Tag Archives: brandon

Oregon Beach Camping

Of course I want to be writing about Jamaica. Jamaica was amazing and beautiful and everything I hoped it would be and more. But today, I am writing about another kind of beach in another kind of place. And I’m writing about the thing that made both places wonderful – time with my love.

So here was the scene: Imagine a hot summer day, the kind of sweltering summer day that is thankfully rare in Oregon. To walk outside was to be hit by a wave of heat that made you want to turn around and run straight back into the air conditioning. Except it’s too hot to run, so you just slowly walk and then find a spot to sit where you don’t have to move. Add to the almost unbearable heat the smokiness. For weeks over the summer, wildfires throughout the region settled a tangible haze of smoke into the valley that frequently made breathing uncomfortable. On this particular day, I was also finishing up my work week and feeling hot and tired and stressed.

And then Brandon texts. “Hey babe. I’m at your place packing the camping gear into the car. Let’s go to the coast.”

Music to my ears.

I rushed home from work, eager to head out on our adventure. With no specific plan in mind, we loaded Sydney into the car and headed toward smoke free, cooler weather. An hour and a half later, we were breathing easy and enjoying the novelty of not sweating every time we did something intense, you know, like sitting quietly and breathing. On the drive, we chatted about where we might settle for the night. After some debate, we decided to try to find a spot at our “secret beach.” Although there were no official campsites, camping was allowed on the side of the dunes opposite the beach. After another terrifying drive down the terrible road leading to the beach, we parked and made a few trips to carry our camping gear the short walk to the spot we decided to camp. If we had a vehicle that could drive on the sand, we could have pulled right up to the campsite.

I hate mosquitoes!!!
Our home for the next couple nights

From there, the weekend became everything. And nothing. I cannot even begin to describe how much I love weekends like this with Brandon. Days spent relaxing that end with nothing to do except sit and watch the sunset, days where I don’t have to share him with anyone or talk to anyone else (I know, I know, I’m kind of unsociable sometimes). Days where I can recharge and reset from the stress of day-to-day life.

We walked to the beach and watched the sunset before settling in for the night.

We literally spent the entire next day walking along the beach. See what I mean by everything. And nothing. It was absolute perfection.

We did not see another person the entire day.

At one point, we set out our beach towels, ate a picnic lunch, and then took naps. We know how to have a good time.

Sometimes you just need to get away – from the heat, from the smoke, from the stress and routine of everyday life. I needed to recharge and reconnect. I am thankful for days when we can load up the car and randomly head to the coast to get away from it all.

And up next on the blog, the gorgeous and amazing Jamaica (spoiler alert: aka the trip where I came home with a ring)!

 

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California Campcation: Glass Mountain, Modoc Indian War, and Petroglyphs

When I last left off, I had shared our caving and camping adventures in California. But that’s not all! There was so much more to see. As I mentioned before, this area of northern California has some of the most fascinating and unique geology that I have seen.

One morning, we set out to find the Glass Mountain of Brandon’s childhood. When we did find it, I do not think it quite lived up to his memories, but I found it astounding nonetheless. Despite it being July, we ran into some snow on the road that my little Civic could not surmount. Not one to let a little snow deter us, we pulled the car out of the way and set out on foot.

Like much of the landscape in the area, Glass Mountain developed as the result of a lava flow. It gets its name because much of the rock that formed it is made of shiny obsidian. It is impossible to capture the scale of the place. Once on top of the black mountain, the rock stretches almost endlessly in every direction. After taking in the vastness of it all, attention turns to the details – how each rock has its own form and pattern.

Don’t miss the butterfly in this photo

Although the snow would belie this fact, it got hot and we were both thankful we had arrived in the morning. We finished up our hike on and around the obsidian mountain and spent the remainder of the day relaxing (see previous post and the picture of Brandon floating in the lake – that pretty much sums it up).

Our final morning, we packed up the car, but we were not nearly done with our trip. We spent the morning learning the history of Captain Jack and the Modoc Indian War. This was a timely reminder of the ugly history of this country we sometimes try to gloss over or ignore. It may be easier to look the other way, but confronting this history and remembering this history is important. This is a history where people, because of the color of their skin and their beliefs, were forced off their land, the place that was their home, because people with a different color skin and different set of beliefs were powerful enough to do so. This is a history that should not, must not be forgotten.

The war began in November 1872 when a handful of Modoc Indians decided to move back to their home. This set off a series of conflicts between the Indians and white settlers. Eventually, a group of Indians led by Captain Jack retreated to the lava beds where they were joined by others. There were 50 – 60 warriors and their families who made a stand here. Later named Captain Jack’s Stronghold, this area of lava bed was home for this group of people for months of fighting against a vastly larger US Army. The war ended in June of the following year with the defeat of the Modoc Indians. Captain Jack and other leaders were hanged and most remaining Modoc who were at the stronghold were relocated to Oklahoma – a place so very far from their home. As we walked these places where such a tragedy had occurred, I could only hope that we have learned to do better, to be better as a country and as human beings.

At both Gillam’s Camp (where the US army camped) and Captain Jack’s Stronghold, there were brochures that provided the history of the war through a self-guided walking tour. I made Brandon stop at every number and we took turns reading the information. And he still wants to marry me. He hasn’t been to too many museums with me, though. Yet. I might hold off on that until it’s too late for him to back out.

A tribute to Captain Jack

Our final stop before going home was Petroglyph Point. Separate from but also a part of the National Monument, this rock formation used to be an island. The nearby Tule Lake used to cover this entire area. All along this formation were petroglyphs, some of which were carved as much as 6,000 years ago.

This was completely worth a stop.

This weekend had it all! We camped, we hiked, we learned, and we saw some things that were just plain cool. If you are a person living in southern Oregon or northern California, this is an easy weekend trip that I highly recommend.

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California Campcation: Medicine Lake and Lava Beds

I thought we were going camping. After all, the weekend had all the typical trappings of a camping trip. And then there was this moment, this moment when I was standing on the edge of a volcanic crater, breathless, fascinated, and suddenly aware that this was so much more than a camping trip. Sure, we were sleeping in a tent and cooking our meals over a campfire, but we were also, really, taking a vacation. We were in a new (to me) place, we were learning about geology and history, we were going caving. This was no mere camping weekend.

The decision to come to this particular location had been prompted by Brandon. This area of California had been the site of one of his favorite childhood trips. He had spoken about this place for literally as long as I’ve known him. So when I learned I would have a 5-day weekend because of the 4th of July, we decided that we would spend the weekend in the Modoc National Forest and Lava Beds National Monument. Of course, revisiting Brandon’s childhood memories had not always lived up to his abundant praise (cough, porcupines, cough); I honestly was not expecting much. But I love him, he wanted to go back, so we did. Spoiler alert: it was amazing.

We reserved a lakeside campsite in the Medicine Lake Campground, which had just opened up for the year. As the park ranger with whom we chatted said, “It is a little more lake front than usual.” The lake was feet higher than normal, but even so, our campsite was wonderful.

Whether we were drinking coffee by the campfire, floating in the lake, playing cards, watching the sunset cuddled up in the hammock, or simply relaxing, we enjoyed every second. Conveniences like running water and vault toilets made the campground seem practically luxurious after our recent backpacking trip.

But you know us. We could not be content with just hanging out at a campsite all weekend. This is where the “vacation” part kicked in. We spent our first full day in California at Lava Beds National Monument. I really had no idea what to expect, other than that there would be some caves. Lava Beds is accessible from Modoc National Forest along a gravel road and was about 16 miles from the campground.

Our first stop was Mammoth Crater. The crater was formed 36,000 years ago and is the volcano responsible for the lava flows that created most of the caves in the park. This is also where I realized this was so much more than a camping trip.

Our next stop was the visitor’s center. Because we did not come in the main entrance, we needed to pay the entrance fee and get cleared to enter the caves (I’ve talked about white nose syndrome and bats before, which I think says a lot about my life with Brandon).

He’s so handsome and I love him

After a this quick and scenic stop, we began exploring the caves. Not all of them, of course. There are over 700 caves in the park and over 2 dozen of them have developed entrances. That was definitely more than we could see in a day! While at the visitor’s center, we picked up a brochure with information about the developed caves. This included information on the caves’ locations, difficulty, and any special features. We started with the caves near the visitor’s center before driving Cave Loop Road, where many of the most popular caves are located. We finished our day of caving with a quick stop at Skull Cave, one of the few remaining ice caves at Lava Beds, and a hike to two caves that displayed Native American pictographs.

When I say “developed cave,” this is probably what comes to mind – a marked entrance, a way to get into the cave without using a rope, a clear path, and some type of lighting. Sure, that applied… to exactly one cave in the park. Near the visitor’s center, Mushpot is a great place to start because of all of the above. The lighting also provides the opportunity for educational information to be displayed throughout the cave.

Then there was the rest of the day, when paths and lighting were nowhere to be found. Sure, there were ladders to get into the caves when needed, but from there, we were on our own with the exception of the occasional path. And that’s what made it fun. We wandered and explored and discovered, each cave unique ensuring there was always something new to see within the light of our headlamps.

After a picnic lunch, we set out for the greatest adventure of the day – The Catacombs. Brandon could not wait to explore this, one of the largest caves in the park. The description about the cave says (and I quote) “A cave map is highly recommended for any group planning to explore the entire cave, as multiple levels and numerous side passages can be confusing. This cave is not recommended for inexperienced cavers.” Ummmm…. Cave map? No, of course not. Sense of direction? I am the girl who can get lost while listening to the GPS telling me exactly where to go. Cave experience? Hardly, unless you count the few caves I had been in near Bend. How could this possibly go wrong?

Maybe I did not have a map, a sense of direction, or adequate caving experience. But at least I had a hard hat and knee pads. I think my face says it all.
Brandon, on the other hand, could not wait to get inside the cave.

We (obviously) made it out alive, but we had very different experiences in this cave. I was stressed out and constantly worried about finding our way out. Brandon was having a great time and had no concern about taking whatever path caught his fancy.

I pretty much just followed him around, letting him choose where to go, reminding myself that we would (more than likely) be okay. Until we got here:

After crawling through on his belly, the space too small for his bag, he came back to reassure me that the cave “opened up on the other side.” Nope, not doing it. Despite his efforts at persuasion, this was as far as we went.

The rest of the day was rather less stressful as we fit as much of Lava Beds as we could into the day.

Where’s Brandon?

We had such a great day! I loved that we could start and end the day among the pine trees next to a lake and spend the time in between in the desert seeing unique geological features. Truly, it’s a fascinating place. We were just getting started. Up next, geology, history, and art. I told you this was a vacation!

Nothing Worthwhile Is Easy: My First Backpacking Trip

You may remember that last summer was my first camping trip in several years. I loved it so much that this summer I decided to take the next step and try backpacking. Because what on earth could be not fun about strapping on a 35-pound pack that’s as big as you are and trudging to a campsite with absolutely no amenities?

But that is exactly the point. The things in life that are the most meaningful, the most wonderful, are usually the things that do not come easily. I was reminded of that over and over again during our days in the woods.

It is probably no surprise that I spent weeks preparing for this trip – researching where to go, gathering tips from friends, taking stock of our camping supplies and spending an unmentionable amount of money on Amazon filling in the gaps and buying backpacking supplies, creating a meal plan and spending half a day shopping and prepping the food we would eat (for the curious, I plan to do a separate post on exactly what food I packed and what we ate – I spent a lot of time putting a plan together and it seems worth sharing). This was no small feat – weeks of work for a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip.

And then the day arrived, the day we would load up the car and drive to the Beaver Swamp Trailhead for the start of the hike. I have no doubt that Brandon could have carried his 50+pound backpack for an extended distance. Me, on the other hand, not so much. In fact, I was a little worried about carrying it at all. But you can bet once I got myself strapped into that thing, I documented the heck out of looking strong and sporty with my giant backpack.

Not wanting to overcommit on this, my first backpacking trip, I had found the perfect spot. Fish Lake (not to be confused with THE Fish Lake, the larger lake located near Mt. McLaughlin) is a small lake located in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. It seemed like the ideal spot for a first trip – it would be a 2.5 to 3-mile hike in (depending on the final campsite), we could set up a single camp for both nights, and would have access to many trails for day hikes.

I’ll be honest, the hike in was not as bad as I expected. Of course, that could be because I was somehow blissfully ignorant of the fact that it was downhill pretty much the entire way. Troubling thoughts of the uphill hike that would be required on the way out were far from my mind as I took in the scenery and enjoyed being outdoors on an absolutely gorgeous day. And the trail was clear, too, so there were few obstacles to surmount… Yet.

Sooner than I expected, we got our first glimpse of Fish Lake.

Surrounded by mountains still topped with snow, the small blue lake was quiet and sparkling in the afternoon sun. After a bit of searching, we found the perfect spot and set up camp. Most importantly, we set up the hammock with an unobstructed view of the lake.

We spent the remainder of the day settling in, relaxing in the hammock, reading, fishing, preparing dinner, and simply enjoying 100% of each other’s attention as we sat with warm drinks in hand and talked by the campfire, uninterrupted by technology or the need to do anything except be present and together.

When Brandon said he wanted to make a bow and arrows while camping, I kind of thought he was speaking figuratively. Apparently not.

That night, we (including Sydney) cuddled in the hammock as the sun slowly set and counted the stars as they appeared. Soon, the night was dark and the stars shone brightly in the kind of darkness that can only be found in the wilderness. I noticed I was crying, from the peace and beauty of it, from the perfection of sharing the stars with my love. I could not imagine being any happier and more content than I was in that moment.

Perhaps, other than the whole peeing in the woods thing (an unexpected skill that I have now mastered, by the way) backpacking wouldn’t be so bad, after all.

Cue music that darkly foreshadows things to come.

This is where things really started to become difficult. The silent starry night, the romantic campfire far removed from distractions, the perfect camping spot near the lake – all of that would come at a cost. And that cost would be sleep. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the unenviable experience of “sleeping” literally on the ground, but it does not seem to usually involve actual sleep. Despite our fancy new sleeping pads and inflatable “pillows” (which are not even deserving of the word), it really felt like we were basically sleeping on the ground, uncomfortable slope, pokey sticks, and coldness included. Not to mention the raccoon that came sniffing around (yes, all smelly stuff was hanging a safe distance away from the campsite) that Sydney and I were both certain must be a bear out to get us. Needless to say, there was not a whole lot of sleeping going on.

The next morning, exhausted, Brandon volunteered to be the first out of the tent to make the campfire and the coffee. Because he loves me. And values continuing to be in this relationship.

After a slow start that involved breakfast and fishing and staring blankly ahead at the calm water, we decided to spend the morning on a “nice little hike.” I estimated that the hike I had planned would be about 6-miles and “it didn’t look too bad.” Uh yeah, famous last words. We set off, marveling in the cool morning and the magical golden sunshine filtering through the trees.

It was not even 8 am.

And then there was this:

I do not exactly have the best coordination and walking across a moving body of water with nothing but a tiny, unflat log between me and getting soaked and/or a concussion from falling onto rocks? Not my idea of a good time. I was, however, quite proud of myself and relieved after I (slowly and painstakingly) made my way across. Surely the day was won after such a feat.

But no. There would in fact be multiple water crossings that day. Sydney and I both protested each time. She had it easy though. When she refused to cross, Brandon would pick her up and carry her. When I refused, he would impatiently insist that I stop being a baby and walk across the stupid log. Not fair.

And it was not just the water crossings. There were also the countless spots along the trail that were completely blocked by fallen trees. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the trails had not been cleared in a wilderness area early in the summer.

When I wasn’t precariously balanced while walking across a log, I was climbing over, under, or around one. And did I mention that somehow the trail managed to seem uphill for pretty much the entire day? And that the 6-mile hike turned out to be more than 10? Oh, and there were mosquitoes. And snow.

I think I’ve managed to make the case that this was not an easy day.

And yet, there were the moments that made it worth the effort. My sense of accomplishment each time I managed not to fall as I balanced my way across a log or climbed over an obstacle; the moment when, after we were certain we had somehow gotten on the wrong trail and would have to (to my horror) backtrack, we saw the sign confirming we were on the right path and not totally useless at reading a map; the picnic lunch we enjoyed atop a rock overlooking Buckeye Lake; being able to go an entire day without talking to other people (am I the only one who gets excited about that?); the privilege of getting to spend time in an Oregon wilderness surrounded by beauty – all of these things and more made the challenges of the day worthwhile.

I love this picture

Although I will admit this one last water crossing just about did me in.

We had thoroughly earned some relaxation. We spent the remainder of the day trying to move as little as possible and intermittently complaining about which parts of our bodies were hurting the most. We did more of our favorites – I read, Brandon fished, we napped, we were both perfectly happy. And, thanks to the strenuous 10-mile hike, we, almost, managed to get some sleep that night. Bonus!

She was so tired
She kept trying to get into the tent to go to bed

The next morning, we reluctantly repacked our bags. Although I am not certain whether the reluctance was more about leaving our little haven in the woods and returning to reality or whether it was a sudden realization that we would actually have to hike some more.

Of course, I still had not realized that the 3-mile hike out would be mostly uphill. That quickly changed. As I trudged along, my pack feeling heavier with every step, I comforted myself with the thought that at least this trail, which we had hiked two days before, would be clear – no fallen trees across the trail, no logs to cross. You would think I would have learned by now.

Just when I was ready to power through the last bit, Brandon and I having decided that, screw it, we were eating pizza when we got home, there was this little surprise:

The log he’s leaning against is the one we climbed over. I also found Brandon a “man bouquet” aka a really big pine cone

Yep. Somehow in the less than 48 hours since we had last been on this trail, a giant tree had fallen and rolled across the trail. It was a large enough obstacle to require taking off our backpacks and then boosting ourselves over the tree. From the moment I removed my backpack, all my stamina, the rhythm I had found moments before, was gone. Every single step of the remaining hike was painful and effortful. Every. Single. Step.

But I made it.

I feel like you can really see the pain in my eyes

Moreover, I would absolutely do it again. It may not have been easy, but it was worth every bit of it.

And that whole nothing worthwhile is easy thing? It’s not just about camping trips. I cannot help but draw the parallel to my relationship with Brandon. This was so perfectly illustrated in how the trip began.

What I have not yet shared is that my first ever backpacking trip got off to an especially rocky start. Dismissing the sort of funny noise that Brandon’s car was making as air conditioner related, we set out on the 2.5 hour drive to the trailhead. Approximately 2 hours into that drive, the sort of funny noise suddenly became a worrisome and loud noise, leading Brandon to quickly pull over the car. What we learned, to our chagrin, was that the serpentine belt was broken. Being unfamiliar until that very moment with what a serpentine belt was, I had no idea the extent to which I should be worried.

What I did know was that we were in the middle of nowhere, a solid hour away from anywhere remotely likely to have cell phone service, and even farther than that from a place that could help us fix the car. Imagine my relief when a nice family in a truck, likely out to camp for the weekend as we were, stopped and offered to help. They even offered to give us a ride to the market about 45 minutes behind us so that we could make the necessary phone calls. Imagine my disbelief when Brandon’s response was “No thanks, we will just limp our way back.” Despite my silent outrage and rising panic as I imagined us walking the 30+ miles back to anything resembling a building, I kept my concerns to myself as I watched the nice family in the truck slowly drive into the distance and out of sight. Brandon, love of my life, quickly explained that the car could technically function without the serpentine belt and his plan was to “limp our way back” inside the vehicle – thankfully, all limping was to be done by the Subaru, not by my feet.

What he did not explain, and what would later help me understand just how quiet and tense he was on the hour and half drive to the closest auto parts store, was that one of the systems operated by the serpentine belt is the cooling system. Without the cooling system, the car could overheat at any time. Oh, and by the way, the battery could completely stop working, too, because of some reason I cannot remember. Both not overheating/blowing up the engine and having a functional car battery seem sort of important. Needless to say, we were both quite relieved when we pulled into the Napa Auto Parts store in Canyonville, ironically across the street from the diner where we had stopped for breakfast a few hours before. Brandon, with his full knowledge of just how much worse the situation could have been, was especially relieved. We purchased the necessary parts and worked together, me using my internet searching skills and Brandon doing almost everything else, to replace the broken part that led the belt to break and then to reinstall the serpentine belt.

I mean, how can I not love this guy?
My invaluable contribution was finding a diagram of exactly how the serpentine belt needed to be installed

As we high fived and celebrated in the parking lot, apparently observed by the amused store workers, I was so thankful for what we have. No relationship is easy. There will always be the proverbial broken serpentine belts and moments spent stranded on the side of the road. And when those things inevitably occur, it is not easy to be patient with one another, to be kind, to not give in to fear and yell “What are you thinking, you idiot?” when your boyfriend declines the car ride back to civilization. But those moments of loving each other when it’s hard, being selfless and sometimes sacrificing your own wants and needs for each other, that is what makes a great relationship. It takes a lifetime of work to build and to keep a relationship worth having. I am going to get mushy just for a moment, but I love Brandon for the way he loves me when it is not easy to do so, when I am not easy to love. I am thankful that when Brandon is worried and frustrated, he can feel that way without directing those feelings toward me. I am thankful for the way we work together as a team. And I am thankful that even when things do not go as planned, we can still love each other through it. Because nothing worthwhile is easy.

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On Ethan in Oregon and Getting Older

Although I generally accept getting older with stoicism and acceptance (after all, what can I do about it?), sometimes another birthday can bring out the less than stoic and accepting thoughts and feelings about adding an additional number to my age. Last year, I managed those thoughts and feelings with a trip to Hawaii. I’ll be honest, spending a few days on the beach with the occasional tropical drink in hand certainly helped ease the pain. Sadly, that was not gonna happen for this year’s birthday. So I arranged for the next best thing – a visit from my brother. It was his second trip to Oregon and we had just as much fun as the first time. And this time, Brandon got to tag along for our sibling adventures. Spending my birthday weekend (because after all a single birthday day is not quite enough) with two of my favorite guys was just about perfect.

We kicked off our weekend with a day trip to Crater Lake. This was a spot we had not made it to last time Ethan was here, but it was at the top of his list of places to go. So we went. Even though it was a bit cloudy that morning, we hoped that the weather would clear by the time we made it to the lake.

Off on our first adventure! The only thing that could make this picture better would be Evan.

All the catching up and scenic driving worked up an appetite, so we stopped at the quaint and delicious Beckie’s outside of the park. 

And we just couldn’t pass up the homemade pies. After all, we would be facing unknown risks in the still snowy mountains, so we needed plenty of fuel. Rather than choosing a pie of my own (because how can one choose among all that sweet deliciousness), I ate a bit of Brandon’s blueberry pie and a bit of Ethan’s pecan pie. Two kinds of pie instead of one kind of pie? Yeah, I think I made the best choice.

Our appetites adequately satisfied, we eagerly anticipated views of the bright blue lake. Brandon and I excitedly shared how amazing Crater Lake is, how Ethan would be almost unable to believe his eyes, that when one gets a first glimpse of Crater Lake, it is absolutely breathtaking. And then we were temporarily distracted from all this talk by the sheer amount of snow. Although the roads were clear, there were still feet of snow piled alongside the roads and on top of the buildings. In May. It was incredible.

After all of that – the drive, the talk of the amazingness of the lake, Ethan’s anticipation of finally seeing the much spoken of wonder that is Crater lake – this was the best view of the lake that we got:

Yep see that little sliver of grayish blue hidden under the clouds? That’s the lake. And it only got more cloudy from there. This was literally the best view of the entire day.

Sadly, this was actually Ethan’s best image of the lake – the short video about Crater Lake that we watched at the visitor’s center.

Despite the disappointment, we strapped on our rented snowshoes and made the best of the afternoon.

As you can tell, we still managed to have plenty of fun. We played in the snow, threw snowballs, attempted snow angels, and were generally silly.

We had taken a picture by this tree when we were at Crater Lake the previous September. The view was just a teensy bit different.

My first time snowshoeing, which has been on my Oregon Bucket List.

Action shot
The look on my face when I am considering forgiving Brandon for pushing me into the snow…

And the best pic of the day, even if I have no clue what is happening

Even though the lack of lake views was a bit disappointing, Ethan not really seeing Crater Lake means he will just have to come back to Oregon for another visit!

So, perhaps I have sort of given the impression that Ethan came to Oregon just for my birthday. Which he would totally do because he’s one of the two best brothers in the world and I’m certainly the best sister. But I may have left out the teeny, tiny little detail that he chose this particular weekend to come to Oregon because he was running in the Eugene Marathon. Which, of course, meant that I would be there to cheer him on. We headed up to Eugene the night before so Ethan could carb load at Olive Garden and because the next morning would be an early start.

Ethan picking up his race packet

It was that evening that I fully began to appreciate just how much my boyfriend and my brother have in common. Specifically, how nerdy they both are. Sitting between the two of them while watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (and the various previews prior to the movie) was amusing. They would laugh hysterically at the exact same moments. Freak out and demand my attention in their nerdy excitement about the same previews. It was equal parts heartwarming and humorous.

And then there was race day. I was rather surprised by how emotional I was about the whole thing. This certainly was not Ethan’s first race or even his first marathon, but it was the first one of which I had been a part and it brought out my proud big sisterness in unexpected ways.

Like the moment early in the morning when we sat in my car and talked, Ethan staying a bit longer than necessary to calm his nerves, me feeling strangely protective and worried as he walked away from my car to head to the start of the race.

Or when Brandon and I found a spot by the river to cheer him on around mile 18. I think I surprised both of us when I started crying rather intensely because I was so proud of Ethan and watching him do something so difficult and wonderful made me more than a little emotional.

And then there was the finish line. I was inspired watching so many people complete the challenge of a marathon, but there has been no experience in my life like watching Ethan finish the race. I know it might sound dramatic to be emotional about watching my brother running a marathon, but it was such an amazing experience and I could not be more proud of him.


A completed marathon called for a celebratory meal. We settled on Hop Valley Brewery for burgers and beer. Ethan may have been a bit delirious from exhaustion at this point, hence, the following series of pictures.

The food and drink were excellent and exactly what Ethan needed before passing out in the backseat on the way home. Which I documented in pictures, of course. I may have been a proud and emotional big sister, but I was a big sister nonetheless.

The following day was my birthday and Ethan’s last day in Oregon. Despite his aching body, Ethan was willing to make the drive out to the coast to celebrate. He may have requested Brandon to slow down, though, as his abs hurt each time the car took a curve. If you’ve ever made the drive to the coast, you know that curves happen frequently, poor guy.

We had no specific destination other than “the ocean” in mind when we left. Our first stop was a little seafood spot in Coos Bay. We ordered our freshly caught seafood from the restaurant sitting on the water and had a nice little picnic in a waterside pavilion.

From there we headed to a little spot we call “Secret Beach.” It may technically have another name, but sharing it here would make it rather less than a secret. And I like that there are few, if any, people there. Of course, that might have something to do with the crazily rutted, unmaintained, gravel road that you have to take to get there.

We spent the afternoon as one does on an Oregon beach – exploring, walking, relaxing, carrying logs, throwing a hatchet Brandon found abandoned on the beach. You know, the normal stuff.

And for my birthday dinner? We returned to the spot in Florence where we had found a crazy delicious pistachio drink when we had been there the previous year. Yes, I chose my birthday dinner spot entirely for this drink. It’s that good.

Thankfully, the food at 1285 Restobar was almost as good as that drink.

Steamer clams in a white wine sauce
My choice was a crab stuffed ravioli in a creamy lobster sauce that was absolutely delicious.
And because it was my birthday, I also got to sample Ethan’s fried oysters…
…and Brandon’s seafood pasta.
No birthday dinner would be complete without dessert. Despite being quite full by this point, we did manage to mostly finish off the tiramisu between the three of us.

It was altogether a lovely birthday. Getting to spend time with Ethan for an entire weekend certainly distracted me from turning another year older.

As we made the drive back home that evening, I couldn’t help but feel thankful to have had another year of life, a great life full of love and laughter and adventure, a beautiful life that I get to share with Brandon and Ethan and so many others. Getting older might not be so bad, after all.

 

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Love and Arkansas

Love is setting multiple alarms so I wouldn’t miss an early morning flight home. Actually, love is being willing to wake up this early for anyone, ever.

Love is Brandon braving his fears of tornados and water moccasins to fly halfway across the country with me in order to spend a mere 5 days meeting pretty much every person I’ve ever known. And doing it all with a smile on his handsome face.

Love is friends who are willing to drive through Dallas traffic to meet for a late lunch so that I could share the deliciousness that is Torchy’s queso with my boyfriend while introducing him to great friends and the first of many, many new people he would meet within a few short days.

Love is a favorite meal shared with friends, a meal not only of food, but of laughter and reminiscence.

Love is a friend who is willing to share her home and stay up way too late on a work night simply for the chance to catch up. 

Love is a meal of Whole Hog BBQ, another stop on the mission to eat all the Southern food.

Love is revisiting the campus where so many wonderful memories were made and trying to explain Harding to my favorite Oregonian.

Love is fried chicken and staying up late playing games and breakfast with enough food to feed an army.

Love is Midnight Oil granitas and best friends who are willing to create the time and drive hours just to meet the man in my life.

Love is a weekend spent in my little hometown. It is my dad’s blueberry pancakes. It is seeing the beautiful place I grew up through the eyes of someone to whom it was all new.

Love is time spent with family – in the car, over Easter dinner, and while drinking tea and laughing so hard that I couldn’t breathe.

One of my favorite pictures from the entire trip – my people being my people.

Love is the people and places that I call home. Especially the people. People who were so excited to meet Brandon and who welcomed him with open arms and open hearts. Love is, for the first time, visiting the home of my past with the one with whom I am building a future.

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Portland Weekend

I love living in Roseburg. I really do. I love my little house in a way I’ve never loved a collection of building materials combined to create a habitation. My 10 minute commute to work is amazing. The summer weather is everything sunny and perfect. I am surrounded by beautiful places. I love living in Roseburg.

However.

Roseburg does somewhat lack in the amenities department. True, there are some fantastic restaurants, but the options are limited. There is rather a dearth of cultural activities and date night options vary between the movie theatre and the bowling alley. I happily manage what Roseburg is missing with making any excuse to go to Portland for the weekend. In March, having some friends in town for a conference provided more than enough reason to leave my small town in southern Oregon for the big city of Portland.

Things I enjoyed in Portland that I cannot find in my little hometown included the food (of course), a chic hotel, and some iconic Portland sites, including a spot on my “Oregon bucket list.”

Because of a great deal on the HotelTonight app, we booked a room at the Hotel Eastlund in downtown Portland. This hotel had everything – style, comfort, amenities, and a great location with convenient location to the light rail.

There was even a great rooftop bar where we enjoyed sunset cocktails against the backdrop of the mountains in the distance.

Afterwards, we took a pleasant walk across the river into the Pearl District for dinner.

As I mentioned, I had friends coming into town for a conference. As the token Oregonian, I had chosen Irving Street Kitchen as the spot to meet for dinner. Pros: Excellent cocktails, an ideal location in the Pearl District, and great style. Plus, it was one of a handful of restaurants that easily took reservations for large groups.

We pretty much closed the place down – believe me, it was packed when we arrived. Even with a reservation there was a bit of a wait.

Cons: The food was solidly good, but not as wonderful as comparably priced restaurants in Portland and the service was slow.

Calamari and clams over squid ink risotto – perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Brandon’s risotto, but the squid ink seemed to add more novelty than flavor
Brandon shared that his steak was excellent and perfectly prepared

Even if Friday’s dinner slightly disappointed, we knew that Saturday morning we would get an unbeatable meal at our favorite restaurant – Le Chon. For the first time, we went there for brunch. It was not disappointing.

I’ve had many good meals in this place and hope there will be many, many more. If you go to Portland and have not eaten here, just do it. And maybe take me with you. And by that I mean definitely take me with you.
Oh my word. These were some type of apple fritter covered in honey with a side of marionberry butter. Oh. my. word.
Of course we had to get the empanadas. These are always a must, no matter the time of day.
Sometimes, just sometimes, he gets tired of waiting to eat until after I’ve taken pictures.
We chose a couple of entrees to share, one of which was the mushroom breakfast tacos.
My favorite was the chicken and biscuits – perfectly fried chicken (says the Southern girl) alongside a cheddar jalapeño biscuit topped with an egg and sausage gravy. This was legit.

Needing to walk off a few calories, we strolled along the river among the blossoming cherry trees before perusing the Portland Saturday Market.

And then!

And then we went to Powell’s.

Somehow, this book loving heart of mine had not managed to make it to this iconic Portland bookstore in the 2 1/2 years I had lived in Oregon. This was literally the biggest bookstore I had ever seen. I spent a blissfully undetermined amount of time (thank you, love) wandering among the maze of books, feeling both overjoyed and overwhelmed, inhaling deep breaths of the book smell, utterly content. It was perfection.

Although at heart, I will never be a city girl, I do love to spend some time there now and then doing all the city things that I miss. And Brandon, wonderful man that he is, tagged along for a weekend of some of my favorites.

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California Dreamin’: Trees of Mystery

Although we may have managed to miss this roadside attraction on the way to California, we planned our trip home so that we could stop at the Trees of Mystery on the way back. Apparently the second time was the charm (perhaps, may I add, because we had a plan…). Of course there are many places and ways to see the redwoods. They are one of the world’s magical places and however one sees them, what is unquestionable is that they should be seen.

The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time. – John Steinbeck

But if you’re in the mood for a slightly kitschy attraction reminiscent of 1950’s roadside attractions that bring to mind family road trips taken in (now) classic cars, this is the place to go. Despite the clearly tourist centered stop, the trees are no less magnificent. There are three general attractions (other than the giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, of course): the walking trails, the Skytrail, and the Wilderness Trail. Adult tickets to access the trails are $16.

The trees along the trail are labeled in various ways, a catchy way to highlight their uniqueness.

The real highlight, though, is the Skytrail. Skytrail is enclosed gondolas that take you high above the redwoods with views that stretch all the way to the ocean.

It is possible to hike back to the bottom using the Wilderness Trail, but on this particular day we lacked the time and the appropriate footwear. Once back on the (non wilderness) trail, there was more to see, including a series of Paul Bunyan themed wood carvings.

We also spent a few minutes in the museum and gift shop at the end. Which gave me my favorite picture of the day:

Trees of Mystery, while an obvious tourist attraction, was a fun stop, worth both the money and time spent.

We made one more quick stop that day, technically before the Trees of Mystery. We wanted to drive through one of the several drive-through trees scattered throughout California. The one that happened to be along our path was the Chandelier Tree. Five dollars and a short drive off Highway 101 was this:

That wraps up our super short, super fun, super packed trip to California. I love that even when we do not have much time, we can fit so much doing into our long weekends and short trips away. I am thankful for our adventures and getaways from the everyday and so glad that we get to make those memories together.

California Dreamin’: Santa Rosa

So all that spontaneity and stress from the drive to California was not pointless. We were going to California for a wedding, a very fun wedding. Although much of the weekend was spent in wedding related activities, we did manage to fit in a few extra activities. It was fun for me to get to see a place where Brandon had lived. And I think it was fun for him to show me around.

But, before I get into all that, this one picture from the wedding must be shared. Because he just looked so darn handsome.

For the weekend, we stayed at a VRBO on a small farm. It was quaint and comfortable and there were alpacas and big fluffy dogs that Brandon may or may not have considered stealing.

We also ate a lot of really good food. When the friends getting married are both professional chefs, you’re in good company. Everything, from the wedding catering (there was an entire pig), to the post-wedding brunch, to simple dinners out, was fantastic.

One of the great challenges for me about living in Oregon is the scarcity of good Mexican food. I couldn’t go to California without getting my fix. We began Saturday morning with breakfast burritos from what had been Brandon’s favorite spot for breakfast burritos when living in Santa Rosa. My veggie burrito did not disappoint. Too often vegetarian breakfast burritos are bland with an overabundance of eggs or under seasoned potatoes to other flavors. This one was perfect, with an ideal balance of eggs, rice, beans, cheese, salsa, onions, and bell peppers. No lack of flavor here!

Crab stuffed deviled eggs should be a thing everywhere. Imagine the best deviled egg you’ve ever had and then multiply that by 100.
Burrata has been a slight obsession of mine recently.
Smoked bacon omellete
A fancy Monte Cristo – I loved all the pickles on the side

The day after a wedding is as good an excuse as any for brunch. We were treated to a delicious brunch at Monti’s. Despite staying out a bit to late the night before and having to drag ourselves to the 11 am brunch, we quite enjoyed it. Everything was delicious.

Our last night in California, we went out for an excellent dinner with friends at Jackson’s in downtown Santa Rosa.

When you have to wait 45 minutes for a table, a pre dinner cocktail is a good idea. I tried the Shredder – Humboldt rum, orange amer, lemon juice, and pear puree.

And then there was the food, starting with way too many appetizers – chicken wings, more burrata (because obsessed), roasted cauliflower, and truffle fries.

And then somehow we ate more. I managed to eat about one shrimp taco and I think Brandon ate about half of his turkey sandwich. Nothing like the post-wedding happiness haze to contribute to rash food over-ordering.

We also fit in just a bit of sight seeing on Sunday. I think I mentioned that we had stayed out way too late after the wedding on Saturday. On Sunday, for every second of the entire day, we were struggling. Just imagine in all of the smiling pictures you will see below that behind the smiles, there are pounding headaches and profound fatigue.

When in Sonoma County, one must go wine tasting. Although the thought of alcohol may have been unpleasant at that moment in time, we somehow forced ourselves to go to exactly one tasting room. Our choice was Seghesio Family Vineyards. Although I certainly want to return to the area at a time when wine tasting is more, ummm, palatable, this was a great choice. I loved see how the vineyard was so different from the much smaller operations in the Umpqua Valley and I enjoyed the wines that are not grown in Oregon. We may have come home with multiple bottles of Zinfandel.

After rallying through wine tasting, Brandon wanted to show me downtown Santa Rosa. Specifically, he wanted to show me the Peanuts. Charles M. Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon, moved to the area with his family in 1958. They eventually moved to Santa Rosa, where he lived until his death. There are tributes to Mr. Schultz and the Peanuts throughout the city, including a museum. We were not really museum material that day, but we did enjoy walking around downtown and posing with the various statues. After stopping for coffee at the impressive Aroma Roasters.

All in all, not too shabby for two people who could barely walk.

The wedding was certainly the highlight of the trip. Even so, we had a great time fitting in some more fun things while we were in Santa Rosa. I can’t wait to go back!

California Dreamin’: Road Trip

Things I am good at: planning things, organizing things, following rules when I do things. Things I am not good at: being spontaneous.

So when Brandon suggests that we make the drive to California – where we were going for the weekend for his friends’ wedding – without a specific plan in mind, that we just get in the car and drive, that we make it up as we go along… I go along with it. Because I love him and because I want him to think I’m fun and easy-going.

This is how I do the no plan thing:

1) I insist that we stop for lunch at a place I’ve actually been wanting to stop at for a while. So not really spontaneous.

2) We arrive at the Trees of Mystery, the primary reason we “took the long way,” 20 minutes before it closes and well after the last entry to the trail. It was, however, enough time to take pictures with the giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

3) One word: Audiobooks. More words: AKA the savior of being stuck in the car for hours with someone who doesn’t like being stuck in the car for hours. Also not spontaneous given the copious amount of time I spent narrowing down the options of books to one that would be interesting for both of us.

4) When I’m not distracted by the glorious redwoods and glimpses of the coast, I use a combination of Yelp and Google Maps to find a spot for dinner. In this case, we settled upon Salt Fish House in the quirky and charming town of Arcata, CA. This represented some minor progress in “going with the flow.”

It’s amazing what a little sunshine and a few palm trees can do for the soul when the Oregon winter will.not.end.

I loved the style and ambience
Always a fan of melty brie, this fried brie took it to the next level. The hint of balsamic was especially delicious.
The curried muscles were quite good, but recent muscles in Washington still had a slight edge.

5) When I’m not distracted by fried brie, curried muscles, and fish and chips, I use a combination of HotelTonight and Google Maps to find a place to stay for the night. This was my real success with not planning too much.

6) We almost run out of gas in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere California. Because planning. More specifically the lack thereof. On the other hand, it was a great opportunity to practice our communication and problem solving skills.

Please note: Brandon’s car has a 15 gallon tank. Into which we put 14.961 gallons. Did I mention that we were in the middle of nowhere?

7) We arrive at our hotel in one piece, having had a great day together despite the lack of planning.

8) I decide that I still prefer to not be spontaneous.