Tag Archives: brandon

Aloha Maui: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

There’s nothing like spending a day at home feeling terribly sick (thanks for that, time changes and lack of sleep and airplanes) to make you reminisce about feeling definitely not sick and being in Hawaii. As all good things must, our trip to Maui inevitably came to an end. Four days was not nearly long enough, but perhaps no amount of time would be. We made the most of our final day, enjoying the beach, snorkeling, and making sure we fit in some last minute sightseeing. Our flight was not until 8 pm, so we had almost an entire day before flying home to our real lives that unfortunately do not typically involve relaxing by the ocean, fresh seafood lunches, and getting to spend days at a time together.

Brandon wanted to fit in some more snorkeling, so we did a bit of research and learned that Honolua Bay is one of the best spots on the island. We managed to find the somewhat obscure parking lot by the few cars that were gathered there and made the short, pleasant hike to the rocky beach.

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I found a shady spot to read (I did not want to be gross and salty for the plane ride home) while Brandon snorkeled in the calm waters.

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We also wanted to visit the iconic Iao Needle before leaving the island. Between Honolua Bay and Iao Valley State Park, we stopped for lunch at Fresh Off the Boat. This small restaurant is essentially a food cart created out of a boat that is permanently parked and ready to serve freshly caught Hawaiian seafood.

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The chalk menu highlighted the day’s available options. I enjoyed a trio of fish and Brandon tried the shrimp and teriyaki beef combination. It was all delicious.

After lunch, we spent a rainy hour exploring Iao Valley, determined to make the most of the day despite the wet conditions.

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The park was lush and lovely, perfect for a romantic ramble and kissing in the rain.

To dry out a bit, we decided we had to find one of Maui’s best spot for malasadas, Simply Sweets. The unassuming store front in Wailuku is the home of sweet deliciousness. Although options like Da Bomb – a malasada that is filled with haupia cream and served with Chantilly cream, chocolate, nuts, and coconut on top – were certainly tempting, I kept it simple with a chocolate filled “Maui-sada.”

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We spent the remainder of the afternoon chasing the sun, eventually finding a sunny spot on a beach that we had all to ourselves. If we had to end what had been a perfect few days in paradise, I can think of no better way to do it.

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And I certainly cannot think of anyone else with whom I would rather spend those perfect days in paradise.

And with that, I am finally finished sharing about my birthday trip to Hawaii. Now that summer is officially over and cool air and rain are starting to sneak into the forecast, I will get around to actually sharing about the best summer ever – a quintessential Oregon summer that passed all too quickly.

Aloha Maui: The Feast at Lele

First, let’s state the obvious: luaus in Hawaii are expensive. However, Brandon and I knew that this was one area where we wanted to “splurge” during my birthday trip to Maui. Because we knew that this would be one of the major expenses of the trip, I wanted to make sure to find the absolutely best luau experience. In researching the options, The Old Lahaina Luau was one that was consistently mentioned as the best, most authentic luau on Maui. However, I also learned that the same company who produces Old Lahaina also produces a more upscale luau, The Feast at Lele. At $125 per person, The Feast was a bit more expensive than Old Lahaina, but after comparing the two, we decided that The Feast was perfect for us. It was worth every penny!

First, the location. Located in Lahaina, it was within walking distance of our hotel. Which meant a lovely pre-dinner walk through town and not having to worry about finding a taxi after the luau. Given how easy it is to lose count of the mai tais and lava flows, being able to easily walk back to the hotel was perfect.

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Second, the vibe. From the moment we arrived and were greeted with leis and mai tais, we relaxed and enjoyed every minute. Located on the beach, the sunset provided the perfect backdrop for the early part of the evening. Plus, rather than the typical buffet and group tables at luaus, we had a private table where we were served dinner.

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IMG_0639 Third, the service. Incredibly attentive, we felt pampered from the moment we sat down. From ensuring timely delivery of the (many) food courses to making sure our drinks never ran out, the wait staff was fantastic and friendly.

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Fourth, the performance. One thing I especially loved about this particular luau was the approach they took to the dances. Each course was accompanied by a dance corresponding with that particular place of Polynesian heritage. So not only did we get to see traditional Hawaiian dances, we also saw dances from Samoa, Tahiti, and Aotearoa (New Zealand). The closing act was Samoan fire dancing. It was absolutely wonderful and perfectly executed.

Hawaii:

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New Zealand:

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Tahiti:

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Samoa:

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And last, but not least, the food. This is probably what ultimately swayed the decision to attend The Feast at Lele over another luau. The dinner consisted of 4 courses plus dessert, each inspired by the traditional foods of the various Pacific islands. For instance, we enjoyed Hawaiian pork while watching Hawaiian hula dancing. I will say, this is not the ideal place for a picky eater. Personally, we thought the food was delicious and I loved getting to try all kinds of new foods. However, it could get a bit adventurous at times. Oh, and drinks were unlimited. In addition to the typical tropical drinks one would expect, there was a suggested wine or beer pairing for each course.

Hawaii:

We were greeted with "Hawaiian starches" and a mango, seaweed salsa
We were greeted with “Hawaiian starches” and a mango, seaweed salsa

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Kalua Puaa – pork roasted in the ground
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Lomi lomi salmon
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Bamboo pineapple rice

New Zealand:

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Fern Salad
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Braised short ribs in a kiwi au jus
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Stewed mushrooms and purple sweet potato

Tahiti:

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Poisson Cru (similar to ceviche, but made with coconut milk)
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Baked scallop
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Mango ginger chicken

Samoa:

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Seared fish
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Coconut cream corned beef (intriguingly delicious)
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Rolls in coconut milk

And because there had obviously not been enough food, dessert:

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Pineapple upside down cake

We loved The Feast at Lele. We still talk about it as one of the favorite things we did while in Hawaii and something we would certainly splurge on again. The entire evening was lovely, delicious, and oh-so-fun. If you are looking for a unique luau that is a more sophisticated and gourmet experience than others you might find, I cannot recommend The Feast at Lele enough!

Aloha Maui: Sometimes Travel Hurts

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

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

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

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

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Perfection!

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

And then my arm started to hurt.

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

Apparently I had been stung by a jellyfish.

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Small but surprisingly painful

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha Maui: Lahaina

After two nights in Kahului, we spent the last two nights of our Maui vacation in the charming, although sometimes crowded, town of Lahaina.

Things I love:

Cute small town – Check

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There is a banyan tree covering an entire block in downtown Lahaina.

A great happy hour – Check

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Captain Jack’s
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Crab cakes
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Mai tais and lava flows

Ocean views – Check

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A lovely hotel with impeccable service – Check

The Plantation Inn was perfect! A small bed and breakfast in an ideal location, from the moment we checked in, the entire experience was fantastic.
The Plantation Inn was perfection! A small bed and breakfast in an ideal location, from the moment we checked in, the entire experience was fantastic.

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My room was gorgeous!
My room was gorgeous!
And there was a balcony
And there was a balcony
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Because a gorgeous room with a stained glass window, a balcony, a pool, and personable service (seriously – upon checkin, the front desk clerk gave us an individualized tour of the property ensuring we had everything we needed to be comfortable) were not enough, there was even a delicious poolside breakfast each morning. The menu was small, but I’m not going to complain about homemade granola, POG juice, and fresh pineapple.

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And most of all this guy – Check

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How could I not love a place with so many lovely things?

Aloha Maui: Come Sail Away

I could imagine it: a morning spent relaxing on a sailboat as it gently moved through the waves resulting in perfectly windblown hair; being surrounded by colorful and bounteous fish while snorkeling in the cool and salty water made perfect by the sun shining down and warming my back; sitting next to Brandon while sipping mai tais and resting my head on his shoulder as we watched the waves. It sounded perfect. Usually when I travel, I like to enjoy a splurge or two. For my birthday trip to Maui, we decided that one of those splurges would be a sailing and snorkeling trip. After extensively researching the options, because that’s what I do for fun, we decided that Trilogy was the way to go. After another stop at Maui Coffee Roasters before leaving Kahului, we made our way south to Ma’alaea Harbor.

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Things to Know: 

  • You will not wear shoes (they get dropped off at the dock at check-in) and you will wear sunscreen. Lots and lots of sunscreen. But not the spray kind because that makes the deck slippery. And you should definitely reapply. Did I mention that you should reapply sunscreen? Because you will get sunburned.

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  • The company provides all of the necessary snorkel gear. I was especially excited to learn that they even have prescription masks available. Because otherwise I totally couldn’t see, which is kind of the point of snorkeling. They also have wetsuit tops available to help with the whole sunburn thing. The pain is real, y’all.

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  • The Trilogy tour to Molokini Crater is $129 per adult. The tour involves two stops for snorkeling. One at Molokini and then a second stop in a spot where sea turtles are often spotted. Of course all of this is dependent on the weather and can vary slightly .

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This is Molokini Crater. Because of the whole snorkeling and being in the water thing, I didn't exactly take pictures. Brandon did get some cool footage with the GoPro, which I may feature on the blog if it ever gets edited!
This is Molokini Crater. Because of the whole snorkeling and being in the water thing, I didn’t exactly take pictures. Brandon did get some cool footage with the GoPro, which I may feature on the blog if it ever gets edited!
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Our second stop was off the coast near Makena Beach and Wailea.
I got to see a turtle. I swam next to it for a bit (but no touching, it is like a $10,000 fine) and took this picture after getting back on the boat.
I got to see a turtle! I swam next to it for a bit (but no touching, it is like a $10,000 fine) and took this picture after getting back on the boat. You can kind of see the turtle.

 

Things I Liked (aka why I chose this company):

  • The crew and the opportunity to actually sail. The crew was enthusiastic and went out of their way to make the day fun. And this trip is not just about the snorkeling. One of the unique things about Trilogy is that they use true sailboats. Although the tour motors to the snorkeling sights, the day ends with the opportunity to sail. The crew even lets you help out if you want.

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Sailing in the rain. Before it got sunny again. Then windy. And then rainy again. Still fun!
Sailing in the rain. Before it got sunny again. Then windy. And then rainy again. Still fun!
  • The smaller size of the tour. We might have been running a bit late thanks to the coffee stop, so I rushed ahead to check-in while Brandon found a place to park and paid (Side note: there were spots muuuuuch closer and far less muddy than the one we ended up in. If you’re leaving from the far pier, keep driving around – there should be plenty of spots on the pier). On his trek he noticed another boat, from a company which shall remain unnamed. At first, he was horrified to think that said boat was ours – overloaded with tourists with inadequate space for everyone, it did not look like a good time. Thankfully, he was much happier when he finally arrived at the Trilogy boat. There was enough space for everyone to have a place to sit and there were trampolines at the front you could hang out on. The crew to passenger ratio was great.

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  • The food.  If you have read my blog, like, once, you know that food is high on the list of my priorities. So there is at least a chance that, despite what I said above, I chose this particular trip based primarily upon the reviews mentioning the delicious food. Maybe.
There were homemade cinnamon rolls
There were homemade cinnamon rolls
And mai tais
And mai tais
And a surprisingly delicious teriyaki chicken lunch
And a surprisingly delicious teriyaki chicken lunch
And more mai tais
And more mai tais

It was a really fun day that was worth every penny. The sailing was fun, the food was yummy, and the snorkeling was great. You know you’ve had a good day when at the end of the day your hair looks like this:

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The day was almost as perfect as I had imagined.

Aloha Maui: Happy Birthday!

Let’s get real for a sec. Sometimes birthdays can bring about some rather mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s your birthday and you get to celebrate and eat cupcakes. On the other hand, well, it’s your birthday and you have acknowledge that you are a year older. Even if you’re turning 29. Again. I’m working on embracing getting older, appreciating that being in my thirties means no longer spending my days toiling away in the basement of my grad school years, that every year I learn a little more, and that I am increasingly comfortable in my own skin. But when all of that mature, responsible train of thought does not quite ease the distress of being another year older, might I suggest Hawaii?

Although perhaps spending your actual birthday traveling is not the most fun way to spend the day, I celebrated the small things along the way.

There was Dutch Bros. coffee
There was Dutch Bros. coffee
And breakfast burritos
And breakfast burritos
And a practically empty airplane
And a practically empty airplane
And a sunset over the ocean
A sunset over the ocean
Let's not forget the mai tais
Let’s not forget the mai tais
And really good sushi. At a sport's bar. Because that is pretty much the only thing open on Maui on a Sunday night
And really good sushi. At a sport’s bar. Because that is pretty much the only thing open on Maui on a Sunday night. But the sushi was delicious.
And most of all, there was this guy. Who, as mushy as this sounds, makes me feel special every day. And who doesn't hesitate to say yes when I suggest celebrating my birthday with a trip to Hawaii.
And most of all, there was this guy. Who, as mushy as this sounds, makes me feel special even when it’s not my birthday. And who doesn’t hesitate to say yes when I suggest celebrating my birthday with a trip to Hawaii.

Whether you are turning 32 or 92, your life is a gift. Your unique, crazy, hard, beautiful, sad, joyful, wonderful life is your chance to become and do and live. That, my friends, is worth celebrating. Hopefully in Hawaii.

Let’s Go Back to February

So in all of the hubbub about Iceland, which, to be sure, certainly deserves all of the love, I never got a chance to discuss Valentine’s Day and the new progress on my Oregon Bucket List.

Let me start by saying that I’m not necessarily a Valentine’s Day kind of gal. I don’t expect flowers and romance and gifts just because it is a certain day. I do sort of expect those things at other times, but because they come from the heart, not from some sort of weird pressure to win the unspoken competition that occurs on Valentine’s Day to have the “best” boyfriend, husband, partner, etc.

That being said, when your boyfriend has been out of town for three weeks because of work and he just happens to be back the weekend that it just happens to be Valentine’s Day, it is the perfect excuse for a weekend getaway.

In typical Brandon and Cora fashion, the weekend mostly centered around food. Really, really good food.

We kicked off the weekend by trying one of the restaurants on my bucket list: Ned Ludd.

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The restaurant managed to exude coziness, quirkiness, and Portland all at the same time.

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With a focus on locally sourced ingredients and homestyle craft cooking using the restaurant’s brick wood-fired oven, the experience was overwhelmingly delicious. The menu changes regularly to reflect the season.

Something with gin, honey, and lemon and something with cranberry and some type of liqour? That's all I've got. Sometimes I get too distracted by, you know, actually drinking a delicious cocktail to remember to note what's in it.
Something with gin, honey, and lemon and something with cranberry and some type of liqour? That’s all I’ve got. Sometimes I get too distracted by, you know, actually drinking a delicious cocktail to remember to note what’s in it.
This was the only thing I did not enjoy - the gougeres (you can google it yourself, just like I did subtly under the table in the restaurant) were excellent, but the pink peppercorn cream was just a little too, well, peppery.
This was the only thing I did not enjoy – the gougeres (you can google it yourself, just like I did, with my phone hid subtly under the table) were excellent, but the pink peppercorn cream (in keeping with the red and pink themed Valentine’s menu) was just a little too, well, peppery.
Homemade noodles, sautéed kale and other greens with a poached egg and parmesan. It never tastes this good when I make it at home.
Homemade noodles, sautéed kale and other greens with a poached egg and parmesan. It never tastes this good when I make it at home.
Brandon ordered polenta with roasted brussels sprouts and mushrooms. Maybe my vegetarian diet is rubbing off on him?
Brandon ordered polenta with roasted brussels sprouts and mushrooms.
And no fancy meal is complete without dessert - a warm chocolate cookie with cold milk. The cold milk comes from a specific cow. A specific cow that has a name.
And no fancy meal is complete without dessert – a warm chocolate chocolate chip cookie with cold milk. The cold milk comes from a specific cow. A specific cow that has a name. Did I mention that we were in Portland?

Ned Ludd is not my favorite restaurant in Portland (more on that in a bit), but it was an excellent meal in a restaurant committed to every aspect of the food that they serve.

You can’t spend a weekend in Portland without doing brunch. It’s just what you do in Portland. After deciding we didn’t want to wait for two hours to get a table at Tasty n Alder, we found ourselves at Cheryl’s on 12th, which had a much more reasonable wait.

Not only was there a shorter wait, there were also complimentary beignet like things, warm out of the oven and coated in sugar. I think we made a good choice.
Not only was there a shorter wait, there were also complimentary beignet like things, warm out of the oven and coated in sugar. I think we made a good choice.
I do not apologize for the gratuitous picture of handsome brunch date
I do not apologize for the gratuitous picture of my handsome brunch date
It's not brunch without coffee. And mimosas. And more coffee.
It’s not brunch without coffee. And mimosas. And more coffee.
Eggs Sardou made with creamed spinach and artichokes
Eggs Sardou made with creamed spinach and artichokes

And the delicious food did not stop there. Saturday evening, we ate at our favorite Portland restaurant, where we had first eaten back in October. Lechon is just plain amazing. Serving food inspired by South American cuisine, Lechon simply gets it right.

This is the Mediterraneo - a drink inspired by the classic Peruvian cocktail - the pisco sour
This is the Mediterraneo – a drink similar to the classic Peruvian cocktail, the pisco sour

On this particular evening, we decided to order the special Valentine’s tasting menu. Every single bite was amazing. And by that I mean I want to eat it all again. Right now.

Salad with goat cheese, toasted nuts, cranberries, and a champagne vinaigrette
A salad with creamed goat cheese, toasted pine nuts, cranberries, and a champagne vinaigrette
This is what food should always taste like - burrata on toast with roasted salsa
This is what food should always taste like – burrata on toast with charred salsa
Lobster beignets
Lobster beignets
This truffle risotto was so incredible that my amazing boyfriend has learned to replicate it at home. Because everyone needs truffle risotto in their life on a regular basis.
This truffle risotto was so incredible that my amazing boyfriend has learned to replicate it at home. Because everyone needs truffle risotto in their life on a regular basis.
After all of that, we finally got to the main course - swordfish with chimichurri, crab cakes, and beef stuffed with all kinds of yummy things like olives and peppers
After all of that, we finally got to the main course – swordfish with chimichurri, crab cakes, and beef stuffed with all kinds of yummy things like olives and peppers
And, because we had not eaten enough already, we each got our own (as in no sharing) molten lava cakes for dessert.
And, because we had not eaten enough already, we each got our own (as in no sharing) molten lava cake for dessert.

Okay, so we obviously ate a lot of really good food. But we actually did other stuff, too. A walking tour is the perfect after dinner activity to burn off at least some of the calories consumed. I had taken a tour with Portland Walking Tours a couple years ago and really enjoyed it. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to try one of their other tours. After looking into my options, I settled on the Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour, which offered a combination of history for me and the potential for scariness for Brandon. With a 10 pm start time, there was plenty of time for a late dinner before meeting for the tour at the former Merchant Hotel, which is rumored to be haunted (said in my most mysterious and scary movie voiceover voice).

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Haunted or not, it was creepy. Especially the creepy, creepy basement that was part of the infamous Portland tunnels underneath the city.

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Our guide was fantastic – funny and informative!

What I like about this type of tour is that you get a side of history that you don’t normally hear. Even if ghosts aren’t your thing (and it’s not really mine), we got to learn about the darker side of Portland history – essentially legalized forced prostitution and the horrors associated with it, a period of time when anyone could be kidnapped and forced to be a sailor, floods and murder and mayhem.

We got to use EMF detectors during the tour. I will say, it was a little unnerving when it lit up. Especially in the creepy, creepy basement.
We got to use EMF detectors during the tour. I will say, it was a little unnerving when it lit up. Especially in the creepy, creepy basement.

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Another gratuitous boyfriend picture. Because that smile.
Another gratuitous boyfriend picture. Because that smile.

Toward the end of the tour, our guide surprised us with a stop by Voodoo Doughnut (also on my bucket list, although I had previously been there).

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Best of all, we got to surpass the hour-long line.

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So much for burning those calories…

The other fun thing we did was OMSI After Dark. This adults only event is a (usually) once a month event when the museum stays open late. There are themed events, vendors, and exhibits with a different focus each month.

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Appropriately, the theme this night was related to love and relationships. I thought the concept was great – extra museum hours and the opportunity to spend those extra hours perusing exhibits, glass of wine in hand. However, the execution was somewhat lacking. It was just so darn crowded. Every single thing had a line to the point I felt like we spent the whole evening waiting in line. I would have gladly paid more for the tickets (I think they were $20 apiece) if it meant that entry to OMSI After Dark was capped after a certain number of people.

If I had to wait in line, at least I got to do it with this guy.
If I had to wait in line, at least I got to do it with this guy.
Sexy
I think it’s a good look

Valentine’s or not, I would eat delicious food and explore scary places (like creepy, creepy basements and crowded museums) with Brandon anytime.

A Weekend in Florence (No, Not THAT Florence)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The food was seriously delicious.

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

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It was the ideal spot for a romantic dinner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Recipe for a Perfect Getaway

Start with a fabulous resort

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Mix in one fancy New Year’s Eve party

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Add in a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your perspective) dose of delicious food. And then add some more just for good measure.

Stir in a museum (because I’m a nerd and my boyfriend is awesome)

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Fold in some adventure

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Sprinkle in sparkly snow. Because sparkles.

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Add a few relaxing hours at a spa

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And don’t forget the most important ingredient of all – someone amazing with whom to enjoy the food and the fun and the adventure. And to kiss. A lot.

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Bake it all for about three days and enjoy the perfect weekend getaway.

Brandon and I decided to celebrate the beginning of 2016 in the way I pretty much want to celebrate everything – by traveling. This time, I got to explore the Bend area, an area of Oregon that was entirely new to me.

The Resort: We stayed at the lovely Sunriver Resort. The resort offers a bit of everything. Lodging options varied from my cozy, fireplace-warmed room with a snowy view to entire houses perfect for families. There were onsite restaurants, a spa, and access to everything you need to enjoy the outdoor recreation that the Bend area offers year round.

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The gorgeous, snowy view from the room

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Not only did I get to check out one of the lodge rooms, thanks to a frozen water pipe which led to a non-working shower, I spent the last night in one of the lodge suites. Termed a suite, the two-story room was more like a small condo.

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When I could manage to pull myself away from the fireplace, which let’s be honest was a bit of a challenge given that the temperature was barely above 0 degrees Saturday morning, I could not help but marvel at the beauty of the resort under layers of snow or squeal like a child because twinkle lights were everywhere.

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The Party: One reason we chose to stay at Sunriver was because of the New Year’s Eve party. The idea was that staying at the resort would be convenient and provide easy access to the party.

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What I had not considered was that, although, yes, the party was quite close to the room, that distance was primarily covered in snow. Snow which I had to traverse in 4-inch stilettos. The bruise on my knee from slipping and falling in the snow lasted at least 2 weeks. Thankfully, the memories – the photo booth, the silly party favors, the band, the champagne toast and kiss at midnight – will last much, much longer.

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I know, I know, a kissing picture. But it was midnight. On New Year’s Eve. And he’s handsome.

The Food: Fair warning. The below photos will both make you hungry and perhaps make you wonder how we had time to do anything except eat.

Stewart's 58 Drive-In was a great find in the small town of Oakridge.
Stewart’s 58 Drive-In was a great find in the small town of Oakridge as we were driving from Eugene.

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Salsa bar
Salsa bar
The housemade black bean burger was spicy and had the elusive (at least in the veggie burger world) perfect texture. Topped with pepper jack cheese and my chosen salsa - jalapeño corn - it was simultaneously delicious and messy
The housemade black bean burger was spicy and had the elusive (at least in the veggie burger world) perfect texture. Topped with pepper jack cheese and my chosen salsa – jalapeño corn – it was simultaneously delicious and messy
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Pre-party dinner at Sunriver Brewing Company

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Falafel wrap and sweet potato fries
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You can’t visit Bend without visiting Deschutes Brewery (or in this case the related pub downtown) at least once.

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Pre-dinner chili fries

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An embarrassingly short time later, we were enjoying cocktails and appetizers at Zydeco. Where we only managed to get a table because we were literally waiting outside when the restaurant opened at 5 pm.
An embarrassingly short time later, we were enjoying cocktails and appetizers at Zydeco. Where we only managed to get a table because we were literally waiting outside when the restaurant opened at 5 pm.
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Fried okra
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Corn and artichoke fritters
Barbecue ribs for Brandon, truffle mac n cheese for me. Everybody wins.
Barbecue ribs for Brandon, truffle mac n cheese for me. Everybody wins.
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Brunch at the resort’s Carson’s American Kitchen was so delicious it required a repeat the following morning.

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The view wasn’t too bad, either.
The next morning I branched out and tried this - an everything bagel, topped with hummus, arugula, radishes, cranberries, and granola. It was weirdly delicious.
The next morning I branched out and tried this – an everything bagel, topped with hummus, arugula, radishes, cranberries, and granola. It was weirdly delicious.
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At this point, it really does seem like we did nothing but eat. Which is kind of true. No judging.

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Checking out the wine list

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Sometimes I still have dreams about this seafood pasta
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Spanish coffee
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And when you can’t decide, don’t. Creme brûlée, lava cake, and blackberry cobbler. All great!

The Museum: We spent a cold afternoon perusing the High Desert Museum. The museum’s exhibits varied from regional art to the history of the Northwest Coast American Indians to animals found in the high desert. Amid all of this, we spent most of the afternoon looking for the porcupines. Brandon had told me about the giant porcupines that he remembered from his childhood. More than once, he shared how cool they were and how much I would like seeing them because they were, after all, giant porcupines. After making a full round of the museum, which included plenty of time outdoors in a place that was literally freezing, we wondered how we could have missed them. How does one miss giant porcupines? After asking the kind lady at the front desk, for the second time, where they were located, we again traipsed through the snow. To see this:

This was the most exciting part of the exhibit. That little tiny illustration of a porcupine was as good as it got. Needless to say, there were no giant porcupines. And the one not-so-giant porcupine in the exhibit was apparently hiding from the cold. Did I mention it was like, freezing, outside?
This was the most exciting part of the exhibit. That little tiny illustration of a porcupine was as good as it got. Needless to say, there were no giant porcupines. And the one not-so-giant porcupine in the exhibit was apparently hiding from the cold. Did I mention it was like, freezing, outside?

Fortunately, there were plenty of other things to see.

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Apparently I have the wingspan of a turkey vulture.

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The Adventure:

We took a caving tour with Wanderlust Tours. Boyd Cave is the only cave open in winter because it's the only lava cave in the area where bats do not hibernate. Which is apparently important because they eat trillions of mosquitoes per night. Yay bats.
On Saturday we took a caving tour with Wanderlust Tours. Boyd Cave is the only cave open in winter because it’s the only lava cave in the area where bats do not hibernate. Not disturbing hibernating bats is apparently important because it allows them to survive the winter months and they eat trillions of mosquitoes per night when they are not hibernating. Yay bats.

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This cave is undeveloped, which meant lots of scrambling over rocks and crawling through small spaces.
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Our guide was fantastic – funny and clearly passionate about his work. Although we could navigate the cave at will, he provided information on the easiest path (e.g., “If you go this way, you can crawl on your hands and knees. If you go this way, you will have to wiggle through on your belly with one arm over your head. Your choice.”) and provided information on the geology and history of the lava caves.

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I ice skated. After spending an afternoon climbing through a cave. The deal was I had to either go around the rink 3 times or fall at least twice before we could leave. I’ll let you guess which came first.

The Spa: Before braving the icy drive home, we stored up as much relaxation as possible with a morning at the spa. A massage, some time in the hot tub as the snow fell outside, and post-massage hot tea and chocolates was a pretty perfect end to a wonderful weekend.

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The Boyfriend: Also known as the guy who made the weekend perfect.

This pretty much captures our relationship - Brandon doing something silly (like licking my face when it's freezing outside) and me laughing.
This pretty much captures our relationship – Brandon doing something silly (like licking my face when it’s freezing outside) and me laughing.
Happiness
Happiness

Now that I think about it, three days was just not long enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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And for much of the day it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then we got stuck in the snow.

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

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

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

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

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Out of the snow but rather worse for the wear

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

And yes, we did find the perfect tree.

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

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