West Coast Wonders…

After leaving Chicago, my next flight took me to the West Coast to visit some more dear friends, Rebecca and Patrick who live in Oregon. The adventure started off right away with a trip to IKEA from the airport in Portland with one of Becca’s students for his first experience… which included lots of laughs and fun finds…

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I’m so excited to spend some quality time with these two for the week!

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I was welcomed warmly and with great attention to detail…

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State College map, a fox, and fun blue vase with purple flowers – all brought a smile to my face
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Minions! Wha…?!

For dinner we walked to one of the closer restaurants to their home and ate some Middle Eastern food at this little gem in their community – yum!

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Pat, Chris, Sara, and Becca at dinner at Bazaar

The next day started off early with a day full of adventures ahead with a day trip with some International students that Becca works with at Oregon State University. Since it’s their spring break this week only a few of them are still in the area and day trips to various places are on the agenda. Becca’s brother is also visiting as he is passing through to his move to Seattle, so we both joined in on the fun for the day… We loaded into the vans and made our first stop at Multnomah Falls…  in the rain…

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Sadly we couldn’t cross the bridge because a big rock had fallen earlier this year and made a rather large hole that prevented anyone from crossing…oops.

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At the next stop we learned all about how electricity is provided for about 900,000 homes in Oregon and Washington from the Bonneville Dam. It was fascinating to learn the history and terminology as we took a tour of this facility and learned about the fish ladders, which sadly at this time of year didn’t have any fish making their way through it right now.

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The fish ladders (not what I originally imagined)
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I played a part in the demo on how the electricity got to the homes… I played the part of the…. light bulb.
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Becca and Sara in the “powerhouse”…
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Clouds surrounding the mountains around the dam

Next, we visited the nearby fish hatchery and saw an assortment of fish – tiny-size and ginormous – the pics don’t really do it justice…

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I think this guy was the 10 ft. sturgeon named Herman

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The sun finally came out once we made it to our next stop at the Vista House for some stunningly beautiful views of the Columbia River…

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The Vista House
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Chris (Becca’s brother), Becca, and Sara

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The next stop took us to Portland where we stopped at a large Asian Supermarket for dinner and shopping…

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We had dinner at Pho Ngon, a Vietnamese Restaurant where I ventured into trying Vietnamese food for the first time… the waitress was adamant on what I should order. I trusted her decision and obliged on the beef noodle soup (which would make my “belly much happier” she noted)… good to know. 🙂

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It was quite a full day and a half and my heart has spilled over with JOY… I am so grateful to be able to spend this time with these friends and enjoy some new adventures with them!

 

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Hey Chicago… Thanks for a delightfully fun time!

My next stop brought me to Chicago to visit my friends, Matt & Sarah for the weekend. It was so good to see them since the last time I saw them was at their wedding about 3 months ago. I loved being able to experience their world and explore Chicago with them!

Once I flew into town on Friday, Matt picked me up and we stopped for some lunch and to explore his old neighborhood along the way to Wheaton. We stopped to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s home as well as some amazing homes with stunning architecture.

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For dinner we made our way out for some tasty Chicago deep dish pizza…

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And then settled in at their home with the pups for some low-key evening of movie watching. Aren’t they adorable? I really enjoyed my time with these 2 as well…meet Kisa and Chiaki.

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Kisa
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Chiaki

The next day was full of all sorts of adventures as we made our way to the Windy City of Chicago! Even though it was still chilly it was a beautiful day to get out and explore – I’m so glad spring is just around the corner!

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We made our way to the Willis Tower (formerly Sears tower) and after much patience we finally made our way to the 103rd floor to see some amazing views!

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I loved the glass ledges – they were quite popular!

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After seeing the amazing views from the Willis Tower, we went off to find some lunch and along the way we started a walking art tour. I had some great tour guides who guided us very well to maximize our Chicago city adventure.

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I loved all the fun art along the way…

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I got to try a Chicago dog for lunch for the first time, it was quite the experience! I’m not a fan though…

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We continued to explore some more of the city as we carried on along the walking art tour….

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Matt sliding down a piece of Picasso art sculpture

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We made our way to Millennium Park where there are all kinds of fun things to do and see… like the ever popular bean….or as noted in the art tour, the cloud gate…

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We stopped for some tea and a place to rest our weary legs…I enjoyed some bubble tea of course…

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We continued on to the popular shopping area, the Magnificent Mile where we found this little gem tucked away…

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A cupcake ATM?! What a delightful and fun novelty thing to do in this energetic city! It even had a fun name that I highly approve of…sprinkles. Plus, the cupcake was really good too.

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We quickly made our way back / speed walked to the train after realizing our level of tiredness…decided to call it a day and stayed in for an evening of left over deep dish pizza and another movie (this time Matt got to pick)…I am so grateful for such a delight-FULL day of adventures with these dear friends.

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Sunday started off with making breakfast together…waffles (and delicious tea too)! This is one of my favorite meals and things to do with friends – make breakfast, especially waffles. Queue the song “makin’ bacon pancakes”….which may have been sung during this time. 🙂 my heart is so full…

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We made our way to church and I greatly enjoyed the message about receiving God’s gifts, which recently this has been a season of just that. Quite timely.

After church, Sarah and I went out for some quality time to one of the cute nearby downtown areas for some lunch and coffee and a little bit of shopping.

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The rest of the evening entailed some good quality downtime, spaghetti & wine, and preparing for the week ahead for all….along with an early bedtime. Which I was incredibly grateful for since my sleeping schedule has had me awake so early lately…not sure why my body thinks between 4-6 AM is a good time to wake up during my travels?

Chicago has treated me well and I am so thankful to have been able to spend this time with Matt & Sarah before all of our lives continue with more life-changes – full speed ahead with a grateful and full heart!

A glorious day in Dallas!

Thursday was the day I had to explore all by myself and it was an absolute joy-filled day with all the things I stumbled upon…

I found this great little space called Thanks-giving Square and since I got there right at noon I got to experience the bells going off which was really fun to experience! I loved the mosaic and all the scripture and words that was all over the walls of the plaza.

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I then stumbled upon a huge church which looked to take up a whole block and found this incredible water fountain at the entrance. It took me a little bit to realize that the water was set to music. The whole thing was a bit overwhelming and yet beautiful all at the same time.

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I continued to walk on hoping that I was going in the right direction of the Dallas Museum of Art and found this sign…and then I was hoping I could find these little gems too!

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Instead, I stumbled upon the garden entrance to the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) and strolled through the gardens checking out the random sculptures along the way before entering the museum.

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I loved every bit of it! I did some creating in the creative connections corner…

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I did some exploring and enjoyed some really fun interactive pieces…

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I loved all the bright colors…

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And then… I saw these through the window!!

Do you see all the food trucks?
Do you see all the food trucks through the window?

I practically skipped my way to the park and then discovered even more amazing fun!!

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There was an event happening for International Day of Happiness! Who knew!?

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I added my thoughts to what makes one happy to the wall of #happyacts and jumped in on the fun!

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I even made a new friend!

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I was beyond excited to have stumbled on this park and all the fun that was happening all in one place. Lunch from a food truck was a must and I determined that sushi would be the best choice – fresh sushi, from a truck, in the park, on a warm spring day (first day of spring too!)…yes, please!

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I continued to check out the park complete with reading materials and games you could rent out from these stands…

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There was even a fun water feature that was just inviting me to walk through barefoot…and of course, I happily accepted the invitation. Why not?

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I made my way back to the museum to continue to be inspired by all the amazing art and creativity happening under one roof… Bright colors…

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I felt like traveled the world and stepped back in time with all the pieces from all over the globe and various time periods…

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And there was even some really random pieces too…this one made me think of my little sister from Big Brothers Big Sisters since she likes pandas so much.

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After spending hours at the park and museum I found this little gem along the way and jumped on board for a little ride before heading back to the hotel.

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Once I got off the free trolley, I made my way back to meet up with Beth so we could explore Pioneer Plaza which was just right across from our hotel. How fun is this?

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We ended the day at a southern food restaurant and I tried some fried tomatoes and grits…a great meal to have with a southern friend.

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Next stop… Dallas, TX

The next stop of my adventure took me to Dallas, TX where I got to spend some time with a dear friend who was there for a conference for work. She lives in Michigan and is from the south, so it was fun to meet her in the south in a new city.

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I got in Tuesday afternoon just in time for an early dinner where we were able to make it to a recommended restaurant by KQ for some amazing burgers at Twisted Root. I opted for a Tex Mex burger to step outside my comfort zone and even tried the fried green beans. It was a great welcome to the city with some delish food.

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Dinner at Twisted Root
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Really good burgers from Twisted Root

We did a bit of touring the city by car that night and I enjoyed all the lights and sights of historic architecture and iconic Dallas hot-spots.

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On Wednesday while my friend went onto her conference I got to take my time doing a little exploring and discovered a fun coffee shop where I settled in for a few hours to do some reading, emails, and to continue to get some final paperwork done for the Peace Corps.

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Coffee at the Flying Horse Cafe

I was able to meet up with my friend, Beth for the afternoon so we could both do some exploring together. We meandered our way through the city to various places including Dealy Plaza and checked out some of the spots they had there for the JFK Memorial and other random things like the large eye ball hanging out in it’s own green space in downtown.

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JFK Memorial
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Random giant eyeball in downtown Dallas
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Discovered a fish tank on our long walk around downtown

We tried 2 Mexican restaurants that day and found that we preferred the local one that had been there since the early 1920’s.

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Lunch at the Iron Cactus – check out the fried avocado!
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Dinner at El Finix Restaurant
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Great Mexican food at El Fenix Restaurant

On the Peace Corps front of things…I am happy to report that I received my final medical clearance!! After all the paperwork and back and forth to the doctors offices over the past 2 months I am so glad that part is over.

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Pittsburgh Adventures

Monday, March 17 – St. Patricks Day!
My first day of travel started out early as I snuck in some early morning quality time with some friends before leaving for about a month of travels. 5:00 am came quickly since I was up late trying to fit a month of “stuff” for various climates into my suitcase… I spent some early morning time with one of my housemates since we both realized that would be our only time to see one another before I left, and then I journeyed out to a fun local coffee shop, Callao Cafe for some breakfast and coffee with another friend before she left for work.

Once I got back to the house my other housemate helped me with some last minute details like printing out my travel documents before we said our goodbyes and she left for work. (I have learned the hard way that even though technology is great and saves paper; having printed documents of your travels is still a good idea)

I ran some last minute errands and finished packing before my friend, Kyra picked me up to drive to her hometown in Pittsburgh. We had a great time of catching up as time seemed to slip by at a fast pace. I got to meet some delightful family friends of hers who hosted us for the evening. I got the hometown tour and got a glimpse of Kyra’s childhood and what growing up in her neighborhood would have been like.

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We visited some local dining favorites like “Drew’s” (as they called it) as others were pointed out along the way. If you ever end up taking a step back in time at “Drew’s Restaurant” and you want to order pancakes; make sure to ask how big they are…which I have decided should be a required question now when ordering such breakfast food. The 3 pancakes were bigger than my head. No joke. I think Kyra is still laughing about it.

Then Kyra took me for a driving tour of downtown Pittsburgh – I enjoyed checking out all the sights as we drove around for a bit before heading back for a long brisk and energizing walk…which I really needed and am grateful that the day was perfect for it. Later in the evening we “celebrated” St. Patricks Day with some green sweets…

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Tuesday, March 18
Since my flight was leaving at noon, we wanted to get in some more quality time and breakfast. Kyra took me to a really fun place called “The Square Cafe” – a local bright spot with fun colorful colors and an energetic atmosphere. I enjoyed their tag line – “Eat. Play. Love.” and tried the “Last Unicorn” latte, which made me want to hug the waitress, it was that good – I’ve never had a lavender, vanilla, white chocolate latte before, and I think I have a new fav. The food was amazing, fresh, and flavorful. I would definitely go back again.

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After breakfast we made our way to the Pittsburgh airport and said our “goodbyes for now” …. I breezed my way through the PGH airport until my flight which would take me to the next part of my adventure.

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Last day of work celebrations

On Friday March 14, I went into the office at the Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau for my final day of work before leaving for the Peace Corps in June for Moldova. I’ve only been at the Visitor’s Bureau for about 15 months and when I think back and reflect upon my time there, I am overwhelmed with how much I have learned not only about myself but about the tourism industry (which is a LOT of fun) and technology. I don’t think it will really set in until about a week later that I’m not going back… it’s hard to wrap my head around that right now.

On Friday my coworkers blessed me with some pizza, cake, and ice cream for lunch where we shared stories and laughed. I loved how they included the flag of Moldova on the cake!

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After work I met up with two friends and we went to a new restaurant in town called 100 Degrees Hot Pot where we shared in a lot of laughter together…

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Who knew trying to eat Udon noodles with chopsticks would be so difficult? Queue more laughter…

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Then after dinner I met up with more friends for more celebrating and some frozen yogurt at the local Sweet Frog yogurt place…

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I felt so honored that so many were able to come and join in on the final day of work in Central PA.

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In the meantime, I have set out on a month long adventure to travel in the US to visit some dear, far-away friends. I wish I could have been able to make it to ALL the places where friends have relocated to…but hopefully that will happen another time.

I am so grateful for this time to celebrate as well as spend some quality time with loved ones.

It’s a “plot twist”

I had recently made a comment to someone how when something doesn’t seem to go your way in life, a turn of unexpected events happens… you should yell out “plot twist!”… little did I know I would soon be shouting this out for myself. It’s been a long while since I last updated this blog. There have been a few things going on since then that I couldn’t share… until now. Within the past 6-8 months I had been going through the long process of waiting to see if I would receive an invitation to serve with the Peace Corps. On January 9, 2014 I got an answer and an invitation to serve in Moldova! Honestly, I had to learn where it was located.

Moldova is located in Eastern Europe, between Ukraine and Romania. It’s about the size of Maryland and has around 3,559,500 residents living in the country (according to Wikipedia). What is it like in Moldova? You can get a little glimpse of it here:

This certainly wasn’t on my radar a year ago at this time, I’m in awe of what can happen in a year and how much can change. And here I am, preparing to leave for at least 2 years (27 months) to be stretched and challenged in ways that I cannot even imagine. I’ll be moving/departing June 2, 2014 and I hope to be sharing some of the adventures along the way through this blog.

(On a side note, I found it ironic that the last time I updated this blog was on June 2 – also my current departure date for the Peace Corps.)