Top 10 in Paradise

Ben keeps yelling at me for not keepin a minute-by-minute recap of our travels. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to mean we haven’t done anything blog-worthy…In fact, quite the opposite. Sometimes, the travel smiles pile up so high I don’t even know where to start. But for the sake of appeasing the diva, here we go…A special guest edition of the top ten things about our last ten days in paradise—written by Anne, smartass inserts by Ben:

First off, I would like to say that I have not been yelling at Anne for the above mentioned paragraph. I was promised a guest blog and was never given the opportunity until now. That is all.

1. Monkey business: As mentioned in postcard love, we found this authentic Greek shack out on the beach on Koh Lanta one morning. I ate slowly, savoring each bite of my gyro and was not-so-secretly stoked to package up the leftovers I intentionally saved for our afternoon at the beach.

Is it just me or does Anne describe everything with so much detail that it doesn’t seem real? I have never described food and/or eating like that. Food is simply nutrition that my body needs; therefore I eat it as quickly as possible without ever tasting it.

gyroWe motorbiked to the southern tip of the island, leftovers in hand, climbed some rocky cliffs to snap some of the coolest pictures to date and wandered back down to the secluded strip of white powder to set up shop for the afternoon. We walked the beach, took a break to swing, floated in the gentle waves, soaked rays…

…all of the usual beach things until I thought ‘ok. It’s finally time. It’s been an appropriate distance since breakfast. I’m goin in for the gyro.’ Apparently this jerk of a monkey was in perfect concerto with me and beat me to the punches. Homeboy sat there with a gnarly cleft-lip-intensified-growl and chowed down on my precious leftovers. You know what, I can’t even write about this anymore…#TooSoon

I was dozing off and heard what could only be described as machine-gun thunder (the monkey rapidly swinging his arms at the plastic to-go bag as if he wasn’t smart enough to use his opposable thumb and simply untie the bow-knot that Anne tied. Shortly after the ‘Garth Brooks Thunder Rolling’ I heard what I swore was a 10-year old girl crying… Little did I know, it was coming from Anne as if a tear was literally about to roll down her cheek.

2. The beach: Yes, we’re in the midst of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s honestly a honeymooner’s dream. But we also saw THE beach….You know, Leo’s beach [[insert Dad-bod jokes here]]. We ‘balled out’ for an afternoon in Koh Phi Phi and hired a private long boat. First stop after a dreamy tear through that sparkly deep blue: Maya Beach. Yes. It is as beautiful as it looks on the big screen. No, we did not get shot at by doping farmers. No, we didn’t even want to pay the 200 Baht to touch shore on the Hollywood-famed sand. But we did find a perfect [[and free of charge]] side spot to adore it all from. Leo wasn’t there in all his cushy glory, but I’d say that glorious day was fit for any celeb.

I honestly don’t know where Anne gets these descriptions from?! All I know is we, like everyone else, got on a loud long-tail boat (not ballin) and rode to this gorgeous bay filled with speedboats and other long-tails. Sure, if there wasn’t a million other tourist in the water and on THE beach is would have been the closest thing to heaven. However, it was the opposite. Hundreds of people who couldn’t swim and had to wear lifejackets as well as trash on the beach (so much for that 200 baht each person pays to keep the beaches clean). I realized when we rode elephants that Anne is either captivated by the simplest things or I am a pessimist.

3. Sunsets: Before I got my phone stolen in Cambo, I’d estimate about 65% of my photo library were sunsets. I just love em. You know the best kind? The kind over water. Our favorite sunset-gawking-perch was from atop the Banana Bar in Koh Phi Phi. I mean can you really think of anything better than an unobstructed view straight up to heaven, with those pinks and oranges streaked across God’s canvas, all the while waves rolling in between the huge limestone book ends, Bob Marley crooning and a spiked watermelon juice in hand? Yeah. I think not. That’s about as good as it gets.

Yea, both the Banana Bar and sunsets were pretty amazing. Did Anne and I just agree on something?!10985418_490803407752110_7239139954878360735_n

4. Cool dinners: Thanks to Lucia and Breezy, Thai food is my favorite. Thanks to me, Ben now thinks ‘it’s not bad’ [[omg, drop the cool-dude-exterior and rave about something, for once, dangit Ben! It’s awesome. Just admit it]]. So we’re in Thailand and that’s all I eat. Curry on curry on curry. But the places we pick to enjoy said dishes is one of my favorite bits about this trip. My absolute favorite? Time of Lime. A fixed six course menu is sometimes the way to go. Gets you outside your instinctual order. A cozy little lantern lit spot right on the beach. A view of the sunset that faded into the green glow of nighttime squid fishing boat lights. A cool glass of rose. A lemongrass margarita. Thai chicken soup. Cashew chicken. Massaman curry. Fish cakes. Barbequed prawns. Chocolate mousse. Yup. Pure decadence. And worth every single one of the $18-ish spent. The flavors, the view, the music, the light green glow…it was perhaps the definition of ‘cool.’

Don’t get me wrong, Thai food isn’t that bad! But I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy. And did I mention I eat my food so fast that I don’t even taste it? That’s right. Pad thai, Massaman curry, all of it just goes down the pipe into the belly to feed this machine we call our body. The green lights casted off of the squid fishing boats is captivating. But Anne’s obsession with going night squid fishing is borderline crazy. We drove around on a 100 degree day on a moped looking for boats at the pier to ask if they would take us… Anne was driving at the time too (insert female driving joke here)

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5. R&R from R&R: I know. I know. R&R? On vacation? I see the irony. But sometimes, when your travel buddy turns 27 in Thailand, you have to trade in the $10 digs and just go all out and find the sweetest 4-star-resort you can afford and go there and be on the beach and get massages and shower outside on the private patio and just ya know, ‘treat yoself.’ A treat it was. Former hotel snob for the birthday win. At least I thought so. Ben’s still all: ‘it’s not bad.’

There is something that I would like to discuss on this point – Anne’s inability to surprise me. First, she told me about a nice hotel she booked for my birthday; she wouldn’t tell me the price. Therefore, Inspector Gadget (me) dug around. Hmm, what would Anne use to book the hotel? How about hotels.com… Simply searched the hotels name, found the total price, divided by two, and had what each of our shares was. Anne forgets that I’m basically James Bond (with the jaw line of Channing Tatum). I knew something was up one day when she took a plate full of bread from the buffet back to the room to “feed the ducks”.. Yea. Ok. I found a spot on the beach and Anne came out 20 minutes later with a mountain of PB&Js. While I probably didn’t act as enthusiastic as she wished, it was a nice gesture. She needs to realize I’m a guy. No emotions shown and don’t get giddy over small things. Maybe her BFFFL Kara would have jumped up and hugged her, but not me. I have a masculine reputation to uphold.1512817_491039057728545_4280086661759996529_n

6. Parrot fish: Mom made me stow a receipt in my wallet about 5 years ago with a rundown on my medical history. It’s still there—“Do not scuba dive. Your lung capacity sucks, thanks to 6 months of poison” or something to that effect… But Ben put his PADI cert to use to do some pretty sweet underwater exploring. From the surface and a snorkel mask, I did get to soak up some of my fave parrot fish, though. There! Take that, chemotherapy.

Diving in Thailand is way better than the only other place I’ve gone – Beaver Lake, Arkansas. I have done 8 dives, 1 of which is a night dive! My favorite dive was a ship on the sea floor about 25 meters down. This ship had a lot of history, but was purposely put in the ocean to serve as an artificial reef for divers and researchers. It’s hard to explain the rush in skydiving and the serenity in scubadiving. Water covers more of our Earth than land. It’s an amazing experience to witness a whole nother society free of vehicles, cell phones, and over-paid athletes/celebrities. The simplicity of marine life and Thai life go hand-in-hand. It’s about food and shelter. Your life gets put into perspective when the guy you’re renting a moped from sleeps behind his store on a wooden platform with a blanket covering him and piece of wood to protect him from the rain. No A/C. No kitchen. No bathroom. Just a piece of damn wood… That just got deep.

7. Fisherman pants: While shopping is neither of our favorite pastimes, we have folded on a few occasions for local gems and / or local knock-offs. We’re now the proud owners of cheap iphone accessories, matching ‘Same same, but different’ tanks and the infamous fisherman pants. Ben bought said pants for a yoga sesh that didn’t happen, but they’ve been a source of much entertainment…from the YouTube videos that taught him to properly tie the 5 foot circumference waist band to the time they dyed all of his white shirts pink in the wash…I hope he struts those pants at home and laughs all over again.

Best. Purchase. Ever. These things weren’t the easiest to tie at first, but they’ve become one of the most comfortable things I’ve worn this entire trip. Anne wanted some after wearing them on the elephant. She’s actually jealous that she doesn’t have a pair!10411892_10204820497645287_39229084963662216_n

8. Google it: Did Nepal’s earthquakes send aftershocks that shook Phi Phi with a quake and tidal wave warning just days before we arrived? Is the ‘kup’ or ‘kah’ [[aka masculine or feminine]] pronoun clasped to the end of a word based on the speaker or recipient? Do we need a visa for Malaysia? How many islands ARE there off the coast of Thailand? Oh my gosh, we ask so many questions every day but the answer is always the same ‘it’s worth a Google.’ The problem is, half the time we don’t have internet, so our Google backlog is significant at present. We should really start writing down our q’s, Ben. Side note: please answer in the comments below if you have intel on any of the above.

The only answer I have for the above is that you do not need a visa for Malaysia, they pretty much give you 90 days upon arrival. Other than that, I think you shorted us. I have roughly 10 more questions that we never Googled. I love learning new things every day, but this trip I’ve been drinking from a fire hose. Too much information, too little a time.

9. Princess massages: Ben slips and calls me a ‘princess’ sometimes [[not in a nice way, either]] and it pisses me off. I’m a lot of things, but ‘princess’ I am not. Howeeevvverrrrr, I do love me a massage once in a while. Thai massage? Even better. It’s basically half massage, half someone conducting yoga with your body without you having to try. I love it. Ben’s a little baby trapped in a rigid man’s body and cannot deal. He still goes with me though and opts for the much more ‘princess’ a la carte.

A) Princess is an understatement when it comes to adjectives for Anne. She is a typical American girl. Hairdryer, hand sanitizer, and hates bugs. Plus, she’s almost too nice! When girls use the words ‘doll’ or ‘love’ after every sentence when talking to another female traveler, I don’t know if its fake or a secret code girls use. I cant stand being called a doll or love, but maybe girls take it differently? And FYI – Thai massages are like paying for a 60-minute torture session. I had a 90 pound Thai woman beat me up and I paid her for it! No thanks!

10. Fire: This. I just still can’t even.

The fire show was awesome the first time we saw it. I could see Anne’s eyes glazed over and I don’t think I saw her blink once. But once was cool enough for me. The second time we stumbled upon a fire show it was around several dozen inebriated college-aged kids. I hadn’t been drinking (we all know the sober guy feeling = the worst) so I was ready to bounce after 2 minutes. Anne, however, could have stayed all night watching kerosene lit objects twirl in the air. No one likes a Debby downer, but I am used to the single life where I do what I want and don’t worry about affecting anyone else. Signs that a serious relationship is definitely not in my near future!

So yes, we’ve been busy stackin up travel smiles off the west coast of Thailand. Happy, Ben?!

No

Then you prob never will be, love. Drops mic.

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Dancin with fire

Maybe it was the unbeatable sunset view atop a Bob-Marley-vibed bar looking out over the Andaman Sea earlier that evening…sunsetMaybe it was that Ben and I’d shared a few buckets of margaritas and a pile of pretty-dang-good-for-Thailand Mexican-food…

Maybe it was that we’ve been island hopping for a week now and the slow pace of Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi life were finally soaking in…

island hoppingWhatever it was, Sunday night, I was in absolute awe.

We capped off our first night in Phi Phi with a glass of wine [[a Mai Tai for the stud]] and picked a seat on the beach. When the first local took the stage, dipped his gear in lighter fluid and then grazed it through the flame, my jaw hit the sand. And I didn’t bother to pick it up for the next hour…

These small, albeit chiseled, guys danced with fire on a stage on a beach on an island in the middle of nowhere. They flung flaming poi and batons through the air faster than I could comprehend. The dark of the night mixed with the light of the fire [[and ok, fine, the encouragement from a glass of red]] just had me hooked.  The danger and unknown of it all was absolutely, utterly beautiful.

fire dancingMost of the time, it was a precise art…an obvious culmination of years of practice, maybe even gifted to them through their lineage. Most of the time it was perfection. But some of the times, they’d mis-judge a toss and drop a flaming poi in the sand. They’d just smile, sink to the stage and pump out a few push-ups, get up, wipe the sand from their hands and get on with it…picking right back up to the beat of the music, as if they never missed the chorus. It just looked like growth and grace.

And it made me wanna dance with fire…

So then of course, all of my sentimental cheesy starts oozing together with the wine and the awe and then all of the metaphors start screaming at me…I AM playing with fire… kind of…

I mean I left home and my career and all of my comforts to come gallivant around the world for an undefined amount of time, for arguably fluffy, but important reasons. To my former ‘type-A’ self, that’s pretty fire-dancing-esque…

I could run out of money in Europe and have to figure out how to get home…

My bags could fall off the roof of the speed boat this afternoon and I’d be left with only the clothes on my back…

I could get food poisoning from the meat that sits out at the markets for hours on end, and have to stumble through a medical conversation with a foreign physician…

Honestly, anything could happen.

But it seems worth it. Dancing with fire is therapeutic and invigorating and inspiring.

Those boys didn’t mean to get all metaphorical on me. And certainly Ben didn’t know my jaw on the sand meant all these crazy things were running through my mind, but something clicked on that beach for me…

I love seeing people dare to be different… dare to live a little outside the box…dare to do what makes them happy…dare to make people smile… dare to try a little harder at the risk of failing…dare to forgive your dropped balls and do it all over again…

Find your fire, people…and then go on and dance. I dare you.

Wish you were here, from Chiang Mai

If there was one person in the world I could have had with us in Chiang Mai this week, it’d be the girl with the elephant tattoo on the back of her neck…

I always think of my little Lucia when I see elephants. She loves the things. Like LOVES them, loves them. Almost as much as I love her. So if you account for sleeping time, Loosh was on my mind for approximately 70 hours this week. Everywhere I turned, an elephant shirt, an elephant necklace, an elephant satchel. Four days of colorful elephant everything.

Then yesterday, there was a real elephant. Three big elephants and one baby elephant, to be exact. And if anyone could have smiled harder than I did, it would have been Lucia.

I struggled at first, as I’m sure Lucia would have, to wrap my head around the ethics of the whole thing…is this animal cruelty? Are the elephants treated nicely? Is this just a glorified zoo? If I visit a park or sanctuary, do I want to ride one as well? If so, which one?

Hours upon hours of research turned up a particular gem—Elephant Discovery Chiang Mai—and from what I could tell, it was a total haven for these big beauties. Their mahouts revered them. There were no chains, no hooks, no pens, no riding rickshaws. Just elephants and their human friends living harmoniously in the dense bush about 2 hours outside of Chiang Mai. If Lucia could have seen the way the people and elephants alike smiled, I think she would have approved too.

This is how you do a day at Elephant Discovery Chiang Mai. This is how you make an elephant lover like Loosh smile so dang hard…

First you hop in the back of a 4 wheel drive with the A-team [[hello fellow Americans!]], windows down, Paw, our guide, singing lead to every Bob Marley, Maroon 5 and Shakira song from the last decade. Drive for two hours through the northern Thai switchbacks, with a coffee bubble tea in hand, and swoon over Paw’s incessant giggle.

When you arrive at the humble park, the small family of elephants will greet you like an old friend. You’ll be overwhelmed and slightly timid at first, but as the gentle beings sway back and forth and bat their pretty brown eyes at you, it all just melts… And you start to realize that this day is going to leave an elephant sized stamp on your life’s memory book.

You’ll learn about the village’s tradition of raising elephants. And the sad truths about some of the more circus-like attractions closer to the city [[#CountryGirlForLife]].

You’ll get buddied up with an elephant like our 37-year-old Campot and you’ll become her new bestie with a little banana-lovin.

CampotThen, oh my gosh, Lucia, you get.to.bathe.the.elephants… Not like you grab a hose and spray them down in some superficial line-up…but you walk them down to the river and they lay down in the warm water for a good scrub. It is probably the coolest thing you’ll ever do…

Until the babe squirts water on you and you feel like you’re in some Nat-Geo-Jungle-Book medley of a dream…then THAT’S the coolest

squirts

The trek through the winding, tree-draped river and alongside the rice paddies and up steep jungle banks is only made more amazing by the fact that a multi-ton beast is gliding along underneath your groin-straining-straddle.

Lunch is served in a hut. We aren’t convinced that it wasn’t KFC Original Recipe tied up in banana leaves. But when the baby comes to clear the dishes, you don’t give a flying crap about the authenticity of lunch.

Babe

In fact…

with a view like this…

view

and a new friend like this…

friends

and a weird friend like this…

weird

…nobody cares what the lunch recipe was, cause the whole thing was the perfect recipe for a perfect smile-inducing kind of day.

smiling

One that I so desperately wish I could have shared with little Lucia baby.

perfect

5 reasons why every broken-hearted gal should visit Bali

So I’m standing at the edge of a Titanic shaped dock at dusk, looking out over cascading rice paddy meets tropical forest, the smell of coffee beans roasting wafts through the air, when I actually catch myself mutter the words:

‘Maybe this is why it all happened…so I could be in Bali today.’

Bali

Me. The girl who wrote this.

The girl who, not three days ago, cried herself to sleep because of all she misses.

Me. A young, broken-hearted American gal, for a moment in time, felt dots connecting, worlds colliding, God healing, smile cementing, soul affirming. And it’s all because of Bali…

Every time I tell my dad, ‘oh, I love this place’ or ‘this might be my new favorite’ or ‘you have to add this to your bucket list’ he asks me ‘Why?’ ‘What makes it so special?’ Usually, I have some non-specific, but sensible answer.

When he asks me about Bali, I will have five answers, that all add up to one big answer.

So here we go, the easiest post I’ve yet to write…here are the top 5 reasons that every broken-hearted gal must visit Bali:

  1. It will let you eat your heart out. Let’s face it. I love food even when my heart is intact. But there’s some unwritten law in the book of heartbreak that states that food = necessary, couch-devouring guilty pleasure. We’ve all been there. And it usually sucks because nine times out of ten it’s a gallon of cheap grocery store ice cream and a tub of empty calories. Not in Bali. In Bali, you can eat to your little heart’s desire and not feel one ounce of guilt or stomach rot. The food is so real, so pure, so raw and organic, you can very literally taste the difference. From Kafe to Taco Casa, there are a million fresh food and juice options to blow a health-nut’s [[or broken heart’s]] mind. Never have I seen so many menus I want to devour. Raw cheesecakes, honey-roasted beet salads, almond-cacao-coconut smoothie galore. It’s foodie #InstaHeaven, yall. If a happy belly were ever to happy a heart, then Bali’s it.
  2. It will help you pamper yourself silly. As if it weren’t compelling enough to know that Balinese hands give the best massage I’ve ever known [[I swear, they get down so deep, they massage your heart and soul]]– a 60 minute massage here in Ubud will set you back less than a machine chair massage at the Airport. Maybe a slight exaggeration, but not by much. For 250,000 Indonesian Rupia [[approximately $20 U.S. Dollars]], I bought myself a ‘welcome to the Spa shower,’ a 60 minute Balinese massage [[this ain’t no Massage Envy massage either—though I love that place—this is a get-on-top-of-the-table-to-really-get-in-there / no-place-for-bashful-butt-and-chest-kneeding / scalp-gripping-hair-yanking kind of 60 minute sesh]], and the longest, most detailed pedicure of my life. Note to all broken hearts: when someone wants to send you to an overpriced-over-stuffy spa to help you feel good, kindly request that they reallocate that spend for a one-way-ticket to Bali + under-priced-stuffy-doesn’t-translate-Balinese spa [[it’s probably a wallet wash, anyway]]. Indulging never felt so good. Spoiling yourself never felt so guilt-free. In fact, I think I’ll opt in again today. Probably tomorrow too. When in Bali, right?
  3. It’ll turn you into a proper yogi. Now, I’ve said it before, yoga is good for me. I love yoga and weird as it may sound, yoga loves me too. It makes me feel good and think good. Though I’m certainly no Antonella, I try. And I grow. And it is a physical reminder [[demand, rather]] to give myself grace. Bali is the yoga capital of the world. And for good reason. Yoga Barn. I don’t even know how to describe it. I think Yoga Barn is the kind of place that could convert a linebacker into a downward-facing-dogger. At the end of a small [[slightly chlaustrophobic, even]] alley tucked into the heart of Ubud, you’ll find the quaint little Yoga Barn welcome desk. The beautiful Balinese gals will invite you in and show you the way. You’ll wind through a palm-tree-draped stair case, cut through a sweet little café [[serving mouth-watering-things found on point 1, above]] where yogis are lounging out on the big day-bed-looking benches, and then down one more flight of earthy stairs. Then you will subconsciously let out an audible ‘ommmm’ [[mygosh]] as the quaint opens up into a vast and proper yoga retreat. There is a huge, cabana-covered deck. And bungalows off to the side, where yoga teachers in training can hang their bolsters for weeks on end. And there is the yoga barn. A big barn looking structure with a dual staircase that leads up to the most awe-inspiring studio I’ve ever stepped foot in. The dark wooded beams and soft lights and British gal invite a room full of travelers to practice. To mediate and find yin. I cannot say enough things about yoga here, so I’ll just beg you broken-hearted gals to come treat your soul to yoga in Bali.
  4. It’ll make you wanna straddle a Balinese boy. No, no, no, not like that. But I’ve maybe never felt so grounded but free; so wreckless but solid; so wild but beautiful, as I did on the back of Jo’s motorbike. Kara and Paul warned me how utterly wonderful it feels to ride helmet-less through foreign streets with a foreigner [[who, if you pick a good one, will become a friend in no time]]. They were right. We found Jo at the Mini Mart on the main Ubud drag, rented a motorbike for the two pros and then rented Jo for me. I hopped on the back of that bike, with a Balinese boy between my legs, and felt every pent up inhibition melt away with each spin of the tire. As we tore through town [[only to be stopped by a funeral procession in which the entire village escorts the casket, in full traditional Hindu garb down the streets…sad as it was, it was absolutely beautiful]], throttled through the rice fields bordered by palm trees and pointed at every temple [[and every stunning home, so pretty it could have been a temple]], I felt myself smiling the hardest I’ve smiled in so, so long. I physically felt God touch my heart on the back of that motorbike. I smiled so hard, in fact, that a lone happy-tear fell on my cheek. Broken-hearted gals, straddle a Balinese boy and letter-rip. Just leave enough room for God.
  5. It’ll fill the crevices of your broken heart with relationship. In the absence of your relationship, you will find the new and treasure it forever. If you come alone [[which you can totally do. Lots of gals traveled here alone]], you will find relationship with the handsome British boy sitting in the café next to you [[hellooooo, Harry]]. Or you’ll find relationship with your Jo. Or sweet Pia and her sister Mar, and Mar’s boyfriend. You’ll meet people like Pia and Mar in a hotel and bond over breakfast and then send ‘see you later’s to later find out you’ll see them later that same afternoon in the middle of a rice paddy. I didn’t come to Bali alone, though. Yesterday afternoon, after a motorbike ride for the books, a rice paddy hike and a coffee farm tour that I will savour for life, Paul and Kara and I defined relationship. Not by words, but by our actions. We ate food together and drank two pitchers of margaritas together. We listened to Paul strum his guitar [[live, acoustic guitar, by the way, is without a doubt, the most broken-heart-steadying thing you can do. I know this because of Robbie]]. We played cards and talked about drugs and religion. We sat in our wall-less private villa family room [[when you come here, stay at Michael’s Modern Eco Villa. It makes me swoon]], watching the fish swim laps in our moat [[there is literally a moat]]. Three friends became family last night. Relationship, no matter what form it takes, will find you in Bali.Family

Put simply, Bali is the place where, for the first time since my heartbreak, I longed for absolutely nothingRice Paddies

 

Wish you were here…from New Zealand

That’s it. It’s official. I’m in love with New Zealand. Five years since my last trip to the South Island and I can still confidently report that it is truly one of my favorite little pockets of land in the entire world. It’s just stunning. And it feels so, so good.

In these moments of pure awe, I keep asking myself ‘who, do you wish was here right now?’ Sometimes it makes me think deep, like who appreciates beautiful architecture, or who might need a laugh at this good people watching perch?….but sometimes it’s easy. This was an easy one. Landed in Christchurch, stepped off the plane and into our little Getz rental car and headed south. Easy. Done. Jori, I wish you were here.

jori

Jori loves beautiful more than anyone I know. She hikes and bikes and loves to be outside. This girl does PNW life right. And that’s how I know we should go in on a vacation home in Queenstown together. One day, Jori. One day.

New Zealand is home to some of the best hiking, biking and outside-doing on the planet. We zoomed our little Getz to Dunedin and then Milford Sound…that’s where the ‘feels good’ set in. The last hour of our drive to the lodge took us through winding turns that felt like a PNW pass met the Swiss Alps…all close enough to the windshield it seemed touchable.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound…Kara got it right…it’s magical. Maybe that’s why I thought of Jori so much…never have I seen such magically majestic things work together so seamlessly and impressively to create an even more magically majestic thing….beautiful mountains crash straight into the beautiful Tasman Sea. It’s even more beautiful to do the Fjordlands by boat on a morning cruise with a hot cuppa’ in hand. What a powerful way to start a day…

We used all that housed up power to hike up Key Summit, just a bit out of Milford Sound. And that was magical too…

Jori, you would love Queenstown. I L O V E Queenstown. It’s like Chelan meets German ski town, on steroids. It’s this quaint little adventure-junky-packed town situated right on top of a beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains. The shops are full of famous New Zealand merino sweaters, the Ferg Burger lane is full to the brim with salivating travelers and paragliders hang in the sky taking in the sweet, pure air and ‘sweet as’ view. Seriously, can you imagine a more perfect place?

One afternoon in Queenstown, Kara and I hired bikes, stuffed a bottle of wine and two leftover coffee cups in our bags and headed to the lake-front trail. We rode with no agenda. We stopped to sip wine and sit on a dock and talk about God and life and our awe of this place. If Jori were there, I imagine we would have taken a few more Insta-worthy pics and reminisce on PNW weekends. An agenda-less afternoon well spent.

Jori, you would have loved wine day. We loved wine day even more after a slight morning hiccup. We pulled in to AJ Hacketts bungey jumping [[throwback to when Kristen and I jumped off that infamous bridge, the home to the first commercial bungy site in the world]] for a coffee and an adrenaline-stoked-people-watching-sesh. Lil Getz locked us out of the car though, which annoyed the living daylights out of me [[$150 call-out for a car jacker is near enough to cardiac arrest an umemployed backpacker]], but it resulted in one of the funniest sights I’ve ever seen. Yall, we saunter back to the car, even more ready for a 10am Pinot Noir than when we arrived, to see half a dozen people have gathered around Getz. It seems that our locked-out episode was more entertaining than the line of people jumping off bridges in the background. Locals and tourists alike had every inch of window space covered, peering into the windows to help guide the effort. I was hot to trot, but found myself giggling over how entertaining it turned out to be. An unplanned lesson in civility, kindness and making lemonade, in hindsight.

Getz lockout

Back to wine day. It was utterly perfect. Stunning estates, beautiful Pinot Noirs and Sauv Blancs. We planned to hit half a dozen on our way to Wanaka but that’s the beautiful thing about this type of traveling…we didn’t achieve such plan when three forty-something-San Fran-Iron Man-guys distracted us for the rest of the afternoon. We sat out at an old converted church turned cellar door with a view of the mountains and a paddock full of sheep swapping stories with these guys-turned friends. A few bottles of Rose and cheese platters later and the whole afternoon disappeared. We couldn’t have planned it better.

Yep, Jori, you would have loved every minute. I wish we were a threesome for this week, except for the night we had to sleep in the Getz [[you wouldn’t have fit]] and except for the time we had to put on every piece of clothing we owned to get even CLOSE to our 7kg / pp weight limit for our flight back to Sydney. At 4am, it was an exhausted giggle fest trying to work out what we could shove into what pocket and how many layers we could possibly put on…Yeah that mess is for the birds and I don’t know that they would have allowed even one more tiny giggling, desperate American gal on the plane without emptying our wallets for the umpteenth time.

Other than that, you were fondly thought of and sorely missed, sweet-as-girl!

good.

 

 

 

#SoThisOneTime at the Kentucky Derby…

You know those friends and family and strangers, even, who stand by you and lend you shoulders for crying on, ears for soaking up the whinging, grace for your sour words and pathetic puffiness, and hope for your tomorrow…I have a lot of those people, no doubt. But for the sake of this one time, let me tell you bout this one gal..

At the very lowest that I’ve ever been—we’re talking down 30 pounds in 3 weeks, no eating or drinking or speaking, no caring about Christmas or spending time with my family….only sleeping or wish I was sleeping kind of low—one of those faces popped up in my inbox with an email that still gives me chills…

“Anne,” she wrote…”We love you to the moon and back.. Please use this [[referring to a Southwest giftcard]] whenever you feel the need to get away. Visit home, a friend or even us!!”

It was at that moment, that I knew without a doubt two certain things. 1) Kristen Kull knew me better than I knew myself in that moment of despair. And 2) I was going to the Kentucky Derby.

Months later, I’m greeted at the Louisville Airport by two baby ‘hair-pane’ lovin towheads and the hostess with the mostest.

THE Kentucky Derby

As our itinerary noted; we did it all, that one time. We did Kentucky Derby better than anyone may have ever done it before us. Not because we got our nails done to match our dresses, picked out the perfect hats, went to a Jocktails party where jockeys past and present brought me bourbon after bourbon. It wasn’t the best because we sat in the Turf Club for Oaks and then did a twofer, hitting up the box seats for Derby Day, where mint juleps went down as easy as money at the betting windows. It wasn’t even the best because I danced with the man of the hour [[next time you see Mark Kull, ask him for video proof. It’s fairly epic]], saw Joey Fatone in a blinding pink coat and see-through white pants, or because I puffed my first and only cigar at Churchill Downs, for the sake of a good story.

The sun shining on what I can only describe now as a spectacle to rival the Easter Bunny marrying the Vineyard Vines Whale had me smiling, really, truly smiling the entire time.

I don’t think it was the best for any one of those reasons; rather, I think that Derby was special for what it stood for. It might have been my first peek at growth and grace, now that I think about it. It was certainly a lesson in genuine generosity; pure, permanent love; and a selfless commitment to friendship and family. It was, and will always remain, one of the most beautiful gestures I’ve ever known.

Fast forward to departure day…I’m sitting on a plane, heading off into the unknown..feeling a little scared, a little sad, a little ‘what am I doing?’ when I remembered Kristen Kull’s package that had arrived a week prior with strict instructions to ‘OPEN FROM THE HAIR-PANE ONLY.’ I pulled out another note…

My sweetest Annie,

 I’ve been thinking about this moment…for several months now. I’ve been thinking and praying about what I want you to read, know and feel, but more importantly, what it is that God wants you to read, know and feel.

…I hope you always remember this moment and the moment when you get back on the plane to return home and how differently you feel. I wanted you to have something simple, yet pretty…Something to remind you of this journey every time you look at it no matter how long it’s been because after all, you will be changed – changed for the better with a clearer mind…When I found this necklace titled “Circle of Life” it seemed so fitting in so many ways. A circle for: going around the world, there’s no beginning or end…When I look at it I picture God’s arms wrapped around you for protection and comfort.

I also prayed for the perfect verse for you. As soon as I read Ezekiel 36:26 I knew it was meant for you.

“”I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.””

love where you are in every moment of every day, love God (praise Him) and above all else, love yourself.

***

Gifts aren’t my love language–experiences are–Kristen Kull gives me reassurance and comfort and confidence to go, do, dream–she perfectly gives experiences of a  lifetime.

I’m not even sure how to end this story, except that from the depths of my soul, I wanna grow up to be a Kristen Kull and from the depths of my soul, I hope you all have a Kristen Kull to make so many #SoThisOneTimes with.

kd9

Feels like home to me

Good luck getting that song out of your head…I hummed it silently for the duration of our all-too-short stay in Melbourne…but really, what a refreshing few days in a city that I’ve never been to, but that strangely felt familiar. Perhaps it wasn’t because of the city itself [[they still drive on the opposite side of the road, have adorable accents and cafes too cute for words]], but more because of how we spent our time in said city.

Katie, ‘Amazing Katie,’ as the American cousins have formally dubbed her, and her equally amazing mate, Gary, truly made us feel right at home. We read and cooked and worked out in a real gym [[!!!]] and did laundry and talked about our dreams and guilty pleasures and had friends over and did Tuesday night at a food truck and a local watering hole and explored the city by foot….

and….we did wine country…and it was amazing too.

The thing about wine country is that it really doesn’t matter where in the world you are, as long as your palate and mind are open to new grape varietals, the people you’ve trekked with were well chosen, the sun is shining and there’s cheese to be paired.

Yarra Valley

Yarra Valley is one of the great wine regions of Australia, where Chardonnays [[still not my fave..not even in Chardonnay land]] and Pinot Noirs take the cake, so you know it was dang near top of Kara’s and my list of things to do while in Melbourne. What better way to recoup from a great road trip, than indulging in a few tastings, afterall?

Indulge we did and at home we felt. Cheers to amazing people, amazing reds and a home away from home.