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Father-Daughter Road Trip

Much of my work the past year has consisted of speaking events with National Charity League. I am tremendously grateful for this work, especially since I was in the organization myself. For those of you who are about to google what National Charity League (NCL) is…let me briefly explain. It is a mother daughter organization that offers philanthropic service to the community while integrating leadership and cultural development. In a word, it’s pretty amazing.

 

At NCL Senior Presentations.

At NCL Senior Presentations.

For me, it’s been life changing. What started with one chapter asking me to speak has turned into 50 chapters around that country that I’ve been able to speak with and visit. It is rewarding work and I give thanks every day that I get to do it.

 

Speaking in Washington earlier this year.

Speaking in Washington earlier this year.

But you might have noticed one part of the prior description. NCL is a mother-daughter organization.

What about the dads?

My dad would always say whenever I volunteered with my mom, “What about me?” Fair point, papa. Well for the first time last week I decided to bring my dad along to see what my work is all about. But it turned into so much more than that.

I see my dad pretty sporadically with work and graduate school and I loved how my dad kept saying he couldn’t wait to go on vacation with me. I had been seeing it as work but his different perspective opened my eyes to the trip. He got really into the details of planning…from the restaurants to the driving, he had planned out just about every minute of our road trip.

We started on Thursday by flying to Seattle. I spoke to the Evergreen Chapter that night but thankfully we had some time to explore the area beforehand. I had been to Seattle this past summer so I showed him the local favorites. Pike’s Place, a quaint tea shop, and my most prized ice cream shop in the country. When a parlor that serves red velvet ice cream how can you not love it?

Pike's Place Marke

Pike’s Place Marke

I should note something else. I usually leave my faith out of the blog but I think it’s warranted in this case. I felt like our trip was SO surrounded in prayer the entire time. So thank you to everyone who said a prayer for our safety. Literally everything went perfect and even if it didn’t, we picked right back up. We had perfect sunny 75 degree weather the entire time while exploring the Pacific Northwest (and that is a big blessing in and of itself). We got upgraded for our car rental with only 200 miles on the car and a Sirius radio demo was included (which was great since we were road tripping). Little blessings like these just made the trip that much sweeter.

After I spoke on Thursday, we went to the Pink Door for dinner in Seattle…which happens to be my favorite restaurant in the entire city. A little back alley, one small pink door and suddenly with one swing of the hinges…there you are in a picturesque Italian restaurant with homemade pasta and even flying trapeze artists if you time it right. Thankfully my dad loved the food just as much as I did.

The next morning we went to an idyllic breakfast space…Lola’s. A must if you’re in the city. They’re known for their paper bag shaken, cinnamon-sugar mini beignets that come with homemade jam and mascarpone. I could eat that every day. We also explored the Seattle aquarium and went back to Pike’s Place because it’s just too amazing there. Watching them catch fish, compile tulips, and offer chocolate pasta is too divine to experience only once.

 

Hold on a sec...just went to heaven.

Hold on a sec…just went to heaven.

We then ventured to Newport, Oregon where my mom was born. It was a six hour drive from Seattle but the drive was part of the adventure. The greenery in Washington and Oregon is unreal…especially when you’re coming from the California drought. The mossy trees, “babbling brooks” as my dad called them, and the laughs along the way were something to cherish. Nobody can make me laugh like my dad can—that’s one of my favorite things about him.

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We stayed at the Hallmark Hotel and we walked right out to the sand from our hotel room. We learned that we gave away our tourist status by saying “Oregon Beach” instead of “Oregon Coast.” Noted. We have never seen winds like that before; the sand skimmed over the surface with such force that not even the birds could fly by. The water was refreshing (no, it was actually ice cold) but hey, you’ve got to dip your toes in the water, right?

My dad, the yogi master.

My dad, the yogi master.

After that we headed to Portland. Let the spontaneity ensue. Neither of us had been to Portland and we were a little stumped where to begin. My dad is pretty adventurous so we thought, hey, let’s see if we can kayak. 20 minutes later, with life jackets on, two kayaks, and two paddles later, we were on the water. Two hours past that, we had paddled over four miles around the Willamette River, specifically Ross Island. I have to say, I was pretty proud of myself with my usually spaghetti arms. Kayaking on that open river with the Portland skyline was certainly the highlight of the trip.

Is that me?!

Is that me?!

Time for more food. Portland is a mecca for gastronomical pursuits and for this reason alone, it’s worth visiting. The hardest part is picking the better choice from the best. We ultimately settled on TILT, a burger, biscuit, pie, tater-tot, every delicious food every created, joint. We waited a half hour because it was so hot and happening there. It was worth the wait.

Oops...just went to heaven again. BRB.

Oops…just went to heaven again. BRB.

The next day before my speaking event at the Sunnyside Chapter (love how that is their NCL name!) we thought, hey, why not visit the Portland Zoo? And so we did. Great choice. When people think of zoos they don’t often list this one but it is SO worth it. I’ve seen quite a few zoos in my day (I’d be a zoo keeper in another life) and this one makes the top 5. The landscaping in the park is unparalleled and the lion cubs make it pretty irresistible.

This trip included so many fun memories that I will treasure forever but there was something else that made it remarkable for me. My dad probably won’t like me sharing this…but he was a little bit of a naysayer when I started writing my book. He didn’t think I could do it, and if I did, what would become of it? Some might resent their dads for not supporting them (and I did for a little while) but then I used that skepticism to propel me forward. When someone tells me that I can’t do something or that I’m not strong/smart/good enough to achieve my goal, I work that much harder. I’m thankful for my dad’s critique because it made me work that much harder.

It was thrilling to show my dad that not only did I write my book, I now get to travel every week to speak about it. It was nerve wracking to see him in the audience (I find it easier to speak to strangers) but I was happy to see a grin on his face the whole time. He told me he was proud of me. Every daughter wants to hear that.

Sunday night rolled around and it was time to go home. A cherry on top of the trip was getting upgraded into first class. I looked over and saw a big grin on my dad’s face. He was happy and so was I. All was well in the world and I knew in that moment that no matter what happened in the past or future with my family, everything would be alright and we would be okay. I’m so thankful that I got to spend a few fun-filled days with my dad where we got to laugh and be a father-daughter duo just like in old times. I remember my dad picking me up from school in his truck when I was in elementary school and suddenly I was his little girl again. I always will be that little girl in my dad’s heart…his little princess that he cherishes. I only say that because he tells me so. I hope every father tells their daughter that she is their princess. (Yes, that is one of our favorite movies).

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As I go into the world and build my own family, my dad will always be my first hero, protector, and comedian. No one can replace him. Paul Simon sings, “There will never be a father that loves his daughter the way that I love you.” But dad, there will never be a daughter that loves her father more than I love you.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Why I’m Thankful for Long Distance Love

Greetings today from Minneapolis! It’s my first time here and I’m liking it so far. Friendly people, good food, and even a Lilly Pulitzer store so it’s off to a great start. I’ve had some free time in my hotel room today and I finally wanted to write about something that’s been on my mind recently.

With May around the corner, my life is about to take a dramatic shift. I normally keep my relationship status private but I think my experience may offer encouragement to others in a similar situation. For the past three years, I have been in a long distance relationship. From Los Angeles to New York, my boyfriend and I have lived on opposite coasts. In May, he will move to my coast after he graduates from law school. Many people think that long distance relationships are too impossible to manage, but in my case, it has been the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

Greg and I met on my 19th birthday at UCLA’s Dance Marathon. It was an instant connection and I knew the moment that I met him how truly special he was. I was a freshman and he was a sophomore. We would continue dating throughout undergrad but in all honesty, our relationship was more fun than serious. We would go on dates and dances together but there was never a heavy emphasis on the future.

Our first formal at UCLA.

Our first formal at UCLA.

Then he decided he wanted to go to law school. I was proud of him for making the decision and I had told myself we would likely break up when he moved away. After all, he was applying to schools all over the country…what were the chances that he would stay in Los Angeles and even if he did, how would he ever have time for our relationship as a 1L?

Now I should note that Greg is the most humble person I have ever met. This is one of the things that I love most about him. He wouldn’t tell you about any of his accomplishments…but I might have to share just a little for the sake of our story. When it came down to the final decision of where to go, Greg was choosing between a full ride to UCLA or Columbia University…in New York…in the frigid cold. Yeah, this California girl was not ready. (And this is why New Yorkers hate LA natives for the babies that we are).

I remember seeing Greg’s list of pros and cons. But something was missing…me. The fact that I lived in LA did not even make the list! He didn’t consider my whereabouts as a factor at all. AND I AM SO GLAD. While I felt a twinge of hurt at first, I realized that Greg was making such a personal decision for his life. I could never resent him for it. He needed to make this choice on his own. Greg showed how important it is to be independent, especially at that time in our lives, and it was a perfect model for me. His choice did not mean that he didn’t love me. It just meant that he cared about his future.

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We spent an incredible summer together before he left for New York. We were in the moment. We weren’t counting down the days until his departure. We just loved each other with the time we had. Then it was time for him to go. I cried. (I still cry every time we part). But as we said goodbye, we didn’t know what would happen. We would see how it went.

Always happy at Disneyland.

Always happy at Disneyland.

The biggest mistake we made and the best idea we had was waiting two months before seeing each other for the first time. At that point in my life, it was only the second time I had flown alone and I remember boarding the red eye flight feeling so much nervousness and anticipation. Greg and I missed each other. BADLY. I think it surprised us both how much we wanted to be together. Our time in college had been fun and games. Suddenly, things got real. We appreciated each other in a new and profound way. We realized how much we loved each other.

Exploring New York City for the first time.

Exploring New York City for the first time.

I’ll never forget what it was like seeing Greg in New York for the first time. He was waiting in the lobby of the W Hotel and he had a huge grin on his face. I blushed, so nervous and awkward. I have never been and will never be one of those girls that make the 100-yard dash and then gibbon-jumps into her man’s arms. I don’t feel like putting on such a show for everyone. To me, being reunited is so much more personal and private. I’m shy at first and it takes me time to get comfortable.

That reunion was the beginning of planes, taxis, and hotels for the next three years. In between, there have been thousands of calls, texts, and care packages (not thousands of those—Chipotle would be in stock heaven if that were true). After two months apart, Greg and I decided that we would commit to seeing each other once a month instead. We’ve held true to that commitment and eight trips to New York, two trips to DC, and one trip to Disney World later, we still see each other often. We have made it work.

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Greg took me to the ballet at the Kennedy Center.

Greg took me to the ballet at the Kennedy Center.

Exploring Epcot for my birthday and Valentine's Day.

Exploring Epcot for my birthday and Valentine’s Day.

The reason why I wanted to share our story is for this reason: our long distance relationship has been the best thing that could have ever happened to me. During college I was a homebody. I would visit my house on the weekends and went for comfort instead of hard earned growth. It was not until Greg left that I finally got the kick that I needed. He was not holding himself back for our relationship. Why should I? I know if Greg stayed, so would I. I realize as a woman in the 21st century, admitting any traditional homemaker tendencies is shameful, but hey, I’m owning it.

Now I am a changed person. I travel every weekend to a different state and I have made my dream of becoming a speaker and author come to life. I visited 25 universities this past year for my beloved sorority, Chi Omega, and I went to Europe with a dear friend. I don’t mind being alone anymore and if I want to go to a restaurant, movie, or a local site, I do not sit at home because I don’t have someone to go with me. I am independent, FIERCE—I don’t need anyone to hold my hand anymore.

Holding a baby alligator in Louisiana.

Holding a baby alligator in Louisiana.

I wish I could tell you that this happened organically and without Greg’s influence. I am so thankful that I have my autonomy and inner strength now—regardless of where it came from. I feel like I can give so much more to my relationships now because I am no longer needy for companionship to feel secure in myself.

So three years later, Greg is about to graduate. He will be working for a firm in downtown LA and we will be not just on the same coast, but in the same city once more. It will be a BIG adjustment. We have gotten used to our own schedules and ways of living but I am looking forward to growing together. Even so, I want to make sure any choices that I make for my future are not based on a man in the picture. At 24 years old, I still have so much to see and do and I still want to explore my options, just like Greg did.

If you are in the midst of a long distance relationship, or are about to start one, take heart. The resilience and confidence that emerges are invaluable. Yes, there have been days when it feels impossible but with dedication, trust, and commitment, it can be done. I give thanks every day for our long distance love because not only did we grow stronger as individuals, so did our love. It confirmed that we want this; we CHOOSE this, every day.

Happy graduation to Greg and all of the Class of 2015. I commend your hard work, your enduring effort, and your courage. It was worth it.

Now off to Sandals this August to celebrate!

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook
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