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Twin Lakes: The Third Time is the Charm

Those who know me well know that, at times, I have a tendency to forge ahead with a plan despite obvious contraindications. One could generously call this determination, but in reality it is simply stubbornness. Not one of my best traits. A perfect example? My “determination” to hike at Twin Lakes.

First attempt, April: I knew that it was probably a little early for the road to the trail to be open for the year, but I thought I would check it out anyway. I got about halfway up the 9 mile gravel road to the trailhead before running into snow, convincing me to turn my car around. I hadn’t exactly had good luck with driving in snow in the recent months.

Second attempt, late May: I had given the snow 6 weeks to melt and it was a nice warm day. Surely this time I could make it to the lakes. Weeellll, maybe not. I managed to make it a little further than last time before hitting the snow. One moment, I was slowly making my way up the gravel road, the next, I was driving in this:

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I again attempted to turn around, but this time was not so lucky. In the process of turning around, I managed to slide backwards and get stuck in the ditch. That’s right, for the second time in 6 months, I had managed to get stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere. Except this time I was alone.

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After several panicked moments involving imagined ways to harness Sydney to pull out the car and perhaps a few curse words, I pulled myself together and began figuring out a plan. I was beyond thrilled to note that I happened to be in a miracle-pocket of cell service (I’m not exaggerating when I say that is a miracle). Given that I did not have to hike myself out of there, my first plan was to call my boyfriend, who was working in Alaska, which was obviously helpful. He didn’t believe me, which is apparently becoming a trend when I tell him things like “My flight was cancelled and so I’m landing in Eugene instead of Medford” and “Hello love, I know you’re working, but I’m stuck in the snow and don’t know what to do so I’m calling you and trying not to cry.” I texted him a few pictures to assuage his doubts. Despite my love and confidence in him, you’ll be shocked to know that he couldn’t actually help me from far away in Alaska although to be fair, he called everyone he knew to see if anyone could come try to pull me out. I then began investigating other options, like calling a tow truck. While that would be an option, it would be an expensive one at almost $500. I then contacted my insurance and learned that I had roadside assistance. Apparently getting your car towed out of a random ditch on a snowy mountainside is considered “roadside assistance.” Relieved that a tow truck was on its way, Sydney and I settled in to wait the couple of hours it would take to get there.

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Once the truck arrived, it was a relatively simple matter to get my car unstuck. And the tow truck driver was considerate enough to hold in his laughter at my predicament and to follow me to ensure I made it safely back to the main road.

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My car was a little worse for the wear, but I was otherwise unscathed.

However, I was no less determined to visit Twin Lakes.

Third attempt, July: This time, I ensured we would be able to access the trail and I took along my two favorite hiking companions – Sydney and Brandon. This time, I actually made it to the trailhead.

img_0966From here, it is about a mile to the first lake, a lovely mile with lush green fields and panoramic views.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking around the two lakes, jumping into the cool water with its soft, ashy bottom for a swim, and simply relaxing in a beautiful place. img_0995

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We may have enjoyed swimming, but Sydney wasn’t such a fan.

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This was another perfect Oregon summer day. A warm, sunny day, spent hiking and swimming and exploring a gorgeous place with my love. It just took a few tries to get there.

Aloha Maui: Sometimes Travel Hurts

What could be more relaxing than a day at the beach? Toes in the sand, the warmth of the sun, the gentle sound of the ocean waves. Sounds like paradise. Of course, the postcards with a beautiful shot of the beach (see the picture above as an example) do not exactly show that “paradise” also means gritty sand in your swimsuit, usually a sunburn, and lest you forget, potentially painful encounters with sea life.

Of course, when Brandon and I decided to spend a day relaxing at the beach, we fully expected the paradise version. One of the benefits of our lovely bed and breakfast in Lahaina was the ability to access many of the guest benefits at their sister property, The Kaanapali Beach Hotel. This hotel, located in the resort area along the gorgeous Kaanapali Beach, has fantastic amenities and for us it was the perfect compromise – we got to stay at a quiet and beautiful B & B in Lahaina and still enjoy the benefits offered by a larger resort. Although we had to pay for parking in the hotel garage, the garage provided convenient access to the beach and we could use the parking receipt to get complimentary drinks at the pool bar for 2 hours after we initially entered the garage.

But rather than take time to stop for drinks, we headed straight for the beach.

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We settled into a shady spot and began our day of vacation bliss.

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Perfection!

Then we decided that simply relaxing on the beach was for losers. Brandon went snorkeling and we took a dip in the ocean.

And then my arm started to hurt.

A red welt developed and there were (increasingly insistent) shooting pains up my arm and into my shoulder.

Apparently I had been stung by a jellyfish.

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Small but surprisingly painful

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So we went in search of solutions. Various suggestions for managing a jellyfish sting that we encountered along the way included “pee on it,” “take Benadryl,” and “get really drunk.” We mulled the options over lunch and lava flows at Leilani’s on the Beach.

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Although the coconut shrimp and fish tacos were delicious and temporarily distracting, I became increasingly paranoid. The pain was legit, y’all. Typically not one to overreact to health concerns (seriously, I will probably die because I dismiss a heart attack as a panic attack, NBD) I was suddenly a hypochondriac convinced I was going to have permanent nerve damage and/or die.

In an attempt to both humor me and assuage my fears, Brandon forced me to speak to someone at the resort. I was overwhelmed by the response. They were immediately responsive and got me into contact with the on site doctor. He reassured me that I would not, in fact, die. He also shared with me the actual treatment for a jellyfish sting: run it under water that is as hot as you can stand for 5-10 minutes. It disperses the venom thereby reducing the pain. He also provided me with a topical pain reliever if I needed it. They even called The Plantation Inn, where one of the staff members checked on me later just to make sure I was okay. Really impressive service.

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Trusting the expert, I spent several minutes in a hotel bathroom running my arm under hot water. I only got a few weird looks. But let me tell you, it worked! Without any additional pain relief, the pain was significantly reduced and the swelling slowly diminished.

The moral of the story? The beach is more than just beautiful and if you happen to get stung by a jellyfish, hot water is the solution. Although you should probably drink a lava flow just to be safe.

Aloha Maui: The Road to Hana

First, let me state the obvious. I am sooooo behind on this little blog of mine. I one hundred percent, absolutely, and completely blame the Oregon summer. I have been spending most of my spare time outdoors in the sun and usually on the water. I can’t wait to share more about how I’ve been having all kinds of fun camping, hiking, and relaxing this summer, but for now, let’s return to Hawaii. Because Hawaii.

For any first time (and possibly anytime) visitor to Maui, driving the road to Hana is a must.

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This curvy, quite popular drive with waterfalls around (almost!) every curve in the road is famous for a reason. I know there are approximately a million articles out in the world about where to stop and what to do (we relied heavily on the Maui Revealed guidebook). This will not be that post. For one, it was rainy, so as much as we absolutely enjoyed the day, there were times when we simply did not want to get out of the car and thus probably missed some of the “must see” sights. But I will share some of the pointers I found helpful.

  • Get an early start. We left our Kahului hotel before 8 am to beat the rush. We intentionally chose a morning when we were staying in Kahului to take our drive. We stayed at the convenient Courtyard Maui Kahului Airport our first two nights. It was incredibly wonderful to not have to drive far after a long day of flying and an 8 pm arrival on Sunday. And it made an early morning start that much easier the following day.
  • Bring supplies, a.k.a snacks and coffee. There are plenty of fruit stands along the way, but if you’re in need of coffee before you can be functional (not that I know anyone who could be described that way…), then Maui Coffee Roasters is worth a stop. Coffee = happiness = I become tolerable to be around. Also in the supplies category is gas. Start with a full tank.IMG_0558
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Whole wheat bagel with guava butter
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Now I’m ready to have a good day
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Love him. Especially because he did not hold anything I said before coffee against me.
  • Don’t let a rainy day keep you from having a good time. If you keep driving long enough, you might even find the sun!

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  • Find a decent guide and stop where you want to. There are even audio guides available that you can play while you drive. In a single day, there is no way to see every scenic or interesting spot. Spend a little time doing some research and prioritize what you want to see. But also, allow yourself the chance to stop if you find something intriguing. For instance, I knew I wanted to see the black sand beach, but the choice to stop for coconuts was completely impulsive. In other words, plan, but don’t plan too much.

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  • Do not rush. Listen, this road is curvy. And trafficy. And scenicy. That is a combination that equals slooooow. Do not feel pressure to drive fast, but if you are holding up traffic, be courteous, pull over, and let the cars behind you pass. There will also be many one-lane bridges. Take your time and enjoy the journey. Honestly, with an early start and not feeling pressure to go at a certain pace, we did not find the traffic troublesome.
  • At least consider driving all the way around. Most people will turn around in Hana, or just past it, and then drive back the way they came. This is largely due to the belief that the road after Hana becomes more rugged and dangerous to drive. It was no more curvy, in fact, often less so, than the road to Hana. Although the road was narrow, brief moments of bravery and a willingness to honk around blind corners were all that was needed. Even the gravel portions of the road were in good condition. Speaking from personal experience, if you have ever driven on a non-paved road in Oregon, you will be fine. We both loved getting to see another side of the island that was a marked departure from the lush scenery of the first part of the day. And there was much less traffic. And much more sunshine. I would say give it a go if you feel comfortable with even the smallest amount of risk taking.

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Using these tips, we had a lovely day viewing waterfalls

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swimming in the rain

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taking in the views while eating mangos and wearing flowers found along the way

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hiking Pipiwai Trail

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and checking out the remarkable O’heo Gulch, even if it was closed to swimming that day.

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We chased the sun and made some random stops along the way.

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We found a delicious spot for a Thai food lunch in Hana

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and stopped for fresh coconuts when we “needed” an afternoon snack.

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Most of all, we repeatedly stated how lucky we were to spend a day together in such an incredible place. And really, I think regardless of where you stop and what you do, that is what the road to Hana is all about.

A Wintery Week in Iceland: Packing Update

Prior to leaving on my trip, I spent an extensive amount of time researching what to pack. And then writing about it. Now that I’m back, here is the update to how well my packing plan fared. I am pleased to say that I what I packed was just about perfect!

First the coat. It was exactly what I needed. It was warm, but also reasonably stylish. Which kind of mattered because I was wearing it in pretty much every.single.one of my pictures. Forget all the effort I put into picking out cute outfits. They were constantly covered up in the name of warmth and comfort.

Yeah, maybe I looked cute. But no one would know.
Yeah, maybe I looked cute. But no one would know.

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Yep, pretty much every picture looked like this. Not that what I looked like really mattered. Just check out that scenery!

Relatedly, if I was going to look the same in every picture, a colorful hat really make a difference.

Underneath all of the pants and shirts and coat and gloves were my handy thermals (linked here and here). These were literally a lifesaver. They were thin enough to easily fit under what ever I was wearing and perfectly regulated my body temperature. Although not cheap, these were worth every penny!

They are both the Smartwool's heaviest base layer, the MTS Mid 250. And they both kept me nice and toasty! I wore these daily. They were warm when I was outside and, because of the moisture wicking merino, did not make me sweaty when I was inside.
They are both the Smartwool’s heaviest base layer, the MTS Mid 250. And they both kept me nice and toasty! I wore these daily. They were warm when I was outside and, because of the moisture wicking merino, did not make me sweaty when I was inside.

Then there were the pair of waterproof pants I purchased.

DSC03480I only wore them once – during my glacier hike – but even so they were worth the space they took up in my suitcase. They kept me warm and dry. Again, the temperature regulation they provided was useful. Yes, a glacier may be literally freezing, but hiking on a glacier? That is going to work up a sweat.

My real success was my choice of shoes. I may brag a bit for a moment. I only packed two pairs of those – Sorrels and a pair of Crocs. The Sorrels were my day to day shoes and I wore them just about everywhere.

On ice and snow
On ice and snow
On the black sand beach
On the black sand beach
On a glacier (with crampons to make me look super legit)
On a glacier (with crampons to make me look super legit)
On the rocky surface of long-cooled lava
On the rocky surface of long-cooled lava

That being said, I loved having a second pair of shoes, something lighter to wear after a long day in boots, something easy to slip on and off in the airport, and they had a surprising amount of traction that allowed me to walk comfortably around the city of Reykjavik.

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And let’s not forget my new Kavu rope bag. Despite being loaded down with everything I would usually have in my purse, a book (okay, so technically that falls under the category of “things I usually have in my purse”), a water bottle (Icelandic water is great, so I could fill it up anywhere), and various other items needed for travel, it never felt heavy or awkward, even after a 3-hour hike or walking around for hours exploring the city. I continue to use the bag for my weekend hikes and cannot recommend it enough.

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For more details about exactly what I packed, please read my original post. One added note that I somehow overlooked originally – pack a swimsuit. Geothermal springs are an important part of the culture year round and are a relaxing way to enjoy Iceland. Otherwise, I fully stand behind my obsessively researched packing list!

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My final purchase was a new LifeProof case for my cell phone. It enabled me to take my phone everywhere, less worried about dropping it on the ice or into a hot spring while I took pictures or used FaceTime. It was a last minute, impulse buy, but I was thankful I had it.

One last thing I packed was a Tep Wireless Egg.

IMG_9381After seeing how convenient it was in South Korea (my friend Shannon had one), I thought I would give it a shot for my first really and truly solo trip. At $100 for the week (including delivery and return by mail – super convenient), for me it worth it to have consistent access to the internet. I could use Google Maps to find my way around, I could FaceTime my boyfriend from some really cool places, and I could stay connected with people back home (and by that I mean post cool Instagram photos) without depending on unpredictable wifi. I know that it may not be worth it to everyone, but for me, I was glad I had it.

Oh, and don’t forget an adapter, even if at the end of everyday, it means your nightstand will look something like this:

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So that’s my post-trip review of my packing list! There’s just one more question to answer: Did I see the Northern Lights?

A Weekend in Florence (No, Not THAT Florence)

After coming up with my Oregon Bucket List, I of course couldn’t wait to start checking things off the list. Basically, I had created the ideal excuse to travel all over Oregon as often as I can.

Fortunately, I have the perfect partner in crime with whom to travel. In January, Brandon and I spent a weekend in the lovely coastal town of Florence, Oregon. And checking two things off of my list – ATVing through the Oregon Dunes and visiting the Sea Lion Caves. And doing other fun stuff. And eating too much delicious food.

I know that there are (theoretically) people out there who do not care about where they stay when they travel. Any old hostel with a bunk bed and a shared bathroom will do. I, however, am most certainly not one of those people. I don’t need 5 star hotels to be happy (although they don’t exactly make me sad), but I do prefer a certain level of style and cleanliness. Add to that wanting to bring Sydney along for the weekend and it was beginning to feel that I was asking for too much. That despite my regular assertions to the contrary I was, in fact, kind of high maintenance. For a while, it seemed as if my pet-friendly options were going to be choosing between a hotel that was the probable scene of a serial murder or sleeping in my car. VRBO to the rescue. Thanks to the magic of VRBO, we found a perfectly cozy, pet friendly cottage that met my (apparently high) expectations.

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At $70 a night, the price was right, too.

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The simple, tastefully decorated cottage contained a single room, with the bed tucked back into an alcove. Ideal for two people, there was a small sitting area adjacent to a pseudo-kitchen outfitted with small appliances, such as a coffee maker and toaster oven.

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There was also a quaint outdoor seating area with a fire pit
There was also a quaint outdoor seating area with a fire pit

My only complaint was the bathroom (and yet again I’m forced to consider that perhaps I’m underestimating my level of pickiness). It was teeny, tiny with the toilet right next to the small shower that even I found cramped.

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The cottage was perfect for a weekend, but I was tired of that bathroom after a night or two. But then again, our weekend was all about exploring, so we did not spend too much time there anyway. Plus, our cottage was within walking distance of the beach.

We spent the weekend walking hand in hand along the beach and checking things off my bucket list. Despite the cold and windy days, the beach was lovely. As Sydney chased the white foam down the beach, Brandon looked for sea shells and driftwood forts. I made an effort to notice and capture the beauty of the moment in memory and photographs.

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As romantic as strolling down the beach was, we needed a bit more variety mixed into the weekend. A short and scenic drive up the coast brought us to the Sea Lion Caves. Tickets to access the viewing site are $14 for adults.

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The natural sea cave was discovered in 1880 by a local seaman who later purchased the property. Ownership later changed hands and the cave has been open to the public since 1932. Today’s modern elevator makes for much easier (and safer) access than the original stairs. Then again, the price has “improved,” as well. When it opened, access to the caves cost a mere 25 cents. The cave is home to Stellar sea lions. Winter is a great time to visit because the sea lions are often out of the cave during the spring and summer.

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Fair warning: the cave is loud and smelly! Despite that, it is definitely a unique spot worth the price of admission. I was mesmerized by the sea lions, watching as they gracefully jumped into the water or much more clumsily worked their giant bodies back onto the rocks. 
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The trail to the cave offers a fantastic view of the rugged Oregon coastline and there is also a viewing point for the iconic Heceta Lighthouse.

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To add in a bit more adventure, we spent an afternoon among the Oregon Dunes. The dunes were incredible. Stretching as far as you can see along the coast, it was an almost unbelievable sight, the desert juxtaposed against the sea with an unexpected backdrop of evergreen trees.

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DSC02651After first seeing the dunes by foot, we (and by we I mean Brandon) decided renting an ATV would be fun. And it was. It was also simultaneously and equally terrifying.

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The entire time, every single moment, I was equal parts enthralled and in fear of my life. Probably because Brandon was driving. Brandon who, from the moment the employee safety briefing ended, did pretty much everything we were told not to. Stay in the boundaries? That’s just boring. Don’t get within 50 feet of the water? But then you would miss the cool close up view. Whatever you do, don’t go sideways up the hill? Obviously we’re going to do that because it’s way more fun.

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My own personal addendum to the safety briefing: whatever you do, do not leave your cell phone in an unzipped pocket. If you do, you could potentially experience a moment of sheer panic when said phone is no longer in your pocket. After wildly signaling to stop the vehicle, you might then frantically, and hopelessly, look for the phone in the firm knowledge it is now irrevocably buried somewhere in the sand, lost forever along with the pictures you hoped to later post on Instagram to make people believe that you’re cool and adventurous and not at all terrified of taking an ATV up and down sheer cliffs of sand. If you’re lucky, your boyfriend might find your slightly melted yet still functional phone in a small crevice of the engine, where it somehow just happened to land. This is all hypothetical, of course. What kind of person would leave their cell phone in an unzipped pocket while riding in an ATV across sand dunes?

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Hypothetical cell phone catastrophe aside, it was an incredibly fun (and scary) afternoon.

Along with checking two items off my bucket list, walking along the beach, and staying in an adorable cottage, we also, unsurprisingly, found the best places to eat.

Mo’s Restaurant in Florence is a satellite of the original restaurant in Newport. Famous for their clam chowder, I also ate the very yummy popcorn scallops.

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We enjoyed our lunch with an unparalleled view of the river. Great food, great company, and a great view – there’s nothing better!

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An unexpected find was Homegrown Pub. Featuring Northwest brews and dishes made from locally sourced and organic ingredients, this place was incredible.

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There was even live music the Friday evening that we were there.

We started our meal with the steamer clams – local clams steamed in a fennel, thyme, and chile cider broth.

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Brandon ordered even more mussels in the form of a cioppino and there was absolutely no way I was missing out on the special, a black truffle pasta – homemade pappardelle mixed with local mushrooms and an alfredo sauce topped with a generous serving of shaved black truffle.

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And because we had obviously not had enough to eat, we ended our meal with dessert – a homemade brownie topped with ice cream and abundant caramel.

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Another not-to-be-missed find was Boxed Lunch, a local food cart parked in front of the cinema.

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We enjoyed our picnic lunch with a view of the dunes.

I couldn't pass on the day's special, a reuben sandwich on focaccia.
I couldn’t pass on the day’s special, a reuben sandwich on focaccia.
Brandon's choice was the breakfast burrito. It received his seal of approval, which is quite impressive given that a breakfast burrito is what he eats, almost literally, every single morning.
Brandon’s choice was the breakfast burrito. It received his seal of approval, which is quite impressive given that a breakfast burrito is what he eats, almost literally, every single morning.

The food was seriously delicious.

Our fancy dinner out while in Florence was at Waterfront Depot. The restaurant is a Florence icon, and for good reason. Located in a repurposed and relocated train depot, one almost always needs reservations to get a table, even during the less busy winter months.

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It was the ideal spot for a romantic dinner.

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Most importantly, the food was excellent. After sharing the calamari, I tried the restaurant’s most popular dish, the crab encrusted halibut. There is also the crab encrusted cod. However, as my boyfriend, who might be slightly obsessive about where his seafood comes from, pointed out, it is possible to know exactly where the Alaskan halibut came from, but the term “cod” was not nearly specific enough to determine the exact kind of fish or from whence it came. Thus, I ordered the halibut to shorten his lecture and to prevent him from exhaustively questioning the waitress about the fish.

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The halibut was topped with a chili cream sauce and served with a quite excellent Caesar salad.

That evening, we forewent the many delicious desserts offered at the Waterfront Depot in favor of a fire and s’mores.

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I don’t want to name any names, but somebody gave Sydney a marshmallow.

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When Sunday morning came around, I was certainly not ready to come home, for Brandon to leave for Alaska, or to return to work the following day. We comforted ourselves over a hearty breakfast at the roadside Morgan’s Country Kitchen.

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A fluffy veggie-packed omelet and a good cup of coffee went a long way toward making me feel better.

We headed home with memories of another great weekend, this time on the Oregon coast. And, I am able to mark two more spots off of my Oregon Bucket List. My next trip will most definitely not be somewhere in Oregon – I’m taking a wintery trip to Iceland! I can’t wait to share more about my next adventure.

It’s All Fun and Games Until You Get Stuck in the Snow

It sounded incredibly romantic – the boyfriend, a gorgeous and snowy Oregon day, hunting for the perfect Christmas tree. This year, I was not only going to have my first non-artificial Christmas tree ever, I was going to drive up into the mountains and cut one down. I mean, it sounds pretty much like a scene from a movie.

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And for much of the day it was.

I marveled at the initially frosty and then snowy trees (I’m still a Southern girl at heart and this never ceases to amaze me).

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I became ridiculously excited when we bought our $5 Christmas tree tag.

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We kissed in the middle of a frost covered bridge over a river surround by a white, wintry landscape.

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We stopped to admire the scenery. And to kiss some more.

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We climbed higher and higher, Brandon expertly driving the increasingly snow-covered mountain roads, in search of my perfect tree.

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I spent the day with a gigantic smile on my face.

And then we got stuck in the snow.

Perhaps the boyfriend was trying to impress me. Perhaps we were distracted by the undeniable beauty of the day. Or perhaps we felt like the perfect tree was just around the next curve in the road.

Regardless, we suddenly realized that the car was no longer, you know, moving forward. The wheels were spinning to no avail. After allowing ourselves a moment to take in the reality of our situation, which included being stuck in the snow on a lonely mountain road with no traffic and no cell service, Brandon jumped into action.

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He began to dig us out of the snow while trusting me to drive the car forward or in reverse according to his careful instructions. Despite our best efforts (and by “our” I actually mean “his” – the guy was digging us out with his ungloved hands while I was sitting on the heated driver’s seat inside of a heated car), the situation became increasingly bleak. As in we were either going to freeze to death in the car or we were going to walk miles down the mountain. And still possibly freeze to death in the process. I’ll take option C, please. That would be the one where I don’t die from the cold.

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And yet I didn’t despair. We kept working together (quite well, I might add) and persisted with our attempts to become unstuck.  At this point we were almost literally between a rock and a hard place. Through a combination of desperate prayers, Brandon cutting down a tree to use for leverage, him bracing his entire body against the car to push away from the rocks, and my amazing driving skills (hahaha…) we managed to somehow, finally get free. It was a moment of sheer relief.

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Out of the snow but rather worse for the wear

Although our relationship managed to survive the Great Christmas Tree Hunting Debacle of 2015 entirely intact, his car was somewhat less fortunate. Somehow the guy still likes me even though my desire for a real Christmas tree, found in and cut down from an Oregon forest, kind of messed up his car.

And yes, we did find the perfect tree.

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Beautiful despite its imperfections. Beautiful because of its imperfections. Like a Christmas tree, and a relationship, should be.

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Roommate Reunion 2015, cont’d

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

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

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

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

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

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Guys! We need a selfie stick! – Jessi

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

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

Cora, when are you going to Antartica? – Jessi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stop and individually pose for the same picture x 3.

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

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The harder the better – Name redacted to protect the innocent

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

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

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

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

Couchsurfing in China: I Travel for the Food

If you have read my blog, like, ever, then you are likely aware that I like food. Like really like food. And taking a trip to China was the perfect opportunity to try some new and, ummm, interesting foods. There were also many delicious foods. Many, many delicious foods.

Let’s start by talking about the street food. Across from campus was a myriad collection of food vendors and small restaurants where I most often ate during my stay. At any time of the day, various forms of inexpensive food, both identifiable and otherwise, were available for purchase. One of Jobie and Junie’s favorites is these sweet corn (or corn-like? I’m not really sure what was in them) cakes. Baked fresh and placed into a bag while still giving off steam, these were small bites of puffy goodness.

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Sweet corn(?)cake comas

Also available were things like dumplings (jiaozi), fried rice, cold drinks, and mystery meat parts.

Thankfully, Candi was able to order for me.
Thankfully, Candi was able to order for me.
This is a strangely delicious drink called coffee milk tea. Which is exactly what it sounds like.
This is a strangely delicious drink called coffee milk tea. Which is exactly what it sounds like.
Lemon something? It was quite refreshing after returning from a hike up a mountain.
Lemon something? It was quite refreshing after returning from a hike up a mountain.

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I do not believe I want to know what any of this is…
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However, this I want to eat. Now.

In the same area as the street food vendors were several small restaurants. During my stay, we ate at two of Candi and Justin’s favorites – one specializing in Sichuan cuisine and another in cuisine from northern China. I honestly cannot remember all of the dishes, but I do remember that the vegetables – cauliflower, small eggplants, potatoes, squash – were all especially delicious. Although I thoroughly enjoyed each of these meals, I will be honest. One must put aside any and all food hygiene issues in order to consume food in China.

First, because food is prepared in places that look like this:

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I’m guessing there is not much regulation of food safety standards.

Second, meals are served family style. Various dishes are ordered (by someone who actually speaks Chinese) and brought to the table along with a big bowl of rice. Each person dips their own small bowl of rice, but from that point, chopsticks are used to grab individuals bites. Those same chopsticks are then used to place those bites (after adding an appropriate amount of rice) into each person’s mouth. And then back into the plates of yummy food shared by all.

I really found it best to not think about it. That way, I could thoroughly enjoy eating all of these amazing dishes.

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In case it’s not obvious, this is the entrance to a dumpling restaurant
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Where the magic happens

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This was as spicy as it looks and perfect to add to a bowl of dumplings along with some dark vinegar.

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I have been craving this for a solid 2 weeks. And I cannot have it. Never go to China because you will eat things like this and your life will never be the same and you will be sad that you cannot eat it every day. Just some friendly advice.

We went out for a nice dinner one night to a place called 70’s Restaurant, although it’s anyone’s guess as to why. Despite the inexplicable name, the food was incredible.

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These were little tiny eggplants. As a side note, instead of saying “cheese” when taking a picture, people will say “qiezi,” the Chinese word for eggplant, which sounds more like ches-duh. Obviously.
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Mushrooms

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This was translated as bread with ice cream. It was a sweet bread with a sugary outside topped with a sweet butter-like substance that got all melty and good tasting.

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This cabbage was incredible, especially as it continued to cook and got a little crispy on the edges.
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Enjoying some barley tea.

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Another delicious meal was in Hangzhou. We enjoyed some of the regional specialities, such as chicken in tea leaves and a fatty pork dish.

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One of my favorite things to eat was the readily available fresh and delightful fruit, even when I was not entirely sure what it was that I was eating.

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Dragonfruit smoothies. In a Razorback cup, of course. WPS!!
Dragonfruit smoothies. In a Razorback cup, of course. WPS!!

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Even the places that should have been familiar had their own unique Chinese twist. Take for instance, Dairy Queen. Forget a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard. I ordered mango ice cream complete with a macaroon.

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DSC00898And then there were the chips. Trying to find a familiar flavor was next to impossible. Because they were mostly flavored like meat. Even the Cheetos were meat flavored. As in, regular Cheetos were not to be found.

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Not meat flavored, but also not particularly good. Trust me.

Even the bakeries were different. Although the pictures may appear to be any bakery in any city, the available pastries tended to be less sweet than what one would typically find. Oh, and the egg custard? Amazing.

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And yes, I ate both this and the egg custard. Don’t judge me. I needed lots of energy for a day in Shanghai and a long plane ride home.

Although I ate many wonderful, potentially life changing foods while in China, I also took the opportunity to try a couple of new, potentially not palatable foods. And because I like you, I am sharing the carefully documented series of pictures of me trying gross things. You’re welcome.

First up, stinky tofu. As the name suggests, it is tofu that is intentionally soaked in something that smells like sewage before being fried. The name could not be more appropriate.

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This is one of the moments when blogging is an inadequate medium. There are no words to capture the burning trash smell permeating the air as the tofu was fried.

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The most memorable food experience was certainly trying chicken feet. I literally ate the foot of a chicken. I think the pictures say it all.

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One of my favorite ways to get to know any place, both near home and in a far away place like China, is to try new dishes. Whether what I ate was especially tasty or something I would never voluntarily eat again, China did not disappoint.

 

 

 

 

Couchsurfing in China: The Giveaway

Update: The giveaway has ended. The winner is Sara Thomas!

China. The word alone evokes sights and scents and scenery.

China.

I have much more to say about my trip to Shaoxing, China. My cousin, Justin, and his wife, Candi, who is also a longtime friend, allowed me to stay with them for one amazing week of catching up, exploration, and new experiences. I am now home, unpacked, with laundry mostly done, but my mind continues to drift back to memories made and ahead to new possibilities. Fair warning: this will not be a short series of posts, so if you’re not interested in hearing about China, you might not want to read for a while!

If you are interested (and why wouldn’t you be?), I’m kicking the series off with a giveaway. Both items were purchased in Hangzhou during a day of mad shopping on a pedestrian shopping street amid heat and the smell of stinky tofu. The giveaway includes hand lotion and a scarf.

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The giveaway closes midnight PST on Saturday April 25. To enter, comment on this post telling me the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten. I need to know that I am not the only one who intentionally tries weird foods!

How to Convince Your Brother to Move to Oregon

Like all big sisters should, I have frequently had an opinion (or two… or ten) about what my brothers should be doing at any given point in time. And being the amazing big sister that I am, I was often successful in convincing them to agree with my (obviously superior) perspective. For instance, when we were children, I repeatedly convinced them that they should allow me to pretend like they were my own, personal, real-life dolls. Which basically meant playing dress up with them. Yes, pictures of my brothers in coordinating blue and pink dresses exist. There may have been makeup and high heels involved. But because I love them I will spare them the mortification that would ensue if I shared said pictures. Plus, I have bigger priorities at the moment (see below) that require at least one of my brothers to continue to like me.

Now that I live in far away Oregon, I have decided that at least one of my brothers should also live here, too. It seems perfectly reasonable to expect at least someone in my family to move closer to me. I shouldn’t have to miss them just because I decided I wanted to move halfway across the country. I want my cake (to live in beautiful Oregon) and to eat it, too (being close to family because I miss them). So it is only expected that I used Ethan’s recent trip to Oregon to implement my evil amazing plan: convince him he must move here.

Step 1: Introduce him to Oregon’s gastropubs and microbreweries. In fact, almost as soon as he got off the plane, we headed to Falling Sky Brewery in Eugene.

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Perhaps the best veggie burger I have ever had. The fries weren’t too bad, either.

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We had so much fun that we did it again the next day at Vista Pub in Brookings.

Four words: mango habanero jack cheese.
Four words: mango habanero jack cheese.

Step 2: Show him the undeniably beautiful and varied scenery of Oregon. Beach? Check! Breathtaking mountain views? Check! Redwoods? Check! Okay, so technically these were in California. Saturday morning, we drove to Jedediah Smith State Park in California to see the redwoods. Of course, I had to introduce him to the amazingness of Dutch Bros. Coffee first.

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Seriously, Dutch Brothers AND redwoods. How can he not move here?

When we stopped at the visitors center to determine where we wanted to hike, the ranger recommended the short Stout Grove Trail for the best views of the redwoods and then mentioned the Boy Scout Tree Trail, even if we did not want to hike the entire 5.2 miles. Apparently, this was where the Ewok Forest was filmed. She had Ethan at “Ewok Forest.” There was no way we were missing that.

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Navigating the old-fashioned way.
Navigating the old-fashioned way.

We spent Saturday night in Brookings, Oregon where even the Best Western has an ocean view.

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The next day, I showed Ethan even more of Oregon’s awesomeness with a drive along the coast. With views like this, no words are needed.

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I had to work Monday morning, but took the afternoon off to spend time with Ethan before he (reluctantly, I might add) left Tuesday morning. He had seen redwoods and the coast, but I couldn’t let him leave without introducing him to the North Umpqua. We spent Monday afternoon doing a bit of hiking – Fall Creek Falls, which was magical, and Susan Creek Falls, which was perfect because it’s an easy trail and you can actually talk when you’re not constantly walking uphill. Oh, and there were waterfalls.

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Step 3: Show him the wonderful and fun people he could hang out with if he moved to Oregon. We spent Saturday evening and Sunday morning with the family of one of my best friends. Okay, so technically a third of the people we spent the weekend with were from Texas. For now. My friend is implementing her own convince-them-to-move-to-Oregon plan with the distinct advantage of having grandchildren involved. Regardless, we had a really fun time eating delicious food, enjoying the antics of the kids, and spending time on the beach. Perfection.

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I get to call this place home. Thank you, sunset, for helping me convince Ethan that he should, too.

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A crucial part of my strategy was feeding Ethan delicious food: bruschetta, spinach artichoke dip, and homemade pizza. None of which I can take credit for. Although I will take credit for having friends who make amazing food.

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Step 4: Feed him oysters and seafood. You just can’t get fresh Oregon oysters or crab salad from crabs that had been alive earlier that day or smoked salmon sandwiches in Arkansas. And you certainly can’t eat such deliciousness while sitting next to the ocean.

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My first time eating raw oysters...
My first time eating raw oysters…

Step 5: Remind him how much fun we have together. And how awesome I am at being a big sister. I introduced him to Dutch Brothers and Radiolab. I forced him to watch Mockingjay and Pitch Perfect. I constantly elicited dating advice to get “a guy’s perspective.” We laughed. A lot. Why wouldn’t he want to leave everyone he knows back in Arkansas just so we can hang out/go hiking/have fun together more often? He’s pretty awesome, too. Like, he takes me out to dinner and does not expect me to put on makeup or fix my hair. And he changes the batteries in my smoke detectors. Which means that I don’t have to stand in a chair on a stool in 4-inch heels to change the batteries. Hypothetically, of course.

Step 6: Subtlety remind him about all the incredible things he “just didn’t have time to see.” The key here is subtle. Think, “I’m so sad we didn’t have time to make it to Crater Lake. I can’t wait for you to come back so we can go there!” and “Oh man, I’m so bummed that we didn’t get a chance to do a vineyard tour. Maybe next time!” or perhaps “You think this waterfall is great, you should see (insert one of many waterfalls here). You know, if you moved here we could go hiking together more often…” I am sure he did not pick up on my strategy.

Time will tell whether or not my plan was successful. Regardless, I am so thankful I had the opportunity to spend one hilarious and fun and unforgettable weekend with one of my favorite people.

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