Look In Your Own Backyard

Look In Your Own Backyard

A good vacation doesn't have to break the bank!

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Abundant free time and empty pockets are not great partners in a grand vacation. Or are they? Curiosity bloomed like flowers as I watched birds flying from the woods behind my house to the feeders hanging from the roof over the deck.

I sprang into action. A major shift in perspective was needed. Unwittingly, I equated vacations with locations far from home and considerable expense. With my laptop in hand, I searched for things to do in my own backyard – Southern Illinois. Despite having grown up here, I found many unfamiliar places.

Illinois, aka the Prairie State, would be described by most who have driven its roads as a flat plain filled with vibrant green corn fields. A trip off the beaten path to explore the less familiar reaped a treasure trove of hills, caves, forests, and sandstone and limestone cliffs and rock formations.

Vacations should be quests that take us to places that are beautiful, unfamiliar, and strange. I narrowed my choices down to those that fit that description and met the other all-important requirement – they must be free. I decided to spend a weekend hiking and exploring the hills and trails in the Shawnee National Forest – the same hills and trails explored by Lewis and Clarke!

I set out on the first morning for Larue Pine Hills. I began my hike up Inspiration Trail, a trail that stretches 1¾ mile from Pine Hills Road to the bluffs of Inspiration Point. The early morning air was crisp. A partially cloudy blue sky canopied a tree-lined trail. Dried leaves crunching underfoot, and chirping birds created a rhythm as I walked.

I carried my backpack (compass, map, water, extra shirt, first aid kit…) and Canon DSLR, and I walked at a slow but steady pace. About 30 minutes into my walk I stopped to rest and take pictures. I sat on a small round boulder near the trail, listening and watching. The smells of the forest and nearby Mississippi River were intoxicating. I heard a rhythmic knocking sound. The leaves of the trees were so thick that it was difficult to locate the origin of the sound, so I put the zoom lens on my camera and used it as binoculars. The scarlet redhead and black and white body were unmistakable. It was a red-headed woodpecker. I focused and snapped several photos.

I continued up the trail as it wound through the lush green forest and climbed toward the limestone bluffs of Inspiration Point. Animals were talking to each other – birds singing and squirrels chirping. Suddenly, a brown rabbit scampered across the trail with a red fox following closely behind. Taken by surprise, I stood there cursing under my breath that I had missed getting that picture.

I reached the basin of the bluff and climbed up to Inspiration Point. I was in awe of the beauty that lay before me as I gazed down the cliff at the sprawling lush green trees and undulating hills of the Shawnee Forest and meandering Mississippi River. I sat down on the bluff and let the peace close over me. Again, I used my zoom lens as binoculars. I saw heron and egrets along the shores of the river.

I sat there for an hour, entranced. Just as I stood up to say goodbye a bald eagle soared over the forest. I raised my camera as the majestic bird turned and flew toward the bluff. I snapped the photo at the moment that the eagle turned and tilted its wings as if to say goodbye.

My curiosity bloomed like flowers, and my search reaped a treasure trove of things I can do when I have abundant free time and empty pockets. You, too, should look in your own backyard.

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To The Girl Who Hasn't Been Herself Lately

Your spark return, and you will shine like you were meant to.
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Life gets tough. Life gets too much to handle sometimes, and those times make you stronger. However, right now, it seems like you have lost yourself.

It’s difficult when you catch yourself not being you. When you do something or act a certain way and just wonder, “what did I do to deserve this? Why is this happening? When will it get better?” The way you’re feeling is not so much that you’re unhappy, you just feel weird.

Your day will come. I promise you. This is just a phase.

The day you realize how much you have grown from this point in time will be your reward. It is so hard to see now, and I feel your pain.

Your light will return to you. Your pure bliss moments, they are seeking you. Your laughter where your tummy aches is in your reach.

Our moods change far too often for us as humans to understand why, but the encounters you make every day have this effect on us.

You must remember the pure happiness you experienced before your first heartbreak, before the first friend became someone you thought they weren’t, before you lost your innocence. That was a time of true joy as you had not a care in the world for the things that would harm you. Better yet, you didn’t have the option to experience them because you were just a child.

The world can be an ugly place, and your attitude towards life can change every day. One thing is for certain: you did not lose who you are internally. We all put on a face for the world. For the people who we try to impress. For the life we want to live. For the things we want to achieve.

Your definitive personality is still in the works. Believe it or not, it always will be. Times like this change us for the better even though we can’t see it.

Your happiness will return. You will be a better, stronger version of you. In fact, you will be the best version of you yet.

Once this phase is over, you will be okay. This I promise you.

Cover Image Credit: Megan Sutton

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9 Things To Do In Nashville If You Have No Idea What To Do

Trust me, I was just as lost as you are.

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Nashville is a great place packed full of lots of really cool smaller great places that all offer their own unique take on the city. If you're like me, though, and have a hard time ~planning ahead~, then this list is exactly what you need. I went around and got lost and tried all the coolest hidden gems in Nashville so you don't have to. Here are some of my faves.

1. Milk & Honey Nashville

Located in the Gulch, Milk & Honey is the coffee shop/cafe from my dreams. It's decorated perfectly for any cute insta story and y'all when I say their coffee is amazing I mean it. Try it. It's so worth it, and pretty easy to find, too! You can browse their menus here.

2. Frothy Monkey Coffee Shop

While we're on the topic of coffee shops, Frothy Monkey is a MUST try. Trust me, I've drunk A LOT of coffee in my lifetime, and theirs is up in the top 10 of the best. They have other good things too, but if you're a coffee person like me, this place is heaven, I promise. It's right off 12th Avenue and within walking distance of lots of other funky little shops.

3. Two Old Hippies

This is the coolest little shop you will ever go into. Tucked away in the Gulch, it's within walking distance of Milk & Honey, so stop by after you grab a coffee and browse. They have everything from handmade clothes to cool books to refrigerator magnets. This is one of my all time favorites and I know you'll love it too.

4. Baked on 8th

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I fell in love the second I saw the cute sign. Baked on 8th has a great atmosphere and even better little pastries, cookies, and cakes. Their cookies were so good it took every ounce of self-control I had to not go back and order 2 dozen. 12/10 would recommend if you're into Instagrammable locations and bomb sugar-filled desserts.

5. Burger Republic

I get it, you've gotta eat more than just cookies and coffee. As far as restaurants go, this place is home to the best burger I've ever eaten, plus the atmosphere is pretty laid back and great, and it's an awesome place to go and watch pretty much any sporting event happening anywhere relatively close to Nashville. Browse the menu so you can know exactly what to order before you even get there here.

6. Fido

In case you haven't noticed yet, I'm a HUGE fan of coffee shops and cafes. Fido was the most perfect little spot. It boasts about its gourmet coffee and great food, and rightfully so. It's also got the coolest funky vibe that makes you just want to sit and stay all day, and it's in a great location and decently close to Vanderbilt.

7. Go see some murals

Nashville is FULL of these bad boys. I know y'all have all seen the countless pictures of those people with big butterfly wings. Well, there's more and they're all around the city and on the side of pretty much every building. It's cliche, but tbh it's also kind of a must do while you're there.

8. Walk around Centennial Park and the Parthenon

This is a really nice place to visit if you're looking to spend a couple of hours away from the concrete of the city, and the Parthenon is a full-scale replica of the one in Greece.

9. Ride one of those little scooters around and explore

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I'm not gonna lie to y'all. I did not ride the scooters. They seem kind of dangerous and I know without a doubt that if I tried to get on one it would not end well for me, the scooter, or anyone within a 3-mile radius. With that being said, though, I did see a lot of people riding them and it looked pretty fun, plus it's a great way to see the city without walking too much. So if you just want to explore, hop on one of these bad boys and pray.

Nashville is a great city full of tons of tourist attractions and amazing musical history, but if you find yourself stuck with nothing to do for a couple of hours before your next walking tour, you're sure to find something on this list that you'll love. So, you're welcome.

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