Redneck Extravaganza

Have you ever had a weekend that filled your heart with so much happiness, gratefulness, love, laughter, and faith? I experienced one of those weekends less than a month ago and have had so much love in my heart since. I’ve been battling personal struggles for the last 9 months and this weekend showed me that I’m on the uphill climb to a new and better me. It’s possible to feel as though you’ve got nothing left but still grow in relationships, make new relationships and reconnect with our Savior.

My Redneck Extravaganza weekend was spent with 5 other Christians, who are so kind-hearted, grateful, loving and all around wonderful humans, who I am lucky to call friends. The weekend didn’t start off as planned, as we were initially planning on climbing to a fire tower through forest and snow. However the day before, Washington’s weather took a turn from sunny and 75 to raining and thundering. Not quite the ideal weather to summit a mountain. Instead, one of the guys, Ben, put an idea out there for camping over in eastern Washington near a popular destination called Mosses Lake. As I didn’t have any knowledge of such place, I was all in, regardless of the decision. And the decision was to postpone the fire tower climb and head east to camp.

We met as a group bright and early Saturday morning, enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and loaded up Big Blue or Diesel. The men (Ben, Paul, and Jonny) had this vision of how the truck needed to be loaded because we had 3 kayaks, 6 bikes, fishing gear, and all of our stuff. Us girls (myself, Brittany, and Angela) really did try to help them, but let’s face it when men have a vision, it’s really better to just let them do their thing. When the truck was finally loaded, we piled into the truck (all 6 of us) and began our road trip.

I selected the middle of the back seat (not sure if I actually selected it or if that’s just how it worked out) but I didn’t mind. It was fun to be between everyone during the drive through the city and beyond to the I90 corridor, as I began learning about many other adventures and stories the group has shared together, more specifically the men’s stories.

We made several pit stops, which all included very random and very hilarious extra activities. Those included random running/sprinting to a pole, group circle push-ups, running through a corn field (resulting in me getting smacked in the face from a corn stalk) and an apple orchard during a MASSIVE wind advisory, and stopping at Wal-mart for a very important purchase, wife-beater tank tops.

The actual location of camping was outside of a town called Othello, in an area called Columbia National Wildlife Refuge/Seep Lakes State Wildlife Recreation Area. A bridge separates the refuge from the recreation area and we decided to take a break there and it turned into the first photo-shoot opportunity. It involved me standing on a truck, the group striking posses on the bridge, and climbing on the sign. We continued on before making our first selection of spots to camp, which turned into our second photo-shoot opportunity, but not our actual camp site.

We piled back into the truck and continued on our way finding a line of rocks blocking a washed out road. This location was our 3rd photo-shoot opportunity and was the start to a good 2-3 hours of off-roading adventure with more random episodes of fun. Us girls started to get restless and we decided to turn back to where the rocks were, but not via truck. The 5 of us, minus Jonny, who drove, jumped onto our bikes and did a little mountain biking.

We finally selected a camp site located near the edge of the lake on a small cliff. It was absolutely breath-taking when setting up camp with the sunset on the horizon and a beautiful, clear sky. Once camp was set up (thank you men for putting up the tents), we enjoy a delicious dinner and some after dinner entertainment with a super moon shining light on us. Nighttime kayaking occurred for Ben and Paul, who went out to fish, and Brittany and Jonny, who took the singles out of the smooth and quite lake. Angela and I stayed behind; I was having too much fun with nighttime photograph trying to capture the stars.

When the group came back from kayaking, I introduced them to something called “Flashlight Nighttime Photography” and we spent a solid 2 hours tracing each other and playing Pictionary via the camera. This was followed by bedtime.

I was the first awake and I woke up to rain dropping down on the tent. Us girls were toasty warm in our tent, but that wasn’t the case when I exited. The rain wasn’t too hard, but it was a bit chilly. I don’t do well just sitting and waiting, so I took off on a hour + bike ride and when I was returning to the camp site the other women were on their way to the restrooms.  Before the men awoke, I got to spend some quality heart to heart with the girls, which whenever you can have girl-time is a special time.

We had some breakfast including coffee and spent some time in worship. I don’t think I’ve been that open and honest with people in sometime. I never felt judgement about my mistake/miss-comings  that I always think I would. I felt loved. I felt friendship. And I felt God again. These 5 people brought back the one thing that was missing during the last 9 months. They brought me back to Him, my Savior, my Heavenly Father.

During worship, it went from cold to super sunny, which we knew meant it was time to hit the water. The men spoiled us and offered to break down camp as we took off on the kayaks towards the canal. We gathered back together, 4 people in kayaks, myself and Ben on the inter tube tied to the double kayak.

This is when our day gets a little spontaneous. We hit the canal, which is a free flowing body of water so we didn’t have to do too much. That was until we hit the bridge. Yes, I’m talking about the same bridge from the day before. Want to know why we stopped? Well, because we (the guys mostly) wanted to jump off the bridge AND designed a rope swing. Why not? I have no fear in heights and honestly have loved “cliff jumping/bridge jumping” when I’ve done it. Every time something adventurous comes up and I’m with Ben, he tells me “Do it for Mapless Adventures”. It’s hard to say “no” to that (though I don’t usually say no) and so that’s exactly what we did. I jumped off the bridge twice and tried the rope swing, but wow of wow did that not feel good. Brittany and I some how really hurt our hands and fingers from the release off the rope (I actually ended up breaking my top knuckle on my middle finger) but it was still a blast. We ended our trip, after Angela and Ben continued down to the bikes and Jonny and Angela rode onto the truck, with one final photo shoot opportunities with the sunset in the back ground.

It was another eventful road trip back to the city and am so thankful that Jonny was a wonderful driving with the amount of rain we hit through the I90 corridor. Our arrival home was past midnight, but with the amount of laughter and adventure that endured I didn’t mind getting home so late. We called our weekend Redneck Extravaganza, but it ended up being “Chasing Sunshine” because that’s exactly what we did. This one is diffidently one for the books!

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From Washington to Montana

The month of August was INSANE. I worked approximately 28 of 31 days and felt like I had absolutely no time to myself or for my friends. Now you might think “who on earth would work that many days” and to be honest with you I don’t know if I’d do it again. Thankfully, I was able to escape for a weekend getaway to the eastern side of the state to spend the weekend with one of my best friends. If anyone knows me, I love road tripping and this particularly weekend we decided that we’d really getaway from society and jet off to Montana. This would be my first visit to the beautiful state.

I left work on Friday and immediately started my road trip. It takes approximately 4-5 hours to travel from Seattle to Spokane and the day before leaving I found my stash of old school CDs. This made the car-ride way more entertaining…I mean how can you go wrong with busting out to Backstreet Boys for a whole hour! The car ride went quickly and before I knew it I was in Spokane. Due to very long days, Sydney and I determined it was more efficient to stay in and enjoy a nice bottle of wine! But to be honest, anytime Sydney and I are together we determine its more efficient to stay in and drink wine. It’s kind of our thing. Granted we did have an early morning planned as we would be road tripping to Montana to hike.

Before I knew it, it was time to wake up and I was reeling in intense stomach pain that gave me a bit of fright that I wasn’t going to be able to survive the day. Thankfully Wal-Mart wasn’t too far away and before I knew it I was feeling better.

Our road trip started with us jamming out to some old school 90s hits that took us back to our middle school years! I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in quite sometime and as we passed through Couer d’Alene, we both started focusing on the scenery. If you’ve never been in this area of the country than you might not understand. The Couer d’Alene National Forest was breath-taking and with another hour we were on the boarder of Idaho and Montana. In fact, where we decided to hike was literally right on the boarder. We parked in Idaho and hiked between Idaho and Montana with spectacular views of the Lolo National Forest.

Our hike of choice was one called Blossom Lake Trail is a 6.0 mile out-and-back through backcountry. It’s hard to really describe what the forest looked like because many of the terrain have similar looks, but I do remember the start of the trail. You are walking along this skinny path that drops a foot or so on each side. It was something I haven’t seen before when hiking. The weather however was something I have experienced before. It was quite chilly with chances of rain (shocking).

We continued along the trail and kept running into multiple forks and of course we couldn’t decide which way…Left or Right. Another crazy event that occurred was locating the LARGEST PINE CONE I’ve ever seen and the spikiest tree I’ve ever seen (funny tree too). It might not seem like a huge deal, but I love finding new things whenever I go hiking. By the time we made it to the top, it had dropped temperature by easily 10 degrees. We planned at the start to jump into the alpine lake, however it being cold, I completely vetoed that concept. Sydney, however, decided it would be fun. It was fun, for me watching, and freezing for her, but now she can say she swam in an alpine lake in Montana!

We made it down the trail at a fairly decent hour and Sydney planned on taking me back to Spokane along highway 200 passed Lake Pend Oreille to Sandpoint, ID. This drive included more jamming to our crazy idea of a good music including “LET IT GO”. Back in Spokane, it was dinner and passing out from exhaustion.

Waking up on Sunday was something amazing because the weather was simply beautiful, sunshine and warmth. Due to this factor and learning that it was peach season, we headed approximately 10 minutes north to a community called Green Bluff Growers Association. This community is an association of small family farms and stands that was formed in 1902 to protect the local strawberry growers from outside competition. This association hosts seasonal activities including pick-your-own fruit and annual festivals. Because of the peach season, the first place we visited had rows and rows of organic peach trees and I had the opportunity to pick a peach right off the tree. I don’t think I’ve ever done this before and it was just as much fun as I would have thought.

This association is more than just farms and following the map of growers, we found a brewery, some wine tastings, a cider mill (alcoholic) and a meadery. I’ve drank plenty of beer, wine and cider (all of which were fabulous) in my days but this meadery-concept was something new. Hierophant Meadery is Washington’s first meadery, which is home to a tasting room of bottle mead (honey wine), kombucha, and other honey/beeswax products. Sydney and I were in love with this place and it was the perfect way to end one amazing weekend.

Well not really…it was just a good way to end our farm adventure. In fact, we headed back to Sydney’s place and partook in the Ice Bucket Challenge. THIS was a great way to finish my amazing Washington to Montana weekend with Sydney.

…unfortunately our plans for me to return in October for Apple Pickin’ were slightly impacted by Sydney’s new work contract moving her to the east coast… maybe next year.

Day Trip to Vancouver, Canada

Christmas came and went this year and although I was able to spend Thanksgiving with my family, it still was very heartbreaking being so far away. Because of this, my friend Krista and I decided that we needed to get away and what better way than to road trip north to Vancouver, BC, Canada! If you recall I visited Canada for the first time back in February (first canadian adventure) and ever since then I have been DYING to back. When I realized I’d have a free weekend (the last of 2013), I knew exactly where I needed to go. I am lucky enough to have a friend who is as crazy as me for a ROAD TRIP!

We left really early Saturday morning and made it from Seattle to Vancouver, BC in under 3.5 hours and that included the 30+ minute wait at the border. Once we crossed the border, both Krista and I felt like children at Disney Land. There is something euphoric about entering another country and going off the grid even if it’s only a few hour drive.

We made it to Vancouver, found a location to park Misty for the day and headed out towards the city with a stop for some caffeine. Yes, the first thing we did in Vancouver was make a pit stop at a coffee shop! Can you blame us, we did just sit 3.5 hours in a car jamming to music! Now give you a little over view of the events to come next…the night before Krista and I watched the movie Elf and Krista has always wanted to pull an ELF adventure day. So what came next was the start of an ELF IN VANCOUVER. As we were walking towards the main downtown street, my crazy friend walked into a coffee shop and said the exact same lines from Elf and a few people stared, some clapped, but mostly people didn’t really know how to react. Then we found a round-a-bout door, which she proceeded to go round and round as I laugh with her. It was quite awesome.

After that, we had to make a decision > to go to the suspension bridge to see the lights/biggest Christmas tree or head to Granville Island for some mischievous adventure. Can you guess which one we choose? If you guessed taking the aquabus to Granville Island, you’d be correct. I have been to the island before and knew of some fun places that we could visit. We started with lunch at the market and did some wandering around trying some new fruits and mostly people watching! After the market, we started our tour de Granville at Artisan Saki Maker for some delicious saki. Then off to The Liberty Distillery for a bit of vodka tasting (my favorite and a first for me) before ending our tour our the Granville Brewery!

One of Krista’s “must do” for our road trip, was meeting ‘true’ Canadians and leave it to this girl to make friends with one of the servers at the brewery, who bravely joined us for a bit of nighttime fun. Unfortunately, our trip didn’t end on a high note as Krista lost her phone, however this trip was still one to remember for years to come.  I’m glad I was able to spend my spontaneous international day trip/road trip with someone so dear to my heart. I sometimes forget how lucky I am and how wonderful of people I have in my life. This trip was the perfect way to end 2013! Check out our day in pictures HERE!

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

The best part of my job isn’t the routine day-to-day interactions and speech therapy component. It’s the part where my co-workers have became my family and we ENJOY each other’s presence outside of work, including overnight weekend adventures. One such trip included spending a Saturday at the Annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Mount Vernon, WA. The title explains most of what the weekend entailed, however it doesn’t put the picture of rows and rows of beautiful, bloomed and color tulips in your mind. The Tulip Festival is in its 30th year and runs for the entire month of April.  Tulips are grown over 100s of acres in the region of the Skagit Valley. In 2012, the festival was privileged to have visitors from 49/50 states and approximately 53 countries, talk about popular!

Within the festival are two stunning gardens, RoozenGaarden (a Washington Bulb farm) and Tulip Town (the DeGoede farm), which are home to over 1 MILLION bulbs. The entire festival has more than 100+ tulip varieties and 150+ varieties in total- including daffodils, hyacinths, crocus, iris, and other types of flowers. This festival is more than just flowers. This festival has other special events (like signings), connected wine festivals, photo contests, art shows, tours, bike/running races, and food stands and farmer markets which make it worth a whole weekend!

Let’s be honest, I grew up in Phoenix so flowers can get fairly mundane after a while, which can only mean one thing…WINE! Yes, you guessed it, I found a local winery, Tulip Winery, and went in for a little tasting! I even meet the owner. Not a bad mid-day break from the flowers, if I do say so myself 🙂 For pictures, click here.

As a group, we decided we would stay up north in Bellingham, WA. Reason to stay that far north: we wanted to spend time wander/driving through the North Cascades National Park. It wasn’t the best of weather (well, typical weather for us here) but with cars and cameras the weather never crossed our minds! The day was spent driving along Highway 20 pulling off to the side of the road for waterfalls, farm houses and anything we thought would make a good picture. Oh, I probably should have mentioned my team members and I are a bit photographic obsessed 🙂 Can’t really ask for a better day with friends! Pictures from the NCNP

First Time to Canada

The New Year came and went, along with my attitude towards work. I don’t know what changed, but things started to get tensed and my team began to notice my change in attitude. I was requested (told) to take a mini vacation, re-group/re-center and I jumped at it (without hesitation). It was a much needed vacation and with so much free time, I knew EXACTLY where I needed to go.

Vancouver, BC, Canada was on my radar since I decided to move up to the PNW. I was, however, unaware of ALL the things Vancouver had to offer, but that didn’t matter. I was up for the challenge and learning experience. I haven’t done a fully spontaneous, book the night before, just leave, type of an adventure since I lived and traveled throughout Italy. Gosh, did it feel amazing. Have you ever had that heart pumping, feel like a kid in a candy story, giddiness rush of happiness, feeling upon doing something? If you haven’t, I highly suggest going out and doing something wild and crazy, and that doesn’t have satan’s grasp over you.  As the border began to appear in my line of site and as I inched closer and closer until finally crossing over, those feelings (plus more) hit me like the hurricane wind. All the stress in my heart, my soul and my head, dissipated into thin air.

Forty-five minutes later, I arrived. Downtown Vancouver became my home for the next three days and the unknown slowly unraveled into reality.

I did have one thing planned before leaving- sleeping arrangements. I decided on a popular hostel, Samesun Backpacker Lodges, located in the heart of downtown that not only offered decently priced accommodations, they offered daily excursions or events, and a bar/restaurant easily located on the first floor of the building. Hostels are quite entertaining and wonderful places to meet people from all over the world; reason I love staying at them.

Once I found the hostel, parked my car, and got settled, I wasn’t sure where to go or what to do. What better way to explore the unknown then by simply walking; no map in had, no final destination. That night, I managed to wonder downtown, strolling alongside the art museum, and ending up at the waterfront; home to the Olympic Torch from the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Convention Center, and Canada Place (Canada’s Icon and hub for activity). The weather was a bit chilly, but it was a crystal clear evening and just the peaceful environment I needed to de-stress and unwind.

Saturday wasn’t as unplanned as Friday night. The hostel hosted an excursion to 1 of the 2 suspension bridges located within Vancouver that afternoon, and I wasn’t going to pass up that adventure. Before the trip, I wanted to venture back to the waterfront for a daylight view of the water and mountains to the north. Unfortunately, mother nature had another plan- clouds. It wasn’t the rain clouds I’ve gotten accustomed too here in Washington, but those light-weight, low level, perfect to block a view type clouds. I wasn’t too heart-broken, however. The clouds ended up creating picturesque, majestic view of the Vancouver Skyline. A perfect setting for a morning stroll. By afternoon, I was eager to travel to Lynn Canyon Park with 10 of my fellow hostel goers and experience my first ever suspension bridge. It took approximately 1 hour from the hostel to reach our final destination, and included walking, a water taxi, a bus, and a little bit of hiking.

The bridge itself is not very long (compared to the other one), but once you’re standing in the middle looking strait down onto a canyon, you realize the power a bridge like this holds. Connecting one side to the other, without the bridge parts of the park would be a mystery to the human eye. I might not have seen the green water hole, a location of a lost plane that crashed, or a semi-frozen lake with a mountain skyline. Granted it helped that the group of travelers I was with, were all up for the adventure of hiking (and getting a little lost in the process).

By Sunday morning, I had a list of “Must See” places within Vancouver. I knew that this was going to be my last full day of exploration and wanted to check off as much as I could (regardless of the Superbowl or not). The hostel hosted another adventure that included exploring Granville Island public market and brewery. In the AM, before joining other hostel goers, I ventured to the other waterfront (southside of downtown) for a stroll with views of Granville Island, English Bay, and second and third beaches. By that afternoon, I was wandering around an amazing market place filled with fresh fruit, homemade bakery items, and LOTS of MAPLE SYRUP (yes, I did buy some). Shortly following, I was tasting delicious island brewed beer, including a maple ale, and organic saki. Talk about living life to the fullest! As nighttime came around, I was exhausted and decided to find a quite bar to enjoy some good food and good beer (it was easier than it sounds).

Monday was more of a bittersweet day as it was time for me to rejoin the real world. I may not have done everything I would have liked to up in Vancouver, BC, Canada, I can give you with 100% certainty, I will be back (hopefully sooner rather than later)!  Click here for pictures