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.

I Love Arkansas: The Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Love Arkansas: The Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Love Arkansas: Introduction and Giveaway Winner

First things first – the giveaway winner is Lucy Gaddy! Congrats, Lucy!!

Okay. Let’s talk about Arkansas. Probably because I am about to move 2000+ miles away, this Arkansan has recently been quite nostalgic about my home state. There are so many things that I love about Arkansas and I will dearly miss living a 6-hour drive away from my family and some of my best friends. Thankfully, I was able to spend a week in Arkansas before the move to Oregon (I still cannot fully comprehend that in a matter of days I am moving halfway across the country. Alone).

During my trip, I had a conversation with my dad about a time when he was working in Little Rock with coworkers from out-of-state. He would suggest one of Little Rock’s many great restaurants and a delicious dinner would inevitably be followed with a comment such as, “That was a great restaurant…for Arkansas.” Always said with a slight tone of surprise, his co-workers comments suggested that Arkansas was not a place where one would expect great restaurants. This (il)logic would extend to other areas – Arkansas could not possibly have culture or history or nightlife or anything fun to do. And when such things would be encountered, as they of course would, they would be met with the surprise of surpassed expectations. Because I think it is a shame that the world at large expects so little from a place that I love, I am taking it upon myself to share some of the amazing things about Arkansas – the food, the outdoors, and other activities. Some of these are things I enjoyed during my recent trip, whereas others are activities or restaurants I have either experienced in the past or have always wanted to do. I am by no means an expert, but I want to share some of my favorite parts of a special corner of the world before (and while!) I move far away. So up next on the blog (on an as yet to be determined time frame contingent upon internet access during the move) will be some of the great things about Arkansas!

I Love Arkansas: The Giveaway

Update: The winner of this giveaway is Lucy Gaddy. 

Last week, I was browsing the cute shop attached to an ice cream parlor in Little Rock where I had just enjoyed a delicious ice cream cone with my cousin and her family (more to come on what they dubbed “The Day with the Crazies…”). The problem was I really wanted to buy something. That was a problem because I hardly needed one more thing to pack up and move to Oregon. So, I decided to host my first ever blog giveaway! I got to buy something fun, but without having to keep it.

The giveaway includes a handmade soap and a chapstick. Both are all natural and made in my very own home state of Arkansas. As I prepare to move to Oregon, I know I will miss being close to “home.” There are so many things that I love about the state where I grew up. To enter to win, leave a comment on this post telling me where home is for you and/or what you love about it! Entries will be accepted through midnight central time on Saturday August 16 and a winner will (probably) be announced on Sunday August 17. Good luck!

Packing Post: 10 Days in Arkansas

Although I have made considerable progress in improving my packing skills, I have yet to pack for a longer trip in a carry-on suitcase. I decided that my trip to Arkansas was the perfect time to finally accomplish that particular feat. I used my usual, super precise method of laying a bunch of stuff on the bed until I figured out a combination of clothes that worked. In the process, I realized that: I have too many clothes… and that I need more basic, solid-colored pieces of clothing. I am not yet sure how I can accomplish both.

Anyway, this is what I ended up with:

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One dress, 3 pairs of pants, 8 shirts, one cardigan, 4 pairs of shoes, and a few accessories. With a bit more effort I could have probably narrowed it down a little more. But instead I used that effort to make cookies.

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Once I chose what I wanted to bring, it was quick business to break out and fill my trusty packing cubes. Amazingly, all of these clothes, plus undies and pjs fit into two cubes.

Sydney is making sure that she's on the packing list.
Sydney is making sure that she’s on the packing list.

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Once the cubes and my shoes were packed, there was still plenty of room for everything else I needed to put in the suitcase.

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Where are the treats, Mom?
Where are the treats, Mom?

Seeing how easy it was to pack for 10 days in a small suitcase, I sort of wonder why on earth I lugged around large suitcases for all these years. In the interest of full disclosure, I also brought a small bag for Sydney and a backpack with my hiking stuff, so technically not everything was in the suitcase. But, I’m still pretty proud of my most recent packing success.

Tips I Should Have Followed and Didn’t (e.g., Don’t Be Like Me):

  1. Pick a single color scheme for your travel wardrobe. Unless by “single color scheme” you just mean “color,” I’m pretty sure I didn’t follow this tip. Someone who actually knew what they were doing would choose a neutral color like brown, black, or gray and build their outfits around that. Not even my shoe choices were all that basic. Speaking of…
  2. Only pack two pairs of shoes – one casual/comfortable and one that can be a bit more dressy. And maybe a pair of athletic shoes. So, see those four pairs of shoes (plus, my hiking shoes). Yep, didn’t follow this tip either.
  3. Bring pieces of clothing that can multi-task or be worn multiple times. I guess I didn’t do too bad with this one.
  4. Accessories are your friend. At least I did something right. Of course, the one tip I actually followed was not necessarily focused on minimizing.
  5. Use packing cubes because even when you continue to overpack, you can fit a bunch of stuff into them and seem like you are good at packing. Okay, I just made that one up. But it is true.
  6. Ummm, let’s not even talk about my toiletry situation. That is still a work in progress.

Moral of the story: Do as I say, not as I do.

Second moral of the story: Even a recovering overpacker who remains a bit of a hypocrite can fit over a week’s worth of stuff into a small suitcase.

The move to Oregon is less than a month away, which is just about the craziest sentence ever, so I am not sure how much time I will have to focus on the blog. I will eventually write about some of the fun things I did while in Arkansas and before I know it I will be writing about the fun things I am doing in Oregon! Meanwhile, I am going to pretend that I am not freaking out and try to apply my minimal packing skills to packing an entire apartment. Any pointers? Or volunteers?!

Travel Dreams: Summer 2014

I have frequently discussed dreams and goals on the blog recently, mostly related to moving to Oregon. I am incredibly grateful to see that dream becoming a reality. As much as I am enjoying the process, even the packing part (I have gotten rid of so much stuff!), it has come at the temporary expense of another important part of my life – travel. And that is okay. Sometimes one area of your life takes precedence over another. That does not mean I have not been thinking about travel, however. If I cannot actually go somewhere, the next best thing is planning to go somewhere. So, today I am thinking, and thus writing, about the top places “on my list.” In no particular order, they are:

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1. Peru: If you have been reading my blog at all, you know this is one of the next big trips I would love to experience. In fact, I have a tentative date set for the fall of 2015. Of course, that will partly depend on finances and available time off, both of which I will have a better sense of once I begin my new job (in Oregon!!). Because this will likely be my first solo trip outside of the US, I plan to join a small group tour such as those offered by G Adventures and Wilderness Travel.  I am so excited to see how this particular trip comes together over the next few months.

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Eiffel Tower

2. France: And by France, I mostly mean Paris, although I would also love to spend some time in Provence. This may seem like an odd choice as a place to travel alone. Paris is, after all, the city of love. However, I cannot help but get excited about perusing the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay at my leisure, which is inevitably longer than anyone else I would travel with could possibly enjoy. I think about having a quiet picnic next to the Seine or in one of Paris’s many parks. I dream about strolling the streets of Paris or sitting in a cafe alternately reading a book and people watching. All of that sounds pretty amazing to me with no travel partner needed.

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3. Caribbean Cruise: This dream gets at my current desire to have a low stress, beachy vacation. Cruising is great when you do not feel like doing much planning and between a trip to Peru and a trip to France, I might be a bit tired of planning (if that’s even possible). Considering that this could be another solo trip, I will probably look at cruises with Norwegian or Royal Caribbean, both of whom offer cabins for singles on certain ships. Norwegian even has a lounge solely for people booked in single cabins. I have cruised in Alaska and the Mediterranean, but not the Caribbean, so this sounds like the perfect balance of relaxation, fun, and something new.

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4. China: Sometimes travel is about taking advantage of opportunities. In this case, two of my best friends are currently living in China. It only makes sense for me to make a trip there sometime in the near future. Although I will hopefully get to see some of the iconic sites of China, like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, I will also have the less typical experience of seeing firsthand what it’s like to live in China as I spend time with my friends. It is also the perfect opportunity to make not-funny-at-the-time memories. Given my propensity for getting lost, China seems like quite a likely place for that to happen. I promise to share the details.

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5. Arkansas: Obviously, Arkansas is “home,” so there is nothing particularly new or adventurous about going there. But that’s where my family is and with the move to Oregon, I am sure that many future trips will be to this place. And I am more than okay with that. A chance to see the people I love and the beauty of “The Natural State” is a hard to beat combination.

These are just a few of the travel goals I have floating around in my head at the moment, although I feel like this list is always changing. Who knows when each of these trips will actually happen, but it never hurts to consider the possibilities! What about you – any particular travel plans or dreams?

A Tennessee Weekend: Sunday Hike

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

A Tennessee Weekend: An Introduction

A Tennessee Weekend: Reunion

A Tennessee Weekend: Saturday Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm ready to go...
I’m ready to go…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Really Happening…

Okay, so I know that I promised to finish writing about my trip to Tennessee, which I will. But last week, something happened. And that something is…

…I got a job in Oregon! Almost exactly six months after my last-minute, first-time trip to Oregon, I will be moving halfway across the country to start a life in Oregon. In Oregon! In six weeks, give or take a couple of days, I will be leaving Texas and driving to my beautiful new home. How crazy and wonderful is that?! That being said, my blog has taken a bit of a backseat. I have had a few minor details to address such as how to get all my stuff from Texas all 2000+ miles away to Oregon. And where on earth I’m going to live when I get there. So perhaps I may not have quite as much time to write. I promise to make up for it by writing about all the awesome stuff I do when I get there!

I’m not someone who believes that one can do “anything they set their mind to.” For instance, even with utmost determination and perseverance, I would never, ever be a basketball player. Anyone who has ever seen me attempt to play basketball can attest to that. That is, if they can interrupt their laughter at the memory of said attempts long enough to provide a description. However, I do believe that there is much that can be accomplished with a dream, concerted effort, and the support of loved ones. I am so fortunate to be able to live out this dream and am excited to see what is next down this road.

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.

Learning to fully experience life through travel