Yaquina Head Light and Natural Area // Oregon

Yaquina Head Light on the Oregon coast is not just a beautiful place to take in ocean views, but a great location for spotting wildlife. Both whales and seals can be found here, depending on the season.

the August weather in Taipei has been even more of a sweat box than usual. at least that's the excuse I'm giving for not getting out to do much of anything since I've been back in Taiwan. I could also give the excuse that I'm sitting on thousands of photos from my travels over the past year - Turkey, Czech Republic, Vietnam, and of course my road trip through the Pacific Northwest. of all those options... I think I'd prefer the cool weather of the Oregon coast in May.

and so, we end up at the Yaquina Head Light and Outstanding Natural Area. [and yes, that is literally the name of the park.]

I mentioned before that I visited a lot of lighthouses this summer. [you'll probably be sick of them by the time I'm done sharing my travels. or if you're into charming towers and ocean views... maybe not.] of all 12 that I saw -- Yaquina Head had the most amount of things to see, in addition to the actual light.

the point of land where the lighthouse stands is situated in an ideal location for whale watching, if you're there in the right season. you can also hike a trail to the top a a nearby hill for views up and down the Oregon Coast. we sadly missed out on the whales, and had already done a major hike that morning. but -- nearby the light is also a fantastic vantage for spotting some other sea creatures: seals!

these seals were sunning themselves in a cove just to the south of the light. the nearest one had just woken from a nap and started to splash around and wave for our cameras. they were so cute! I had a hard time dragging myself away, but we still had more of the park to explore before it got too late.

the tide pool area is sometimes closed off due to baby seal pups [I would probably die from the cuteness] but we were just a bit early in the season. we were free to wander the rocky beach and peer at anemones in the pools. there were plenty more adult seals out on the far rocks, but we couldn't get very close.

if you do venture to the tide pools, please be careful where you strep. one: you don't want to squish any of the sea life. two: the beach is made up of golfball and baseball-sized rocks and is extremely difficult to walk on.

the park also has another cove for spotting seals [we saw one but he swam away too fast] and a freshly renovated interpretive center with restrooms and exhibits. while the lighthouse itself was not my favorite that we saw, the park overall was impressive. there is enough to see on Yaquina Head that you could spend a whole day visiting.

I have to admit that I laughed when I first read this was named "Outstanding Natural Area" but having visited and seen so much wildlife and such gorgeous views... it's hard to argue otherwise.

visiting the park

a $7 vehicle entry fee will admit you for 3 days to the Yaquina Head area. since the park is run by the Beaurau of Land Management [and not the State or National Parks systems] any annual passes for other parks will not work. if you want to tour the lighthouse, check the park's website for times and information. you can also find more information on the tide pools, seals, and whale migrations.


my expat story: year 2

though technically my second year as an expat began while I was still in the US for summer, I finally made it back to Taiwan in October. by the end of my time in America I was starting to really miss Taiwan. my summer had been fantastic but I was happy to soak in all the dumplings and dragons again.

that fall, we had to make a decision about whether or not to renew our contract. it was a serious struggle for us. at the end of our first year in Taiwan, I didn't think we would stay beyond our 2 year contract. I liked Taiwan. but it was still challenging to adjust, especially coming back after a summer and fall spent in Michigan with friends, family, and easily accessible food for all my allergy needs.

the international teaching scene is strange. hiring begins so far in advance that you have to make up your mind in November about what you want to do the following August. we decided to sign on for one more year with our school in Hsinchu, with the intent to start searching for another international destination. and then we tried to make the best of the time we had left -- and succeeded immensely.

I decided to be brave and announce that I was writing a book. and though that project [a travel memoir about moving to Taiwan] has been shelved for now, I worked diligently on my manuscript for months and ended up with a pretty solid first draft. I'm working on a fiction novel now, but those early days of deciding to write and just going for it are still very dear to me. the energy I had was amazing.

the fall was pretty much a blur of writing. Thanksgiving passed with what would become an annual potluck dinner, and for Christmas we ordered a turkey and made a feast of side dishes. 2013 really ended on a high note for me. I had a year's worth of memories to look back on thanks to completing a 52 weeks photo project, and I even went so far as to make a list of reasons I was awesome that year.

at the start of 2014 I was totally crushing on both the blog and book front, in between substitute teaching and tutoring some teachers in English conversation. looking back -- I have no idea how I was getting so much done at once. but when Chinese New Year hit my productivity was derailed. I can't really regret it though, since I made some incredible travel memories instead.

we spent 10 days in Bali, which was a bit of a mixed bag. [I blame Pinterest for giving me unrealistic expectations.] we drank mongoose poop coffee and braved a jungle full of evil monkeys in order to feast upon mexican food nearly every day. we took an incredibly delicious cooking class, and were disappointed by the touristy Tanah Lot. we only went to the beach once, but spent plenty of time at our lovely hotel's pool.

if nothing else, the packing list post I wrote for that trip is still crazy pinterest popular.

my friend Kelsey came to visit Taiwan and we had a girls getaway to Taroko Gorge. hotel robes, rooftop hot tub soaks, hiking through one of the most beautiful places on earth... it was a dream. we also traipsed all over Taipei and just generally had a damn good time. it was lovely to see a familiar face, but even more to find our travel styles were so compatible and our friendship still easy as it used to be.

I decided that for my 29th birthday I wanted to go to Tokyo Disney, so we did. and it was so. much. fun. Husband and I spend a long weekend stuffing our faces with curry popcorn, hunting for hidden Mickeys, and smiling until our faces hurt. we went in to actual Tokyo too... and randomly stumbled into a famous street festival. but mostly it was all about the Disney magic.

my brother came to visit after his college graduation. we chased waterfalls [well, and I fell into a river] and scooted to all my favorite weird spots in Hsinchu. we saw tigers swimming at the zoo [because Taiwan is ultra roasty in June] and visited a cat cafe for the first time.

and then that summer, Husband and I flew back to America and criss-crossed the country for a series of weddings and family visits. Detroit, Mackinaw, San Diego, Austin. it was both amazing, and exhausting. and at the end of it I was so ready to go back to Taiwan.

after the novelty of the first year abroad wore off, I was left just trying to build a life. some days I crushed it. I went full throttle into both my manuscript and pushing my blog into the travel/expat community. we had some amazing travels, and fantastic times with visiting friends and family. it was a year of extreme personal growth. and for the most part: I was in love with my life.

but some days sucked. they were hard. I was homesick and lonely and confused about what I wanted to do with my life and I cried. in fact, there were some days that I hated Taiwan. but my struggles helped me to grow and become more open and honest in my writing:

"there are days in Taiwan where I feel helpless, even hopeless. those are the days I visit six different grocery stores in hopes of finding an onion that is neither moldy nor mushy... and I fail. the days where I feel so homesick I start looking at real estate in Michigan, the days I would kill to have a real oven or a dryer or - please! - a dishwasher, the days that I want to pull my hair out because between the humidity and my helmet what's the point of having hair anyway?

and then there are the days [like today] where despite all that you find a way to make it work.

it's true that more often here than before I have days that seem incredible, grand, and wondrous. but in between the highs and the lows there's mostly just... life."

year 2 milestones

started writing my memoir
took a Balinese cooking class
caved and bought smartphones
created a blog sponsorship program
completed a 52 weeks project
Starbucks followed me on twitter
did not freak out about turning 29
washi tape everything
navigated the Taipei bus system
survived the monkey forest
learned css to design my blog
many scoot adventures

4 countries traveled


a few favorite posts

decide that you want it
how I was awesome in 2013
29 // birthday reflections
some days I hate Taiwan
a letter to my pre-expat self
create a life you love
23 fun facts + travel stories
don't be afraid of your own splash


of patterns and puzzles

coming back to Taiwan every year is an adjustment, and this summer it feels more so than most. we've only been back a few days and I'm still in the thick of trying to create a new routine. I desperately want this year to be better than the last. blogging, writing, gym time, yoga, healthy eating, socializing... all these pieces I'm trying to put together. but the weight of this past year is almost crushing. on top of [or more likely made worse by] my food and health issues, I've been struggling with depression and anxiety. that may not be a pretty thing to share, but it's honest.

several people have suggested to me that I should write about my food issues on this blog. I reacted quite negatively to that suggestion because I don't want this blog to be about my struggles with food, any more than I want my life to be about my struggles with food. this is not the thing I want to define me. but it is a part of my journey. and though I don't think I will write about it often, just locking away that part of my story and trying to ignore it doesn't feel right either.

almost exactly a year ago, I had just returned from Vietnam and was on the cusp of falling victim to a C. Diff infection that would rule the next 9 months of my life. it took 3 months and 4 doctors to figure out what was wrong. I was very sick. I became a social hermit. I lost a lot of weight. [which -- many people felt the need to comment on how great I looked, without understanding, and it just felt like a backhanded compliment.] I fought to get better. it took another 3 months to heal myself to a point where I could go to the gym and start rebuilding my strength. and 3 months after that before my system returned to a semblance of normalcy. [which for me includes an absurd number of food allergies and intolerances, but at least I could eat more than rice and plain chicken.]

then I spent a month this summer visiting doctors back in the states, trying to sort out all my digestive issues. the short story is: my C. Diff is gone, my system is generally in good health, but my food allergies and intolerances are still unexplained.

the longer version involves allergy testing for 28 food items and 12 insect venoms. blood tests and biopsies for Celiac's. breath testing for lactose, sucrose, and glucose malabsorption. a full endoscopy and colonoscopy. and the low-fodmap diet on top of my usual no gluten/soy/egg/nut/shellfish diet on top of some truly ridiculous restrictions recommended by the gastroenterologist.

I am grateful that my insides proved to be healthy. I am relieved that I do not have Celiac's or Crohn's or some other seriously damaging condition. but I am beyond frustrated that there was no clear answer as to why certain foods make me feel unwell. I am angry there is no explanation for why these issues began, or why they worsened exponentially 2 years ago. and I'm almost disappointed that  with all the testing and diet changes this summer, I have yet to discover any new foods that cause significant issues.

now I'm back in Taiwan. without any real answers. trying to adjust and figure out what I can eat. it feels like my life has been on hold since I got sick last summer. after everything I've been through this past year, it is -- demoralizing -- to think that I'm in the same place. that I have nothing to show for my troubles, other than an increased list of restricted foods.

it is tempting to let that statement stand. it would be all to easy to accept a reality where I was a victim of a terrible year [I was] and to believe that year was a complete waste of my life [it wasn't.] just because it didn't go as planned, I didn't achieve all that I hoped and wanted, does not make the time meaningless.

I've studied enough about writing to know that in the best stories, the heroine gets the crap kicked out of her. over and over, worse and worse. things get dark and ugly to the point where even the reader doubts she will reach her goal. but just when the heroine seems to be finished -- you realize that this is not the end. there's more to the story. and then, of course, she rises up from the ashes, solves the big mystery, and crushes her enemies in a blaze of power and redemptive glory. [at least in the books I like to read, anyway.]

I'm not there yet. but with all the struggles of the past year, physical and mental, I have to hope that things will get better. and I'm doing what I can to control my fate and make things better. I'm pushing through my jet lag, organizing my closets and unpacking. trying new foods and finding workable recipes. making time for both the gym and catching up with friends. things are still in process -- but I have the pieces I need to assemble a life that keeps me happy and healthy.

this is not the end. there's more to my story. and someday soon, I know I'll figure the puzzle out.

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