life lesson #32: you can't pack everything

greetings from the beautiful Pacific Northwest! I'm currently road tripping through Washington and Oregon with my parents and brother, but popping in because it's become a bit of a birthday tradition to post something around this date. while this blog is turning 5 years old next week [holy cow has it really been that long?] I myself am turning 32 today [I'm not sure how that one happened either.]

I always end up posting something wierd. like musings on vintage poems I found in my Grandma's old diary, blurry selfies and gummy bear photos from Taroko, announcing I need a blog break, or just making a list because that's what Jamies do best.

through the process of getting ready to head back to America for summer [and now that I'm on a 3 week road trip] I've been thinking a lot about packing and pre-travel anxiety, and about the things we have to leave behind. for almost 5 years I've been doing this strange split life. making a home in Taiwan, then leaving for a month or two each summer. trying to spend the school year sorting out what it is I want to do with my time, making a list of what I want to accomplish... and then panicking each year before I leave at all that is left undone.

this year, my to-do list that did-not is longer than ever. I spent last March through May adjusting to new food restrictions, then June and July traveling Europe and Asia. August through October I was wretchedly ill and trying to figure out why, and November through March were all about recovering and rebuilding. and now... it's already April and I'm another year older. some days it feels like a wasted year.

but as much as I fear that might be true, I know that it isn't. the work I've done this year was not what I planned, but that doesn't make it worthless. the things that I left undone, maybe weren't meant for me to finish.

a few weeks ago Lauren shared a quote on instagram that has been rattling around in my mind:

"maybe the journey isn't so much about becoming anything. maybe it's about unbecoming everything that isn't really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place."

to me - that means sometimes there are things we have to leave behind. as we ramble along in this life, we bump into things. sometimes they are hard things, and it hurts. sometimes it breaks off a little piece of who are are - and we have to let go of it to move forward. as much as you may sometimes want to, you can't take it with you. there's not room to carry it all.

both litererally and metaphorically: you can't pack everything.

sometimes you write out your packing list months in advance. you consult friends and online packing guides. you update and edit as the departure draws near, shifting your list for the weather and planned activities. you text your BFF asking for advice. you color coordinate everything to work together. and then you neatly fold it all and set it in your suitcase a week in advance.

and still, 5 minutes before the car arrives to take you to the airport, you find yourself chucking things out because you're over weight and out of space.

it doesn't matter where you're going or how long you'll be there. it happens to me every single time, no mater what. the realization that: you can't pack everything.

your husband tries to reassure you that he can bring anything you need later, or you can just buy it when you get there. [little does he know that the nearest Target to SeaTac will be extremely picked over, and your dad has an itinerary to stick to - which does not involve detouring to a mall - so you'll go 3 days without being able to find any warm leggings and freeze your bum off in the meantime.]

but at least said husband will make sure you bring your hat, even though you don't want to, because it will save you from frostbite. and at least said dad will let you make two stops in sporting stores when driving from Port Townsend to Forks, until you find some pants appropriate for 40 degree weather. and you'll end up wearing both of them pretty much non stop, because the Olympic Peninsula is gorgeous but freezing [at least compared to Taiwan.]

sometimes, to shed our skin and grow, we have to encounter something rough. I'm pretty sure that when I slipped on some driftwood and banged up my shin from knee to ankle the other day, I left a significant piece of myself on Ruby Beach. not to mention the photos I missed out on when my camera battery died 2 seconds later because my [fully charged] spare was sitting a 30 minute drive away in our airbnb.

but. despite the bruises and the battery, an hour later I was climbing back on the driftwood of another beach, smiling and taking photos of scenery just as beautiful.

I could lie and tell you that at 32, I've got it all figured out and my life lessons learned. but I don't. to be completely honest - I doubt that will ever happen. but I can say that I feel at least a little bit wiser, and the whole not knowing thing bothers me less than it used to.

and I suppose if the last year has taught me anything [or even just the last week] it would be this: you can't pack everything, but sometimes what you leave behind... isn't really necessary.


walking Prague

I fell in love with Prague the moment I watched the sun set over the steeples of Náměstí Míru, after a long day of physically and emotionally draining travel. the sky was filled with pinks and purples and oranges and I... just leaned out the window and watched.

last summer, we spent a week staying with friends in Prague. one of the smartest things we did was to take a walking tour of the city early in our trip. [we did the free tour with Sandeman's and then the paid Prague Castle tour - and no, this isn't a sponsored post though I would recommend their tours.] while it was fun to learn about the history of the city, the main benefit was learning how to navigate our way through Prague on foot.

the tour began in Old Town - the square and surrounding streets are full of historic structures that draw crowds of visitors. I could give you the google guidebook version of the info on these buildings... but let's just enjoy ourselves a photo essay today. [honestly, with skies so blue and buildings so lovely, I missed half the things our guide said.]

several charming alleys and whimsical doorway details later, we found ourselves at the river. we had a lunch break [and a selfie break] and then we were off for castles, cathedrals, and sweeping city views.

[the free tour conveniently ends right where the castle tour begins. you travel across the river on the tramway, and up to the castle.]

these pictures make my heart pitter-patter. Prague oozes character and charm, but it also has a "vibe" that feels distinctly Czech. it's the kind of place you imagine yourself living in, hoping you'll come back to. our tour showed us the city, and the rest of our trip we were free to explore while still feeling like we knew where we were going.

which was ideal - since Prague is a perfect city for wandering the streets for endless hours with no particular destination, just because the walk is so beautiful.


the struggles of an author-in-progress

today, I was asked my least favorite question on earth: so, what do you do?

usually this comes up when meeting new people. often it is assumed that I am a teacher, since my husband is a teacher, many foreigners living in Taiwan are teachers, and 90% of the people we hang out with are also teachers. BUT I am not a teacher [believe me, I tried it.] and once that's cleared up, I have to answer the question.

my response will vary from day to day, conversation to conversation. sometimes I will proudly declare "I'm a writer!" and the immediate follow-up is "cool, what have you published?" and then when I explain "nothing yet" I have to watch the person's face as they mentally disqualify me from being an actual writer.

there are days when I opt for the "I'm a travel blogger, but I'm also working on a manuscript for a novel" version of my life summary. sometimes this prompts blogger eye rolls, but usually people will ask for my website and then look it up while I'm awkwardly still standing there. I've realized though - nowadays people assume when I say "travel blogger" it means I get free stuff and fly first class and stay in fancy places for writing reviews. um, no.

and then, if I've been having a shit week and lacking confidence I go into full self-depreciation mode. "well, technically nothing. I don't get paid, but I have a travel blog. I've been working a a book too, though I haven't made much progress lately." which at best leads to an awkward change in subject and maybe worst the "wow it must be nice to have so much free time! I wish I didn't have to work."

I work - really hard - and I don't get paid. some days my work is 1,200 words [or 200] of a new scene in my novel, some days it's spilling my guts in a blog post like this. some days my work is culling and editing photos, making painful 1st to 3rd person revisions, reading someone else's work, or asking Google questions that make me look like a serial killer.

some days my work is just getting out of the house and away from my computer so my well of creativity doesn't dry out and my brain doesn't shrivel up like a raisin.

there is no one to hold me accountable except myself. I don't have a contract or a deadline, an agent or a publisher. someday, I hope to. and maybe a best-selling debut novel with a major publisher that leads to a 5 book deal with a nice advance.

the truth is, I may never have any of it. but I have to find the motivation to keep trying, to keep writing, anyway.

I know that not everyone who asks me what I do responds like I've outlined above. I have a husband, family, and friends who have been incredibly supportive of my writing. in some ways it's like any other job - I have good days and bad days. there are times when it's easy to know in my heart that I'm doing the right thing. but sometimes, I struggle with doubts. sometimes, well-meaning people will ask how my writing is going and the answer is: terribly.

then again... sometimes the answer is awesome and it leads to a 20-minute discussion about historical vampire fiction, strong female leads, and weird science 💚


hiking Keelung Mountain

hiking Keelung Mountain in Jiufen, Taiwan

I have a small obsession with mountains. whenever I go someplace new and take in the scenery, my first thought is: can I climb that?

in the case of Keelung Mountain, the green giant that rises up next to the adorable town of Jiufen, the answer is YES. as is typical in Taiwan, this mountain goes by several names. I have seen it referred to as Keelung or Jilong mountain [also Keelong] but 基隆山 was first described to me as the literal translation of "chicken cage mountain."

when you arrive in Jiufen by bus, the first thing you probably notice is the massive temple roof at eye level. then your eyes drift off towards the blue ocean, and over to the large green hill peeking from behind the bright buildings. and when the views are this fantastic from the bus stop - you know they'll be phenomenal from atop the mountain.

the mountain is only 588 meters tall, but since it towers next to the sea, it feels a lot higher. or possibly - because this hike is literally just climbing stairs for half an hour up.

I have actually made this hike before. last summer, I visited Jinguashi with Anna and her friend. while we had gone to check out the "golden waterfall" we decided to climb Mount Keelung on a whim. it ended up being super sweaty and full of bugs but as you can see from Anna's post of our hike the views were still gorgeous. [I have photos from that day, but they've been swallowed by my hard drive.]

our weather for the hike this time around was perfect - mid 60's and plenty of sunshine. when we reached the top, we initiated a new hiking tradition: the summit cider. as we passed around our lukewarm can, there was nothing but smiles. [ok maybe a few handstands, a lots of photos.]

Keelung Mountain is very exposed - there isn't any shade and the wind can be quite gusty coming off the ocean. [if you can't tell by our hair.] I would definitely recommend wearing sunscreen and bringing an extra layer, in addition to snacks and water to accompany your summit cider.

my legs were definitely shaking by the time we made it back down, but the views were totally worth it. along the main route there are three pavilions and three viewing decks all equipped with benches where you can take a rest. and as a bonus: after your hike you can wander over to Jiufen Old Street to relax in a teahouse or grab some snacks.

how to get there

travel to Jiufen via the 1062 bus from Taipei, and walk up the main road until you see a stone marker for the trail entrance. you can also take the TRA to Ruifang and reach Juifen by bus or cab.

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