When I was in college there was this show, I think it was on TLC, called The Perfect Proposal. The premise of the show was helping someone, usually a man, plan an elaborate marriage proposal for the person he loved. Sure, it was a little over the top, but it was fun to watch. There were hot air balloons and sky writers, surprise visits from far away family members, and I even recall a marching band or two. But beyond all of the cute animals and spa days and bespoke productions, beyond the scenic locations and giant diamond rings, there was always this moment. This moment of fear and hope, of expectation. In that beautiful, vulnerable moment, one person asked a question full of hope and promises, a question that imagined a future and nervously took the first steps toward it. And then the next moment when another person joyfully said yes to a life full of unknowns, to both the sorrow and happiness of all the years to come. That moment is the magic of life. It’s terrifying and brilliant to have so much wrapped up into one tiny, humongous question and an even tinier, momentous answer to that question. It was that moment that would be the sweetest, most wonderful memory I would take from Jamaica.
I’ll be honest, the morning before the proposal I was kind of pouting. I suspected and hoped that Brandon was going to propose sometime during the trip because, really, how could there be a better place to propose than Jamaica? But we were nearing the end of our weeklong trip and it had not happened. So, like I said, I may have spent portions of Thursday pouting and pretending not to. However, like an adult I reminded myself that I was in a gorgeous place having a fantastic time with my favorite person. I was not going to let the lack of a piece of jewelry take away from that. We had a fun day snorkeling, relaxing at our hotel, and swimming in the pool. We had decided that we would go out that night for a fancy dinner at Ivan’s, which was just down the road from our hotel. We got dressed up, which meant that Brandon actually put on pants instead of the shorts he had been wearing the rest of the week. He suggested that before going to dinner we stop by the bar and get a couple drinks and then find a spot to watch the sunset. He did not exactly have to twist my arm.
There was this little cabana right on the edge of the cliff that was just the spot. We sat and I sipped my drink, choosing to simply enjoy the moment. I did notice that Brandon seemed a little nervous and distracted. Despite this, we soaked in the moment and savored the beauty and the company. We took a few pictures and then right at sunset (6:15 on Thursday September 14 to be exact), he suggested we get up and take some pictures together. He maneuvered us to the edge of the cabana and then dropped down on one knee. He had something in his hand, but I could only look at his face as he asked “Will you be my Mrs. Hart?” I could not speak. I could not even say yes, so I just nodded my head and leaned over to kiss him. I eventually looked at the ring. He had even found a ring box that was shaped like a shell. After a few blissful moments of cherishing the newness of being engaged, of privately celebrating suddenly being more than boyfriend and girlfriend, Brandon set off to find a random person to come take pictures. We recreated the sweet moments of our engagement for the patient man behind the camera.
It was sincere. It was joyful. It was perfect.
That evening, we had a celebratory dinner at Ivan’s.
The food may have been delicious, but even more amazing was sharing my first meal with my fiancé.
This man. I love him beyond words and cannot imagine someone loving me better than he does. This sunset proposal in Jamaica will be a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. On the days when life is hard or when love is hard, I will recall the love that came easily and the happy tears shed in one of life’s perfect moments and remind myself of the all the many reasons I said yes to the unknowns of forever.
And, if you are wondering, I spent the rest of our vacation telling every.single.person. who we met that we had just gotten engaged.
If you’ve seen any picture of Negril, it is probably this: levels of white stone balconies connected by stairs, a crowd of people with brightly colored drinks in hand, all against the backdrop of an unbelievable Jamaican sunset. It just looks like a good time, the place to be. And really, it is. On any list of things to do in Negril, sunset at Rick’s Cafe is near the top. There are countless tours and booze cruises that make a stop at Rick’s, leading to a revolving door of buzzed, swimsuit clad tourists, dancing along to the live reggae music and taking a dip in the pool, some of whom gather the courage to jump off of the 10 to 35-foot cliffs into the ocean. First opened when Negril was still a sleepy fishing village, Rick’s has become an icon of the west coast.
So, one evening in Jamaica, we made our way to Rick’s. You know, because it’s the thing to do. We opted for the fully clothed, take a taxi from our hotel, no cliff jumping experience. One of the benefits of wearing clothes was that we could enjoy the sunset from the upper deck of the restaurant, providing not only a great view, but also a slightly less chaotic experience.
I’ll be honest, this was probably my least favorite thing that we did in Jamaica. I mean it was fine and I can see how it would be fun for some, but it was really not my thing. It’s the kind of place designed to be experienced while intoxicated, and that’s just not what I do.
Despite that, we found things to enjoy.
Like the reggae music
And Brandon singing along to all the reggae music
And of course the sunset
And the obligatory sunset shots, if primarily for the photo opportunity. I’m pretty sure drinks shouldn’t be this color.
But most of all, the time spent with this guy. With him, even an ordinary night becomes extraordinary.
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.
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)!
2016 was quite a year. It was a year of excitement and adventure, a year full of exploration and fun both across Oregon and in all new places. And it was a year that ended in the most perfect way possible, a much needed day full of the simple things that make life worthwhile.
A day of walking hand in hand along the beach with my love.
A day spent watching Sydney run up and down (and up and down and up and down) the sand with abandon, playing tag with the waves.
A day to appreciate the unparalleled beauty of the Oregon coast, often feeling like the only two people in the world as we listened to the waves and noticed the details of the nature surrounding us.
A day where we got to enjoy the freshest of fresh seafood.
A day when it was easy to find gratitude for each other and the life we live.
A day, and a year, that ended with a sunset that seemed like it was meant just for us.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of adventure, it was the age of relaxation, it was the epoch of new experiences, it was the epoch of familiarity, it was the season of sunshine, it was the season of snow, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were going direct to beautiful nature, we were going direct to misery. In short, we were going camping.
Summer 2016 was going to be an amazing summer. Brandon was home, we had already kicked off the summer with a trip to Hawaii, and we lived in Oregon, the land of gloriously sunny and not horribly hot summers. This would mean months of hiking and floating the river and barbecues. And let’s not forget the ultimate summer activity, camping.
Here’s the thing about camping: my confident assertion that it is something I enjoy is somewhat undermined by not having actually camped in approximately a decade and the fact that when I had previously been “camping” I hadn’t actually been the one doing the work of camping. Sure, I had slept in a tent and cooked s’mores over a campfire, but I had never been the one to put up said tent or build the campfire over which marshmallows were carefully roasted. Despite this, I reassured Brandon that I both loved camping and that I absolutely would do my share of the work.
Thus, with Memorial Day weekend in front of us, we loaded up the car and the pup and headed out to Hemlock Lake. Located in Umpqua National Forest, the campground is basic – up a gravel road in an area without cell service, the handful of $10 a night campsites consist of flat areas with fire pits and tables along with access to drop toilets.
Determined to prove that I could do it, I happily set up the tent as Brandon unloaded the car. This was the kind of place where you had to bring everything you needed because the closest place to purchase anything was at least an hour away.
After settling into the campsite, we do what you do with a weekend in the woods. We fished, we hiked, and we sat by the fire playing cards (except neither of us could remember any card games and the lack of Internet service meant we sort of had to make it up – the key is to “remember” another “rule” at the right moment).
In my quest to demonstrate that I was not high maintenance and could contribute in a meaningful way to the camping experience, I believe I was generally successful.
Only two things came close to defeating me. First, the morning. I had a couple things going against me that first morning – the cold and the lack of coffee. Although it was almost June, there was still snow on the ground in spots and the mornings were quite cool.
I blame what happened next on being inadequately caffeinated and the slight disorientation of sleeping in a tent for the first time in years. Brandon was already up and about, building a fire and, most importantly, making coffee. I was warm and cozy in my sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of the day beginning in the forest and thinking of how lucky I was to love someone who makes such good coffee. That’s when the realization hit me. I was not going to be able to stay warm and cozy in my sleeping bag. Suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of leaving the comfort of my sleeping bag to then take off my pjs in the cold and put on equally cold clothing, I did the almost unthinkable. I asked Brandon – who had not only managed to get dressed like a real adult but then had started to do helpful things like make a fire – to warm my clothes over the fire. Let me repeat that. I, who had insisted that I liked camping and would not be high maintenance, asked my boyfriend to warm up my clothes before I would put them on. Bless the guy, he actually did it. And he did it with minimal scoffing. Not only that, after handing me my now warm clothes (and yes, they felt lovely, thank you very much), he suggested that I come sit by the fire and drink coffee while he cooked veggie breakfast burritos. Like I said, bless him. In case you’re thinking I’m a total slacker, I did do the dishes.
The other thing that almost defeated my attempt to be a camper was the mosquitos, mosquitos so abundant and so hungry that no amount of bug spray could stop them. The worst was when we salvaged wood for the fire from the slash piles (because who needs to bring wood when you can spend hours finding it and chopping it to the right size with a somewhat dull axe?) and when we hiked.
At one point in our hike around part of Yellow Jacket Glade Loop and up to the overlook on Flat Rock Mountain Trail, there was probably a solid half mile of a steady uphill climb when our choice was to keep going at the expense of being able to breath or to get bitten by hundreds of mosquitos, which would swarm relentlessly the second you stopped moving. We chose to keep going. I think Brandon was reconsidering the relationship by the time we got to the top, even when we got to pause and enjoy the incredible view. I may never know the full extent of his loathing because we couldn’t gather enough air to say words. That view, though.
Finally, after realizing we had over a hundred mosquito bites between us, we declared defeat and left a day earlier than planned to enjoy the last day of the long weekend with luxuries like showers, flushing toilets, and clothes that don’t need to be warmed over a fire.
Despite the challenges, I did enjoy my first foray into Oregon camping, although perhaps I was not quite as helpful as I had led Brandon to believe I would be. Regardless, he was willing to give it another shot, which we did a few weeks later along the coast. This time, we stayed at an Oregon State Park campground, Sunset Bay.
Oregon Parks does an incredible job developing and maintaining campgrounds throughout the state. Online reservations are almost a necessity in the summer, but a little pre-planning is worth it. This was camping I could do – electricity, running water, showers, access to stores.
We even got dressed in real clothes and went out for sushi one night. Because we could.
Thankfully, there were no mosquitos and the weather was perfect for hiking and spending time on the beach. We even bought firewood this time, so compared to Hemlock, it was practically like staying in a luxury hotel.
And you can’t forget the peace that comes from having nothing better to do than sit and watch the sunset with the man you love.
But Brandon didn’t want me to have it too easy. So we gathered sand shrimp to use as bait in fishing for surf perch. This is an activity that involves wading into the swampy sand of low tide and using a plunger-like device to pull up wet sand and then spew it out, hopefully with a shrimp or two in the mix that then must be picked up WITH A BARE HAND and thrown into a bucket.
Then the things, things that have poky feet and claws, must be picked up out of the bucket to be used as bait. One of us had a good time. One of us was mildly disgusted and made occasional whimpering sounds. I’ll let you guess which one I was.
Sydney, however, was in her happy place.
The last day we were there, Brandon suggested we go for a hike. Being somewhat tired from sleeping in a tent, I shared that a nice walk would be fine, but nothing too crazy. We had already been fishing and taken a hike along the coast the day before, after all. Sure, he said with a subtle gleam in his eye that I apparently missed, I have the perfect spot in mind. Nice, relaxing walk? I’ll let you be the judge.
He did try to make up for it by writing messages in the sand and showing me pretty views, though.
The final verdict after actually camping? Despite the inherent challenges and discomforts, it is something I enjoy. And something I continued to do throughout the summer. While I might have a preference for a campsite with amenities like running water, it is good to know that I am truly capable of roughing it a bit now and then. Well, I am as long as I have my coffee. Everyone’s got their limits.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And because there had obviously not been enough food, dessert:
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!
One of my last days in China, as my trip was winding down and I was already (sadly) anticipating returning home, I took a day trip to the nearby and lovely city of Hangzhou. A relatively short and inexpensive bus ride from Shaoxing, Hangzhou is often described in China as “heaven on earth.” Candi, Jobie, and Junie were my tour guides, along with their friends Melissa and Alex.
After dealing with an obnoxious taxi driver, our first stop of the day was the China National Tea Museum.
The museum displayed teapots and tea settings from throughout China’s history.
After being accosted (in a friendly way) by a group of Chinese students, we explored a bit more of the grounds before purchasing Hangzhou green tea – considered to be the best green tea in China.
At some point “Would you mind taking a picture of me?” turned into “Cora, do this pose.” Exhibited below, the Cora pose, the Chinese pose, the Japanese pose, and the Junie pose. I will let you decide which is which. Disclaimer: all poses are the responsibility of those behind the camera. I am in no way accountable for inaccurate poses.
After a delicious lunch (described elsewhere) of local Hangzhou specialties such as dongpo pork and beggar’s chicken, we spent a warm afternoon madly shopping the pedestrian only Hefang Street. Shops along the street ran from kitschy to authentic and there was much more to see than could fit into a single afternoon. If you received a gift from me from my trip to China, chances are it was purchased here.
We ended a busy day with a sunset walk along West Lake, one of the highlights of Hangzhou and a primary reason that Hangzhou is considered such a beautiful city.
We hurried back to the bus terminal just in time to grab McDonald’s before taking a bus back to Shaoxing in the dark. Tired and with aching feet (happily ensconced in new shoes), I watched out the window while reminiscing on what had been a truly wonderful week in China. And it wasn’t quite over yet.