Thursday, July 27, 2017

Everyone Has Their Own El Guapo

My personality type, an INFJ, is often called a walking contradiction. 
As much as I hate being pigeonholed, there is truth in this statement. 
I swim in the depths of the creative and adhere to the logical. I want it now and I’ll wait til later. I want your skin attached to mine and I want to be left alone. I search endlessly for my soul mate and fall in love with men that are emotionally unavailable. My music is alphabetized; my closet arranged by color and season, my movies by category and sub-category…i.e.-Sci-fi- Space, Sci-Fi-Time Travel, Zombie, Superheros-DC, Superhero-Marvel etc.

Then I have the pile.

The pile consists of everything in my house I gathered together that no longer brings me joy. A weekend of thinning out the clutter, spurred on by The Minimalists documentary. I piled it up in the middle of my kitchen so I’d have to dispose of it quickly. Now 7 months later, I sweep around the pile, I dust the pile, I’ve told all my friends about the pile and I randomly give it the bird when I walk around it in the morning.
I could put these items in my trunk and take them to the local thrift store. But that wasn't the original plan for these items. I'd already donated most of it; this small man made mountain was actually the reduced version of the pile. These were the items I thought I could perhaps sell and make a little money on since my income is currently derived from freelance. 

Items like various coffee makers in their original boxes. 

I keep original boxes because when I move, it will make them easier to pack.
I’ve been living in the same house for 8 years.

I talk about tackling my pile every weekend. And every weekend I do something else, like pull weeds in the garden or lay on my couch and solve climate change.

To quote Steve Martin's character in The Three Amigos, “All of us have an El Guapo to face”.

Mine happens to be a pile of things that no longer bring me joy but continue to torment when I stump my toe on them in the dark on my way to the bathroom.

While talking about my El Guapo recently with a neighbor, she revealed to me her much larger and overwhelming El Guapo. Her El Guapo had reduced my El Guapo significantly to non-El Guapo status.  It wasn’t even Jefe at that point. 

I started going through my pile, taking pictures of anything I still thought was valuable to make my small eBay fortune and donated the rest. It only took me a few hours and it's no longer in the middle of my kitchen. Why did I let that self-inflicted Everest plague me for 7 months?!

The unknown can paralyze you. Fear of failure keeps you from making decisions. But once you take that first step, everything becomes easier than you thought it would be. Nothing will ever be perfect. Fear breeds in the over thinking, not in the actual doing. Whether you succeed or it backfires, nothing is as awful as being tormented by what if’s in your head.

Where you are right now probably feels like it will last forever. It's helpful for me to think back to where I was 6 months ago, 1 year ago, 5 years ago to realize how much things change. And even so, I may still be tapping my foot and wallowing in the misery. But it will pass. You are transitioning into something else as we speak. Let hope fill your heart to combat the anxiety in your head. 

  I love my imagination and I hate my imagination. It brings me through the tough times and creates the tough times. Maybe balancing my contradictions is my real El Guapo.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tomorrow is bullshit

Harlinsdale Farm Sunset
Franklin, TN

 I lost two family members in the past 2 weeks. Two people, I saw only last month who live 700 miles away. I held their hands. I told them I loved them. I had a strong desire not to wait. I could have put it off, waited for better finances, or maybe the next holiday.  All the excuses were valid.  
But tomorrow is bullshit.

The thunder started before the sun went down. Distant thunder with the sun still setting. We needed the rain. My garden needed the rain. I can water the garden with the hose to keep it alive but the rain is what it thrives in. The rain is what gives it life to bare fruit.  I walked out to the field in the darkness. I listened to the thunder, watched the lightning strike over and over again and I waited for the rain.

I heard it before I felt it on my skin. It rustled through the trees announcing its arrival. When it came down on my head it was cold at first, like jumping into a river. I stood there with my arms outstretched and let it soak me through.

I want to thrive like the garden and bare fruit. I want to be drenched by the sky. Let the lightning wake me up and the thunder shake me. My heart is broken and I want to scream.

Today is all that matters. Someday is bullshit, tomorrow is bullshit, your perfect timing is bullshit.  What are you saving for later, for someday? If you love someone, tell them now. Say what you need to say this very minute. Live in the raw, imperfect you. Stand in the rain and let it soak you through.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Sun + Honey DIY Highlights

DIY natural highlights

The sun is out and providing me with free highlights! Nature has everything I need to be blonder. Hair will naturally lighten with regular sun exposure no matter what color you start with. My hair when not exposed to the sun is a medium blonde with a little strawberry courtesy of my late Scottish red headed grandfather. When summer arrives it reverts to the color of my youth. To speed up the process I have concocted this recipe.  First I spritz my head with rose water.
Recipe to make your own rose water here: Rose Water DIY

Mix together in glass bowl:
One heaping tablespoon of honey
One teaspoon of cinnamon
One teaspoon of nutmeg
Mix together and let set for 10-20 minutes

Then add one or more of the following:

If your hair is dry or damaged
Add aloe juice until the mixture is a thick liquid
Add Rose water until the mixture is a thick liquid

If your hair is normal to oily
Add lemon juice until the mixture is a thick liquid

Lemon speeds up the lightening but it can also be drying. I would use it sparingly and not every time.

Honey is natural peroxide.  You could also lightly spritz your hair with hydrogen peroxide BUT since that is stronger you could end up with orange, yellow or white hair. 

With a paintbrush or your hand, coat your hair with the mixture. I put it on my whole head, and do the ends last with not as much of the mixture.  I then go outside and work in the yard…pull weeds, mow the yard, harvest the garden etc. When I’ve been outside for at least a couple of hours, I come back inside and wash out the mixture. It’s important to use hot water at first to get all the honey out. Massage your head to take advantage of the cinnamon/nutmeg, which will exfoliate as well as offer anti-bacterial properties.  Added bonus, goodbye dandruff.

Spitz rose water after you lightly towel dry and done!
Rose Water, which is packed with antioxidants, naturally balances your PH making it great for the scalp. It also makes your hair soft and smells fantastic. 

Here are two photos that were taken in my yard about 10 days apart without filters. There were about 3 applications between the two photos.

honey cinnamon nutmeg hightlights Hiwandergirl

I don’t use shampoo or conditioner anymore and my hair has never been healthier. I tried all the various no-poo options. I used watered down coconut milk for a year or two but now I don’t use anything. I rinse my hair in the shower to get off the outside environment. It is important to wash off the day so to speak. Since I spend a lot of time in an urban city, you wouldn’t believe what just walking down the street leaves on your skin and hair. If I wipe the side of my face with an oil soaked cotton ball after walking around downtown, its dark gray!  EWWWW! 

Everyone’s hair is different. If you aren’t a risk taker with your hair, try a few small strands first before adding to large sections. I’ve been doing this for years on my hair and haven’t noticed any issues or drawbacks. Many people have asked me if the bees chase me when I’m outside and try to land in my hair… umm no. But I’m in the garden every day and I’d like to think they all know me by now. =)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Smell Like A Rose - DIY Rose Water

I've never been a fan of the artificial fragrance.  I've gotten so sensitive to it I have to hold my nose when I walk past the perfume section or the laundry detergent isle. It makes my eyes water and tickles my nose. I love real smells like baking muffins, stir frying veggies and I love love love the smell of roses and peonies. Real flowers, not a smell concocted in a lab.

The first time I bought rose water spray years ago at a health food store, I was immediately hooked. I would bathe in it if I had a bathtub. Then I discovered you could buy drinkable rose water at the international market for a fraction of the price. This budget friendly alternative rocked my world.
Now I know how easy it is to make it and its free!!

Rose water isn't just a fragrance to transport you to a summer garden scene in a Jane Austin movie. It's been used as a beauty concoction for thousands of years. It makes your hair soft and conditioned. It maintains the PH of your skin, strengthens the cells and aids in healing scars.

I use this spray every day and it's so easy to make yourself.

1) Pick a few roses from your garden
2) tear off the petals
3) boil them in 1 3/4 cups of filtered water until petals lose all color
4) take off heat and let cool
5) strain
6) pour in spray bottle

Start with fragrant roses that have not been sprayed with pesticides. Remember you are putting this on your skin! I use my heirloom orange climber roses because they smell divine.  For this recipe, I picked 3 blooms.

Pull the petals off and put them in a pot of 1 3/4 cups of water. Use distilled or reverse osmosis water. You want the petals to just be covered with water. Put it on med/high heat and let it come to a gentle boil. You don't want to boil the water out! Let it simmer until the color has drained from the petals. When the color is gone, remove from heat. Let cool, strain and then pour into your spray bottle.

If your roses are white, just watch the petals until they start to look a little translucent.

TIP: I pour the contents into a French Press. I own two french presses, one for coffee and one for everything else. It's great for loose leaf tea too!
A French Press is perfect for straining rose petals because it also has a little spout to pour into your spray bottle or container.

You can refrigerate to make it last longer. I go through mine pretty quickly since I use it every day. I leave it out on the counter in the bathroom and I've never had an issue with it going bad.

I have a few little blue glass spray bottles I bought at Whole Foods for a couple of dollars. I also have a previous store bought rose water tall dbottle with a little spout that I just refill.

I spray it on my hair and body after a shower.  I keep one mini spray bottle in my purse. I use it to calm my skin when I'm stressed or the summer heat has gotten to me. It's a nice mid day pick me up and great to spray on the skin before a night out. ...or to balance your skin after a night out. =)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Off We Go Through the PNW - Road trip Day 13 & 14

Road Trip Day 13 & 14
Mill City - Sisters, Oregon
Miles Driven 4132

We packed up the car to leave our perfect little hideaway on the mountain. One last brunch in Portland and we choose The Jam on Hawthorne Cafe & Arthouse which was fantastic. I think we had the nicest waiter in all of Portland. Shout out to John! Our next destination would be Mill City Oregon, a very small town outside of Salem, blink and you'll miss it. 

Dahlias Dahlais Dahlias! near Canby Oregon
The drive from Portland to Mill City along route 99E to 214 was serene. It was foggy and misty as we passed the flower farms and Christmas tree farms.

Silverton Oregon,  Historic Wolf Building 1891
My sister and I's best childhood friend Hannah moved to Mill City Oregon when we were very young. We'd been pen pals for years after, chronicling our dramatic teenage years in ink. We'd visited her once when my family was driving up through California on a "where should we live next?" adventure....20 years ago. I'd been looking forward to this reunion since I left Tennessee. 

Our Easter Dresses always had lace, bows and puffed sleeves. Anne of Green Gables style. 
Hannah had just run for a city council seat and she was awaiting the results when we arrived.  The last time I spoke to her we were writing letters while she was in South Africa and London. She'd since moved back to the small town of Mill City where her parents still reside. 

Independent women all facing new adventures. 

 North Santiam Railroad bridge

The infamous Railroad bridge in Mill city. Built in 1888 and moved by railroad to Mill City in 1919. The last remaining Phoenix Column bridge in Oregon and there is a Save the Bridge campaign going on.  Save Our Bridge GoFundMe I think it's a permanent campaign.

Hannah's mother took care of us as children when my parents were at work. She was kind and soft spoken and she used to drive us around in her yellow VW bug and we'd get "courtesy drinks" from Taco Mayo. When we arrived at her house and I saw her, I gave her a hug and started to cry.  She made us hot tea and set cookies out on the table. "So what have you girls been up to?"

We stayed the night with Hannah and in the morning over coffee we caught up on the last 20 years...or at least the cliff notes. 

Back on the road, our next stop would be Sisters, Oregon. 
Driving along the Santiam river, and we could see Mt. Jefferson in the distance. 
Mt. Jefferson in the distance.
Somewhere between Gates and Sisters Oregon along the Santiam river, we found an ancient tree graveyard or perhaps an alien planet. I may have slammed on the brakes when I saw this landscape.  I could have photographed it all day long. 

Setting up the timer..HA!

Mt. Jefferson, second highest mountain in Oregon.

Did I stop in Sisters primarily for the coffee shop? Yes...but it was on the way and I had a long drive ahead of me. They also had gluten free lemon poppy seed cake. 
I think I scarfed it before we could get a photo. 

The Three Sisters, the city's namesake mountains.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Rainbow Pizza - GF & Dairy Free

GF Beet Pizza

The gluten free, dairy free pizza has been an ever-evolving taste experiment.  It started with frozen pizza that I added toppings too. But I'm going to drop a little truth bomb here...I'm not a fan of vegan cheese. It seems utterly pointless to create an alternative that is just okay and has very little nutritional value. I mean if I'm pretending this is cheese, I will also have to pretend I'm enjoying it.

What I picked in my garden. 

I'm also not crazy about tomato sauce. As a child, I used to remove the toppings, scrape off the sauce then add the toppings back on. When I was older and found options like pesto or olive oil and garlic, it was definitely a turning point in my life.

I'm harvesting a lot of veggies in my garden right now. The rainbow of colors is highly beneficial to the body.
RED, PURPLE & BLUE: antioxidant anthocyanin, heart health, anti-aging
YELLOW & ORANGE: Vitamin A & C, detoxifier, beta carotene, helps the immune system, promotes healthy skin
GREEN: Iron, Lutein, folate, build healthy cells, promotes healthy liver

My veggie harvest!

In my quest for better, I moved on to gluten free crusts which were hit or miss. Unfortunately, the crusts tend to cost almost as much as a pizza. Just when I was about to experiment with making my own...Trader Joes started carrying a 2/pack of buckwheat crusts for $3.79. They are definitely gluten free but I can't say with certainty they are vegan as they do contain xanthan gum. Some xanthan gum is vegan and some is not, it all depends on the manufacturing process. If you have food allergies, be aware of the xanthan gum.

A thin crust that tastes great and even occasionally gets little air pockets of crusty yumminess. They are a little delicate between the thawed stage and the placing in the oven stage. As long as you keep it flat, you are golden. Little tip...I dress my pizza on a cutting board then delicately slide it from the cutting board to the oven rack. I remove the pizza the same way. Alternately, if you own a pizza stone, you can skip the transfer altogether.

The instructions on the crust call for a light brushing of olive oil. The first time I made it, I was out of olive oil. I choose to use an artichoke antipasto (from Trader Joes) that had olive oil in it. It was one of those OMG, this could change my life happy accidents. I would compare it to the story of the person making raisin cookies, ran out of raisins and so they chopped up a bar of chocolate instead.

Chopping okra with my Japanese blade.  

Spread the pesto to your heart' desire. I like a restraints sometimes make me thin it out so I can make one jar stretch to 3 pizzas instead of two. It's $2.39 a jar. I priced making my own from scratch and couldn't get the cost that low unless I grew my own artichokes. =)

Artichoke Antipasto & Sliced Fresh Garlic

Next, add thinly sliced garlic cloves. Push them into the sauce. I like a lot of garlic.

Now we add the colorful fresh veggie layers. These have been dependent on what I'm harvesting in the garden. I will be posting various concoctions of flavor combinations.

Beet Greens & Stems

I have two kinds of okra right now. I check the plants every day. I normally have a few average size ones and one giant 8-12 inch one that I wonder how I possibly missed the day before.  
Lately, since I have beets in season I've been tearing up beet greens. I use the leaf and the stems. The leaf is similar to spinach in taste and consistency and the stems are similar to celery. Plus the red veins are gorgeous and add a vitamin powerhouse of vitamin K, A and C. 

Add caption

Next Add the kale...I usually tear up a couple kinds of Kale. Russian or Red is my favorite.  
Push the greens into the sauce.
Pour a little olive oil on the greens so they stay soft, otherwise, they will burn and come out crispy.

Next, add:
sliced zucchini or yellow squash or both
sliced beets

Ready for the Oven!

A little more olive oil and you are ready for the oven. I put mine right on the rack.
8-14 minutes on 400 degrees.


I watch it and pull it out when the crust has started to harden but it's not overall browning. A little edge browning is what you want. I pick up the edge to check. I would experiment with what consistency you like better. If it cooks too long when you try it cut it, it breaks apart. It still tastes good but I like mine a little softer and not like a thick cracker.
Between 8-14 minutes is the average cook time.


Ingredients and a sampling of their health benefits:

Buckwheat Crust   (Buckwheat: ancient grain, protein, antioxidants, 12 amino acids, fiber)
Artichoke Antipasto  (Artichoke-highest antioxidant of all vegetables, dietary fiber, Vitamin C)
Red Okra                (Vitamin A, folate)
Okra                        (Vitamin A, folate, calcium, fiber, facilitates the propagation of probiotics)
Russian Kale           (anti-inflammatory, Omega-3 fatty acid, more calcium than milk)
Beet Greens            (Vitamin K, A & C, calcium, folate, antioxidants)
Beet Stems              (amino acids, antioxidants, fiber)
Yellow Crock Neck Squash  (carotenoids, beta carotene)
Detroit Dark Beets (blood purifier, energy boosting, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, detoxifier)
Golden Beets           (vitamin C, beta carotene, calcium)
Virgin Olive Oil      (anti-inflammatory, vitamin E, phytonutrients)
Sea Salt & Pepper  (S-82 essential trace nutrients, P-antibacterial, manganese, improves digestion,

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Beautifully Aging

Good morning! No makeup no filter...didn't even run a comb through my hair.

My body has taken care of me for a long time.  Youth is fleeting and my skin is beginning to show the wear and tear of battle. I’ve been having dreams that I pull fists full of hair from my scalp.
Vanity dreams. When I wake up I want to shave it all off. How dare you control me!

It’s summer and I’m back to bare feet and urban gardening. I’ve let more of the sun touch me this year with minimal cotton coverings. The worry of protecting it is no longer there. I'm healthier than I've ever been, having let go of all the packaged things marketed to make me a better me. I've felt more alive when there’s less between the air and my skin and eating raw food straight from the ground I planted it in. 

I lie in the grass and let the ants scurry over my feet and legs. I concentrate trying to feel their tiny feet but I can’t, just the tiniest tickle of the occasional nerve ending. I feel the winged insect land. It stays on my arm and doesn’t move. It’s a bold creature; perhaps it’s studying me too. I count six different kinds of insects investigating my skin.

They are indifferent to its imperfections.

Like them, my outside only protects the more vulnerable interiors.
It’s just skin.
I spend more time caring for it than I do my heart.
I spend more time worrying about it than I do my life.
Another’s skin isn’t what draws me in, it isn’t what makes them beautiful, kind, or funny.  I only find comfort in their skin after I’ve found love in their heart or safety in their embrace. Yet, I let my skin tell me if I’m beautiful. What a crock of shit.

The unique way each and every one of us expresses ourselves makes us beautiful.
The stories of what we’ve lived through coupled with our hopeful dreams.
Looking on the outside will only fill you with anxiety. Comparing ourselves to what we wish we were, a downward spiral of self-loathing. You are not them, you are you and accepting yourself is so much better. We will only age, no one is stopping time here. There will always be someone younger than you.

But you are not old either; you are experienced. =)

When I think I want youth, I try to have a conversation with it and I’m violently shaken from that coma.  I don’t want to be in my 20s again because frankly, it sucked.
Not that my 30s are winning at life or anything but it's a vast improvement.
Feeling comfortable with yourself is unparalleled.  

I’ve always been attracted to the unusual spirit. The artists, the introverts, the writers, and thinkers. Smart was always better than pretty. Uniquely talented or sincerely kind also far better attributes. If you remember how they made you feel after meeting them and vaguely what they looked like, that’s a good sign. If they were not attracted to me at first it normally lasted longer and there was more depth in it.
One person told me my most attractive physicality was my voice, and that was my longest relationship.
Another person told me how naturally beautiful I was but only when I was covered in makeup and dressed to the nines. And another wanted me to always look like I did when we first met. These were the worst. Trying to keep up appearances for every encounter is exhausting. I'd much rather be an acquired taste. The past is over and hopefully, it's never coming back. Someone that listens to your stories and shares your passions goes deeper than the thin exterior of their perishable appearance.

Every birthday is a gift. Indulge in this beautiful mess of growing in your adventure. Finding beauty in the unseen will fill you with contentment to fight those insecurities. And you can be told this a million times in a million different ways and it will only get through after you’ve grown up.

Because youth knows everything there is to know about nothing important.

Hiwandergirl photographer
All Natural

Monday, July 3, 2017

Fight or Flight

Wander Girl

I have always chosen to run when staring down at the last straw.
Stay until the pain is so overwhelming you feel as though a thick sludge is pulling you into the ground. Take a deep breath and with all your stored energy, free yourself and run as fast as you can.
Distance is key.
Make it as difficult as possible to turn around. Sever all the ties and burn all the bridges.  

I want to run again.
I want to run farther than I have ever run before. Leave this mess; these hard questions and difficult decisions. Start over somewhere I don’t have a history. Disappearing into the landscape where I’m just a face in a crowd.
I want to run.
Then I broke my toe.

So painful I didn’t even scream.
So poetic, I had to laugh at myself.
So this time…I guess I’m fighting.

As hard as I try, I will never be able to run from myself. And so much of what I run from is just that…me. No matter where I go, I'll still be standing there with myself. Instead, I must fight through it even when I think I can’t fight another day. I doesn’t get any easier, but its worth it. Right? I will fail and fall and get back up again. And it will happen over and over and over again.

What beats you down only wants you to give up and accept it. Pursuing a better life, becoming a better person is littered with land mines built to urge you backward.
Moving forward will be difficult, it will be painful but it will not be mundane, it will not be ordinary. Zombies don’t know what day it is because it doesn't matter. Every day is exactly the same. 

Our days are not one day on repeat. Our days are precious.

Going through the motions is the interstate. The fastest and ugliest route. 
The backroads cause you to pause, look around and discover yourself and the world around you. 

And when my toe heals...I'll fight the urge to put my running shoes back on.

Wander Girl Photography

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Take Me Deeper than my Feet could Ever Wander

I am the first to arrive at the cabins and I'm immediately drawn to a bench swing facing the river. Swaying back and forth in the cool breeze, a contrast to the concentrated warmth coming from the filtering light. I drift away in the rhythm listening to the birds compete with the sounds of the river.

I think of you and how you'd look in this light. Which features would the sun highlight as it found its way through the leaves to your face?

Everything is more beautiful when your heart swells. I find myself staring at the tree bark and getting lost in the patterns. I watch the big black ants crawl down the chainlink to the bench I rest on. A heightened sense side effect of being lovesick.
Along with the less than desirable side effects of the last couple of months...longing, confusion and tear stained pillows. But even stacked on top of each other they are but a skipping stone in the raging river of devotion my emotional self takes me on.

Running along side this river was the ever present signage, "so what are you doing with your life?".  I thought I had some aspects figured out but the drowning of my semi-pro camera last week which was intricate in most of my projects, had left me with a "now what" blockade. I was traveling to postcard places with a camera phone.

photographer Sarah Bello

How does one reach this point in life? I swear I am broadsided by every event.
It seems like so much work when you think about all the little details and steps that had to happen at just the right time for you to meet someone new. Nature makes it seem effortless.

We fall apart when it doesn't work out because we know we had almost nothing to do with it. We can't make it happen and we have no idea when or if it will ever happen again.

photographer Sarah Bello

I'm in the waiting phase. The phase when all your girlfriends tell you to play hard to get. You don't want to appear desperate or too eager. But I may be a little desperate and I'm absolutely positive I'm eager.  Something insides me listens and tries to the best of my ability. Maybe because I've always pursued what I wanted and it's always ended in horrendous heartache. My outlook on this has changed recently though. A revelation when I heard this line...

"Every love story ends in heartache if it lasts long enough".

So if its inevitable....what are we afraid of?

Expressing my feelings is like breathing.
Holding anything back is suffocating. If I'm not able to fully get across everything I want another to realize, it wounds me. I can not rest until they know, really know.
I want to understand all their whys, what ifs and maybes. Nothing is too weird, too dark, too complicated. This is where I thrive.
My personality type is a counselor. At first thought I laugh, so the blind leading the blind? But its true because I have and always will want to get down to the bottom of things. I don't want to skate over the surface, I want to know whats beneath it.

Back to reality... I'm in the woods. I am now out of my head and wandering through everyone's conversations. I feel fully welcomed but play the part of the silent observer. This group has known each other for years. Most of their great life experiences were experienced together. Different personalities weaved through commonalities and the acceptance of youth.

I soon become numb with a red wine/jacuzzi combo. This alone was worth the drive.

A delayed arrival of a group of 4 and my cot/or sofa was upgraded to my own suite for the night.
I opened the balcony door and crawled into bed. In the cold mountain air and sound of the river, the perfection of this mini break had reached its awe moment. Yet I lay here alone wanting someone to experience it with. My independent woman is annoyed and fights this yearning, but my hopeless romantic self wins the night.

The dropping temperature wakes me up before the sun rises. But instead of closing the balcony door I continue to endure and tightly wrap the quilt around me. I'm a butterfly in a cocoon.
As the sun begins to wake up the forest, I crawl out of bed and stand on the balcony. The beauty of this moment is bliss and I attempt to capture it in a panoramic view.

Coffee is calling and as quietly as humanly possible I walk downstairs and boil water on the stove for my french press. I toast some GF raisin bread, smear on some sunflower seed butter and sliced bananas and cut an avocado. I carry my breakfast out to the picnic bench by the river. Everyone is still asleep and nature is the only sound.

I write down everything you just read. 

As the group awakes, we break into two groups of strong contrast...
one going to Waffle House
one going to the Farmers Market.
The quaint farmers market is in historic downtown Murphy. I buy some rainbow chard that is so stunningly vivid I want to wear it in some way.

 Sarah Bello

photographer Sarah Bello

photographer Sarah Bello

On the way back from the farmers market we stop to buy a couple more inner tubes for the group float down the river. They buy the already filled ones thinking they'd save a step but the misconception of the size of them against the size of the PT Cruiser Convertible is comical as we hold on to them for dear life going down the highway.

The clouds start to roll in and I immediately remember how cold the water was when I arrived yesterday eager to touch it after driving all day. We line up one by one and get into the river with our array of flotation devices. Fortunately, the icy waters quickly numb any skin it touches so you soon get over the shock. I was thankful for wearing long sleeves over my bathing suit.

Without oars, most of the float is out of your control. Your arms can only do so much with the flow. Your mind forgets that at any moment you could just slip out of the donut and stand up. It's a shallow river. No, you are at the will of the river and where it takes you, you will go.

With recent snake sightings, we are all terrified of the overhanging tree shoreline. Every time the current takes someone near the trees, there is screaming and laughing as someone yells...SNAKES!
A gaggle of geese land just ahead of us and seem very annoyed that they have to continue to move further downstream to get away from us.

photographer Sarah Bello

I've now spent 24 hours surrounded by people. I begin slowly retreating...taking walks, laying in the grass by myself. Dogs always gravitate to the introverts, sitting next to them in wordless acceptance that they too need a break to recharge. Dude, I feel ya.

The smell of meat fills the air as more people arrive. I quietly prepare my vegetables on the grill as small talk attempts are made to me, the newcomer singleton. I make it a few sentences in before they are distracted by a child, animal, food smell, or louder person. Sarah, you need to join the group! This sentence is both sweet and inviting and tormenting and annoying at the same time. I walk outside with my roasted corn on the cob and zucchini and mug of wine.
The sound of the river soon drowns out the various conversations going on at once that I am not contributing too.

photographer Sarah Bello

I get a second awakening after smores. I brought vegan marshmallows. Toasted and smothered in sunflower seed butter is so fantastic that I have too many and get a slight stomach ache.
The children have now retreated to DVDs or bed and most of the adults are back in the jacuzzis. A storm is rolling in and we watch the lighting from the porch as we all indulge in various libations.

I roll into my sleeping bag on the sofa and quickly fall asleep. I'm the first to wake up in the morning. The cabin dark and quiet. It continues to rain and I decide to spend the day traveling on down the road. I make one last breakfast to eat outside on the porch, enjoying this beautiful haven I was lucky enough to be invited to. It came at just the right moment, a little break from reality surrounded by the beauty of nature's retreat from your worries.

photographer Sarah Bello

I load up my car and I'm off.
The sun comes out as I drive through the Smokey Mountains. The inspiring wonder of the landscape leaves my jaw dropped for most of the journey.

photographer Sarah Bello

I open the windows and roll back the sunroof. The winding road along the river offers deep breaths and soothing sounds. The breeze through the mountains embraces my skin and forgives all my faults.

photographer Sarah Bello

Poppy Field
Or maybe its just that I'm the pink poppy!
I find a pink poppy in a field of red and I'm captivated by it as if its speaking to my soul. 
"You have always loved whats different, why conform now?"
photographer Sarah Bello

I stop in Asheville for lunch deciding on Laughing Seed Cafe on Wall St. I sat on the patio and ordered the breakfast bowl with kale, sweet potatoes, golden potatoes and "bacon" carrots.

photographer Sarah Bello

photographer Sarah Bello

I watched the tourists walk by taking pictures next to the array of yarn bombs. A homeless elderly man also watched them. His long gray beard and weathered skin held my gaze for awhile. He was almost highlighted in his dramatic appearance like a thought provoking art piece and yet seemed fully hidden from everyone that passed him by. After lunch, I was also briefly distracted by the yarn bombs.

photographer Sarah Bello

photographer Sarah Bello

photographer Sarah Bello

Before getting back on the highway I grabbed a coffee from Trade and Lore Coffee. They make their own syrups and offered almond milk though it wasn't on the menu. I was craving the pistachio/rosewater combo. They also purchase 90% of their product locally and work alongside local non-profits supporting inclusiveness and equality.

I didn't really have the money for coffee shop coffee but I was justifying the purchase because I was able to stumble upon free street parking two blocks away. Lunch would be my only meal of the day. I had apples and filtered water in my car.

My next stop was the Pisgah National Forest. I wanted to drive down part of the Blue Ridge Parkway but I kept getting turned around. The sun was playing hide and seek in the clouds. It was still warm enough for my sun dress and I stopped along the river on my way to Looking Glass Falls.

photographer Sarah Bello

I was expecting a trail to the Falls but you can see it from the road. The sides of the road lined with cars as people walk to the staircase for selfies and some brave enough to wade in the cold waters at the base. It's picturesque, right out of a storybook and so loud it drowns out the crowd of people.

photographer Sarah Bello

photographer Sarah Bello

photographer Sarah Bello

Water is an amazing artist, shaping the rocks and land around it to its desired form. Nothing can stand against it, it will always find a way to overcome.

photographer Sarah Bello

Further down Highway 276 .... you start to feel the incline. The winding road through the trees along the river and over small cobblestone bridges takes you to the clouds. Then near the top, I see a small sign on the right side of the road. 
Blue Ridge Parkway.
I smile from ear to ear as tears cracked the surface.
I wandered into exactly where I wanted to be.

photographer Sarah Bello

It's colder now with the elevation and I search through my trunk for more clothes. I throw on some jeans and a hoodie over my dress in the parking lot of the next overlook. 

photographer Sarah Bello

The song "Oceans" comes on the stereo as I'm driving the gorgeous curves at the top. I play it 3 times, singing at the top of my lungs before I stop at the next hiking area. 

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever Wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Hillsong United "Oceans"

photographer Sarah Bello

I'm reminded of Alice in Wonderland when I see these steps. Perhaps it's fresh on my mind from Looking Glass Falls. I run up them when a memory stops me dead in my tracks. I've been here before. I was here with my then two dogs and we ran up these steps. 

photographer Sarah Bello

I can hear my breath as I look around this fairytale landscape. I miss my dog, and I'm standing in the same spot years later, alone on a mountaintop. Every emotion hits me at once and knocks out my breath. Then a black and white dog runs down the path. It stops and looks at me but doesn't approach. We just stare at each other. It's surreal as I start to breathe normally again. Its owner jogs past me and the dog continues on with her.

photographer Sarah Bello

I turn to my left and it's like waking from a trance. 
My eyes are overwhelmed.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander. 

Maybe the purpose of this weekend was not to figure it all out but to realize that I didn't have to. 

photographer Sarah Bello

photographer Sarah Bello

photographer Sarah Bello

photographer Sarah Bello

photographer Sarah Bello

photographer Sarah Bello

photographer Sarah Bello