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Brady the Wonder Dog

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the highlights of 2014 was a dog named Brady. This dog is so special to me that he deserves a post all to himself.

I met Brady when he arrived at the shelter in late 2013. He was a skinny stray Plott hound, skittish and untrained. Plott Hounds are the state dog of North Carolina yet it seemed that his state had not shown him much kindness. He was shy, anxious and painfully timid.

But he had these eyes. The kind that look straight past all your pretense, deep into your heart – the kind that see you. The eyes that ask, do you see me, too?

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I did. His unknown past had draped him with layers and layers of fear and caution but shining through was the truest love and hope. I was determined to find him a home that would fully appreciate and care for him.

I carted him to adoption events, where Andrew would work with him on sitting and staying calm when loud cars rode by. This was no easy task for him – loud noise seemed to trigger a ‘fight or flight’ reaction, and for Brady, the answer was always flight, preferably to a small space where nobody could see him.

Brady also had zero manners around food. Treats came out and he would go crazy, jumping and drooling, no doubt owing to a past where meals were unreliable or unavailable. However, with training and patience, Brady learned to behave himself much better around treats. Before long he had morphed into quite a good dog … but one whose rough past seemed to haunt him.

Brady waited. And waited. And still no family picked him. And then the worst thing possible happened. He was adopted by the wrong person. His new owner promised to care for him and teach him but just a few weeks later, Brady turned back up at the shelter as a stray ….  and his owner chose not to reclaim him.

I have no idea how much of those weeks Brady spent as a stray, fending for himself. He looked skinnier than he’d ever been and everything he’d learned seemed to have been buried under a sense of depression and anxiety that only grew with each passing day at the shelter.

At this point, I had 6 dogs at home. And having fostered in the past, I know that dogs have a way of teaching each other when we humans can’t. So, I brought Brady home to foster.

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Our dogs welcomed him into the pack and then the coolest thing happened. We had a lounge chair on our porch that was basically Annie’s chair (she’s quite the sun-worshipper). She would never share that chair with any of the other dogs and everyone respected that.

But she shared it with Brady.

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They both laid on that lounge chair for a long time on his first day with us and it seemed like she was telling him, ‘Hey I know where you’ve been. I was a skinny, unwanted hound – wary of everyone. But not all humans are bad – in fact some of them are pretty awesome and we’re gonna help you find some awesome ones.’

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As Brady spent time with our dogs, he slowly stepped out of his shell.  His carefully constructed walls of caution began to diminish. Brady settled into the routine of our house, learning to sit before he was fed (though drooling all the while), becoming slightly less insane about gobbling his food up in 8 seconds, walking on a leash and spending many afternoons napping & playing with Sasha.

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I knew that having 7 dogs could not be a permanent situation but I also knew that Brady needed a truly good family. I prayed and prayed that he would find his forever family.

And then one day, it happened. I had been helping a woman search for just the right dog for quite awhile. She was looking for a German Shepherd but the match was never quite right. The more time I spent talking with her, the clearer it became that she was kind and conscientious and warm and caring.

She seemed like the perfect match for Brady.

So, an introduction was made.

And then Brady paid a house-call to see how he did with the resident cat. Brady adeptly realized it was best to let the cat have his way.

And then Brady was simply Brady, and his new parents fell in love.

He came back home with us until we could get his adoption finalized, and then it was time for ‘see you later’ … because with Brady, it will never be good-bye.

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I made a solemn promise that if ever there is a need, Brady will come live with us. No questions asked. And that still stands, even though I’m across the country.

As it it turns out, Brady has the most amazing family so I don’t think that will ever happen.

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His family is so wonderful, in fact, that Sasha got to have play dates with Brady right up until we moved.

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And what a blessing it was to be able to see this special, special dog morph into a happy, healthy, loyal and loved hound. Brady was finally comfortable enough to share all of that infectious joy so unique to canines. He was home.

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I still get regular updates from Brady’s mom about his life and what new thing he’s learned (or what stupid thing he’s done :) )and it brings me an indescribable joy to know that he has a family who sees him. He still has issues but they see the goodness and loyalty and love that resonate in him.  They guide him with patience and forgive his stubbornness and praise his triumphs. They are family.

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Being around Brady taught me quite a bit – about how some people can surprise you in the worst way and how others can surprise you in the absolute best way.  Brady was the classic underdog  – and he succeeded.

He is happy and loved and really, that’s all any of us could ever ask for.

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Dog Day Birthday

This past weekend, we celebrated Andrew’s birthday in true Oregonian style: the weather totally sucked so we headed out to enjoy the great outdoors anyway. We drove over to Alsea to check out Alsea Falls and Green Peak Falls. The air was damp, the ground was muddy and we were both just as happy as Annie & Sasha, our expert little hiker hounds.

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After stopping for some photos at Alsea Falls, we headed further down the trail, and apart from a small group of folks foraging for mushrooms, we had the trail to ourselves. While my photographer side always hopes for just a little more light to capture what I see, it was still a beautiful hike.

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We reached Green Peak Falls, which turned out to be quite a bit taller than Alsea Falls. Andrew wanted to check out the top, so we clambered up a steep muddy slope with the aid of rope provided for just that purpose, the dogs easily keeping up beside us. Once we ascended, it was incredible to see the silent, languid water moving almost imperceptibly to the edge, where it then changed into loud, raw power.

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We turned around to go down and realized the only safe and practical way for all of us to descend would be to let Annie & Sasha go down by themselves. As in, nobody holding their leash. As in, they would be totally free.

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This never happens. I am highly overprotective of them, wary of them ever getting lost or hurt. We have trained them well but it so hard to just let them try, to let them show what they’ve learned, what they know.

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I went down first and turned around to wait. Sasha was up first and she made her way gingerly and gracefully, looking down to pick out her next step and then looking at me to make sure I was still there.

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And wouldn’t you know it, she came right to me and stopped, wagging her tail with pride. Oh my goodness, was I proud!

Annie was next and I could tell she was thrilled to run down that hill. She, too, was very good and came straight to me … although I detected the slightest hint of disappointment that her freedom run was so short.

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I will never forget the look on Sasha’s face as she ran up to me, so eager to see me, to show me that she knew to make the right choice.

The day turned to dusk and we headed back down the trail toward home, Sasha & Annie with fresh confidence in their step and Andrew and I with quiet pride in our hearts. On the drive home, we talked about what great dogs we have and how much joy they bring into our life.

And then we pulled in the driveway.

And went into the house.

And were reminded that when you have dogs, you win some & you lose some.

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Out with the Old & In with the New

The transition into a new year is always a time of reflection for me as I look back over the past year and contemplate my hopes for the new year. 2014 was a big year and I wanted to preserve some of the memories that stood out for me.

So, join along as I look back. 2014 was the year of:

Ella: this little fireball came into our lives on December 31, 2013. She was dropped off at the shelter with an ear infection and needed medication. As we were closed the next day, I grudgingly took her home with me as a foster …. ha! Anyone who knows me knew that she became a Hunt at that moment. We fell hard for Ella and sure enough, fostering turned to adoption and she joined the pack. She has a huge personality for a tiny little dog and we love her so very much.

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RunDisney Goofy Challenge: After running the Disney World Half-Marathon in 2013, we got the crazy idea in our heads to tackle the Goofy Challenge which is a half-marathon on Saturday followed by a marathon on Sunday, for a total of 39.3 miles. We headed to Disney with Andrew’s parents and had an incredible time. It’s no secret that I love Disney World and they do such a phenomenal job with their races – such positivity and good cheer. It was an incredible experience – finishing that marathon with my husband and knowing we had completed the Goofy Challenge  definitely stands out as one of the top 10 moments of my life. Now that we live across the country, who knows when we’ll be able to run at Disney World again … which makes this memory all the sweeter.

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Annie’s Heartworm Treatment: when we adopted Annie in the fall of 2013, she was underweight and heartworm positive. After getting her to a healthy weight, we treated her for heartworms which carries a small but very real risk of fatality. I was so so so worried but she came through with flying colors and has been living the life ever since.

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Racing: 2014 marked the first year that I ever really and truly trained for speed and I successfully ran and placed in a series of races. If you’ve read my posts on running (here & here), you know that once upon a time, I utterly despised it so this was a really big deal for me.

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Animal Sheltering: Until we moved, I worked as the Adoption Outreach Coordinator at the county shelter. I loved this job with every fiber of my being … even when I cursed the emotionally draining elements of it. I poured everything I had into the shelter while I was there and received such blessings in return. Countless adoption fairs, an incredible work family, inspiring volunteers and dogs and cats who all became my surrogate children- I miss it all.

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*Billy Blass – the coolest cat in the world

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* Springer, Hatteras & Kahlua – three incredible dogs who’ve seen hard knocks and bounced right back

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* Buddy – the most incredible lab who has ever lived

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* Charlie – I fell hard for this sweet guy and think about him all the time.

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* Brady – I fell even harder for this loveable plott hound. I have so very much I could say about Brady that I think he deserves a whole post to himself.

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* Eva – (the human, not the dog) … one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever met

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* Adoption fairs with fabulous people and even more fabulous pets

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* Elvis – this dog made the most dreadful noise at the shelter and nobody thought he would be wanted. But his sweet personality won the hearts of an incredible (and I mean INCREDIBLE) family who not only adopted him but treated his heartworms as well.

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* Cool Kelly who let us dress him up in a Hawaiian shirt and doggles.

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* My mother-in-law: I could always rely on her valuable help at adoption fairs

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*Little Petunia – beagles were my soft spot! And of course, my husband who helped at many events, handled difficult dogs and picked up lots and lots of poop :)

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*The last dog I worked with before moving – his name was Oregon. :)

Kiawah: We joined my parents in Kiawah, South Carolina for the Fourth of July and had such a simple and relaxing vacation filled with outdoor activity in a beautiful setting.

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Goodbye to Sherlock: 2014 marked Sherlock’s last year with us as our little beagle baby succumbed to stomach cancer on July 10, 2014 – which is ironically the same day that Andrew found out he had an interview with Oregon State University. I miss him so much.

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The Big Move: From August onward, life was a whirlwind of visiting Oregon, packing, moving to Oregon and settling in. Andrew flew out to interview mid-August, was offered the position several weeks later and we packed up our lives and waved goodbye to North Carolina at the beginning of October.

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- Thanksgiving in Oregon: This year marked the first Thanksgiving that we didn’t celebrate with either set of parents which was hard but we were fortunate to have Andrew’s sister fly up and visit with us. We ended up having a wonderful time together and look forward to more visits.

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Our First Christmas in Oregon: as I wrote in a previous post, we had a wonderful Christmas vacation with our families, showing them around this beautiful state we now call home.

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As this new year spreads out before me, just as in years past I have goals. But this year, I’m defining them by who I want to be rather than what I want to do. Every new year, I get so caught up in making checklists and calendars and detailed plans to accomplish goals. And it pretty much never works. So, this year I’m just focusing on starting each day with Jesus and being a compassionate and thoughtful wife, a devoted daughter, a writer and one day, mother (no Mom, I’m not pregnant … yet).

The dogs are now looking at me indignantly and demand that I include something about them. So, here are their New Year’s Resolutions:

Sawyer: I will not go through the trash … when my parents are looking.

Wally : I will lay in my mom’s lap every chance I get … even when she’s doing yoga.

Annie:  I will hike up a whole mountain with my parents.

SashaI will learn everything I need to be a therapy dog for nursing homes.

Ella: Since I’m pretty much perfect, I will just continue being me … oh, and I will convince my parents to feed me double.

 

Happy New Year!

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A Christmas without Sherlock

This Christmas marked the first Christmas without Sherlock. My beloved little beagle left us on July 10, 2014.

It took me a very long time to find the words to pay tribute to the beautiful story of his love and his life. What do you say when a piece of your heart slips away from you? It is particularly hard because Sherlock was the last of our original three: Taco the Golden, Mozart the Cat & Sherlock the Beagle. Those three were our first little family and quite the trio. Taco & Sherlock were the very best of friends and it brings me much comfort to know that the same day my heart was breaking, Taco was jumping for joy because he finally has his buddy back. They are no doubt having quite a blast in heaven, which I imagine to look a lot like Grandma Hunt’s farm.

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This Christmas, I gave Andrew a book I made about Sherlock, and at the nudging of my dad, I am sharing it here for those of you who knew Sherlock or knew how very much he meant to me.

I spent so many hours rounding up every photo I could find of Sherlock and that process was both wonderful and terrible. Poring over photos brought back floods of memories and the inevitable tears at the thought that there will be no new memories made. I worked in secret and poor Andrew came home on more than one occasion to find me clinging to one of our dogs, tears rolling down my cheeks. It took a lot to convince him I was fine and not having some kind of spontaneous breakdown.

As hard as the process was to sort through photos of Sherlock and write down the words of his life, it was a blessing to remember him in detail. To remember his silliness and playfulness and giving nature. Dogs are such special creatures. Their arrival brings such joy and their departure such pain. This is the unavoidable truth of dogs – their bright light of love shines only for a brief while and when it goes out, we will hurt and we will cry and we will feel as though the world can never be the same.

But we are the better for it. Always, always, always … we are the better for it.

Here is the link to Sherlock’s story: Sherlock the Sheriff

In case you have difficulty opening that, here it is :

Sherlock the Sheriff:

The True Story of the Greatest Sheriff Who Ever Lived

In a time not that long ago and a place not that far away, a sheriff was born.

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And not just any sheriff mind you. The world’s greatest sheriff … who just happened to have four paws.

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This sheriff was named Sherlock and he was every bit the brilliant investigator his namesake implied. He could always find the biggest stick, sniff out the tiniest crumb and know the vacuum was coming long before you did.

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Sherlock was a smart little Sheriff. He knew the path to greatness was paved with learning. And learn he did.

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He learned all he could from his chief deputy, Taco. Important things, like how delicious waffles and pancakes are, how to ride in a car like a gentleman and how to look noble.

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He even learned from the cat. Mozart taught him the fine art of napping (and that cats will frame you for stuff if you’re not careful.)

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He learned from his parents just how good it felt to snuggle and that even when he screwed up, they still loved him.

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Sherlock learned and learned and learned. He learned so much, in fact, that he began to teach.

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He taught new brothers and sisters how to play …

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… and where the best spots for napping were.

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When foster dogs visited, he taught them it was okay to trust his parents and that, yes, of course they could sleep on the couch.

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When his best buddy and deputy Taco went to Heaven, Sherlock taught his parents that dog love always ALWAYS lives on and even on our darkest days, we still have tennis balls.

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You see, Sherlock’s greatest love in life was a tennis ball. The dirtier and rattier the better. He took great pride in getting his tennis ball to a state worthy of being called ‘Rotten Ball.’

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For Sherlock, that little ball held joy and fun and possibility. Even when that ball was at rest, Sherlock knew that at any moment, someone might pick it up and send it flying high into the air so he could run, run, run.

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Sherlock lived every moment to the fullest, whether he was running his fastest or sleeping his deepest.

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He taught those around him important lessons:

1. There is ALWAYS something to wag your tail about.

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2. When someone you love is hurting, comfort them.

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3. Live with your whole heart – don’t hold back. You never know when a tennis ball will bounce its last bounce.

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As Sherlock grew older, he met many villains. Villains that might have defeated him. But Sherlock was a sheriff after all and he knew how to be brave and strong.

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Evil knee operations didn’t keep him down. A nefarious heart murmur couldn’t stop him. Even a dirty rotten slipped disk that paralyzed his back legs couldn’t hold Sherlock back.

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As Sherlock overcame each obstacle with his special brand of joyful determination, his spirit grew.

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In fact, his beautiful spirit grew and grew and grew, until one day it was larger than the world could hold. God whistled to Sherlock to come home.

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As Sherlock trotted off to heaven, he paused and looked back over his incredible life …

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… at the adventures and love and laughs and peanut butter kongs and squeaky toys and neighborhood walks and snuggles in bed and visits to Grandma Hunt’s farm.

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He looked at all this and saw that it was indeed a very good life. He wagged good-bye without sadness for he knew that he will see his family again someday. And in the meantime, he had a lot of catching up to do with his chief deputy, Taco.

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Thank you, Sherlock, for loving so deeply and without bound. We carry your spirit with us always. Have fun with Taco until we see you again.

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Christmas Vacation

Hello again!  The past couple of weeks have been filled with adventures as Andrew’s parents followed by my parents came to visit for the holidays.

* Warning: long post & a gazillion photos ahead*

Some of the highlights during their visits:

Christmas: Since we don’t have kids yet, we are those crazy people who treat their dogs like children and give them gifts to unwrap. The dogs totally played along and were very happy with the treats Santa brought them. I was especially proud of the homemade toys that I sewed for them, since (A) I’m terrible at sewing and (B) my sewing machine tried to sabotage me while making them. Cinnamon rolls and coffee in front of the fire made for a cozy Christmas morning.

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The coast: We headed out in the rain to introduce Andrew’s parents to the beautiful coast of Oregon. Even in the drizzle and fog, it is such an incredible sight.

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Hiking in Dunn Forest: While Andrew’s mom snagged some rest to battle a stomach bug, we took Andrew’s dad on a hike through Dunn Forest, practically in our own backyard.  A lovely view of the valley below caught us by surprise and I was reminded yet again that we live in a beautiful place.

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The Cascades – Equipped with snow chains and warm coats, we ventured into the winter wonderland of the Cascades. The trees are always magnificent but to see them decorated with fresh snow was nothing short of magical. We took a walk through Hackleman Old Growth Grove (which was more like a crawl), and it felt like we had the whole world all to ourselves.

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Mt. Hood – On the way to drop Andrew’s parents at the airport, a crystal clear day revealed Mount Hood. Thus far, every time we’ve driven to Portland, clouds have obscured this wonder, so we were thrilled to see it.

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Mary’s Peak – After my parents arrived and rang in the new year with us, we were blessed with several days of sunshine. We headed up to Mary’s Peak for spectacular views of the area, including Mt. Bachelor, Three Sisters, Mt. Jefferson and even Mt. Hood. (And I have to say I was so proud of my dad who had knee surgery a month ago yet hiked up without complaint).

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The coast (again!) – This visit was nice and dry as we ventured into Newport then further up the coast to Devil’s Punchbowl and Cape Foulweather. I am always blown away by how dynamic the coastline is, looking so different from day to day but always gorgeous. We tried a new-to-us place for lunch, the Deep End Cafe, that turned out to have excellent food and service.

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Into the Woods: We hit up the theater to see Into the Woods (and eat copious amounts of buttery popcorn). I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but I ended up loving it! I will say it’s not for kids at all but a very entertaining tale for adults.

Powell’s City of Books & Deschutes Brewery: on my parents’ final day, we paid a visit to Powell’s Books in Portland. I have to say it’s a very good thing that I don’t live closer – I love this store so so much and I know I would spend way too much money there if I had easy access to it. After perusing the stacks and stacks (and stacks and stacks) of books, we walked down a few blocks to the PDX location of Deschutes Brewery, where we enjoyed a great dinner.

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All in all, we had such a good time visiting with our families and showing them around our new home. There’s always a bit of a low after the holiday high, and I definitely feel it more keenly with the departure of our family. Going from a house filled with people and decorations to a house that, well, isn’t ... is a bit sad.

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I’m reminded that there is an entire country that separates us from most of our family and that’s just plain hard. But relationships aren’t defined by geography – they’re defined by connection. And we can connect through phone and skype and even that almost unheard of and primitive method – letters.

I am so grateful that both of our families were able to come spend time with us during the holidays – there is no greater feeling in the world than to be surrounded by the love of family. Andrew and I are very blessed.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and happy start to the new year!

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