends I frequently laugh-cried with while we were in college. Now that we are somewhat removed from the college years, we kind of still do the same thing...
    This just so happens to be one of the friends I frequently laugh-cried with while we were in college. Now that we are somewhat removed from the college years, we kind of still do the same thing…

Of course, I could not fit every delicious option into a single week. The following are some of my other favorites, as well as a few places I have always wanted to try. Keep in mind that these restaurants are mostly located in Conway and Little Rock because that’s where I usually spend my time, but I know there are plenty of other great places elsewhere in Arkansas!:

  1. Stringbeanz: This family owned restaurant in the tiny town of Eglantine near Greer’s Ferry Lake is known for their pies. I wanted to go last time I was home, but the owners were out-of-town on vacation. Next time!!
  2. Cotham’s: The original location in Scott, Arkansas – Cotham’s Mercantile – is the home of the hubcap burger. There is now a second location in Little Rock. I have yet to eat here, but it has been on “my list” for years.
  3. Georgetown One Stop: There is no shortage of great catfish places in Arkansas, and really it is hard to go wrong when you’re talking about frying fish and adding more fried foods to go along with it. For my vote, the Georgetown One Stop is one of the best. It is the epitome of “hole in the wall.” I don’t even know if they have a working phone. A couple years ago, this widely known secret closed down to much mourning. Thankfully, they recently opened again. Their food is just about as fresh as you can get – they literally catch the catfish in the nearby White River. You generally sit at large communal tables and the primary décor scheme is brown, but it really doesn’t get much better than this.
  4. Whole Hog: When I first moved to Texas and went to my first Texas BBQ restaurant, I made the mistake of ordering pulled pork because that’s what I had always ordered at a BBQ restaurant. And for good reason – pulled pork in Arkansas is deliciousness. No one does it better than the Whole Hog. Not only is the BBQ excellent, you also gets to mix-n-match your choice of sauces, my personal favorite being a combination of sweet and spicy. As if that wasn’t enough, you can also choose a homemade brownie as one of your sides. Sold!
  5. Brave New Restaurant: This is a great date night restaurant. It’s pretty much the whole package – quality seafood, a great view, and a friendly and helpful staff. Oh, and chocolate crème brulee.
  6. Trio’s: I haven’t been here, but it is consistently voted one of the best in Arkansas. Maybe this should happen the next time that I’m home.
  7. Mike’s Place: This is one of my parent’s favorite places. Located in Conway, it operates as a private club to bypass Arkansas’s alcohol restrictions (Conway is in a dry country, if you even know what that means). So, in order to dine there, you have to “purchase” a free membership, but then you have the opportunity to enjoy great food and wine, which is always a combination that works for me.
  8. Bruno’s: Craving Italian food? Then head to Bruno’s Little Italy. That’s all I’ve got because it is another place I have yet to try (maybe next time I’m home I should eat less Arkansas Mexican food and try some other things…).
  9. Victorian Garden: If you are anything like me, (and I realize most people probably aren’t) you grew up having tea parties with your cousin because you did not have a sister. And I am talking tea parties – we would spend hours dressing up and sometimes my aunt would even fix us “fancy food” to go with our tea. Now that we are (more or less) adults, we still enjoy having tea together now and then, but dress up clothes in the living room just don’t cut it. Enter Victorian Garden. Located in a nondescript building, the inside is cozy and they serve dainty girly food. They serve a full menu, but also offer afternoon tea by reservation. It might be a tad more sophisticated than our tea parties as children.
  10. Iriana’s: This place serves some of my favorite pizza in LR, or favorite pizza ever. I also love their ranch dressing. Like I-could-eat-it-with-a-spoon love their ranch dressing. However, my preferred method of ranch delivery is pizza crust, not spoon.
  11. ZaZa’s: My friend Jessi introduced me to this relatively new (and by new I mean since I moved away 7 years ago) Conway restaurant. (there’s also a location in LR). They serve pizza and salad and do both really, really well. The salads are almost as good as the pizzas. Many of their ingredients come from Arkansas farmers.
  12. Community Bakery: This place. As you know, I love chocolate. I truly have a weakness when it comes to chocolate of any kind. Thus, I have had plenty of opportunities to try all kinds of things made of chocolate. Community Bakery serves one of my favorite chocolate things ever – a turtle cheesecake that is beyond words. I’m thinking about driving to Arkansas as I write this just to have the cheesecake… Okay, maybe not since I just spent most of the last week in my car and it is a really far drive. But throw in the opportunity to see my nephew and it does seem tempting. Anyway, back to the chocolate amazingness – it is cheesecake topped with caramel and pecans and then coated in decadence, I mean chocolate. Seriously, ah-maz-ing. I am sure they have other things that they sell, too, but I have never noticed.
  13. Coursey’s: This is a little place in the Ozark Mountains. Not only is the setting beautiful, but the place smells wonderful. That is because they smoke meats here. All kinds of meats. And not only can you buy this meat, you can order a sandwich right then and there so that you don’t even have to wait until you get home to eat the meat. There are outside picnic tables where you can sit down and enjoy the simple perfection of a Coursey’s sandwich. Or you can pick up a ingredients for a picnic lunch on the Buffalo River. Composed of only the basics – bread, meat, and cheese – the quality ingredients speak for themselves. And I pretty much love any meal I can eat with a view. When my Tennessee grandparents would come to visit, my grandfather would always want to go here, despite the drive to get there.
  14. Doe’s: A branch of the Mississippi Delta restaurant of the same name, the menu is simple – steak, steak, and steak. You choose your cut of steak , which is served family style with salad, new potatoes, French fries, and Texas toast. There are several locations in Arkansas, although I have only been to the one in (the sketchy part of) Little Rock.

Okay, I have really got to stop. This post is getting a little ridiculous. But hopefully, you get the point – Arkansas has some wonderful restaurants that benefit from the amazing produce and other farm fresh foods that are available throughout the state. After eating at any one of these places, you will say “That was a great restaurant!” without even the thought of adding “…for Arkansas” to that statement. What would you add to the list? I’m sure I missed something! Plus, I need to have a list of places to try next time I am in Arkansas.

A Tennessee Weekend: Sunday Hike

And I’m back to (finally) wrap up the series of posts about my (now not so) recent trip to Tennessee. If you want to read any of the previous posts, they are:

A Tennessee Weekend: An Introduction

A Tennessee Weekend: Reunion

A Tennessee Weekend: Saturday Adventures

Rarely in life is anything truly perfect. I think that is a good thing. At least for myself, I know that if the great and wonderful moments in life were not frequently tinged with imperfection or followed by things less wonderful, then I would spend too much time looking back, wishing to return to that “perfect” moment or day or time rather than living in the present. That is a reality that I appreciate even more as I continue to learn how to fully live in and experience the present, whatever it may be. However, there are a handful of times in my life that I would consider to have attained that elusive perfection – meals or hours or sometimes even days where life was, simply put, transcendent.

My weekend in Tennessee was one of those times. It is no surprise, then, that Shannon and I found the ideal way to end an already remarkable weekend. Sunday afternoon we drove to South Cumberland State Park. About an hour from Murfreesboro, the park was worth every second of the drive. Of course, we could not begin the drive without the necessary supplies, which in this case were coffee and CDs from our freshman year in college.

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Two songs in and we were suddenly transported to the many previous car trips that had occurred with the same soundtrack.

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Between the coffee and the music, which prompted countless “do you remember whens” and seemingly endless laughter, the drive to the park passed quickly. It didn’t hurt that the scenery was beautiful, either.

Our first stop was the visitors center, where the helpful lady at the desk gave us various information about hiking recommendations and sites we could see.

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Given that the reason we had chosen this park was that it was on a list of “Best Waterfall Hikes Near Nashville,” seeing a waterfall was kind of a goal. She also provided us with this lovely and not exactly to scale map.

The highly technical map of the park
The highly technical map of the park

We only got turned around once, so I would say it was an effective map despite its rather rustic initial appearance.

Shannon and I thoroughly enjoyed our hike. We chose to hike the 2-mile Grundy Forest Day Loop and part of the Fiery Gizzard Trail (at around 13 miles one-way, this is a common hike for overnight hikers) to get to Sycamore Falls. At a little over 3 miles, it was a perfect afternoon hike. Although on any day South Cumberland State Park would be a wonderful place to be, and I highly recommend it (plus, unlike state parks in Texas, it’s free; totally worth a hand drawn map instead of a glossy brochure), on the day we were there it was particularly magical. The temperature was perfect and the light, oh the light. It was like we entered another world – one with waterfalls and trees and a light that made everything glow beautifully as it filtered through the trees. Sadly, the exquisite luminosity was impossible to capture in a photograph. But the experience was enchanting and only added to the already perfect weekend.

I'm ready to go...
I’m ready to go…

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We kept trying to get a cute picture together. This was the best we could do. Shannon looks cute, but I’m not sure what’s happening with my face.

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We of course could not leave without seeing Foster Falls. Not having time to hike down to the falls (another day…) we contented ourselves with watching a bit of the sunset from the observation deck. Even from a distance, it was breathtaking.

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Again, I can highly recommend a visit to South Cumberland State Park. Although we did a relatively short hike,  there are longer, more challenging trails designed for overnight hikers. There is also an area that is supposed to be excellent for experienced rock climbing. If we had thought to wear swimming suits, many of the areas below the various waterfalls make excellent swimming holes. I could imagine that being lovely later in the summer or on a hotter day.

By this point, Shannon and I were hungry. We had asked for local recommendations from the friendly lady at the visitors center earlier in the day. Her top choice was the, hopefully not too aptly named, Gizzard Grill.

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Although they did, in fact, serve gizzards, thankfully their menu did offer some variety. One of my (flexibly applied) rules for life is that hiking deserves a hamburger and french fries. After hiking is just about the only time I eat such a meal, which is probably somewhat ironic. I am so glad I decided to splurge after this hike; I had one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. It had all the necessary basics for a quality hamburger, but the toppings took it to the nothing-short-of-amazing level.

There were candied jalapeños
There were candied jalapeños. Candied jalapeños! 

Enjoying a really good meal in the middle of a random small town in Tennessee just added more charm to the weekend.

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As we headed back to Murfreesboro, somewhat more subdued than earlier in the day, we reflected on the weekend and our friendship. Later that evening and early into the next morning, we would continue to reminisce while looking through old scrapbooks instead of sleeping. Times like this weekend are rare gifts. So often, our friendship is characterized by hurried text messages and brief Facebook interactions. We do not often take time for a phone call (and, seriously, we both hate talking on the phone), but we look forward to the times when we can be together. We have lived and celebrated and grieved together, we have loved and supported one another just as we have been frustrated with and hurt by one another. Nothing in life, not even the best of friendships, is without its flaws. But, every once in a while, there exists a fleetingly perfect moment or day or time and this weekend with this friend was absolutely, unquestionably perfect.

A Tennessee Weekend: Saturday Adventures

How does someone like myself, who, let’s be honest, is not exactly the tattoo type, come to, in fact, have a tattoo? (And incidentally to also use a ridiculous number of commas in one sentence?) I really think it began in January as I made my first tentative steps to figuring out who I wanted to be on my own. Not one to quickly or impulsively make decisions, it was thus somewhat surprising when I, with the enthusiastic support of one of my best friends, made the sudden choice to get my ears pierced. Having begun this path of impulsivity, I did not hesitate when another best friend invited me on a last-minute trip to Oregon a few weeks later. Neither choice caused the least tinge of regret. In reality, I was beginning to quite like this new, (very) slightly carefree version of myself. Thus, when Shannon suggested getting a tattoo, it seemed like an appropriate end to a trifecta of escalating, potentially life-altering decisions that I had recently made with my best friends. Basically, it felt like the right thing to do.

But first, I did what anyone with a PhD and overactive thought processes would do: I slept on it and then copiously discussed the decision over coffee and oatmeal. Although I don’t think the oatmeal was necessary. After as much sleep as two friends who haven’t seen each other in months can expect to get, Shannon and I began our Saturday morning (because the morning does not actually begin until coffee) at a local coffeehouse where we, of course, had the most important beverage of the day (well, except water, which is, I am told, crucial for survival; although I would argue so is coffee), enjoyed a delicious breakfast, and marveled at the barista’s perfect guy-hair.

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After breakfast Shannon and I did what is, I’m sure, typical pre-tattoo behavior. We spent the morning getting our hair washed and styled at the local Paul Mitchell School.

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Before

Seriously, who doesn’t want to essentially get their hair played with for 2+ hours. And it also happened to be the perfect place to get recommendations for where I should get a tattoo.

During
During
And after

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A couple more because, seriously, when does my hair ever look good?
A couple more because, seriously, when does my hair ever look good?

Thoroughly relaxed after a morning of pampering and still feeling confident about the decision to get a tattoo, we headed toward Absolute Ink. The relaxed feeling quickly dissipated. I began to feel truly nervous. Would it hurt? Was I sure about the design? Would my parents disown me? These questions and more flooded my mind as we tentatively walked inside. Only to be told that they were booked for the rest of the day… but, they could probably squeeze me in later in the afternoon… if we would just leave a phone number, they would call us if they had time.

Having been ready to get a tattoo, the delay caused a bit of a letdown. And an increase in nervousness. It only made sense to drown our nerves in Italian food and shopping in downtown Murfreesboro. These are pretty much two of my greatest coping mechanisms – comfort food and retail therapy.

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So maybe a salad isn’t technically “comfort food” but it was really good.

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We had just finished shopping at a really cute vintage clothing store when we got the call.

Nervous face!!
Nervous face!!
Apparently this is how I stand when I'm nervous. At least my hair looks good...
Apparently this is how I stand when I’m nervous. At least my hair looks good…

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And, yes, it did hurt!

The funniest part was probably telling my parents.

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The conversation went something like this:

Me: So, Mom, I have something to tell you, but don’t get mad (which is I’m sure how every parent wants a conversation to start)

Mom: Okay (the tone of doubt and concern apparent in her voice)

Me: I got a tattoo…

Mom: What?

Me: I got a tattoo.

Mom: I didn’t understand. What did you say?

Me: A tattoo. I got a TATTOO.

Mom: I still didn’t understand you.

… (after about 15 repetitions because, to give her credit, “I got a tattoo” are words she never reasonably expected to come out of my mouth)

Mom: Oh no, you’re kidding. Randy (that’s my dad), Cora got a tattoo.

Dad (in the background): She’s just joking, right (a hint of panic in his voice)… I thought Shannon was a good influence!

And so it continued. I am happy to report my parents still love me, although my dad still doubts that I was sober. As does pretty much everyone else that I know.

For me, getting a tattoo was a rational, if admittedly spontaneous, choice that symbolized what I had gained through a difficult year – a peace and joy in my life that I previously could not have imagined – and reminds me to not lose sight of those lessons.

Shannon and I spent the rest of the day doing low-key friend stuff. We drank (even more) coffee, tried another new restaurant, and watched a movie.

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We enjoyed a great dinner at a new restaurant in Murfreesboro - Peter D's. I loved the decor and the food was excellent.
We enjoyed an excellent dinner at a new restaurant in Murfreesboro – Peter D’s.

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If you have a friend who is willing to split an appetizer and a dessert with you and call it a meal, you should pretty much be best friends forever. This was the very delicious Thai Chicken Quesadilla.
If you have a friend who is willing to split an appetizer and a dessert with you and call it a meal, you should pretty much be best friends forever. This was the very delicious Thai Chicken Quesadilla.
Nutella Mouse should be its own food group
Nutella Mousse should be its own food group so that I can eat it every day without feeling guilty.

I am so thankful to have a friend like Shannon with whom to share life’s adventures, big and small. This particular Saturday just happened to be one of the big (let’s just say once-in-a-lifetime) adventures. What is one of your favorite friend adventures? Please share!

A Tennessee Weekend: Reunion

I probably said more than enough in my last post about how excited I was to spend a weekend with my friend Shannon, and yet I feel the need to reiterate: when I woke up Friday morning, I felt like it could be Christmas morning. I could not wait to be in Tennessee!

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Fortunately, I was only one, non-stop flight away from Nashville. Before I knew it, I was eagerly walking through the airport to meet Shannon. You know those friends you have who you can go months without seeing (almost 10 months in this case) and yet pick right up where you left off? Yeah, Shannon is one of those kinds of friends.

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So it was no surprise that she knew two things without even asking. First, that the most important thing to do right away was to eat lunch. And second, that the best place to do that was a new downtown restaurant – Husk.

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It was pretty much a combination of my favorite restaurant-things. Delicious, locally sourced, Southern food (there was even a garden next to the restaurant); bright, understated yet stylish decor that fit seamlessly with the historical building; a bit of unexpected presentation mixed in; and, of course, a chance to start catching up with my best friend. Perfection!

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The menu changes on a regular basis. I ordered the Nashville Plate Lunch, which on this particular day featured fried catfish, roasted broccoli, and squash casserole.

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The catfish was delightfully spicy and perfectly crisp. But the broccoli may have been my favorite part – it was amazing. Although the squash covered in cheese was not to be overlooked. Basically, it was all good and now I am hungry.

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After an amazing lunch where most of the conversation centered on how much we liked the food, we made our way to Shannon’s house.

I think most friends have a “thing”- something that they share in common that somehow brings them together. For Shannon and me, that thing is coffee. After lunch, and with no discussion, we knew implicitly that coffee must happen soon. After considering our options, we decided coffee on the back porch would be perfect. We soon found ourselves relaxing on the back porch, large cups of coffee in hand, while I repeatedly pointed out that the weather in Tennessee was so much better than in Texas. By that, I mostly meant less hot. It was during this relaxed, caffeine-fueled discussion that the topic of tattoos somehow came up. Neither one of us can actually remember how or why. I blame it on caffeine and the post-delicious-meal coma and perhaps a little friendship induced delirium. I was not even half way through my holds-a-week’s-worth-of-coffee sized mug and suddenly we were discussing what I planned to permanently put on my body the next day. You know, just your typical Friday afternoon.

We spent the rest of the afternoon doing more of the usual things we do when we get together, like getting pedicures and eating Mexican food. When you have traditions like that, it would be a shame to break them. All the while, Shannon occasionally worked on the tattoo design with (probably annoying) input from me.

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That evening, we decided to attend a concert in downtown Murfreesboro. It was definitely a community event with lawn chairs and sno-cones and barbecue. We even ran into Shannon’s parents. It was a lovely night to sit outside listening to live music. Murfreesboro offers events like this throughout the summer.

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After the concert, we ended an already full day sitting by a fire roasting s’mores.

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In case you lost track, we ate lunch at an amazing restaurant, drank coffee on the back porch, got pedicures, ate another yummy meal of Mexican food, designed a tattoo, attended a local music event, and roasted marshmallows. All in less than 10 hours. And it was perfect. Despite being a busy day, I never felt rushed or like we were doing too much. We talked when we felt like it and just enjoyed the fact that we were together when we did not feel like talking. I love that we could effortlessly fall back into the pattern of our friendship, but also explore new possibilities. Like tattoos. I think that is the paradox of friendship – living the best and the worst parts of your life with another person; doing what you have always done and getting the encouragement to do something completely different.

And, if the real reason you’re reading this blog is because you, like most people I know, are convinced I must have been intoxicated while getting a tattoo and you are really wanting to know the story behind it (it’s okay, you can admit it), then stay tuned. The next installment will include Cora’s Great Tattoo Adventure.

A Tennessee Weekend: An Introduction

I obviously think too much. I can take almost any topic (except perhaps sports, and even then I could probably find a way) and consider it at length. And in detail. The topic that has been especially on my mind recently is friendship. In the past year I have learned in all new ways that I have the most amazing friends imaginable. Through the past year, my friends have held me while I ugly (and I mean ugly) cried, cried with me, prayed with me and for me, listened to me, supported me even when they disagreed with me, dropped everything to be with me when I needed it most (including helping me move in the middle of an ice storm – seriously, we were sliding boxes down the driveway), ensured I had plenty of chocolate and cookies in my life, and most of all, loved me. It is no exaggeration to say that I could not have made it through the past year without my friends.

I am so thankful for these friendships. It has not been an easy season of my life in which to be my friend and yet, there were people who persisted and walked with me along a difficult and often painful path. I have a deep appreciation for the love and strength that were spoken into my life and that I could not have found alone. But I will be honest, it was not fun. So, it was that much more meaningful to be able to simply celebrate my friendship with Shannon over a long weekend in Tennessee. No tears (well, except the laughing-so-hard-you-cry kind), no stress, just fun with one of my favorite people. Lots of fun. Perhaps too much fun…

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And yes, I’m going to stretch out a single weekend into a series of posts. Because I can. And because I have nothing else to write about. I am still working on that whole moving to Oregon/maybe not moving to Oregon thing. Plus, I can truly never say enough about the lovely, wonderful, kind, generous, amazing, and beautiful people in my life. I am so blessed.

 

That Time I Went to Oregon Part II

After a fun day in Portland and an incredibly beautiful drive to southern Oregon, I was looking forward to exploring more of the area around Medford.

Even the view from the hotel was gorgeous.
Even the view from the hotel was gorgeous.

I chose to spend my morning hiking Lower Table Rock. The Upper and Lower Table Rocks are a pair of mesas a few miles outside of Medford. I chose the latter due to the longer and slightly more challenging trail.

Obviously, based on my persistence in Portland, it takes more than a little rain to derail my plans, so I set out on a dreary and drizzly morning.

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

As I began the hike, I felt like I entered another world. The pale green moss-covered trees made for a magical, otherworldly landscape as the cool rain continued to fall.

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

The trail continued with a steady 1.6 mile incline to the top of the mesa. As the trail ascended, the scenery slowly changed. And I was clearly reminded why hiking in Dallas is not nearly adequate preparation for hiking the Inca Trail.

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Although much of the trail was wooded, there were moments where the trees opened up to incredible views of Mount McLoughlin, the Siskiyous, and the Cascades in the distance.

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Once at the top of the mesa, the remnant of an old airplane strip stretched across the flat top for a mile. Thankfully, the rain had stopped by the time I reached the top, so I could enjoy the views in all directions as I walked to the edge.

I really should stop posting so many pictures of myself without makeup...
I really should stop posting so many pictures of myself without makeup…

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Apparently in the spring, the top of the mesa is covered in wildflowers. Perhaps I should move to Oregon so that I have a chance to to see it!
Apparently in the spring, this is covered in wildflowers. Perhaps I should move to Oregon so that I have a chance to to see it!
For part of the year, there are vernal pools across the top of the mesa.
For part of the year, there are vernal pools across the top of the mesa.

Lower Table Rock

Walking the 2 miles roundtrip to reach the southern viewpoint of Lower Table Rock was more than worth it. The view from the edge was breathtaking. And not just because I had been hiking.

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Once I descended, I explored the short praireland trail at the bottom of the mesa before heading back to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon.

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

Lower Table Rock

After doing pretty much nothing for the rest of the afternoon, I got ready for dinner with my friend.

An obligatory pre-dinner selfie because, you know, my hair looked kind of good. And because I was actually wearing makeup.
An obligatory pre-dinner selfie because, you know, my hair looked kind of good. And because I was actually wearing makeup.

That evening, we headed back to Ashland to try Standing Stone Brewing Company. With an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients, the restaurant and brewery was the perfect spot for a delicious dinner. On some nights, there is live music to go along with the craft beer and yummy food.

Standing Stone Brewing

Standing Stone Brewing

I even decided to branch out and order a beer. If you know me, this is practically revolutionary. I guess if I’m going to rebel by simply going to Oregon, I might as well go all the way and do something totally crazy like drink a beer. It was surprisingly good and seemed a more appropriate accompaniment to my burger than did wine.

Me. Drinking beer.
Me. Drinking beer.

Standing Stone Brewing

Standing Stone Brewing

I sadly had to head back to Texas the next day. Since I’ve been back, I have continued to consider the exciting possibility of moving to Oregon. Perhaps by this time next year, I will be eating another meal at Standing Stone Brewery reflecting on the first, impulsive trip I took to Oregon a year earlier. Regardless, from this trip I learned that stepping out of my comfort zone can be rewarding, not everything about my life needs a plan (okay, so I’m not entirely convinced this is true…), and that sometimes the worthwhile things in life require some discomfort along the way.

 

That Time I Went to Oregon Part I

Words that have not, to my knowledge, been used to describe me: impulsive, irresponsible, relaxed, goes with the flow (yes, I realize that’s a phrase, not a word), rule-breaker. You get the idea. On that note, let me tell you about the craziest thing I have ever done.

I booked a trip to Oregon.

Let me pause while you wrap your mind around such wild and reckless behavior…

Okay, now that you have picked your jaw up off the floor, let me explain.  When I was growing up, I rarely got in trouble. I did not even do typical teenager things like break curfew because I DID NOT EVEN HAVE A CURFEW. My parents were so unconcerned that I would actually break a rule that they did not even bother to give me a curfew. I was that teenager.

As an adult, my rule abiding tendencies have generally continued. I get all sweaty and itchy if I even think about doing something wrong or unpredictable. Which is why my recent behavior, you know the whole Oregon thing, is utterly shocking. At least for me.

Rather than fully explain the “wrong” and irresponsible portion of the equation, suffice it to say that I purchased a plane ticket to Oregon approximately 100 hours before I left. All it took was a text from a friend suggesting that I join her on her trip to Oregon and I was headed down a path that will almost certainly lead to desolation and despair. Or, at the very least, to me moving halfway across the country. Which is, according to some members of my family, practically the same thing.

See how excited I am about breaking the rules. Oregon, here I come!
See how excited I am about being irresponsible. Oregon, here I come!

My first stop in Oregon was, where else, Portland. Given that my image of Portland was derived from a strange mix of Grimm and Portlandia, my expectations were high. And Portland did not disappoint. Well, I sadly did not meet any vegetarian werewolves, but I was otherwise not disappointed. Actually, my tour guide had been in an episode of Grimm. But I’m jumping ahead.

Given that it was my first visit to Portland and I just had a few hours to spend, I began my day with the well-known Voodoo Doughnut.

Voodoo Donut

Voodoo Donut

Voodoo Donut

Cliché perhaps, but the peach fritter I ordered was wonderful. Things to know – the selection of doughnuts is, ummm, interesting and they only accept cash. Obviously not wanting to take my rebellious behavior too far, I think I must have subconsciously ordered the tamest item on the menu. Oh, and seating is nonexistent inside (although there is a bar where you can stand) so you might end up eating the fried deliciousness sitting outside in the rain. Not that I speak from experience.

Look at that face - only a trip and a really good fritter could make me look that happy while sitting in the rain.
Only being on a trip and eating a really good fritter could make me look that happy while sitting in the rain.
This thing was seriously bigger than my face...
This thing was seriously bigger than my face…

After the all-important combination of sugar and coffee, I was ready for the walking tour I booked with Portland Walking Tours.

Trying to momentarily hide from the rain. Before walking in the rain for two more hours.
Trying to momentarily hide from the rain. Before walking in the rain for two more hours.

The Best of Portland Walking Tour was the perfect way to get an overview of Portland. I even got the full Portland experience when it rained the entire tour. The tour began in Pioneer Square and ended at the waterfront. In between, my guide David provided a fantastic history of the city.

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Portland Walking Tours - Pioneer Square

The tour covered the entire history of the city, but especially focused on the transition of Portland from one of the most polluted cities in the US to the model of greenness that it is today.

Portlandia. Apparently it's not just a television show...
Portlandia. Apparently it’s not just a television show.

Portland

Portland

Portland

Portland Walking Tours

This is supposedly the penny that was flipped to name the city. The city could have been named Boston.
This is supposedly the penny that was flipped to name the city. The other option was Boston.

Portland

Portland

My tour guide was in an episode of Grimm, which is filmed entirely in Portland. The bar in the background is where his scenes were filmed, although they ostensibly took place somewhere in Europe.
My tour guide was in an episode of Grimm, which is filmed entirely in Portland. The bar in the background is where his scenes were filmed, although they ostensibly took place somewhere in Europe.
The world's smallest park
The world’s smallest park

Portland

I can highly recommend Portland Walking Tours. Not only was it a cogent and engaging introduction to the city, at $20 it was a great value. Plus I was able to walk off approximately 2% of the calories I consumed at breakfast. Bonus!

If I’m ever back in Portland, I would love to do another tour with Portland Walking Tours – perhaps one of their food tours. There is even a tour centered on sampling chocolate, which pretty much sounds amazing. Yes, please.

Despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed my walking tour of Portland, I was thrilled when my friend picked me up and I could get out of the rain. Desperate for something warm to drink, we quickly found a spot for lunch. Dar Essalam is just south of Portland in Wilsonville. Cozy and absolutely delicious, this Moroccan restaurant was the perfect spot for me to recover from an entire morning spent in the cold and rain.

Hummus and pita bread
Hummus and pita bread

Lunch at Dar Essalam

Mint tea
Mint tea
Lamb kabob
Lamb kabob

From there, I enjoyed the ever changing views as we drove south to Medford, Oregon. I knew Oregon would be beautiful, but even then I was surprised by how beautiful. As I considered the possibility of moving to Oregon (which, to be clear, is still just a possibility contingent upon whether or not I can find a job), the mountains were doing a good job of convincing me that I should.

Oregon

By the time we arrived in Medford, I had pretty much decided that I wanted to live here. But there was one absolutely crucial thing to determine. There is one thing I could (probably) not live without even for mountain views and vineyards (oh yeah, did I mention there are vineyards?!): Mexican food. Lack of decent Mexican food could possibly be a deal breaker. So for dinner that evening, we headed a few miles away to the charming town of Ashland to try Agave Tamales.

Ashland

Ashland

I couldn't possibly move somewhere that did not have decent Mexican food...
I couldn’t possibly move somewhere that did not have decent Mexican food…
Not quite my homemade guacamole, but not bad.
Not quite my homemade guacamole, but not bad.
This was a delicious posole.
This was a delicious posole.
Green chile and cheese tamale
Green chile and cheese tamale

One night in Oregon as I ate mouthwatering Mexican food while reflecting on a rainy day and rainbows, I felt the beginnings of a new life in a new place. By no means is that new life a certainty and many things may change in the next few months. But, by taking a chance, by stepping out of my comfort zone and booking a plane ticket, I allowed myself the opportunity to see the possibilities. And those possibilities are really exciting.