Great Britain Adventure: Days 5-7

It’s been a rough few days. Ever since I learned that Trump was elected, I’ve felt stunned. I respect our election process, but I’m heartbroken over this outcome. I feel hurt and abandoned and angry and scared. I know this horror story is going to be on the forefront of my mind for a while, but sometimes, you need to take a break from it all, practice some self-care, and find some healthy distractions. For me, that means doing yoga, watching Gilmore girls, talking to friends, and… reliving the incredible trip to Great Britain that I had this summer.

With that in mind, I’m going to go ahead and wrap up the last 3 days of our trip in one blog post. It’s going to be a long one so grab a cup of coffee or tea and get comfy. Here goes…

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This is Boone | Starry Night edition

A few weeks ago, I spent a Saturday night on my friends’ back porch. We were rocking in rocking chairs, staring up at the stars, and drinking beer and homemade moonshine while there were guns and/or firecrackers firing in the not-so-distant distance. We were enjoying a good conversation and I had one of those moments like I did when I first put on snow boots or that time I wore flannel to brunch where I thought… this is Boone. This is my Boone life.

And then I picked up my rental car the next morning and I drove up to DC for the week.

Sometimes I feel like I’m being pulled in different directions: working in DC and living in North Carolina. I always have a great time in DC. I love the buzz of the city. I hop off the metro and walk into my 12 story office where I’m acknowledged as a professional citizen living a meaningful life. I have good, human conversations with my colleagues over coffee and lunch, and I feel grateful. I really benefit from this social time whenever work sends me to a new city for a conference or fair, too. I’m reminded of how the work that I do fits into the big picture. I see how we’re making a difference. It’s a good feeling.

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But these experiences are rare, in the big scheme of things. I travel – at most – for a few days a month, and then I go back to North Carolina. I drive back up the mountain and breathe in the crisp mountain air. I wash off the city and I settle in. I work from my home office tucked on the side of a mountain far, far away from the metro and the monuments. I fall into a softer rhythm. It’s partially a coping mechanism, I think. But I adjust.

When I talk to my colleagues about Boone: the bluegrass, the bears, my neighbors who raise goats and chickens, and the gravel roads that require 4 wheel drive all year round, it sounds foreign. It sounds funny. It sounds like a middle of no where town on top of a mountain where no one would choose to live. And everyone tells me “we have to get you out of there!” and I feel their sympathy as if I’m suffering.

And when in Boone, I hear the opposite, “Aren’t you sick of driving back and forth to DC?” And, “Isn’t it isolating? Working from home?” Yeah, it is sometimes. Even though I talk to my colleagues on the phone, I spend most of my day in isolation. I miss the post-work Happy Hours and the cake that’s passed around to celebrate a milestone. It nags at me just a little at first, and then I get ignored in a meeting or there’s a misunderstanding and I crave a real, face-to-face early morning coffee conversation, but there’s no one to talk to by the coffee pot except for my cat. It can feel really isolating, sometimes.

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When I need to be in the city again, I go. It’s a cycle. It’s disorienting, and I pretty much get culture shock every time I travel and come back, but that’s what my work life looks like right now. Everyone seems to have an opinion about this set up. People who can spend weeks alone without getting cabin fever think I am living the dream. (If I spend 48 hours alone, I feel like I’m suffocating.) I’ll also hear people say they could “never” live in Boone or “never” live in DC, and I get that. We’re all viewing the world through our own lenses.

City people prefer the city. Mountain people prefer the mountains. Bret and I… we’re not mountain people. We love to visit cities, but I think, if anything, we’re beach people. We’re also okay being nomads. We like living in different places and experiencing different environments and stretching ourselves to live outside of our comfort zones. For now, that’s Boone. I love my job, and I love living with Bret, so this is the “best of both worlds” solution, and I’m grateful it’s an option.

Everyone talks about this time being temporary. And it is. But everything is temporary. In a couple years, we may be living in a big city, or by the ocean, maybe on a brand new coast. I’m looking forward to that, but I don’t want to live my life waiting for the next phase to start. Right now, this is what my life looks like, and I’m okay with that:

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I do feel lonely sometimes, and I want to be real about that. Working from home was better in Florida with the sunshine, the pool, and everything in walking distance.Y’all know that Boone is not my favorite place, but we are making real efforts to connect to the community here. Sometimes I feel blue when I think about the 8 months of winter that are upon us, but then I do some gratitude exercises that I learned a couple years back. I start by thinking: I’m grateful for this life. …and it always grows from there.

I don’t love the house we are renting, but I’m grateful for my adorably decorated home office. I miss the city, but I’m grateful for all this fresh air. I don’t love the cold, but I love the snow, and I’ll be grateful for that first snowflake. I miss my friends, but I’m so grateful for all of the friends and family who have visited us here. I don’t love Boone, but I’m grateful for the people I’ve met here, this time, and this life, and I’m grateful for cool starry nights spent on a back porch with new friends.

Great Britain Adventure: Loch Ness + Ben Nevis

In June, Bret and I spent one week in Great Britain. I planned on summarizing that week in a few blog posts this summer and I’ve really fallen behind on those (sorry!) but I’m back. Here’s Day 4! (You can catch up on the first few days here).

After a completely perfect day exploring our new favorite city: Edinburgh, Scotland, we woke up early as usual, packed our backpacks, and enjoyed a traditional Scottish breakfast in the hotel. Then, we boarded the bus and began our drive up to Inverness!

We did not realize how many hours we would spend on the bus on this day, which is probably a good thing, but we were excited to begin with an epic boat ride across Loch Ness. I learned “Loch” means “Lake”. In the U.S., we’d probably call it Ness Lake. In Scotland, we call it Loch Ness. In addition to that tidbit, I learned so many Loch Ness facts Loch Ness Monster legends on the boat!

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We had perfect, perfect, perfect weather. Again, we were constantly reminded that the clear skies were a rarity in Scotland, and we were thankful for this gift of incredible views. For lunch, we ordered food at a little diner/gift shop. There was hardly enough room for our whole group, but we managed. Our only regret was not buying an extra water bottle or two there whiles we had the chance. We didn’t know, but access to food and water would be limited after this stop.

Next, we drove on scary roads on the side of a cliff.

I tried to relax but it was pretty terrifying, and I began to understand how Bret feels in a plane. I hated it. I took some photos to show how close we were to the edge of the cliff. I forced myself to take pictures knowing I’d never be on this road again for the rest of my life. Well. As you’ve heard, all of these photos are lost now. Fortunately, the image of staring down a mountain side is burned in my memory.

We stopped at a memorial for some beautiful scenery, and then our next stop was the Ben Nevis whiskey tour! The tour would have been better if I wasn’t feeling ill, but I wasn’t feeling well, so standing in the equivalent of attic floor boards smelling a mixture of hot beer and whiskey was unpleasant for me. The tour was interesting, though, and we were invited to sample some whiskey at the end! I still wasn’t feeling well, and I’m not really a whiskey person, but I’m glad I forced it down for the experience.

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Unexpected fact: we learned that the tallest mountain in the Scottish Highlands does not even reach 3,000 feet. Boone sits at 3,300 feet.

Next, we got back on the bus. I was really thirsty, but there was no water. We were hoping for a familiar “comfort stop” where I could buy some snacks and hot tea, but our bus driver told us: “The next stop is trees” so we had to go a few hours with no water. Not ideal. We drove through more scary roads and eventually arrived in a village in Scotland called Arrochar. I’d never been so grateful to lie down in a hotel bed. I took some medicine and started to feel much better.

Thankfully, we had dinner planned at the hotel. This was necessary because we were in a small, sleepy town and there were no dinner options in walking distance, but I was especially grateful because, as I mentioned, I was not feeling well. At dinner, we met a new friend and talked about accents and Austrialian stereotypes. Did you know in Australia people shoot kangaroos like we shoot deer? It’s true.

After dinner, We walked around outside (the sun doesn’t set until 10pm!) and hung out with our friends. This is also the night when I realized how much older we are than our newly acquired friend group. They we shocked that we were over 25 and could not BELIEVE that Bret was over 30. It cracked me up when I realized some of them were 18. Here we are in Arrochar!

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After exploring and chatting, we found a comfy place to hang out in the lobby. Bret got a free soda from the bar (he was THRILLED). And we just sat around and hung out with friends. We really wanted to stay up later, but as per usual, we knew we’d have to wake up before 6am, so we reluctantly went to bed at midnight.

Honestly, it feels like most of this day was spent on the bus. It would have been a wash if it wasn’t for the Loch Ness tour and then hanging out with our new friends in the hotel after dinner. Truthfully, it was amazing to see the Highlands… but it was a lot to absorb in one day. To do all of this, we had to spend over 7 hours on the road. At least we didn’t have to drive anywhere ourselves.

That was it for Scotland! Next up, England and Wales!

James Madison and Me

Weekend before last weekend was the best weekend.

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Bret and I knew we wanted to take a trip to enjoy Labor Day weekend. I wanted the beach – any beach – but Wrightsville and Myrtle Beach are the closest and they are still 5+  hours away. Bret wanted to go to Knobels and Hershey Park with his friends in PA. That is about 8 hours away. Nothing seemed ideal and we couldn’t decide, and then we learned that it was JMU’s opening football game, and instantly, the decision was made. Continue reading

Great Britain Adventure: Edinburgh, Scotland!

The first thing you need to know about our experience in Edinburgh is this: Scotland is usually cold and gray and dreary. It often rains. We were prepared for a chilly, gray day.

Instead, we got this:

Edinburg Castle

The weather was BEAUTIFUL and warm and sunny, and everyone was in an extra joyful mood because of it. Bret and I got to spend half the day with a local who was a friend of a new friend we met on our tour, and he was completely in awe of the weather, too. Everyone was eating ice cream cones and lounging outside. All this is to say, my Edinburgh experience was not typical. Continue reading

Balconyfest 2016

It occurred to me recently that I have wildly different relationships with different friends.

I have my Boone/DC/Richmond friends. These are my local friends who I talk “everyday” life with: work, politics, family. We relate through our every day joys and concerns.

Then, I have my grad school/college/summer job Harrisonburg friends who I knew at a magical stage of life. A rare message from one of these people can light a spark in me. I miss these friends, and I’m grateful for our occasional chances to reconnect.

I also have my long-distance friends. Friendships tend to untether when life carries us in separate directions, but I’ve managed to hold on to a few long distance friends by writing letters. These friends are my interactive journals, essentially. I can reach out to them for advice and reassurance and be my real, unfiltered self. Letter writing is good for the soul.

And finally, I have these women right here.

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Great Britain Adventure: Bus Drives to Edinburgh!

We spent most of Day 2 on the bus traveling to Edinburgh. When we first looked at this trip’s itinerary, we were most excited about visiting Edinburgh (and we loved it so much!) but the journey there was grueling. I mean, we were chilling on a bus listening to music and talking so it wasn’t awful, but it was long. The drive was still a great experience in itself, though, because we made several incredible sightseeing stops along the way including:

Hadrian’s Wall. Hadrian’s Wall was constructed in 122 AD to defend the Roman province. Real history, y’all! That wall is nearly 2,000 years old.IMG_3905

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Great Britain Adventure: Cambridge & York

Hello! Thank you to everyone who has expressed kind, encouraging words over the loss of my Europe photos. I wish I could say I’m over it, but, clearly, it’s taking me a while to get these out. I wrote about our first day in the UK before the dreaded factory reset, and I keep meaning to write about the rest of our trip, but every time I start to compose another recap, I think about a lost photo that I want to include, and then I feel sad, and angry, and then I don’t feel like writing anymore. It’s a pointless cycle that must end. So, never fear, Day 2 (Day 1 of our official tour) is here!  I can share my experiences on this trip without an endless photo reel. Let’s work with what I’ve got…

After spending the night in London, we found our bus tour easily in the morning. I felt nervous and excited, but also relieved knowing we were in the right place. We started talking with fellow passengers on the bus, and Bret and I were delighted to discover that we were the ONLY Americans in the whole group. There were a few Canadians, but everyone else was from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, the Philippines, …all over. And there was a huge age range as well: 17 to 74! When the bus started rolling, I couldn’t help but smile because our adventure was officially underway!

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Factory Reset

I’m angry at myself right now, truly.

I’ve been toggling between shock and disbelief, but somehow, my phone factory reset itself, and I failed to back up all of my Europe pictures. I’ve tried everything and I’ve asked everyone who could logically help, and, nothing.

This is one of the only full-size pictures I have left of my time in Scotland.

Scotland

It’s gorgeous, right? The perspective! The framing! The color… this is not filtered, people! I love this photo. I’m proud of this photo. I fell in love with SO many of the pictures that I obsessively took during this trip. And now, they’re “in the wind” according to my good friends at Verizon. I only have this one because I managed to send it to a friend last month before my phone self-destructed. Continue reading

New York to London

One of my favorite things about our trip to Great Britain was all of the political conversations I had with my new friends from all over the world. I felt like I’d heard plenty of perspectives on American politics here in the states, but hearing how other countries talked about our education system, gun violence, and healthcare was a really fascinating point of discussion.

I especially loved talking about top political issues in other countries. It was humbling, for one thing, because I realized that even in my own attempts to diversify my media sources there were so many things I didn’t know much about, like the Philippines newly-elected president, Rodrigo Duterte, who has being called “the Donald Trump of the East,” how English is a national language in Hong Kong (and how you definitely do not equate Hong Kong with China), and then, the many reasons for and against Brexit: Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. And to think that I had so many real political conversations with new friends – FRIENDS – who live in each of these places over a span of a week. It’s such a privilege.

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Great Britain Adventure | 2016

I’ve wanted to travel to Europe forever.

I’ve dreamed of visiting England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany. Backpacking. Exploring. I’d hoped to study abroad in college, or find a summer job overseas, but that didn’t happen.

There’s always been an obstacle: lack of money or lack of vacation days. But in January, when Bret and I talked through some our hopes for 2016, we returned to our Europe dream and asked ourselves IF NOT NOW, WHEN?! So I did some research, found a reasonable tour, and booked it.

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