Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Easter Alleluia 2022

 It's been a minute, but time to update on 2022 and my latest travels!

2022 started not much different than 2021, unfortunately. I think that we thought we had seen the last of COVID 19 affecting our gatherings, but that was not the case. I at least got to gather with friends and family a little bit more around the holidays, but the anxiety and uncertainty and cases of COVID going up were still there. 

Visiting friends in PA for New Year's definitely didn't happen in 2020-2021, so I'm grateful that we got to gather, as well as a family gathering for Christmas pictured below.

These girls were part of my COVID "pod" for the past two years and I'm so thankful to have them in my life!

Similarly, January and February of 2022 were stressful at school. Teachers and students were still getting COVID and we were having to sub for each other and get students caught up with absent work. Our new governor lifted the mask mandates in schools in January in the middle of cases still rising. This caused me anxiety like I had not felt before. 

Finally, in March of this year, I felt like I could literally and figuratively breathe again. COVID cases are low in our area and I feel safe being out in public with or without a mask (depending on the scenario). These past two years have been fast and slow all at the same time and certainly unlike anything we have experienced before. I know that we will be processing and talking about the effects of these last two years for years to come. 

Easter was a little late this year, which is stressful for a Catholic school teacher whose Spring Break depends upon the placement of Easter in our calendar. While March certainly allowed for more solace and stability in routine, I was ready for a break! I was sooooo grateful that lower cases of COVID meant that we can travel a little more! 

I have been wanting to go to Marfa, Texas for the past several years. People asked me how I learned about Marfa and I don't think that I could tell you where I first learned about it. I have been to Texas several times, but Texas is a world of its own, and there's always something new to see or explore. I decided to plan my Spring Break trip around my desire to experience Marfa and see what happened!

Below are the details of my Spring Break trip. I was more nervous than I had been in a while to travel- probably because of COVID- but everything went sooooo smoothly and I am so grateful for this experience and this break!

Day1: Fly to El Paso 
I flew out on Easter Sunday ( I help out at our Easter Vigil at my church the night before which frees up Easter typically as a good travel day) and rented a car in El Paso, Texas. As I mentioned, I've been to Texas a couple of times, but never to El Paso. I wasn't sure what to expect and didn't really have many expectations as it was just kind of the location I needed to fly to to get to Marfa. But I was so pleasantly surprised by El Paso and it ended up being one of my favorite places and days of the trip!

Even though a lot of things were closed. I still found some great food and stumbled upon the cutest, most perfect town which I will get to in a second. 

People had recommended L & J Cafe which was closed, so I wandered in to Lick it Up which turned out to be a vegan restaurant, but the tacos and drinks that I had still gave me that Tex-Mex fare I had been craving. 

El Paso is on the border of Mexico. You can literally walk across to Juarez, Mexico via a bridge. I was a little nervous to do so by myself based on things I had read recently, but I could see the town from some of the views and streets that I found myself on in downtown. 

Mural next to L&J Cafe which was sadly closed. View from Tom Lea Park in El Paso with Mexico in the distance.

First tacos and tequila of Texas, but not the last!
After wandering around downtown a little, I decided to do the local Missions Trail a few miles outside of El Paso. I started at the furthest Mission, San Elizario, and worked my way back towards Mission Yselta which is closest to El Paso. I was so delighted with what I found at the San Elizario Mission. When I was looking at the Church (which was closed, but I was content to walk around outside), I could hear music playing in the distance, so I decided to go check it out. I came upon a cute outdoor restaurant with people singing karaoke! I also found some really awesome art galleries that were open and I enjoyed speaking with the artists inside and learning about their art. I definitely recommend a visit to this cute town!

San Elizario Mission and cute art galleries in town!
Outdoor karaoke bar in San Elizario

After visiting San Elizario, I worked my way back to El Paso and stopped at the Socorro and Yselta Missions along the way. The Socorro Mission had a beautiful cemetery that I took a stroll through which was a nice little reflection on Easter Sunday. 

Cemetery at Socorro Mission and Yselta Mission below.
I finished my first day out in El Paso by going to the Mesa Grill which was an upscale restaurant that happened to be open and got (you guessed it) more tacos and relaxed at my Air B n B for the rest of the night. All in all a successful first day in Texas!

Day 2: El Paso to Terlingua

I had mentioned that I had wanted to walk across to Juarez, Mexico, but I decided against it. Seeing the border wall was still pretty jarring and made me think about the differences so close to us yet somewhat out of sight in the country right next to us. I got to contemplate this as I drove along the border a little bit on my way to my next destination. 


Before I left El Paso, I got a great breakfast sandwich here and also stocked up on some car snacks at the nearby Albertson's which ended up coming in handy on the long drives I would have the couple days ahead. 

My drive to Terlingua and Big Bend National Park was long. I ended up going past Marfa and Alpine- two towns I would return to later in the week. It was nice to get to get a little preview of Marfa though and I got to check off the list one of the main attractions of Marfa which is the "Prada store" outside of Marfa (which is really just a weird art installation). I saw this about half way into my drive. 

Drove past these going East...would return to Marfa later in the week!

The drive to Terlingua and Big Bend was maybe like 6 hours? And when I got to Big Bend it was even MORE driving through the park. I was tired so I only drove through a portion of it. What I did see was beautiful. You pay a fee to enter the park (as you do with all National parks) but the ticket is good for a week, which is nice. I wish I would've allotted more time for me to tour the Park because there is also part of it that is close to Mexico and I believe you can actually go across into the country from it. I stayed in the Santa Elena Canyon section of the park, but I had heard that the Rio Grande portion of the Park was worth doing as well. Maybe next time!

Welcome to Terlingua! Such a weird, desert town
Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park

My air b n b on a mountain in Terlingua! It was a converted bus in the middle of nowhere, but there were other campsites nearby and running showers and flushing toilets elsewhere on site. Not the most glamorous stay, but amazing views and a definite experience!
One of like two restaurants in Terlingua with live music and more great tacos/burritos!

Day 3: Terlingua to Chinati Hot Springs

I got up pretty early on Day 3 and thought about going back to Big Bend, but I had still more driving to do in another direction to get to my next location. I had been wanting to try these Hot Springs that are outside of Marfa. The drive was another long, mountainous one but was really beautiful and the end result of peace at the Hot Springs was worth it!

Visited the cemetery in Terlingua before I left for the Hot Springs

Part of the view on my drive past Lajitas towards the Hot Springs
My stay at Chinati Hot Springs.
Enjoying the pool and the hot springs at Chinati respectively. So peaceful!
There was no wireless or cell phone service at the Hot Springs which was extra refreshing. There are also no nearby restaurants or food provided on site (which the website to reserve lodging tells you) so you have to bring your own. But there is a communal kitchen where you can store and cook the food that you bring (those Albertson's car snacks came in handy and I brought and made some ramen for the night. I am not a cook...). 

I sat by the pool and read and got to meditate and enjoy the peace and quiet of my surroundings. I woke up early on Day 4 to also enjoy the sunrise. Chinati Hot Springs was one of my favorite parts of this week!

Day 4: Chinati Hot Springs to Marfa

The drive down from Chinati to Marfa was not bad at all compared to all of the driving I had done the last two days. If I could plan the trip again, I would give myself more time at Big Bend rather than Marfa, but Marfa had been my main goal of the trip. 

When I arrived at Marfa, I decided to explore the town I had been wanting to visit for so long. I had researched ahead of time so I knew that a lot of stores and galleries had weird hours and weren't really open until the weekends. Even though I had done that research, I still didn't realize how quiet and sleepy the town really is when so many things are closed. In theory, there were lots of stores and bookshops and cute places to visit, but nothing seemed to be open. I did get lunch at Marfa Burritos which I was really happy about, hung out in my trailer which was home for the next two days at El Cosmico, and wandered into a couple galleries and stores that happened to be opened. I also went to the Hotel Paisano where Hollywood stars had stayed when they filmed "Giant". There also happen to be huge billboards of the movies stars outside of Marfa. 

Billboards and burritos.

Hotel Paisano
Above: Planet Marfa which is a fun outdoor bar and restaurant that was actually open, and below: The Lost Horse Saloon which I stopped in for a drink on my way out of town to see the Marfa Lights. It was a pretty sleepy bar as well. The only other people in there were another out of town couple who I talked to for a bit. 

Above: a few miles out of town, you can go at sunset to try and see the "Marfa Lights" which are mysterious, unexplained moving orbs? I didn't see any but I only stayed for like an hour. Some people stay all night! Below: my trailer at El Cosmico.

Day 5: Marfa and Alpine

I finally got to see one of the exhibits that drew me to Marfa: Donald Judd's 15 Works in Concrete which are outside at The Chinati Foundation which is right next to El Cosmico. You can tour the works for free, but to see the other exhibits inside on the property, you have to take a tour. I recommend the tour. You get to see more of Judd's work as well as installations from his collaborator, Dan Flavin. The tour also includes a cool space curated by Robert Irwin. The tour was really extensive and was a two hour tour with lots of walking! But definitely worth it. 


15 Works in Concrete outside Chinati Foundation. We weren't allowed to take pictures of the inside works.
After the extensive tour, I was hungry so I went to The Water Stop in Marfa which was a really nice brunch place. I had also started my day at Do Your Thing coffee which was a cute coffee spot with a really nice server close to the Lost Horse I had gone to the night before. 

Marfa is really small and everything is pretty much just on a couple of blocks. I walked around a few more stores after lunch and visited Ballroom Marfa which had a couple of exhibits in the gallery, but as I mentioned, I was a little disappointed with the Marfa I had imagined versus reality. 

I had passed through the city of Alpine which is 20 miles east of Marfa when I did my drive to Terlingua earlier in the week. I decided to get out Marfa and see what I could see in Alpine. I was so glad that I did! There are lots of stores and galleries and murals in Alpine and I ended up having a really nice time walking around and taking pictures. I had dinner and drinks in Alpine as well. 

I found this super cute wine bar that operated out of an airstream which I got a drink at and ended up talking to the owner for a while who was super nice. I got dinner at Reata which was a local restaurant and had a good meal and then ended with a drink at Old Gringo Biker Bar! The people were friendly and there was live music. Definitely more of the experience I was hoping for in Marfa.

Fun drinking spot that also has food in Alpine: Old Gringo!
Cute Cactus corner in an art alley in Alpine, TX.
Amazing airstream wine bar in Alpine.
Another cute tucked away spot in Art Alley in Alpine. 

All in all, Day 5 was a good day full of art and Alpine!


Day 6: Marfa- Midland

When you are researching how to get to Marfa, two airports are suggested: El Paso and Midland. I decided to start in El Paso and end in Midland since I have a friend in Midland. My birthday also happened to be on this day, so I definitely wanted to celebrate with a friend. 

Before I left Marfa, I got breakfast at Aster which there was a line for, but the spot was really cute and the food was good. 

Birthday Breakfast Bagel Sandwich at Aster in Marfa. 


After that, I hopped in my car yet again to my final destination- Midland. I spent my birthday with my friend and her family. We played cards, ate some more delicious Mexican food, and caught up on life. It was a perfect chill day after an eventful week!

Day 7: Midland to Richmond
The last day of the week was devoted to travel, but I got coffee with my friend at Far West Coffee in Midland which was a really cute coffee spot before I had to get to the airport. There also were a couple of farmers/makers markets that morning nearby. 

My Spring Break West Texas Road Trip adventure was everything that I wanted it to be. If I could change anything, I would give myself more time at Big Bend and less time in Marfa and maybe stay in Alpine one night. I can't complain, though. Everything went so smoothly and I'm pretty proud of myself for braving the West Texan desert on my own!

This is what 41 looks like and I'm so pleased!



Peace,
Julia





Saturday, November 20, 2021

Feast of Christ the King 2021

 For the past several years, I've used this weekend's upcoming feast day to reflect back on the year. 2020 and 2021 have brought about a lot of things for reflection. While 2020 was unprecedented and hard in many ways, I did come to appreciate the slowness of it. 2021 started off with the same stillness and slowness as winter and a pandemic will bring you, but once things started to open back up in March and April and more people became vaccinated, the busyness of life went back to "normal". Except. Things are not yet normal. People are still getting sick. We are still quarantining with Covid exposures. Even with vaccines and boosters. Quarantining and wearing masks and remote meetings and teaching is a way of life now. And it is still pretty exhausting. 


Yet, I am grateful for all that I was able to do this year after the anxiety and seclusion of last year. Here is a look back on the last liturgical year: 

NYE was very low key with me and literally two other friends doing an at home dinner since Covid was at its height and we didn't have the vaccine yet. 
Winter is always rough, but 2020 taught us about using Zoom and FaceTime to socialize. This definitely carried over into 2021 until the vaccine. 
Our ticket back into society! Vaccinated Feb. 2021!
First winery trip since Covid in March 2021
Friends at Outer Banks for Spring Break 2021
Getting to celebrate my 40th how I dreamed with close friends and family vaccinated with a winery weekend was a definite highlight of 2021. 
Getting to attend Easter Vigil in person after having a quarantined Holy Week in 2020 and a quarantined year of RCIA was also a great joy. 

Celebrating a full year of teaching in a pandemic with the best staff a teacher could ask for in June 2021.

Still sticking with domestic travel for the summer of 2021, I treated myself to a spa weekend in the mountains and lots of road trips like my Delta Blues trip and visiting friends and family in OH and PA.
Above: Somewhere in Mississippi, Below: another winery, this time in PA with a bestie

Celebrating mom and dad's 70th and my 40th this summer in Ohio

I discovered a lot about myself in 2020 and 2021 and one of those things was that I *am* in fact into Renaissance Faires :) Went to my first one in MD in September. 

I was super stoked to do typical fall things again like fairs and hunting for decorative gourds with friends.
Had a mini-reunion with some college friends in DC in October.
And we got to have a few more join us at Halloween this year. 
Grateful to get back to somewhat "normal" with wine and friends this year, but still very aware of how our lives are still not quite the same. 

Feeling super grateful for vaccines and health and some of the busyness of 2021 and feeling hopeful for 2022! All of the projects I started in 2020 like my podcast  and blogging and connecting with other Catholic social media content creators continued throughout this year.  And shout out to St. Joseph whose year it was this past liturgical year in the Year of St. Joseph. He came through on a novena I did in March and will continue to see what his intercession will bring as we round out this year. 




St. Joseph, pray for us! Happy Feast of Christ the King!

Peace,
Julia