Learning

We are already creeping into crisp air and early sunsets.  It’s hard to believe that summer 2015 is coming to a close.

It was a summer of learning, for me.

After spending May with lots of work and only passing each other in the mornings and late evenings, Ryan and I decided we needed to make a decision.  We were newly married for only three months, and we knew we couldn’t spend another month the way we spent May.  So I did something that I haven’t done in years.  I took a step back at work and spent the summer working two, sometimes three shifts a week.

I was terrified.  I have spent most of my adult life working five to six nights a week at busy restaurants.  Allowing myself time off seemed a bit negligent, but I knew that taking this step was imperative to my marriage and to my own mental sanity.

It ended up being the best summer.  Ryan and I were able to take trips, go camping, spend time with each other and our families, and I remembered that mornings and evenings still exist…and they are glorious.

I was able to take a trip out west with my friend Betsy to photograph a gorgeous mountain wedding.  Returning to the place  I once lived healed deep parts of my soul that I didn’t recognize to still be broken (that’s an entirely new blog in itself).  It was quick and busy and a twelve hour day of photographing with one of my best friends made me feel alive and fresh and challenged.

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oh and hey, we met Willie Robertson.  We spotted him at the Cowboy Bar in Jackson, Wyoming.  To my father’s dismay, I introduced myself in a whisper saying, “Hi, I know you don’t want people to bug you, but, my dad LOVES you…”

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checking out the wedding site.  Tetons in the background.

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On a beautiful hike with beautiful people

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The wedding day just after the ceremony.  Hi mountains!

This summer Ryan and I were able to GO ON DATES.  We are generally frugal people….

Let me re-phrase:  Ryan is so great at being fiscally conscious, while I try determinedly to spend our money on important things like food and wine and dates and home decor.  He has been an enormous blessing in the money world by reminding me of what’s important and necessary.  Thank the Good Lord that he agrees an occasional splurge on date night is necessary.

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I mean, just so.freaking.adorable.

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If you are not familiar with Michigan, I’ll let you know that there are lakes EVERYWHERE, and we are blessed to be able to spend time on this particular lake often in the summer.  Boat rides and these people happened, often.

I was able to go with Ryan up north to Traverse City, MI for a business trip, where we rented a cottage on Old Mission Peninsula, ate fabulous food all weekend, and even got to visit our cousin, Jamie, who works for the local news station.

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We ended this great weekend with a perfect night camping.

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Our last trip of the summer was to North Carolina for a wedding with a quick stop in Washington D.C. on the way to visit with some dear friends.

Aside from the travel, we were able to spend time with each other and with friends, have dinner on our deck, go golfing (oh we golfed; we golfed endlessly.)  It was an incredible summer.

But I also learned.

I learned that I don’t need to work my life away to feel accomplished or justified.  And although I do love what I do, it doesn’t define the person I am or the life I want to live.  My priorities are far beyond what I do to earn money.

I also learned that I have passions to re-ignite.  I say RE-ignite because they were coals that were cooling from neglect, and this summer I was reminded that doing the things you love will feed your soul.  For me these include photography, my writing, and travel.  I always keep a notebook and pen on me, but have rarely taken them out these past few months.  I was once going to school for photography and was crazy in love with capturing these still moments representing so much more than that one second in time.  I adore exploring and finding what makes places special.  Somewhere along the way I forgot I had a camera…and a notebook…and a pen…and a passion.

We constantly look for those things that make us feel fulfilled, and sharing stories and lessons and moments is one of those things for me.  It’s putting a pen to paper and scribbling, and spending time with people who want me to help share their story.  It’s discovering a new place and sharing what I love about it with others.

But it’s also time that I spend learning from someone else’s craft.  It’s reading and learning from other writers, shooting with photographers whose work far surpasses my own, and it’s GETTING OUT and going places.

This summer, I’ve learned ENORMOUSLY that I never want to stop learning.

To you and to me, may we always be pushing to be a better version of ourselves than the day before,

Cheers!

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Vegas Adventure.

So it’s been a while.

I could totally dive into all the things that have happened since my NYC adventure.  We found a house, got hitched, welcomed another fur-baby into our lives…it’s a lot of big stuff.  Lots of BIG, MONUTMENTAL, LIFE-CHANGING stuff.

You know, the stuff I was craving last summer when blogging was difficult because life was just so CALM.

I’m actually not going to write about any of that today.  Because today is dedicated to Vegas.  Even more so to Francis and Lisa.

I’ll be honest, of all my travel destination desires, Las Vegas was never one of them.  I’ve never been a gambler, I hate crowded pools, loud all-day bashes, and I was also too scared for my liver to make a lengthy visit to Sin City.

However, two friends of ours (yes! you’re right! Fran and Lisa!), decided to get married there, and little Las Vegas soared to the top of our Travel List.

Ryan and Francis became friends while serving in the Marine Corps together.  They have this man-love for one another that just doesn’t happen after “hanging out a lot.”  It’s an incredibly bond that formed after hours together of hard work and sacrifice.  They spent days of exhaustive, relentless, and punishing training.  It’s a bond that builds after countless hours practicing dangerous scenarios, knowing full-well that they could come to fruition, and in those cases, your brothers beside you would die for you.

….Like I said, it’s a serious man-love.

And it’s the best.  They are constantly embracing in these muscle-y bear hugs, and making each other roar with laughter.

Lisa has a heart of solid gold.  She is witty and funny and will tell you what you need to hear.  She doesn’t sugar-coat anything, and that kind of honesty is FRESH AIR.  She is down-to-earth and easy-going.  Not only that, but she is over-the-top, stop-dead-in-your-tracks beautiful.  Wrap it all into one human and you have Lisa. I’ve known Lisa for a little bit, and finally met her last summer when she and Francis visited Michigan.  I knew the minute I met her I wanted her as a friend for life.

That’s what it’s like with these two.  It’s fresh and easy.  We can talk about the serious and the mundane, the important, gut-wrenching stuff that shapes us, and we can talk about how good Francis looks in a man thong.  It’s a friendship we hold dear to us, and booking those tickets to Vegas was the easiest click of the button.

So why did they choose Vegas?

Fran and Lisa decided to get married there for a very specific reason.  New Jersey.

These two have been together for years, and had plenty of time to decide exactly what they wanted for a wedding.  In Jersey the weddings are over-the-top, and after they started the planning process in their hometown, they decided they didn’t want that.  They didn’t want the pressure to spend thousands and invite hundreds and undergo the pressure of “how big can we make this event.”  For them, it was never about that.

So they sent out an e-mail saying they would be going to Vegas, and if you wanted to join, they would love your company.

I love them.

SOLD. We were going to Vegas.

So first of all, Vegas is quite beautiful, which I never really imagined.  Everything is glamour and glitz, and then it’s surrounded with jaw-dropping mountains.  IMG_4771.JPG

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Day of the wedding!

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I mean…unreal. (Photographer was www.tylerfreear.com and he was FUN and amazing.  If you are looking for a photographer in the Denver area…or clearly Vegas area, check him out. )IMG_4798.JPG

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The wedding was to take place at 5:00pm at the Elvis Wedding Chapel.  The lovely couple rented a party bus to bring us from the chapel, to the Vegas sign, to Old Vegas, and then back to the Strip where we would dine and party.

Things got interesting.

The party bus was 15 minutes late and traffic was crazy.  Francis and Lisa missed their 5:00 wedding.  I have to tell you, Lisa stayed so calm.  (Francis was clearly stressed, which I don’t blame him, he just wanted to marry his girl!)  They were able to reschedule for 8:00, and we moved on to Old Vegas for some photos.

It was here that one of Lisa’s friends was called out to dance for a crowd of strangers, the couple got a photo with an Elvis impersonator, a tiny old lady with Cheetos all over her face and holding a Sephora bag stalked me asking for $5, I lost Ryan on several different occasions and found him conversing with random new “friends,” and I began to worry that not all of us were going to make it til 8:00…the Vegas fun was flowing.IMG_4815.JPG

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We made it.  All of us.  Most of us coherent and some of us on the way out of that realm.  We watched and laughed and even got teary eyed as Elvis married our dear friends.

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It was unlike any wedding I’ve ever experienced.  And despite the costumes and the singing and the humor in it all, it was still beautiful and heartfelt.  I don’t think Grand Rapids could pull off weddings like that, and I don’t think New Jersey could either.  It was something that only Vegas could get so weirdly right.IMG_4872.JPG

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Oxygen bar we tried before leaving…don’t waste your $40!IMG_4883.JPG

Sad to say goodbyeIMG_4886.JPGSeth, Francis, and Ryan.  All served together.

Vegas was everything I thought it would be, but it was also beautiful and surprising.   I didn’t know any of their friends, and I think the raw spirit of Vegas broke us out of our comfort zones and our shells.  We were quick friends.  In the busy, crowded pools we were forced to sit close together for conversation.  We bonded on the Strip in the chaotic evenings, trying to decide if we wanted a grand dining experience or pizza in the hotel.

We have these expectations for things, places, people, moments in life, and I love when the actuality destroys those expectations.

Vegas, you were a lovely reminder that things may not be what we imagine, that friendships break barriers, that our preconceived notions may be inaccurate, degrading, or even complete bullshit. Thank you for reminding me that beauty is immeasurably more than what we may expect…

Francis and Lisa, we are so blessed to have shared in your amazing weekend, and even more so by your friendship.

To Vegas, surprises, and mostly to the new Mr. and Mrs. G,

CHEERS!

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New York City Adventure

Hi Internet friends!

I’ve missed you.

The end of summer is a crazy time, isn’t it?  It’s been wild for me.  Between having friends visit from out of town, weekend getaways, weddings, and a quick trip to NYC, these past couple weeks have drenched my soul with joy, wrung it out all over my footsteps, and is now hanging to dry, like a new painting – fresh and thought provoking.

I want to share with you today my trip to New York City.  There are endless photos (phone pictures blown up to all their grainy glory) and way too many selfies due to many solo excursions.  I’m afraid I don’t apologize for them.  

I was invited early August by my friends Joash and Michelle to come to NYC for a visit that month.  They had just found an apartment in their dream neighborhood and their leases would be overlapping for about three weeks, allowing friends and family a place to stay should they have an opening to make the trip.   I had just taken a week off for a family vacation in early July, along with most weekends for weddings and cottage getaways, so the notion of taking more time off and spend more money for another trip seemed a little out of the question.  However, when it came down to the wire, I decided I couldn’t pass it up.  

Ryan had close friends visiting from New Jersey the second to last week in August and offered me a one-way trip to the city.  I found a cheap one-way flight back, and before I knew it, I was going.

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I arrived late Sunday night after being stuck in traffic on the George Washington Bridge for over two hours.  Bless Francis and Lisa, because had I decided to make that trip myself, I would have been in trouble.  My accommodations turned out to be a beautiful high-ceiling studio with a cozy little mattress.  All to myself.

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The next day I did a lot of solo wandering.  Michelle and Joash both had to work and Francis and Lisa were back to work and school also.  My home away from home was a block away from the Hudson, however, so clearly I started my excursion there.  Selfie to prove it.

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I wandered for a few hours, eventually cutting back into the heart of the city.  Michelle sent me a text just before noon asking if I would want to visit her at work and eat at her restaurant.  I was walking as I read and stopped mid-step.  Let me tell you a little about the restaurant Michelle works at.  It’s called Jean-Georges, and has received four stars by the New York Times and three Michelin stars.  It’s fine dining heaven, and sits on the southwest corner of Central Park while also overlooking Columbus Circle.  Did I mention it’s also located in Trump Tower?  So when Michelle asked if I wanted to have lunch there, I figured I would have a liquid lunch.  As long as I could see and feel the ambiance, I was sold.  I began my hundred block, ninety degree sun-blasted walk over and showed up with a “gorgeous glow” (aka dripping with disgusting all over sweat).

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Michelle was working on the terrace that day, and seeing this stunning face made every ounce of sweat and every blister worth it.  The cold martini helped also.

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My happy heart found tuna tare tare on the menu, and for a price that didn’t terrify me, so I ran with it.  It was decadent.  I was then spoiled with fois gras brulee (not pictured) followed by butterscotch pudding and a perfectly paired port.  I died.

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I forget this guy’s name, but if you are anywhere near a food photo of mine, you will be asked to smile.

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Angry/confused partial selfie to show the terrace.

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And my view from my seat at the bar, clearly aware that I do not belong in such a fancy place, but totally soaking in every second.

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After my lunch, Michelle showed me how to take the subway back to her neighborhood.  I walked the streets for a couple more hours before deciding it was happy hour.  I walked into this spot and found myself in a dark, we are talking nearly black, space, with a worn bar with two guests sipping cocktails and flaunting English accents.  I sat down, smitten, and ordered a gin and tonic.  Not four sips later, a voice came over the speaker system.  It sounded like the voice of an old villain, the wicked witch of the west, maybe, only male.  I couldn’t find the source until it popped up again, and a man fully garbed in a red velvet suit and top hat with a stringy black mop of hair stood behind the bar patrons.  My eyes had finally adjusted to the dark, and when I took a moment to look around the bar as the crackly voice spoke I noticed there were full skeletons hanging from the ceiling.  I didn’t stay for a second drink.

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Instead, Joash met up with me after getting out of work and we decided to go over to Soho to walk through Little Italy and Chinatown, and find other spots to eat and drink.

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At our last spot, a kitchen guy came out and gave me this enormous “sparkler” (which burnt the cuss out of my hand), to which Joash responded to by serenading me with “Happy Birthday.”  We then drank Hennessy for free.  A very Happy Un-Birthday to me.

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Oh yeah, then the bartender did this.

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The next morning, Michelle and I had plans to venture to Brooklyn, with a quick stop at her favorite coffee shop first called Whynot.  Yes, we drank Morning Wine.

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New Yorkers at their finest.

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Our brunch choice, Egg. 

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Brooklyn Bridge

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The subways are smelly, disgusting, hot, and feel like murder.

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It was a beautiful day exploring with my friend.

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Since Michelle had to work that night, I walked 50+ blocks the the ferry and took it over to Hoboken to meet up with an old friend from college.  I hadn’t seen her in years.

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Her babe, Jack, who I got to meet for the first time!

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You guys, I ate alligator.  It was so good.

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Pier 13 in Hoboken.  Dinner, wine, friends, and good conversation.  

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Up and at ’em the next morning for my last day in NYC and spending it mostly with this cute thing.  I walked over late morning to see their new place before heading out.

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Cappuccinos and quiet.

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Scenes from our walk on the High Line, a railway turned park above the streets.  It’s gorgeous (and hot.  Freaking hot that day.)

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Ramen is the cool thing there, guys, so I ate at their favorite Ramen spot.  So good.

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Spicy margarita, mojito, and topped off with a free shot of rum accompanied by an orange squeeze and raw sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa.  People ask what I did in NYC and I say I walked, ate, and drank at all the best spots with all the best people.

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City selfie as I wandered the Upper East Side.  

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And then got two free drinks. 

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I subway-ed back after my afternoon solo adventures and over to Michelle and Joash’s for an evening on their patio.  When I walked in, Michelle had music playing, candles lit, steak being cooked, bottles of wine ready to be opened, and this insane spread.  

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Every sense was rocked on this trip, but the conversations I had with friends about God and humanity and relationships and the solo time I had to think and soak everything in is what I took home with me.  On the last night, as I sat with Michelle and Joash on the candle lit patio, we decided each of us would say something about God before our meal.  I had felt overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious on this trip, and on the flip side I had felt peace far deeper than I had in a long time.  I felt fulfillment and curiosity and anger and love.  The journey that I am on (and that we are on) is vast with opportunities, but short.  It’s leaking with extravagance, but bound by hours, by priorities, by standards put in place by society.  At that moment when I had to say something about God I felt like He was and would continue to teach me in bizarre ways, through cocktails and kind strangers, through subways and chaotic crowds.  I looked up and closed my eyes and took a deep breath of New York City’s potent air.  “God is Crazy.” (totally with capital “C”)

That was all I could come up with.  But I hope you feel the craziness of God.  In whatever way that is, whether you want it or not, I hope it’s never what you expect.  

I can’t believe I almost didn’t make that trip.  

To Fran and Lisa, to Kelly and Nicole and baby Jack, to Joash and Michelle,

THANK YOU and Cheers!

JAMIE

I am currently listening to the Frozen soundtrack for the 9,472nd time this week.  That’s right.  For the past week my sister has been staying with us along with my 5 week old nephew and my 1 1/2 year-old niece who is infatuated with Frozen, just like every other young human in the world.  My eyes pop open in the morning and I’m immediately singing “Do you want to build a snowman?” and twirling around as if I have magical powers to freeze things.  Disney, man, you win.

But this week was more than an unending musical.  This week I finished my first year back to school after a four year hiatus.  I gave myself a pat on the back because I’m proud.  I’m proud that I finally took the initiative to go back despite every apprehension.  Part of me feels really cool and accomplished.  But there are actually tons of people doing things that are so much cooler.  Like the people who are graduating this weekend with their undergrad or masters.  Or, hi, how about Meb Keflezighi who just won the Boston freaking Marathon at the age of 38.

Or my friend Jamie, an insanely gorgeous and adventurous beauty I met when I lived in Jackson, Wyoming.  She’s originally from New York, and her quick wit and raw honesty are evidence of this.  She will call you out if you’re being an idiot and stand behind everything she believes with sincere grit.  Jamie also goes on travel adventures that can make the Homebody of the Year want to get out and see the world.

Like back in 2012 when she decided to spend some time in Thailand.  And then extended her stay and traveled through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.  We were all back in Jackson just waiting for her to return and then she would decide to stay longer…and longer….and longer.  She met people along the way with whom she traveled, and went on solo adventures as well.  She’s truly a badass.

 

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Gaaah, I love to hate her (with love).

There’s also the time, in 2011, when she traveled to South America and did things like this:

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Yes, sand boarding down the Huacachina dunes

 

 

 

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biking a dangerous 13,123 feet downhill road (with oncoming traffic) in Peru

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ziplining….with that setting. GAH.

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Hiking Machu Picchu

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Doing this

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I mean, really.  Just stop.

During her South America trip she visited Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Argentina.  Whoa.  During the past couple years she’s gone on some shorter trips to Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala.

Jamie isn’t a born world traveler.  It wasn’t until 2007 at the age of 27 that she went on her first solo trip to Costa Rica, just after spending her first summer out west in Jackson Hole.  It gives me hope that maybe my traveling days haven’t even started.  If I can head anywhere in the direction Jamie has gone, I’ll be a wildly happy girl.  As I was going back and forth with Jamie today on the phone, she also mentioned that after this summer she wants to buy a one way ticket to…somewhere.  She listed off a couple places, but for the sake of keeping you in the dark, not giving away all her secrets, and for the hope that she may get back to sharing her adventures through her own blog, I’m not going to tell you.  (JAMIE’S BLOG HERE)

There are things that change us, and I think travel is one of them.  The kind of travel where you get deep into the culture and be a little vulnerable.  The kind of travel where not everything is planned out.  Where maybe you get lost and come out with a really great story.  You can start it with “Ah, that reminds me of that time I got so lost in the middle of the jungle on Easter Island and the natives spit on me because I have red hair.” …..or something like that.

My grandparents didn’t start traveling until they were in their 60’s, and my grandma was skeptical.  After their first trip overseas, however, she was hooked.  It’s apparently the best drug out there.

I hope with all my heart that I don’t wait until I’m 60.  I hope with all my heart that you don’t either.

Do you have any truly awesome travel tales?  I’d love to hear/read them.

Also, if you are one of my readers outside of the U.S., I want to say THANK YOU for reading.  Let’s get in touch, let’s connect, let’s talk about each other’s cultures and hometowns.  Seriously.  And then maybe we can visit each other.

Lastly, thank you, Jamie, for being as awesome as you are (and for letting me use your photos).  I have a very special place in my heart that is just for you.

To our passports,

Cheers!

 

On Not Being a Machine

Vacations are the most necessary thing.  They are also a rude tease, because they wipe out your to-do list for that period of time.  While this allows a space for needed relaxation, reading, personal reflection, and several rum and cokes, what it does not allow is mental preparation for the evil bombardment of “busy” the moment you step off the plane and back into reality.

Costa Rica was everything I dreamed it would be.  It had the flair and culture of a small local town and it had the little luxuries of condo vacationing – complete with air conditioning and internet connection.

We ate endless seafood, visited local dives, went zip-lining through the jungle while angry monkeys cursed squeakily for us to leave their territory.  We scoured rocky beaches, visited local festivals, drank cuba libres on the street, and I found a passion for cooking that must have been waiting to be unearthed, because it arrived with vehemence.   

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A Restaurant/hotel called Villa Coletas.  It overlooks the jungle…no big deal

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Jaime and Chelsea, two beauties I was lucky to get to know 

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the aforementioned Cuba Libre (note: you do not need more than 1)

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Back at Villa Coletas on our last night for drinks and a sunset

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And we got a freaking sunset.  This is #unfiltered, people.

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….still there!

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And finally, a photo I took on our final morning from the living room of our condo.  

Our flights were cancelled, re-routed, cancelled again, and delayed, but eventually we slid somewhat safely (yes, our plane slid on ice as it landed) in Chicago and made our way over crazy icy highways home.  What an un-warm welcome.

And now it seems like Costa Rica is far in the past, although my skin flaking away my tan is a hint that it wasn’t all that long ago.  Since I’ve been back, Ryan and I have been frantically trying to get back on track and caught up with school – assignments, papers, tests, extra-curricular assignments (such over-achievers, right?) – and the anxiety has been UNREAL.  It has made me wonder on more than one occasion if vacation is even worth it.  

We go to escape our CRAZY BUSY lives for a few short days, only to bask so heavily in our time off that we nearly squeeze the seconds away more quickly, and then we are forcefully returned to our lives of GO, GO, GO. 

There are the people who do it without a hiccup, but I’m not one of them.  And it makes me wonder if we all tend to over-do things in life.  Do we take on too many projects, too many hours of work, too many activities?  We should all be able to make time for ourselves with or without a plane ride.  Don’t get me wrong, I will fly anywhere any day of my life if I can, but I guess this is a quick reminder to you and to me to always find time to turn off your inner To-Do list and do something for you.  Something that will help quiet and calm your busy soul, and remind you that you don’t always have to be doing.  Sometimes when we think we need a vacation maybe that should be our hint that what we really need is to turn down our GO! meter, just a notch.

So relax.  Take a deep breath.  Read, write, paint, garden (inside), cook, listen to music, stretch your muscles, have a cocktail.  (and for the love, don’t let Facebook be part of your “you” time)

To taking my own advice,

Cheers!