Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Campnesia Excerpt: Join-Up & Cross Country


Today I thought I'd post an excerpt from the book I am working on about all my camp experiences. Each short story starts with a confession. Today's two confessions are from a horse camp I started going to at eleven-years-old called Dreamcatcher Ranch. Enjoy! 

Confession #8: I’m a horse whisperer now because of camp. 

If you’re a Robert Redford fan you’ve probably seen The Horse Whisperer. If not, no worries, I’ll sum it up for you: it’s a film about a teen girl and her horse who get into a traumatic accident, in desperate need of healing her mother drives the two out hundreds of miles away from their home in order to receive help from a unique horse trainer name Tom Booker played by the one and only Robert Redford. Now Tom is based off of an actual horse whisperer named Monty Roberts. Monty came up with this technique called join-up. Join-up is a great bonding exercise to do with a horse you are either familiar or not familiar with. All it involves is a round pen and a lunge line.

Join-up was something we learned on the second day of camp. On that first morning after the horses were fed and after we ate breakfast, we’d all gather into the garage—which was set up more like a room with rugs, two couches, a television, a table for arts and crafts, etc—and look to the whiteboard Carol scribbled on each morning, listing which horse we’d be paired up with that day. Before gearing up to catch our horses we watched a film on join-up, learning its purpose as well as how to do it. 
After spending years as a young boy in Nevada studying herds of wild mustangs Monty Roberts noted how horses communicated with one another non-verbally and incorporated what he learned into a non-violent training method rather than sticking to the traditional “breaking” of new horses. This method involved entering the center of a round pen with a horse that usually stood at the edge. There gripping the lunge line in both hands you would then push the horse out to the edge of the pen, asking the horse to either trot or canter around the arena by lifting your arms up much like a predator would. With a swinging motion of the arm parallel to the horse’s rump you are to urge the horse forward around the circular arena. You also change the horse’s direction a couple of times, by stepping in front of the horse and raising the arm that is parallel to the horse’s head. This non-verbal cue will send the horse in the opposite direction. Through this body-language you are asking the horse, “Will you flee or will you join-up with me?” 

Here I am at eleven-years-old doing join-up for the first time. (I guess I didn't need to the lunge line.)
Now as you are doing this, you are looking for three specific verbal cues that essentially mean that this horse wants to join-up with you. 
An ear will flick toward you.
They will begin licking and chewing. 
And lastly, their head will lower.
Once this happens, you are to stop, turn away from the horse, and drop your lunge line to the dirt. This is the moment when the horse hopefully walks up to you and smells your shoulder.

Once you feel the horse’s soft muzzle against your shoulder and their hot breath breathing into your shirt, you slowly turn around and without looking the horse in the eye you begin rubbing his face, feel his ears, slowly move down his neck, glide your hands over his back and belly and rump to prove that you are safe since these are usually the vulnerable areas where predators will attack, and then lastly, you lift each foot up as if you were going to pick the dirt out of them.

After this is done, step in front of the horse and slowly begin walking around the arena, if the horse has truly chosen to join-up with you he or she will follow you around the arena. It’s truly a magical experience. 
Kinetic decided to follow me outside the round-pen too. As you can see I am taking this very seriously. 
I learned how to do this at eleven-years-old. What a gift I got, learning how to truly listen to horses by watching their non-verbal cues in order to partner up with them. This wasn’t just a lesson on how to be a better equestrian, but also on how to be a better human being. The world could use more listeners. 
Confession #9: I’m an adrenaline junkie.  

If you aren’t familiar with the equestrian world you probably associate the term cross country with running, which actually makes it easier for me to explain cross country jumping. Running on a track is to jumping in an arena as cross country running is to cross country jumping. It’s the only sport I competed in as a child that my mom refused to watch and I honestly don’t blame her; riding is dangerous. Take Superman actor Christopher Reeve for example: on May 27, 1995 his horse refused a cross country jump which sent Reeve flying headfirst into the fence, shattering his first and second vertebra, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down and wearing a breathing tube for the rest of his life. See that’s the scary thing about riding cross country because the jumps, unlike the ones in the arena, don’t budge.

That’s why in the Olympics you’ll often see a horse slathered in what looks like sweat, but it’s actually grease, that way in case the horse happens to not lift their legs up high enough they have a better shot at sliding over the fence rather than crashing into it.
See how this horse's legs are greased up.

When it goes terribly wrong.
As a kid, though, you don’t think, I could potentially fall, hurt myself, and never be able to use my arms and/or my legs again. I mean, maybe some kids did, but I certainly didn’t think that way. Instead, I thought, Wow, that’s a huge jump! Bring it on! According to my mother, I started walking at nine months and shortly afterwards climbed all sorts of dangerous things. Before hitting one-year-old I was already a little adrenaline junkie.  

At Dreamcatcher Ranch, we learned the entire cross country course over a couple of days with Carol watching and critiquing our every move. She led us around the course via golf-cart, which was pretty cool actually.  First we start in the shade, down by the round pen where join-up takes place; it’s here where we jump over a rising oxer composed of fallen trees and from there up to the arena. You jump into the arena and out of the arena. Then you jump all sorts of things: wine barrels, car tires strung on a poll, antic fences, a gully, miniature red barns, etc.
Here I am at eleven-years-old riding the cross country course for the first time. 
Favorite picture. First jump on the course. I think I was 13-years-old here. Horse's name: Kinetic.
Second favorite picture. Aren't these jumps cute? Horse's name: Jubilee. 
Then comes that magical day when you get to ride the entire course by yourself. So here’s how it goes. Everyone gathers into the arena to warm up their horse with a couple of small exercises and then exit the arena one by one to start the course. 
When riding cross country you must wear a safety vest to protect your chest, spine, and tail-bone in case you fall off. In addition to this, a walkie-talkie is fastened to your saddle? Why? Excellent question. Carol had us wear a walkie-talkie on our saddle during riding lessons so that she didn’t have to yell, otherwise she’d probably lose her voice halfway through the summer. On cross country course day, the walkie-talkie was used as a count-down so that you’d know when to start your course. 
Oh man, there is nothing quite like that first ride. You’re riding this eleven-hundred pound animal who is just as excited about the course as you are. Vibrating up your calves you feel his heart-beat. One of his ears flicks briefly in your direction, wondering why you haven’t given him the cue to start yet, so you pat him gently on the shoulder and whisper, Hang on. We have to wait buddy. Then Carol’s voice comes over the walk-talkie as she begins the countdown. Ten…nine…eight…seven…six… He hears the numbers and he knows, gripping the reins and sitting back in your seat a little bit, you remind him that he has to wait until they say, “Have a nice ride!” Five…four…three…two…one…Have a nice ride! You extend your hands forward meaning Ok let’s do this! and he’s off flying.
Jubilee and I jumping out of the arena. 
Look at that determination on both of our faces!
Sorry for the obnoxious high contrast on this photo. 
Suddenly Eye of the Tiger plays in your mind as you gallop up to the first jump, the pacing is on point, everything flows perfectly as you sail over each jump. With no one critiquing your every move you are both more cautious than you’ve ever been before and yet freer at the same time. There’s a rhythm and a balance to your horse’s hooves pounding the earth and the little snorts coming from his nostrils. The sun is warm over your body, the wind refreshing against your face, and when your horse’s feet launch from the ground for a second you forget about reality—you forget about all the hard stuff in life: your parent’s divorce, moving to a new school, the death of a beloved pet, etc—and for a moment you feel as though you are flying and that anything is possible. You feel invincible like life has never been this good before.

I guess that’s why they call it “Getting high off of life.” I’m so blessed to have had that experience at least once because the thing is I’m not invincible, whether I like it or not I have to play by the rules of reality, but it was nice to pretend. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Southern California


As most of you already know by now I am currently living in Southern California--Orange County to be more specific--for an internship through UC Irvine, volunteering with the 90+ Study, researching Alzheimer's Disease. Learning lots and enjoying this adventure I'm on. Just wanted to update you on all the things I'm doing here. 
  1. I pump my own gas now. Also, I love driving down here (when there isn't traffic that is) because I get to go fast--I have to drive 80 to keep up with everyone and people still zip past me at insane speeds--almost feels like real life Mario Kart.
    (Confession: I prefer pumping my own gas.)
  2. I intern at the Clinic of Aging Research and Education in Laguna Woods with Maria Corrada and neurologist Claudia Kawas, who are both incredibly intelligent and kind. I love asking them questions about the brain.

    My internship involves driving to different homes and delivering both oxygen and blood pressure monitors for the participants to wear overnight, which I then pick up the following day and then log into the tracking system on the computer. I love my internship because it slows me down and makes me look at life's big picture. Last week I met a 98-year-old woman who has really lived life to the fullest. She has traveled all over the world and at 91-years-old she quit skiing because she broke her collarbone. We discussed her backpacking trips in Nepal, her Red Cross days in Northern Africa, and her favorite spot in the world Lake Geneva. I told her about when I studied abroad in Florence and how I had bed bugs in my hostel in Rome. She laughed and we had a great afternoon. She reminded me that life is truly about deep relationships, adventures, and laughs. So grateful!

    On Tuesdays at the clinic we gather in the conference room and discuss patients who have passed away, trying to figure out if they had dementia and if so what kind, possible reasons as to why, and try to determine when the onset was. We watch tapes of the person, look at their medical reports, and neuropsych tests. I learn so much from these meetings. At the end we guess the brain weight (average brain weight is 1400 grams), plaques/tangles, APOE, etc. A couple of weeks ago based on the patient's behavior, I guessed that their brain weight was 950 grams. It was 970! I can't tell you how excited I was about that!

  3. Another fun part about my job is working in UC Irvine's Neuroscience Lab in the tissue repository. On September 28th I wrote this Facebook post: 

    Holy smokes people! Today was phenomenal and here's why. I went into the lab, expecting to file away brain slides, which is pretty boring, but instead I got to help out with something exponentially cooler. Ryan, one of the people I work with in the lab at UC Irvine, is on call for when someone dies. His job involves getting transportation for the body, removing the brain, and then dividing the brain up into different slices and putting some of those slices on slides and then into the freezer. Well today he had a case and asked if I wanted to hang around and watch. I was like: OF COURSE! I quickly put on some gloves and a lab coat. Ryan took the brain out, we weighed it, and then began separating it. He explained everything step by step and even asked me if I knew what the meninges were for as he cut a sample of it off. I told him yes and then went on to explain, "It's a protective layer, covering the brain. There's three layers the Dura mater, arachnoid, and Pia mater." He was impressed! And then he let me hold the brain. When it's freshly removed it feels like jello. I had all this cerebral spinal fluid on my gloves, but it didn't gross me out. Ryan sliced the sections up and then I put the pieces on slides and placed slides on dry ice, so they could freeze. It was so AWESOME! I wanted everyone to know how perfect my morning was. I was dying for the Trader Joes cashier to ask me how my day was so I could tell him all about the brain!

    Now, after this incredible experience I think I'd like to pursue neuropathology as a career.
    Neuropathology is the study of disease of nervous system tissue, usually in the form of either small surgical biopsies or whole autopsies. Neuropathology is a subspecialty of anatomic pathology, neurology, and neurosurgery. I still need to take some biology and chemistry classes to get into grad school at either UC Irvine or USC, so I will be starting classes at Santiago Canyon College in January.

    Love this campus!

    Here's where the brain gets sliced!

    My awkward-hope-no-one-sees-me-taking-a-selfie selfie. Worked in UC Irvine's neuroscience lab today filing brain slides. It was so much fun! Mostly because I got to see a freshly extracted brain today and I was singing along to Britney Spears songs on Spotify they had playing when I arrived.

  4. Since my internship is unpaid I decided to get a job at Disneyland where I will be a hostess at a restaurant in California Adventure. Not sure which restaurant yet, but I start this Friday and I'm so excited! I like that's its completely different from my other job. I think that will keep me from ever getting bored and will be a good balance.

  5. I've also went sailing in San Diego with my aunt and uncle.

    (Don't let this picture fool you because I actually got really seasick and threw up about four times.)
  6. I've also found an awesome church to attend called Rock Harbor in Costa Mesa. I love it there!

  7. I also swim just about every day here.
    Here are some things I've written about the pool on Facebook.

    As someone who suffers from chronic back pain swimming is critical to my health. I'm limited to what I can do physically, but I CAN swim and for this I'm eternally grateful. The pool is my freedom from pain. Every time I jump in I deeply appreciate this freedom, smiling as I move through the refreshingly cool water pain-free. Swimming serves as a reminder of how lucky I am. I might not be able do the things I desperately want to do anymore like ride horses or rock climb or go on intense backpacking trips, but I do have this. I am truly blessed.


    I am admittedly a very sensitive person. Drives me crazy! Mainly because I tear up at incredibly stupid commercials, but I've also been known to take people's pain on too easily. With all that's going on in the world--mass shootings, hospital bombings, Syrian refugees struggling to find a better life for their children--I find myself subconsciously sad. And I hadn't been aware of this until I went swimming this afternoon and watched a mother and her two young children playing in the water together. Normally when I see a family at the pool the parent is either A.) on the phone, disengaged or B.) yelling/speaking harshly to their children. But this mother was beyond wonderful, she played with her kids, hugged and twirled both of them around in her arms, telling them how much she loved them. Even when they were being rowdy she spoke gently to them and had patience. When she was out of the water she was still engaged with them, applauding the two for their great jumps and dives into the pool. She read a book, but she was still very aware what was going on. Her daughter climbed out of the pool, ran up to her, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and then leaped back into the water. Oh gosh people, I'm ridiculous because I nearly started bawling. Just watching how much that family loved each other and how kind they were to one another melted my heart. Compelled, I went up to the mom and said, "You are a great mom! You were so intentional with them and engaged and I feel like that's rare, so thank you. It really warmed my heart." She told me, "Well, thank you. I certainly try. Have a nice day!" Kindness goes a long ways, not only to the people you are kind too, but to the people who see your kindness. That mother's kindness was not only a gift to her children, but a gift to me too today. It lifted my spirits and gave me faith in humanity!
  8. The reason I haven't blogged in a while--both on this blog and The Be Ok Blog--is because I am currently working on a book about all of my camp experiences from camper to counselor. At this point, I've written 26,000 words and it's going great. The few people I've allowed to read it so have loved it. My plan is to finish it by the end of this year and start sending it to literary agents who I've already researched. I've already published a short story in it on my blog called The Ouija Board that you can read. Also the Be Ok Blog is currently being put on hold right now until Delaney gets back from her mission. Squarespace requires that I pay $95.00 to keep it going another year and I just can't afford that right now. It saddens me that I have to let go of it for now, but I know it's for the best because it was stressing me out too much. So, that's why you may not find the website right now. I apologize for this.

    I can't wait for people to read this book I'm writing because I have some crazy camp stories. 
  9. And on the weekends I've been incredibly fortunate to visit friends and family in both Oregon and Montana.
    Portland, Oregon. I hung out with eleven friends that day. I'm laughing here because I spent too much on stiff tofu. Haha!
Checking out my brother's new work as a commercial producer in Helena, Montana. So proud of him!  
Hiked Mount Helena. Super steep, but great view!
Visited the Cathedral of Saint Helena. Absolutely beautiful inside & out!
Well like I said life is great and I'm enjoying this adventure! Hope you are doing well too.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Camp Memoir: The Ouija Board Story


 I'm writing a memoir about all my camp experiences: from camper to CIT to counselor.

Here's one of my many crazy stories: The Ouija Board. 

Our yearly gatherings for staff training at the end of December prepared us in many ways—for example, how to conduct engaging lessons or what to do during an emergency—but it didn’t prepare me for the Ouija board incident. How could it? I suppose that’s part of the thrill of being a camp counselor, though, the element-of-surprise kind of nature the job brings.  

Before camp, I liked Ouija boards; I mean, from a distance that is. Passionate about ghost stories and exploring cemeteries, the idea of being able to communicate with the dead intrigued me. As a pretty sheltered kid, however, I stayed clear from any and all horror films, only sticking to the Disney classics. My entire world view, for that matter, was still viewed through a happy-go-lucky Disney-like lens, so for some reason I didn’t think Ouija boards were nearly as bad as people made them out to be.

For instance, when I was about ten-years-old, my Nana and I were browsing items at a nearby garage sale, stuff like unwanted clothes, books, and furniture were up for sale. Nothing really screamed out Buy me! until our eyes landed on a worn-out box containing a Ouija board. Smiling, my grandmother reached out for it when an elderly woman beside us with Harry Potter-like spectacles and a cross hanging around her neck coughed in that look-over-here sort of way. We did. With wrinkled, liver-spotted arms crossed tightly across her chest and a flash of warning in her eyes, she told us, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“No?” Nana replied.
“That’s a portal for…” the woman paused, looking left and then right before answering in a harsh whisper, “demons.” 
“Oh ok,” Nana said. “Thank you for letting us know.”
We still bought it. 

Although my Nana’s atheistic rejection of demons comforted me in that I believed nothing terrible would occur, an undeniable shiver zipped down my spine each time I reached into her closet for a fun family game and saw the Ouija board hovering over me, like a cat about to pounce on its prey. I did play it eventually. Just once though with my friend Hannah, but after arguing over who was really pushing the planchette around we ended it shortly and, in all honesty, to my relief. That was the extent of my relationship with it, until the summer of my sixteenth year. 

Lil camper Amanda. 
With two years of CIT experience under my belt, I was confident in my abilities as a leader—maybe overconfident. Everything flowed swimmingly that first day until later that night. After attending to my hygienic needs, I entered the Yurt to discover all eight girls huddled at the center of the floor, surrounding something apparently very entertaining. Their whispers and giggles led me to assume that it was one of two things, either pictures of boyfriends—which I could easily extinguish—or perhaps a fun game of Uno. (Side note: I love Uno.) As I peered over their shoulders, however, I discovered that it was not Uno as you can probably imagine—no, instead it was a Ouija board. (Dun, dun, DUN!) 
“Oh,” I gasped, taking two steps back. What was the protocol for this? I panicked, searching my memory for training sessions in which to apply this to, but nothing came to mind, nothing except for that woman-from-the-garage-sale’s voice leaked into my consciousness, warning me: That’s a portal for demons! “Um, yeah, I don’t think we should be playing this,” I informed the girls. 
“Noooo!” they whined in unison. “How come?”
“It’s not…” I began, my voice trailing off as I struggled to compose a sentence that didn’t involve the word demons in it. 
“Please?” they begged, pathetically batting their eyelashes and pouting their lips.  
There’s this precarious teeter-totter relationship between being a camper’s friend and their leader. Even to this day, I struggle with it because, of course, I want my campers or the kids I’m babysitting to like me, but at the end of the day I’m the one in charge and sometimes that means putting a foot down; this gets easier with more experience, but at fifteen I still teetered toward wanting to be their friend rather than stepping into a leadership role, especially since most of them neared my age anyway. 
“Well, I guess it’s ok as long as you ask it PG questions,” I caved.
“Yay!” they cheered, focusing on the board once again. 
I smiled, thankful we could compromise, when one girl asked in the creepiest voice possible, “Is someone going to die tomorrow?” 
“That is not a PG question!” I squealed. 
Instead of halting the game, they only giggled quietly, the planchette gliding their fingers this way and that way until it finally landed on the Yes. Everyone gasped, including me. Silently, we glanced around the circle, our eyes darting from person to person, wondering who among us would die tomorrow and how? A horseback riding accident or worse, murder
Now, with 20/20 hindsight I have to admit that that question was rather vague—Is someone going to die tomorrow?—of course, one of the seven billion people on the planet was going to die that following day, but this logical conclusion never occurred to us. 
The next morning the girls ate their breakfast with sullen expressions, possibly wondering if today was their last day to live. The camp director approached me in the food truck as I poured milk over my Cap’n Crunch cereal, asking, “What’s up with them?”
“Oh, I think they’re just tired,” I answered nonchalantly, screwing the lid back on the milk carton. In retrospect I should have brought the issue to her attention right then and there while we stood in private—maybe then the chaos that followed could have been avoided—but I didn’t. I thought I could handle it. After all, I was fifteen-years-old. 
“Yes,” she said, tilting her head sideways as she peered out the window at them, “first night is usually the hardest, but we’ll make them tired.” She laughed and then patted me on the back. 
“Yeah,” I chuckled, gulping down a bite of cereal as I roamed back to the girls’ table.
Luckily no one died that day (that we know of). 
Later that night, the girl who asked yesterday’s morbid question snagged the Ouija board, placed it in the center of the room, and declared, “I think we should play again!”
Yusss!” most cheered, while three remained nestled in their beds, reading a book or keeping silently to themselves in some other fashion. Their rigid, slightly titling postures, however, told me that they were still listening in. 
“Girls I really don’t think this is a good idea. Remember how freaked out we were last night and this morning?” I reminded them.
“But nothing happened today,” Morbid Questions girl stated matter-of-factly. 
“True, but…” 
She took this moment’s hesitation to dive right in and because I informed the group earlier that I’d probably undergo spinal surgery Morbid Questions girl asked, “Is Amanda going to survive her back surgery?”
“No!” I screamed. “Why’d you ask it that? That’s not PG.”
Popping her head up from the huddle of bodies, her eyebrows knitted together in a puzzled expression. “Well, you wanna know don’t you?”
How I felt. 
Not via Ouija board, I thought. 
My stomach twisted into knots as I watched the planchette slowly spiral around the board until thankfully it landed on the Yes. 
We all sighed. 
“Ok, seriously,” I warned them, nervously snapping my fingers, “it’s time for bed, especially since you haven’t been listening to me about asking it PG-rated questions.” 
“Oh, alright,” they grumbled. 
Even though the answer had been a yes, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t fall asleep that night. Unnerved, I kept peeking out of my sleeping bag, checking to see if the board game still lay at the center of the room where we left it. For some horrifying reason, it felt as though there were a person or an animal—something alive—sitting and like monitoring us all. 
That is a portal for demons! Her words haunted me. 
I wanted it gone. 

Luckily the girls were too exhausted from riding horses and mucking out stalls to play with the Ouija board the next couple of nights. Instead, it laid untouched at the center of the room, until one morning it shifted… 
At 5am I awoke to a piercing scream. Eyes flashing open, I jolted upright in my sleeping bag, my heart hammering against my ribcage. Across the room from me sat a quivering girl who kept pointing at the end of her bed, screaming, “It’s on me! It’s on me!” The sight sent a shiver down my spine. Perched on the foot of her bed was none other than the Ouija board. 
This news caused everyone to bolt upright, eyes wide with horror and mouths gaped open, they—like me—couldn’t believe what their eyes were witnessing. Whimpering now, the girl pulled her legs in toward her chest, trying to get away from the thing. 
“How the heck did it get there?” I asked.
“I don’t know!” she wailed. “Just get it off of me! Please!” 
Scrambling out of my sleeping bag, I jumped to my feet and darted over to her. As I picked up the Ouija board I felt disgusted, much like the feeling I get when cleaning up deposited gopher remains left in the garage from my cats, but instead I found a spot for it on top of the wooden shelves right next to the door that held our shoes. Shutting my eyes for a brief moment, I inhaled deeply, exhaled, and then turned around to face the girls. “Who did this?” I asked in a voice just barely louder than a whisper. 
Searching each one of their faces for hints of guilt, I tried to figure out the culprit’s identity. I didn’t care who did it I just wanted to know that someone—a person, not a demon—did it. However, I found no traces of guilt, only fear. 
Raising my eyebrows I asked, “No one?”
They shook their heads. 
“Ok, well,” I sighed , “let’s go back to sleep. Only two more hours until we have to get up.”
They nodded. 
I knelt beside the previously screaming girl before climbing back into bed. “You ok?” I asked. 
“Yes.” She nodded. “It just freaked me out.”
“Yeah, I bet,” I answered. “Freaked me out too. Let me know if you need to talk later.” 
“Ok. Thanks.”
No one fell back to sleep that morning. 

Too ashamed at that point, I still didn’t let the camp director know what was going on. I felt stupid for not telling her sooner, but I also wanted to handle this situation on my own like the almost-adult I was. Excuse after excuse, I told myself both she and I were too busy to discuss silly things like Ouija boards. In all honesty, I thought she would be mad at me and subsequently fire me, crushing all my counselor dreams, something I find both sad and hilarious now. A part of me hoped that the Ouija board madness was over, but of course, it wasn’t yet… 

After horseback riding that afternoon we came back to the Yurt to change into our swimsuits. Sweaty and coated in a thick layer of dust, I couldn’t wait to jump into the pool! It sounded so refreshing. 
As I strode inside the Yurt I noticed out of my peripheral vision that the Ouija board was missing. I glanced down at the floor, thinking that perhaps it fell off the wooden shelf, but it wasn’t there. As the girls filtered in behind me I did a quick scan of the room, but it was nowhere to be seen. 
Like strobe lights the word demons flashed in my brain repeatedly. 
Now I didn’t want anyone panicking, but at the same time I wanted to scream, “WHERE THE HELL IS THE OUIJA BOARD?” 

The girls were in such a cheerful mood, joking and giggling, as they prepared to change out of their dusty riding clothes and into their bathing suits that I prayed no one would notice its disappearance. 
I plopped onto my mattress pad when someone screamed, “It’s. In. My. Sleeping. Bag.” 
We all looked in the direction of the voice. It was the youngest of the group. She began pointing at her sleeping bag and yelled, “Amanda! Amanda! It’s in there.”
Rising to my feet, I marched over to the girl, plucked the Ouija board out of her sleeping bag, stomped to the center of the Yurt, dropped it there, and then slowly pivoted on my heel, looking each girl in the eyes before announcing through clenched teeth, “This has gotten way out of hand.”
“How’d it get there?” I pointed at the girl’s sleeping bag. 
“I don’t know!” the little girl whimpered. 
“No, I’m not asking you,” I answered in a softer tone. “I’m asking everyone.”
“Oh,” she murmured. 
“Why is the Ouija board magically appearing in people’s sleeping bags?”
No answer, instead my question was met with a horse’s whinny outside. 
“Someone needs to answer me,” I told them. “Who’s been moving it around?”
Again, no answer. 
“Because this has got to stop,” I told them, my voice shaking, “this is not ok.”
“Amanda, who could’ve had time to move it?”  Morbid Questions Girl asked. “We’ve all been together since this morning.”
Unfortunately that was true.
“Fine,” I answered, sighing. “Get your bathing suits on” 

CIT Amanda. 
On the last night of camp we prepared hobo stew and s’mores over the fire pit, but had to cut our cookout short due to the powerful winds that evening. It blew our hair in each other’s faces as we strolled back to the Yurt, making us laugh.
“Stop!” yelled one of the girls as I climbed the first porch step. 
Turning around, I asked, “What’s wrong?” I assumed she had fallen and perhaps needed the First Aid Kit.  
Listen,” she whispered. 
At first, the whooshing of wind and rustling of tree branches were the only things I managed to hear, but then it happened. 
A moan. 
From inside the Yurt. 
“Oh my god,” Morbid Questions Girl said. “Someone’s in there.”
All the girls, including myself, started freaking out. 
Then we heard it again. A very distinct moan. I suddenly pictured an old woman in a psych ward waddling down the corridors at night, the hallway lights above her flickering as a thunder and lightning storm brewed outside. 
“Ah, look!” screamed another girl. 
To the left of the door, the tarp that held the Yurt together starting pressing outwards—that’s right outwards, not inwards like it should have with the strong winds. 
“Oh no,” the first girl said. 
“What?” I asked. 
“The Ouija board is in there.” 
The youngest camper started to cry. 
Morbid Questions Girl tugged at my sleeve and said, “Amanda, you have to go in there and grab it.”
“What?” I squeaked. “Why?”
“Because you’re our counselor. You have to protect us.”
Dang it, I thought. She had a point. 
I summoned all the courage I could muster, inhaled a deep breath, and then marched up those staircases like the fearless woman I pretended to be. Kicking open the door, I bolted to the center of the room, stretched out my arms like Andy from the The Shawshank Redemption, and bellowed, “Spirits be gone!” 
Yep, that's the stance, except I wasn't smiling. I looked horrified. 
“Grab the Ouija board!” the girls yelled at me. 
I bent down to snatch it up and then sprinted out the door. 
“We need to get rid of it,” Morbid Questions Girl stated. 
“Uh-huh,” I agreed, out of breath. 
“I think,” one girl chimed in, “we should burn it.”
Several campers gasped, turning toward her like she was insane. 
“You can’t burn a Ouija board!” Morbid Questions Girl seethed. “Are you kidding me? That’s basically tempting Satan.”
“Well, maybe we can just keep it outside or something,” I suggested. “On the porch?”
They all agreed to this. 
It’s not a surprise that none of us slept well that night. 

The next day the campers went home and so did the Ouija board with Morbid Questions Girl. Thank God. I never knew what became of it—was it thrown in a dumpster, donated to Goodwill, or burned?—whatever the case may have been I was nevertheless thrilled about its absence. 
And I’ve never played since. 

Moral of the story: Tell the camp director about the Ouija board. It saves a lot of unnecessary trouble. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Concerts, Punchbowl Falls, & Other Adventures

Hello Friends!

This post is mostly an update of what I've been and will be up to.
  1. Chiropractor: Since returning home from camp I've seen the chiropractor 2-3 times a week. I'm on a couple new supplements and trying not to be in pain anymore (because pain really sucks), but I gotta tell you it's been frustrating because no matter what I do--yoga, walking, sleeping, driving, taking pain meds--I still seem to be in pain. Since this is the case and has been the case for a few months now, I'm in the process of scheduling a follow-up appointment with my surgeon down at Stanford.
  2. Concerts: I've seen 2 concerts this month and it's been a blast! I love listening to live music.
    1. George Ezra: Oh my goodness... George is beautiful and has a lovely voice. Saw him at the Crystal Ballroom with my old roommate Jamie Weisman who is back from her epic European adventure (we were one person away from being in the front row). 
      Took this pic with my iPhone from where I was standing. Close right?
      I love that his songs were inspired by his travels. You can listen to his songs below.

    2. 94.7 Birthday Bash: My favorite radio station has been on the air for 20 years now and they wanted to celebrate with a special concert that included 8 bands (Of Monsters and Men, Matt & Kim, Glass Animals, CAKE, Joywave, Chet Faker, Robert Delong, and Saint Motel). I joined my friend Ellen, her brother, and her brother's friends; luckily they got there early and saved me a spot at a table--otherwise sitting on the gravel (even with my towel) or standing for 11 hours would have seriously put me out of commission.

      My favorite bands were Saint Motel and Of Monsters & Men, which you can listen to below.

  3. Punchbowl Falls: I really shouldn't have, but I did. I hiked 4 miles (roundtrip) one day to Punchbowl Falls (a place I've always wanted to go) with my friend Ellen. It was a beautiful hike up the mountain trails, along precarious cliffs, and is a nice place to cool off in the summer. Ellen swam toward the falls. I didn't, but I definitely dipped my toes in. Next time I'll take a swim.

    Ellen (and I) hiking down the trail, back to the parking lot. 

    See, I went in the water! Isn't this spot beautiful?

    Random girl about to jump into the water. This waterfall is downstream from Punchbowl Falls. 

    I seriously can't wait to come back to this little piece of paradise. 
  4. Visiting Friends: I've been very fortunate to visit with my friends in between coming back from working in Utah and preparing to live in southern California for my internship. I've mostly gone out for coffee (or hot chocolate in my case), lunch, or done a LUSH run. Apparently one of my love languages is "Quality Time", so I'm incredibly thankful for the time I get to spend one-on-one with my friends. It means the world to me. Only wish Salem was closer to Portland.
    Archive Coffee with my wonderful friend Miriam. 

    Kristin and I treating ourselves to LUSH!
  5. Writing: It's going great! As you've probably noticed I've been blogging quite a bit lately, updating y'all on being a camp counselor in Utah as well as my past travels to Hawai'i and Tokyo, Japan. Also, I recently had an essay of mine titled "Road Kill Lady" published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back. And lastly, I started writing a memoir about all my crazy camp experiences; I'll probably complete it faster than something fiction of mine.
    Not gonna lie, I'm pretty proud. 

  6. Internship: Like I briefly mentioned earlier, first week of September I will temporarily move down to Southern California for an internship with Dr. Maria Corrada in her Alzheimer's research through University of California Irvine. I'm both nervous and excited for this next adventure! 
Well, that's about it!

Blog to you later!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Japanese Adventure

Hey there!
Updating y'all on another adventure I went on back in May: Tokyo, Japan. 

Senso-ji Temple 
Now some of you may be thinking: "How on earth does Amanda get to travel so much?" Which is a great question!
Answer: My parents work for the airlines, so I'm blessed with flight benefits. Here's the thing, though... they end when I'm 24, which is next year, so I'm using those bad boys up. (I seriously need a job in which I'm paid to travel, like a travel writer or something. That's the dream!) 

Now before I get too deep into this post I have some advice for y'all, especially those of you in college: Befriend foreigners! 

Seriously, it's the best gift ever. 

"Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends." ~Maya Angelou

I love meeting people from different countries, whether that's through my own travels or befriending exchange students at school. I love introducing foreigners to Portland and American culture as well as learning about their own culture. I love making them feel welcomed. 

During January of 2013 I was incredibly fortunate to befriend a Japanese girl name Natsuki at Latin America Night. (Yes, go to the cultural nights put on by your college. You never know who you are going to meet. I went to almost every single one at Portland State University and loved it!) My roommate Jamie and I became great friends with her, introducing her to Portland restaurants and concerts and even American sayings. 

One of my favorite conversations with her and Jamie went like this:
Jamie: Holy shit!
Natsuki: What doest that mean?
Me: Oh no, don't say that. You wanna say "Holy crap!". That's the PG version.
Natsuki: What is PG? 
Me: Oh, um, it's like, uh... the better version? Nicer wording?
Natsuki: Ok. Holy crap!

Summer of 2013: Natsuki & I hiked Silver Falls. 

Roommate Jamie and Natsuki accidentally matching. 
Me, Jamie, my other close friend Keiana, and Natsuki at the midnight release of Catching Fire. 
Hanging out with the band Superhighway (formerly known as The Ecstatics) at the Crystal Ballroom. 94 cent concert. 
We definitely cried saying farewell to her back in December of 2013. I promised I'd visit her in Japan one day! 

Then in 2014, I met three Japanese students (Ryoma, Mariko, & Takaho) at a friend's dorm, he was introducing them to the deliciousness of macaroni and cheese. After eating we ended up playing Apples to Apples which was lots of fun. I ended up becoming great friends with these three. I took them hiking, introduced them to quality hot chocolate, yummy restaurants, went to the fair, and concerts, too, of course!
At Off the Waffle in Portland. (From left to right) Ryoma, Me, Mariko, and Takaho. 
Always kicking my butt at ping pong. 
Mariko & I going up a hill I've named San Francisco hill. 
Introducing Ryoma & Mariko to the brilliance of Blue Star Donuts.  
Mariko taking a picture of Mt. Hood.  
I made them (no, I invited Takaho & Ryoma) to pick up trash with me on our walk. It poured on us.  
Takaho was in charge of the trash claw while I held the bag.  
Captial Cities in the pouring rain on the waterfront in Portland.   
At the fair. Enjoying fireworks. 
We also enjoyed taking creeper photos...
Our creeper photo is super strong here.
My last day with Mariko in the United States. December 2014. 
It was very sad to say goodbye to these three as well. I loved them all so much and didn't know when I was going to see them again. Little did I know, it'd be 5 months later!

I finished college in March of 2015 and spent most of April traveling: France, England, and Hawai'i. Each time I arrived home I craved another adventure. I honestly wasn't sure if I was going to make it out to Japan since I had to coordinate with four people and figure out where to stay, but in the end the trip happened and thank the Lord I was able to see all four of my friends! 

Taken in the Seattle airport. Waiting for my flight to Japan. Cracked open a new journal & sipped on a delicious soy chai latte. 
I left May 11th, landing in a typhoon and then waking up the next morning to an earthquake. Welcome to Japan! 
Mariko's family was incredibly generous and let me stay at their house for the week. Here is where I slept. This was taken right after arriving at her house from the airport (1am). I'd been up for 24 hours at that point and was exhausted. 
That first night I took a shower and after planning out where I wanted to visit in Tokyo with Mariko I went to sleep.

The next day Mariko and I took the metro to her school, met up with Ryoma, and then explored the Senso-ji Temple, a very touristy area. Other than the touristy areas I was pretty much the only non-Japanese person around. Also, I'm tall, so I definitely stood out. Haha!
My favorite sign from the metro. 
Below is a vlog I made about our adventure to the Senso-ji Temple.

Here's what my Eyewitness Travel book I picked up in Seattle says about the Senso-ji Temple: "Rebuilt countless times since its founding in 628, Senso-ji is the oldest temple site in Tokyo and the capital's spiritual epicenter. The current temple, dedicated to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, is a fireproof replica of an earlier version built in 1612. One of the liveliest spots in the city, it's grounds attract throngs of visitors who come to pray inside its cavernous main hall with its opulent, golden altar and priceless collection of 18th and 19th-century votive entertainment district. Here, the murmur of chanting sutras, flickering candles and clouds of incense co-exist with a lively trade in religious souvenirs, trinkets, and traditional foods."

As you'll see in the vlog we passed by this giant bronze incense burner. Ryoma told me to cup the smoke into my hands and onto my head, said it would make me smarter. The book says, "...wafting the smoke over [your] clothes [is] good luck." 

Ryoma, Mariko, and I at the Senso-ji Temple. 
Later we met up with Takaho and ate some delicious ramen.

Seriously, so delicious.
I was super thankful to visit Japan with the guidance of my Japanese friends because traveling can be stressful, especially when doing simple things like going to a restaurant. There are different customs that--if you don't speak the language or know what to do--can be paralyzing. For instance at this ramen restaurant before taking a seat you have to insert money into a machine, pick out which meal you'd like, out pops a coin, sit down, hand the waitress the coin, and then she brings your food to you. Yeah, totally wouldn't have known this without their help. 

Below is a video of almost all the food I ate in Japan. 

Because I stayed at Mariko's house her family fed me breakfast and dinner so I ended up spending less than 300 dollars on the whole trip! Each morning I had freshly made carrot juice, hot tea, sticky rice with some sort of meat and vegetables. Her mom is an excellent cook!

After the ramen restaurant we went to the Tokyo National Museum. 
Reunited with my three buds. 
Takaho and me. 
This next video is of all three of us browsing through the museum and then later exploring the fish markets.

Oh man... those phallic looking geoducks gave us a good laugh. 

Then next day, while Mariko was in school Ryoma and I went to the Tokyo Tower, which is basically like a red and white Eiffel Tower. It's cool because like I said earlier I went to France, so I got to experience both towers. 

On the Eiffel Tower. 
In the Tokyo Tower. 
Before going up the Tokyo Tower. 
The next day Mariko was in school for 3 hours so she suggested I go to the Kokyo Gaien National Gardens, an area known for being in front of the Imperial Palace. However, it was unfortunately closed that day, so at first I had no idea what to do, but I found a Modern Art Museum nearby and had a lovely time admiring some paintings.

Here is that video. 

That night, we met up with my good pal Natsuki. Natsuki is a fancy business woman now who bought our desserts for us. 
Enjoying my green tea ice cream. 
Introduced Mariko to Natsuki. Also this is the dessert I forgot to film before I ate it in that video. 

Then Mariko took me to Tokyo Station, which is a beautiful building made of red bricks. We were there at night and enjoyed the lights of the city. In this next video, we went up to the very top of one of the buildings to look out the window.

Gorgeous view of the city at Tokyo Station. 

Tokyo Station. 

The following day Mariko and I went to Tokyo Disneyland! (Which is much cheaper than regular Disneyland. We went for half the day and it was only $55.00.)

Here I am in front of the Tower of Terror. 
Then on my last day we went to a shrine! Sadly I forgot the name, but it was really beautiful.
You can watch the video below.

There we ate the best green tea soy ice cream I've ever had the pleasure of tasting.  

Then at some point I had to go home, but guess who piloted the 747 I flew on? 
Answer: My step-dad Mike!

It was the first time he was the pilot of a commercial airplane I flew. We flew to Hawai'i for two days and then flew home. 

Here is the video. (Most of it is just me being clueless in the airport and keeping myself entertained since I was in there for such a long time.) 

Mike and Me. 
Playing in the waves at Waikiki. 

Japan was a blast and I can't wait to go back!

Every night I thanked God in my journals for all the blessings in my life. I'm beyond grateful for my friends and family and for the incredible adventures I've been fortunate enough to go on. 

Blog/vlog to you later!