Sunday, October 26, 2014

a road trip.

I've also ventured a little farther than my towering mountains to find respite from my less-than-ideal situation. A few weeks ago a friend and I drove two hours north to Promontory, Utah where we learned about the long ago meeting of the railroad.

In 1869 the nation was recovering from the effects of the Civil War, seeking to find ways to build the economy, bolster patriotism and take advantage of the scientific and mechanical advances being made like never before.  One side effect of all of this was a frenzy of railroad building on both coasts and an effort to literally unite the still-damaged country. The Union Pacific Railroad was coming from the east while the Central Pacific was building from the west.  They'd been getting money based on the amount of track laid and weren't being very judicious about it when President Johnson and others in Washington stepped in and gave them a completion deadline. The agreed upon point was Promontory Summit near the Great Salt Lake and on May 10 engines from both sides met and a symbolic Golden Spike was driven completing the world's first transcontinental railroad.

There's a visitor's center there now (it's a designated National Historic Site) but not much else. However, they bring out full-sized replicas of the trains (the originals were scrapped for parts around WWII) and have knowledgeable staff that share stories about the historic day.  There's also a gift shop, small museum, and several informational movies that run throughout the day. It was a surprisingly delightful place to visit.  Highly recommended, especially for train or history enthusiasts.

yes, my photo is touched up a bit (ala Instagram) but the colors were nearly that vivid in real life-the trains were truly something to see!
And then nearby at the Great Salt Lake is a famous art installation, Spiral Jetty.  Created by Robert Smithson in 1970 it's made out of basalt rocks from the nearby hills and is over 1500 feet long (the pictures don't do it justice.) Depending on the time of year it can be covered by the lake but we've had such low rainfall the past few years that the water was barely visible from the viewpoint/parking lot.  We walked down to the jetty itself and beyond where the salt from the lake had dried in such a way that it seemed as if we were walking on ice or marble (I imagine that it's similar to the famous Salt Flats where they do all the land speed testing, but I've never been there.) We poked around in puddles marveling at the designs and variations of the crystals, the different colors and shapes, the strangeness that makes up this world we call home.

the two dark dots you can almost see just below the mountains, that's about where the water line is-everything else you see in the foreground is all dry/salt

It was definitely worth the drive and the half day or so we spent exploring. Utah, a pretty great state indeed!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

a day among the leaves.

My goodness, where does the time go? You'd think being unemployed I would have all the time in the world to get stuff done, stay on top of things. But I've found that it's quite the opposite. Not having a schedule keeps me flitting from one thing to another, unfocused, often unmotivated and leaving a lot unfinished. Couple that with the fact that I'm still living out of boxes and have no space of my own and I'm going slightly mad.

So, as a remedy I find all sorts of ways to distract myself and run away! Probably not the best coping mechanism but sometimes you've got to work with what you've got.

Regardless, I've spent the last couple of weeks venturing out of the basement and enjoying the fabulous fall weather.

Falls on the east coast were spectacular with all the trees, the variety of colors and the thick carpets and canopies of leaves everywhere. But I always missed the gold shimmer of the aspen trees. Their small, nearly round leaves rattling like coins in the wind.

A few weeks later (this morning, in fact) the colors and leaves are mostly gone, leaving behind a lonesome, ghostly scene appropriate for the spooky celebrations to come. Here we found the remnants of an old abandoned mill standing sentinel beside the cascading water in Little Cottonwood Canyon. 

Who needs a job when there are mountains to be climbed and fall days to enjoy?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

a good book

Daring Greatly
Author: Brene Brown
Age Range: Adult
Published: 2012
Genre: Self-help/psychology
Score: *****
Rating: PG

I’ve done a lot of reading lately and have a slew of book reviews and mentions I’m hoping to post in the next little while but I wanted to start with this one that I read a few months ago as part of an online book club. It literally changed my life. I have been dealing with many other things, as I’ve mentioned, and have not been in a place to let what I read affect my actions yet but I’ve thought about it and re-read it and foisted it on others and am finally getting to the place I need to be to begin to make some changes. 

Brene Brown is a social worker, research professor and more whose recent research has focused on guilt and shame. There’s a lot in here but it basically boils down to the idea that much of our society runs on perpetuating feelings of guilt and shame. Sometimes we do it to ourselves, through self-talk, setting unrealistic goals or trying to live up to others’ ideals. Sometimes it comes from outside sources like the media, our families, co-workers, and strangers and can including more obvious situations like bullying and teasing, or simply exasperated exclamations from our parents like “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” Anything that plants the seed that tells us that we aren’t enough (old enough, skinny enough, smart enough, rich enough, _____ enough) creates feelings of guilt and/or shame which eat away at our vulnerability.

Brown posits that vulnerability shouldn’t be equated with weakness, as it so often is. Rather it is “the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable.” (33) When our vulnerability is attacked we close ourselves off to opportunities to love and create and feel joy.

She shows us how to recognize our own guilt or shame triggers and learn to combat them, how to allow ourselves to be more vulnerable and as a result, experience what she calls Wholehearted Living. In a previous book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she introduces Wholeheartedness and defines ten guideposts for wholehearted living. (There are brief mentions of them in DG and the concepts overlap but they’re given the spotlight in this first, smaller volume. It’s also a fantastic read.) They cover ideas like letting go of what people think and perfectionism, learning to trust faith and intuition, cultivating gratitude and joy, and learning to make room for laughter, song, and dance. They’re all relatively simple in scope but powerful in application (and therefore a little more difficult than it all seems at first glance.)

I was amazed at how truthful everything she said seemed. Generally when I read a self-help type book there are parts I agree with and parts I don’t, things that are applicable and things that don’t come anywhere near my own experiences. Of course, not every example she used mirrored my own life but the principles all struck me to the core. I especially appreciated the sections where she talked about how we could use the ideas of vulnerability in our roles as co-workers, leaders, teachers, parents, basically in any relationship. It wasn’t just about transforming our own lives (which is the first step) but using the tools and teachings to touch the lives of the people we come in contact with on a daily basis. Sometimes ‘self-help’ seems so self-centered, no matter how true or helpful it may be. For me, it’s nice to have an external excuse for improvement, not just an internal one. The motivation to make the changes and the likelihood that it will stick improves greatly when it’s not just about me.

If you’re looking for a fascinating psychological insight, something to shake up your perceptions a bit, and maybe improve your life in the process, give this book a look. You won’t be disappointed.

Friday, October 3, 2014

having a plan.

I mentioned the diet goal a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been culling and compiling from a million pinterest pins and things I’ve done in the past in an effort to find something workable that will hopefully not just be something to help me lose a bit of weight and get back on track but be sustainable over an extended period of time (life time habits maybe). Here’s what I’ve got as my guidelines:
  • 45 min exercise daily (15 min of strength training and alternating 30 min aerobics one day and 30 min yoga the next, resting on Sunday)
  • 75+ oz water and/or herbal tea daily (a glass on rising, before each meal and as often as I need otherwise to reach the total ounces), no sodas, very limited juices
  • alternate high protein/high carb every other day-I’ve studied various programs that talk about the way our bodies store different kinds of calories and need varied foods for ultimate nutrition. Basically each way of eating has its benefits. This program acknowledges that and shows that varying your diet every other day ideally keeps your glycogen levels in check and results in longer-lasting success. (If your glycogen levels are too full, as in a high-carb diet, your body converts the excess to fat. In a low-carb diet your body resorts to ketosis, fat-burning mode, ideal for short-term but if not re-balanced leads to fatigue and slowed metabolism. Besides the risks that too much protein often means a lack of necessary nutrients and naturally higher caloric intake.)
  • Cut out processed, refined, and convenience foods. ‘High carb’ doesn’t mean I get to eat donuts ;) The goal is for natural, whole foods. My carbs will be whole grains, starchy veggies and beans, sweet fruits (foods with a naturally higher glycemic index.) Low carb days will focus on eggs, lean meats, non-starchy veggies, nuts.
  • And because I’ve done a million cleanses and de-tox diets and allergy elimination diets and know what my will power can and can’t handle (plus, I’m not ready to give up baking now that I have access to a kitchen again, especially with all the great fall options on the way!) I’m allowing myself one splurge meal and one dessert each week. 
Hopefully this gives me enough variety and freedom that I can keep it up long-term and not feel as if I’m being deprived of anything. We’ll see if I need to be stricter in order to lose. I’ve fluctuated 5-10 pounds since high school but never really tried to lose weight before so this is all new territory and I know that age is going to play a part in all of this. My metabolism (among other things) just isn’t what it used to be!

The goal is to be down 20 pounds, lose several inches in various places, sleep better and have a bit more energy.  But honestly the biggest one is to be able to fit back into my pants since I’m too broke to buy new ones! I only have 2 or 3 pairs that I can squeeze into anymore and now that the weather is cooling shorts and yoga pants are out. ;) So, we’ll start with the above and see what happens. I’m planning to do a weekly check in and just tell you vaguely how I’ve done and hopefully how many pounds I’m down. I won’t subject you to my food diaries and all the particulars. But if I don’t make some decent progress I’ll probably solicit advice! Any favorite tricks or programs that have brought you success? I’d love to hear about them!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

learning a new word.

noun. a lover of rain, someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days

We've had more than the usual rain this year  week and I've loved spending afternoons curled up with a cup of hot herbal tea and a good book, evenings falling asleep to the sound of rain pattering on the windows and thunder rolling in the distance, and mornings dodging raindrops and puddles on my walks.  There's something therapeutic about the sounds and the smells and the idea that sometimes the world needs a good shower and a fresh start too.

Friday, September 19, 2014

accomplishing something.

Thanks for all the kind words about the last couple of posts. It was an added boost I needed to get me motivated. You guys are the best!

In between submitting countless applications and rehashing my resume over and over and over I try to take some breathers, do something that could possibly be perceived as fun. I haven’t done a very good job (hence the new goals) but over the last few weeks I’ve started getting things in gear and here’s what I have to show for it:

A batch of beautiful homemade pickles. I LOVE pickles and I’ve always wanted to try making my own. When I came home with a sack full of cucumbers after a Labor Day visit I figured this was the perfect chance to experiment. I’ve helped my mom can various things throughout the years and made a batch of freezer jam but I’ve never done anything all by my little old lonesome before. I have to say, they turned out gorgeous! And the popping sound as each bottle sealed after processing was one of the happiest sounds I’ve ever heard. I haven’t broken into any of them for a taste yet but even if they’re disgusting, I’m pretty darn proud of myself! 

A practically perfect Saturday morning. A friend and I met at a once-a-week-only food truck for some ah-maz-ing breakfast followed by a trip up the canyon for the first glimpses of fall. Saturday's Waffle is exactly what the name implies; waffles on Saturday! The truck shows up in the parking lot of a grocery store every Saturday morning. They’re there for breakfast and lunch and have a range of toppings for their Belgian-style waffles, everything from local yogurt and granola; fresh basil, tomato, mozzarella; sausage and gravy; and my own choice for the day, peach cobbler. The fresh, local peaches were topped with candied nuts, caramel-ly foster sauce and coconut whipped cream. Yum! Then, sufficiently fed, we drove up the canyon and took a couple of short trails capped by a walk around Silver Lake at the top of Big Cottonwood where the air was crisp, the sun was warm, and the trees were beginning to change. Hints of scarlet, gold, and orange flamed against the emerald, making me excited for the weeks to come! (My 'hiking twice a month' goal is quickly becoming a weekly thing!)

There was also a trip to the Oregon state fair where I indulged in a deep-fried bacon-wrapped Reese's peanut butter cup. (Yep, it was as delicious and heart-attack-inducing as it sounds!) An excursion a little ways north for an open house visit of the newly remodeled Ogden Temple. (More information about temples and their purpose can be found here.) And the first couple sessions of my harmonica lessons.  (I can just about play "Oh, Susannah"!  Maybe when I get really good I'll post a video :)

How have you spent your time lately?  Outdoors enjoying the beginnings of fall? Indoors getting back into the habits associated with a new school year? 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

a deep thought.

Nothing can be more life-changing than an escape from your own preconceptions.
~Roger Housden

I've been working on this a lot lately.  As I haven't been 'working' in the traditional sense there's been plenty of time for introspection and self-discovery (and of course, job hunting) which is all really, really hard work.  And I don't always like the results.  Of any of it. I have a lot of thought patterns that aren't very healthy, habits that need to be broken and skills that need to learned. But there have been many positive moments of enlightenment along the way as well.

I've been reading a lot of books about finding yourself and finding your passion and reinventing your life.  I've got a few reviews of some of my favorites in the works to share with you all but for today it's enough to tell you that a recurring theme in all of them is basically the idea of being forgiving of yourself, of being okay with who you are and where you are and accepting the fact that it's all what it's supposed to be no matter how bleak it may seem at the moment. Or even how great.  This too shall pass. All we really have is right now and it's no use fighting it. The key is to make peace with it and with ourselves.

Nothing new, I know. That's why it's showed up in pretty much everything I've read (not always in those words but in various incarnations of such.)  But, while it's something I've known and even believed for a long time it's not something I've ever really applied. I am a control freak and if things don't go according to my plan then I tend to fight against it or fall apart. I have a timeline, and goals, and images in my head of how things are supposed to be and so often I fail to take into account that other people, nature, and God are going to get in the way of all of that. And that's okay. It will all be okay.

I've had several great conversations with friends who have validated my various frustrations and commiserated with my woes and then gently reminded me of the good things in my life or shared with me stories of the miracles, lessons and unexpected blessings and pleasures that have come in their lives from detours, thwarted plans, and unfulfilled dreams. There is often something greater than we could have imagined or planned for ourselves on the other side of difficulty.

So, another of my goals for the moment is to work hard to re-imagine the preconceived possibilities I had anticipated for my life and open myself up to the opportunities, be they good or "bad", that the universe has in store for me. Have you had any similar experiences?  How do you get out of your own way when it comes setting goals, remaining 'present' in negative circumstances, and course corrections after the unexpected?

Thursday, September 11, 2014


There are a lot of obligatory 9-11 posts everywhere today, as there should be. The events of that day thirteen years ago shaped our lives and our continued existence and unfortunately, were just the beginning of so many things (though possibly not as dramatic) that continue to shape our world, many would say for worse. It's so easy to look around at all the horrible things going on around us, the hatred and anger, governments collapsing, wars raging, natural calamities so rampant on the news and fighting their ways into our homes and minds at every turn and give in to the feelings of discouragement, despair, and fear that they bring.

Since I've confessed my tendencies to fall prey to these feelings anyway, I put myself particularly on guard at moments like this and limit my time spent news watching or feeding the social media frenzy. And I find myself clinging to the stories of human goodness that inevitably arise from the ashes if we look hard enough; the people who rushed back into the burning towers to save complete strangers, those that fought to overtake the terrorists and bring down their plane in a field, the countless unsung heroes who did their jobs day in and day out under a cloud of smoke and fear. It's a testament to humanity that those things happen but unfortunate that it sometimes takes a tragedy before they do.

This morning I read a quote on a friend's facebook page (thanks, Abby!) I'd read the words many times before, they tend to resurface around this time each year as they were spoken just days before the attacks. They were prophetic then and continue to be. And in light of all I'm going through at the moment, they were words I needed to hear.

I come to you tonight with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that as we go through life that we try to "accentuate the positive." I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort. I am not asking that all criticism be silenced. Growth comes of correction. Strength comes of repentance. Wise is the man or woman who can acknowledge mistakes pointed out by others and change his or her course.

What I am suggesting is that you turn from the negativism that so permeates our modem society and look for the remarkable good among those with whom you associate, that we speak of one another's virtues more than we speak of one another's faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears. When I was a young man and was prone to speak critically my wise father would say: "Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve."

...I am not suggesting that you simply put on rose-colored glasses to make the world about you look better. I ask, rather, that you look above and beyond the negative, the cynical, the critical, the doubtful, to the positive and the affirmative.  
(Gordon B. Hinckley, CES Fireside, September 9, 2001.)  To read the full address go here

Words of wisdom, and ones that I am trying to live by more fully than I have been. 

I'm grateful for those who live the examples of goodness, particularly in trying times.  For those who remind us through word and deed what is important. And for those who stand by to lift and support those of us who falter. No matter our circumstances there is goodness around us and goodness within us. May we all be reminded of that truth and never forget.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

a new goal.

Fall, for me, is always a time of renewal. I realize that’s the opposite of what it actually is, the harbinger of winter and months of death and dormancy but the cooler air and rich colors bring a bit of vibrancy and revitalization that I love. Perhaps it hearkens back to all those years as both student and teacher, the start of a new school year, a notebook full of the blank pages of possibilities, the smell of anticipation and new clothes, ‘bouquets of newly sharpened pencils’, the works! You’ve got a clean slate, unlimited potential, so many new things to learn and discover. I love it! (plus I love the sweaters and boots and pumpkin flavored everythings, they’re like a happy bonus!)

This year especially, though I’m not a part of the onslaught of scholastic beginnings for the first time in years, I’m in great need of a personal re-beginning. And you are going to be my witnesses and maybe I can convince you to be my cheerleaders and goal auditors. In addition to stepping up my job application/hunt efforts I’ve decided on a few goals that need some focus through the rest of the calendar year (and possibly beyond.)

First up, harmonica lessons! I’m super excited about this. Maybe more than I should admit. I love taking classes and since I’m not doing the school thing myself I decided to check out the community ed offerings and when I saw beginner’s harmonica I knew I’d found a winner. I’m sure you’ll hear more about this as the weeks go by.

Next, mountains. I was so looking forward to living near them again and yet I’ve only been in them a handful of times since I’ve been home. My new goal is to go on a new hike at least twice a month while the weather holds and then bust out the snowshoes come winter. I’ve already enlisted a friend to help me with this one!

I’ve been a bit homesick lately for the DC area and all of the amazing things that are available there. Museums, concerts, road trips, history, you name it. Everything is so close and accessible. It’s not that there isn’t anything to do in Utah, you just have to look a little harder to find it. So, each month I’m going to find at least one tourist-type event to participate in or site to see.

Between some crazy travel and losing any sort of control over or access to a personal kitchen I’ve managed to gain quite a bit of weight over the past year, which hasn’t helped me feel great about myself. I’ve got a few ideas for getting back into the swing of healthy eating and exercise that I’ll be putting into action in the next week or so and I’ll let you help keep me accountable there as well! (more info when I get started.)

And finally, in an effort to step outside of myself and my own problems and worries, I’m on the lookout for a cause to champion. I love to serve and haven’t made an effort to do so recently so I’ll be participating in at least one service experience each month with the big goal of finding somewhere to give my heart. There are a lot of causes I believe in and places I’ve donated to monetarily in the past. That’s not in the unemployed budget so I have to step up and give my time and that extra commitment has made me realize that not all causes are created equal. I want to find something that truly speaks to me and makes me want to spend an entire Saturday hard at work rather than just soothing my conscience by writing a check. Does that make sense?

Re-cap: monthly service experience, monthly tourist experience, bi-weekly mountain experience, harmonica lessons, lose weight/healthy living (details to follow). Think you can keep me motivated and accountable?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

an epiphany and a new start.

I’ve tried writing this post about a million times. I had such grand plans for the last couple of months and, as so often happens in life, nothing has gone as I had hoped and anticipated. Instead of finding a fabulous job, getting my own place to live and starting on a new set of goals I’m whiling away my time in my parent’s basement and dealing with the depression, frustration and low self-worth that can come with being unemployed. It’s been a rough journey that isn’t anywhere near over.

I wanted to wait until I was in a good place with something wonderful to talk about before I wrote again but a couple of things have led me to change my mind (for better or for worse.) One: I miss this! I love writing and being a part, no matter how small, of the blogosphere. Two: I’ve had several friends ask about my return and tell me they’ve missed me (thank you!) Three: After Robin Williams’ death I read a variety of articles and posts and comments about depression and its effects on our actions as individuals and society as a whole and it made me realize a multitude of things that I wanted to address and face.

First of all, let me put forth this disclaimer: I am not suffering from clinical depression though I have been treated for it in the past. Having dealt with it I know the varying feelings and lack of feelings that can come with it. What I am currently dealing with is a serious case of frustration with moments of despondency and feelings of helplessness that are similar to (but much milder than) those I felt during my depression. I’ve always struggled with these and I’ve always felt like it was something I should be able to deal with on my own, that I would be looked down on for struggling, that I should find a way to just power through. And some days I have a little more mental power over that than others.

(Again, NOT the same as depression. You can not just power through, there is nothing wrong with needing help and life isn’t meant to be perfect. If you’re not sure if what you’re dealing with is something you should be able to handle on your own, do the brave thing and just talk to someone. Someone you trust. Sometimes a different perspective is enough to shake things up and put you back on track, but if it’s something deeper a trusted friend can help you recognize that and get you the help you need.)

There was a lot of awareness and commentary after Robin Williams’ death and I felt so empowered reading about people who acknowledged their limitations and were brave enough to step outside of the confines of the edited, superficial reality we constantly create through the media and remind us that life isn’t always picture perfect and in fact is better for it. I realized how much I wanted to emulate their bravery, if on a smaller scale. And I reminded myself that that was why I started this blog in the first place, to take charge of my own happiness. In an effort to look on the bright side, to see the beauty in everyday things, to be happy even when things don’t go as I planned I titled my blog ‘happiness is’ so that I would have a public/accountable reason to look for and be reminded of all the things that make me happy.

Avoiding writing because I didn’t feel like I had anything ‘cool’ to write about, or a less than perfect life to portray goes directly against the purpose of my blog, and well, life in general. So, I’m back. And I vow to be honest and real about life while still striving to stick with the goal of being happy. I’m just not quite sure how that will all play out. I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a second blog; one to be a little more personal and ‘real’, the other a little less so, filled with the book reviews, music, travel and fluff. I haven’t decided yet which direction I’ll take so as I continue to post for the next little while the ‘theme’ here may become a bit fuzzy. But please, bear with me!

Monday, May 26, 2014

a time to remember

The whole earth is the sepulcher of famous men. They are commemorated not only by columns and inscriptions in their own country but in foreign lands also by memorials not graven on stone but on the hearts of men.

~attributed to the Greek general, Pericles and inscribed on the facade of the Auckland War Memorial Museum

Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial
Heartfelt gratitude and respect to all who have served to make this country what it is, and all who continue to serve to keep it free. A particularly special thanks to both of my grandfathers as well as the various uncles and cousins and people I know personally who have sacrificed their time and their lives for those of us here at home. God bless.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

spring cleaning.

I’ve been on some interesting journeys in the last year. For some of them I packed a suitcase, visited a beautiful locale for a few days and then returned to the comforts and stability of home and routine. For others I packed up everything I owned never to return. And then there were all of the emotional and spiritual journeys I’ve embarked on. Some of those paths I can look back on with fondness and new found enlightenment and some I’m still processing.

I’ve hinted at my new life status a few times but there is nothing like being jobless and living in your parent’s basement to make you question your purpose and direction in life, even if it was a conscious decision to be there!

I’m looking to May as a second New Year, another chance to set some goals and plan for progress in a new environment with new challenges and opportunities.

One of those goals is to re-visit the format of this blog. It doesn’t have a lot of structure--it’s sort of just a hodge-podge of everything all over the place. My posts haven’t been as thoughtful and well-written lately as I would like. I know my content has been very excursion based recently, covering all the escapades in Thailand and beyond but looking back I’ve noticed they’re rather bland and mechanical, many dashed off just to get the ideas down but without a lot of grace in the telling.

Is it still serving my needs? Do I need to re-vamp it with a new design, weekly features, a narrower focus? Or just scale back and not worry about posting so often as much as posting more thoughtfully?

There’s a lot in my life that is going through similar scrutiny, as you can imagine. I live very broadly but there’s not always enough depth. And while I used to pride myself on my varied interests and hobbies I’ve come to regret that I have very few things I can truly qualify as talents because I haven’t devoted a chunk of my life to any one thing. To create a cheesy metaphor: I’ve walked in the surf along a lot of beautiful beaches and enjoyed all the experiences along the way but I’ve never really learned to swim. (My scanty resume can attest to this, unfortunately.)

I’ve also accumulated a lot of stuff. When I left Utah several years ago it was only supposed to be for a short time. I shoved almost all of my belongings into a storage unit thinking I would be back in a few months. Eight years later they’re all still languishing in the 8x10 garage covered in an inch of dust only to be joined by all the stuff I brought back from Virginia. And it will all be there until I find a job and have a place of my own to move it to.

All this uncertainty and clutter, literal and figurative, is starting to get to me. I’m hoping to streamline my possessions, my thoughts, my goals, my schedule and routines, giving more full attention and deeper respect to the things I choose to keep as parts of my life. My key word for 2014 was “relationships” and I want to use that to help choose what goes and what stays. Things may be quiet around here for a while ‘til I get everything sorted out, but I promise I’ll let you know what I decide.

I’m curious though. Have any of you gone through a similar clearing out/starting over process? How did you decide what to keep and let go of? What would you have done differently? How long did your results/resolve last? Any suggestions as I embark on this journey?

And on a different but completely related note, anyone hiring?!   ;)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

live music.

Oh, how I love live music!! There's just something electrifying about being in a room full of people who all love what's coming from the stage, who bond in the dark over memorized tune progressions and bits of lyrics. Music connects people in a way that very few things can, even if it's just for a couple of hours.

I went to see Katie Herzig in concert a couple of weeks ago. She was great! (It probably helped that this was my first concert since September but she undoubtedly knows how to put on a show.)

Here's one from her brand new album:

She talked about her dad watching this for the first time and how he wasn't sure how to react other than to say things like, "Well, it's very white," and "It's definitely different than anything else you've done." And she just laughed and said, "It's called 'art'." I definitely don't understand everything about art but I know what I like and I do love her voice!

She didn't perform this song, but it's one of my favorites.

I had been a little discouraged leaving all the fabulous venues in DC but Salt Lake's got a pretty decent music scene and I've already got a few shows on tap for later this summer. (Yes, Katie, tickets for The Head and the Heart have been purchased!) Who was your last concert? Who is your next concert? Who is your dream concert? Or are you not a concert goer at all?  I'd love to hear why (and then convince you that you, of course, are wrong :) but we can still be friends...maybe.)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

a trip to New Zealand (part 3)

Anne is a great cook and Saturday morning our spread included toast with vegemite (another NZ original, also not very delicious) and jam, eggs, bacon, fruit, granola and more. And then we were off. Jenny’s aunt and uncle had joined us as well and the girls went one direction, the boys the other. Anne was a fount of knowledge and we saw way more with her driving us around than we ever could have on our own. First was a stop at Mount Eden, one of many remaining (dormant) volcanic cones sprinkled around the area. More than just a peak, there’s a definite crater—super big and super steep—that is closed off by a small fence and revered as sacred by the Maoris though that doesn’t stop people from rolling and hiking down into it and often not being able to get back out! There are also some spectacular 360 degree views of the city and the harbor.

Next up was a visit to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. We learned a bit more about the Maori culture and history, got a glimpse of New Zealand’s involvement in the two world wars, and witnessed another short dance performance by a Maori group. The grounds also contain a botanical garden which we visited on the way in.

Then we headed to the Sky Tower for city views from a different angle. We watched people walking along the outside rim and bungee jumping off the side. We stayed safely on the inside but did stand over the plexiglass floor that gave us an unimpeded view of the street below, 192 meters down. The Tower complex houses a huge casino, hotels, shopping center and restaurants. Anne works for one of the local news agencies and was invited to the opening of most of them so she took us in for sneak peeks at some of the décor and told us stories of the events and the famous chefs.

Next was a drive through the up and coming waterfront district which was teeming with families out taking advantage of the free events and the sun. And then we were back across the bridge to another volcanic cone turned park. This one had been used as a defensive gunnery/lookout during WWI and the hill is still riddled with the mazelike tunnels.

We finished our day out with a stop in the neighborhood of Devonport, just adjacent to Narrow Neck. It’s a charming area, streets lined with shops, restaurants and historic buildings. We got some amazing chocolate to take home (mine didn’t make it, I ate the whole thing in the car, it was fabulous!) And then headed back to meet up with the boys, eat some dinner and catch up on everyone’s day.

Sunday morning we had another great breakfast spread, but thanks to daylight savings it was technically an hour later than what our bodies told us. We ate and walked down to the beach to watch a triathlon. Sponsored by Wheatbix, the “Try-athlon” hosts countless schools in the area and encourages children to get involved and active. So here were all these tiny little kids from about 6 years old up through 13 or so heading down into the water to swim, then pedaling bikes down the other length of beach and then running through the neighborhood. It was a sea of madness and chaos and thoroughly entertaining! And what a great way to get kids motivated and moving at a young age. (and let’s face it, families cuz you know that most of those kids weren’t training on their own, they had very supportive parents there with them.)

We weren’t quite as ambitious but we did head back down and take a swim after the worst of the crowds had dispersed. Then we made our way back over to Devonport for some ice cream, shopping, lunch and a ferry ride back and forth across the harbor to Auckland before heading home again to pack up and get to the airport to start our journey back to the US. It was hard to say goodbye to Jenny but I was excited to get home and see family again, including a new little nephew born the week I left Thailand.

I’d love to say I’m all adjusted to life back in the States, that I’ve found my ideal job, and I’m all settled. But I think I’ve got a ways to go before any of that happens. It’s a good thing I’ve got all these great memories to tide me over until I do!

Friday, April 25, 2014

a trip to New Zealand (part 2)

Thursday we had breakfast at an outdoor café next to the lake in Rotorua and then drove west to Waitomo past beautiful lakes, overlooks and pastoral farmlands. After checking into our hotel we were off to our glowworm/blackwater rafting cave adventure. We were fitted with uber sexy wetsuits, helmets and headlamps, armed with inner tubes and then taken to the mouth of the cave where we jumped! Part of the time we hiked and part of the time we floated down the underground river that ran through the cave. There were a few more jumps, a tiny set of rapids. And then there were rooms where we turned off our headlamps, looked up at the ceiling and witnessed an amazing display of glowworms that looked like a galaxy of indoor stars. It was really a little breathtaking. And the caving adventure was all kinds of fun! We ate a warming meal of soup and bagels (the river water was fuh-reezing!) and then cuddled into bed to watch a movie and get a well-deserved night’s sleep.

Friday we drove back to the cave site and took a nature walk around the outside this time. Then drove to the city of Hamilton, stopping by the LDS temple grounds along the way and then wandering through the city museum, an art gallery, pedestrian area and the river walk. It was the perfect rest stop on our drive back to Auckland.

Jenny has family living in Christchurch who have family that live just outside of Auckland and they graciously opened their home to us. So owe drove through the city and over the bridge to the charming area known as Narrow Neck. No one was home when we first got there so we parked the car and walked five minutes down the road to the beach where we dipped our toes in the water and gazed at the Auckland skyline across the way. That evening we were fed blue lipped mussels, a New Zealand specialty (which unfortunately neither of us loved), along with a few other NZ favorites like jaffas and pineapple lumps (both delicious!) among other truly delicious dishes and visited with our hosts Anne and Neville and their boys Campbell and Oliver, some of the nicest people around.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

a trip to New Zealand

Wednesday we slept late and then drove south to the town of Rotorua, stopping for a delicious breakfast at a tiny roadside bakery. Every day should begin with hot chocolate and pie (a savory hand pie filled with bacon, eggs, and cheese…I swear I should have been born in a British colony!) New Zealand (the north island anyway) was formed by volcanic activity and nowhere is it more evident than in the thermal area of Rotorua. The air is filled with a sulfuric stench and steam rises up out of the ground in the most random of places. We stopped at Wai-O-Tapu, a park similar to, but on a much smaller scale than, Yellowstone with mud pots and geysers and all. Jenny wasn’t a huge fan but I loved it. I think mostly it reminded me of home and childhood and all my previous trips to Yellowstone.

Next we checked into our motel and were treated to pure New Zealand hospitality. The lady who owned the place checked us in and then asked if there was anything else we needed. I was on a quest to taste hokey pokey ice cream—a traditional treat made with chunks of honey comb-- and asked where the best ice cream shop was. She insisted on taking us to the grocery store instead (it would be cheaper), and drove us down the street to make our purchase. While we were in line waiting to pay, the guys behind us were buying mint and lamb flavored chips. I had grabbed a bag of Thai sweet chili flavored chips on an impulse and in a moment of ‘homesickness’. We proceeded to open each other’s bags and have a taste test there on the conveyor belt much to the dismay of our checker, I think. (I won, by the way.) Then we were back out to the car where our hostess with the mostess was telling us about the best way to eat our ice cream. Make a spider! Which we found out is like a float but you pour lemonade over it. Well, first off we’d bought chocolate flavored so I didn’t think that was a good idea but she insisted. When we got back to the motel she pulled out a couple of cans of Sprite (aka lemonade) and sent us back to our rooms to have our snack. We laughed over the lemonade snafu and then made hokey pokey floats which were surprisingly tasty!

That night we visited a Maori village for dinner and a cultural presentation. We were treated to a traditional hangi meal (cooked in the ground via steam) of all-we-could-eat lamb, veggies, and a million other things. It was delicious! Then we were taught about the Maori culture and witnessed a fabulous performance of traditional dances like the haka (always a treat!) After the show we walked to the wildlife park next door for a viewing of their kiwi birds. We had to be basically silent and look at them in the dark because they are so sensitive (plus that gave us a better chance to see them.) But it paid off. We got a great view of one. She was rooting around in the dirt, snuffling through the bushes and coming right up to the fence so we could see her. It was a fantastic sight.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

a beautiful vacation spot.

Monday morning we had a leisurely breakfast on our patio and then it was time to check out, head to the airport and begin a stressful day of travel to get to New Zealand. In my wonderful, efficient travel agent mode, planning a trip while trying to pack and compile grades and all, I failed to take into account that flying from Australia to New Zealand would be an international affair. There were limited flights from Ayers Rock to Sydney and even fewer from Sydney to Auckland, and in an effort to save us an entire day of hanging out in airports and doing nothing else, I stumbled on what looked like the perfect solution. But as we checked in to our flight to Ayers Rock I realized that I hadn’t accounted for the international-ness which meant we would be hard pressed to make the second flight (which was in another terminal) and then would most likely miss the car rental people on the other end. We’d either miss a flight and have to pay for a second hotel night, an extra day for the car and cut something off from our itinerary, or we’d have to have a miracle. It’s not a true travel experience if you don’t have at least one thing that doesn’t work out as planned but I’m thrilled to say this wasn’t ours. A miracle was had and after a lot of freaking out on my part we made everything just perfectly and were welcomed into Auckland about 1 am. I even managed to drive the car…on the left! (I had been driving on the left for the last six months, of course, but only a motorbike. A car is a completely different story!)

Tuesday we drove through rolling fields and farmlands to the little town of Matamata about 2 hours south of Auckland. There we were transported to Middle Earth and embarked on a tour of The Shire in Hobbiton. I was grinning like a little kid the whole time. It was so much fun! The landowners made a deal with Peter Jackson et al after filming the Lord of the Rings that they would be able to keep some of the sets up and viewable. When it came time to film the Hobbit they agreed to let them film there again but this time they had to rebuild all the sets using permanent materials. Thus they are set for life! They take bus loads full of people through every day at 75 bucks a head. Ridiculous, but it was worth it!

We wandered among hobbit holes peering into windows and peeking over fences at the vegetables growing in the gardens watching smoke rise from the chimneys and imagining all the festivities taking place underneath the party tree on the green and stepping across the threshold of Bag End. We wound up our tour at the Green Dragon Inn where we had a tasty ginger beer in front of the fire before heading back to reality.

Then we were back in the car and driving an hour east to the coastal town of Taraunga. It’s the busiest port in New Zealand but the area we were in was quiet, quaint and charming. Our hotel was gorgeous, with a pool overlooking the sea (which we unfortunately didn’t use because it was a bit too cold!) And a five minute walk took us to the waterfront where we had to choose between a hundred different options for dinner. We decided on a hearty pub meal with views of the water and then went back to the hotel to watch a movie and turn in a little early in the hopes of recovering from our late night the night before.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

a miracle.

I'm taking a tiny break from all of the vacation posts to share a powerful holiday message.  This past week is known as Holy Week to most of the Christian world, commemorating the last week of Jesus Christ's mortal life and ministry, culminating in the miracle of His resurrection Easter morning. I can't even begin to put into words the feelings I have for my Savior.  His perfect life was an example of all we should strive to be. His sacrifice gives each of us have the opportunity to repent and start again.  His death and resurrection are the means by which we can eventually overcome our own mortality and live eternally in His presence. I don't pretend to understand how any of it was accomplished but my faith in Him brings me peace and purpose in a world that is most often crazy and chaotic.

If you'd like to know more you can visit this link for a beautiful re-cap of the Easter story.

Thanks for bearing with me. Besides, I figured you could use a reprieve from all the travelogue-ing. Australia's pretty much done with. Next week...New Zealand!

an adventure Down Under (part 5)

Our afternoon/sunset tour took us west towards Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas as it’s often called in English. Where Uluru is formed from one sandstone monolith (it’s conjectured that only 30% of it is above ground the rest lies below like an iceberg), Kata Tjuta is composed of at least 36 sedimentary conglomerate domes. They look similar from a distance but up close are very different. We were able to see them from a lookout point and then hike to a waterhole settled between two of the domes. They are pretty spectacular in their own right but because there isn’t the same level of sacred mystery as there is for Uluru they often get overlooked. (Clarification: the aboriginal people have similar myths, legends and respect for Kata Tjuta but it hasn’t struck the same chord for some reason.)

After our hike we drove to a lookout point and stopped for ‘nibbles’ (Australian for fruit, crackers and cheese!) The sunset behind us was wasn’t nearly as spectacular as the sunrise we’d seen earlier but the changing light created even more patterns and colors on the face of Uluru stretched out in front of us. I realize it’s just a rock, but in the same way that the Mona Lisa is just a portrait. There’s just something about it that inexplicably grabs you and pulls you completely into its orbit, making you a part of that world that’s just a step outside the real world that we inhabit every day. There’s no rational explanation for it, you have to experience it for yourself. And I highly encourage you to do so!

We were back to the hotel by the time it was dark and spent some time eating ice cream and re-packing for the millionth time. As night fell the stars came out in infinite numbers, which was good because we had booked ourselves one last tour for the day, a lecture with the resident astronomer. The light pollution there was minimal and with not even a tree to block our view we had a fabulous expanse of black sky at our disposal. He pointed out stars only visible in the southern hemisphere, shared a few of the myths about the constellations and then the rest of the time was spent looking through high powered telescopes at faraway stars, clusters and galaxies. We literally saw millions of stars that night, over 3000 of them with the naked eye. There were stars that twinkled and glowed different colors and some so bright they were almost blinding. And then there was the absolute peace and quiet of the area itself. It made me feel humbled at the vastness of the universe and God’s creations and awed that I could be a part of something so immense and complex. What an amazing day!

The Olgas/Kata Tjuta

Ayers Rock/Uluru