A Little Catch Up

For the first time in almost 7 years, I let my blogging lapse. It’s been a little over 3 months since I last visited this space or even had a thought to begin writing. I’ve actually enjoyed the break and there might be more in the future. I’ve also found that since starting a personal Instagram account that is separate from my business, I’m sharing a lot more over in that space which has kind of almost replaced blogging. I don’t have the energy to write anything in-depth, so I thought a little bullet point update would suffice.

  • The house. Oh this house! We’ve had a love-hate relationship ever since moving in. The previous owners opted to not clean…ever, so we had a pretty gross situation on our hands after we closed. It took me a solid week of scrubbing + professional cleaners to finally get to a point where I’d walk on the floors barefoot. Immediately upon buying this house, things began breaking: air conditioning, pipes, sewer lines, electrical system, toilets. You name it, it broke. In the midst of that, we decided to do a little updating too. Hey, if you’re already sinking gobs of money into repairs, why not just keep your wallet open and do a few fun things too?! So we installed hardwood floors, solar tubes and redid most of the kitchen. And now we are officially done. Done with updates and hopefully done with repairs. At least for now 🙂

    To be honest, I haven’t been in town enough for this place to feel like home yet. It feels like a wonderful place to lay my head, but it doesn’t feel like home. I hope that changes in the months to come because I really do love it and I’m very thankful to be here, even if it’s only for a few days at a time.

     

  • Bahamas! We went to the Bahamas for a week to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a decade! We had to wait until after closing to make any travel plans so as to not throw off bank account numbers for the underwriting of the loan. So with 3 weeks so spare, we made a last minute decision to go to the Bahamas. We stayed on the island of Great Exuma, which is a smaller and quieter island compared to Nassau or Paradise Island. Our hotel was great, the beach was gorgeous and it was a great way for us to decompress and reconnect. We didn’t do much other than hang at the beach, read, drink pina coladas, golf and enjoy yummy food all week.

    Everyone kept asking us if we were on our honeymoon which always made us laugh. Either we’re aging well or we act like newlyweds…or both! 🙂

     

  • Photography insanity. With fall came 21 weddings and elopements for my company to photograph. They were all over the state so consequently every week I was traveling and running from one place to the next. The leaves here in Colorado are just gorgeous in the fall and I have a lot of out of state clients who travel here to take advantage of the beauty. Our window is pretty small for how long the leaves stick around so I wound up packing in as many weddings as possible. One week we had 8 weddings in 7 days. Bananas. It was beautiful but oh-so exhausting. I’m actually pretty mad at myself for allowing things to get so crazy. I live an intentionally slow life with a lot of breathing room and margin, so to take on this much work is really not my norm. I think it was a combination of needing money for the house, trying to prove that “I’m back” after taking most of last year off due to surgery, and pride. Bad combo. Lesson learned.

     

  • My heart. As life is slowing down, I’m starting to get a handle on my emotions, my heart, the pace of my life and my focus. This has been a hard year with David’s health, coming to terms with life after brain surgery, family problems, selling our dream house, living 8 months in a basement, moving to a new town and a new church. My emotions went wild for a few months, dipping to the lowest of lows as depression returned. David was right there with me for a while at the bottom. We hung out there for many months, looking for hope, looking for reasons to keep going.

    Now that we are in our own space again and the cloud has lifted a little I can feel my heart settling, calming, lifting. It’s tempting to say that I’m “returning to normal” but the thing is, there’s no returning to anything. Things are different now. So much has happened in the last 2 years (err, 7?) to shake up my normal that there’s really nothing left to return to. Now it’s about pressing forward.

  •  School. Fall semester at Denver Seminary started at the end of August, right when the pace of my photography picked up dramatically. At the last second, I switched to an on-line class taught by one of the professors who founded my Christian Formation & Soul care program. I couldn’t pass up learning from him! Studying on-line this semester has been helpful since I just don’t have the time to drive to campus each week but it’s also hard in that you don’t have an opportunity to really interact with people in a classroom. I am looking forward to the rest of the semester because we’re going to make use of some video conferencing and I’ll finally have time to focus.

I guess that’s all for now. Maybe I’ll write sooner than 3 months from now. Or maybe not! We’ll just see how the Spirit moves 🙂

On The Road

The first half of 2016 was not terribly kind to us. David got seriously sick with 2 pulmonary embolisms in his lungs and almost died, I was still trying to fully recover from brain surgery, we lost a house we were trying to buy, a crazy lady surfaced at David’s work and took him to mediation (if you know my husband at all, you know how craaazy that sounds. He is maybe the kindest, quietest and most caring person in the world), we became basement dwellers in my in-law’s house as we waded through the hopeless housing market, I felt depression begin to resurface after a 10 year hiatus. Everything was looking pretty dismal.

We’ve had some crazy nights during these last few months. Nights where we bought cold beer and drove out of town to sit under the stars and have conversations I never thought we’d have. Nights where the tears wouldn’t stop. Nights where I worried about David. Nights where he worried about me. We took walks in the dark of night. We clung to each other for dear life before falling asleep. 7 years of trials had finally caught up with us.

We had many nights where we tossed out crazy ideas and discussed “what ifs.” Like, what if we just got the hell outta here? What if we just left? Like, leave it all behind. What if we took the equity from our house, bought an RV and just left town. Didn’t tell anyone. Just left. We could kiss our attempts to live a “normal” life with the rest of society goodbye and just do our own thing.

We were ridiculously close to doing it. Still are at times, if I’m being honest.

Ultimately, God intervened with a house. We bought a precious little bungalow and decided maybe we’d stay in town a little while after-all. If it weren’t for that house, we’d be long gone by now.

When we were on our trip to Utah, we encountered many people living the life that we almost lived. We’d pass a VW van barreling down the highway with the windows rolled down and sun-tanned faces smiling in the wind. We’d walk by a camper that was stocked with food from the latest grocery store, 80 miles away. We’d smile at a single woman and her dog as they walked back “home” which was a campervan with a doormat laying on the wet pavement. We’d catch a glimpse of a solar panel powering someone’s laptop in their RV as they answered emails and got a little business done.

It made me realize that there is a whole other world out there. A community of people who are perpetually on the road (and I’m not talking about retirees who are strategically vacationing in their motorhomes). These wanderers are not homeless. They are very much at home. Home is the road. They work from their RVs and Airstreams. They make a steady income. They live simply, in no more than 400 sq. feet of space. They see new things and meet new people with each week that goes by.

For whatever reason, these folks feel that life on the road is better than life at home, wherever home may have been at one time. Some of them are surely running away from their problems, like David and I would have been. But some of them seem utterly content to maintain a nomadic lifestyle, they aren’t running from anything or to anything. They simply enjoy life in the moment, wherever that may be. Call it perpetual wanderlust.

Instagram is a fascinating way to look at the lives of this wandering sub-community. Hashtags like #vanlife #airstreamdreams #sheroams #homeiswhereyouparkit bring up images of hundreds of people who are living in this countercultural way. They’ve given up their mortgages and desks for camp stoves and folding chairs.

Honestly, there is an entire community of landscape photographers that do this full-time. One of my photographic inspirations, Sarah Marino, lives in her Airstream with her husband and travels throughout the US taking photos to sustain her business. Photography is a beautiful way to sustain this way of life.

Since being home, our conversations about buying a camper, RV, Airstream or some other type of mobile housing have continued. We talk about early retirement, living on the road full-time vs. part-time. We talk about the benefits of having a “home base” here in Colorado. We talk about passive and active revenue streams. We are not talking in what-ifs anymore. What-ifs have morphed into strategic vision and meaningful plans for creating a different kind of life. It stopped being about running away. It started being about cultivating a life that we both feel drawn to, and have been for many years.

I read a book for class the other week called Searching For Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls by Craig Barnes (great book if you’re interested). It’s all about how we wander through life in search of meaning and a destination. Some literally wander in their VW van, across state lines and through National Parks. Others wander through relationships, jobs, churches, friendships, the newest technology. They get married because they think it will make them happy. They have children because they think they will finally feel fulfilled. They switch jobs. They move states, thinking that a change of scene will bring happiness (I literally see this in Colorado every day. People flock here in droves looking for a better life.).

Everyone wanders at some level. But it is possible to wander with a purpose. If you know where our true Destination lies, you’re never just adrift. There’s a difference between wandering aimlessly through life and being a pilgrim with your eyes set on your Heavenly Home as you journey along. As my professor said, “In Christ, home is within us.”

Heck, Jesus was a nomad. He wandered from town to town. Paul roamed an entire region, as did most of the apostles. The Desert Fathers intentionally removed themselves from society in order to seek God in the wilderness. Who says the only way to live a godly life is by following American society’s standards of living in a stationary house with a lifelong career, freshly mowed lawn and 2 weeks of vacation each year? Couldn’t you live an equally obedient, prayerful, God-pleasing life while traveling? Ministering to your RV neighbors and campground hosts? Helping a fellow traveler who has broken down on the side of the road? Volunteering to do trail maintenance and picking up trash in the parks? Reading the Bible and praying while taking a walk through the forest? Is that life any less honoring to God?

The whole point to life with God is to receive His love, love Him back and love others in the process. I believe this is possible whether you are living on the road, at home or somewhere in between. If we do this thing, we want to do it well. I want to live a life that deeply fulfilling and also glorifying to God. I think we can cultivate a life on the road that has purpose and is full of meaning, focus, beauty, simplicity, community, friendship, formative growth and intentionality.

I’m pretty sure this will happen. One of these days we’ll have our mortgage paid off, we’ll rent our house out and buy something to travel in. Maybe it will be in 6 months, maybe it will be in 10 years. We’ll just listen for God to whisper now is the time, go. If we’ve learned one thing, it’s to never count on your own plans. “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail”(Prov 19:21). But holding your plans loosely doesn’t mean you can’t keep a dream in the forefront of your mind while you continue to refine a vision that might become a reality.Photo May 15, 6 44 55 PM (2)

Travels: Capitol Reef National Park

Photo May 14, 5 57 34 PM (1)This was our first long vacation in almost 2 years! Sometimes it seems like we’re always traveling but truly most of that is just long weekends away. This was a real trip!

We decided to continue our love affair with Utah, especially since it’s mud season here in the mountains. We love Utah so much, there is just something about the desert that has captured us. So far, we’ve done Zion, Arches and Canyonlands. This time, we aimed our sights at Capitol Reef National Park.

We left Friday afternoon and made it to the State line by about 11pm. We ended up in BLM land just off of the Interstate. We wandered around in the dark trying to find a place to camp for the night. All the campgrounds were full so we poached a site off a guy who was sleeping in his Airstream and wasn’t using his tent pad. We left Saturday morning before he was awake and kept heading towards our destination.

We decided to start our tour de Capitol Reef in the northern section, called Cathedral Valley. Cathedral Valley is only accessed by 4×4 roads so it’s really pretty empty. Most tourist in rental cars shy away from the river crossings and bumpy roads that lead into and out of the section of the Park. We dropped in from the northern area of Fishlake National Forest. It’s a windy and bumpy 4×4 road that offered some really great views of the Cathedral Valley area.

Eventually we came to the primitive Cathedral Valley Campground.We found a great campsite and set up our base camp. We spent the rest of the day hiking the Cathedrals Trail, driving through sandy washes and checking out the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon. This area was probably my favorite in terms of scenery, it was so amazing! The monoliths just rise straight up to the sky out of the ground. It is really so beautiful!

Photo May 14, 3 51 23 PM Photo May 14, 1 19 10 PMSunday morning, we ate breakfast, packed up camp and headed towards the Fruita Historic District, which is the main section of Capitol Reef where most people go. The road out of Cathedral Valley was long, bumpy, winding, full of washed out creekbeds and eventually a large river crossing. We heard the water was only running 12 inches high, so our 4Runner had no problem crossing, it was pretty fun!

We snagged a great camp site in the Fruita District, it was on the edge of the orchard and looked over the red cliffs and apple trees. Deer grazed in the orchard every morning and evening, it was so peaceful!Photo May 15, 6 16 20 PM We headed to the Visitor’s Center to inquire about backpacking. We originally wanted to do a 2 night backpacking trip in the Park. The backpacking “expert” was probably the worst help we’ve ever received at a Park. Every question we asked, she would respond “I”m not sure, I’ve never hiked that trail” or “oh I’ve never been there before” or “I can’t really answer that question because I’ve never done that before.” We eventually ignored her and relied on our own intuition and decided on a 2 night trip up Pleasant Creek. We got our permit and left to explore more of the Fruita District.

We thought a good day hike would be a great way to see part of the Park. We chose the Grand Wash trail, which turned out to be our favorite hike of the entire trip! It leads all the way to Cassidy Arch, which is rumored to be where Butch Cassidy hung out back in his outlaw days. We did 7 miles all together with 1,000 feet of elevation in the last mile. On our way out we got caught in a downpour. It was actually really fun being in the wash and watching all the rain pour off the rocks. There is always a danger of flash flooding in the desert so we made sure to keep an eye out for higher ground if needed.Photo May 15, 2 50 31 PM

The rain that started on our hike continued for the next 2 days and eventually forced us to cancel our backpacking trip. It rained pretty steadily but we managed to sneak in a few more quick hikes and scenic drives as the clouds let up every now and then. Hickman Bridge was a favorite for sure!
Photo May 16, 10 50 45 AM

Photo May 16, 11 00 57 AMOn our last day in the Fruita District, we found a little trail that lead from our campground through the orchard and along the river. We just thought we’d take a morning stroll but soon enough the trail started going up! We weren’t planning on a hike, but the scenery was so beautiful, we just kept going and it turned into one of our prettiest hikes of the entire trip.

Photo May 17, 8 48 06 AM

We packed up camp and headed over towards the Waterpocket District which is the southern most section of the park. It’s a pretty remote area, and another one where 4×4 is recommended so not many people visit. We had a picnic lunch, hiked a little bit and then saw some pretty ominous storm clouds approaching so we decided to keep moving.

The goal was to head to Goblin Valley and camp since it was on our way back towards Colorado. When we reached the visitor’s center, the ranger told us he had one camp site available and that we should go check it out, so we did. We liked it, so we set up our tent and then went back to the ranger station to pay. I knew the second that rangers saw us that something was wrong. “Uh sorry guys, it’s first-come-first-served and I just sold that camp site to someone else.” Ummm, what?! YOU told us to leave and go check it out before paying! And then you sell it right out from under us? Gah! He totally screwed us, so we had to go back to camp and take our tent down and then find some BLM land to camp on. So frustrating! We did at least check out the Hoodoos, which is what Goblin Valley is known for. Photo May 17, 4 26 59 PM

Photo May 17, 4 13 18 PM

We found a great spot of BLM land that gave us a great view of the valley surrounding us. We made a fire, cooked dinner, listened to good music and watched the skies fill with more storm clouds. Photo May 17, 6 14 53 PMAnother night of camping in the rain didn’t sound appealing and thankfully we hadn’t set up our tent yet, so we decided to head out and grab a hotel room in Grand Junction for the night. A hot shower and soft bed sounded delightful after 4 days of camping in the rain!

Our trip home was uneventful and easy. To be honest, we were both a little sad that our trip had to stop at 5 days. I could have easily spent another week out in the desert. We are still living with David’s parents, which is going just fine, but when you don’t have your own home to return to…returning home just doesn’t sound like fun. Oh well, just another excuse to go back to Utah in the near future!

Healing: 1 Year

Last year on Easter, I was sitting in the neuroICU at UCLA. My goodness time has gone by so fast! I can’t believe it has been a full year since my surgery. During my final post-op with my neurosurgeons, they said, “expect to feel better in 8-12 weeks….expect a significant improvement at 6 months….and expect full healing to take 12 months.” Here I am at 12 months!

SCDS is a degenerative syndrome. There is no cure for it. Surgery doesn’t make everything all better. You can’t just go back to normal again. Surgery isn’t about fixing things and getting back to life as usual, it’s about trying to make sure nothing gets worse. Big difference.

As I have gotten further into my recovery, I began to notice that it was hard to tell where my SCDS symptoms ended and brain surgery side-effects began or when healing ends and the “new normal” begins. Lines blur and all I know is that things are different now. Good, but different.

I write this as a person who is thankful to have received the help that I have from surgery, but who is also very much struggling to accept the idea that the “normal” I used to know will probably never return. There is a mourning over the loss of what used to be, and likely will never be again. That’s a big deal. Anyone who has been sidelined with a chronic condition will resonate with this (fellow infertility sisters perhaps?).

After all the dust has settled, I have realized that a few things linger. These are things that have not changed much over the last 12 months. They’re here, probably to stay. And I’m slowly making peace with that. Some of them are SCDS symptoms that just never fully resolved and some of them are probably due to the surgery itself.

-Barometric Pressure induced headaches, dizziness & cognitive disorientation. Bottom line, I never feel well when storms are approaching or leaving the area. In Colorado, this happens several times per week, if not several times per day haha!
-Cognitive disorientation in high stimulation environments

-Difficulty with short term memory, focus and concentration
-Nerve Pain and numbness
-Low-grade headaches 5-6 days/week
This list of things that remain is far better than what I was dealing with before surgery, so I will happily accept them as part of my new normal. And you never know, some things may improve in the future, like the headaches now that I am on the Migraine Diet (I’ve gone 7 days without a headache so far! May be coincidence…may be the diet actually working, too early to tell). And if we ever move to a place with no barometric pressure changes (Honolulu is #1 on the list haha!) then I will most certainly feel better. 

    Recovering from this whole experience has had it’s ups and downs. It’s been a long year full of tears, slow walks, frustration, gratitude, struggle, relearning things and adopting to a new way of life. I don’t have a story where I can say “Look at me! I’m 110% better now!” But I can say “I am grateful for the healing work God has done in my life and I am slowly learning to accept and embrace my limitations while praising God for bringing me this far, which is much further than I was a year ago. Amen and Amen!”

    David and I took a quite trip to the mountains to celebrate this milestone and to also celebrate the fact that we finally have a house under contract! Wooo! We booked a last minute condo on the river just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. We spent our time lounging around, fishing, sitting in the sunshine, eating good food, hiking and looking at wildlife. It was a great way to get away and celebrate together all that God has done for us.


    Right-Side Up

    I do great in crisis situations. I am rarely rattled or scared. I usually know what to do, where to go and how to get there. I don’t hesitate and I seldom panic. As long as that adrenaline is pumping through my veins, I’m level-headed and perfectly fine. It’s usually after the crisis that I start to fall apart. Inevitably this is due to my poor adaptation to change which has been a lifelong challenge. Unfortunately, crisis and change go hand-in-hand.

    When the change starts to settle in after the crisis…. the new routines, the new way of life, the memories and emotions that need to be processed…that is when I come unhinged. And believe me, the changes have come flooding through these past 2 weeks.

    David’s health of course is one of the biggest changes. My strong and resilient husband has been set back a few steps. I still wake up at 3am worried that he has stopped breathing. The blood thinners make him cold all the time. I am always looking for the next sign that suggests we need to rush back to the ER. It’s going to take some time for the PTSD to wear off. I actually read a study recently that said the majority of pulmonary embolism survivors exhibit signs of PTSD. It makes sense…especially when you realize just how close we came to losing David. It’s going to take time for our heightened levels of fear and paranoia to come down a notch.

    Then comes the fact that we sold our house. The second I went in that hospital with David, I never returned to our home. Other people packed our boxes, moved our belongings and cleaned our house. We left home in a frantic hurry and by the time David was out of the hospital, the papers had been signed and the keys had been transferred to the new owners. I had Power of Attorney so David wasn’t even at the closing, he has far less closure than myself on leaving our home. I blinked and suddenly our home wasn’t our home anymore. I’m currently floating somewhere between denial and suppressed acknowledgement that we are never going back to that house. The vast majority of our stuff is in storage somewhere and we are almost always looking for missing shoes and hair gel. Side note, I did just find all of my shellac and gel polish, which I thought was lost and gone forever so occasionally there are happy surprises!! 🙂

    Then comes grad school. I can’t even begin to describe the changes that alone has set into motion. So yes, change. Lots of it.

    If you know us at all, you know exactly what we do when life gets a little too hard. We do this…

     We headed south towards a little town in Colorado called South Fork. We drove through it in 2014 as we were coming home from Arizona and we were both intrigued by how quaint it was. We made some seriously last minute reservations at a little B&B on the river and headed down for a long weekend of reconnecting, reflecting and relaxing. It was exactly what we needed.

    South Fork is about an hour from the Great Sand Dunes National Park (did you know Colorado has sand dunes?! They are so random but so so so very cool!) so we headed over to the Dunes to check things out. The wind was whipping at about 30mph and it was freezing cold but we both really enjoyed being here. Since it was so cold and cloudy, there weren’t many people around and we more or less had the place to ourselves. Aside from the occasional sand grain blowing into our eyes, we had a great time soaking in all the natural beauty that this place offers.

    Gooooosh I love this husband of mine! I will never stop being thankful for him and that he is alive!!!

     I got an absurd amount of sand in my hiking boots haha!

     I made a poor decision and attempted to do a long exposure of the water that flows in front of the Dunes. It was so cold and my exposures took so long that I was sure frostbite had gotten the best of my fingers by the time I got back to the car. The pictures turned out terribly too, oh well, live and learn!

     The next day we headed home and made a few quick stops along the way. One stop was in a tiny little town to say hi to my dad. He lives on 100 acres in the boonies and I rarely have a chance to see him due to problematic circumstances (ahem, my crazy step-mom). We ate lunch with him at the only restaurant open in his little town on a Monday, which was in the bowling alley. Ha! David hadn’t seen my dad in over 2 years so it was good for them to catch up a little bit. I don’t see my dad much and I have learned over time to lower my bar of expectations so that a simple lunch in a bowling alley where all we do is talk about the weather is enough to satisfy my heart.

    Lunch with my dad was conveniently located within an hour of the very first town David and I lived in when we got married, Canon City. David got his first job out of college in Canon City. He was a reporter for the local newspaper and covered everything from city council meetings to local high school football games. He lived there for about 18 months and I would go down to visit on the weekends when I didn’t have to work. I lived in Canon City for exactly 2 weeks after we got married before David took a job in a different town, where we live now.

    Canon City is a quiet, small town that is full of a mixture of retirees who love the milder climate, blue collar workers, tourists and a smattering of folks who moved there for a job in the prison system.

    There are 13 major prisons in the area, including “Supermax” which is a maximum security prison that houses criminals who are too-high a security risk or too much of a threat to national security for standard maximum security prisons. The high value of targets inside the prison makes it just as likely for someone wanting to break-in as break-out so they have set up the prison in an intentionally disorienting way that includes underground areas, no windows, “black holes” and sound-proof cells. Most people inside can’t tell where they are within the prison or even which way is north. Supermax holds famous criminals like:

    • Ted Kaczynski aka The Unabomber 
    • the Underwear bomber 
    • the Shoe bomber
    • one of the Oklahoma City bombers
    • one of the 9/11 bombers
    • the 1993 World Trade Center bomber
    • the Atlanta Olympics bomber
    •  Boston Marathon bomber
    • several mobsters
    • many cartel leaders
    • a few FBI/CIA double agents 
    • quite a few al-queida members 

    It’s a little unsettling that all of these guys are housed under one roof together (think of the destruction they could plot!) but every prisoner is kept under solitary confinement at Supermax for 23 hours/day. Any time a prisoner is released from his cell, he has no less than 3 armed officers with him at all times. Not much plotting could happen under those conditions, right?! Ok, I’m done with prison trivia 🙂

    We drove by our very first place where we lived for exactly 12 days before moving. The window on the right was ours! Our shower didn’t drain and we had landlords that would walk in unannounced at all hours of the day, but it was a significant upgrade from where David lived before.

     This was David’s first place in Canon City. His was the door on the left. It was right on Hwy 50 and he had a constant stream of semi-trucks whizzing by. His neighbor was about 98 years old and we were always worried about him dying. The worst was his other neighbor to the west…a taxidermist ::shudders:: The dumpster out back is a thing I fear to this very day.

    I have fond memories of our brief time in Canon City. Good memories of eating Little Ceasar’s pizza on that front porch, watching the trucks whir by and looking up at the stars. We would eat lunch at our favorite coffee shop and take walks along the Arkansas River. We went to the Blossom Festival and the rodeo in the summers and spent a lot of time people watching downtown and we even found a cute little church to attend. David and I spent the entirety of our engagement apart and these visits to Canon City were the highlights of each month that went by.

    I am thankful we no longer live there, but I can’t help but feel a strong sentimental attachment to this interesting little town. In many ways, it was a great foundational place for our marriage to begin. Our marriage started in very very humble beginnings, something I would never change. It doesn’t get more humble than living next to a taxidermist haha! 🙂

    We slowly made our way north and returned to the new life we have now. We are currently set up in David’s parent’s basement. Slowly, a new routine is being established and we are finding our bearings once again. House hunting has begun, David is back at work, I’m going to school and have finally responded to the 800 business emails I got while we were in the hospital. David’s parents have graciously been feeding us and caring us over the past 3 weeks. I have yet to go to the grocery store or make dinner but I have done a few loads of laundry so I will call that progress. 
    It’s funny how in the midst of all this change, a little road trip to some big piles of sand in the middle of nowhere actually helped us feel a bit more stabilized and secure. I guess that goes to show how much being in the mountains and traveling centers us. God’s creation has always been a tool for healing in our life. Now I also see it is a tool for grounding, stabilization and turning an upside-down life back to right-side up. 

    Utah

    Mmmmmm I love the desert. I don’t know what it is about this place, but I’m officially obsessed. Moab is a 6 hour drive from our front doorstep (uh, when you’re not driving in a blizzard, which we were, so it was technically a 9 hour trip for us. Boo.) and it’s kind of just become a little tradition over the years for us to getaway in the fall (and sometimes the spring too!) to this beautiful area. This is probably the 5th or 6th time I’ve been to Moab and it just seems to get better each time! Before you know it, we’ll probably just move there. I kid, I kid. Kinda.

    We stayed at a place called The Red Cliffs Lodge, which has become “our” place over the years. It’s absolutely awesome. It’s beautiful. It’s affordable. It sits right on the river and in the heart of some of the best places to explore. They have a killer on-site restaurant and a to-die-for Sunday brunch. They even have their own vineyards and winery too! Mmmm wine….

     It’s tempting to stick with tried and true hikes and adventures in this area. There’s 2 National Parks right here and an abundance of awesome trails that we’ve done before. But we decided this time we should try new stuff.

    Our first day was a hike through Negro Bill’s Canyon to Morning Glory Arch. I’ve driven by the trailhead 40 times over the years but have never stopped to hike it. What a fun hike! There was very little elevation gain except for the very end. About 5 miles roundtrip and at the end is a beautiful arch called Morning Glory arch. We got to see a few people repelling down it, pretty cool!

    It may be winter in Colorado now, but fall was in full force out in Utah. The trees were beautiful! Here’s a photo of Morning Glory arch above the yellow foliage. Beautiful!

    After our hike, we drove around Castle Valley and Fisher Towers. These two areas are super popular for commercials and movies. There are dozens and dozens of movies that have been filmed in this area. Mission Impossible, Thelma & Louise, and pretty much every John Wayne movie ever.

    On our second day, we headed over to Dead Horse State Park, which sits right next to Canyonlands. You get all the beautiful views of Canyonlands without all the motorhomes and RVs clogging the roads. David did a 14 mile mountain bike ride and I did a 5 mile hike along the eat rim. I picked a less populated trail in the hopes of finding a little solitude. My reward at the end was astounding. I sat on the edge of a cliff (couldn’t have done that 9 months ago with my vertigo!) and listened to the wind blow through the canyons below. It was pure silence and pure perfection. See the edge of the cliff in the photo below? That’s where I sat. Pretty cool!
     I snapped a few long exposures on the ledge
    Our third day was probably my favorite of all. We hiked to Bowtie and Corona arch. They’re not in a park of any sort, just a standard trailhead and a 3 mile hike to see them. Wowza! What an incredible spot! I was also pretty jazzed because this made for my 3rd day of hiking in a row…a true sign that I getting back to normal after surgery! I’m not 100% yet and this trip gently reminded me of that. David caught the picture below where I was attempting to look up at the arch. I was soooo off balance, I had to keep my arms out and my feet super wide in order to not fall over. Haha! Nothing to worry about, but looking straight up like this isn’t a regular part of my vestibular therapy. I suppose it should be if I want to ever look up at arches again without falling over. 🙂
     Can you spot David?

    Here you can see both Bowtie arch (left) and Carona arch (right)
    After our hike out to Corona arch, we headed back to CO. Thankfully our drive home was less eventful with no blizzards to speak of. Our long weekend to Utah was one of the best trips we’ve had in a while. I’m so lucky God gave me such an awesome travel partner, hiking buddy and best friend like David. We have so much fun on trips like this, I’m just the luckiest girl to have him!

    Kentucky

    3,512 miles was the total over the last 10 days. That’s how many miles it took to drive CO–>NE–>IA–>IL–>IN–>OH–>KY–>TN–>–>KY–>IL–>MO–>KS–>CO Phew!

    David has wanted to do the Kentucky Bourbon Trail for years and after finding out he had a business conference in Lexington, we thought it made pretty good sense to just stay a little longer and explore all that Kentucky has to offer! I really wanted to bless David with this trip…he’s done so much for me over the last year. I wanted him to have a vacation he’d love and I’m pretty sure he loved every second! 🙂
    I am not ready to fly again (it’s going to be awhile before I subject myself to that experience again! Brain surgery + pressurized airplanes = no bueno) and I had a funeral in IL to attend, so I combined the funeral with driving to Kentucky. It all lined up really well! I drove to Chicago last Tuesday,14.5 hours in one straight shot! I spent a few days in Chicago with family before heading out for a short little 6 hour drive to Lexington, where we started our Bourbon Trail experience.
    The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a really fantastic thing. It’s a combo of brilliant marketing and lots of great distilleries dotted throughout the state. You get a “passport” with all the distilleries in it. Basically, you visit all the different distilleries, collecting stamps from each distillery and at the end of your trail, you can submit your completed passport for a t-shirt. Not a bad deal! It’s a great way to see some really cool bourbon distilleries and also some beautiful parts of the state! 
    Our tour was pretty inefficient in terms of driving route, but it kind of had to be that way due to starting in Lexington, hotel availability and working around distillery hours. There was some backtracking, but we got to take some scenic routes and see parts of the state we would have otherwise missed.
    Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Day 1
    We started out in Lexington, where David had his conference. We left in the morning and headed towards Louisville and visited Evan Williams and Bulliet. Evan Williams was really neat, they had a great interactive tour and put a big emphasis on the history of the area and distilling. We got caught up in a tour full of Clemson football fans, we were the only ones not wearing orange haha!

     Bulleit was not my favorite…it was in a weird industrial part of town and I kinda didn’t want to get out of my car. We didn’t do a tour here, just wandered around the grounds, gift shop and took some photos.

    Then we headed over to our final tour for the day, which was at Woodford Reserve. We almost missed our tour due to construction traffic, but we discovered a one-lane backroad (one of many that we drove on in Kentucky haha!) and got there just in time. Woodford was reaaaaaally busy! They have gorgeous property and seem to gear their marketing to a higher-end clientele, so the entire place was full of golfers and fancy ladies, not what you’d typically picture for a bourbon crowd!
    We stayed at a really cool inn called the Woodford Inn in Versailles, KY. It is an historic inn that also has a restaurant attached. We had a great meal and a wonderful night’s sleep. The neighborhood nearby was having a “block party” which we explored after dinner. You haven’t lived unless you’ve been to a Kentucky block party, let me tell you 🙂

    Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Day 2
    We deviated off of the trail in the morning to hit up one of David’s favorite places, Buffalo Trace. We got there early in the morning and did the first tour of the day. We both agreed this was our favorite tour. It was super informative, our tour guide was awesome and they did a great tasting after (can I just say it’s weird to be tasting bourbon at 10am?).

    I’m not a big fan of straight bourbon, but Buffalo Trace makes this delicious stuff called Bourbon Cream, which is just bourbon mixed with cream. They combined some with root beer and it was SO good. I had to buy some since you can’t find it out in Colorado. 
    Buffalo Trace’s beautiful grounds
     We did a quick visit to Wild Turkey and Four Roses before heading over to Maker’s Mark. Maker’s Mark is another one of David’s favorites, so we spent a lot of time exploring and doing a tour of the distillery. They have some really beautiful areas!

     They let you dip your own bottle in red wax to seal it at Maker’s Mark. David did a great job, he’s a total pro! After the tour, we drove to Bardstown, KY to stay in an adorable cottage we rented for 2 nights. The Kentucky Bourbon Fesitval was going on in town, so every single hotel was booked for the weekend. This was the only place available and we were so lucky that it turned out to be fabulous! When I booked, there were no photos of the cottage so we walked into this one totally blind and just hoped for the best. Lucky us, it was perfect!

     They even included breakfast at the cottage. It came pre-stocked with fruit, pastries, juice, yogurt and other breakfast goodies. And if that wasn’t enough, there was an amazing bakery just across the street. Perfect! We visited the Kentucky Bourbon Festival while staying in Bardstown. It was quite the experience!

    Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Day 3
    We enjoyed some bourbon coffee (yes, it’s a real thing!) on our front porch before heading out for our third day on the trail! We started with a craft distillery, which was a really nice change! Most of the distilleries we visited were massive and had enormous productions. Craft distilleries do small batches, sometimes less than 5 barrels. They do interesting flavors and unique techniques that the larger distilleries just can’t do. Willett is just a stone’s throw away from several large distilleries. We had a great tour at Willett, they really took their time explaining their process and allowing you to explore.

    (Why do I look so creepy in this picture?!)They let you taste the mash as it’s cooking! It’s like a weird sour porridge made of corn, barley and wheat or malt. Not very good. It’s amazing that they can take a bunch of this stuff and turn it into a $70 bottle of liquor. 
    We went from this tiny craft distillery to the 2 biggest distilleries in Kentucky, Heaven Hill and Jim Beam. We did a “connoisseur experience” tour at Heaven Hill, where we got to sample 4 of their most expensive bourbons, including a 23 year Elija Craig that sells for $300! I don’t have enough knowledge or a mature palette for bourbon, so I took a little sip of each and then passed my sample along to David who could actually appreciate what he was tasting haha! 
    Jim Beam had some truly beautiful grounds. I loved visiting here! They also had a really cool tasting system, with little machines that dispensed your samples out. They have a lot of history on their property, from the Beam’s first farmhouse to their first still. It was beautiful to walk through. 
    Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Day 4
    Day four was a little less about bourbon and a little more about sightseeing and nature walking. A nice break 🙂 We headed into the Daniel Boone National Forest and Red River Gorge area, which I had read was a “must-see” when visiting Kentucky. We did 2 hikes in the morning, one to Sky Bridge and one to Rock Bridge. Sky Bridge was cool because it was a natural arch that you could walk on top of and under! 
     
    David bought me a new camera backpack for my birthday last November. It is the only backpack built specifically for female photographers! It was in production all year and it finally shipped to me at the end of August, just in time for me to try it out on our trip! LOVE it! 🙂

    Sky Bridge
     

    Rock Bridge. This was really cool! Somehow the water from the river cut through this rock, making a bridge out of the rock. I’ve seen plenty of rock arches before, but non with water flowing underneath them!

     David grabbed a candid of me taking photos of a waterfall. Here’s the photo that I took:
    The colors were just starting to turn. I really want to go back sometime when it’s in full swing, I’m sure it’s just beautiful! After the Red River Gorge area, we drove down south through some winding country roads until we reached Cumberland Falls. I originally wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to make this stop, but I am SO glad we did! The falls were breathtakingly beautiful and we had the entire state park to ourselves, there was absolutely no one there!
    That night we stayed in the most amazing place. When I thought about visiting Kentucky, I always had a vision of staying in a little country cabin with a wrap-around porch. I searched and searched and finally found this little cabin. The pictures were blurry and terrible, but I had a hunch it was going to be a great place! As luck would have it, the property owner let us stay for free in exchange for some good photos of her place. Yay! How cute is this little place?!
    Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Day 5-8 
    We left the cabin in the woods and began our trek towards Nashville so that we could visit David’s grandmother who lives there. We went through Bowling Green, stopped at another craft distillery called Cosair, ate lunch at an awesome place called Moriah’s and then came into Nashville. Nashville seemed so congested and crazy compared to the open country in Kentucky! We did a quick 24 hour visit in Nashville before heading back towards CO. We stopped back in Kentucky and visited another craft distillery called MB Rolland. This place was literally in the country…like in the middle of a corn field! They made more moonshine than bourbon, but we still enjoyed our time there. I found a pink lemonade moonshine that is yummmmy!
     
    I’m wearing the t-shirt we got after turning in our completed passports, I think it’s pretty cool! A stopover in Kansas City (with a delicious dinner at Jack Stack BBQ!) and then a 9.5 hour drive back to CO and we were home! 3,512 miles, 7 days, 12 distilleries, 16 bottles of bourbon, 80+ different tastings and we made it back happier than when we left! We had a wonderful time exploring Kentucky, getting to experience the food, culture, people and natural beauty of this area. I’m certain we’ll be back again one day…