A Better Year

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

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

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

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

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

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I rediscovered my love of hiking and the outdoors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#smalltownproblems

Although most of the time, I enjoy living in my new small town, I do on occasion encounter what I call small town problems. I am certainly familiar with the aforementioned “problems” having grown up in a very small town. But something about having lived in Dallas for the previous 7 years has made re-adjusting to small town life challenging at times.

Exhibit A: My kitchen has been only partly functional for the past 8 weeks due to a water leak and subsequent repairs. At times it has been entirely non-functional. Like earlier this week when I came home and my oven was in my living room. Being frequently unable to cook in my own kitchen has meant eating at restaurants. Living in a small town means there are few options and certainly few non-fast food options. That is a small town problem.

Exhibit B: There is no Target. Enough said.

Exhibit C: One thing that is absolutely wonderful about where I live is that I spend my weekends hiking in beautiful places. One of the less wonderful things is that sometimes I want to also spend my weekend doing things like shopping at Trader Joe’s and Target, which I obviously cannot do in my small town. How does one fit both hiking and necessary shopping in (sort of) far away places into a single weekend day?

Well, like this.

A couples weekends ago I was determined to hike, eat at a great restaurant, and shop at Trader Joe’s. And when I am determined (because by determined I really mean stubborn), I am usually able to make something happen. After a bit of research, my plan was made.

On a recent Saturday morning, I made the one-ish hour trip to Eugene and made my way to Mount Pisgah Arboretum. The western summit trail begins just outside of the arboretum parking lot and ascends 1.4 miles to the top of Mount Pisgah. Even on a cloudy, cool, and frequently rainy morning, I enjoyed the view from the top.

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Of course it was raining. When is it not raining? #westernoregonproblems
Of course it was raining. It is always raining. #westernoregonproblems

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After a bit of hiking in the cool and the rain, I was ready for lunch and something warm to drink. Now, the greatest challenge of my multi-tasking day was my wardrobe. I didn’t particularly want to change clothes in a gas station bathroom, which ruled out a completely new outfit. After some debate I settled on an outfit that was both comfortable for hiking, but also could be considered casual Saturday attire. And a change of shoes. Yes, I realize I probably spent waaaay too much time thinking about this decision.

Although I spent a ridiculous amount of time deciding what to wear, the area of my day I actually spent the most time researching was where I would eat lunch. That pretty much sums up my priorities.

I eventually settled upon Off the Waffle. Because waffles.

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And not just any waffles – authentic, sugary, Belgian liège waffles with creative and delicious toppings. My waffle was topped with pear slices, brown sugar glazed bacon, brie, and a maple-balsamic glaze.

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Pair that with a cup of organic hot chocolate topped with several inches of fresh whipped cream and I was a happy girl.

And then there was Trader Joe’s.

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Living in a small town may sometimes be inconvenient or mean that I have access to fewer options, but this is the life that I chose to live. So if I encounter the occasional #smalltownproblem, that just means I have to apply a bit of creativity to finding a solution. And sometimes that results in a day that somehow includes a combination of hiking, waffles, and a carload of groceries. In the 3 ½ months I have lived here, it seems to be working out just fine.

Although I am loving exploring Oregon (and then writing about it), I just bought plane tickets for my next major trip. Although the trip is still a few months away, I will be going to… China!!!

Hood River, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The best part? I did not have to share.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweat, Tears, or the Sea

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea – Isak Dinesen
Some of my most difficult moments have been spent next to the ocean. During many times of sadness and grief, I have been fortunate enough to escape to the sea. The hypnotic rhythm of the waves, the endless possibilities of the open ocean, the warmth of the sun on the sand – all of these provide a sense comfort that can be found in no other place.
In the short time I’ve lived in Oregon, both of my grandmothers have passed away. The sense of loss I felt was compounded by distance from family and the inability to be there to grieve with them. One day, I woke up and was no longer someone’s granddaughter and would never again get to speak to or learn from the two amazing women I called Granny.
The weekend after the death of my second grandmother, I needed a way to process the loss; I needed to remember and I needed to grieve. If I could not be with family, I wanted to be alone. And I also wanted to be comforted, so I did what I had done before: I sought out the sea.
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I spent the day hiking 10-miles along the Oregon Coast Trail – from Sunset Bay State Park to Cape Arago and back. Of course, I planned to hike about 8.5 miles, but I got turned around a couple of times.
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And perhaps at one point, I walked for a while along a “trail” that was not the trail (in my defense, it looked more like a trail than did the actual trail and the directional arrow on the sign was rather ambiguous). Often, the view was obscured due to fog, but the ocean was no less lovely. The crash of the waves, the bark of the sea lions, and the sound of my own footsteps provided the soundtrack as I hiked and remembered and lovingly, if lonelily, celebrated the lives of two incredible women.
I began my hike at Sunset Bay.
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I then continued through the gardens at Shore Acres State Park.
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I finally arrived at Cape Arago where I stopped for an oceanside picnic. Then I made my way back along the coast to return to Sunset Bay.
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I was most amazed by the waves – such incredible power and mesmerizing beauty.
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The coastline reminded me of the Alaskan coastline my Granny Smith so loved – a place that stayed in her soul throughout the decades she lived in landlocked Arkansas. As I walked through blackberry bushes, I recalled childhood hours spent picking blackberries so my Granny Tyree could make her unmatched blackberry cobbler. Well, at least she could if my brothers and I brought back enough berries after eating as many as we could stand. Despite being in a new and unfamiliar place, the sea provided a constant backdrop against which I could locate the familiar and find traces of my grandmothers. My hike along the coast gave me the space and place to grieve.
At the end of the hike, I was tired both emotionally and physically, but I wasn’t ready to go home. I wasn’t ready to leave the crash of the waves and the possibilities of the ocean behind me. So for a while, I just sat, sat and watched the waves, feeling so thankful for the 30 years of my life that were shaped by my grandmothers, thankful that the cure to be found in the sea was only a short drive away.
When anxious, uneasy, and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused. -Rainer Maria Rilke

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!

Home Sweet Home

I have written about the idea of home before. It is an idea that is important to me, especially recently as I have started to build a new life in Oregon. It is hard to believe it was only two months ago when I was packing up to leave Dallas.

Earlier this year when I wrote about the meaning of home, I was at a point in my life when I had chosen to walk away from what had been and what I thought would be my home. I felt adrift in uncertainty. The thought of moving to Oregon had not even crossed my mind. Heck, the thought of visiting Oregon had not even crossed my mind. I had no idea where I would be living at the end of my fellowship. But I knew the things that were important to me.

Today, my life has a little more direction and much more happiness, and yet I continue to appreciate that I do not truly know what tomorrow will bring or what direction my life will take next. I love that this no longer drives me crazy. And that each day I get to wake up and make the choice to build a home in this new place through doing the important things.

It is with that attitude I have been exploring Oregon. And for the most part, I am really enjoying the possibilities and the anticipation of what my life could be. Not that moving and starting over has been all fun and games. I mean, moving to a place where I know no one kind of means that I have to meet a bunch of new people, which is pretty much my idea of the least fun thing ever. Thankfully, I have met some very nice people, some of whom even manage to at least seem as if they are not offended when I just do not feel like talking. Sure, I have hours or days when I really just want to sit on my couch, magically make my brothers or one of my best friends appear, and never talk to someone I’ve known for less than 5 years ever, ever again. But, those moments aside, I am trying to live with a sense of discovery and exploration.

So, today I thought I would share a bit about what I have discovered and explored.

More than anything, I have loved living in such a beautiful place, a place where I can go hiking and see the stars and not spend hours of my day sitting in traffic. It. is. amazing. In just the short time that I have been here, I have been hiking in several incredible places. However, hiking at Crater Lake has undoubtedly been my favorite. There are no words and pictures do not begin to do it justice. Suffice it to say that if you ever have a chance to go, just go and prepare to be amazed.

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Of course, there are other great options, such as the waterfalls I recently hiked to and the nearby North Umpqua Trail.

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I always want to remember to feel grateful for the opportunity to live in a place with such abundant beauty.

As if the trees and the waterfalls and the rivers were not enough, I have the privilege of living close to the ocean. Like I-randomly-feel-like-putting-my-feet-in-the-ocean-so-I-am close.

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Just as Crater Lake was on the top of my must-see list, it did not take long for me to make my first trip to the coast. The town of Bandon was a great choice for my first coastal venture – great seafood, an especially scenic coastline, and plenty of little shops to explore.

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Like with any change, there have been some adjustments. When I first moved into my house, I noticed that there was an interior bathroom perfect for sheltering during a tornado. And then I realized that, for the first time in my life, I probably did not need to worry about tornadoes. Wildfires, on the other hand, were discussed on the radio repeatedly through the end of the dry summer. And now it is fall. And most days are to some extent cloudy and rainy and will likely continue to be so through the winter. But at least it is not hot and humid!

I also love the easily accessible farmer’s markets. My sister-in-law lovingly calls me “sort of a hippy,” partly because she sees me as easy-going (hahaha) and partly because, well, I still do not fully know why. Of course, I’m fairly certain I only confirmed her belief when I got “Peace” tattooed on my body. And then every now and then I do things like post pictures of the farmer’s market produce that I am really excited about on Facebook, which she says are further evidence in support of her conceptualization.

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In addition to a weekly farmer’s market, the town I live in has a farmer’s co-op that is open daily, so I do not even have to get up early on a Saturday morning in order to buy locally sourced products.

Speaking of farmers(ish), another amazing thing is that I am entirely surrounded by vineyards.

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I really do live in an incredible place. It would be even more amazing if there were a Super Target and a Torchy’s Tacos. Seriously, I literally dreamed about Torchy’s queso last week – any of my Texas friends want to figure out how to ship me some? And while you’re at it, maybe some Desperado’s tacos? Or some Chuy’s salsa?? I’m sensing a theme… Like I said, there have been some adjustments.

These are just a few of the things that I have experienced since moving to Oregon. All of this and it is only the beginning. I have a lifetime to explore this new place I call home, to build new relationships, and to continue to create the life I want to live. I cannot wait to find out what is next!

Lions and Tigers and Bears

I realize I said I would write about how I managed to get Sydney from Texas to Oregon with her doggie mental health intact. But I just don’t feel like writing about that. Plus, I was not exactly successful – we’ve been in Oregon for 6 weeks and I still don’t think she’s fully recovered. And really, it is my blog, so if I don’t feel like writing about something, I kind of don’t have to. Maybe another time.

One of the things I have most loved about living in Oregon is the ready access I have to numerous hiking trails. Given that I intend to spend many of my weekends exploring Oregon, I recently decided that, in the interest of personal safety, I should perhaps develop a level of awareness about potential risks I could encounter while hiking.

Of course I decided to research this vitally important topic the night before I was planning to hike to four of the six waterfalls collectively known as the Little River Waterfalls. That is how I found myself searching at an increasingly frantic pace “things that can kill you while hiking in Oregon.” At midnight. There was both good news and bad news.

On the one hand, there was the surprisingly reassuring fact that the only venomous snake in Oregon is the rattlesnake. That is reassuring to someone who is accustomed to also considering the possibility of death by copperhead or water moccasin. First, because there is at least the possibility that a rattlesnake will give you a warning. Second, because, unlike water moccasins, who are obviously on earth only to viciously attack and kill all humans, rattlesnakes are not naturally aggressive. At least that is what I told myself.

Of course, on the other hand, there are bears and cougars. Oh, and as some websites felt the need to remind me, the possibility of “human predators.” I was briefly reassured that Oregon has only black bears and does not have grizzly bears – black bears are generally less aggressive. But I don’t think that would matter all that much if a black bear changed his mind when I happened to be in the vicinity.

Then I realized I had no more than a vague concept of what a cougar was (a large cat, obviously) and how it could kill you. I tried to be reassured by the statistics I found (because stats never lie…) that in Oregon the wild animal that was most likely to cause my death was a wild horse (yes, I actually read some type of official report documenting wild animal deaths in Oregon) and that there were no known human deaths by cougar and very few documented deaths by bear in Oregon. But then again, how many lone hikers like myself had been killed by one of these animals without anyone ever knowing? However, like a good psychologist, I allowed myself to be reassured that the statistics at least were on my side and that I was overwhelmingly likely to be just fine. At least that is what I told myself.

Armed with statistics, repetitious reassurances, and a laundry list of tips for preventing wild animal attacks, I set out for the first of the four waterfalls I planned to see that day. My first stop was Wolf Creek Falls. Incidentally, this was the only trail where I saw an actual human being. Thankfully, he was very friendly in a not-a-human-predator kind of way.

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My relaxed, smiling face belies the worry-filled and sleepless night I had just experienced.
My relaxed, smiling face belies the worry-filled and sleepless night I had just experienced.

As I walked along, I could not shake the feeling that something would inevitably go wrong. I repeatedly rehearsed the advice from the night before. “If I see a bear, I should not make eye contact, no I should make…no that’s if I see a cougar, okay, well either way I should definitely not run and I should do my best to look like I am not easy prey, which would probably be easier if I were taller than the average 6th grader, darn it, why can’t I be taller or at least have a more intimidating voice if I need to yell at something, maybe I should sing, well that would be silly, I will just walk loudly, I should have brought the hand sanitizer that does not smell like Japanese Cherry Blossom, I’m going to die” Basically, it was one run on sentence of worry. Thankfully, that did not stop me from being completely awed by the beauty around me.

The trails to the next two waterfalls – Hemlock and Yakso – were both located near the Lake in the Woods Campground. This was also a great spot for a picnic. The campground was empty, so I grabbed a lakeside picnic table at one of the campsites and enjoyed the view while I ate.

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Honestly, I felt somewhat reassured by the seemingly flimsy and so-not-bear-proof nature of this trash can. If such a trash can was appropriate, then certainly bears could not be a problem in this area. Right?
Honestly, I felt somewhat reassured by the seemingly flimsy and so-not-bear-proof nature of this trash can. If such a trash can was appropriate, then certainly bears could not be a problem in this area. Right?

Of course, there was the moment when I realized I was walking in the middle of a berry patch, which is of course something you should never do when you are avoiding bears, especially in the fall when their job is basically eating berries. I considered trying the berries once I verified that there was not a bear lurking nearby. They looked like wild blueberries, which are delicious. But then I realized that the one thing I forgot to search the night before was “poisonous berries in Oregon.” Why on earth had I not thought of that? I have since remedied the oversight.

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The final waterfall was the most out-of-the-way and wonderful of all. The trail to Grotto Falls is located off a gravel road that winds around several miles of mountain. Thankfully, my little car has had lots of practice driving on gravel roads, so that was no deterrent. It was worth the effort. Not that I am ever very good at picking a favorite of anything, but if I had to pick a favorite waterfall that day, it may have been this one. There were caves behind it, which would have been much more interesting if I were not imagining all of the things that could have been hiding in them. Regardless, it was incredible to walk behind and under the waterfall.

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I am still trying to fully grasp that I now live in such an amazing place – a place where I can wake up on a Saturday morning and hike to any number of scenic places. I’m pretty sure I will never get tired of hiking to waterfalls, even if I do have to face my fear of bears and cougars.

Oregon Moving Trail: Lessons Learned Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Oregon Moving Trail: Giveaway

Update: This giveaway is now closed and the winner is Jen Shipley. 

Contrary to the extensive worries of my mother, I managed to drive halfway across the country alone without dying, being abducted, or otherwise coming to harm. And contrary to my somewhat more realistic concern, I managed to do so without getting hopelessly lost along the way. To celebrate the not insignificant accomplishment of moving from Texas to Oregon, I am hosting another giveaway!

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The giveaway is for this pair of earrings that I picked up in Arizona. To enter to win, leave a comment on this post telling me about a major change you have made in your life. Or about the craziest thing you have ever done. Or just say that you want to win the earrings. 🙂 Entries will be accepted through midnight Pacific time on Saturday September 27 and a randomly chosen winner will be announced on Sunday September 28. Good luck!

I cannot wait to share more about my move to Oregon, the amazing things I saw along the way, and how I kept myself and sort of kept my dog from going crazy during the long and lonely drive (seriously, have you ever seen Nevada?)!

Learning to fully experience life through travel

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