Thanksgiving in Big Bend, Pt. 1

 

The first time I ever experienced a major holiday away from home was our first year living in Boston.

Though my heart longed to spend that Thanksgiving with my family, knowing we’d  soon be heading home for Christmas, we instead went to New York where we spent the holiday with some of Jacob’s relatives.

That Thanksgiving was a bit unusual for me as we celebrated as a party of 10 or so,  instead of a party of 50, but it was quiet, and relaxing, and truly one of my most memorable holidays.

Living in a big city at that time, I was quite used to cooking in a kitchen the size of a closet, so spending a long weekend in a spacious, country home was a dream. I still remember vividly making my first totally from scratch green bean casserole, and some amazing brussels sprouts dish I prepared from one of Jacob’s aunt’s magazines.

I spent most of that day in the kitchen with his aunt, laughing and talking and getting to know her more closely. By the end of that day I no longer felt so homesick, and settled in that night grateful for family, when the rest of mine was so far away.

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Last year marked another interesting holiday. Back to a small celebration, we spent Thanksgiving here in Austin with our pup, my parents, and their small dog L.E. A table of four felt so small, but it was a memorable experience to be able to cook my first full Thanksgiving meal and host my own family.

The turkey was flavorful and moist, the pumpkin pie was divine, and again, the peace and quiet was amazing.

Growing accustomed to these small and peaceful Thanksgiving celebrations, this year, we decided to have our most untraditional Thanksgiving yet, spending it in the desert for a long weekend of camping.

Still wanting a somewhat traditional holiday, I decided to cook a full Thanksgiving spread before we left town to enjoy on Thanksgiving day. Having roasted a 12 pound bird (for only two people), preparing stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, a casserole, and a pie, I had big expectations about our Thanksgiving meal, and even bigger ideas about what this blog post would look like.

I envisioned pictures of our plates with jagged mountain peaks in the background; shots of the cheese course centered on the picnic table surrounded by cups of wine. I thought i’d show artistic photos of our tent and the campfire, and then talk about how fun and manageable it was to celebrate a holiday in the great outdoors.

This is not how this post is going to go.

Instead of  this romanticized, idealistic Thanksgiving I had envisioned, we spent the holiday in Mexico, where we had our most memorable Thanksgiving yet.

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Settled in Southwest Texas, Big Bend National park features sweeping desert landscapes, dramatic canyons, rugged mountains, and shares 118 miles of its park boundary with Chihuahua and Coahuila Mexico. Knowing that there was a border crossing located within the park, we knew that stepping over into Mexico was something we wanted to do during our trip, we just didn’t expect our time there to be all that is was.

An isolated and primitive outpost amidst a vast wilderness, 150 miles from any major town on either side of the border lies Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico.

Once a town of around 300, because of the border closure in 2002 (due to the events of 9/11), by 2006, the population of Boquillas dropped to around only 90 residents. Eleven years later in 2013, the border reopened, helping to revive Boquillas’ population, which is now home to about 200 people.

Besides for two small restaurants and one bar, there’s not much to see or do here, but wanting this tiny tourist town to succeed, the Mexican government has done what they can, providing supplies to fix older buildings, and paint to freshen up the look of the place. And finally, in 2015, solar panels were installed so that residents could enjoy reliable electricity…

Our journey to Boquillas started at the U.S. Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry where we learned the rules about crossing over into Mexico (don’t bring back alcohol, rocks, etc…) From there, we hopped an “international ferry” and were transported 15 yards away across a knee deep river. After politely saying no to a man with a burro offering us a ride, we walked the quarter of a mile into town and started our adventure in Mexico.

Once arriving to town and checking in with customs, we decided on one of the two restaurant choices (both I believe are owned by the same family, serve the same food,  and are are literally just across the dusty road from each other), and grabbed a spot outside in the shade to enjoy the views and excitement.

For lunch we had tacos with teeny fried flour tortillas and a plate of tamales, and washed it all down with a couple of potent margaritas. We enjoyed live entertainment, AKA a man with a very out of tune guitar, made friends with strangers (who just happened to originally be from Austin), and enjoyed the company of a lively local.

Esteban was the man who originally offered us a ride on his burro, and after spending lunch talking with him, I was disappointed we didn’t accept. Over a peach juice and a couple of Carta Blancas, Esteban told us about his time in Boquillas (he has lived there his entire life), about his mountain guiding services, and about how he walks four days through the desert each year to the nearest town for some extra work.

In the midst of all the hatred we’ve seen towards immigrants and minorities this election season, Esteban was a breath of fresh air. His authenticity and kindness was refreshing, and our time spent with him was one of the best parts of our day.

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After buying a copper scorpion from Esteban and bidding him farewell, we left with our new Texan friends and their guide to take a short tour of the town. We saw the small church and school, water supply tank, and solar panels before finding ourselves in the town’s only cantina where we enjoyed more good conversation over a couple of shots of Sotol. Coming from an unmarked bottle behind the counter, similar to tequila, Sotol is distilled from the dasylirion wheeleri plant native the Northern Mexico. It was smooth, tasty, and was probably safer to drink than the water. Even if the bottle did look a little sketchy…

After an hour or so of getting to know our new friends and a round of Carta Blancas, we hurried our way back across the river, just barely in time for the border closing, and continued our random Thanksgiving day at some hot springs nearby.

Finally, around 7:00 pm when the sky grew dark, we drove the hour back to our campsite to enjoy our Thanksgiving meal. After quickly reheating the food I worked so hard to prepare, I took one lame picture of my plate in the dark, and then crawled into the tent for bed before 9:00. By the time Jacob had returned from cleaning the dishes, I was sound asleep, dreaming of tacos, and our Thanksgiving adventure in Mexico.

A Weekend on Padre Island

There are few things that rejuvenate me more than traveling. Whether hopping a plane for an extended trip, or packing the car for a quick weekend adventure, the level of excitement I feel over exploring a new place is always the same.

When we lived in Boston, traveling was easy. A trip to the beach was never more than an hour away, a trip to the mountains just a little more. We could be to the country in only 30 minutes, and often, our favorite adventures were had right out our own backdoor.

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Traveling in Texas hasn’t been quite as easy. Nearly four times the size of New England, Texas travel takes much more time. We have a running list of places in the state we’d love to visit, but until we have the time for 7-10 hour drives, we’ll just have to keep those trips on hold.

Bored with our frequent Hill Country visits but eager for adventure, with a forecasted 82 degree high, last weekend, we headed south to explore the Texas coast.IMG_0602

I’d longed to see the Gulf ever since moving to Texas. Only three hours from Austin, it’s a place I figured we’d visit often. Well, it only took a year and a half living in Austin to get us there, but at least we finally made it.

Though unseasonably crowded for the end of January, we were still able to find seclusion, and the relaxation we were after. Upon arriving on Saturday after a desolate drive, we ventured off road and took our car down the beach for a few miles to find ourselves a quiet spot. Tucked away next to the dunes we set up camp and spent the afternoon playing with Heidi, our beach-loving pup.

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Though Heidi deeply enjoyed the ocean, she more so loved the sand. She spent hours running and splashing, and making a mess digging holes. She chased birds and played football, and caked her face with sand. She was a mess, but hysterical, and watching her was my favorite part of the day.

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Once the sun hit the horizon, we settled in next to the fire with our dinner and mugs of wine. We stayed up late talking, watching the stars and listening to the waves. Come midnight, we finally crawled into our tent and went to bed, tired from the wine and conversation, and soothed by the sound of the wind and crashing water just feet away. IMG_9558

On Sunday we relaxed to an interesting cycle of sun and haze. One minute it would be so terribly gray that we thought surely we’d be stormed on, and the next there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. This went on for a good hour or two before the sun finally won and kept the clouds away. Soaking up the sunshine and the cool ocean breeze, we spent the remainder of our morning reading and resting, before packing up and heading on our way.

On our way out we grabbed fried fish from a seafood shack in town and enjoyed it on the beach before calling it a day. Bidding Padre Island farewell, I inhaled the ocean air one last time, already longing for my next weekend away.

Hello From Texas

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It has been a busy and eventful summer and I have much to report, but for now, I wanted to drop a quick line from my new home state of Texas!

It has been six days since we rolled into Austin, but we’ve yet to explore much of this great city besides taking multiple trips to IKEA and Target. We’ve spent days rummaging through boxes, building furniture, and trying to add some flare to our cute new home. We are 70% there I would say, but it still feels like we have weeks of work to go.

Our apartment complex sits right on the Colorado River, or Ladybird Lake as it’s called around here, staring straight at the downtown skyline and offering us a river view that can’t be beat.  We are walking distance to some great restaurants and bars, and are just a short car or bike ride away from the city’s best parks and grocery stores. There are a couple of great food trucks parked right next door, one that even sells kale chips and local kombucha. I am grateful for the find as our pantry is pretty desolate and I am always in search for a good snack…

The hubs heads to campus today to nail down school logisitcs before classes start later this month. He’s excited and ready, though I know he is enjoying a few weeks off before his program begins.  Meanwhile, I’m decorating, writing, and actively looking for work. I’m browsing the web and flipping through photos in search for the perfect pictures and artwork to hang on our walls, and reading up on Texas crops learning the dos and don’ts of planting in this incredibly hot state.

We are eager to get out and explore, but I am proud with the amount of work we’ve accomplished thus far. It’s hot here, like 107 degrees at 7:00 at night hot, so I currently don’t have a lot of motivation to head outside. For now, I am enjoying the sunshine through our windows, staying cool with the breeze of a fan, decorating our new space, and making #101 feel more like home.

Until next time!

Heading West to Texas

You can live in a place forever and never fully appreciate its beauty. Even when we lived in Boston, coming home for  visits to Arkansas never felt like much. It was the same place that I knew as a child, as a college student, and as a young adult. It was nostalgic, yes, but never really an exciting place to be. Now that our time in Arkansas is quickly coming to an end, I find myself taking the time to notice how sweet of a place that my hometown actually is. It’s funky and creative, and sometimes just flat out weird. The surrounding area is beautiful, and one of my favorite places to be. It’s a fun little state, and I am a little sad that it’ll soon no longer be my home.

I woke up Saturday morning excited for a sunny Spring day. I sipped my smoothie on the back porch and took some time to flip through a couple of magazines. I organized my grocery list and figured out what errands had to be taken care of that day. I slowly got ready and ventured out of the house, ready to walk the three quaint blocks to the downtown square for the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market. On my way out the door I received a text from the hubs, letting me know about a dog parade taking place just a short stroll away. I altered my route and took a walk down Dickson, watching dogs parade by, and browsing the eclectic booths that lined the street. It slipped my mind that it was the weekend of Spring Fest, a funky little festival that has been taking place in my hometown since before I was even born.

Once the folk band stopped playing and I grew tired of watching interesting people walk by, I  made my way up the road and over to the to the downtown square. I took one lap around, just like I always do, scoping out what each vendor had to offer, comparing prices along the way. I  picked up a watermelon-lemon popsicle from the man who sells them off of the back of his bike before making my way home.  I walked home slowly, taking in the beautiful scene around me. The trees are in full bloom here, and new flowers make an appearance every day. First the daffodils, then the tulips. Now there are radiant irises popping up everywhere. Spring is my favorite, and Spring in Northwest Arkansas is a fabulous thing to see.

While we prepare our hearts and minds for Austin, I find myself nostalgic and thankful for the last days that we will call Arkansas home. It’ll always be our home, of course, but soon a new adventure will begin. Before we know it, it’ll be time to pack up our fun little apartment and  head out West. We are excited for Austin, and look forward to the memories that we will create there. Moving to Boston was scary as we had never before lived so far away, but what a beautiful adventure that turned out to be. I’ll miss the quaintness of New England, and the Southern charm of Arkansas, but am excited to experience the sights and flavors of the Southwest. I look forward to creating adventures in Texas and blogging about it along the way!

For now, we’ve still got two months left of Arkansas exploring to do! Until next time!

 

A Weekend in Austin Texas

I hate how little I have been able to blog lately. Between freelance jobs, a big project at work, awaiting the birth of my nephew, and deciding where the hubs and I will call home next, I’ve had little time for such things. But finally, now that my deadlines have passed, now that my project is complete, now that my sweet new nephew has said hello to the world, now that our choices are narrowing down, now,  finally, I have a moment to sit and write.

Anyone who knows me know that I am not good at waiting. I am a planner and I like to know what comes next. Though my life often feels chaotic and unorganized, I am the kind of person who creates lists for her lists, if that even makes sense. It’s what my husband says about me, and in my chaotic but yet perfectly organized mind, it makes sense.

As someone who loves to know just what comes next, this whole PhD waiting game has been quite the ride. Thus far, 11 applications have gone out, word has been received from eight, and the final three acceptances and/or denials could arrive at any time. Jacob and I both check the mailbox about five times a day, while I’m sure he checks his email about 100 times more.

While this whole process certainly makes me anxious,  I am thrilled to be on this ride. I’ve accepted that not knowing what comes next is exciting–it’s a new adventure waiting to be had. Loosening my grip on planning has been nice for a change. It’s nice in a way not knowing what comes next.

A few weeks ago I was able to travel with Jacob to Austin, TX for a prospective student’s weekend. We left late on a Friday afternoon, driving five and a half hours before stopping for a night in Dallas to see our brother BK. We ate In-N-Out burger and enjoyed a few beers from Harpoon–a delicacy I’ve greatly missed since our time in Boston. We enjoyed a comfortable night in, resting after a chaotic and busy week at home.

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Being the nut that I am, I made Jacob wake up at an ungodly hour (for a Saturday morning anyway) so that we could be in Austin in time to visit a local farmer’s market. If Austin ends up becoming our new home, I need to know that I’m able to trust their local food offerings. Of course, with Austin being recognized as one of the top food cities in the country, I knew that this wasn’t really anything I had to worry about. Though, seeing as how it’d been months since I’d been able to visit a proper farmer’s market, I figured I would jump at the opportunity while it presented itself. We strolled through the booths being tempted by local juices and gorgeous produce, learning a bit more about Austin’s local food movement and picking up a few handy resources along the way.

We continued our day at Easy Tiger on Sixth Street where we enjoyed a local brew, a pretzel the size of my head, and the house made cheese spread and a tangy mustard sauce. The air was warm and muggy, but it was nice to enjoy some heat on a February winter day. We proceeded with a walk down Sixth and some browsing on Congress. We zigzagged through neighborhoods peaking in to strangers’ yards. We loved the quirkiness of the homes, and the enormous succulents growing on the curbs.

After stopping at the hotel for a late afternoon nap, we ventured out for round two to get a taste of Austin after dark. We kicked things off on Rainey Street with friends and a drink at Bangers. We munched on fries with curry ketchup and sipped a Revolver blood and honey wheat. We listened to the strums of a banjo and to the hum of the harmonica. Families played cornhole with their kids, while pet owners snuck their dogs tasty treats. The atmosphere of Rainey was friendly and lively. I could see us there on a Friday after school or work;  meeting friends for dinner, or taking our dog along on a date. 

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Our night ended with a quick walk down Sixth Street to check out the local zoo, and a maple bacon donut from Gordough’s– the most sinfully delicious way to end our day.

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Sunday greeted us with cold temperatures and lots of rain. We browsed the aisles of Whole Foods while waiting for a table for brunch at a restaurant across the street. This particular Whole Foods is like the Walmart of the health food world. It was massive and overwhelming, and nothing like any Whole Foods I’d ever visited before. I could have spent hours wandering this health food heaven, but alas, our table was ready and I was forced to leave after a short 20 minute trip. I left with some Harpoon and a local Kombucha, anxious to visit this store once again.

Our farm to table brunch was a perfect treat on that rainy day. We filled our bellies with good drink and grub before venturing on to the rest of our day. We made a quick stop by Graffiti Park before spending our afternoon  browsing the eclectic shops of South Congress Avenue. We perused through antique goods and vintage finds and tried funky ice cream flavors from a shop nearby. We  took a drive through Zilker Park and pictured what our lives might look like if we decide to call Austin home.

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Sunday night rolled around and our prospective student festivities began. We enjoyed a delicious meal of Indian curry and got to know a few other prospective students of UT. We mingled with current students and teachers, and slowly took it all in. I learned all about people’s research, and chatted about what life in Austin is really like. The night ended slightly less awkwardly than it began, leaving knowing at least a handful of people’s names.

Monday was full of tours, meetings, and lectures. It was a day devoted to learning about UT and about the program that Jacob would be in. He was able to meet some of his potential professors, and to ask the questions that we have both been itching to know. I ventured off on my own during the afternoon, wandering about campus and around town, truly trying to picture myself calling this place home. I made my way back to Whole Foods, and even made my way to Trader Joe’s.  I left with five bottles of Charles Shaw and a new succulent, and headed back to find my hubs.

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Monday night ended with one last reception and chitchat with more professors. We concluded our evening with drinks at a local campus hangout and said farewell to our newly made friends. We walked back to our hotel hand in hand on that chilly, rainy night, scrutinizing the way that we both felt about UT and about Austin as a whole.

The hubs is scheduled to fly to Boulder, CO in a couple weeks to check out another serious contender. Boulder has been our number one choice from the beginning as to where we would love to live, but there are so many things to consider during this decision making process. It’s not necessarily always easy, but it’s our fun little adventure. We are both confident that with thoughtful consideration and prayer, we will end up where we are intended to be.

Deadlines are quickly approaching, so this impatient waiter will soon have to wait no more! This segment of our journey is quickly ending, while our new adventure will soon begin.

Until next time, friends!