The Waiting is the Hardest Part

As you may remember, about a year and a half ago my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer (about 6 months after his first “iffy” PSA test). It’s been a really long two years of waiting. Waiting for treatment plans, waiting for surgery, and now waiting to see what’s next.

I’m a pretty private person, and I rarely share my emotions. I’m a stubborn German, youngest child, Minnesotan. Raised by a stubborn German, youngest child, Minnesotan. Meanwhile, my poor mother is emotional, affectionate and talkative enough for the rest of the family. Add in two older brothers, one of which is the definition of an over-sharer. I love him, but seriously… My private life, and thoughts, are my own. I write to allow some of that off my chest, but I keep most things to myself.

I internalize and over-analyze everything. In the same breath, I’m a silver linings type of person. I’m trying to learn, to grow and to create a reason for this awful waiting. I’d like to think it’s helped me to realize who and what is important, taught me an unbelievable amount of patience, thought long and hard about what I want for my future (and where I want that to be), and now I’m getting the chance to use this experience to help comfort someone who’s just started on this same journey.

I recently started a new job, one that I am INCREDIBLY excited and proud to be doing. Given that I’m around new people, I especially wasn’t ready to share that my father had just undergone surgery to remove his prostate. In my first week on the job, my coworker’s husband was diagnosed with this same cancer. I felt compelled to tell her about my dad’s experience, in hopes to comfort her. Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked a few times – but I’d kept it a secret that the surgery didn’t clear him of cancer. I was afraid that this would be a scary thing for her to hear. Plus, it means our family is back in the waiting game again… The last thing anyone wants to hear when they just want answers for their own loved one.

So now her family will wait. And our family will wait. This is the part of cancer people don’t talk about. The toll that all of the waiting takes on you.

Others in the office now know about my family’s experience, and I’ve learned that in the office of just 20 people – 6 of them have had cancer. That’s about a third of our office. As we all talk through our stories, trying to comfort our coworker in this tough time, we all admit that the waiting is the hardest part. It tests your patience. It tests your faith (in medicine, in others, in a higher power).

For me, it’s also tested my ability to see a silver lining. My optimism has taken a big blow by this one. Now, it’s back to the waiting until the next doctor’s appointment – hoping for good news. I’m trying to bring back my half glass full attitude in the face of all this damn waiting.

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Petting rhinos.

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Hidden in the forests on the Florida-Georgia Line (the real one, not the one that wears sparkly skinny jeans) lies a beautiful facility called White Oak Conservation Center. This 13,000 acre facility is home to some of the most endangered species in the world. They are one of the most successful breeding and research facilities on the planet, and they are one of my clients.

The land White Oak calls home was once a plantation, then a paper milling forest. The paper company’s owner had a passion for saving endangered species and started White Oak. After many generations passed, the family no longer owns the facility and the owner of the LA Dodgers now owns White Oak.

Since this was once a plantation, there are a number of houses on the property which are now rented out by companies for retreats or used for various summer camps. Our team decided to go to White Oak for our team meeting, and I was booked to stay in the same room that Bill and Hilary Clinton lived in during the Monica Lewinsky scandal! I kid you not. It was HUGE! There was a living room with a beautiful fireplace, massage room, two bathrooms (complete with bidets) and a private deck overlooking the house pool and the rhinos. Yes, we had a pool (and hot tub) you could watch the rhinos from. Incredible. Can you imagine waking up on a foggy Florida morning, walking out on your deck and watching rhinos? It was heaven on earth.

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While we did have three days of meetings, we were able to fit some fun in too! I learned how to play round-the-world ping pong (which is SO MUCH FUN), we had a bowling tournament, went on a sunset cruise and went kayaking on the St. Mary’s River – plus, we pet rhinos and fed the giraffes!

I’ve been on a handful of corporate trips, and this was the most memorable and most successful. Our team had productive meetings and came out with better relationships than prior to the meeting. We had gone through a rough transition, with the abrupt dismissal of our Director, and this meeting finally helped us heal.

White Oak does occasional open its doors to the public, it is typically only available for retreats/weddings/etc. from 10-100 people. Side note – can you imagine getting married here? #lifegoals

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Great Lakes and Great Friends.

After returning from Germany, and immediately going to Florence and The Machine, I packed my bags again and boarded a flight to Buffalo, NY. If I’m being honest, Buffalo is not a destination I ever imagined traveling to – but my best friend moved there to be with her boyfriend. Plus, she works at a music venue and it’s insanely close to Canada (a place I’d never been).

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She picked me up from the airport and we went to meet her boyfriend for a day of sailing on Lake Erie. It was a beautiful day on the water, catching up with friends and enjoying cocktails on the sailboat.

Buffalo is a rather empty downtown, but Canalside is a fun, vibrant area and where the music venue is located. There were three concerts lined up for the week, starting with the local pop music station’s summer music fest. There were a number of musicians I had never heard of, but many of the tweens in the crowd screamed over. Then came Iggy Azalea and Meghan Trainor… two acts that I could finally sing along to. While it was a fun day, the Twenty One Pilots concert a couple of days later was even better. They put on a helluva show.

My friend and I were able to both take some time off during the week, so we went up to Niagara-On-The-Lake for some day drinking at the vineyards.

Niagara-On-The-Lake is a quaint little town, with a beautiful main street. More importantly, they have like 50 vineyards. Renting bikes and visiting said vineyards in the thing to do, so when in Rome… This town in Ontario produces something like 90% of all of Ontario’s wine. And they’re famous for making Icewine. I’d never been to America’s Hat before, so I was new to Icewine. I’d be lying if I said it was something I could see myself drinking again… until I tried it at our last vineyard in the form of a chocolate shooter.

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My life will never be the same.

It could have been the wine, or the sun, or the water… but I think it was probably the combination of all of these things and being with my friend that made this one of the most fun days I’ve had in a long time. And we still had half the week to go! We made our way back to the US, but only for a day before we were going to head to Toronto.

That one day back in Buffalo included meeting Public Enemy before their set at Canalside. Flavor Flav and Chuck D are amazing, and incredibly polite/friendly/etc. Also, who knew that Flavor Flav played bass guitar – because that was not a fact I learned on The Surreal Life or Flavor of Love.

The week still wasn’t over. We still had a free night at the Omni Hotel in Toronto to use. Thanks to my many nights at Omni hotels on the road for my last job, I had earned a few free nights and cashed my last one in for this trip. I called ahead to tell them about my bestie’s new promotion at work and they gave us a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries to celebrate. It was fabulous. After we polished off the bottle of champagne, we sauntered to the restaurant across the street and found a drink called the Jake Ginenhaal. It was going to be a great night.

As a general statement, Canadians are a super polite group of people. Downtown Toronto might be the cleanest major city I’ve been to, and the bars were not only fun – the bartenders were incredibly nice. The bartender at one establishment ended up giving us two rounds of free drinks, just because one of our drinks was accidentally spilled (only a splash) when she set them down. The cabbies were nice, the bouncers were nice. It was super refreshing.

The next morning we spent some time walking around downtown, but never settled on an activity to do – so we left for Niagara Falls after eating some amazing pizza near Lake Ontario. This now means I’ve been to four of the five Great Lakes – Lake Huron, watch out!

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If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I love being a tourist. I’m not embarrassed by it one bit. I do the cheesy touristy things, I buy the cheesy touristy photos, I love it all. Niagara Falls offered many options for someone like me (a total nerdy tourist) and after a lot of convincing – I got my friend to join me on the Behind the Falls tour. We had to wait about an hour before it was our time slot, so we filled that time by Googling all of the stories of people who tried to take various watercrafts over the falls. It’s worth reading about, we were very entertained.

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If I ever go back to Niagara Falls, I will do this tour every time. It was beautiful and so fascinating. We learned a lot about the early development of the area, the power produced by the falls and we got to tour the tunnels behind the falls. It was worth every penny. Plus, we got these awesome ponchos so that we could take photos like the one above.

We had so much fun during the weeklong visit. I’d be lying if I said it was because we were in Buffalo, because that town doesn’t have much to offer outside of the concerts. It is a great option for those who want to go to Canada without the pricey airline tickets, as it was just a short drive to cross the border and then maybe a two hour drive to Toronto.

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Brezeln und Bier.

In May, I took my first week-long vacation (true vacation – no cell reception, email, etc.) since I graduated from college. For the past 8 years, when I’ve taken a vacation I have always been available via email and phone. Unfortunately, even when we take time off from work – people don’t respect that anymore, so even my family vacations have been filled with texts/emails/phone calls that were “too important” to wait until I returned. This is an utterly frustrating side effect of the creation of smart phones.

So I took time off, and I went to Europe where I couldn’t be reached for a week!

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Neuschwanstein Castle

After many hours on a plane, I met my friend Lisa at the Munich airport. Lisa is from Graz, Austria and currently lives in Munich. How do I know someone from Austria? She and I used to work together in Chicago. In fact, she invited me to visit her over my birthday weekend and I instantly bought the plane tickets! I have her to thank for all of the lovely memories I’m about to share with you.

Our first stop, after getting the rental car, was Neuschwanstein Castle. This castle is incredibly beautiful. And it’s no wonder why Walt Disney fashioned Sleeping Beauty’s Castle after this stunner. Unfortunately, we missed the last tour of the day – AND the bridge with the most famous view was closed – but we didn’t let it ruin our visit.

My legs and lungs may have been burning from the hike to the top, and I may not have really known where I was due to the jet-lag… but I was already in love with Bavaria and so ready to start our adventure!

We had plans to stay in Innsbruck, Austria after our visit to the castle, and continued onward. With the backdrop of the Alps on the Autobahn, Lisa and I were able to catch up about where our lives had taken us since we both left Chicago a year before.

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On the border of Germany and Austria sits Germany’s highest peak – Zugspitze. We stopped here for a moment to stretch our legs and take in the amazing view. Lisa spoke of her dreams to hike this mountain – and has since done so!

We crossed the border in to Austria, and this is where my brain stopped working properly. Jet-lag got the best of me, and holding a conversation became very difficult. I may have even fallen asleep from time to time – officially making me the worst road trip partner! We made it Innsbruck, and got a little lost finding our hotel for the night… but once we made it there, it was the most adorable inn! Up in the hills of Igls, tucked near the bobsled track from the 1976 Olympics, sits the Hotel Römerhof. The owner greeted us, teaching me to say “Servus!” in this part of Austria (instead of Hallo) and promptly gave me a shot of some liqueur that was delicious. I’m still not sure what this was, other than tasty. We hit up the sauna, relaxed on the balcony and went to sleep early. Well, I went to sleep early…

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The view from the inn’s parking lot.

After eating the most enormous spread of local cheeses, breads, fruits, and anything else you can dream of (all of which was included in our stay), we ventured down in to the city of Innsbruck.

Downtown Innsbruck is a beautiful mix of old and new, set in a valley in the Alps. Everywhere you look, you see snow-capped mountains! We walked through the city, enjoyed their famous strudel and of course – Swarovski.

After spending a few hours strolling through the beautiful streets of Innsbruck, it was time to move on and head towards Zurich, Switzerland. Lisa has friends that she has met all over the world, and we were staying with one of these friends in Zurich. The drive included a pit stop in Vaduz, Liechtenstein where I got my passport stamped and we appreciated the small downtown area, with the castle above.

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As expected, it didn’t take long to see this small city and drive through this very small country! Not long after crossing into Switzerland, the scenery changed and we approached one of the most awe-inspiring lakes I’ve ever seen. Reminder: I’m from Minnesota (aka the Land of 10,000 Lakes) and I love water. I also love mountains – so Lake Walensee was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen.

I dipped my toes in, and though it felt amazing after the many hours of walking, my feet instantly froze. It was worth it.

We made it to Lisa’s friend’s house just outside of Zurich, just in time for dinner. We ate an insanely delicious meal called Raclette. You melt cheese and veggies (or meats or whatever you dream of) in this fun little grill, then you pour it over potatoes! Here’s a video to give you a better idea. Being from the Upper Midwest, this was basically my dream dinner – and now I want to know how I can have it in the USA. It’s a special kind of cheese that makes this dinner possible, so if any Americans reading this know where I can find it please let me know immediately. I imagine the grills and tools are available on Amazon, because what isn’t available on Amazon?

 

Zurich sits on a large lake, with the Alps in the background. Unfortunately, the day we were exploring we couldn’t see the mountains well. The city is filled with lavish stores, Lindt chocolate shops and everything else that was far too expensive for me to afford. Lisa and I were well-prepared, and brought our own snacks which we devoured while sitting on a wall overlooking the city. Some thieves attempted a jewelry store heist, which caused some confusion, road blocks and a lot of police presence. Without access to the internet, this was slightly unsettling so we left downtown for the arts district (the Viadukt shopping area).

We had previously read about an area called Frau Gerolds Garten, and went on a mission to find it! We enjoyed our lunch overlooking (the cafe tables were on top of stacked rail cars) the open-air shops and cafes, set against street art. In one alley we found one of many art installations, the famous umbrella canopy outside of Gerold Cuchi restaurant.

From Zurich we drove to the Black Forest, and stayed with an couple that Lisa met hiking in South America. The following picture perfectly captures the fun loving personality Kurt, as well as the amazing house and views we were able to call home for a night.

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Kurt taught me that in Germany “a little walk” is what Americans would call a hike. And yes, I learned this the hard way. Twice. The first “little walk” we went on was to a tower – which we then climbed – provided for breathtaking (literally) views of the area (you can see Switzerland and France on clear days). And of course, we treated ourselves to a traditional Black Forest pilsner after the climb.

After a fun night of grilling, enjoying a thunderstorm rolling in from the deck and way too much wine – we woke up and went for another “little walk” on a rainy morning.

The cows wear HUGE cowbells, and it was a beautiful sound to hear on the hike. Here’s a video I took to give you an idea of the chorus of bells. After our hike, it was time to say our goodbyes and drive to Munich. Unfortunately, the light rain gave way to torrential downpours (this was the same few days that Paris flooded) and our plans to enjoy the drive – stopping to sight see along the way – was thrown out the door. We had to return the car and Lisa had to work in the morning. I do want to take time and go back to this region of Germany – mostly because I’ve never seen so many vineyards in one place before! And I’ve been to California wine country.

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Rathaus’s Fischbrunnen at Marienplatz

The trip so far had been filled with delicious chocolate, breads, wines and cheese. More cheese than I could have ever wished for! Now, it was time to embrace Munich’s traditions of pretzels and beer. And man, did I embrace it. I felt like I earned with all of the walking though, right?

We arrived in Munich during the late evening, and Lisa lives outside of downtown – so I didn’t know what to expect the next morning. I boarded the train for downtown, and was in awe when I came up from the subway to view Marienplatz for the first time. What a way to be welcomed to the city! Without planning it, I happened to time my trip perfectly to catch the Glockenspiel at Rathaus (video).

I spent my entire first day just walking around the city, without a true destination in mind – except for Hofbräuhaus and Cafe Frischhut. Walking through the famous Viktualienmarkt on my mission for the cafe was an added bonus. I ended up back at the market at least five more times before I left Munich. After enjoying the most delicious donut I’ve ever had – an apfel krapfen – I ventured towards the royal estate and Englischer Garten.

Munich was incredibly easy to navigate without GPS, or knowing the language. I mostly kept to myself, but when I did interact with others they were very friendly. The city is beautiful, with narrow passage ways, street cafes and gothic architecture. One really unique part of Munich is the Englischer Garten surfers (video). I spent a long time hanging out in this park, resting my feet and watching the surfers.

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After some time taking in the scenery, it was time for beer and a pretzel. I made my way to Hofbräuhaus for a radler and brezel. I had no idea that this brewery, restaurant and landmark was so large! I was taken aback by the artwork, the live band (video) and the overall atmosphere of the place – not to mention the MASSIVE beers being served. I had quite the buzz after just one!

Day one was complete, and Lisa cooked a delicious dish called kaiserschmarrn. On a full belly of pretzels, beer, wine, cheese and kaiserschmarrn – I slept like a baby! I awoke to a threat of rain and decided my best bet was to find indoor activities to spend my last day of the trip. I navigated my way to Olympiapark, home of the 1972 Olympics and neighbor to BMW Welt and Headquarters.

Before the heavy rains hit, I made my way around Olympiapark. The architecture and colors screamed 1970’s. I enjoyed watching the ducks on the lake near the tower, eating – you guessed it – a pretzel.

After I’d had my fill of the park, and as the rain started to fall, I found my way to BMW Welt and Museum – where I spent the next four hours or so. I kid you not, the rest of my day was learning about the history of BMW and looking at the beautiful cars.

Hats off to the architects and designers who created these two buildings/experiences. I’m not even a huge “car person” and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my time at BMW. Of course the cars are beautiful, but they did a great job of creating a museum flow through history that was equally engaging and educational. Plus, they have coolest entrance to a museum I’ve ever seen (video). And of course, the pretzels were awesome too! When I got home, Lisa made me her favorite dish – and now one of my favorite dishes – kaesespaetzle. Think of a cross between mac & cheese and gnocchi, but not at all pasta and A LOT of delicious cheeses. It’s pretty much heaven.

I had such a wonderful time in Europe. I’m so grateful for Lisa for introducing me to our hosts (and new friends) in Switzerland and the Black Forest, and for being an extraordinary tour guide/host/translator. I cannot wait to travel abroad again, and I hope I can make a trip like this an annual tradition.

 

For more pictures from Europe, please check out my Flickr page.

 

 

 

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Where Unforgettable Happens

Disney’s new tagline seemed appropriate for a title on a post about a fun trip to Florida.

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I visited Orlando for a convention this winter, and we were able to go to Disney World for a discount. Before our trip to mecca for children, we were treated to a free concert by Sheryl Crow. Talk about a throwback week! You better believe we were singing loudly along to her songs like Everyday is a Winding Road, All I Wanna Do…

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It had been about 23 years since I first visited Disney World, and upon entry my coworker snagged a “1st visit” button, slapped it on my jacket and walked me to a great spot for watching the fireworks.

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I couldn’t stop smiling. The fireworks display is amazing, and is set to all of the songs from my favorite Disney movies growing up. Following the fireworks, I had one request – to ride Space Mountain. See, when I was here 20+ years ago I was too short to ride. And my brothers weren’t, so all I heard about was how awesome Space Mountain is, how fun the ride is, yada yada… Typical big brother bullcrap. But let me tell you – it is freaking awesome! I would ride that coaster a million times if I could. Now, I understand why they didn’t shut up about it.

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From here we walked to every “land” in the park, and rode the major rides on each. To be honest, most of these ride are designed for small children – so they are a bit underwhelming. BUT it was fun to ride the rides I remembered from my childhood like It’s a Small World, Peter Pan and Thunder Mountain. Thunder Mountain at night might be the coolest view of Disney you can get!

I didn’t stop at Disney either. I could also purchase discounted tickets to Universal, so my good friend drove up from Tampa and joined me for an afternoon riding more adult rides – but first, we had to make a pit stop at Moe’s Tavern for some Duff beer. I grew up loving The Simpsons – yep, we watched it as a family – so I was just as gitty as I had been the night before at Disney.

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In all seriousness, Universal is really fun and I was amazed at the ability to immerse people in a world like Harry Potter and Springfield. We got a tip from our bartender at Moe’s that the ET ride was about to close for good, and we snuck on over to that part of the park to ride it one last time! I love that ride, and remembered this from my trip to Universal as a kid. It’s the only ride I remember from that trip (and likely the only one that was there 23 years ago). Confession: I’ve never read Harry Potter. I tried once in college, and just didn’t like it. That being said, Harry Potter world and the rollercoaster at Universal is just amazing. I was in awe. We had to ride The Mummy rollercoaster too – I remember riding the one in LA when I was 16 and loved this one just as much!

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We had a great day at the park, then drove south to my friend’s house in Clearwater. My friend lives right on the water of Old Tampa Bay, which has beautiful walkways around some channels and open water. We went on a mission to watch the sunset on an incredibly cold evening, and failed due to new construction – but we made the most of it!

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My feet were frozen in this picture. It was like 40 degrees outside…

If you’re going to this part of Florida, and you’re an art lover – you MUST go to the Dali museum in St. Pete. By coincidence, the weekend I was in town also happened to be the opening weekend of the Dali & Disney exhibit. This included some unique parallels between the two, stories of their friendship and collaboration (Destino, the opening exhbit at Disney Land in LA), as well as a virtual reality experience in a Dali painting! That was the best part of the whole week, in my opinion.

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I love Dali – he was a true master. His most famous works are also his most surreal, but some of my favorites are his more realistic paintings.

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I could spend an entire day staring at this painting… We had such a good time discussing the art, laughing at each other doing the VR experience, and exploring the gardens and outdoor maze.

I’ve mastered the art of turning any work trip into as much of a vacation as I can – a workation – and this was one of the most unforgettable ones so far! It was fun to be a kid again, creating new memories in places I’ve been before and experiencing new things in cities I’ve already visited.

 

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The Reunion Tour

 

 

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After nearly a year away, I decided it was time to reunite with the place I called home for two years – Chicago. I miss my friends there daily, and it was time to use some miles and hotel rewards for a reunion tour.

This isn’t a knock to any of my friends in Minnesota, but the girls in Chicago are some of the best friends I’ve ever had. The lifestyle of most Chicagoans is one that is fast paced, career focused and that also means most people are not in a rush to the alter or the maternity ward or the suburbs. This isn’t true in most of the Midwest, especially not Minnesota. In my career in Chicago I finally met people who I felt like I could talk with about my life goals, free from judgement. I finally had female friends who understood my point of view. I love my friends from Minnesota deeply, but there is a level of comfort that I cannot achieve with them in conversation that I can with these women. That being said, this trip to Chicago was MUCH needed!

Naturally, it started with some deep dish.

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We went to Gino’s East, but only because of proximity. Chicago’s on Montrose was my favorite when I lived in the city. And I’ve never understood the love of Lou Malnati’s. Give me Gino’s, Chicago’s or Giordano’s. We had to dance off the calories, so we went to Old Crow and then off to Full Schilling for karaoke. Three of my besties came to stay with me at the hotel, and we had a great time staying up all night talking and catching up. In the morning we woke up and were off to Christkindlmarket – something I had never been able to visit  before when I was a resident!

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Gluhwein might be the grossest drink I’ve ever had, but when in Rome – amirite?

It felt so good being back with these amazing, funny, strong women. We’re all navigating life on different paths, but we have such a deep appreciation for each other’s friendship that it felt like we hadn’t missed a beat in the year since I moved. Meeting some of their new friends, catching up with their boyfriends, etc. – I felt more at ease than I had in months back in Minnesota. It’s strange how I had this feeling about moving home, like everything would be the same as it was when I left three years prior. I quickly learned that no one was on the same wavelength as me anymore, and I often felt (still feel sometimes) like I was speaking a different language with people I’d known for 10-20 years. The years away caused a nostalgic glow to cover the frustration I had felt which pushed me in to moving in the first place. Again, I love my friends in Minnesota – it is just hard to feel understood by many of them. We have such different views on what life should look like, and while I appreciate our differences – I think my independence is harder for them to understand, or so it feels that way.

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For the first time in three years, I wasn’t working at the Big Ten Football Championship. This was a surprisingly strange feeling – even more strange than not working at any of the NCAA tournaments or the Sugar Bowl. BUT – I got to watch the game while drinking beer with my friends, and that strange feeling quickly dissipated. Before I knew it, I was cheering for Michigan State, high-fiving strangers and screaming loudly. We went back to Wrigleyville following the game, for a night of dancing with the RMU soccer team – some of the funniest women on the planet! My former intern, and one of the greatest friends I have made in Chicago, played for RMU when she started working with me. She’s brought me along to many outings with these players and each time is so fun that my face, stomach and feet hurt for days after.

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No trip to Chicago would be complete without stopping by my former office, the Hancock building. But not to visit the top, to go to the basement. To L’Appetito for a breakfast sammy. It was just as delicious as I remembered.

I made the right decision by moving home. I’ve rekindled some friendships with great people, I’ve had so much fun with my nieces and nephew, and I truly am happy to call Minnesota home. It’s beautiful, the people are so freaking nice, and my job is amazing. But this trip to Chicago was a great reminder that I’m not crazy, I’m may be an oddball, but I’m not making the wrong decisions for me. I want a different life. Having strong friendships in your adulthood – ones where we push each other in our careers, we have some of the best nights out, and we are there for each other in tough times – these remind you to be confident in who you are and who you are becoming. They won’t allow you to conform because it’s more comfortable. It’s important to have these people in your life.

And though others (including good friends) may not understand you all the time, it doesn’t mean their friendship isn’t valuable too. It may mean being more private than with your other friends. It may mean feeling judged on occasion. That’s okay. They’re like your mother or other female relatives – they’ve known you for so long they just want the best for you. They just don’t understand that their vision of “best” isn’t the same as yours. Their hearts are in the right place, though.

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The C-Word

…And I don’t mean C U Next Tuesday.

I had the extraordinary experience of traveling solo in the PNW. I extended a work trip into a #workcation and rented an Airbnb in Washougal, WA. Why Washougal? It’s the perfect distance between Portland and the Bridge of the Gods. It’s a beautiful, quaint town on the Gorge and Misty’s house had a hot tub – so BOOM.

I knew this trip was going to be refreshing and I was really looking forward to being alone with my thoughts while hiking in the woods. Now, I’m no Cheryl Strayed – you will never find me backpacking the PCT – but I do love to be outside.

The day my coworkers left I received the news that my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. At this stage in his diagnosis, all we knew was that it was definitely cancer. No stages, no treatment plans, nothing. No one prepares you for this. Everyone associates a diagnosis with an immediate plan. This is not true for all cancers, and especially prostate cancer. So with this news, I spent some time wandering the streets of the Alberta Arts District in Portland (pause here – The Grilled Cheese Grill – you guys are my jam, and I will be back!) and then headed East. It was Oktoberfest, and Amnesia Brewing happens to be located in Washougal. I needed distractions.

I gorged myself on some incredible pizza at the Hearth, talking to the owner/chef about his blown glass artwork and his new restaurant. He was so kind, and incredibly fun to watch. I moved onward and made friends with some recently divorced women at Amnesia – one of them had left her husband after she found out he was cheating, and the other had left her husband after years of emotional and physical abuse. They were amazing women. We talked about their new lives, their hopes for their single adventures and they had a lot of questions about me and my travels. It was comforting talking to strangers, especially ones filled with so much hope for the future.

If you have never traveled alone, people are INCREDIBLY kind to you when you do. You make new friends every place you go, and discover hidden gems you never would have known about!

I went back to the house after a few beers, fired up the hot tub and soaked until I was a raisin. In the morning I found a great breakfast spot called OurBar, and I got to talking with a couple who had lived in Minneapolis about a decade ago. They asked me where I was planning to hike, and instructed me to find Beacon Rock. I would have never known to stop at this former volcano, which provided my favorite views on the trip, had it not been for the kindness of these strangers.

On my way to Beacon Rock, I turned a curve and saw Cape Horn for the first time. I pulled to the side of the road, and just took it all in. I eventually grabbed my camera and started snapping. Once I was back on the road, the tears came. This wasn’t the first round of tears (and definitely not the last). It hit me like a ton of bricks that my father was about to face an important battle. It was going to be hard for my mother too, who has been with him for the past 45 years. They were planning for her retirement (dad retired a few years ago), so what was this going to mean for them and their hopes for the future?

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The view from Beacon Rock.

I made it to Beacon Rock, and climbed the 850ft (with about 50 switchbacks) and the view from the top left me breathless. Though, it could have been the hike… I made it back down, hopped in the car with new enthusiasm and continued on to The Bridge of the Gods. I had fun singing in the car, walking across the bridge, talking to other travelers who paid their toll to walk across, too – and just enjoyed the sunny day. I forgot about everything for a little while, and I just soaked in the experience. On my drive to Multnomah Falls, I felt selfish for the feelings of excitement I was having. But I also hoped that my parents would not let this illness ruin their excitement for their retired futures together, filled with travel and grandkids. My love for adventure comes from them after all. No one prepares you for the emotional rollercoaster when they talk about cancer. Honestly, all we ever see in pop culture and in our personal lives is overwhelming sadness when it comes to the c-word. No one talk about the confusion, guilt, hope or awkwardness. Yes, you feel guilty. Guilty for having fun, guilty for feeling emotional about such an early prognosis (seriously – I felt that stage 1 wasn’t bad enough to feel openly sad). And yep, it can be awkward – like getting drunk and telling your friends in the bathroom at a birthday party (see also: dance floor, drag show, brunch…) kind of awkward. Your mom talking about your dad’s prostate medicine to your friends kind of awkward (they didn’t even know about the cancer yet…). Having to talk about prostates at all kind of awkward… So anyway, I hiked to the top of Multnomah, made it back down (legs made of Jell-O at this point) and then I called my mom for the first time. We spoke while I drove to Mt. Hood for my last stop of the day. My mother was honest, but strangely optimistic – I wouldn’t normally give her that adjective! I lost cell service on the mountain, but I made it to the top where I ate some delicious fondue and watched a sandstorm take over the mountain from a cozy table in the lodge.

It’s been seven months since my dad called me with the news. And we still wait. Every few months he goes in for testing, this time could be the one where they decide to move forward with treatment or surgery. Or it could be the time they tell us his numbers are getting better. None of us know. Tom Petty said it best, the waiting is the hardest part. I’m happy to say my parents are looking forward to moving south for the winters, so much so that they’re house hunting this fall. Initially, they had held off on planning too far into the future – so it’s encouraging to hear them discuss where they are going to go on vacation, where they want to move, etc. No one talks about this part of the disease either – how to keep planning, keep moving forward and stay hopeful in the face of this ugly disease.

So I’m starting to talk about it – not just the medical part. I think well all need to stop whispering about cancer, stop being so damn awkward. It’s likely going to have an impact on your life, so let’s try to help each other through the mental/emotional/psychological parts of this illness. And not just the worst cases – the normal, everyday, stage 1 cases. The waiting.  The fear. The hope. All of it.

For more information on prostate cancer click here. My dad did not have (and still does not) have a single symptom. His annual physical resulted in one test coming back with a strange result, and his doctor re-tested him to make sure it wasn’t anything to worry about. Six months and three tests later, the cancer was found.

For more pictures from my trip click here.

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