Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Good Life at the Lake

Happy Tuesday, everyone!  Today is my first day of work so send some good vibes my way.  I am excited about this new opportunity but also stressed about making a good impression right away so hopefully my first week goes well!

Last week, after a busy week that included several dinners, a happy hour, meeting the babies of 2 friends, and running a bunch of errands, I headed up to the lake for a relaxing weekend with family.  Going to the lake is such a huge part of the culture in the Midwest and I really missed cabin weekends when living away. 

I got to the lake on Friday around noon and it was an absolutely perfect day!  The water was like glass which does not happen in the afternoon very often!

So I soaked up some sun while reading a book at the end of the dock.  Talk about relaxation.

On Friday night, my parents and I went into town to have dinner at our favorite local restaurant.  When we got home from dinner, my sister arrived shortly thereafter, which means I finally got to meet Evelyn!

She will be 4 months next Saturday.  I love how it looks like she is waving in this photo (ahem, or if you look closely, she might be flicking the camera off.  Ha.)
On Saturday morning I got up and went for a 5 mile run.  It was a gorgeous morning.  The lake is so peaceful on mornings.  It's good for a person's soul to take this view in.

After breakfast, I got a quick selfie with my nephew James before heading into town to meet my cousin Julie for coffee.

I failed to get a photo of my cousin and I at coffee.  We are only 11 months apart and grew up in the same town so I really think of us as "sisters from another mister."  I love that no matter how much time has passed since we last saw each other, we pick right up where we left off and never run out of things to talk about.  I'm so glad I'll see her on a more regular basis now!

When I got back to the cabin, the kids are started to find some lawn toys/sports to keep them entertained.

Matthew has taken golf lessons for the last 2 years.  He definitely has a better swing than his auntie.
We played a lot of bean bag toss.  I know other parts of the country call this corn hole, but we do not call it that in the Midwest (at least not in Minnesota).  It was Charlie's birthday on Saturday.  He turned 3 and while he really wanted (and tried) to play bean bag toss, he is a little too young for the game.

He may not understand the game, but he sure looks cute sitting on it!
 Evelyn enjoyed being outdoors as well.  She was not a huge fan of me holding her but let me entertain her with her toys and books and such. 

On Saturday night, we celebrated Charlie's birthday.  Here he is blowing out his candles with a little help from grandma!

Sunday was another beautiful day.  I snapped this photo of my dad and Evelyn.  She was really not into smiling on command.  

Sunday flew by and was filled with more bean bag toss, home made guac, and a delicious birthday dinner for my sister (it was her birthday on Sunday) of rotisserie chicken, potato wedges and broccoli salad.  Dessert was homemade rhubarb strawberry ice cream which was DELICIOUS.

I heart rhubarb desserts
I headed back to Minneapolis after dinner on Sunday so I could avoid Memorial Day traffic and have a quiet day in Minneapolis before starting my new job.  This relaxing weekend at the lake was just what I needed before starting this next phase of my career.  I was only at the lake once last summer and during that time I was struggling with RA symptoms, depressed about living in Charlotte, dealing with the loss of my aunt Betty, and stressing about whether I had passed the CFA so I can't say it was all that fun...  I'm really happy all of that is behind me and that I am once again driving distance from the lake! 

How did you spend your weekend? 

Monday, May 26, 2014

TLC Book Tours: Return to the Beach House

While summer does not officially start until June 21st, today seems to kick off the start of summer in my mind as "lake season" starts Memorial Day weekend in my family.  So it's the perfect time to share my review of "Return to the Beach House" by Georgia Bockoven, a book I reviewed for TLC Book Tours.


Over the course of one year, in a charming cottage by the sea, eight people will discover love and remembrance, reconciliation and reunion, beginnings and endings in this unforgettable sequel to Georgia Bockoven’s The Beach House and Another Summer.

Alison arrives at the beach house in June to spend a month with her restless grandson before he leaves for his first year of college. More than a decade earlier, Alison lost her beloved husband, and has faced life alone ever since. Now she discovers a new life and a possible new love.

August brings together four college friends facing a milestone. During summer’s final days, they share laughter, tears, and love—revealing long-held secrets and creating new and even more powerful bonds.

World-class wildlife photographer Matthew and award-winning war photographer Lindsey arrive at the beach house in January, each harboring the very real fear that it will mark the end of their decade-long love affair. Alone in the house’s warm peace, they are forced to truly look at who they are and what they want, discovering surprising truths that will change their lives forever.

My review:
This was a fun, summery read.  When I realized it was a sequel to "The Beach House," I read that first just in case they were tied in together.  "Return to the Beach House" touches on some of the story lines from the first book but you would not have to read the first book to enjoy the second book.  

Each chapter introduces us to another set of people who are staying at the beach house which is located in the Santa Cruz area of California.  They each come to the beach house needing some sort of healing and the beach house provides the perfect environment for this.  I was drawn into some characters stories more than other but all in all the different sets of characters were interesting and I had a hard time putting the book down.

Reading this book makes me want to rent a beach house on the coast of California.  It's a light, easy read that's a perfect one to pack in a beach bag for a trip to the beach!

Friday, May 23, 2014

5 Things Friday

Happy Friday, everyone!  This has been a completely whirlwind week and went by far faster than I thought it would.  I thought I'd close out the week with a 5 things Friday post to share what's on my mind!

1.  I shouldn't be surprised how easy it was to fill my time since I arrived home on Monday night, but I am!  I had social plans every night this week and there is still a long list of people that I need to see!  But the nice thing is that I don't have to cram everything into one weekend visit home - I have all the time in the world (well outside of work and other commitments) to see family and friends.  It's so good to be back in a city where I have a full social calendar again as living in Charlotte was just SO lonely (hence the reason I traveled as much as I did).

2.  While it's been fun to have a busy week, I am looking forward to the quiet weekend ahead at the lake.  I can't wait to spend time with my family, meet my new niece (finally!), celebrate my sister and nephew Charlie's birthdays, and wake up to the view of the lake.  The weather over Memorial Day weekend is usually not very nice but it will be gorgeous this weekend as the temps will be in the 70s.  Life moves more slowly at the lake so a weekend there is just what I need before I start my new job next week!

3.  Speaking of which, I am starting to get a little nervous about starting my new job.  It's only natural that I'd feel this way, of course.  I do know quite a few people at my new job so that will make the environment more friendly and welcoming but it's still a big change and even though it's a change I wanted, it's still nerve wracking...  But hopefully by the end of the summer I'll feel settled in and comfortable in my new work environment.

4.  I move into my condo a week from today and am SO excited.  That means I had to ask for a day off during my first week of work but my boss was really understanding as he relocated to Minneapolis last year.  I can't wait to get unpacked and settled in.  I've been in a state of transition for several weeks and am just ready to have more of a sense of permanence.  My aunt and uncle are going to help me that morning as it's kind of overwhelming when they are delivering the boxes and furniture and calling out numbers and such and then Phil will come over after work to help me unpack so I will have lots of help which is very nice.

5.  Lastly, I'll close out with some really good news!  The insurance company of the person who hit me called yesterday and said they have determined that their insured party was at fault!  So now they will pay for the damages and I do not have to pay my deductible!  Yea!!!  I am so so so happy about this as I did not need an expense on top of all the other expenses I am incurring related to this move.  I did get a lump sum relo package which more than covers the cost of my move so these expenses are not coming out-of-pocket for me but I am trying to spend as little of the relo package as possible so I can put the amount left towards my grad school student loans (totally obsessed with getting those paid off this year!).

What's on your mind today?  Do you have any plans for the weekend?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Road Trip Recap!

I am writing this post from Minnesota!!  Yea!!  It is so good to be home.  We covered 1,187 miles over the course of about 20 hours, passing through 7 states.  Phew.  Amazingly, we never got bored.  We ate most of the snacks I bought, drank about 7 liters of water between the two of us, listened to the audio book I checked out from Cracker Barrel, and listened to my road trip playlist when traffic was too heavy for me to concentrate on a storyline.  And the hours really flew by.  The last 3 hours of the drive were a little stressful as we drove in pouring rain, but besides that it was a stress free trip and I had the best time with my mom!

Here are a couple of photos from our trip. 

Cheersing with our latte/coffee to Charlotte being in my past!

It's always interesting to see what gas stations sell...  I can say I have tried boiled peanuts and eating them once was enough for me...

The views during the first day of the drive were beautiful. I heart the mountains!

Louisville was our stop for the first night of the trip.  I thought their street lamp signs were cute!

We stayed at my brother's on the second night of our trip so I got to see my niece Anna (she can really rock the hat look!) and my nephew Kolin!

I got to see Kolin's recap of our spring break trip that he wrote for school.  I love how he spelled my name (Lesu) and other works like the Smoce Montens (Smoky Mountains).

I got to cuddle on the couch with Kolin at the end of the day.  I told him he is smiling like a muppet in this photo! 

It's so good to be back home.  As we got closer and closer to Minnesota, and the landscape shifted to the rolling farm fields and wooded bluffs, I found myself grinning ear to ear and feeling such a sense of peace.  I am glad I get a little bit of time to settle back in before starting my new job next Tuesday. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

I Made It

When the world is breaking down around you
Taking everything that you know
What you didn't know
Is that we can go forever
If we want to we can live
Inside of a moment
The one that we own

Here I am on the eve of the day I will depart Charlotte.  I did it - I made it through my year+ of living in a place I didn't want to live.  Have you ever had an experience where you listen to an artist's album and feel like it was written for you?  That has been my experience when listening to Ingrid Michaelson's newest album, Lights Out, which I highly recommend.  Even though my mom isn't going to know a single song so probably won't enjoy listening to it as much as I will, that will be the first album we listen to on our way out of Charlotte.  I'm sprinkling lyrics from the song "Afterlife" throughout this post as they speak so well of how I feel as I prepare to leave Charlotte.

We are
We are going to be alright
We got
We got we always got the fight in us
We are
We are
We are going to live tonight
Like there's no tomorrow
'Cause we're the afterlife

I know it sounds melodramatic to say this, but there were times during this year in Charlotte where I really wondered if I was going to be alright.  It was a year of me treading water in a rough ocean, thinking, "for the love of God, would someone just throw me a life jacket."  I think it was particularly frustrating for my parents and close friends because they saw me struggling but they couldn't do anything to make it stop.  I've been on the other of this and know how hard it is to watch someone struggle and to feel unable to help them.

Living like you're dying
Isn't living at all
Give me your cold hands
Put them on my hearti
Raise a glass to everyone
Who thinks they'll never make it through
This life
To live a brand new start

The past 4 weeks have been healing for me.  I've let go of some of the sense of heaviness that I've been carrying around since last January when I found out about my move.  I feel happier, lighter, more free (for the most part... My frustration with my car accident has set me back a bit on the 'calm' front).  But I know that fully healing from this year of struggles, from my health issues to living in Charlotte to other challenges in my personal life, will not happen over night.  Or in 6 weeks.  Or maybe not even in a year. 

We are
We are going to be alright
We got
We got we always got the fight in us
We are
We are
We are going to live tonight
Like there's no tomorrow
'Cause we're the afterlife

Right now I want to metaphorically box up the experiences of the past year and put them behind a closed door, and lock that door.  I want to put them behind me and focus on the good times ahead of me.  I think one day I will want or need to take that box of memories and experiences out of that locked room and sort through them in order to completely move on from this year, but now is not the time for that. 

Every time I close my eyes
I hear your favorite song
Telling me not run
Not to worry anymore
I can't hold on tight
To nothing better than the rest
So it's now
Or never more

There will be nothing bittersweet about tonight, my last night in Charlotte.  Sure there are things I will miss about North Carolina, like the mountains, hiking, and the friends I've made here, but for the most part, I am just so happy and thankful that I get to close out this chapter of my life and start a new one. 

If it was legal to consume champagne while driving, my mom and I would be toasting as we pull away from Charlotte, but toasting our lattes/coffees will have to suffice.  So if you hear a faint shout of joy around 8 am EST tomorrow morning, that's the exclamation of joy I'll be making when Charlotte is in my rear view mirror.

Here's to new beginnings in a city I love!! 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Road Trip Planning: CLT > Louisville > Chicagoland > MINNEAPOLIS

Anyone who knows me well, knows I despise driving.  My extreme dislike of driving is one of the reasons I made the decision to live walking distance from work the last 3 years.  Not having to drive to get around is so liberating for me.  If I wasn't so bad at living far from my family, I'd love to live in a city where I wouldn't need to own a car, like New York.

All that said, I am actually looking forward to the 3-day road trip back to Minnesota.  I opted to fly down here and have my car shipped when I moved to Charlotte because with CFA studying I simply did NOT have time to spend 2-3 days driving.  But this time I have the time and it makes sense to drive back so I'll have access to my car right away and can load it up with enough clothes to last me the 2+ weeks I'll be without my belongings.

Luckily my mom offered to fly down to do the drive back with me which is a huge relief because driving 1,100+ miles alone would have sucked and I might have lost my mind in the process.  She flies in late Friday night and we will hit the road bright and early on Saturday morning. 

The last time I did a multi-day drive like this was when I came back from spending the summer in Steamboat Springs, CO in 2001.  Cross-country drives are not my things but I am bound and determined to make this as fun as 18+ hours in the car can be.  Here are some of the plans I've made to make the drive as fun as possible:

- Perspective.  First off, I am adjusting my perspective on the drive.  Instead of dreading 3 days of driving, I'm looking at it as a special opportunity to have my mom completely to myself.  When you grow up in a family with 5 kids, you do not get one parent to yourself much and certainly not for 3 days straight.  I'm going to savor this.

- Snacks.  We've got bottled water, trail mix, and popcorn and I am sure we will pick up a few things along the way.  It's been WARM down here so I had to pick things that would not melt or be messy in the car (i.e. no chocolate.  Womp womp).

- Tunes.  I ordered an FM transmitter for my car so that we could play music off of my iPhone and I've created a travel playlist with things that appeal to both of us, like The Beatles for my mom and The Civil Wars for me.  By the way, you should have seen the look the Target employee gave me when I asked where their FM transmitters were.  He couldn't believe my car didn't have a USB port.  That's one of the downsides of owning a car that was made in 2003 but oh well.  No car payment > owning a car with a USB port.  Luckily the FM transmitter I ordered off of amazon.com works really well.

- Conversation prompts.  I am sure my mom and I will have a lot to talk about on this drive home between the last year in Charlotte and my move home and such.  But in case we reach a point where neither of us has something interesting to say and she's tired of my music and we don't want to ride in silence, I am bringing along my book "If:  Questions for the Game of Life."  It's chock full of questions that are really interesting and thought provoking like, "If you could eliminate one day from your past so that you had never had to live through it, which day would you erase?" or "If you could have chosen your own first name, what would it be?"  

- Audio book.   Did you know that you can 'rent' books from Cracker Barrel?  The way it works is that you buy the book there and then you can return it at any Cracker Barrel location and they will just deduct $3.49 for each week you have the book.  If this wasn't a point to point trip, I'd use the library but clearly borrowing an audio book from the Charlotte library is not going to work so this is a good, inexpensive option.

- Maps.  I've got my trusty garmin, aka Ausralian Lee, to talk us through the drive home but I've printed off google maps as a back-up and of course we can use GPS on my phone as well but I want to limit my use of aps on my phone as I don't have unlimited data anymore. 

So there you have it!  Hopefully all of this preparation means we'll have a fun, issue-free trip home.  We'll be stopping in Louisville, KY the first night, my brother's in the Chicago area on the second night, and then on the third day we'll pull into my aunt and uncle's where I'll be living for about 2 weeks.  The first day of the drive is going to be beautiful as we'll drive through the Asheville area and pretty parts of Kentucky.  The next two days will be far less scenic but we have the reward of seeing my brother and his family on the second day and the ultimate reward of COMING HOME TO A CITY I LOVE (yes, ALL CAPS) and seeing my aunt and uncle (aka my St. Paul parents aka my Julia Child aunt and uncle) on the third day.

Do you like taking road trips?  What preparations do you make before a long road trip?  Am I forgetting anything?  Besides the preparations listed above, I also had an extensive tune-up done on my car which including replacing the front brakes (have I mentioned how I am bleeding money lately?).  Oh and I am happy to report that my trunk opens and closes OK despite the damage during during that accide.  Phew, such a relief!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

From the Land of Ma'am: Hiking at Hanging Rock State Park

OK, after yesterday's ranting post, I'm back to a more positive subject - my final hike in the Charlotte area!

Last Thursday I was able to do one more hike from the list of hikes a colleague had given to me when I moved here.  Hanging Rock State Park is about 2 hours from Charlotte, so not too far.  If I could redo the order in which I did these hikes, I would probably have started with this because while the trails and views were great, they weren't as great as Stone or South Mountain, so if I had done this hike first, I probably would have been more impressed than I was.  That said, the views were still great as you'll see from the photos below.

We skipped over spring and went to summer in this part of the country so I left early to try to get as much of my hike done in the morning.  It was still pretty warm when I started, probably around 70F/20C, and it warmed up to 85F/23C by the end of the hike but felt much warmer due to the humidity.

When I started off at the trail head, I could see "hanging rock" peaking through the tree.  It seemed farther away than 1.3 miles!

Early on in the hike, I saw some wild life.  It took quite awhile for this family of deer to move off the trail.  I don't know if I was quiet or if they are used to seeing humans but they hung out long enough for me to pull out my phone and get a photo!

After about a mile on the trail, I hit the first set of stairs.  My gosh I have climbed a lot of stairs in the last couple of weeks.

Oh but I wasn't done.  After the wood/gravel stairs, there were rock stairs.  I feel like no matter how good of shape I am in, stairs always leave me winded!

After huffing and puffing up those stairs, I made it to the look-out point.  It was a hot hazy day which you can tell from the photos of the horizon.

After enjoying the view for awhile, I turned around and continued down the trail to several other look-out points.  I'll spare you the series of photos which look nearly identical.  This was the view from the final look-out.  I could see another mountain called Pilot Mountain where my friend recommended I hike but I won't get a chance to get there

I did not stay there for very long because a little gecko ran up by me and scared the heck out of me.  Yes, I am scared of tiny lizards that are a fraction of my size.  In general I would say I was a bit spooked on this trail because I did not see many people and I heard a lot of rustling in the leaves/trees which would freak me out and make me think it was a snake. Ahhh!  So I played my music on my iPhone and did some random clapping/snapping on this hike to scare off lizards and snakes.  There were no snake sightings but I saw a lot of those little lizards on the trail.  Ick.

After doing that loop of trails, I headed to the waterfall trail loop and sat down by this waterfall and had lunch.  I had hiked about 9 miles at this point so I was famished!

I hiked another trail off this waterfall trail which had a look-out with the best view of the day IMO.  I like how you can faintly see the mountains in the distance!

Getting to that look-out required going down and up MORE stairs.  Hello, glutes and hamstring workout.

There was one final short trail to another waterfall that was only 0.6 miles round trip, so I did this final trail where I saw the prettiest waterfall of the day.

Phew, 10.4 miles later, I was blissfully exhausted, but happy.  As you can see in this photo, I have invested in a camel back (Osprey brand for anyone who cares).  This was my first hike using it and I LOVED it.  It has  little pocket for my phone and the back compartment where I had my lunch was really roomy.  And it made it much easier to drink during the hike.

After this hike, I totaled up my hiking mileage for the week and realized I had hiked 28 miles and ran 10 miles in the past 7 days.  That's a lot of time on my feet!

And this post concludes the Land of Ma'am post series because I can now shift my focus from making the most of my time down here to MOVING!!

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Final Parting "Gift" from Charlotte

Just when I think I couldn't possibly be more ready to leave Charlotte, this happened on Saturday.

I was backing out of a parking spot after having lunch with a friend and had stopped to pull forward when CRUNCH.  Apparently I was in the "blind spot" of a young woman who was driving her mom's SUV.   She clearly came out of her parking spot with gusto and speed given the extent of the damage she did.  This was not a minor tap, she rammed the hell out of my car.  *insert expletives of anger and frustration*

I've tried to be more positive lately now that I have a path out of Charlotte, but this?  THIS WAS THE LAST STRAW.  I AM SO DONE WITH THIS CITY.  Yes, ALL CAPS.

Do you know I have owned my car for over 11 years and have never been in an accident?  But 7 days before I am set to drive 1,100+ miles across the country, I get hit by a car.  It's the final parting gift from Charlotte.  An "actually, you don't like us, but we don't like you either so get the hell out of here" final kick in the gut. 

My car is drivable but my main concern is that the trunk might not open and close and CLEARLY I need to use my trunk when I move.  You know because a 4-door sedan does not have room in the backseat for 2+ weeks of my possessions + my mom's suitcase.  So instead of going to Asheville for one final hike today, I am going to stick around hell, I mean Charlotte, and deal with this.

My second concern is that the cost of the repairs will exceed the value of my car and they will opt to give me the value of my car versus fixing it.  I do not want this to happen because unlike the majority of the population, I don't want a new, shiny car.  I want my 2003 Accord that is 100% paid for. 

I know I am lucky I was not hurt, but dang it, this sucks and I did not NEED another thing to deal with/worry about right now.  I just hope and pray that her insurance company accepts liability and that they pay for the damages because my deductible is $1,000 if they don't accept liability.  I feel like I am bleeding money right now so don't need another expense.  The policeman who filed the accident report said that since I was at a stop when she hit me, it will be clear that she was at fault. 

And so the saga of shitty Charlotte experiences continues...  More fodder for the memoir about my time in the south that I might just have to write some day. 

My departure on Saturday morning just can not come fast enough.

Friday, May 9, 2014

5 Things Friday x 2: The Charlotte Edition

I'm just over a week away from my big move date (May 17th) so I thought I'd do a Charlotte themed 5 things Friday!

5 Things I won't miss about Charlotte (it was tough to limit it to 5. Ha):

1.  The ridiculously aggressive drivers.  I've never been cut off or tailed so much in my life.  I get that it's the land of NASCAR but yikes, the level of aggressive driving is insane.  And I am not the only person to notice this - fellow colleagues who have moved here said the same thing.

2.  Their confusing road system and lack of freeways.  The street I live on changes names about 3 times in the span of 2 miles.  It goes from Morehead to Queen to Providence.  WHY.  And it happens all the time.  Another road I often drive goes from Park to Kennilworth to Stonewall in the span of 2-3 miles, too.  It's so needlessly confusing.

3.  The smokers that hang out on the running path.  Did I mention that the hospital where they work is A CANCER CENTER???  Oh the irony.  On my last run in Charlotte I might just freaking LOSE IT on them. 

4.  People commenting on the fact that they can't believe I don't like Charlotte and their disbelief that anyone would actually want to live in Minnesota. 

5.  My loud apartment building.  From the drunk people on their patios to the loud music to the people who banged on my door at 3 am one night - I won't miss any of it.  At all.

5 Things I will miss about Charlotte (it was tough to come up with 5.  Ha):

1.  The friends I made down here and the one good friend I had (Lori) when I move down here. One couple has been especially nice about inviting me to do things, and I have made some friends through work. I will miss them and appreciate the support they all gave me over the last year.

2.  Being driving distance from Asheville and the mountains in general.

3.  My rheumatologist.  It will be hard to find someone that I like as much as her.  She was so kind and compassionate, and she got me back to a healthy, active state.

4.  The Dogwood trees during spring.  I think we have these back home but I feel like they do not bloom as vibrantly as the trees in Charlotte did. 

5.  Cabo Fish Taco.  I do really love their tacos.

 What's on your mind today?  Any fun plans for the weekend? I actually do not have any plans which I am OK with as the last several weeks have been filled with good bye lunches and dinners.  I need a little break from socializing.  And I need to pack!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Asheville Adventures: Days 3 & 4

And I'm back with the 2nd half of my Asheville trip recap!  On Saturday I woke up bright and early which gave me plenty of time to get a bigger breakfast before heading out to another trail head to meet a hiking group from Charlotte.  This group was hiking in the Shining Creek Wilderness which is about 45 minutes from Asheville.  I had been eating breakfast in my room but on Saturday I headed into West Asheville to check out Biscuit Head.  They had gluten free biscuits so I was excited to try them out.  The picture of the food doesn't make it look super appetizing as the biscuit & eggs are kind of monochromatic, but it was really good, as was the siracha cole slaw (yes,I ate cole slaw at 8 am, weird I know).  I also had fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.  If I went back again, I think I'd get the eggs on the side so I could have the biscuit with honey or one of the many jams they had.

After breakfast I caffeinated at West End Bakery with a vanilla latte.  I heart foam art!  They had GF baked goods so I also got a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin to enjoy as a post-hike treat.

After properly fueling, I headed out to the trail head.  I ended up taking the Blue Ridge Parkway to get to the trail head.  The views along the drive are just stunning.  I pulled off at several look-out points to take in the views...

And snapped a Saturday Selfie! 

Most of the look-outs have signs telling you your current elevation as well as the elevation of the peaks you are looking at.

After meandering along the parkway, I arrived at the trail head and easily found the Charlotte group.  When I read about this hike it said it had some strenuous parts but I am going to say that the meet-up description could have been more strongly worded.  I am in good shape so I was able to do this hike without too much trouble but it is probably the hardest hike I have ever done.  First off, the trails were not marked, so you had to really rely on directions (luckily another group member printed some off) and secondly, it was long and strenuous as we covered about 8.4 miles over the course of 6 hours (which includes time for a lunch break).  I would definitely do it again as the views were beautiful but I would start earlier if I did it again (we started around 11:30).

The views along the climb up were beautiful as much of the trail was along the Shining Creek.

After about 2.5-3 hours of uphill climbing, we made it to the top.  The views were beautiful!  We sat on the rocks at the top and ate the lunches we had packed.

Then it was time to head back down.  Most of the trail was fairly flat but there was one 1.5 mile section that was basically straight down and very difficult so we took our time on that section.  Occasionally there were little trails off the main trail to look-out points.

One of the coolest things we saw was this little teepee that someone has recently built.  We met several people out on the trail who were doing multi-day hikes in this wilderness area, so someone must have gotten ambitious and built this!

We got back to the car around 5:30 and I was beat at this point.  A group of 14 of us started off, but 6 of us went ahead as we were moving at a faster pace.  I need to email one of the girls from the group to find out when the rest of them made it back...  I hope they all made it back safely and during daylight because this area of has had bear sightings lately so I would NOT want to spend the night out there!

I headed back to my hotel, showered, and headed into Asheville.  I started off by going to a tapas restaurant called Curate.  I had 2 small plates - the top dish is a tuna and tomato salad with a sherry vinaigrette and micro greens, and the bottom dish is piquillo peppers stuffed with Spanish goat cheese.  I am usually not a big fan of goat cheese but these were delicious!

I intentionally ordered smaller plates to save room for dessert as I wanted to get gelato from Chocolate Gem. I got 3 scoops:  chocolate, sea salt caramel, and cappuccino.  It was delicious!  They also had many truffles and caramels but I stayed strong and did not buy any!

The next morning I did another meet-up with the group I hiked with on Friday.  We got to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway once again, but in a different directions so I got to take in some new views.  We stopped off in this adorable little village called Little Switzerland.  The views were amazing!

After that, we headed to Crabtree Falls where we did a hike that was just under 3 miles round trip, I think. 

And then we drove to another nearby waterfall where we did a shorter mile hike to the Roaring Forks waterfall.  Multi-level waterfalls are my favorite so I especially enjoyed the views of this waterfall!

We got back to Asheville around 3 and I had to dash back to Charlotte to make it to 5 pm mass.  When I took this trip I thought it would be my last but it's looking like I'll be back next Monday to do another hike with the Asheville group (weather permitting). Knowing I would likely be back in just over a week made leaving a little bit easier.  And I will pass through this area on the drive back so at least I'll get to enjoy the views from the car!

My time in Charlotte has been, in a word, craptastic, but one great thing that has come out of my time here is discovering Asheville.  There is just something special about this city and its surrounding area.  One of the people I hiked with commented that Asheville is a place that people come to heal and I can see how this is true.

I don't know that I will ever come back to Charlotte unless I have to come for work, but I will most certainly come back to Asheville. 

Is there a place you've visited that has totally captured your heart?  I have several places that are all very different such as Paris, New York City, Asheville, and Vancouver.  They are the kind of places that I can keep coming back to over and over again and I will never tire of them!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Packing and Purging

While I seems like I am doing a whole lot of gallivanting around, I am also doing some moving related stuff...  When I moved down to Charlotte last spring, I was in the midst of CFA studying which meant I had very little time to really go through my things to prepare for the move.  I did get rid of a lot of duplicate kitchen items and I went through my closet but I did not have time go through my bins of things that I keep under my bed, for instance.

I will not actually be packing myself as my new employer gave me a lump sum relocation package that covers the cost of the moving company packing me.  I considered packing myself but since my belongings will be moved so many times (Charlotte apartment to the moving truck to storage then back into the moving truck and then into my Minneapolis apartment) I figured it was best to have things professionally packed - and insured.

While I am not packing myself, I am going through all of my belongings before my move.  It's actually been fun to go through my things.  When I moved down here, any move-related tasks were so depressing as I did not want to leave Minneapolis but this time around, it's fun and exciting to do move-related tasks and it's been fun to see what I find when going through my things.  Here are some of the random things I've found!

First up, I found a lot of stuff related to the trip to Europe that I took with one of my best friends back in 2004.  I had kept maps and plane tickets and such, thinking I'd make a scrapbook some day. Well, that never happened so I did toss some of that stuff but something I won't be tossing is this list of funny things that we said/did/experienced during the trip.  Brooke kept a page for each city and I laughed a lot reading about our experiences on that trip.  I actually ended up getting really sick on that trip and was on a lot of cold medications so was a bit looney so most of the funny things that were said were said by me...

I also came across a lot of mementos from my first marathon.  I didn't remember keeping a copy of the paper from the day after the race but think it's pretty cool that I did.  I also had the participant and spectator guides, my prayer bracelet that showed who I prayed for during every mile of the race, and my bib and finisher medal.  I am of course keeping all of this!  That first marathon was my slowest and hardest but there is something special about your first marathon!

I also found the care package that my sister sent me before the marathon.  That photo of us is crazy.  I look a little chubby in the photo and Abby's hair is so blond!  It cool to read the letter she wrote me.  I am also keeping this!

But - there were some things I came across where I thought - why in the world did I keep this?  Like this plaque from a pageant I did at age 4.  I actually remember doing this pageant and let me tell you - I was NOT happy to do it.  I think my mom has a picture of me scowling during it.  It was during the centennial of my hometown so they had us dress up in clothes that people would have worn at that time and I did NOT like my outfit.  Ha.  This plaque ended up in the trash.

I also came across notes from friends, cards with my late grandfather's writing in them, and other fun mementos from the past.  I got rid of a garbage bag full of stuff, so definitely purged quite a bit, but there are some things I just couldn't get rid of.

One thing I am not sure what to do with is my CFA notes...

I took well over a thousand pages of mostly illegible notes...  Part of me thinks I should lighten my load and toss them now...  another part thinks I should bring them back to MN and maybe burn them in a bonfire up at my parents' lake home...  decisions, decisions.  

When is the last time you went through your things?  I try to go through my closet 1-2 times a year to find clothes to donate, but I had not gone through my bins that are under my bed in many years!