How Anxiety Clouds Judgement & Intensifies Fear

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My car careened off the darkened country road and rolled three times before coming to rest on its side. I could feel the seat belt cutting into my body and the broken glass in my hair. I was vaguely aware that my friend L had been in the passenger seat but I couldn’t turn my head to see if she was okay. Panic rose in my chest and tears burned my eyes.

I sat bolt upright in bed, soaked in a cold sweat, heart pounding out of my chest. I was safe in my room at my parents’ house and the glowing numbers of my digital alarm clock told me it was the wee hours of the morning. L and I weren’t due to leave for our mini road trip for more than twelve hours. Despite the early hour, I contemplated sending her a text telling her that I couldn’t go through with it. Maybe I’d just say I was sick. I mentally composed another text to my sister, who was anticipating my attendance at one of her many theater performances at IUP. She’d understand if I was sick, right? But I couldn’t let her down. Which was worse – the guilt I’d feel if I skipped out or the fear I felt about making the drive?

The university was a mere sixty miles away and I had been dreading the trip ever since we planned it weeks ago. Even though I’d made the journey several times before, I’d either been a passenger or following closely behind my parents. This would be the first time I’d be driving alone, and having L as a passenger didn’t really count because she’d never visited IUP.

Was the dream a sign? A warning that we shouldn’t go? Was something terrible going to happen? Or was this just my anxiety manifesting itself as I slept?

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It turns out that the latter was true. We made the journey unscathed, save for one missed exit at the very start of the route, and arrived at Indiana University of Pennsylvania with plenty of time to walk the grounds and grab dinner before making our way to the theater where my sister’s performance would take place.

I was relieved, but even as L and I window-shopped at the tiny mall and basked in the spring sunshine of the Oak Grove, I couldn’t help but think about the drive home once the play ended. It would be dark on those country roads. Dark just like it had been in the dream. Maybe it was the journey home I should be worried about.

But again, we got home unharmed. I white-knuckled the steering wheel the entire time, taking the curves of the country roads at overly cautious speeds. When we got closer to the city, an epic downpour made it nearly impossible to navigate the parkway, and if it weren’t for L’s soothing voice and patient guidance, I may have simply pulled over and cried until the storm passed.

What should have been a stress-free day trip to see my sister had turned into an exhausting battle against my anxiety. And the next day, when I woke to realize that absolutely nothing had gone wrong, I couldn’t help but wonder about the nightmare where I wrecked my car.

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I grew up being told to “trust my gut” and “look for signs” in life. But doing these things can be problematic when you have anxiety. Because your gut is telling you that everything is bad, scary, or wrong. Everything from dating and going to the dentist to traveling short or long distances gives you a “bad feeling” in your gut. So what I thought was my intuition warning me of possible dangers was actually my anxiety getting the best of me. And it made me miss out on a lot of things or put a damper on events I somehow did manage to pursue, like the trip to see my sister.

In the months leading up to our vacation to London, I had no fewer than three horrific nightmares about our journey. Plane crashes, terrorist attacks, even a bizarre but very vivid drive through what can only be described as fire and brimstone plagued my sleep almost weekly. And it didn’t help that our travel planes had to be reconfigured several times due to airline and bus line changes. Over and over again I battled with myself wondering if these were signs that we shouldn’t go. I couldn’t help but wonder if my subconscious was trying to warn me of disaster.

Even as our plane sped down the runway at JFK, every fiber of my being was screaming at me to get off the plane. The Xanax I took prior to take off was the only thing that physically kept me in my seat. And when we hit turbulence on the way home, alarm bells went off in my head shouting “I KNEW IT! WE’RE GOING DOWN! WE SHOULD NEVER HAVE TAKEN THIS TRIP!” But of course we were fine.

London was a big step in overcoming my anxiety. But it’s also got me thinking about how most of my life I’ve had this possibly toxic thought process about “signs” and “gut feelings.”

Though I still consider myself relatively spiritual, I’ve found that I’m becoming more agnostic and questioning whether or not intuition and spiritual “signs” are real. Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t. Maybe sometimes the universe does send you signs, both good and bad. And I do believe that most people have some type of intuition when it comes to catching vibes from a certain person or situation.

The thing that sucks about having anxiety is that it makes these internal debates even more complicated. And I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate them.

For those of you who have anxiety, do you struggle with decisions and intuition?

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Places I’ve Been, Part 2 (Eastern Caribbean)

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Good day, Blogger Friends!

For the second edition of “Places I’ve Been,” I’m turning the clock back to October of 2009 to revisit the very first cruise I ever took.

Unlike me, J had been on plenty of cruises with his parents growing up. But this was his first experience with Princess Cruise Lines, and my first experience period.

While I was absurdly anxious about the details of cruising (as with travel in general), I have to say Princess made all the logistics from start to finish relatively smooth.

The ship itself was stunning – I remember how my jaw dropped the first time I stepped onto the vessel as I marveled at the sweeping staircases, twinkling lights, and glass elevators. Inside the central courtyards, relaxing piano music wafted through the atrium. On deck, a live band played upbeat tunes and a steady stream of servers were all too happy to place a brightly-colored adult beverage in your hand. By the time we made it to the balcony of our suite, I was giddy with excitement and J has me on camera saying how I was “actually speechless.”

The food, of course, was also phenomenal – everything from pizza to filet melted in your mouth, and I recall having an absolutely heavenly serving of raspberry sorbet for dessert at one of our Captain’s dinners. I also distinctly remember these exquisitely beautiful little fruit cups served in a crusty pastry with just a touch of sweet vanilla cream that were available at the “snack” counter. I must have eaten about five of them a day.

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Our first port of call was Princess Cays, the cruise line’s private island, and it’s everything you want a private island to be. The beaches are lined with sugary white sand and crystal clear blue green waters. Everywhere you go you can hear the notes of a steel drum band and smell tropical island breezes mingled with the scent of a nearby pig roast. There’s also plenty of shopping, and Princess staff are always nearby to provide you with drinks – even ones wearing faux tuxes who come right into the water to serve you alcohol out of coconuts.

J and I spent most of our day swimming, getting sunburned, drinking, and spending way too much money on souvenirs. More fast-paced activities were of course available, like volleyball, snorkeling, or renting one of those giant floating bikes with the brightly colored, buoyant wheels.

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Our next stop was St. Maarten – the first foreign country/territory I visited that wasn’t Canada. For the first part of the day, we decided to go shopping, browsing the crowded shops situated on narrow cobblestone streets, ducking into every kind of establishment from seedy shacks selling woven bracelets to the brightly lit and hideously expensive Diamonds International. Once our wallets were a bit lighter, we spent the afternoon swimming in azure blue waters. As I basked in the scorching sun, I remember getting a bit emotional as I realized how grateful I was to have the opportunity to visit such a stunning place.

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The next day took us to St. Thomas, where we decided to take one of the cruise line offered excursions to Magen’s Bay. The journey involved climbing aboard an altered pick-up truck with open-air benches that careened up and over the mountain, taking hair pin turns on precariously narrow roads at high speeds. I remember marveling at the buildings we passed on our way – every other one seemed to be nothing short of extreme poverty or extravagant luxury. Once we were safely delivered to Magen’s Bay, we spent the afternoon darkening our tans and cooling our bodies in the ocean.

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Princess definitely saved the best island for last – Grand Turk was by far my favorite island on that first cruise. Here we discovered the bluest water, the softest sand, the best shopping and music, plus Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. The restaurant was an open-air establishment with Buffet’s best songs blaring from the speakers and brightly-dressed, always-smiling staff serving the food. There was even a pool inside with a swim-up cigar bar where customers enjoyed their drinks and smokes in their bathing suits. By far, Grand Turk offered the most fun and relaxing atmosphere of any of our ports.

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Overall, our experience with Princess was a good one. While they are certainly not known as a “party cruise” line, and can tend to be a bit on the expensive side when it comes to extras like excursions, spa treatments, and special services, they live up to their slogan of “escaping completely.” This is made even more true by the fact that Princess attracts a bit of a different customer than some other lines. The running joke on Princess is that it’s the cruise line for “newlyweds and nearly-deads,” and I can say with absolutely certainty that the vast majority of our ship mates were well over sixty – and some even into their eighties and nineties. Still, you can find this elderly crowd dancing well into the night and laughing it up at the line’s Newlywed Game, which you absolutely must attend if you ever cruise with Princess. I’d also definitely recommend this line to a couple on their honeymoon, considering there were very few families and probably less than a dozen children on the entire ship.

Have any of you been on a cruise? I’d love to hear about your adventures!

 

 

Why is She So Angry?

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The other night I was cooking dinner when my husband came into the kitchen and made a bit of a snide remark about the way I was doing something.

I gave him the death stare, mostly because I cook dinner 90% of the time in our house and don’t really need to hear advice from someone who hasn’t turned on the stove in six months.

I then schooled him on what exactly I was doing, how I was doing it, and then told him it would be nice if he didn’t make comments about my cooking. This escalated into a bit of a heated discussion, not because he was critiquing my cooking, but because of what came out of his mouth next – “Yikes. You must have had a bad day at work. You’re awfully short-tempered.”

So as if the comment about my food prep weren’t enough to send me over the edge, now I was seeing red.

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Why, why, WHY do people always assume there is some sort of underlying reason to a woman’s anger or emotion?

Why can’t she ever simply just be angry because of the situation in front of her? Why is her emotion, whether it be anger, frustration, or sadness be a result of her menstrual cycle, a mental health disorder, relationship woes, or work stress?

(BTW – my husband is SO not the patriarchal type at all. 90% of the time he is an even-keeled, well-meaning, giving, loving person. But he makes mistakes like all humans and of course can’t empathize with women because he is, in fact, a man).

Anyway, the more I thought about this undeniable truth, the angrier I became. Because it’s not just situations with my husband, dad, or friends and family that my emotions are questioned.

Work is a perfect example. One day a few weeks ago, we were crazy busy at work. I was twenty minutes late going to lunch and the influx of customers in the office and incoming phone calls didn’t seem to be dying down anytime soon. My stomach was growling and I was actually starting to feel a bit shaky from not eating recently.

I was waiting on a regular customer, a man who I normally get along with, when I let out an exasperated sigh because my computer was being excruciatingly slow. I muttered something like, “Ugh, this sucks,” which prompted the customer to shake his head and say with disdain, “You know, you get way too emotional over work. You need to just relax.”

At which point I looked him square in the eye and said, “Would you be saying that to me if I were a man?”

My response may have been presumptuous, and maybe I shouldn’t have used the opportunity to school a customer on feminism, but it just tumbled out.

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Because there have been plenty of times at work when the men who work outside operating forklifts get crazy busy and backed up, and everyone simply chuckles and makes jokes when they get frustrated or lose their temper. No one ever tells them to calm down or that they’re taking things too seriously. Their stress and frustration is viewed as legitimate, relatable, and understandable.

But as soon as a woman has some sort of reaction to similar situations, they’re accused of being overly emotional, too sensitive, or, of course, the old standby – having PMS or being on their period.

If you’re a guy who is truly flabbergasted by these observations, try looking at it this way – let’s say you wake up one morning with a giant zit on your forehead. You can’t pop it no matter how hard you try, so you just suck it up and carry on with your day. A few hours into your job, you deal with a frustrating situation that happens all too often, so you slam a drawer or mutter a few curse words or rant to a coworker. Now imagine that coworker’s response is a sly grin, followed by, “Aw, you must be upset because of that zit on your forehead.”

Do you get it yet?

Displacing a woman’s feelings, especially negative ones, are so commonplace that women themselves are guilty of it too. I know several women who write off any negative emotions as being due to my period or my anxiety. While anxiety and hormonal changes can certainly escalate emotions, that does not mean they are the cause of anger, frustration, or sadness. If my dog dies while I’m having my period, does that mean I’m sad simply because of where I am in my cycle? Come on.

Let’s stop trying to downplay women’s emotions and opinions by insinuating their feelings are a result of something other than the situation in front of them.

Women are perfectly capable of having a wide range of human emotions without some secret, hidden reasoning behind them.

Let’s start treating them that way.

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Taking A “Me” Day

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Every spring, I like to take a day or two of vacation time and have a “me” day. This usually involves sleeping in, shopping for deals on clothes or shoes, and walking through one of Pittsburgh’s many parks, time well-spent relaxing my body and breathing in the fresh air. Spending time outside is one of my favorite ways to clear my mind before I write, and there’s usually plenty of that happening on “me” days as well.

This year, Pittsburgh was experiencing its typical April showers, and the entire day looked to be a wash out. Since a park was out of the question, I decided to stop by one of Pittsburgh’s unique attractions, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

Phipps is a beautiful historic landmark located in the heart of Oakland, near the Pitt and CMU campuses, as well as the main branch of the sprawling Carnegie Library and Carnegie Museum. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I’ve visited Phipps many times, but it had been probably close to ten years since I’d last wandered through its enchanting gardens. Going on a Friday had its perks of course – I got to park for free and there were hardly any crowds.

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One of the first rooms I explored was full of orchids, one of my favorite flowers. Known for its resilient nature, I’ve often wanted to write about them since I have one of my own in my bedroom and it never ceases to amaze me how it manages to bloom every year despite my almost nonexistent knowledge of plants.

I snapped plenty of pictures and jotted down some notes from the informational boards strategically placed among the displays, and in doing so I found myself smiling. How cool would it be if I got to do stuff like this as a full-time writer? Visit cool places, scribble notes, take pictures, and share my thoughts with the world. Ah, well. For now I’ll settle for sharing it with fellow bloggers for free.

 

 

The more I walked, the more I really started to appreciate being at Phipps on a weekday, even in the midst of a torrential downpour. The heavy rain beat steadily against the soaring glass roof, which only added to the peaceful ambiance. I even got to see some things a weekend visitor typically wouldn’t – rooms and displays being switched out and re-planned, fountains drained, employees with dirt encrusted gloves tending to the various flora and fauna. It may sound disruptive, but it wasn’t at all. In fact I felt that it added to the experience, getting a sneak peek into how they make some of the magic happen.

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If I had to pick a favorite room of the day, it was probably the Tropical Forest of Cuba. This is a relatively new portion of Phipps, and is decorated to resemble the Caribbean Island with rocky waterfalls, flickering lamps, ponds full of colorful fish, cobblestone paths, creaky wooden bridges, and of course, lush greenery and brightly-hued flowers.

 

 

My final stop at Phipps was their gift shop, where I purchased a Pittsburgh-themed going away present for some friends of ours who are moving out of the country, and a tiny bottle of locally sourced honey for J and me.

Once I left, I gave myself credit for adapting to the day of crappy weather. In the past, I had a tendency to brood if something like rain derailed my initial plans. But this year I took it in stride and found a way to relax and enjoy my time off. It’s little things like this that make me realize how much progress I’ve made with my anxiety.

Back home, I took a nap, listening to the ever-present rain beating against my windows, then did some shopping and ran a few errands. I managed to get some writing in before my husband got home, and later that night, J and I enjoyed a simple dinner and watched a movie.

Not bad for a “me” day. I hope everyone gets to have these every so often.

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Bon Voyage!

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On April 27th, I attended the best going-away party that there ever was and ever will be.

Our good friends R&M are moving to Holland this May, so they decided to hosted a party to say farewell to all their Pittsburgh friends and family.

I met R&M through my husband J, who worked with M’s brother many moons ago. When J first told me he wanted me to meet some of his friends, I was so worried that they’d think I was weird. But then I met them, and I realized that R&M were weird themselves – in all the best possible ways.

Back then, I was still pretty unsure of myself and my direction in life. And when I looked at R&M, who are 7-10 years older than me, I felt like they were the kind of people who simply had their shit together. Even though they hated their apartment and their jobs, they were working to better their situation, and doing it on their own terms.  They had been dating/engaged/living together since 1999, but had no immediate plans to marry. They just weren’t the kind of people who did things traditionally.  But they were kind, welcoming, accepting, hard-working, and hilarious, and quickly became a regular fixture of our social circle.

Over the next eleven years, J and I watched countless hockey games with R&M and shared countless beers and hysterical laughs at our local bar. They were there my mom got sick, when J and I got engaged and married, and when we bought our house. They came to our Halloween parties and barbecues and invited us to their house warming party when they finally were able to move out of the apartment they’d loathed for so long. Behind the scenes, R&M worked together to stop smoking and lose a ton of weight, and R obtained his Bachelor’s degree. A few years later, M obtained her Master’s. All the while, they talked frequently about M’s home in Holland, where they visited regularly throughout the years.

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And now they’re finally doing it. The dream that they’d talked about for as long we we’ve known them became a reality last fall when they purchased one-way tickets to the Netherlands and put the gears in motion to make a monumental move. Though I am of course beyond sad to see them go, I am also beyond happy.

Because even though I now know R&M’s struggles, I still feel like they truly did always have their shit together. They always knew where they were headed as individuals and as a couple, and they didn’t let anyone or anything stand in their way. They encountered naysayers, roadblocks, and heartaches as they worked towards their goal, but they finally achieved it. And people like this, friends like these, are the reasons I stay hopeful. It makes me believe in true love and the possibility of accomplishing your dreams, no matter how un-traditionally you may pursue the path or how many people may scoff in your face.

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So on that Saturday in April, R&M gathered thirty or forty of their closest friends and family at their beautifully remodeled house for one last party. The food was delectable, the alcohol flowing, and the laughter loud, as usual. But everyone was waiting with bated breath for the “3:30 surprise” that M had posted about in the Facebook invite a few weeks prior.

At some point during the party, R&M and a handful of close friend disappeared upstairs almost unnoticed. R returned to the living room a few moments later, dressed in a dark blue suit complete with custom cuff links and a bow tie. He stood in the center of the living room, called for everyone’s attention, and began by thanking everyone for coming. He went on to explain that April 27th is a holiday in Holland, one in which most everyone has off work. “This is great because M and I will always have our wedding anniversary off – because we’re getting married, right here, in three minutes.”

The house exploded in cheers and applause, and then M appeared at the top of the staircase, glowing in a tea-length rose-gold dress, metallic heels, and a spray of white feathers in her hair. She joined R in front of their fireplace, grasping her bouquet orange tulips, and their friend/caterer/officiant performed the sweetest, most heartfelt wedding ceremony I’ve ever seen. R&M shared the same vows, which they wrote together, and were the most beautiful words I’d ever heard exchanged, especially the part where they promised to be each other’s favorite everything.

I watched from the staircase with tears rolling down my face as they laughed and exchanged rings and kissed to seal a promise that had been going strong for twenty years.

It was over in less than ten minutes. The guests were mostly clad in jeans, the photographer was a co-worker, the cake said “Bon Voyage” instead of “congratulations,” and their pit bull/ Great Dane mix milled around their feet as they were declared married by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It was the best wedding I’d ever had the pleasure of witnessing.

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Saying good-bye to R&M is going to be so hard. For me, it gives new meaning to the term bittersweet, because I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy for two people to leave my life as regular fixtures. We’ll of course stay in touch via Facebook and such, and they’ve already invited us to come visit, but I know it won’t be the same. Still, I can’t think of two people who deserve their dreams as much as R&M. And I really believe that our friendships can stay strong despite the miles and ocean that will soon be separating us.

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Dictated by my Downfall

I’m in third grade. There’s a rustle of papers as twenty-some students return their quizzes back to the person who sits next to them.

We’d just completed the ridiculous practice of students grading each other’s papers. I look at mine with a frown when I realize that I failed the math quiz, as usual, with utter and perfect splendor.

At the front of the room, Mrs. P asks how many people got A’s,-  a couple people raise their hands; B’s – a few more people, C’s – a handful more.

“Any D’s or F’s?” she calls.

Sheepishly, stupidly, I raise my hand. I don’t know if other people had D’s and F’s. Maybe they were lying. Maybe I should have too. But like my dad always said – I was honest to a fault. Even if that meant embarrassing myself in front of my classmates.

I was the only person in the room to get a D or an F in math that day. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last.

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This pattern continued throughout the rest of my school years. My math-whiz grandfather, who had helped all five of his children and my older cousins through their math woes couldn’t get things to click in my brain. And the patient old nun my parents sent me to for a tutor couldn’t help either. The only thing I took away from her sessions was the smell of floor polish and a belly full of shortbread cookies.

When I got to middle and high school, things only got worse. As my peers accelerated onto pre-algebra, geometry, and calculus, I was still struggling with eighth grade basic math.

But as frustrating as it was to not be able to grasp numbers and anything that went along with them, the only thing more exasperating was the fact that my intelligence, my potential, and ambition seemed to be judged by my math grades.

It didn’t matter that I had all A’s and B’s in every other class. It didn’t matter that I loved to write stories and was a fantastic speller and excelled at typing. It didn’t matter that I played the flute well or participated in extracurricular activities or had lots of friends and wanted to be a writer when I grew up.

Somehow, some way, the thing I was horrible at always dictated my path.

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Eleventh grade. Guidance Counselor’s office.

Juice dribbled down Mr. S’s chin as he sucked the orange pulp from its peel and looked up at me expectantly. “You have to take a math class your senior year.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Most seniors don’t though.”

“That’s because they’ve already accumulated enough math credits during their sophomore and junior years by taking more advanced courses.”

“Well my grades weren’t good enough for those classes.” My voice trembled as panic began to set in. What if I didn’t have enough credits to graduate?

“It doesn’t have to be algebra or calculus,” he assured me. “Basic math will allow you to graduate, but you’ll have a lot to catch up on when – if – you go to college.”

“So I’m going to still be playing catch up in college?” I almost shrieked. “Why didn’t anyone tell me this when I was picking my classes the last three years?”

Mr. S. looked at me over the rims of his giant glasses. “Well most students with your math level aren’t college bound.”

I was speechless, but he didn’t seem to notice. “What are your plans after high school?”

I shrugged. “I’m not sure of specifics, but I’d like to be a writer.”

Another messy bite of the orange. “Ah. Newspaper? English teacher?”

“No,” I said adamantly, shaking my head. “A writer.”

He tossed the last orange peel into the nearby trash can and watched as a seed rolled down his tie and onto the floor. “Well, we can’t all be J.K. Rowling now, can we?” he asked, straining as he leaned over to pick up the seed.

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Twelfth grade. High school cafeteria.

My classmates and I moved from one table to the next, picking up brochures and chatting with university reps about their offered majors and tuition assistance. My friend conversed excitedly with a student from her mother’s alma mater, and I could tell by the expression on her face that she hoped to end up studying at the college of her choice in just a few years.

But I was sweating, nauseated, staring at the bundle of papers in my hands and the posters surrounding us. Glossy photos of old buildings, laughing co-eds, and sprawling lawns blurred my vision as one line from any given school’s list of qualifications jumped out at me – the minimum required SAT score.

I didn’t qualify for any single one except community college. Again, despite my above average report cards, continued praise from writing and English teachers, and experience writing for the school paper, I wasn’t good enough. I’d bombed the SATs each time I’d taken them, the score actually getting worse with each attempt.

And now that it was time to choose a future, I was painted into a corner by the one thing I was bad at.

No school would have me. No professor would groom me. I had failed before I’d even started.

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Freshman year of community college, second semester.

I was seated in an over-sized maroon chair in one of the communal gathering spots in the C wing of campus. My first class, something uninteresting and uninspiring had come and gone without significance.

But as the clock on my tiny Samsung cell phone ticked closer to 9:30am, the dread in my stomach grew larger and larger.

We’d had a test the day before, and I’d failed. Again. Basic math, age nineteen. Failed. This class, the slowest, most basic form of math offered in this institution wasn’t even college-level and I’d failed.

Despite making Dean’s list the semester before, despite having one English professor who truly inspired and challenged me, I felt empty and lost. I did well at history, was learning to play the piano, and enjoyed my writing class, as usual. But the black mark on my sorry excuse for a college career was the never-ending struggle with math. I knew that if I ever wanted to move on from community college to a normal college or obtain a degree I’d have to pass not only basic math, but several other higher levels of math.

And I knew that I couldn’t do it.

The digital numbers on my phone read 9:28am. I should already be seated in the third row, staring at the dry erase board, dreading the next ninety minutes. But something in me snapped that day.

This was my time. My money. My life. I wasn’t going to let math be my downfall. I wasn’t going to let that one stupid class, that one stupid grade dictate my life. And I was done giving it any energy.

9:29am. I stood up and made my way to the parking lot and never looked back.

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Places I’ve Been, Part 1 (Laurel Highlands, PA)

Many of the blogs I follow are travel blogs, and I spend a lot of time living vicariously through the writer’s photos and descriptions of vacations to places I’ve so far only dreamed of visiting. Places like Ireland, Italy, France, the English countryside, and even the West coast of the States and Canada are out of my financial reach right now.

But I have been on quite a few cool vacations and have seen some amazing sites in the last thirty-four years I’ve been on this earth, and I think I’m going to start writing about them from time to time on this blog. Not all of them will be glamorous or life-changing, but I hope my readers will enjoy reading about some destinations they may not have heard about or or had a chance to visit, and I hope reliving some of these experiences helps me be more grateful about all the things I’ve done and seen over the years.

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The first trip I’m going to revisit took place in June of 2009, when J and I had only been dating for a little more than a year. It was our first long weekend away, and we decided to visit the Laurel Highlands in our home state of Pennsylvania.

Our trip began with an unfortunate incident that I wrote about here many moons ago. (But don’t worry — if you read the post you’ll see how quickly karma put things back in their place).
Accidents aside, our trip to the world-famous Fallingwater was pretty cool. Though architecture isn’t really my thing, it was interesting to tour one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous structures and see the priceless artwork inside. The house itself is nestled in the middle of a quiet forest, and a pretty little stream winds through the area, making the visitor center, cafe, and gift shop peaceful and picturesque. Just be aware that if you’re visiting in the summer, the house has no AC so it can get quite hot.

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After touring the house, J and I checked into our room at the nearby Inne at Watson’s Choice. The Inne has since been bought by new owners, but the rooms and common areas look just as beautiful charming on their website as they did when we were there ten years ago. The building is rustic and cozy and situated on acres of sprawling land that provides plenty of fresh air and much-needed quiet. The prior owners served an absolutely phenomenal breakfast included in the price of the room, and this looks to have remained the same as well. If you ever find yourself in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, I highly recommend the Inne.

The next day, J and I explored Laurel Caverns and stopped to admire the mountain views during the drive. At night we wandered into the “downtown” area of Uniontown and discovered a small restaurant called Rizz’s that turned out to be a hidden gem. We were lucky enough to get to dine outside, and were just as delighted with the food as we were with the relaxed, small town atmosphere.

 

On the last day of our mini vacation, we headed to Ohiopyle State Park where we snapped photos of the waterfalls that were famous among extreme kayakers and canoers, and waded into the more calm, shallow parts of the Youghiogheny River. (here’s a Wiki link to help you outsiders with the pronunciation ). My only regret was that we hadn’t brought our bathing suits to take a real swim.

 

 

Overall, our long weekend to this part of the state was fun and relaxing. We got to see some really cool attractions and it was good to get away from the hustle and bustle of the suburbs and city. If J and I ever go back the the Laurel Highlands, I think we’ll take our kayaks to some of the calmer parts of the river and maybe actually go for a dip. And I’d definitely like to see what the new owners have done with the Inne where we stayed and have another dinner at Rizz’s.

I had fun looking back at this trip, especially after so much time. And that picture of me and J! Such babies!

Hope you enjoyed this one too.