Happiness is…

A dear friend asked me this out of the blue just the other day: What are the three happiest moments of your life so far?

I haven’t seen him in person in a couple years, and since we live on opposite sides of the world now with opposite time zones, chatting is difficult. So catching him online while he’s in this neck of the world for work was, I have to say, one of those happy little moments.

But put on the spot, I couldn’t answer right away. I’ve been pondering over this since though. And I still can’t quite – or feel strangely reluctant to – call out any one particular moment that I’d call my happiest. Funnily enough, he himself didn’t outright answer my guesses on his moments either: when he proposed; when he married the girl of his dreams; and when they first had a baby. Haha, all these milestones where people usually mark down as poignant moments in their lives.

But as I thought about it – poignancy doesn’t necessarily equate happiness yes? As for myself, if pressed, I don’t think going to City Hall was one of those definitive happy moments. Haha sure we had a blast that day, and we were more tickled I think to send out the surprise news announcement to our friends and family in any case.

One of the more recent times I can remember consciously thinking that hey, I’m so happy right now! was just a few weeks ago, when we were hiking in the wilderness with our two friends in Norway. We had left the one road behind miles ago, and were walking through some rugged and unspoiled land that stretched for hundreds of miles beyond. The treks weren’t particularly well cut out, but there were thoughtfully placed cairns here and there to guide us as we placed cautious steps across streams and rocky boulders, through patches of persistent snowfields and across the dozens of terrified lemmings scurrying frantically out of our way. I felt so free, so weightless, so in the moment. So happy.

And another time on that same Norway trip: when we were holed up in the cabin by the lighthouse, playing cards by candlelight, and waiting for the moon to set before we trooped out into the chilly night to gaze at the Milky Way. In that moment, we didn’t have a care in the world – just good old friendly competition and much laughter.

So big HAPPY posts in life? I can’t spit them out. But if life is made up of frequent but small contented instances, well, there’s no cause for complaint is it? :)

Stormy sunset cruise

My company organized another Women’s Night Out – a perk that roughly 10% of the firm enjoyed. :) This time around, we cruised along Lake Michigan. The weather didn’t bode well at first, with the forecast at 100% chance of rain. But happily, the heavens opened up while we were still stuck at work, and left us with dramatic billowing clouds to gawk at instead.

Wish I’d brought my camera along – but at least I had my iPhone handy. The clouds were so beautiful! Fun evening out.

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Adventures in Norway

Our friends invited us to spend some time with them in Norway, so last week, Jeff and I boarded a couple of planes for our Scandinavian adventure.

Saturday, Day 1: Arrival into an overcast Stavanger, Norway

From 2014 September Norway

After we’d arrived and tucked into a hearty meal of pork chops and potatoes Thomas’ mum made for us, Thomas brought us on a quick drive through Stavanger. We stopped by this fjord to admire the sunset.

Sunday, Day 2: Visit to Pulpit Rock
A google of hiking near Stavanger inevitably brings up Pulpit Rock. The views were undeniably gorgeous, but the crowds were a little too much to handle. Thomas, who is used peace and quiet on the trails in a sprawling country with a population of only 5 million, was disappointed. It was a beautiful sunny day though, with brilliant blue skies and puffy white clouds.

From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway

Monday, Day 3: Drive to Haukeliseter
Rainy day – good day to be on the road and not outdoors. The 4-5 hour drive through the misty mountains to Haukeliseter was most scenic.

From 2014 September Norway

We criss-crossed our way through windy and narrow one-lane-but-dual-direction roads, where we often had to pull over/slow down for oncoming traffic and sheep

From 2014 September Norway

The scenery reminded us strongly of New Zealand, and also somewhat of Scotland since it was overcast and wet.

From 2014 September Norway

The cabin we stayed in before starting our hike to Hellevassbu.

From 2014 September Norway

Tuesday, Day 4: Hiking Hellevassbu
We had two options – either hike 18km in to a basic cabin where we’d spend the night, and hike back the next day, or do a 12km round circuit hike. Save Thomas, the rest of us weren’t in particularly fit hiking shape, especially with our heavy packs of layers and food, so we opted for the second easier option. Still, it was a long day. We started out at a little past nine and made it back to the car just before 6. Unlike Pulpit Rock though, this was Norwegian wilderness at its best. We saw only 6 other people the entire day, but dozens and dozens of lemmings (it’s a lemming year), flocks of sheep, and some grouse.

From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway

Fall has barely begun but there is still snow melt from the prior winter

From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway

The sun peaked briefly through the voluminous clouds right before we decided to stop by one of the many lakes we saw for lunch.

From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway

Scaled a little peak from which we could see the huge extent of the wilderness

From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway

We were tired at the end of the hike, but a little sad it was over. I loved the vastness of the rugged landscape, and its peace and quiet.

We took another route back to Stavanger, this time along the fjords that afforded the most beautiful pastel sunset.

From 2014 September Norway

Wednesday, Day 6: A Spot of Climbing
Since we only got home in the wee hours, we slept in Wednesday. What a glorious rest! Awoke to a breakfast of hunter’s bread, butter, homemade jam, cheese and ham – our daily morning fix in Norway. It was a hearty and delicious meal no doubt, but I’m not used to eating that much bread, particularly since we also had it for lunch and supper! Thomas though, happily subsists on entire loaves of bread everyday, beginning with 10 slices for breakfast and ending the evening with 6, every day, almost without fail.

In the afternoon, Thomas brought us to a crag close by to his mother’s place. The approach was short, though not necessarily sweet smelling, since we had to cross a pasture full of sheep. Fun climbing though, on Norwegian granite! The routes, a dozen of them at least, were all next to the other, so after we’d led a few of the easier ones, we just traversed over to the next anchor to set up top rope. Got in 7 great climbs this way. :)

From 2014 September Norway

Spot my reindeer skin seat!

From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway

Thursday and Friday, Day 7 and 8: Lighthouse!
There are a bunch of lighthouses in small islands dotted along the coast of Norway, that visitors can visit or spend the night in. Thomas found us just one such lighthouse, just 2.4 km from a beach 15 minutes drive away. We’d arranged with a fisherman to ferry us over to the island at 5pm, but due to strong northerly winds, the fisherman only managed to pick us up at 6pm. Still, there was plenty of light left before sunset at 830pm, and we happily wandered around our private little island, soaking in the late afternoon sunshine.

From 2014 September Norway

Exploring the lighthouse

From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway

Happy we lugged the tripod all over – this turned out to be one of my favorite photos of the trip

From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway

The cabin we stayed in on the lighthouse island. It has a generator, but since it wasn’t a particularly cold night, we didn’t power it on and just relied on candle light. More fun that way anyway!

From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway

This, and cards, was how we passed half the night by, while waiting for the half moon to set so we could better admire the stars

From 2014 September Norway

We saw the milky way!

From 2014 September Norway

By the time we turned in, it was already 330am. The sun rose in 3 hours. I was determined to make the most of it though, and blearily dragged myself out of bed then. Needed to pee anyway.

Sunrise over mainland

From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway
From 2014 September Norway

Saturday, Day 9: A Chill Day
Poor Jeff essentially had to work the entire day, through 4am Sunday, just before our flight back to Chicago. In the meantime, it poured. The entire day. So the rest of us took it easy and just lounged around in our pjs, playing cards. It’s been the most bread I’ve eaten and the most cards I’ve played this trip than in a year or more! Even though he had to put in hours hunched over a laptop, Jeff agreed too that we had a most enjoyable vacation. Good companionship, fun climbing, beautiful hiking, and we even got to stay at the lighthouse.

Late summer storm

We had a wonderful view of the late summer storm that rolled into town this afternoon. Bolts of lightning lit up the sky as the thunder rumbled menacingly and thick, billowy clouds enveloped the city.

I grabbed my iphone and hastened to the window in hopes of catching a flash of lightning and was rewarded with this picture.

From 2014 Summertime in Chicago

In the late afternoon, the rains let up for a bit. Forecast is for another wet week ahead though. Gah.

From 2014 Summertime in Chicago

A trip down a foggy and rainy memory lane

J&S were in town this past weekend, and stirred by memories – some fond and some cold – of our years down in Hyde Park, we paid a visit to the U of C campus on Saturday afternoon after dim sum.

It was foggy – the foggiest day yet in a series of foggy days this summer. We could barely make out the top of the John Hancock from Lake Shore Drive, and once we were past the Museum Campus, the skyscrapers north of us were completely obscured in the thick, low-lying mist.

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This mist gave way to an intense lightning and thunderstorm not long after we started strolling around the campus. As we walked from the ever lovely Ida Noyes to Rockefeller Chapel, we felt what we thought were droplets of mist condensing on our skin, but these droplets quickly grew in size and frequency. Thankfully, the doors of the chapel were wide open, and we, along with a few other folks, sought shelter as the wind started howling and sending sheets of rain into the entryway.

From 2014 Summertime in Chicago
From 2014 Summertime in Chicago
From 2014 Summertime in Chicago

We were stuck in the chapel for half an hour or so, the longest we’ve probably spent in all our years at the university. It gave us the opportunity to explore its every nook and cranny at our leisure though, which was fun.

From 2014 Summertime in Chicago
From 2014 Summertime in Chicago
From 2014 Summertime in Chicago

After the rain slowed down to a drizzle, we saw our chance and sped walked over to the next nearest building, the Oriental Institute, where we spent another half hour wandering around the exhibits. I’m always blown away by the incredible trove of artifacts the university has managed to assemble together into this small space – and which is free for all visitors to wander through. It’s tremendous. It was S’s first time visiting too!

From 2014 Summertime in Chicago

We took a stroll across the quadrangle next, where we tried in vain to visit Harper Memorial Library. First, we wandered down the wrong end of the building, and when we finally found the library, we saw it was closed for the summer quarter.

From 2014 Summertime in Chicago
From 2014 Summertime in Chicago

After finding that Reynold’s Club was also closed, we crossed the street to the Reg for a quick peek at the new library extension before unanimously agreed to go by Medici for another one of its famous Gracie’s apple pie – honestly one of the most delicious pies I’ve had. Ah memories!

Misty morning sail

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Early morning last Sunday – 6am to be precise – my alarm rang and I sleepily propped open one eye. The sun should have been rising at that time, but I couldn’t see any rays streaming in through the blinds. I’d wanted to go out to the lake to take yet more pictures of the Chicago skyline, but the lighting, from my vantage point in bed, didn’t seem too promising, so I rolled back over to sleep.

The second alarm rang again at 730. We’d booked an early morning sail. Groggily I trotted to the window this time and peered out. It looked gloomy. Jeff was already up and on the phone with Chicago Sailing, enquiring about the conditions out. It was foggy but the office didn’t seem inclined to let us change our reservations so we decided to just suck it up and get out on the water.

To be honest, I was quite grouchy as we pulled up to the dock on our bikes. Not only was it completely foggy, the air was damp and chilly. But we were already awake, so we rigged up the boat and pushed off.

Given the conditions and the time of the day, we were the only boat out. The wind was a steady 10 plus knots north east, and because we couldn’t see the downtown skyline, I decided to point the boat north towards Montrose Harbor on a close haul.

It was fun sailing! My grumpiness quickly dissipated as the boat moved along on a steady clip, buoyed by the persistent breeze. We amused ourselves pretending we were halfway across the ocean, searching for new land.

At the end of the two hours, we eased our way back to dock, only to learn that the sailing office had allowed everyone else the option of canceling their reservations because of the fog. Glad we made it out though – it was the best sailing we’d had in a long while!