Dose of Vitamin Sunshine

Last year, we zipped down to Florida for a long weekend and enjoyed every second of it (see my post about it here). We left knowing we'd be back.

Lucky for us, we were able to take a longer trip this year. Dave's business slows down in the winter, so we got to rent a house with some family and friends and soak up all the sun.

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We couldn't have been more grateful for a break. The guys caught us lobsters and fish and in the evenings we watched the olympics. I think I went to bed by 10pm every night because I was so exhausted from our days filled with sun, water and relaxing.

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I read four books and knit an entire little sweater. Dave truly relaxed for the first time in two years and nothing could have been better.

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I don't know if you've ever played around with your phones photo app, but I did and discovered my phone had created a video of memories for me. So while it's not professional or fancy, here's a fun video of some more snapshots.

Austria (at last)

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Back in August I left behind good ol' 'Merica and took off across the pond to the country of my birth — Austria. 

Anyway, I have a hard time whenever I get home from Austria because to me it's not just a vacation. I go there to visit and soak up as much time with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins as possible. I'd be silly to ignore the fact that I get a lovely vacation and intimate view of life in another country while there. However, when I get back it's hard for me to want to edit the pictures or write a blog post, because the pain of leaving and not knowing when I'll go back is still raw.

Lucky for you, I have to make my annual photobook around this time of the year and that meant I had to edit my pictures and since they're done I figured I should share some of the beauty. As the first snowflakes fall here in Michigan, let's take a little trip back to the summer when the days were long and warm.

While I was there this time my plan was just to tag along with whatever my family was up to and not worry about doing specifically tourist things. I hadn't been over there in the summer in 7 years and somehow I had forgotten how beautiful the entire country is in summertime. I highly recommend just going over there and striking out into the countryside to experience the charm of the land.


Gmunden/Traunsee:

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Family and the Mühlviertel region:

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Innsbruck, Austria:

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Freistadt, Austria:

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Hudson the Camper

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Goodness. This post has been a long time coming. In case you've missed the rest of this story, you can find previous posts on Hudson the camper here and "his" Instagram page here.

The quick summary is that spring 2016, Dave humored his slightly crazy wife and bought her a 1964, 14 ft camper off of craigslist. I named him Hudson and have since updated and painted just about every square inch of the thing. We've used it before, but finally last week I finished the last couple things that needed to be done to truly call him done.

Dave did the hard stuff like tires and lights and putting up with me. I painted the interior and exterior, wallpapered, installed a new light, figured out curtains, added a matress and cushions, installed the sink, added new hardware and decorated.

My initial style inspiration was this mood board:

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Using the color scheme from a Hudson Bay Company blanket and other classic camping items, like Coleman coolers and enamel mugs, I wanted to keep things simple and unfussy, but also cozy.

To give you an idea of what I was working with, here are some before shots. It was structurally sound and the layout worked well, but everything else was rough.

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With those images in your recent memory, here's Hudson now:

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The exterior got a couple good coats of paint and a new yellow stripe. Dave wired trailer lights, put on new tires and made the hitch all safe and legal. 

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The seating area got a new light and cushions. I also hung curtain wire and hemmed my grandma's old bobble curtains to fit. The nice thing is that when we don't need them the curtains tuck away into those corners.

One of my favorite things is that the table can collapse down and make a bed. Originally it couldn't do that and it felt like a huge oversight, so I fixed that.

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The "kitchen" area also got a bunch of paint, new knobs and wallpaper too. The sink came with the camper and I'm assuming was the original one, but everything else was missing. It took me a long time to just say "good enough is good enough," saw the hole into the counter and stick that drink dispenser there as a faucet. I stuck an empty kitty litter box under the drain and called it good. There's something so freeing about not holding myself to perfection when working on a project — things get done!

After using the set up for a weekend, we couldn't love it more. Of course real plumbing would be even better, but since we're just camping it's so nice to brush our teeth indoors and have a place to wash our hands.

Obviously the rest of the under sink cabinet stores our fuel and propane.

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Having a real bed when we go camping? Yes Please! 

The mattress isn't anything special and the full size is a bit smaller than our king at home, but it's so cozy and set up so nicely, we both slept way better than in a tent. My favorite is that little shelf for my phone and glasses — since I get the wall side of the bed, of course. 

I also sewed up those pillow cases as a last minute addition and I think they're the perfect camp flannel. My Hudson Bay Company blanket gets the place of honor on the bed as well.

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I also got my green Coleman items — lamp and cooler. My parents had one when I was growing up and they scream "adventure time" to me. Both are thrift finds and it makes me love them all the more. The cooler fits perfectly into the bottom of the "pantry/closet" and the lantern moves around as it's needed.

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The top part of the pantry is a linen closet and since I have an addiction to throws it's pretty much just full of cozy blankets. Since it's been rather warm, we haven't needed them yet, but I can't wait until we do.

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A small thing that made a huge difference was taking time to find a place for everything and organize. I brought a packet of little screw in hooks and added them everywhere — inside the cabinets, on the walls, under things, anywhere that made sense. Now the mugs, kettle and towels have places they belong and it makes cleaning up so much easier. In such a small space it's a good thing because three out of place things create an instant feeling of messy.

I also took a little time on our camping weekend to watercolor a couple little paintings to fit in the coat rack/mirror we have hanging by the door. It felt like the final cherry on top to the decor and theme. One is a misty pine tree scene and the other is a welcome with Hudson's name and date on it.

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Our double sleeping bag is a $5 garage sale find. It's down filled and so warm. I especially love the tag on it and the promise that it's the sleeping bag "for the rest of your life."

Last weekend we took Hud up to Dave's parents cabin and took full advantage of the beautiful fall weather. We biked, kayaked, dirt biked, explored and generally enjoyed good coffee, food and fun people. It couldn't have been more perfect.

Finally, it's been a goal of mine to figure out how to make easy and quick videos of our adventures. So I forced Dave and myself to take videos on my phone and when we got home I combined them into a quick little video. It's so far away from perfect, but I have a feeling it's the sort of thing that will be precious to us in the future. I'm a bit embarrassed, but thought you might like the little video tour of Hudson at the beginning. You'll notice in it that we took the cats camping, but that's a whole other (crazy) story. 

Ellie's Grand Adventure

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Well, it was a crazy weekend. If you followed along on social media you know that on Thursday night things got rough around here when Ellie disappeared from our yard in less than 15 minutes. Up until now the cats have had supervised free range of our yard, but we're super careful not to let them go far. Well, somehow Ellie managed to bolt so far that we couldn't find her despite searching for hours. What I wouldn't give to know what startled her!

(sidenote: Just last week I told Dave that I was truly content and happy with our life. There wasn't anything significant I'd change if I could. As you'll see, that was probably not a smart move. ;) )

The thing that made all this even more tricky was that we had a planned vacation starting the next morning. We were supposed to take off at 4:30am for Maine as a late anniversary trip and to go to a friend's wedding.

We went to bed hoping Ellie would show up during the night. Of course that was the night that we had a severe thunderstorm complete with hail and torrential downpour. To say Dave and I slept that night would be an over statement. Between the two of us we might have had 4 hours of fitful sleep.

We did end up leaving for the airport with aching hearts because we thought for sure Ellie would show up in the morning when Dave's parents stopped by to look around for her. By the time we landed in Boston and heard from them that she hadn't shown up, we realized she was probably lost for real and began to feel like we'd made a terrible mistake. We started posting her picture online so that people could keep an eye out for her and organizing friends to stop by the house and check for her.

I won't go into details, but lets just say our emotional state was not the best. Ellie is our first pet together and is a really special part of our love story, not to mention she's a huge part of what makes our house a home. We really battled against a lot of terrible feelings Thursday through Sunday, the biggest being guilt for having left home in the first place. I don't know if I've ever seen Dave that discouraged in our five years together.

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Somehow we got through Friday and Saturday and made it to the wedding Saturday evening. It was so good to be at the wedding and be able to celebrate our dear friend's marriage. That was by far the best part of the trip.

So that night, we were lying in bed complaining that our flight home wasn't until Sunday evening, when Dave started looking at flights that would get us home earlier. He found one that was relatively affordable and would get us home at least 12 hours earlier. We booked the tickets, threw our stuff in our bags, slept for 4 hours and then drove back to Boston through the sunrise. It felt so good to be headed home, where we could DO something to try and find Ellie. Things fell together really well for us, from the car rental place being open at 7am, to catching the bus to the airport and even getting seats together on the flight.

We got home around 1pm and a friend met us at home to help with the search. I got to work making huge "Lost Cat" signs and Dave did a preliminary search of the neighborhood. We even changed into fresh clothes so that they would smell the most like home and leave the scent wherever we went. 

After putting up the signs all over the neighborhood and checking at the local humane society, we started going door to door all up and down our road with flyers. When someone who usually hates talking on the phone and meeting strangers gets over their introversion and does all that, you know things are extreme. It felt so good to do something, but every false lead made our hearts sink. It was hard to keep our spirits up.

By six, we were so exhausted and discouraged. Thankfully we had friends who had come over to make us dinner. I don't know what we would have done if they hadn't been there with a hot meal and hugs. We hadn't had a real meal since Saturday morning and things looked better after refueling. We were going to head out and do a thorough search of the whole area that evening, thinking Ellie would probably be moving when it was cooler and darker.

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As I got up from our table and looked out our screen door, who did I see but Ellie! She slunk onto the front porch and sniffed the things we'd left out there to help guide her back. She almost looked like a different cat, she was so skinny and skittish. But I knew it was her right away. I was so scared she'd run away again as I unlocked the door and hurried outside to grab her.

Once she was inside we realized how tired, thirsty and hungry she was. It had been almost 3 days exactly to when she ran off and we don't think she found much to eat, drink or rest during that time. She looked unsteady on her feet and emptied her food and water bowls multiple times that night. We on the other hand smothered her with kisses and hugs.

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To say we were happy would be an understatement. We just couldn't believe the ordeal was over. And to think that if we hadn't taken that earlier flight, we wouldn't have been around when she showed up! It made it all worth it!  

We've been on cloud nine ever since. It may be hard to understand if you've never had a pet go missing, but it's a special sort of torture to know your fur baby is out there and you can't help it. She could probably get away with murder right now and we'd just let her. The one thing we won't be allowing anytime soon is outdoor time.

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Iceland Part 4: Of Hotpots and Glaciers

This is the 4th (and final!) part of my Iceland trip summary. If you've missed the first or second or third part of our Iceland trip you might want to read those first.

I left of with us heading back into the wild after restocking groceries in Akureyri.

We weren't going to see the sun for the next 36 hours so we decided we'd try and hit up any hotpots that we could on our way. Hotpots to Iceland are like Saunas to Finnland or pubs to Ireland. Everyone, every age gets together to soak in hot water pretty much every day. It started in natural pools where water gushes from the earth already the perfect temperature for a relaxing bath and now every town has a pool/hot tub and it's a huge part of everyday life. 

Once the sun disappeared and the possible outdoor activities dwindled down due to crazy winds and sideways rain, we found ourselves understanding the Icelanders love of hot water pools. It's a great way to enjoy the outdoors even when the northern weather doesn't want to cooperate.

We headed along the northern coast of the island through the rain and decided to try our luck at Grettislaug, a hot pot I'd read about in the hotpot guide book our rental company had loaned us.

We arrived at the little cafe and dock at what felt like the end of the world. It was right on the coast and the only thing separating the pool from the stormy waves was a rock storm wall. We were the only ones there when we arrived. Everything was shut down and it felt like something out of an apocalyptic movie.

I honestly did not feel like undressing and jumping in. I was cold in my winter coat... and it was a good 100 yards from the changing hut to the warm water. But just as we were thinking about turning around and heading on our way, a car full of Canadian tourists pulled up and they ran hooping and hollering around. Their excitement energized us and we decided we'd regret not jumping in.

I wore a stocking hat with my swimsuit and my winter coat over it as we ran to the water and plopped in as fast as possible. Another car pulled up and for a short time we felt like we were a part of the funniest little pool party — a couple Canadian guys, a Dutch couple, a frenchman, and us Americans. Somehow we learned all about their travels around Iceland and their political opinions about the US and I remember thinking "I will never forget this."

We stayed in the water as long as we could and then bundled back into the car and made our way to our campground for the night.

That night we could feel the wind rocking the van as we fell asleep. Our hanging lantern swayed from it's hook and running to the campground bathroom was necessary to keep from being blown over. That night and that storm were insane.

The morning brought no respite from the rain and that day we had planned to head into the West Fjords. We were halfway through driving around the first fjord (fjord — a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs typically formed by submergence of a glaciated valley) our van's clutch started giving out. We realized that each fjord would take 40-60 minutes and we had at least 6 more before we reached the first sight we were aiming for. At this point we decided it would be best to abort our west fjord plans. While this was the right decision, the next one we made was probably more questionable.

Iceland has rough, off roads called "F-roads" and while our van had 4 wheel drive and was technically rated for these F-roads, it also had tiny doughnut sized tires and we had already used our only spare tire. Anyway, for some reason we decided we'd risk heading through a pass we found on the map to the far side of the fjords were we could meet up with the main road and head back toward mainland Iceland. 

Oh, and the map showed that we'd have to ford 2 rivers, which we hadn't done yet and if we failed we'd end up with fines, not to mention we'd only seen one other car on the road all morning, so I'm sure we would have been stranded for hours before anyone could come get us. Though at this point we didn't have cell service, so I'm not even sure how we would have been able to call for help.

We did it anyway.

This is a shot of Dave crossing the first river. He made it, though he said he could feel some of the tires lifting off the riverbed and being pushed by the current. Also, while I was taking that picture, we forgot that the van was my ride and I was left stranded on the far side of the water. Even though I was wearing rubber boots, my feet weren't dry when I got to the other side.

The next river we crossed I stayed in the cab. 

Up until this point I would have said Grettislaug was the most at the end of the world I had felt. This jaunt through the pass was past the end of the world. We didn't see a single man-made sight except for the rough two track road for 2 hours.

We had the go pro mounted to the windshield for a while and I sped it up to give you an idea of what it was like:

When we finally saw the sheen of water on the other side of the pass and began the descent to the non-F road. The huge clump that had formed in my stomach finally began to loosen and I began breathing normal again.

The picture below is one of my absolute favorites from the trip. It's a farm that was the first sign of civilization after we emerged from the pass and it's amazing how relieved we were to see it. It sums up so much about that trip to me. The growth that I saw in myself — from scared to get out of the van to braving insane backroads and river crossings. It's one of the few pictures I took that might actually capture a piece of the beauty of the real life experience.

Anyway, the rest of the day we spent chasing the sun, albeit completely unsuccessfully. We did have a good stock of gummies and licorice (ew). 

We drove up the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss. This is one of the most commonly photographed places in Iceland, but we were there in such howling winds and horizontal rain that we only dared get a picture with our go pro. The other cameras didn't even make it out of the car.

At this point Dave was car sick from driving through fog and rain, so we made a plan to find a hotpot on our way to the campground and call it a day. We hadn't found any sun and we admitted our defeat.

And just like that, once we admitted defeat the day redeemed itself. We wanted to find Landbrotalaug, a cute little hot pot, I'd read about and were worried it'd be hard to find. Most of the paths to hot pots feel like you're trespassing and headed off to a dead end and then all of a sudden you actually find what you were looking for.

We found the hot pot in all it's 1 yard diameter of amazing perfect 103 degree water. We even got it all to ourselves since the larger pool in the area had attracted most of the other tourists. We felt like we'd hit the jackpot and couldn't believe it. I even jumped in first, though I half expected to find a dragon curled up at the bottom or no bottom at all and to fall into a deep dark crevice of the earth.

The water flowed out of the rock so quickly that any water we displaced, refilled within a mater of minutes. Just imagine sitting in a hole in the rock in perfectly heated water looking around at misty landscape. It was magical. We soaked it up for as long as possible.

When we were done, we passed the hot pot on to a couple of German girls who were just as excited to enjoy it as we had been.

We arrived in Borgarnes and made it in time to visit The Settlement Center before it closed. We hadn't been able to fulfill a single part of what we had planned that day, but in many ways that's exactly why it's such a memorable part of the trip. The museum was actually a perfect idea for the end of such a rainy day. It was extremely well done and a wonderful summary of the history of Iceland. We left with a better understanding of the amazing island.

We made dinner under a tarp in a sodden campground and went to sleep praying for the rain to end.

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We awoke to answered prayers and a free morning before our afternoon plans. I've written about that morning before here.

We drove leisurely toward the Langjökull glacier, took a walk through a beautiful birch forest, visited another museum, and saw two waterfalls, Hraunfossar and Barnafoss.

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We had an afternoon reservation with Into the Glacier, a tour of the largest glacier tunnel dug through the Langjökull Glacier.

Our previous day's adventure had emboldened us and we drove the F-road to the basecamp ourselves. It was stunning to approach the mountains and glacier at our own pace. The sun glinting off the snow and the dark lava stone created a beautiful contrast. Another fascinating part of the drive was to see the landscape formed by the receding glacier. It felt like young ground, freshly exposed.

The tour began with a transport up onto the glacier and we goofed off as we rode through the pristine white landscape.

First I couldn't believe we were standing on top of a glacier when we got out of the truck/tank/bus (it's actually a decommissioned and refitted nuclear head transporter).

But the surface was nothing compared to what it felt like once we walked down into the tunnel. Inside a whole other world awaited us. 

I'd never had a context for what a sad thing melting ice caps and glaciers are. Glaciers are powerful and amazing. It's heartbreaking to think we're loosing them.

The ice lit up with lights and the different layers of debris frozen into the ice surprised me. I expected it to be pretty and a great photo op, but I couldn't believe how deeply moved a felt by a bunch of ice. It was a new type of natural beauty I am grateful to have experienced.

We left the basecamp and headed south along another F-road, F550. Obviously we thought we could handle anything in our mini 4x4. This road probably took us quite a bit longer because it was so full of potholes. But on our left a mountain range reflected the setting sun and we watched snow storms up on the peaks.

Our plan was to camp at Þingvellir and we reached it just in time to explore at sunset. I don't even have any pictures because we were jogging around to see it all before it was too dark. 

Our last morning waking up in the camper was a hurried one as we packed things up in our suitcases and made sure everything was in good shape to turn in to the rental company.

But before we did that, we had one more adventure planned: snorkeling.

We'd decided to splurge on two more expensive experiences, one was the Glacier tour and the second was snorkeling between the American and European tectonic plates.

Silfra Snorkeling is not for the faint-hearted. The water was a frigid 34 degrees. We wore insulation suits under our dry suits and I couldn't even get into my dry suit and literally had two grown men holding my suit shaking me into it.

With all those layers I couldn't bend my elbows or knees properly. I have never felt more like a penguin in my life.

In such cold water there is no wildlife, but the visibility is insanely far. The water is actually melted glacier and filters through lava rock for decades, so it's deliciously clean.

Our gopro battery didn't actually last long in the cold, but Dave got some pretty good pictures before it died.

I loved this experience. My face and hands went numb quickly, and after that I just bobbed along taking in the amazing blue hues and the underwater perspective of the rocks.

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By the end of our dip in freezing water, we were invigorated and grateful. This marked the end of our camper van experience. We drove back to Reykjavik and turned in our trusty vehicle. 

The rest of the afternoon we spent exploring Reykjavik and wandering the streets. It was fun to return to the same place our trip had begun. It felt so different only 10 days later, probably because I learned and grown so much. 

Dave usually dislikes cities pretty vehemently, but even he loved ducking in and out of shops, wandering aimlessly and exploring anything that looked interesting.

The one thing Dave wanted as a souvenir was a watch and he had read about a certain shop, so we struck out to find it. The JS Watch Company was easy enough to find and once inside the most charming, cliché watch shopkeeper showed us his handiwork and Dave walked out with a beautiful one he still loves.

We met up with an old college friend and her family for dinner. They happened to be in Iceland for a long layover and it was so fun to see them and enjoy Icelandic Fish and Chips with them.

The next morning we walked to a bakery for some coffee and pastries as we reflected on our time. As we drove to the airport and enjoyed the last bits of Iceland that we could, we left with an overwhelming amount of gratitude for the opportunity to experience such a unique and incredible country. We already talk about going back and are having a hard time coming up with a country we want to visit next. Every time we talk about where to go next, we just say "Well, we could just go back to Iceland." I'd be surprised if it takes us very long to get back.