Exploring the wild west and my first solar eclipse

It’s been nearly 2 years since I updated this online journal of mine. I had all but decided to let it go completely.

Yet something kept nagging at the back of my mind.

Finally, a few months ago, I was paging through old stories on this site and it hit me – I really like keeping a record of my travels. It’s fun to have something to go back to and look at, to remind me of the wonderful little nuances of my trips that I would have otherwise forgotten completely.

And so, here I am again, resurrecting the old Sinbad.

I’m not even going to attempt to write about everything that’s happened over the last two years. We did, however, have a pretty significant trip a few months ago, so I figured that’s as good a place as any to pick up the torch again.

In August, Michael and I witnessed our first total solar eclipse. The “Great American Eclipse” happened to be passing directly over Yellowstone National Park, so we made a vacation out of it.

By the time I’d gotten around to booking lodging (6 or so months before), the entire valley was already booked up in anticipation of the eclipse. We ended up having to stay about 2 hours away from the entrance to Yellowstone. For the eclipse, though, that didn’t matter, as it also passed right over the little campground we were staying in in Rigby, Idaho.

The eclipse was everything I’d hoped for and more. As we sat there in the moments leading up to totality, we marveled at how unchanged everything looked. The sky was still blue. The air was still warm and bright, even when only a tiny sliver of the sun was actually visible.

As soon as the sun slipped entirely behind the moon, however, it was as if we’d stepped into a different world.

The birds stopped chirping. The light disappeared abruptly, and the temperate dropped at least 20 degrees. In the sky, the moon’s black circle was surrounded by the brilliant aura and magnificent solar flares of the sun, millions of miles behind it. Even the fact that we were able to see all of that with our naked eyes was incredible.

For two and a half minutes, we stood there marveling at the stark beauty of God’s creation. And then, just as quickly as it began, totality was over. The sky returned to normal, the birds resumed their song, and life continued just as if it had never happened.

I, however, was profoundly affected. For nearly an hour after totality ended, my heart was racing and my hands were shaking. It was one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had in my entire life. Observing firsthand such wild beauty, such a perfectly choreographed natural dance…it was breathtaking. The heavens truly do declare the glory of God.

Seeing totality alone made the entire trip worth it. But we still had over a week to explore the magnificent wild west!

We downloaded a nifty little app that was like a private tour guide. It was GPS-enabled, so as we approached different sites it would automatically start talking to us and tell us relevant things. We named him Jack, and he was really quite knowledgeable! Jack told us all sorts of fascinating tidbits about the history of the park, the flora and fauna that live there, and more. It was well worth the $10 investment!

Most of our time was spent exploring Yellowstone – the bubbling hot springs, the hissing mud pools, and of course the majestic geysers. It is truly a breathtaking area of the country. I kept wondering what the original explorers who found Yellowstone thought when they first came across it – it must have been so disorienting and scary to be walking across boiling land!

We also, however, spent a day exploring Grand Teton National Park, a much smaller park that is “across the street” by western standards. Yellowstone has the pull of the ethereal, but the Tetons are just simply breathtakingly stunning. They are unusual as far as mountain ranges go because they don’t have any foothills – they seem to come up out of nowhere. The lack of foothills to obscure their view makes them some of the most memorable mountains you may ever see.

I could go on…I probably should go on. But the reality it that it would take me way too long to tell in detail all of the amazing things that happened to us there, and I have to pack for our next trip (we’re leaving tomorrow!). I’ll have to be content with a summary and lots of pictures. Hopefully the next entry will be way more detailed (and timely!)

Catching up on life

The past few months have been an absolute whirlwind.  A new marriage, lots and lots of birthdays and anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, a dance event, a skiing trip in Colorado, huge amounts of interpersonal drama, and new jobs for both Michael and myself have proven to be just about all that I can handle.

It is ironic that, although I have been writing more than I ever have in my entire life, I think it’s the longest I’ve been silent on this blog since I started it.  Most of my time lately has been taken up writing for my new blog, forgingsignificance.com.  Right after the wedding I spent several weeks working on some quillwork for an artists’ market at my church, but since about mid-December I have officially taken the plunge and started working full-time toward becoming a freelance writer.

Since then, my days have consisted of lots of website tweaking and beating the pavement trying to submit articles to other sites.  I’ve consistently written at least twice a week on my own blog for several months now, as well as already had 3 articles accepted in other places.  Sometimes it’s frustrating and feels like I’m not making any progress; but then I remind myself that I’ve really only been at this a few weeks, and that helps puts things into perspective for me.

This post is just a brief summary, both for your sakes and mine, of what I’ve been doing the past few months.  Hopefully I’ll be able to write more regularly on here now that I’m in the swing of things :).

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Michael and I had the opportunity to go visit my New Jersey grandparents in October, just a few weeks after we were married.  I was so grateful that Michael had the chance to meet them both, but especially my grandfather, as he ended up passing away just a few weeks later.  We all miss him a lot.  He left quite a legacy.

I was able to do a few fall-specific things, like carve a pumpkin with Michael, meet my friend Sarah in Ellijay for their Apple Festival, and go to the Perry fair with my mom and younger siblings.  That was a really fun afternoon.  Perry is about half-way between Atlanta and Albany, so we met in the middle and made a day trip of it.  It’s hard to develop a relationship with your siblings when you live far away and they can’t drive and don’t have cell phones, so I’m always grateful for the opportunities that we do get.

I once again hosted a Christmas party this year, except this time I did 3 days in a row of Christmas parties!  We took this idea from a friend, and the thought was to try to incorporate as many people as possible, while also making an effort to focus on different aspects of the Christmas season.  So the first night was “celebrating friends,” which was basically my normal Christmas party.  I made dinner, we played games, decorated gingerbread cookies, etc.  One of the games was a new one – I wrapped little treats in saran wrap and made people unwrap the ball with oven mitts on.  It was actually a lot more fun than I expected!  You can read more about that here.

The other 2 nights were “celebrating others” and “celebrating God,” where we wrote letters to troops and did a lessons and carols service, respectively.  We had almost a completely different group every night, and it was really a lot of fun!  I was definitely tired by the end of day 3, though :).

One of the highlights of the last few months was New Year’s Eve.  Michael and I spontaneously decided to go to Birmingham for the night.  And it was really so much fun!  We hung out, played games, watched the ball drop, and enjoyed a great breakfast the next morning with people we love.  Nothing different from what usually happens when I go to Birmingham for NYE, but considering how much drama has been swirling around Michael and I lately, it was a welcome and much-needed respite.  You can read more about that trip here.

I also really enjoyed my birthday celebration a few days later.  It was a pretty low-key affair, but I was surrounded by some of my favorite people in the world (including my mother-in-law, who had just had knee surgery and could hardly walk!  It really meant a lot that she made the effort to come out.  I have great in-laws).  We had a potluck dinner and then went to downtown Atlanta to see the Christmas lights in Centennial Park.  The lights were gorgeous, and we even got a funnel cake!  I suppose that was my pseudo birthday cake, haha.

Several of my friends also brought gifts to the potluck, and as I opened them, I was overwhelmed by just how thoughtful they all were.  These people who had come to celebrate me together really cared about me.  I know it seems silly, as most people would say it’s obvious that I’m cared about…but when it feels like you’re being surrounded by selfish emotional drama on all sides, it’s easy to lose sight of that fact.  It was a wonderful night to be reminded that I’m cared for.

We went on a ski trip 2 weekends ago – Michael’s first time!  It was bitterly cold, but a lot of fun.  Even though I’ve been skiing several times before, I actually ended up being a lot more sore than he was.  I think I was so scared from how fast I thought I was going that every muscle in my entire body ended up tensing up, lol.  But we both made it through the day in one piece, so I count that as a victory! 🙂

All that aside, Michael and I have been trying to focus on taking care of ourselves and getting into a regular schedule.  We’ve become connected with a small group at church that focuses on outreach to internationals in Atlanta.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them.  I’ve also started part-time work teaching a beginner ESL class twice a week.  It’s quite a challenge when you have Spanish, Chinese, AND Russian speakers, and there’s no telling how many people will actually show up!

Now that things are starting to calm down a bit, I’m hoping to be able to update both blogs.  But for the most regular updates, be sure to head over to my new site (forgingsignificance.com) and sign up for my newsletter!  I always post there on Mondays and Wednesdays.

A Colorado honeymoon

While the rain continued in Atlanta for the entire week after our wedding, Michael and I got to run away to beautiful Colorado for the week to celebrate our honeymoon.  The weather there was absolutely perfect – brilliant azure skies, fluffy white clouds, and just enough fall briskness in the air.

We spent most of the day on Monday traveling – to the Atlanta airport, flying to Denver, and then driving out to Steamboat Springs, which is about 3.5 hours northwest of Denver.  Mostly by luck, and because I was craving pizza, we happened upon an amazing pizza place called BeauJoe’s about halfway between Denver and Steamboat Springs.  They pride themselves on their “Colorado-style pizza”…I didn’t even know that was a thing, but apparently it means thick artisan braided crust, over which local honey is drizzled before eating.  Never in a million years would I have thought to put honey on pizza, but it was really tasty!

Michael had the whole week planned out, with just enough activity each day to keep us entertained but relaxed and not stressed out.  It was perfect.  We started out on Tuesday with breakfast at the Creekside Cafe, a little restaurant that came highly rated by friends and the internet alike.  Its fame was well-earned.  They had the most delicious sausage gravy and flaky biscuits I’ve ever had in my entire life – we liked it so much that we made a point to go back again before we left Steamboat Springs.  If you ever find yourself in that neck of the woods, get the Barn Burner – well worth the $12 a plate price tag!

After breakfast, we got a couple’s massage.  The price tag was a bit steep, but the masseuses were excellent, and we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  It was a nice relaxing start to the week.  The rest of the day was spent exploring the quaint, picturesque town.  It’s definitely a seasonal tourist town, with a small concentrated city center and super friendly locals…visiting in the off season meant that we got to enjoy all of Steamboat’s charm without any of the crowds.  The best of both worlds!  I particularly enjoyed the hours posted on the shops in the downtown area – they said things like “10:00-ish to 5:00-ish, except when the fishing is good”, “probably not open on Saturdays, unless we are,” or “by appointment only, unless you’re lucky.”  Quite a character-filled little town.

Wednesday was probably the highlight of the trip – a hot air balloon ride over the city.  We got to do something that neither of us had experienced before – quite a feat considering our adventurous pasts!  I was a little nervous because I’m so uncomfortable around heights, but it was a fairly calm day and not really scary at all.  The only time I got queasy was when I decided to look straight down from 2,000 feet above the ground.  That probably wasn’t the best idea.  But we did get to see a moose from the air, which is apparently quite rare!  It was fun to see the town from a completely different view.  Watching the pilot wrangle the enormous balloon into a tiny little basket after we landed was rather amusing, too.  We celebrated our successful flight with a champagne toast in little paper cups.  Apparently that is a tradition that was started after the first successful hot air balloon ride (in a balloon made of paper!!), which was commissioned by the French king in the 1700’s (you know the French love their champagne! ;]).  Incidentally, the first person to fly in this monstrous paper contraption was named Pilatre de Rozier, which is where our modern term “pilot” comes from.

After the hot air balloon we grabbed an early dinner during happy hour at the local steakhouse, E3.  (By the way, eating during happy hour is a great way to get fantastic food at a fraction of the cost.  This is true across the country, not just in Steamboat Springs).  We had a local beer, lobster macaroni and cheese, a huge hamburger, loaded potato wedges, and a delicious been bourbon soup…all for about $30.  And with leftovers to spare!  We definitely ate well in Steamboat :D.

We also took a trip up to the famous Strawberry Park Hot Springs on Wednesday.  The hot springs are natural, although the pools and paths have been built up by humans…they’ve created quite a pleasant, relaxing hot springs experience, with differing temperatures in the various pools and lovely walkways and waterfalls and gardens throughout.  It was wonderful!  We met this young guy there with his friend who was such a hoot.  As soon as he found out that we were on our honeymoon, he became our biggest fan – taking pictures of us, asking us about our plans, even kicking people out of the private 2-person pool so we could have it.  It made me want to say we’re on our honeymoon every time we travel, lol.

Thursday was our last full day in Steamboat.  We decided to spend it following the advice of some locals and checking out some local haunts.  There are 2 lakes, Pearl Lake and Steamboat Lake, about a 30-45 minute drive north of the city that are also state parks.  We spent the day exploring them both.  On the way up we stopped at a popular general store, Clarke’s, which serves as the tiny town of Clarke’s general store, post office, local restaurant, bank, and tourist office.  We grabbed some lunch there, and then took it to Pearl Lake to eat.  We had the lake pretty much to ourselves (another benefit of visiting in the off season), so we lay on the ground to enjoy the view for a while.  But pretty soon the pebbly ground started hurting, so we went in search of Steamboat lake.  That one is much bigger and surrounded by nature walks, so we picked one of the shorter ones and took our time walking it.  Highlight of the walk was definitely the many deer we saw within a stones throw of the path!  Made me realize just how sick and malnourished the deer at Berry are, lol…

That evening, to celebrate our last night in Steamboat, we had a nice dinner in, making a yummy chicken marsala with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus.  I love having a partner in the kitchen! 🙂  And then we were off, heading back to Denver.  Our flight didn’t leave for a few more days still, but Michael had a surprise planned the next day, so we had to get back a little earlier.  On our way out of town we swung by Fish Creek Falls for a little while, a popular local attraction.  We got into town in Denver just in time for their monthly “Friday night art walk,” so we went out and casually checked it out.  The art walk is just an opportunity for local artists to exhibit their work and meet some new people.  I enjoyed seeing the artwork, we met some interesting new people…but the highlight for me was definitely the grown-up coloring book that one of the artists had out!  I liked it so much that Michael bought me my own when we got back to Atlanta :).

Saturday was it – the day of Michael’s big surprise!  It turned out to be a scavenger hunt, similar to what we’ve done in the past.  But the twist here was that there was a plot and props and real actors that you interacted with as you progressed through the hunt.  It was set around a famous robbery of the Denver mint that happened in the 1920’s – we were supposed to help one of the thieves recover their share of the loot, since they had to lay low and avoid the cops.  It was, admittedly, slightly cheesy, but I enjoyed the interaction with the actors and the code words and phrases that they made us give before they’d give us our next clue.  Michael’s very good at picking surprises that I will like.

We had another treat in store for us that evening.  Shiloh, a friend of mine that I met at Rachel’s wedding in Wyoming 3 years ago, lives about 45 minutes north of Denver, so he drove down and met us in town for dinner.  It was good to catch up with him, and I always enjoy introducing my friends to Michael.

The next day we went to a church that we had found online, Faith Mountain church.  They were very friendly and the message was very challenging.  I’m glad we went.  We didn’t do much the rest of the day, though…and then, just like that, we were on our way back home!  Back to the real world of full-time jobs and house cleaning and settling in from the wedding.  Considering the whirlwind our lives have been over the past year, a break with nothing to do was just what we needed, even if it only lasted 1 week! 🙂

Wedding love

Just over 3 weeks ago, I married my best friend.  My wedding weekend was the closest thing to perfect I could have asked for.  Despite rain the entire week before and after, including the night of the rehearsal, our wedding day stayed cloudy and cool all day long – perfect for pictures, not melting in the Georgia heat, and minimizing the mosquitoes.  It was, in fact, the only day without rain within a span of nearly 3 solid weeks.  Please remind me of that if I ever say God doesn’t answer prayer.

My wedding really was exactly what I had hoped for.  It went smoothly, with to my knowledge zero hiccups.  Everyone looked amazing, the decorations were beautiful, we were surrounded by people we love, we honored God, and it was a great party.  But that would have never been possible without the incredible amount of love and support we received from so many, many people.  The weekend and day of, of course, but also weeks and months prior.  From the beginning of our engagement, we’ve had people reach out to us and plan engagement parties, bridal showers, help us with logistics and details…much more than I could have ever hoped or dreamed of.  Michael’s parents hosted a lovely rehearsal dinner – with almost no input from me and Michael, which was definitely a blessing!  One less detail for us to worry about :).  We had people volunteer to make the wedding cake, run the sound equipment, do my hair and makeup, create a video recording of the ceremony.  We had friends meet together for weeks in advance so they could lead us in worship as our first act as a married couple.  Our minister and his wife met with and mentored us on several occasions.  My dad made us an exquisite “unity coffee table” – two separate slabs of wood representing me and Michael, joined together only by the symbolic wooden bonds of faith, hope and love.  It’s so beautiful.  I love it, even more so for the time and care that so obviously went into it.

Married life has not been a bed of roses.  I knew it would be hard, but the challenges we’ve faced so far have been unexpected, and thus caught us somewhat by surprise.  But I hope that I never forget how supported and loved I felt, how present God was in all of the details, how incredible my friends and family were (and are).  I honestly don’t have a lot more memories from my wedding, as the whole thing passed by in a bit of a blur.  However, a picture is worth 1,000 words, and I do have plenty of pictures to show you!  Enjoy the 2 albums below, from the rehearsal / rehearsal dinner and wedding day.  If you’re friends with me on Facebook, the wedding day pictures are the same ones posted there.  There is also a video of the ceremony at the bottom – it’s about 40 minutes long, if you’d like to watch it.


The countdown begins

Frenzied.  That’s the best way to describe the 3 or so weeks leading up to my wedding.  Not really in a bad way…there was simply tons going on, and although I enjoyed most all of it, I also found keeping up with it quite exhausting.  I definitely can’t complain of being bored, though! 🙂

I got to spend most of those 3 weeks with my good friend Caro.  You may remember her from my Peruvian exploits last year – she was a fabulous travel companion then and has become a very dear friend since.  Anyway, she was in my bridal party, but wanted to come for more than just a weekend – gotta get your money’s worth out of a plane ticket from France!  Our first stop was somewhere near and dear to both of us – Berry College.  That’s where we met, and it utterly stole both of our hearts, so it was only natural that we would spend a few days back there.  Once there, we did very little together – we had different friends to catch up with and different priorities for our visit.  Caro flitted around all over town catching up with people; I spent most of the 3 days we were there to myself, resting and relaxing and preparing myself mentally for the next few weeks.  I did go to my old church for the Sunday service, and managed to have dinner with some dear old friends one night, which was really lovely.  But other than that, I simply basked in the beauty and peace of my alma mater.  It was a very much-needed mini retreat for me.

From Berry, we drove further north to Tennessee.  For as long as I’ve known her, Caro’s been obsessed with country music, and has always wanted to visit the heart of country music – Nashville.  So we drove up there and spent a few days exploring the world of country music – taking a tour at the Grand Ole Opry, walking down the historic Broadway Street, going country dancing at the famous Wildhorse Saloon, and watching a show at the Bluebird Cafe, a place for up-and-coming musicians that was made famous by the hit TV show “Nashville” (of which Caro is a huge fan).  Reserved tickets at the Bluebird cafe were sold out, so we got there 2 hours before the doors opened in order to get one of the 20 or so additional open seats.  The show was very good, but even if it wasn’t, just seeing her excitement made the trip worth it for me! 🙂

As the days in Nashville passed, however, Caro’s excitement level grew, while mine dissipated.  The nerves and to-do list of my upcoming wedding – at this point just a week away – were starting to get to me, and I was turning into a quite distracted and not very good travel companion.  It had been fun, but I knew that I needed to get home.  She, on the other hand, wanted to stay a day later than originally planned so she could go to a show at the Opry and see more of the city  So, I let her have my car, and I took a bus from Nashville back to Atlanta.  It worked out well – Caro was able to do more in Nashville, and I was able to surprise Michael at work and have dinner with him that evening.  Plus I got to have a few days to myself before the wedding week craziness ensued, the value of which cannot be overstated.

Speaking of wedding week craziness…while up until this point, I was only hosting Caro on and off while she was in town, starting the weekend before my wedding my house turned into a regular hotel.  It started with my dad, sister, and brother Josh coming up on Saturday.  They wanted to have a little time with me to themselves, since they knew they wouldn’t get that the following weekend.  We were able to go to a little community arts and crafts festival together, which was nice.  We all had a lot of fun, and I really appreciated them making the effort to come up and actually spend some quality time with me.

The next day, dad and Josh went home, but Hope stayed with me.  We got to spend a few days together, and she was a lot of help wrapping up last-minute details and keeping me company.  I enjoyed that time with her immensely.  By the time the bulk of the guests started arriving, I had very little in the way of wedding details to still take care of.  That was wonderful, because it allowed me to focus on spending time with the out-of-towners that I hadn’t seen in a while.  I decided a long time ago that that was what I wanted my focus to be during my wedding – not obsessing over all of the little details that no one was going to remember, but spending time with and focusing on people that I love and how much they mean to me.  I went to the airport 3 times in 3 days – to pick up my grandfather, and also my dear friends Sarah and Rachel.  It wasn’t a lot of time we spent together, but it was something, and I treasure the one-on-one moments I had with them.  I also got to have breakfast with my Aunt Cathi the Saturday before the wedding, which was a REAL treat!  She lives in Arizona and we rarely see each other, and I’m not sure we’ve actually ever had one-on-one time like that before.  It was lovely to take a step back and just be there in the moment with her for a few hours.

Of course, in talking about the last few days before my wedding I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful bachelorette party that my mom threw for me.  Most brides would hesitate at the idea of even letting their mom come to their bachelorette party, let alone having her plan it.  But it was an easy decision for me.  My mom is undoubtedly my best friend, and although she drives me crazy sometimes, I never doubt that’s she’s my biggest fan and always in my corner.  I found out later that she was really nervous about planning it, worrying that I wouldn’t like it, but I think it was superb.  It had a perfect mix of tasty food, fun (and somewhat embarrassing!) games, pretty decorations, great company, and godly wisdom and encouragement.  My favorite part was when all of the attendees surrounded me and prayed for me.  It was a good reminder that wedding preparations may be fun, they may be stressful, but really at the end of the day what matters is marriage preparations, and learning how to daily give up your life to serve God and your spouse.  I’ve sure got a long way to go learning that!

It is often said that the bachelorette party and last few weeks before the wedding are a person’s last hurrah.  In some ways, I suppose that’s been true for me, as well.  I got to travel some with just me and a girlfriend, something I probably won’t do very often now that I’m married.  I really enjoyed being able to celebrate my last few days of singleness with dear friends and family.  But I don’t feel like this is the end of the story.  The days until the wedding have been steadily marching down, true…but I hope and pray and truly believe that this isn’t the end of my adventures, but rather the beginning.  The beginning of many adventures that I don’t have to experience alone, but rather I get to share them with my best friend.  Now if only my poor nerves would go along with that and calm down! 🙂

The end of one chapter, the beginning of a new one

I alluded to it in my last entry, but my time at Brightlink has drawn to a close.  At the end of last month, I left Brightlink for (hopefully) vastly different things in my future.  I am still weighing my options on what exactly I want to pursue next, although I do know that I’m going to take a few weeks off to get ready for the wedding.  But in the meantime, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on the good things that Brightlink has done for me over the past year.  There have been stressful times, of course, and I think that I am making the right decision in leaving.  However, I want to remember the good things, of which there are many.

Brightlink has provided a flexible work schedule and secure income that has allowed me to do a lot of things I wouldn’t have be able to do otherwise.  Most notably, working at Brightlink has allowed me to pay off the remainder of my student loans (which Michael and I celebrated by having dinner at the SunDial restaurant, a famous revolving restaurant on top of a hotel in downtown Atlanta that gives you a complete 360 degree view of the city every hour or so).  We will be starting off our marriage with 4 college degrees between the two of us and not a cent of debt to pay off, which feels AMAZING!

One of Brightlink’s main tenants was the importance of family and encouraging work / life balance, which they lived as well as lauded.  A month or two after Michael and I got engaged, Brightlink threw a “Spring Fling” party for the whole company + families.  They also happened to surprise us with a lovely cake celebrating our engagement.  It was nice to be reminded that the people we work with care about us not just for the work we do, but for who we are.

This flexible work schedule and focus on family also allowed Michael and I to get our engagement photos taken in the middle of the day at Oakland Cemetery, one of our favorite places in all of Atlanta.  It’s where he took me on one of our favorite dates, it’s where we participated in our first 5k together, and it’s where part of his scavenger-hunt proposal took me.  Needless to say, it’s a special place for us, and now it’s even more special because we can say we took our engagement photos there (hooray for being unique AND sentimental at the same time! :]).  I’ve included a few of our favorite shots below:

Anyway, there is not really a point to this post, and I know that I’m rambling and wandering somewhat.  But I mainly just wanted to remind myself of the good things that God has given me over the past year.  For all of my tears shed at Brightlink, all of my frustrations and the times I wanted to give up, I still think it was a good place and was good for me.  I learned so many skills, learned so much about myself and Michael, and got to work with some really amazing people while doing it.  This is why I love writing and recording things – because it’s so easy to forget, so easy to fixate on either all of the good or all of the bad, and forget about the other side of the coin.  Writing keeps me honest, helps me remember that there is always more to the story.  And recording memories like these reminds me that God’s always got my back, regardless of what it feels like in the moment.

Hooray for getting married in 2 weeks!! 😀

San Francisco

The amount of traveling that I am doing with Michael this year has me thoroughly spoiled.  I keep trying to remind myself that this is not a normal year, that I shouldn’t expect this every year, but I’m not sure it’s actually sinking in very well :).

Anyway, 2 weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend a week in San Francisco with Michael.  He was in between jobs (had 5 weeks vacation between ending at Brightlink and starting at his new company, SalesForce).  I, however, was still working, but I got the go ahead from my boss to work remotely that week, so I still got to go and meet his friends and see the city with him.  Although I did still have work to do, I worked pretty far ahead the weekend before I left, so I was able to mostly relax and enjoy my time there.

Michael had spent the week prior camping in Oregon, so we ended up flying to San Francisco separately on Sunday night, since he was coming straight from Oregon and I was coming from Atlanta.  I wanted to get as much work done early in the week as possible so I didn’t have to worry about it, so Monday was a work day pretty much all day, although we did get to go out to a Japanese ramen place in the evening with some of his friends, Nathan and Elyse W.  The next day I worked in the morning, but then in the afternoon we found a Stray Boots tour of the wharf area.  You may remember my post about the Stray Boots tour I did in Portland when I went to visit Rachel about a year and a half ago (The Amazing Race: Oregon Edition).  Well, I liked it so much that I decided to do it again in the Golden City.

So we headed over to Fisherman’s wharf, and spent the afternoon exploring the rich history and tradition that that area of town has to offer.  We stopped by the Boudin Bakery (where they make fantastic animals out of bread dough), the famous Ghirardelli Square, art galleries (my favorite one was the one with prints by Dr. Seuss!), the cable cars (which are the only method of public transportation to also be a protected national monument), the Hyde street pier (where we got to explore some old boats docked at the wharf), a nautical museum, and the Musee Mecanique (a famous museum full of antique video games) – just to name a few.  That was an awesome blast from the past!  Although admittedly the only game that I’d actually played before was pinball, it was fun to see the first versions of the subculture that is a part of so many peoples’ lives nowadays.  There are a bit more details of the tour in the captions of the pictures below, if you want to read them.

The next day, Wednesday, was pretty chill – I worked in the morning, and then we went to the Golden Gate park, a large park in the middle of the city that has a rather odd collection of items in it.  A windmill, fly-fishing ponds, and a bison are some of the eclectic artifacts that come to mind.  After spending the afternoon relaxing in the park and seeing the beauty and variety that it had to offer, we got ourselves cleaned up and went to find a dance club.  I can now say that I’ve danced West Coast Swing on the actual west coast.  Quite an achievement, if I do say so myself :).  I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to do it!  Bonus points for deciding to join the Jack and Jill dance contest that they had going on that night and placing second! 😀

The next day was probably the highlight of the week.  Michael and I took a day trip out to Alcatraz, one of the most infamous and feared prisons in the world.  We had to take a ferry to get there, but parking around the ferry landing is really expensive, so we decided to figure out San Francisco’s public transportation system and bus it over there.  We had a bit of an adventure getting there – google maps gave us a pretty direct route to take, but didn’t tell us that we would have to take a different transit system, so we ended up taking 3 buses instead of 2 and walking a whole lot more than we were expecting to.  It was fun, though – I like figuring out new transit systems.

Once we got to Alcatraz, there was a self-guided audio tour that we took to help us find our way around the complex.  It was very interesting.  I particularly enjoyed the stories of bravery and daring, cruelty and caring that we were told about the former prisoners and guards alike.  After Alcatraz, we went on a tram tour of Angel Island, Alcatraz’ bigger but lesser-known cousin.  It was used as a barracks and detainment center for immigrants, and now is a state park.  We didn’t have very long to stay there, but I enjoyed it.  It’s definitely a place that I would go back to on a day trip if I lived in the area.

Aside from the fun and “touristy” things we did – we also got to go on a sailboat ride around the bay on Saturday, our last day – the point of the trip really was to see / meet his friends on the west coast.  We had dinner with Jon and Julie K. and their 2 little munchkins after the Stray Boots tour, went to a housewarming party for Matt and Anna L. that was fortuitously scheduled while we were in town, saw Nathan and Elise again on Friday night (we cooked dinner together for them), and went out to dinner with Matt and Anna on Saturday.  It was lovely.  The whole reason I wanted to go was to meet and start to feel like I was a part of this portion of Michael’s life.  And I feel like we succeeded in that.  One of the best things about my job, one of the things that I am most grateful for, is how flexible it is, how willing my boss has been to find creative ways to let me run free (as free as I can, at least, in a regular job).  That’s something I’m definitely going to miss!

 

The last of the tales from Down Under

Vee’s amazing hospitality did not end when we left her at the beginning of our time in New Zealand.  We actually ending up being able to bookend our New Zealand time with her.  While we were together in Auckland the first time, she had asked us what our lodging plans were for when we returned to Auckland to leave the country.  We told her that we were planning on staying in a hotel near the airport – that seemed the most sensible option, since we had a really early flight the next morning.  She encouraged us to cancel our hotel reservation and stay with her again.  We were happy to oblige.

So, when we arrived back in Auckland, she once again picked us up from the rental car place and took us to her house.  We had the house to ourselves for a few hours while she went to work, but after she came back we went out together and got some dinner.  I’m not really sure what made her do this, but instead of suggesting a “normal” restaurant she recommended an Asian street food market in the middle of a covered parking deck.  Whatever her rationale was behind that suggestion, I’m really glad for it.

The market was packed with typical Asian food from all over southeast Asia – and also, of course lots of southeast Asians, as well.  I’m not quite sure what it was, but something about the combination of an Asian street market in the middle of a very western parking deck made me feel both at home and as if I were back in Korea at the same time.  It was definitely an odd combination, but lots of fun.

We had a very early flight the next day, so we didn’t stay out too late.  Michael and I were once again bowled over by Vee’s hospitality – her last gesture was to take us to the airport at 4:30 in the morning.  That almost wasn’t early enough – the check-in line was absolutely crawling, and we almost certainly would have missed our flight if one of the agents hadn’t let us skip ahead of the rest of the line to check in.  But we made it, none the worse for wear except for a little less sleep than we would have liked, and just like that, we were on our way back to the States.

The Great Barrier Reef of Australia is one of the most breathtaking things I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  Similarly, the people and countryside of New Zealand are incredible.  I really did have a wonderful time.  But, I couldn’t help but think on more than one occasion as we drove ourselves around in our little rental car, that this was too….too easy.  Boring, even.  As Michael put it, I guess there just wasn’t enough adventure for me – no having to figure out bus schedules or navigating in a foreign language or guessing on which street food is the safest because I don’t know what any of it is.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful vacation.  But I’m glad I didn’t stay longer than I did.  One thing’s for sure, though….if I want to create a hospitable home for strangers and friends alike to come into and feel welcome (which I do), Vee has definitely given me a great role model to emulate! 🙂  I was so grateful for the impression she gave me of her country, an impression that will stay with me far longer than the bounds of my vacation dates.  That’s the kind of impression I want to leave with everyone who comes into my home.  I’ve got a long way to go!

Coromandel

We considered hanging out in Rotorua after our trip to Te Puia – there was plenty to do there (although it’s all fairly expensive), and since we didn’t plan anything in advance we were pretty flexible.  In the end, though, we decided to move on to the Coromandel Peninsula, and I’m so glad that we did!  The Coromandel Peninsula is one of the most famous places in New Zealand, and since this was the off season we got to enjoy it in relative peace and serenity.  Plus, this leg of the trip we actually had lovely weather, instead of having to constantly run away from the rain like we were doing for most of the rest of our time in New Zealand, so we had the luxury of taking our time and enjoying the beautiful countryside and little towns and attractions along the way.  We also stayed in a truly wonderful AirBnB place…it’s billed in the description as a “French-inspired cottage,” and it was really a wonderful way to end our travels in New Zealand.

Our first main stop in the Coromandel Peninsula was the hot water beach, which has been rated one of the best beaches in the world – although I suspect that that’s more for its uniqueness than its beauty.  Hot water beach is famous for its underground hot springs that can filter up through the sand at low tide.  Visitors from all over the world bring shovels and try to time their digging so that they’ve built up their little pool right around the time that low tide is reached, so that they can sit and enjoy their very own homemade sauna.  The pictures in the tourist brochure definitely promise big things – dozens of symmetrically shaped pools scattered all around this one little place on the beach, with steam drifting up from the hot water and people relaxedly sitting in the water enjoying the warmth.

The reality for us was a bit different.  We were in New Zealand at the beginning of winter, so it was definitely very chilly – Michael made several comments about the ludicracy of going to the beach when there was frost on the windshield, lol.  Once we got to the beach, it was actually quite hard to find places that had hot water close enough to the surface that it could be reached with a shovel, so everyone who was there ended up collaborating and trying to work together to build one big pool in the single place where we could find hot water.  Except that area was too close to the incoming tide, and kept getting washed away…it didn’t help that we really weren’t very good at collaborating, either :).  In the end, after about 2 hours of digging, we had successfully built several pools, and we had been able to feel the hot water under the sand, but we were never quite able to do both and get the hot water into a pool.  So, rather than us all relaxing in our own saunas like the brochures had promised, we all ended up huddling together in the sand, with our poor abandoned pools lying neglected in the background.  Apparently even at low tide, the tide was too high to really get the desired effect.  But it was still fun – I got to say I’ve been to one of the best beaches in the world, and got an upper body workout on top of that!

That afternoon, we decided to go exploring.  We ended up finding a path up to the top of a place called Shakespeare Cliff.  It was a lovely walk, but at the top was a very unexpected and pleasant surprise.  Rather than a simple lookout landing, we found a huge expanse of beautifully manicured lawns and gardens, with fearless birds flitting in and out of the shrubbery, and a breathtaking view that completely surrounded us.  We spent a whole lot longer there than we meant to, but it was time well spent.  I have become such a fan of traveling with no plans!  There is so much that you miss out on when you are rushing to hit the next tourist destination on the schedule.

The next day we went to see the other main attraction in the Coromandel Peninsula, Cathedral Cove, which is part of the larger Mercury Bay area.  Like the hot water beach, this is only accessible during low tide and by foot, but unlike the hot water beach, it took about 45 minutes of hilly walking to get there, as opposed to 10 minutes on a flat beach for the hot water beach.  But luckily, low tide was about an hour later the second morning, so we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn ;).  Even if we had had to do that, it would have been worth it.  A popular site for kayaking, snorkeling, and other water activities, the cave and beach is also used as the tunnel through which the Pevensie children first re-enter Narnia in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.  And it’s absolutely breathtaking.  I could have very happily spent the whole day there.

There were several other little side trips along the way to the cove, such as Stingray bay and Gemstone cove (I just love the names of the places in this area!).  We spent at least a little time in all of them, but the majority of the time was spent in Cathedral cove.  And then, just like that, our trip down under was drawing to a close, and we had to begin making our way back to Auckland to return to the states.

Te Puia – a little bit of everything

We left Hobbiton and arrived in Rotorua for a little bit of everything – a cultural Maori performance, flax weaving, wood carving, a geyser, a redwood forest, and more (and when I say more, I really do mean a little bit more, not in the infomercial sort of more, where they tell you there’s more but there really isn’t :]).

Our first stop was at Te Puia, where a full day of experiencing Maori culture and activities awaited us.  We started out watching what was billed as a “traditional Maori cultural celebration.”  It was, I must admit, interesting but a bit overdone.  HOWEVER, Michael ended up being one of the stars of the show, which definitely upped the enjoyment level for me :).  At the beginning of the show a woman came out dressed in traditional Maori costume, and asked for a male volunteer.  I teasingly elbowed Michael, encouraging him to volunteer, but didn’t expect him to actually do so.  To my surprise, he did!  So he ended up playing the role of “chief” in a re-creation of a Maori peace ceremony between another tribe.  I got more than I bargained for when the Maori woman asked for his family members (that would be me) to come out and follow right behind as we walked into the longhouse.  So it was Michael with his Maori guide, then me, then everyone else who had come to watch the performance, as we walked towards men standing outside of the longhouse in fur loinclothes and holding spears.

Michael was taught and performed the Maori peace signs, which include shaking hands and rubbing noses with the leading members of the opposite tribe.  Once inside, we watched the Maori tribe juggling and musical performances, and then they decided to include the audience.  First they brought the ladies up and taught them how to do a sort of ball-twirling thing that ended up being much harder than it looked.  They followed that up by bringing the men up to the stage and teaching them how to intimidate their opponents with a Maori warrior pose, which includes opening your eyes as wide as they will go and sticking your tongue out.  I’m sure in the Maori culture it must be terrifying, but Michael and I found it far more amusing than anything else.

The cultural performance was followed by a tour around the recreated traditional Maori village, complete with signs explaining how the Maori people used to do things.  At one point in the tour, I stopped dead in my tracks, totally distracted by a place name on a nearby sign that was 37 letters long – it said Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao, which means “the war dance of the war parties of Wahiao.”  Apparently the Maori language is known for its exceptionally long place names.  In fact, they hold the Guinness world record for the longest place name in the world, Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, an 85 letter word which means “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one”.

After getting over the enormity of Maori nouns, we continued on our tour to see traditional weavers and woodcutters and work.  We were even taught how to weave our own little flowers out of flax leaves!  The tour around the village was then followed by a visit to Pohutu, the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere.  There were even naturally heated seats, where the boiling subterranean waters came so close to the surface that they warmed the rocks above them.  It was really very beautiful and ethereal, but honestly it paled somewhat after seeing other places in the world like Yellowstone National Park.

For me, the highlight of this part of the tour actually after we left the geyser and went to lunch.  Part of our tour was a “steambox lunch,” which is exactly what it sounds like – our lunch was cooked in a wooden box that was placed in vent of the geyser itself and heated by the steam coming out from the mountain.  At the beginning of the tour, we had put raw meat and vegetables into a little aluminum container, and then the chef had bundled our lunches off to put them in the mouth of a steam vent of the geyser.  A few hours later, cooked by steam alone and only seasoned by the sulfur in the steam, our lunches were ready.  And must I say, they were delicious!  I was quite skeptical of the validity of using sulfur as a seasoning, but it really was very tasty.  Plus we got to actually watch the chef pull our meals out of the steam vent, so that was an added little bonus there :).

We finished up at Te Puia a little after lunch, and decided to go on a whirlwind tour of the rest of Rotorua before we left the next day.  Our handy dandy little guidebook told us that there was a redwood forest only a few minutes away from where we were staying, so we decided to go check that out first.  It was really incredible!  I never would have thought to find such enormous trees in the middle of New Zealand.  The trees stretched up and up and up, and sound came in muted patches from the soft carpet of leaves underfoot.  The light was dark and splotchy, clogged up from above by the thick overhead canopy.  It was truly an ethereal experience.

After the redwood forest, we had just enough time to quickly swing by the Blue Lake, one of the clearest lakes in New Zealand, and the buried village, which is exactly what it sounds like – a village that is now nothing more than rooftops sticking out of the ground.  And then darkness came, and we enjoyed a night of playing cards in front of a very effective space heater that was truly glorious after the frigid temperatures in Otorohanga.  Next stop, the Coromandel Peninsula!