On our last day in Tahoe, Paul and I took a ski lesson from this dude name Rich. "Skiing is dynamic," he said. "The conditions are always changing, you're always adapting and there is hardly ever constants in skiing." Rich had this deep bronze tan face that was half covered with his ski goggles and when he was talking serious, very rare and only about "feeling the snow,"his face showed these rivers of white smile lines, like rows and rows of little toothpicks stuck to his face. I liked to think skiing made him smile that much, enough for the sun to never see parts of his face.

I did pretty well. While Rich kept on barking the, "Pizza! French fries! Pizza! French fries!" chant to our German first-time skiiers, he graduated me to the beginning slope. Of course, I said, "You know, I'm just gonna ski Flying Jenny for a while" (our learning hill). And he looked at me, cocked his head sideways, and yelled, "Go ski on the Ponderosa, for Christs sake!" or something along those old-timey lines. He looked just like my Grandpa Smith when he said that, so I decided to listen.

Eve and Alex, who are more than friends, they are what I call my Mountain family, are Tahoe locals and professional skiiers in their own right. They lovingly stayed with us on the Ponderosa beginning hill the rest of the afternoon. And I fell about 9 times, some really hard, some goofy, some made me want to throw my skis in the snow and hike the rest of the way. But I didn't. Eve kept telling me how great I was doing and Alex reminded me that, "You're still skiing. You're still doing it." And that day, our last day in  Tahoe, made me question everything I've thought about my life, what I deem normal, and this silly thing I call "stranger danger".

I came to California with a lot of preconceived notions about what to wear, how to look and how I was going to feel. I was worried. If you've read this blog enough or are lucky enough to be around for my forever-whining about my social anxiety, you know that even the thought of new things, however exciting and fun, always have a level of terror in my brain. I was ready for a couple of meltdowns over having to talk to hotel staff about bed linens, ordering coffee at foreign places where the start to the lines are ambiguous or just general stranger talk on the airplane.

And I'm not new to travel. My dad has lovingly provided our family with tons of travel opportunities throughout my life, and it has always been the same. I've always needed a fetal position at some point in the new way of things.

This was an entirely different story. I've had some of the worst anxiety in the past couple of months, so I was bracing myself. But the strangest thing happened: I wasn't anxious once. Not one moment did I feel out of sorts, afraid, scared, unsure. In fact, I don't think I have ever felt more like myself than in the 6 days of California, and to this very moment, it is still, minute by minute, blowing my mind, completely.

San Francisco was a beautiful, diverse city with tons of great coffee, vegan options and tasty food. Every single stranger, from random people eating next to us, to bartenders, waitresses and cashiers, were all some of the nicest people I've ever interacted with. Sonoma was bursting with tons of small town charm and graciousness, but the minute we started the climb into Lake Tahoe, I felt completely centered and relaxed. I felt like I was home. I shocked myself in that I immediately wanted to pack up our life and move, but I've honestly never felt so at peace.

The little things that I've been missing for almost 6 months was there everyday: dinner with Paul every night, killer breakfast with our mountain family, a weekend roadtrip with awesome roadtrip music, sharing great coffee, a fireplace, funny Youtube videos and better conversation. Regardless of where you are, this is what makes life great. And I don't get that as a constant.

Frankly, we deserve this life. We need to have a life like this. And if that's not possible in Toledo, we need to find a place where it is. That place exists. Maybe it's Tahoe. Maybe it's Japan. Maybe it's Monroe, Michigan. Regardless, I'm not scared anymore. I'm ready to find our place where we can both do what we love and be together. This life is too important to not have that.

This is the lesson that California and the mountains and Eve and Alex has taught me. I am a good skier because I am still skiing. I am a good teacher because I'm still teaching. I am a good friend because I am still trying. I am good because I am still going. There is no test that I'll fail because it's not over yet. If I fall, it means I'm still going, I'm still doing something. If I'm not falling, it means I gave up. I've never been so thrilled with being okay to fall. And that fact has never ever been in my reality.

I'm not sure I believe in stranger danger anymore. Now, I realize that it has so much to do with me, how I react to the unknown, my terrifying fear of failing, of strange people that are dynamic, that are always changing. I know that I'm going to meet people in my life that will terrify me again, make me sad, make me cry, question myself, but maybe all of that is good. Maybe all of that means I'm at least still trying.

Rich was right. Skiing is dynamic. You can't plan not to fall. And so is everything else. I'm finally ending the chess game in my life and no longer need to be five moves ahead of everything. I have no idea where I'll be in 2 months, in 1 year, and I'm kind of excited about that. What I do know is that Paul and I will be together, we'll be with good friends and family that gently remind us to take some big adventures, we'll be loved and we'll take care of this moment. The rest is, finally, irrelevant.

And now, here is a photo movie of our travels. It is 13 minutes and 22 seconds long. I couldn't help myself....