After leaving Steve and Elsie’s house, I headed east along the Columbia River, still on the Washington side. I stopped at Beacon Rock, a) because it’s huge and b) because Steve said you can hike to the top and see a great view. So, hiking: Round 4-ish. No water once again (I’ll learn someday), I hiked up this 1000ft rock that seemed nearly impossible from ground level. And there’s nothing like going around in circles to really mess up your equilibrium and give you absolutely zero concept if you’re close to the top or not. But yes, the view was absolutely and 100% worth it. And I even had 4 bars and 3G service up there. Hoo-rah AT&T.

I then headed even more east, and stopped at Solstice Wood Fire Cafe for a quick bite to eat. The pizza was by far one of the best I’ve ever had. Even Food Network Magazine agrees. If you’re ever there, you’ve got to try the Solstice Country Girl Cherry Pizza. To die for.

(scroll down for 2nd part of the cruise around the river)

 
Left: Beacon Rock (no picture will do it justice)

 
 
Left: Stairway to Heaven/ Top of Beacon Rock  Right: Fear of bridges: faced, but definitely not conquered.

 
Left: View on the way to Solstice Right: Chorizo sausage, goat cheese, rosemary and thyme, and cherries from the Columbia River Gorge region

Once crossing yet another terrifying bridge (no picture for obvious reasons), I headed back west, now along the Oregon side of the river. By taking the old scenic highway route, I was able to stop every now and then to see some of the falls and trails along the mountains. Similar to hiking, I honestly don’t think I’ve seen a waterfall before. Or at least ones as cool as I saw here.


First non-self picture. One of the most awkward things in the world.

 
 
Above is a hidden trail called Oneonta Falls. At first glance, it doesn’t look like anything. But if you so dare to go further, you come across a log jam. Doesn’t look so threatening at first, especially when you see a petite girl and her little chihuahua-like dog crossing it. False. Don’t let this picture deceive you. It’s the scariest thing EVER. I actually went across one of the logs, and then proceeded to quickly turn around and walk back. But then I stopped and thought, ‘This kind of stuff is why you’re here, you have to at least try it.’ So I did. Luckily the girl was already gone, because let me tell you…it wasn’t a pretty sight. I’ll let you just try and envision me tiptoeing across these logs, occasionally bear-hugging some of them. Road Rules/Real World Challenge, might be a few more years til you see this gal. The worst part was that even after I successfully got across (quite possibly after a big fall), I didn’t have the sense to keep walking through the water and around the bend to see the waterfalls. All.of.that.work.

But honestly, this experience was a big turning point for me. I faced my fear of heights and did something I probably won’t have a chance to do again. The adrenaline and feeling of accomplishment was definitely worth the huge scrape on the back of my leg.

 
 
 
 Above: Multnomah Falls

Jaw dropping scenery and a few more hiking challenges to top off my trip to Portland. Can’t complain…I just can’t complain.

Next stop: Seattle, WA

On Thursday, I headed east to the Columbia River to visit the Gorge and all the falls. For those of you interested in geography, the Columbia River divides Washington and Oregon, and the mountain ranges and waterfalls that surround the river make up “the gorge.”

Let’s list the things that went well to start off the trip:

  1. Everything
  2. More specifically, I was upgraded to a sweet 2012 Ford Escape for no extra charge, and included XM Radio (wassup T-swift?!)
  3. It was yet another beautiful 80 degree, clear sky, no humidity day, and the ride along the river was absolutely gorgeous

Let’s list the things that didn’t go as well:

  1. Nothing. Except picking the wrong exit for a lunch break, that resulted in a 4 mile detour. Story of my life

I was headed to the Columbia River Gorge Guest House, aka the home of Steve and Elsie. (And this is where I give a plug about how everyone should visit and stay at Steve and Elsie’s Guest House.) Just picture a Shadowood-like house in Oregon. And if you’ve never been to Shadowood, picture an awesome cabin on 44-acres of land, surrounding woods, horses (not at Shadowood), a bonfire paired with s’mores and great conversation. Steve, a retired 69 year old maintenance manager and lifelong cowboy, and Elsie, a 55 year old Special Ed teacher, decided to open up their 5 bedroom house as a B&B, a wedding venue, and even a makeshift garage sale. Steve said at first it was there way of making use of the empty-nested house and make a little extra money. But later, he admitted he keeps doing it because he lives for meeting new people and hearing about their life stories.

When I got there, Steve showed me the ropes, and sent me off on a hiking trail that would lead me to the most beautiful views of the gorge. He was right. It was unreal. Just wait for the pictures. Then after dinner (at a restaurant on a marina I won’t recommend b/c it wasn’t that great), Steve and I made a bonfire and shared stories over s’mores and Diet Cokes. (helloooo perfect night)

It was a low-key night, but it was exactly what I needed. There’s nothing better than taking a day to chill out, recharge, and take in the surroundings. I’m not necessarily a ‘nature girl,’ either. I mean.. I hate spiders. I’m afraid of ticks (who isn’t?) I’m not the best hiker (but geez, after 4 hikes in 6 days, I’m getting there), and I’m a terrible packer and don’t think I could ever “back-pack” somewhere. But I do like what nature and a break from society can do for the ol’ soul. I enjoyed talking to Steve and listening to some of his stories. I enjoyed being able to open up to someone who is essentially a complete stranger. And I enjoyed getting the opportunity to see such amazing scenery, which literally at times, made me stop and say to myself, “I can’t believe what I’m seeing here.”

This day has been my favorite part of the trip so far, hands down. It was amazing. It was refreshing. It reinforced my reasoning for coming out to the West Coast. And it was exactly what I needed.

Columbia River Gorge Guest House. Check them out on FB, and visit them whenever you’re in the area.

 
 
The Guest House. Maggie. And some of the things Steve has found along some of his hikes. What an eye!

 
Green Stanley Thermoses. When Steve first started out with no money, he kept using these thermoses that kept breaking on him. So once he finally got some money, a nice green Stanley Thermos was his first purchase. You can say the green icon is more than just a sturdy liquid container to him.

 
 
So here we have myself, trying to capture how dang windy it was at this particular viewpoint. Not pictured: a very steep cliff. But I mean come on, the view was worth it, wouldn’t you say?

 
 
Views along the way of the hike. Mt Hood is in the background, but she’s a little camera shy.


So this area used to have a house on it. But the gorge bought the land, cleared it, restored it to its natural setting, and now has this cool circular seating area in its place, with an even cooler view. I see a Phase 29b at Shadowood in the future :)

 
 
Some artsy pics on the tail-end of the hike.


So yea, hungry horses are scary. I didn’t get the “make sure to feed them outside the fence” memo, and I was definitely cornered a few times by some rather large horse-friends. All a part of the experience, though……right?


Sub-par meal, but delicious beverages and a cool photo to make up for it!

  
Ohhh the stories that come out from just sitting around a bonfire. One of my favorite past times for sure.


Until we meet again my friends!

Nope. I’ve never hiked before. Or at least I don’t have a vivid memory of hiking in the past. Just something about constantly having to walk uphill, never really knowing how long 4.5 miles is really going to take, and the possibility of tripping over tree roots has never really been on my list of to-dos. But here in Portland, people hike. So, I hiked. A man from Bailey’s Tap Room suggested the 4-T trail, which stood for the four T’s that make up the route. Trolley, Tram, Trail, and Train. And I though, hmm, 3 legs of the trip don’t require any physical exertion. This is my kind of hike.

And let me tell you, one leg was plenty. My butt still hurts. The 4 mile hike kicked more than just my butt, too. But here’s what I learned from my first hiking experience:

Don’ts (not sure how to really go about the apostrophe placement. Emily and Mom, don’t kill me)

  1. Don’t just bring a half a bottle of water. Yes, I’m an idiot.
  2. Don’t start off wearing a jacket, assuming that it’ll be colder as you go up. Yea, I was really hot.
  3. Don’t feel bad that 60+ year olds are passing you, and that they are jogging. Just hope that this is their first time, too.

Do’s

  1. Do it! The view is worth it.
  2. Bring a camera and a notebook (if you’re the reflective type like myself)
  3. And seriously do it, no matter how badly your body will hurt the next day. It will make that grilled cheese sandwich and maple syrup bacon donut from Voodoo donuts taste that much better. Wait what?


Excitement paired with fear. 0% soreness

 
The walk to part I: Tram. And, the Tram


Ah, the view of Council Crest Park. The highest point of the city.


85% soreness

   
Yea, I wasn’t joking about the grilled cheese and maple syrup bacon donut. Highly recommend both. Interesting facts about these two places: the Grilled Cheese Grill offers a sandwich called “the Kindergardener” where they cut off the crust for you. I definitely know people way older than 5 that would prefer this option. And Voodoo donut, the possibilities of donut toppings are endless. I saw some with fruit loops on it, chunks of oreos, and yes, bacon. It’s like french toast, on a donut.

 
After a quick nap and shower, I headed over to happy hour on the river. I was unfortunately seated next to a few Gamecock fans, but the lady from South Africa who talked about how excited she is to visit me in Virginia was a much better companion.

And to go off of my last post about how small the world is. Let’s talk about the bartender that night went to school at non other than Mills Godwin HS. Class of ’92. Unreal!

Not to mention, the restaurant had some pretty tasty sampler beers. (Yes, I sat down at a bar, by myself, and ordered the sampler of microbrews. But I soon gained a new friend, so I did not drink alone the entireeee night :)) Let’s just focus back on how ridiculously crazy it was that another Henrico County citizen was at the same rando bar as me in Portland.


See ya downtown, on to da mountains. (Next few posts will be about the Columbia River, waterfalls, and the gorge.)

They do it differently over here. People are laid back. Cars stop willingly for pedestrians. Bikes outnumber cars. Trolley tracks line the streets. A food truck is the new 5-star restaurant. Black tights seem to be the ‘in’ fashion. Vendors give homeless people free meals. No sales tax (winning). And nobody seems to care about how much money you make. They are just interested. Interested in you, your story, what you like to do, and if you liked that locally-brewed beer they just recommended.

This is my kind of city!

So instead of renting a car and driving to all the hotspots, I took a run around the river. (Which really was more like a slow jog that involved some walking and quite a few breaks for some snazzy pics.) The ‘run,’ however, included a stretch across a pretty narrow steel bridge that also contained the busiest road in the city. And.. I’m afraid of bridges. And heights. But I went through with it. And even stopped for a few seconds to take a very shaky picture so I could remember this terrifying experience. Go ahead and laugh, but this was just a little moral victory for me in my book :)

Then instead of going to an expensive restaurant that was recommended online, I went next-door to a hole in the wall sandwich shop. A terrific decision. A tasty tuna sandwich and root beer, combined with even better conversation with some locals. Falling upon goldmines like this is what has been making my trip worthwhile.

Now I have also been hitting a few of the tourists spots, like happy hour at Portland City Grill for the best view of the city (thanks to Trish!), but for the most part I’ve been trying to be a part of the crowd, and stick to the everyday activities. I’ve got to say, I’ve enjoyed the pace of life around here, and being just plain interested in everything Portland has to offer.


My view from my hotel. Baller status. Thanks K$!


The start of continuously making my body ache. I.am.out.of.shape.people.

   
A few views from my trot around the river.


Geese and birds fill the cities. Put a bird on it Portland!


Here’s that shaky pic from the bridge I was talking about.


Bunk Sandwiches. Eat there.


My friends from Bunk Sandwiches sent me east to some of the neighborhoods to take in the culture and check out the cool shops and restaurants. We also like to refer to this activity as people-watching. I haven’t gotten my stalking-picture-taking-skillz mastered yet, so I took a picture of some bikes instead.

 
And Laurelhurst Park. Designed by the same person who designed Central Park. Also can’t forget that it was Sept. 11th, and several people were showing their American pride that day.

 
For happy hour, Phillip’s aunt treated me to happy hour at Portland City Grill. I was told I was pretty fortunate since it was a clear day and I could actually see Mt. Hood. Sorry that my phone doesn’t let you see it, though :-/


What the sign says!

I’m not going to lie, when I stepped off the plane in Portland, I had a 2 minute freak out. I was actually on the west coast, by myself, with no real itinerary. What did I get myself into? The 2 minutes seemed like forever, but they passed nonetheless, and I continued on to baggage claim. After getting my bags and hopping on the Max train, (public transportation in Portland is dabomb) I look out the window, and what do I see on the window ledge? 4 paper cranes. You have got to be kidding me. (For those of you just tuning in, the HSD staff were the ones that encouraged me and more or less pushed me onto the plane for this trip, so seeing the Japanese paper cranes was just a little reminder of the support system I have back home :)) It was also a sign that I was in the right place, that this trip was meant to be, and that everything would be OK.

It was about 1pm by the time I checked into my room, and I was already a bit jet-lagged and super hungry. Airplane peanuts only go so far :) So I headed out into downtown for lunch at one of the infamous food trucks, and thus began the trip.

Now, when you’re traveling alone, three things are very helpful:

1. Nice people – If you ever go to Portland, have been to Portland, or have just heard about Portland, you might have picked up on the notion that Portland people are really nice. Well, ‘really nice’ is an understatement. ‘Overly helpful,’ ‘extremely welcoming,’ and ‘super friendly’ are more like it. Yea, maybe the 3 maps and suitcase triggered a lot of it, but still.. everyone I met was easy to talk to and happy to help. Whether it was figuring out the streetcar system, giving suggestions on where to eat or what to see, or just striking up a conversation to pass the time, I never felt alone. So if you want to get your feet wet on the solo-travelling, Portland would be a great starting point.

2. A map – yes, GoogleMaps is nice, and having an iPhone was lifesaving at times, but I’m talking about an old-fashion, hard copy map. There’s nothing like whipping out a map that covers your entire placemat and the person next to you at a bar, and figuring out your next move. Yea I looked ridiculous and automatically labeled myself as a tourist, but it actually ended up acting like my own little wing-man. Not only did it start interesting conversations, but it also seemed to be quite the friend-magnet. After the first day, I didn’t use it as much since I was getting more acclimated with the area, but I still never left home without it :)

And 3. Coincidentally being in the same city as your BFF from middle school, who you haven’t seen in who-knows-how-long. There’s nothing like traveling 3000 miles to reunite with an old friend. Thanks to FB, we found out there might be a chance we’d be in Portland around the same time. So without hesitation, I texted Amy as soon as I landed, which happened to be about the exact same moment she was pulling into the city. We met up at a local brewery, and caught up on the past few years. We’ve tried several times to get together while we were both living in VA, but I guess there’s something about being in a completely new city that makes everything work out. It was the perfect start to my Portland trip, and it was just like old times. Not to mention, her boyfriend Will happened to meet up with a friend from his study abroad program, who ALSO happens to work for Portlandia. NBD people. (All you non-believers, see below for proof!)


Not only did I eat on the street with a pigeon, but I also tried a burger with spam on it. Drinking the sauce as we HSDers like to call it.


Bailey’s Taproom. Local beers, low price, and the most awesome digital diagram. Shows you the name of the beer, where it’s from, what color it is, how much alcohol percentage each beer has, and how much is left in each keg. Technology these days.


Amy and I reminiscing about my middle school haircut and how insane it was to meet up under such crazy circumstances. Check her out on Instagram to see all the pics from her 5-week roadtrip!


New friends, old friends, and Portlandia employees. Not pictured: our older friend David, who is a successful shrink in the Portland area, and may or may not have given me a peptalk about where I am in life, and what to do next. His going-rate is about $3/minute, so we paid our dues for his 45 minutes of time with a $3 beer. He didn’t even finish his beer.

Ha! Proof!

 
And here’s the infamous map. With photo proof that it brought along a new friend.

OK, so Raleigh isn’t a new city, I get it. But it was nice to regroup before my big trip to the west coast with some of my favorite people. It’s been just about two months since I’ve been to Raleigh, and in Shannon-post-grad-time, this is a long time. So the weekend kicked off with me finding out I didn’t have to work a wedding, giving me an extra day to hang out, relax, and tie up some loose ends.

Friday took me back to the good ol’ days with dinner and drinks at the ol’ Natty Greene’s, followed by a girl’s night out with Emily and Kristi at the Hibernian. Despite choosing a booth with a leak in the roof and realizing that the reason we were the only ones at the bar at first was because it was only 7pm, it was really great to catch up with each other.

Saturday started off with lunch at Slammin’ Sammy’s to watch the NC State game where we won’t talk about how we barely squeaked out a W against UConn, how Kristi only got 9 buffalo bites instead of 10, and how again…we were the only people at the bar at first…ordering a pitcher of beer before noon. Scratch that, we aren’t ashamed of the last part! After a solid mid-afternoon nap, it was time for a cookout and game night. And I’d have to say, the combination of Cranium and Mad Gab has got to be the best recipe for embarrassing moments, ridiculous cases of the giggles, and coming to the conclusion that a station wagon and a PEZ dispenser are the hardest things to draw, not to mention with your eyes closed.

And then Sunday rounded out the weekend with a delicious brunch and a ton of football. I wanted to especially thank Chase Massey for welcoming me into the world of fantasy football with such open arms and beating me by 70 pts. But I wanted to give an even bigger shout out to the best roommate around, Emily, for not only driving me to the airport at 5:15am on Monday, but cooking a gourmet dinner the night before.


From freshman Wolf Camp to awkward, blurry pictures at a bar… these guys are the best.


Potentially the worst group pic we’ve taken ever, but we have learned from it and moved on. Steven’s just pissed he’s not in Disney World yet.


Cranium: it’s a lot funnier than it looks


True life: I have a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design (2pts for a correct guess)


Let’s pause for a Kodak moment. Having the honor to stand next to Kristi when she gets married next August. So happy for you girl!


The gourmet meal I was telling you about. Yea, let’s talk about it.

Raleigh, you’ve always been good to me. I’ll be back soon enough!

Next stop: Portland, OR

After a brief stop in Raleigh, I headed out to St. Louis for a few days. The trip was a short one, but was packed with a job interview, a Cardinals game, an extensive downtown/midtown tour of STL, some great meals along with some tasty beers, and some quality family time. Similar to most trips, I wish I could have stayed longer, but who knows…maybe I’ll go back and stay for a much longer period of time. J

But hands down, I felt pretty spoiled throughout the two days. Front row seats behind home plate, with an all you can eat buffet and beer service, and VIP parking? Are you kidding me? (You da man Uncle Tom!) Getting an extensive tour of 6 different areas of St. Louis to possibly live in, topped with the best rib-eye and beers, plus getting a car and a place to stay?? Talk about some family love! (Shout out to Bill and Kris!) And some fun nights with cousins to help me get the taste of life in the Lou. (Sam, Ruth, Luke, Tara, I’m talking about you!).

All in all, my trip to St Louie was a refreshing break from the east coast, not to mention I think my interview went pretty well. J It was crazy to see hints of Richmond and Raleigh in St. Louis, and I could really see myself moving there in the future!


-the all you can eat buffet was pretty classy, but Sam made sure to keep it real with some bread and butter


-yup, that’s the view from my front row seats. #luckytoknowmyuncletom


-not pictured: gma’s manhattan


-free beer!


-she’s so hip


-guessing the reason Wainwright gave up quite a few hits was because of the face in the distance. (insert Title of post reference)


-this is my sorry attempt at trying to make up for the fact that I didn’t get a picture with my great hosts. Bill, Kris, and Ruth, stay cool y’all!


-I don’t know what this building is, but who cares… Luke and Tara’s rooftop deck and view is sick. And so are they! Not pictured: Charles


-so much love for these two. Also not pictured: Cousin Jaxson running away from my camera

St. Louis, you da bomb! Thanks for a great trip!

Next stop: Raleigh, NC

 

           

This weekend I travelled south to Greenville, SC and Atlanta, GA. As the weekend went along, I decided I would let my iPhone pictures narrate the trip, but I soon realized that I was pretty terrible about taking pictures, and taking very captivating pictures at that. On my next leg of my trip I promise to be a tad more conscious about it and snap better shots. But for now, here are the highlights of the trip:

1. The 7 hr trip to Greenville wasn’t bad at all. Started off with the most-perfectly-proportioned-topping sandwich (that phrase makes sense to me) from Subway, and ended with spotting a decked-out NC State van at the most random gas station outside of SC. The only hiccups on the trip were the vending machine eating one of my quarters, and a short and sunny rain shower in which I couldn’t decide if I should wear my sunglasses or not.

2. I got to see my sister Jill (who is currently 22 weeks preggo!) and brother-in-law Jon, along with the precious pup Rip. While Jon and I bonded over NC State and Clemson fball games, Jill kept me grounded with marathons of The Hills and Honey Boo Boo. The weekend had its thrills with a golf cart ride from Jill and Jon’s 10-year-old niece, and to top it off, I found out they’re going to name their little girl Sarah Marie Tompkins!!

3. I reunited with Nicole Foo, who went to Japan with me in 2006 for HSD. We literally hadn’t seen each other in 6 years. Definitely arranging reunion part II very soon!

4. I reunited with Kensey LaReau, a good friend and vball teammate from high school. Although she was rooting for the wrong tiger, it was still great to see her!

5. Lastly, I tailgated in a food court for the first time, witnessed people dressed up for Dragon-con (spelling?), I finally brought some luck to the Clemson Tigers, I ate St. Louis-style pizza in SC, and I got to visit with my favorite sister and brother in law. Life is good!

Next stop: Raleigh for a night, St. Louis in the morning

(photo: Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss. Gift by my lovely HSD staff)

Welp, I ran out of shampoo, conditioner, soap, and used the last of the milk this morning. Looks like it’s time to head out for a little. Good thing I have a month trip planned starting…..today!

It’s going to be a pretty epic month for me. Now I’m not going abroad or doing any extreme bucket list activities, but I am going to be seeing around 7 cities spreading from Atlanta to Seattle, and doing a mixture of work and play along the way. From Richmond to Greenville to Atlanta to Raleigh to St. Louis, back to Raleigh, then out to Portland & Seattle, and ending the trip back in Charlotte, I’ll be going what they all call “mobile” for the next 4 weeks.

My stomach is in knots, and my suitcase is bulging (packing.is.the.worst.and.I’m.so.so.so.bad.at.it), but I’m ready. It’s kind of crazy how all of these different visits, activities, and opportunities fell into place and are all happening in such a short time. Earlier this month I was worried about a possible “lull time” during this transition period for me, but good God was I wrong. Needless to say, I’m making moves, and I’m pretty pumped about it. Yea my stomach is churning, and I can’t seem to fall asleep, but it’s all because of how excited I am right now. I have no idea what’s ahead, who I’ll come across, what I’ll see, or what will come of the trip (this might be due in part to half of the trip not yet being completely finalized :) ), but I know I’m going to learn a lot.

So this is my attempt to pick up where I left off in my city search, and keep you guys updated on what kinds of things I come across, and what tidbits I take from each place. My overall goal for this trip is to not only seek out a place that I want to live, as well as reunite with some friends along the way, but to also soak in the experience, and appreciate the opportunity of getting to do something like this.

First stop, gas station.

Second stop, Subway.

Third stop, Greenville, SC!

Leggo!

Contest: How many times do you think it took to take this picture below:
(Ohhh let the self-pics begin)

“All great things must come to an end.”

This quote sucks. Seriously. Who ever wants this to be true?

But unfortunately, it is reality, and it happens to all of us. And it happened to me this month.

This year marks the end of my work with High School Diplomats (aka HSD or “the Japan program” as many of you are probably more familiar with). Although it is somewhat a relief to not have people look at me like I have 3 heads when I try to explain to them what I do, or to have some friends back home who are probably still confused about what I’ve been doing these past eight years, it is and was the furthest thing from easy for me to say good-bye. My involvement in this amazing program… this “great thing” that has become a part of who I am and that has introduced me to the most amazing people, has finally come to an end.

And just like the quote, it sucked.

It sucked real bad.

What was the worst part? Hmm.. let’s see. Leaving my staff, who has become family to me and has supported me through the thick and thin. But there’s also the part about no longer getting the chance to immerse myself in another culture, and help to build relationships between two different countries (well at least not as often :)). Oh yea, andddd the part about no longer being a counselor for kids, and getting to witness them experience this life-changing program. There’s also the fact that I’ll be leaving a program that has undoubtedly made me a more worldly, compassionate, and all around better person. But really, the worst part is this feeling of emptiness in my stomach, like a part of me has left.

Dramatic? Maybe. Honest? Absolutely.

But through these few days of being removed from the program, I’ve realized a few things. First, that this hollow feeling is a result of putting 100% of myself into the program. It confirms how much the program has really meant to me, and that joining the program was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Second, I’ve realized that even though my “time” with HSD is over, that the memories, the lessons, and the friendships will forever be a part of me. And I for one am looking forward to seeing how the past eight years will shape my future, and always being reminded of all the great times as I go. And lastly, I’ve realized that feeling like this is vital for moving forward and taking the next step. It is important that in life, we have these up and down moments, to force us to sit back and realize how good we really have it. It makes you appreciative of what you’ve been given, what you’ve earned, and what you’ve learned along the way. Everything happens for a reason, and every experience prepares you for the next one.

I’m sad to leave HSD, but I’m thankful for the opportunities and the memories it has given me. I can’t imagine where my life would be, or the type of person I would be, if it wasn’t for this program, but I am more grateful for all the tools it has provided me with as I look onward.

It’s the end of a personal era, but it’s the start of a new beginning. All great things must come to an end, so even greater things can come of them. Not as fluid as the first quote, but it works for me.

So thank you to my HSD staff both in the states and in Japan, for being a part of my life and helping to shape my next adventure. I couldn’t have done this without you.

The other day this tweet came across my Twitter feed:

LivingForMonday (@LivingforMonday)
4/17/12 2:40 PM
RT @leadtoday: Stop whatever it is you’re doing right now and reach out to someone who needs a bit of encouragement.

Pause for a little shout out… everyone should check out the Living for Monday website. This start-up company works to help college students and young professionals find their passion and align their core values with their dream job. If anything, sign up for their MONDAY::Drop, a weekly email post of inspiration and motivation. It’s awesome!

Now back to the program..

The above tweet really made me think. These days everyone is busy. Everyone has a million things going on, everyone is multi-tasking, everyone is often distracted. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, you name it, it’s hard to think of actual moments in time where we were focused on one thing, and one thing only. I’m not saying in certain situations it’s needed, especially since at the workplace people are needing to take on several projects at once to just keep up with the competing market. However, there are also those moments.. those certain situations.. that we need to stop whatever we’re doing, drop everything, and reach out to someone.

Example 1:
On the way back from my internship with the Police Department, I stopped at the gas station because I had approx. 3 miles left in my tank (whoops). I went in to grab a quick snack because I was in a bit of a rush to get back home to meet a project deadline. At the checkout line, however, I couldn’t help but notice a distressed woman asking several people for help with directions. Visibly upset, with tears running down her face, I witnessed two separate individuals brush her off and claim they weren’t from around here and couldn’t help. (This is where I’ll add in that I saw both of them use their smart phones while waiting in line.) While I was paying, we made eye contact from afar, and I decided to linger around a bit on purpose to give her time to approach me. Long story short, after about 20 minutes of drawing a map, trying to speak in Spanish, and actually going outside to help her visualize how to get from Lauderdale all the way down to Staples Mill, she seemed confident enough to give it a try.

Now who knows if she actually made it to her destination, (gosh, I really hope she did) especially since the only Spanish words I could remember were “Habla espanol?” “izquierda” “cuatro” and “buena suerte.” But nonetheless I felt good about the experience. Yeah, I could have kept my head down and joined the other two people, but I knew if I was in her position, I would really appreciate a helping hand and some encouragement.

Example 2: (less emotional and dramatic, I promise)

Recently a few of my college friends went to Oak Island for our annual beach weekend. While we’re used to having at least 15 people show up, we were more than happy to have the seven of us make it out.

Even though we didn’t make this announcement flat out, all of us kind of made the decision to pack our phones up for the weekend. (I know, more than 2 hours without our phones..gasp) But it was worth it. Why? Because all of us are going in different directions in our careers, (some are already in different countries), and the chances that we’re going to be able to get together as often as we’d like in the future, are pretty slim. The farther we get from graduation, we’ve realized that every year is going to be harder and harder to get all of us out to the beach, or even in one city for one weekend. So we took advantage of the weekend, gave up the need to be connected to people back in Raleigh, or know what was trending on Twitter, and we just hung out. Because no matter how advanced technology gets, how competitive the economy becomes, how many new TV shows premiere during the week, peopleyour friends, your family, your community….people are the most precious things we have in life.

So once in a while, put the phone down and look up. Look people in the eye, talk to someone new, and live in the moment. Because you never know how much a simple gesture can make someone’s day.

Picking up right where I left off… (For those of you just tuning in, check out my intro post about My Road to a Different Area Code.)

From Dallas I flew straight to Las Vegas. A few things you should know before I continue.

  1. The purpose of the trip was to conduct interviews for work on Monday
  2. This was my first time in Vegas
  3. I was by myself (this is important to remember while reading this post)

On the first leg of the trip (to Salt Lake) I sat next to a nice man who gave me great advice on my design business, which might lead to a client or two down the road. (My dad is probably smiling right now). On the second leg of the trip, I sat in the middle seat, next to one guy who made fun of me in a charming way for going to Vegas by myself, and another guy who was a native to the area and gave me all the do’s and dont’s of the city. And it.was.the.loudest.flight.i’ve.ever.been.on. My Vegas friend informed me my flight on the way back will be the quietest flight you’ll ever be on.

Slot machines in the airport? Why not?

Once I got to the hotel, it was just after midnight on Saturday (aka prime time for Vegas night-life) and I decided to go to bed. I know, lame. But a combined 7hrs of sleep over the past two days, 4 flights, and the image of my own king bed did me in for the night.

Sunday -8am

I decided to take the flyer in my hotel room seriously, and check out the restaurant upstairs “Hash Hash To Go” for breakfast. Best. Decision. Ever. They sat me immediately at the bar (because I’m by myself :) ) and within 3 minutes of me placing my order, my food was there. Here’s a picture. ‘Nough said.

9am rolls around, and even though my conservative conscious is telling me to at least wait until the afternoon to start gambling, I sit down at the first BlackJack table I see anyways. I place my $5 bet down, and quickly realize I was reading the wrong sign. I was at a $15 minimum table. What a rookie. So I freak out. For like 4 seconds. And then I think to myself “Play it cool, you’re in Vegas, live a little.” So I added two more chips, and remained sitting.

One hour later. I’m $100 up. Again with the freak out, I quickly decided to cash in and get some fresh air.

PRO: stores blasting oldies music in the streets always heightens an already good mood.

CON: everyone smokes in Vegas

PRO: free drinks when you gamble. and drinking at 9am is encouraged.

CON: if you stay in the same hotel with impersonating performers for too long, you’ll realize they only know a total of 6 songs.

PRO: everyone is friendly. the dealer’s included, and even the fellow gamblers who keep losing more and more money.

CON: you occasionally have to deal with newly 21 year olds who take multiple jagerbombs at 9am and think that hitting on a 20 is a good idea.

PRO: fist-bumping the dealer every time you get black jack.

PRO: Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar restaurant. Live music, good food, fun company, great times

CON: Deciding to take a quick catnap at 8:30pm after a day filled with free waters and soda, causes you to sleep through the night and miss getting to see Vegas at night.

PRO: eating at Hash Hash to go for a second time, and being even more impressed than the first time.

PRO: doubling your money 2 minutes before you have to catch a cab for work

CON: a red-eye flight cross-country

So you could definitely say I got the gambling itch while I was there. I had all these big plans of seeing shows, and exploring all the lights and attractions of this never-sleeping city. But I just had so much fun meeting random people at the tables, and soaking in the culture that way. Not sure if I could handle more than 3 days in Vegas, but I did enjoy my first experience.

Oh, and here’s me and the wolfpack of one.

Next stop, TBD

City #2 (For those of you just tuning in, see my post On the Road to a Different Area Code and Finally back from my trip to Charlotte)

So… my trip to Dallas and Austin was not what you call the conventional “sight-seeing/let’s see what these cities have to offer” kind of trip. It was a 36-hour trip mainly consisting of early morning flights, a quick and desperate effort to eat lunch (which resulted in eating at Chipotle), tons of interviews for HSD, a 3 hour drive in a rental car with several detours and u-turns, a sketchy motel, more interviews, returning and renting the same exact car again (yea, don’t ask), more detours (GoogleMaps is my bf4lyfe), and more flights. Despite the grueling synopsis, here are some of the highlights and general observations of Texas:

-Dallas is flat. And from all the times I wished for flatter roads while running my pitiful 2-3 mile running routes in Richmond, I never knew such a flat city even existed. I’ll tell you this, if I move to Dallas, I’ll for sure up my runs to at least 4 miles.

-Southern Methodist University is B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L. Absolutely gorgeous. However, you can’t hang a single 8.5×11″ piece of paper with directions to your interview room because it’s against university policy. So, now SMU has been demoted to “just pretty.”

-If you’re contemplating whether you should rent a car to drive from Dallas to Austin (about 3 hours) or bite the bullet and pay for a flight…. bite the bullet. Because the price of a multi-city drop off and mileage on a rental car will bite YOU in the you-know-what. (insert the part where we had to return and then rent the exact same car again, in order to alleviate some of the stress on our wallets)

-The speed limit in Dallas is 75 mph. Which is awesome… in theory. Because when you make the lanes more narrow, and enclose the HOV lane with two Jersey walls, you instead white-knuckle the steering wheel, fear for your life, and slow down to a pitiful 65 mph.

-The restaurant we went to for dinner was hopping. It was as if Margaritaville came out with a Tex Mex special and moved to Dallas. (Go with me on this one) It had a main floor with a bar, then an outdoor patio with another, bigger bar, and then the whole upstairs was dedicated to the smoking section with…yea you guessed it.. another bar. Things really are bigger in Texas. Oh yea, the food was DANK.

-Austin is much prettier in my opinion. Much more scenic, and much more hilly.

-Abel’s on the Lake – great place to soak up a little of the Austin view and day-scene. And again with the multiple bars. One indoor and one outdoor. With 60+ beers on tap, you would think they were known for their beers, but when asked the question, the waitress said “our view.” And I have to admit, even though the beers were pretty tasty, the view was better. This picture doesn’t do it justice:

Even though the trip was pretty quick, and I was either working or deciphering GoogleMaps directions most of the time, I still have a major crush on Austin. I’m glad I got to make a trip out there and get a little taste of the fun, weird city. It definitely deserves a second visit.

Next stop, Las Vegas.

More like finally getting around to blogging about my trip that was almost a month ago :)

Long story short, my trip to Charlotte exceeded my already high expectations, and was a great start to my possible-relocation-tour. I stayed with an old college friend, Sarah (emphasis on the “old” :) ), who needless to say was pretty eager to sell the city to me. Here are a couple of highlights from the weekend:

-There’s no better way to start off the trip in my mind than taking the Megabus. A little more snug than my ride to NYC, but amusing nonetheless. One piece of advice: If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t take the Megabus. Your fellow bus companions eat everything from hotdogs to salt and vinegar chips to twinkies. And the truck stop to McDonalds doesn’t help either. (separate blog post for the rest of my Megabus tips to follow)

-A 3 mile nature walk is fun while you’re walking, but miserable the following day. At least for me that is. My shins are still screaming at me. Another tip: if you choose to hide your keys under a rock so you don’t have to carry them in your hand, make sure you remember which rock you chose.

-An all-you-can-eat sushi buffet for $9 is the key to my heart. And don’t let the crazy bargain fool you, the quality of the rolls was on point! Here’s a picture of one (of many) of my plates.

-After I recovered from my rice coma, we walked to a local bar called the Bling Pig. Two things:

  1. Any bar within walking distance receives an A in my book
  2. Any bar with board games, arcade games, and bar games receives an A++ in my book. I mean come on, Skeeball, battleship, darts, and Guess Who in the SAME bar? Get out of here.

-Frisbee golf is a great way to hang out with friends and enjoy the spring-like weather, but a terrible way to find out you’re no longer as good at the game as you thought you were!

 

(this is the part of the blog post where we skip over the fact that we spent 2.5 hours watching the NC State-Clemson basketball game)

 
-Saturday night we went to see a cover band for the Rolling Stones called Satisfaction. Things I learned here:

  1. We lowered the average age group by at least 20 years.
  2. Despite their age, Rolling Stones’ groupies can still out-dance you if you don’t watch out.
  3. I don’t know as many Rolling Stones’ songs as I thought I did.

 

-We topped off the weekend with a bike ride around the neighborhood and NoDa area. Things I learned here:

  1. NoDa is a really cool area and has some really pretty houses and buildings.
  2. I’m out of shape.

So there you have it. A brief, long overdue, overview of my trip to Charlotte. Charlotte will definitely remain on the list of possibilities. Thanks Sarah, Brandon, Steph, Colleeen, Brent, Megan, and crew for the great hospitality!

Next up, Austin TX.

If I’ve spoken to you in the past month or two, I’ve told you that I’m looking to move to a different city. Which city you ask? Who knows. It changes with the day of the week. East coast, west coast, south, 2 hours away, you get the point.

But what does stay the same, is that itch to go SOMEWHERE. I figure that at this point in my life, I have the opportunity to move to a new city and start over. Richmond has always been great to me, don’t get me wrong. Living here since 1st grade and creating most of my childhood memories in the West End has been nothing but fantastic. Living in Raleigh for four years in college, and one year following was also time well spent. I am very fortunate for the friends I’ve made in both cities; down to earth, funny people who liked me for me. The comforting thing to know while I ponder over this idea, is that no matter where I end up, the friendships I’ve made and kept will definitely survive the move.

So the search is on. This week I’m headed to Charlotte to see some old college friends. My intention for going is not only to catch up and hang out with people I haven’t seen in a while, but also get a better feel for the city, and try to imagine myself living there. Charlotte has always been near the top of my list for cities to move to, so let’s see what this weekend does to its rankings.

And as a side note, my goal for this series of posts is to 1) update you on the ongoings of my life b) share my thoughts on possible new cities for me and iii) to hopefully hear from you guys about your views on these different cities or if there should be other places that I should consider. (kudos to Katie Lackey for the idea).

Anyways, on to the 704.