26/50: New York

Out of the two trips my mom and I planned to New York, both were disastrous yet wonderful. The first trip, I was getting over a lung infection and she had been recovering from bronchitis & a bad cough (I realize in retrospect this was likely her lung cancer back then already). We were a hacking pair that could only take a few steps before being completely winded. It was her first time in New York but because we had respiratory issues, we couldn’t walk around much and needed more rest. We had tickets for four musicals, went to a few famous chef restaurants that my mom really wanted to try out and then the rest of the time we hunkered down in our hotel room watching movies on the hotel TV. Our hotel was conveniently located right back a Shake Shack so we would usually grab burgers and shakes on the way back to the room as well. Although it was not the grand New York trip we had envisioned, we still had a lot of fun that weekend and I have some great memories from our time together.

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We didn’t make it to New York on our second trip. My mom was flying to Montreal to meet me (I was living in Quebec at the time) and then we were going to fly to NYC together. We had just found out that there was the possibility she might have cancer so we weren’t sure if she should risk traveling but being the adventurous spirit that she was, she wouldn’t take no for an answer and insisted that we still go. On the way to Montreal, she almost died on the plane from a blood clot in her lung. So, she was taken to emergency right off the plane and had to stay there for three days and wasn’t allowed to fly for a week. While she was in the hospital I would bring her tasty Montreal food and we would play Yahtzee together on her hospital bed (we used magazines to cover up the annoying noise that Yahtzee tends to make…). Then she spent a few days with me at my place and I flew back to BC with her. Also not the New York trip we had planned and it also included some scary and sad moments as we anticipated what the future might look like once we got her full diagnosis, but through it all I still have fond memories of laughter and making the best of a situation that wasn’t the most positive.

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So, when I went to New York, I thought of my mom often. As I walked around Central Park I thought about the fact that she never got to see the park even though we were there for a few days. I ate burgers at Shake Shack both days that she would have loved, in honour of her (portobella mushroom burger for the win). And I saw some fantastic musicals that transported me into other worlds, left me crying and laughing and feeling inspired and hopeful about life.

If you know me, you know that I love musicals. My love for musicals is perhaps a bit over the top and obsessive but I see them every chance I get. When I was younger, whatever musical was in town, my mom would buy eight tickets (because that’s how many seats her vehicle had), she would fill up her suburban and we would all head to Vancouver to be dazzled and wowed by the different shows (and the odd time disappointed but with funny stories of a show that wasn’t so great that we all tediously endured together). I’m so thankful she introduced me to musicals at such a young age and fostered my love for them.

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Although my whole family enjoyed musicals, I especially shared a love for them with my oldest brother, Leon. He was amazingly gifted musically and he performed in a couple different musicals in high school and it was such a joy to watch him perform and come alive doing something he was so good at and that he loved. One of my days in New York was the anniversary of the day Leon died. So I thought it likewise fitting to remember him by going to see musicals I know he also would have loved.

Each musical I saw was spectacular in its own way and spoke deeply to me and to different aspects of grief in unexpected ways. I love how stories can do this, especially stories that come at you in the form of singing, dancing and acting. Remembering my mom and Leon while there made it even more special.

New York- Part II

 

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About two weeks after my initial visit to New York in NYC, I spent some time in upstate New York (at least I think that’s what they call it) in the Finger Lakes area. It was a wonderful day and it ended up being a formidable waterfall tour. While driving I passed some waterfalls on the side of the road and then I went to Glen Watkins State Park which is a river running through a gorge and has countless waterfalls, some of which you can even walk behind! It was lovely. They had stone steps and bridges throughout the park so you could walk along the entire length of the gorge. I ended up getting soaked as I walked behind a couple of the falls but it was humid and it was worth it to take in the experience of being so close to something that is so majestic. The entire day felt filled with wonder and the continual gift of being able to see one of my favourite things.

 

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I even wore shoes for the walk through Glen Watkins. It’s amazing how different an experience can be when you’re somewhat prepared for it. Of course, I didn’t bring water or food and hadn’t eaten since breakfast, but I guess you can’t be prepared for everything at the same time. What I loved about the park was I was struck with awe at each new point. I would lower my expectations but as soon as I turned a corner, I saw something different and wonderful in its own way. A good reminder to keep moving forward and although the 100 steps in front of you seem daunting, it is worth it in the end. All in all, the 800 stairs in this park were well worth it and the whole day was absolutely wonderful.

 

 

24 & 25/50: Delaware & New Jersey

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There are some states that I spend more time in than others. There are also some states where I take way more pictures than other states. The two might have a correlation but some days I really don’t feel like taking pictures. The couple days I spent in Delaware and New Jersey I didn’t much feel like taking photos, but there were really cool clouds and I have a great sun roof that afforded me the opportunity to take some upward shots (while pulled over of course).

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Making a plan to travel through all 50 states is no small task. It took hours of planning, mapping, re-planning, re-mapping, looking up interesting stops, coordinating dates with people I wanted to visit and figuring out how long each day would take and what was feasible driving time. Some days that are only three hours of driving turn into eight hours, because I like to pull over and follow signs on the road leading me to interesting places (or on the rare occasions totally uninteresting places that do not live up to the interest that was originally invoked in their name). Two things I forgot to factor into my road trip planning were time changes and toll charges. Entering Delaware began my deluge of having to pay tolls in different areas. When driving across a few states with toll roads, it’s baffling how much you end up paying in toll fees.

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In my planning and as I have been traveling, one of the questions that has come up is what it means to be in a place. For me specifically the question is what does it mean to have been in a state. I have driven a few hours in every state I have passed through, enjoying the scenery along the way. I have usually had some sort of rest stop. I have eaten a meal in every state. I have taken a picture in every state. I’ve chatted with people in every state (especially during the ten days I had by myself…). Is it necessary to do something spectacular or see the main attraction to have been in a state or is it just enough to have been there and created your own experience?

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If someone came to visit me in BC and I picked them up at the airport and brought them to my house and they never set foot out of my house or did any activities (which would never happen by the way), would they still have been in BC? My answer would be yes but it would have been a different experience.

Traditionally my nature has been to tackle everything when I go somewhere. When I was 13, our first international family trip took us to Ireland for a few weeks. My mom researched everything there was to see and do in Ireland and we did it all. She rented a giant van (which is a horrible idea in a country with narrow, windy roads) and wanted to make sure we didn’t miss anything in case we never had the chance to go back. So perhaps this is where this mentality began. And yet as I grow older, I realize just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should. Just because there is a great experience to be had does not necessitate that I do it. Sometimes moderation and saying no is a good thing and makes the other experiences even better.

I have not seen what every state has to offer, but I am being present wherever I am and taking in the experience that my itinerary in each state offers me. I’m thankful for the rhythm of busier days and more relaxed days. And if I return to any of these places, I know there will be other things to see and do and that will be a new experience. My experiences in each state and being present where I am is good and worthwhile and I’m thankful for each moment of being in a place as I go along.

23/50: Maryland

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I enjoy meeting new people and I especially value keeping in touch with people. Ten years ago my mom and I met Sammy on a Mediterranean cruise we were all on. She was traveling with friends and we all ended up at the same table every night for dinner. Every evening at dinner was filled with lots of laughter and getting to know one another. Over the years we have sporadically kept in touch and since she lives in Maryland, it was so neat to be able to see her again and meet some of her family.

Much of my trip has been filled with spectacular sights, beautiful nature, big cities, but one of my favourite aspects is the people that I have been able to visit and reconnect with along the way. I am so thankful we weren’t created to live in isolation but we were created to relate to one another and build relationships with those around us. I am continually filled with gratitude at the rich tapestry of people who have been woven into my life, whether for a short time, frequently or periodically through the years. Different seasons of life shift relationships and I am thankful for each one.

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It’s a curious thing to travel by yourself for long periods of time. I really enjoy time spent by myself but I also enjoy people. After leaving Maryland, I had ten straight days by myself. One of the layers of grief I have had to walk through is my feelings of being alone. Having no parents, no spouse and no children, sometimes it feels like I am adrift without anything anchoring or rooting me. My mom was the person who always followed me every moment and tracked with me every step of the way. I would share all the details of the day and pictures with her. It is hard to face the loss of a relationship that was so deeply woven into my life.

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So on some levels I have this level of feeling alone. And yet when I stop to reflect on it, I am blown away by the amazing friends and rich community that surrounds me. On this trip, I am thankful for those who send random messages to say hello and to see how I’m doing. I’m thankful for those who have followed me and encouraged me along the way and cared about where I was and if I made it to the next location safely.

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I look at other people’s webs of relationships and mine looks different but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful. I have people who love me, support me, affirm me, and cheer me on. I have people who have wept with me, laughed with me, walked with me through the darkest valleys and been okay to sit in the silence and loss with me. So although my “official” family tree may have shifted, I am aware that there have been amazing people grafted in, woven in and embedded in the fabric of who I am and who I am becoming. I am not alone. It’s funny though how easy it is to lose sight of this. And yet even this trip has served as a reminder of it. I have someone I can visit in Maryland (amongst many other states!). I have people who have been significant parts of my life and I want to continue remembering and celebrating those people. I am far from being alone even when there’s no one around.

22/50: Virginia

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Virginia, the state that is east of West Virginia. Okay, so it turns out there’s a lot of states I know virtually nothing about. I know some people who live in those states and whatever they tell me about those places but otherwise they are just names I have heard from history, even though I don’t always remember the details. I have heard about the Blue Mountains, but I had no idea they were in Virginia. I made a little detour to drive through the Blue Mountain Parkway and it was well worth the detour.

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For part of the drive, it was pouring rain and once again there was fog at every turn, adding to the mystique and beauty of the place. I stopped at all the viewpoints, some of them led to walks through the forest to lovely waterfalls and abandoned, overgrown train tracks. At the overlooks, there were signs talking about the mountains in the distance and other landmarks that I couldn’t see. I imagined they were beautiful but also enjoyed the beauty that was before me as well, hiding even more beauty. Sometimes we just have to trust that there is indeed deep worth and beauty beyond what we can perceive and understand. The rain also made the forest quite lush and beautiful for the entire drive into Williamsburg.

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I was going to Williamsburg to visit a friend and when I looked it up, I realized that in America’s history, it’s a big deal, along with Jamestown. I’m hesitant to admit my ignorance of this part of history, but was pleasantly surprised at the chance to go exploring and wandering along the historic streets of Colonial Williamsburg and to go to the original site of Jamestown. Needless to say, I learned more history and enjoyed being taken into a different “world” as I walked down historic streets and read about different people who had left their old lives behind and started new ones elsewhere.

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I was in Williamsburg on Ascension Day and attended an ascension day service. I got to sit in George Washington’s pew which I thought was pretty neat. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s always so amazing to be to actually be in the same physical places where significant history has taken place, where people have lived and worshipped before me. I loved worshiping in a church that is different from my own and was deeply blessed by the service (even if there were a few times where I may have remained standing while everyone else sat down… the perks of being in the front row and not being able to see the people behind you- thanks George Washington).

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In Jamestown, there was a large thunderstorm approaching and although we were warned it was coming, we figured we could beat it. For the most part we avoided the rain and we hid in a museum to stop from getting wet. And the museum had a bunch of skeletons that had been dug up on the site, so that was a bonus. It is actually pretty amazing to read the stories of some of the people who came to Jamestown and also to read some of the history of Pocahontas (not the Disney version). It’s amazing what we can ascertain about those who have come before us and what their lives were like. There was a guy who kept talking to us and telling us information at the site and I was wondering why he kept following us around, and then I realized he volunteered there, so it made more sense. Thankful for time with friends, new explorations and learning more. I am continually humbled by the shared humanity we have with those who have lived before us and it is great to be surprised by new places and history that I didn’t even realize I would get to learn about.

 

 

21/50: West Virginia

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Although I’m not American, I find it amusing when I know virtually nothing about a state except its name. That being said, when I entered West Virginia, I knew two things about it: it’s a state and it is west of the state of Virginia. This information is helpful in locating the state but beyond that it’s quite useless (especially if you don’t know where Virginia is either).

For something I knew nothing about, and consequently expected nothing from, I was pleasantly surprised. It was lush, beautiful, full of trees and waterfalls and the entire drive left me smiling in delight at the beauty of what surrounded me. There was a gorge with a cool bridge that I stopped at and went for a long walk in the forest to get a view of the river. There were beautiful old brick churches. There were winding roads alongside the river.

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It was rainy but sometimes that adds to the beauty and mystery of a place by adding fog. Fog is one of those things that is significant for me because it symbolizes that there is beauty in the obscurity and in my moments where I lack understanding and clear vision. Fog beckons me to step forward in order to take another step. Fog for me symbolizes the all-encompassing presence of God- completely surrounding us, yet not tangible in a physical sense and yet it is all-consuming. I often feel like my life is lived in the fog, but I’ve learned to see where the beauty lies in it. It’s not what I expected and yet the fact that it is shrouded in mystery adds depth to its beauty and intrigue.

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Sometimes we go into situations overloaded with knowledge about it. We have seen photos and heard of other people’s experiences there and it shifts our expectations and our experiences because we hold them up to our pre-conceived notions of what something will be. In West Virginia, I was thankful to be surprised and delighted. I could enjoy it for what it was because I had no expectations of what it should or should not be. It also allowed me to be more present to it as well. I could fully take it in. I had absolutely no agenda for the day, so whenever I would see a waterfall of the road, I could pull over and take a stroll on a path that led me closer. I could explore along the river. When I finally arrived at my destination right on the eastern edge of the West Virginia border (next to Virginia of course), I had a feeling of deep content. After this I made the mistake of trying to fulfill my cravings for sushi… which was a mistake. Then again, most people would have probably guessed that West Virginia is not a prime place for sushi. I figured I would risk it and see if I could be pleasantly surprised in that as well. I guess you can’t be pleasantly surprised in all things.

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20/50: Kentucky

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I really love exploring beautiful places in nature, but every once in a while I enjoy exploring a city. Usually a day of wandering and taking everything in is enough for me, but it’s fun to get a taste of different cities in the midst of the beautiful landscapes that surround them. So, when I went to Kentucky, I decided to go visit Louisville. My four associations with it are the Kentucky derby, bourbon, friend chicken and baseball.

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I ended up walking around a lot, visited both sides of the river (I snuck over to Indiana although I’m not counting it yet…) and enjoyed views of the bridges. I also went to the baseball bat museum & factory and for a bourbon tasting. I took pictures of some of the horses around town and ate some fried chicken. I figured I did my part in reinforcing the four things that were already in my mind about Louisville.

Each night I usually look up where I’m going to the next day and do some research on what I would like to do. Usually cities have a lot of different options and while looking stuff up I become overwhelmed and frantic, wondering how in the world I will cram everything in. In this moment suddenly I become interested in all the things that have never interested me. And yet their luring call tempts me because it seems like it would be good to experience it. However, maybe doing one thing I really enjoy is more worthwhile than 10 things that I don’t particularly enjoy. Or maybe picking one thing I want to learn more about is worth more than being saturated with way too much information that I won’t remember anyway.

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Giving myself more space to breathe and not cramming everything in has been a crucial theme over the last couple years. My mantra has become “Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should.” My visits to different places keep reinforcing this as I realize that it’s better to be fully present in a couple things that might connect with me more deeply than trying to accumulate experiences and information. Through grief, one of the biggest things I have learned is to give grace to myself. Grace is my word for 2017 because I still need constant reminders of this and need to keep reflecting on grace and learning to abide in the grace that God continually extends to me. My day exploring Louisville was a great day. Of course, there’s so much more I could have done and seen, but it was perfect because I was present and I enjoyed it and can see some other things the next time I go.

I’m learning to be content with what is before me rather than trying to grasp frantically for more. I can be still and present and it is good. Learning to be increasingly thankful in each moment.

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19/50: Tennessee

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My blogging has been at a standstill recently, partly because my days have been full, but also because I feel like I hit a wall with Tennessee and don’t have too much to say. I really loved my time in Tennessee. Driving through the state was lovely and I really enjoyed being in Nashville. Since the Predators were in the playoffs, it was fun to see the team spirit in the city and to look at the smashed cars at their arena.

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I also enjoy country music, so it was really fun to go to the Country Music Museum & Hall of Fame. How inspiring to see how country music developed. It’s always awe-inspiring for me to see how people’s creativity and willingness to push the boundaries becomes something rich & beautiful. Being there also made me want to listen to more country music. It’s interesting how when we learn more about something and are engaged with it, we want to engage more. When it’s been a personal experience, there is often a desire to go deeper in some form. I find this when I learn pieces of history, see part of something beautiful, hear someone’s story, get to know someone and also in a myriad of other ways.

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I also enjoyed seeing the state capitol. I was walking up the stone steps in my faithful flip flops and completely bailed- it was lovely and I was thankful there was a group of people sitting and watching me. Glad my fall did not go to waste but could be enjoyed by others. Anyway, I loved walking around, enjoyed good food and live music and just the atmosphere of the city. The cowboy boot store has a deal that if you buy 2, you get 1 free. It’s a good thing I felt hot and sweaty and the last thing I wanted to do in that moment was try cowboy boots on. To add to it, my trunk has become quite full (thanks Starbucks mugs), so I wouldn’t have had room anyway!

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So, thus ends my Tennessee post. Writer’s block overcome. Funny how we build up so much pressure and expectation for ourselves to produce something spectacular and meaningful. I’m continually learning (continually because I haven’t caught on the first time) that I don’t need to produce anything- I can just be and it is good. This was part of my experience and it contributes to my entire journey overall in ways that I can’t necessarily articulate but I’m thankful for these moments. I trust that they are significant parts of my journey even if I don’t understand why or how.