Category Archives: Valued Life Direction

On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: The Perfect Proposal

When I was in college there was this show, I think it was on TLC, called The Perfect Proposal. The premise of the show was helping someone, usually a man, plan an elaborate marriage proposal for the person he loved. Sure, it was a little over the top, but it was fun to watch. There were hot air balloons and sky writers, surprise visits from far away family members, and I even recall a marching band or two. But beyond all of the cute animals and spa days and bespoke productions, beyond the scenic locations and giant diamond rings, there was always this moment. This moment of fear and hope, of expectation. In that beautiful, vulnerable moment, one person asked a question full of hope and promises, a question that imagined a future and nervously took the first steps toward it. And then the next moment when another person joyfully said yes to a life full of unknowns, to both the sorrow and happiness of all the years to come. That moment is the magic of life. It’s terrifying and brilliant to have so much wrapped up into one tiny, humongous question and an even tinier, momentous answer to that question. It was that moment that would be the sweetest, most wonderful memory I would take from Jamaica.

I’ll be honest, the morning before the proposal I was kind of pouting. I suspected and hoped that Brandon was going to propose sometime during the trip because, really, how could there be a better place to propose than Jamaica? But we were nearing the end of our weeklong trip and it had not happened. So, like I said, I may have spent portions of Thursday pouting and pretending not to. However, like an adult I reminded myself that I was in a gorgeous place having a fantastic time with my favorite person. I was not going to let the lack of a piece of jewelry take away from that. We had a fun day snorkeling, relaxing at our hotel, and swimming in the pool. We had decided that we would go out that night for a fancy dinner at Ivan’s, which was just down the road from our hotel. We got dressed up, which meant that Brandon actually put on pants instead of the shorts he had been wearing the rest of the week. He suggested that before going to dinner we stop by the bar and get a couple drinks and then find a spot to watch the sunset. He did not exactly have to twist my arm.

There was this little cabana right on the edge of the cliff that was just the spot. We sat and I sipped my drink, choosing to simply enjoy the moment. I did notice that Brandon seemed a little nervous and distracted. Despite this, we soaked in the moment and savored the beauty and the company. We took a few pictures and then right at sunset (6:15 on Thursday September 14 to be exact), he suggested we get up and take some pictures together. He maneuvered us to the edge of the cabana and then dropped down on one knee. He had something in his hand, but I could only look at his face as he asked “Will you be my Mrs. Hart?” I could not speak. I could not even say yes, so I just nodded my head and leaned over to kiss him. I eventually looked at the ring. He had even found a ring box that was shaped like a shell. After a few blissful moments of cherishing the newness of being engaged, of privately celebrating suddenly being more than boyfriend and girlfriend, Brandon set off to find a random person to come take pictures. We recreated the sweet moments of our engagement for the patient man behind the camera.

I feel like this accurately captures how we look at each other in real life – I look (and was probably being) bossy and Brandon just looks like he wants to kiss me.

It was sincere. It was joyful. It was perfect.

That evening, we had a celebratory dinner at Ivan’s.

Yes, there was champagne

The restaurant is known for their jerk chicken pasta – a unique and quite delicious take on the classic dish

The food may have been delicious, but even more amazing was sharing my first meal with my fiancé.

This man. I love him beyond words and cannot imagine someone loving me better than he does. This sunset proposal in Jamaica will be a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. On the days when life is hard or when love is hard, I will recall the love that came easily and the happy tears shed in one of life’s perfect moments and remind myself of the all the many reasons I said yes to the unknowns of forever.

And, if you are wondering, I spent the rest of our vacation telling every.single.person. who we met that we had just gotten engaged.

The Year I Resolved to Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do You Travel So Much?

The question is often asked (or implied…), “How do you travel so much?” I think that generally breaks down into two separate queries: how I afford to travel and how do I have the time. So I thought today I would answer the questions!

First, how do I afford to travel.

1. The circumstances of my life. I am a young professional with no children. This is not necessarily helpful advice, because you can’t exactly send your kids back once they’re in your life, but it is a significant factor. At this point in my life my disposable income goes toward travel, although I am perfectly aware that these circumstances could change at some point. Thus, my other tips might be a little more practicable.

2. I save and budget. Each month begins with me spending a few moments putting together my budget for the month. One item on that budget is “travel.” I save money, even a little bit, every single month. Whatever you’re able to save will eventually add up to enough to go somewhere!

3. I stay tuned to travel deals and take advantage of them when I can. For real, I am probably subscribed to just about every travel deal list that exists. Some of favorites are Budget Travel, Travelzoo, and Tripalertz. You can set flight alerts using websites like Airfarewatchdog.com and Smartertravel.com for notifications when certain routes are on sale (for instance, I have an alert for flights to Arkansas – a recent alert I received led to me booking a trip home in September) and there is even a Groupon for travel deals.

4. I take advantage of opportunities. Last year, both my trip to China and to South Korea came about because I took up a friend on an offer of a free place to stay. Be warned, if you say, “Come visit sometime,” I will probably be sleeping on your couch at some point. Especially if you live somewhere cool. I also extend work trips by a day or two when possible, taking advantage of the fact that I’m already visiting somewhere to explore a bit.

5. I try to use points when I can. I am by no means an expert on this particular area of travel, but I am learning.

6. I spend a significant amount of time researching places I might want to go, finding budget options when possible. I find enjoyment in looking for that chic but affordable boutique hotel or finding the best cheap food a city has to offer. I balance splurges like a massage at a spa with free or inexpensive activities such as hiking or exploring a city by foot.

7. I unabashedly ask for the gift of travel.

8. I work extra jobs to earn extra money that I set aside for travel. It is not unusual for me to work well more than a typical 40-hour workweek, all for the sake of being able to go more places.

So how might this look in real life? Well, let’s take my recent trip to Hawaii for example.

  • Flights: I used 50,000 British Airways points I had previously earned through a credit card sign up bonus to book two roundtrip tickets from Portland to Maui. I paid a grand total of $22.40 in taxes and fees.
  • Hotel: I used 70,000 Marriott points, also collected through a combination of a credit card sign up bonus and spending on that credit card, for two nights at the Courtyard Maui Kahului Airport ($0). The next two nights were spent at the Plantation Inn in Lahaina, which cost $500 total for both nights. This rate also included breakfast, adding extra value to the cost.
  • Rental Car: My birthday present from my parents was a rental car for the trip, which meant it cost me $0! We used one tank of gas during the trip, so the entire cost of transportation was about $35.
  • Activities: After careful research, we decided to splurge on a luau ($260, for two people) and a snorkeling and sailing excursion ($290, for two people). The rest of the time, we did free things like relax on the beach and hike.
  • Meals: Okay, this is one area where I tend to spend more than average. I estimate that between the two of us, we spent about $600 on food, which includes the tip for the luau and some really, really delicious meals in a place not exactly known for cheap food.

All together, I spent less than $900 (because costs were split with my boyfriend) on an incredible, awesome, amazing few days in paradise. I know the “give up Starbucks” analogy is ridiculously overused. But seriously. Give up your coffee habit for 6 months, sign up for a couple of credit cards (and pay them off every month!) and you’ve got yourself a trip to Hawaii! In my book (and obviously in my book, travel is the best thing ever), that’s a pretty great trade.

The second part of the question, is how do I have time off? I am, after all, early in my career and have close to the minimum number of vacation days offered by my company (which, to be fair, is generous for the US).

1. I sometimes take trips no one else would take in a short amount of time (cough, South Korea, cough).

2. I plan out my vacation days to the hour months in advance. Just ask my boss 🙂

3. I take advantage of holidays and long weekends, sneaking in short weekend getaways or tacking the days onto longer trips.

4. I sometimes get to earn extra days off through attending conferences that require me to work weekends and working the occasional holiday. I also advocated for a 4-day work week, which gives me more time off to go places without taking any extra time off.

Taken together, I do everything I can to maximize my time off and travel as much as possible in the time available to me. Sure, sometimes that means being anything but well-rested, but again, for me the chance to travel is worth it.

Although the answers to the questions of how I travel are hopefully useful, the question I think is even more important is why I travel.

It’s not always easy and fun, after all. Returning from my recent trip to Iceland, I was again reminded of the stress and fatigue that come from travel. Cancelled flights, days of jet lag, a suitcase that takes days to unpack – all of these things are avoidable sources of stress that are directly related to my choice to travel. And yet, I continue to do this thing that, while incredible, is also stressful and exhausting. So what makes it so important to me? What makes the challenges of travel worthwhile?

I know to some my choice to travel as often as I can, sometimes alone, can be baffling. I work extra hours and make sacrifices in other areas of my life in order to afford to travel. I squeeze trips between work weeks, often exhausting myself, and use my time off of work down to the hour, not the day. It is not always easy and relaxing, but I do it anyway because it is something that is important to me, something that I see as essential to myself. I travel for many reasons. I travel simply because I enjoy it. There is nothing I love quite as much as waking up on the other side of the world to a day full of possibilities and unfamiliarity. I travel because I love to learn and because eating new kinds of weird and wonderful food is what life is all about. I travel to make memories and see the places others have only read about. I travel for many reasons.

But most of all, I travel because it challenges me and it changes me. It makes far off places in the world mean something in a way nothing else can. When I read a headline about something terrible or wonderful happening in another place, there is something powerfully personal about saying, “I’ve been there!” I can recall what I’ve seen with my own eyes and the people I’ve talked to. I have connections with people and places that allow me to think in nuances, not in black and white. To look for the good and acknowledge the evil, just as I do for my own place in the world. Through travel I am reminded that I am connected in ways both big and small to others in the world who live lives that seem so different from my own. This connection, this knowing, makes me desire to make the entire world a better place, not just my piece of it. I travel because it makes me a stronger, kinder person – someone who strives to understand when it’s hard and to care when it’s easier to turn away. I travel because this place, this world, that we live in is incredible. It’s beautiful and powerful and ultimately unknowable. And yet, I continually yearn to know more. This answer, these reasons, the why behind the discomfort, that is so much more than the how.

The Other Side of Fear

The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one. – Elbert Hubbard

This quote was recently featured in my planner. I may have mentioned how much I love my planner. Not only does the best planner ever (a statement made in response to a single case study – I’m fairly certain there has yet to be any empirical research into the issue of best planner ever, but perhaps there should be) remind me to be grateful, it also provides some daily inspiration. On this particular day, it was a relevant reminder that I have committed to not allow fear to be something that drives my decisions. That is a commitment I have made in a number of areas in my life, but because this blog is supposed to be about travel, I thought I would confess how I have recently allowed fear to prevent me from pursuing something that is important to me. And what I am doing about it.

I currently have two free hotel nights that will expire in January. I also happen to have enough frequent flier miles for a free flight. In other words, I could take a practically free long weekend trip if I wanted. And yet, I keep putting off scheduling something. I have been seconds away from booking a flight or making a hotel reservation, but have not followed through. As I have considered what is holding me back, I have realized it is essentially fear, specifically the following two fears:

  • That something “better” will come along. I worry that the second I book something, a better deal will be available or I will suddenly want to go to an entirely different destination than the one I have chosen. Or even that if I go somewhere, I will somehow miss out on something at home.
  • That I will be alone. This may sound strange coming from someone who just moved across the country alone, but I have never really travelled alone with the exception of one or two conferences. This is all new territory. I worry that I will not enjoy it because I am nervous about being alone or that my sometimes indecisive nature will emerge and I will end up sitting in my hotel room eating delivery pizza because I could not decide what I wanted to eat for dinner. Oh, and then there is the small fact that I sometimes manage to get lost even in familiar places, so getting lost in a new place is pretty much guaranteed.

If I continue to listen to these fears, I will be paralyzed and never go anywhere. I will never have the opportunity to discover what it is like to travel solo. I will certainly not experience the thrill of exploring somewhere I have never been. Perhaps even more importantly, I will be further away from the kind of life I want to live. So what can I do about it?

  • I can just book something. The reality is that I hope my life includes travel to many different places. I am not missing out on one place by going to another – I am simply making a choice to go somewhere. Hopefully I have a lifetime in which to explore the world and if I am meant to go to a place, then the opportunity will come along one day. Meanwhile, I can choose to enjoy the place where I am. Ultimately, going anywhere is infinitely better than going nowhere.
  • I can remind myself that the trip will be what I make it. Of course there are always things that can go wrong, but my attitude when those unpleasant things happen will determine whether it is a catastrophe or a minor setback that makes the (hopefully fun) rest of the trip that much more enjoyable. I can choose to sit in my hotel eating takeout or I can push myself out of my comfort zone a little bit to go out and try the great new restaurant in town. I can embrace the possibility of being lost while being open to discovering something I would never have experienced otherwise. I may not always get to choose the things that happen, but I am able to choose how I respond to them.
  • I can give myself the opportunity to learn what it is like on the other side of fear by starting small(er). Although I could certainly conquer my fear by doing something drastic like booking a trip to Europe, perhaps it makes a bit more sense to just put my toes in the water by taking a trip to somewhere a bit closer (ahhh, the age old psychologist argument of graduated exposure versus flooding…). Then the next time, I can feel more comfortable (or at least less uncomfortable) doing something a little bigger.

Regardless of where I end up going, the important thing is that I go – that I do not allow the fear of making a mistake or having a bad time or being alone be what keeps me from doing something that I love. So, I began this week with a single intention: to make a specific plan (yes, this means actually making a reservation) to take a trip to somewhere, anywhere. What I have planned is nothing exotic or faraway (there is not even a plane involved), but includes many of the things that I love: hiking, great restaurants, and maybe even a museum. In the end, it does not matter where I go; what matters is that I go.

Does anyone else ever struggle with fear? I would love to hear how others have pursued important goals despite fear!

Oregon Moving Trail: Lessons Learned Part I

The randomly chosen winner of last week’s giveaway is Jen Shipley!! Congrats! If you did not win, don’t worry – I have enjoyed picking out fun stuff so much that I think I will continue to do so on future trips. If there are any specific types of giveaways that you are interested in (e.g., jewelry), feel free to let me know.

And now, onto the topic of my move to Oregon. On the list of things that I never thought I would do, moving to Oregon, much less by myself, would definitely be on the list. And yet, a few weeks ago, I found myself doing just that. Unsurprisingly, the most common question I have gotten since moving here is some version of “What brings you to Oregon?” That is not to be confused with the most common comment, which is “You don’t sound like you’re from Texas!” I obviously correct them and share that I am actually from Arkansas, and yet the surprise at my apparent lack of a southern accent persists.

Okay, back to the most common question. Honestly, I have had difficulty answering questions about why I chose to move to Oregon because I do not fully know myself why I am here other than, for various reasons, it became something that I wanted to do. I have tried different responses to that question, but they all seem a little hollow. Or crazy. For instance, saying aloud that I moved to Oregon because one of my best friends moved to Oregon actually makes me feel a little crazy, in part because, although that reason is both true and wonderful, it also feels insubstantial. Of course, there is the long version of the story, which would probably make a little more sense, but that is hardly something you tell someone the first time you meet them (well, unless that person is your therapist, and then in that case, you might). Ultimately I wanted a different kind of life and I pursued that desire, but even those words only inadequately capture the complexity and depth of my choice to move.

Not that moving to Oregon was even the end point – really it was only the beginning and it is now up to me to day-by-day build the kind of life that I want. Now that I am here and working on building that life, it is fun to recall the adventure I had driving out west. Plus I learned a few things along the way.

  1. Spray painting things is fun. Perhaps you were already aware of the fun that could be had from illicitly spray painting things, but I have not exactly had an extensive history of vandalizing objects with graffiti. After leaving Dallas at the ridiculous hour of 6 am, my first major stop was Amarillo, TX.
    Only coffee and the realization I was actually moving to Oregon could make me smile about beginning a long day of driving at 6 in the morning.
    Only coffee and the realization I was actually moving to Oregon could make me smile about beginning a long day of driving at 6 in the morning.

    I had one last lunch at Rosa’s, savoring every last bite of my chicken fajita with queso, before parking on the side of the feeder road to see a bunch of Cadillacs half-buried in the dirt.

    Sydney was hoping I would share. I did not.
    Sydney was hoping I would share. I did not.

    Having never stopped at Cadillac Ranch, it seemed like one of those things I should do before leaving Texas. Plus, it gave both Sydney and me a chance to stretch our legs. IMG_2043Oh, and to spray paint things, namely cars. IMG_2065It was even more fun than I expected it to be, although I do apologize for the poor quality of my handiwork. Somehow “Bye TX” was the best I could come up with. And it did not even look that good. I blame the wind. IMG_2084Regardless of my shoddy graffiti skills, I am glad I finally had a chance to see Cadillac Ranch.

    Sydney had a blast running around the cars. She had even more fun saying hello to the people we met while we were there.
    Sydney had a blast running around the cars. She had even more fun saying hello to the people we met while we were there.

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  2. I realized that in moving to Oregon, I was finally reclaiming my life from the chaos and heartbreak of the previous 2 years. I had plenty of time to think about the move I was making. I considered what others might think or feel about it, I carefully scanned my own thoughts and feelings, and I even thought of the different directions my life could have been taking at that very moment. There were times when I felt joy and excitement about the life I was going to and times when I wept for the life I was forever and finally leaving behind. In the course of the drive, I released the remaining pieces of bitterness and anger as I drove and drove and drove. The drive gave me the time and the space to fully put to rest the grief I have felt for the life I thought I would have and to arrive in Oregon truly ready for whatever blessings and hardships my new beginning will hold.
  3. A long day of driving melts away with a good meal and a prickly pear margarita. IMG_2160Before beginning the trip, I was a little nervous about all of the driving I would be doing and especially about the 2 days when I would have particularly long stretches of driving. Prior to the move, the farthest I had ever driven by myself was the drive between Texas and Arkansas to see family. On this trip, my shortest days of driving would be longer than that. I really wondered how I would manage to keep my sanity. So, in typical Cora fashion, I got the worst over with right away: Dallas to Albuquerque was my longest day of driving – about 10 hours not counting stops. I armed myself with plentiful coffee and months of hoarded Radiolab episodes and prepared for a few days of maybe being miserable. But I was surprised to find it was really not all that bad. I gave myself permission to stop when I wanted to, had brought plenty of music and podcasts, and made an effort to appreciate the changing scenery outside of my car. And each evening, I took some time to relax. For instance, in Albuquerque, I had intentionally booked a hotel near the Old Town district because it seemed like the perfect spot to unwind after my longest driving day. IMG_2153IMG_2188Although I arrived too late for most of the shops to be open, I enjoyed walking around Old Town and finding a great spot for dinner. As I made a valiant effort to eat a giant burrito (with red and green chili, of course), I tried to comprehend that only that morning I had been in Dallas and I temporarily belonged nowhere and meanwhile I was eating dinner on a patio in New Mexico. IMG_2168After dinner, as I walked through more of Old Town, I happened across a band playing in the plaza to a small crowd of people. It was a beautiful evening and I was in no hurry to get back to the hotel, so Sydney and I found a shady spot to sit and enjoy the music. IMG_2171 IMG_2183All the fatigue and boredom of a long day of driving? Totally forgotten.
  4. I live in an amazing country. Something about driving cross-country gave me a whole new appreciation for the vastness, beauty, and variety of the United States. There is so much to see. IMG_2112 IMG_2234 IMG_2858 IMG_2980Although I have been to 31 states (and driven through 5 or 6 more), I have still seen so little of what there is to see. As I drove through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, and Oregon, I noticed a whole new excitement building about continuing to explore the US in the future. Although, to be honest, Nevada did test that excitement a bit. Thankfully, California and Oregon gave me some time to renew my excitement before the end of my trip. Here’s to future adventures as I continue to work on my goal of going to every state.

I was planning to keep writing stuff, but I still have to talk about the Grand Canyon (hint: it was just about the best. day. ever.) and that will involve approximately a million pictures, so I decided to break it up into a second post. So, next time will be a bit more about the move to Oregon and then I plan to share some helpful pointers about travelling with a pet. Pointer number one will be do not travel with Sydney.

After 100 Happy Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom and The Road Less Travelled

I spent the Fourth of July weekend in Arkansas with family and friends. As I made the drive from Texas to Arkansas and back, I had plenty of time to think. As I considered the holiday, I became thoughtful about freedom and what it means to me. Unsurprisingly, my thoughts quickly landed on the freedom to travel and how grateful I am that my life includes the opportunity to go to new places and have novel experiences. Sure, there are a limited number of places that I, as a single woman, am unlikely to go, but there are abundantly more places on this earth to which I can go without hesitation.

Out of curiosity, I searched for “women travel pioneers” and found this list on Wikipedia. What an inspirational group of women! I may not have aspirations to be the “first” woman to do something or to set any records, but reading about the lives of these women inspires me to take full advantage of the freedom to travel for which they paved the way. These women, and others, accomplished the seemingly impossible, overcoming cultural norms and gender barriers to fly airplanes and climb mountains and document in black and white photographs their journeys to unfamiliar and sometimes dangerous places. As a result, no one (except perhaps my parents) thinks twice when I mention that I want to go to Peru next year on my own. There is no reason why, if I so desire, I cannot simply hop in my car for a last-minute road trip this weekend. However, I am also mindful that this freedom is not one afforded to women everywhere and that I am fortunate to live in a country where women have the same rights as men. The freedom and ability to travel, especially as a woman, is something I do not want to take for granted.

How do I honor the legacy of these courageous woman and the freedom I have to travel? For me, it begins with the act of actually traveling – taking advantage of every opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone to learn about other people and cultures in order to broaden my own understanding of the world and myself.

But more than that, it is about the willingness to embrace the unknown and the unexpected in my day-to-day life. I am at a crossroads in my life with possibilities stretching out in front of me in every direction. Although there have been other times in my life when I have made important decisions, such as where I wanted to go to college and who I wanted to marry, these decisions were generally in line with a predetermined pattern, one that looked strikingly similar to the lives of those around me. There were only rare moments of uncertainty and doubt. It is so tempting to go back to this path because it is paved with familiarity. But now I can also see other roads, enticing, yet certain to contain the unexpected and perhaps the unconventional. As I consider what is next for me, I want to choose “the road less travelled” despite the fear and uncertainty.  Because by accepting the inevitable uncertainty along a new path, I give myself possibilities and hope, hope that, by making different choices than the ones I have made before, I can have a different kind of life. Yes, a life with heartbreak and pain and bad days just like any other, but the opportunity to live those days amid the good kind of days of my choosing. Days filled with beauty and friendship and, of course, travel. So that is how I want to use my freedom – walking down a road to the unknown with trepidation, anticipation, and hope because that road leads me to where I want to go, not just where I have been.

The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have. – Anna Quindlen

I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it. – Rosalia de Castro

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. – JRR Tolkien

I will be back next week to wrap up my recent trip to Tennessee. In the meantime, I am curious about your thoughts on travel and freedom. Please share! Also, if you want to ensure that you never miss a post, you can subscribe to my blog using the box on the right.

Happy Days

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

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

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

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

 

Change

I suppose it is natural that as my 30th birthday, and consequently a new decade of my life, quickly and inevitably approaches I become somewhat pensive about where I have been and where I am going.

One thing is certain – if you had asked me a year ago what my life would be like at this moment, my answer would have in no way reflected my current reality. And the thing that I could never have imagined is that I would be okay with that. I am a planner who has historically resisted change with every fiber of my being. I had a plan and it was perfect and nothing else was acceptable and that was that.

And yet, here I am having been forced to painfully confront my “perfect” plan falling to pieces around me. What is amazing to me is that I have come to accept that and, even more incredibly, to feel excitement and anticipation about a future outside of that plan. I have learned to more often live in the moment with a willingness to embrace the ultimate uncertainty of the future without anxiety (well, at least not my former level of anxiety). The cost of that lesson has been undoubtedly high, but I believe I will live my life better because of it.

As I pondered all of this, I was reminded of a recent hike at Cedar Ridge Preserve, which I first visited during the winter. This time, signs of spring were everywhere in evidence, especially the iconic Texas bluebonnets.

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge Preserve

The change from one season to the next is not a change that is often resisted. For the most part, people eagerly anticipate the alterations that come as winter changes to spring or spring changes to summer. On this particular day, I reveled in the warmth of an early spring day, appreciating the beauty and color that were all around me. Sure, I could have focused on the bugs or worried about how hot it was going to be in a few weeks. But instead I chose to appreciate the beauty knowing that every wonderful, worthwhile thing has an inextricable element of discomfort or even pain.

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Just like my birthday and just like spring, change is inevitable. Each season in life brings an unpredictable combination of pain and blessings. I can choose to embrace change with an attitude of wonder and expectation, with an awareness of the blessings, or I can be miserable as I ineffectively resist and focus on what has been lost. As I begin a new decade and a new phase of my life, I want to let go of my plans while I work toward my goals. I want to embrace change while also holding on to the people I love. I want to see the adventure and opportunity of this time in my life, not the loss and the fear. Someone whom I love dearly recently told me to “see the gift that life has given you in spite of the sorrows.” So that is what I am going to do – find the joy and the blessings and make the most of every day, even the difficult ones. I do not know what this next year will bring, but I am looking forward to finding out.

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Yes, I know it’s another post about hiking. But between trying to move in a few months and saving money/getting ready for Peru, my weekends have been pretty consumed with hiking and spending time with friends. I have two upcoming trips to Tennessee, so I promise I will write about something else soon!

So, back to hiking.

Let me tell you a secret. I do not always enjoy hiking. Don’t get me wrong, usually my outdoor time on the weekends is a welcome relief from living in a city. I have said before that at heart I’m far from a “city girl” and I need trees now and then to really feel like myself. But there are some days when my reclusive lazy introverted side pulls me to just stay home. This particular Saturday was one of those days.

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Despite the deceptively blue sky (which would later be more appropriately laden with gray clouds), the day was cold and windy. The trails were muddy. And I was tired. Regardless, I grabbed my favorite hiking buddy, Sydney, and forced myself out the door.

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

This illustrates the importance of living a life based on values and goals. I choose to hike not just because it’s something I enjoy, but also because it fits with the larger picture of my life: preparing for a trip to Peru, living a healthy and active lifestyle, making sure my sweet and energetic pup gets plenty of exercise. Without these things in mind, it would be simple to decide to stay home (in my pajamas, reading a book, and eating ice cream) on days like this. And yet I went anyway. On this particular day, I chose to check out Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve in Plano.

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

I wish I could say that once I got there, I had a great time, was so glad I went, etc. But that would be dishonest. The truth is the day kept getting more miserable and the trails were completely flat and not all that interesting. And by the end Sydney’s paws were encased in an impressive layer of mud.

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve
Even Sydney’s seemingly endless enthusiasm was dampened by this point. Just look at the derisive expression she was directing toward me. Or maybe she was just annoyed that I was taking her picture.

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

I mentally divide the places I explore around Dallas into two categories: places worth driving to and places not worth the drive. Unfortunately, Oak Point fell into the latter category. If it were closer to where I live, it would be a nice place to take Sydney for walks after work, but as a destination for our longer weekend hikes, it was not ideal and is probably not a spot I will revisit. Regardless, by the end of the day, I was one small step closer to my goals, even if I did not enjoy the process. Which, now that I’m thinking about it, is basically the story of my life.