Saturday, October 27, 2018

For Balloons, For Friends, For Adventure

Once upon a lifetime ago, I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I don't ever talk about it publicly because other than a precious few moments of light, it was an otherwise very dark and extremely difficult time of my life.

But I did, I lived in Albuquerque for more than three years in my early twenties.  I had an entire life there, friends, a job (retail - it was before I graduated college), restaurants I enjoyed, two different apartments and then a house, and it's where both of my babies were born - delivered by the same doctor in the same hospital just 9 1/2 months apart!  Not far from there, in the mountains near Santa Fe, is where my son is buried.

And then, on my toddler's 2nd birthday, with nothing to offer her except only the hope that whatever was out there was better than where we were, I left my life in New Mexico..... and never looked back.  

The reason it was time to go.

I couldn't have known then that the Universe would find a way to steer my path back to the same area of the world years later as a completely different woman with her now teenager and adoring husband.  But I guess that's how the Universe works - mysteriously and purposefully - and honestly, it's because of that that I'm not all that surprised to find myself here again. 
I am married to a Soldier now, he is stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, and we live in El Paso, just 4 hours south of the city where I left a beloved piece of me up in the mountains forever.  But even though we have been living here for more than a year now, I haven't felt any desire to go back to that piece, no matter the distance.  There are ghosts in Albuquerque that I need to make peace with, and I'm just not sure yet if I have the energy to make it.

But, the Universe does all things for a reason and there has to be a reason why I am back in this area of the world long after I had walked away from the most awful part of my life.  And if I was being honest with myself, I couldn't help but be just a teeny bit curious what it would be like to go back as the person I am now, in the place that I am now - a safe and loved place.  

Of the very few pleasant memories I have of my time in Albuquerque, the Balloon Fiesta was one of them.  Fall is my absolute most favorite time of year and I remember waking up every morning for one entire week in early October to hundreds of hot air balloons filling up the morning sky.  

I remember it being a breathtaking sight.

But I never made it to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta - the world's largest hot air balloon festival (and some even say the most photographed event on earth)!  Other than watching the balloons from wherever I was in the city, I never made it to the fiesta to see them up close.  I had always wanted to, but was always too busy navigating all of the things life was throwing at me at the time (and doing a terrible job of it).  So when Eric, Isabelle, and I came back to this area of the world, I knew that eventually the Balloon Fiesta was something I would want to see before the Army sends us somewhere else.  I knew that I especially wanted to see it now, with my daughter and husband by my side, and adventure in my soul.  

Ghosts be damned, I was still going to seek adventure, even if that adventure was in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is held in Albuquerque every October, and this year Eric's mom, step-dad, and sister made plans to attend.  Since they were going to be just 4 hours away from us it was important for us to see them, and we knew it would make for the perfect weekend getaway.  Except that for us, the Army was busy making plans, changing them, pulling Eric into work stuff for days at a time, scheduling other things for him to focus on, changing those things, and then all of that stuff changed completely and suddenly and we're still trying to get our bearings on it all and are currently adjusting to the new things.  So we have been in a constant unknown for a couple of months now and had no way of committing to anything outside of Eric's work life, especially anything fun like spending time with family at The International Balloon Fiesta.

But any military family will tell you that when there is a gap in the Army's plans, no matter how tiny that gap, you take it!  So that's what we did!  When the sudden changes happened it allowed Eric a minute to take some time away from work, so at the very last second we headed out of town to see the world's largest hot air balloon festival and to spend time with our family!

The Fiesta is very weather-dependent and there really isn't a better day to attend than another during the week, just so long as you go on a good weather day.  But the most popular event is the morning mass ascension - when all of the balloons go up at the same time - and that was what we all really wanted to see!  So we all woke up before dawn on Saturday morning, only a few hours after we arrived to town late the night before, and headed out to the balloon park where we got to walk among the balloons, balloon crews and pilots.  
I've never seen a hot air balloon up close before.  I could assume that they're gigantic, I mean if you can make out their details from the ground then they must be humongous, and they are, but there is just something about being right next to them that is magical and so much more special than seeing them from a distance.  I was surprised at how many balloons there were and how close they all were to each other, most even touching as they lifted off the ground.  It was just the coolest thing ever!  Like being in a balloon forest!  And y'all know, my soul thrives on being in any sort of forest!  (But I think a balloon forest might be my most favorite kind of forest!)

And what was surprising, too, was how fast they went from being a pile of fabric on the ground to being a giant poofy balloon a hundred feet in the air!  It only took a matter of minutes to inflate and lift off!  And since we were able to talk to the pilots and crew, we got to see the entire process!  I couldn't really tell how intricate the inflation process was because let's be honest, what the hell do I know about inflating a hot air balloon, but it looked like it took a good number of people to make it all go smoothly and safely, and it sure went fast!
Then once they all lifted into the sky, the sky was just filled with all kinds of different shaped balloons with different colors in all directions!  It was as if the sky itself turned into a massive piece of artwork which kept you looking upwards for hours!  And there was nothing but balloons to look at - not a single cloud in the sky!  We had totally lucked out with weather, not only were there not any clouds, but there wasn't any wind so all of the balloons were able to take off as planned for the mass ascension.  

It really was breathtaking and just how I remembered!

A fishy wearing a top hat in balloon form.... I mean, c'mon!  Soooo cuuuuute!

He was my favorite.

Van Gogh! (Except he had both his ear lobes)

We spent all morning at the Balloon Fiesta and it was incredible!  And then when it was time to go I found myself in a bit of a dilemma: we had the rest of our day in Albuquerque to kill.  My adventurous spirit wanted to take advantage of every second to explore the city with my daughter and husband, just like we would in any city we visit together, but the ghosts that I had long ago ran away from I feared were still waiting for me.... and as we were leaving the balloon park, I realized I wasn't ready to face them. 


I couldn't help but wonder that if I didn't at least venture out towards those ghosts, if the Universe would find a way to keep me here.  While I'm okay with being in El Paso for the time that the Army says we have to be, I don't want to stay for a minute longer than we need to.  There has to be a reason the Universe brought me back to this part of the world after I walked away from the most awful part of my life so many years ago, but what that reason was I couldn't even begin to imagine.  Yet, here I am.  I don't believe in coincidences, so I know the Universe is up to something, and I make it a point never to question the Universe's design, only to listen and learn and absorb into my spirit the lessons it is trying to give me.

Ghosts be damned, I was going to have to do some absorbing.

I was not and am not ready to visit my son's grave.  I don't know if I will ever be.  I will decide when and if I am ready to go to his grave, not the Universe.  But besides that, whether I liked it or not, I was in a place from my past that I had no intention of ever revisiting... and I was about to revisit it.  So as long as the Universe understood that I had my limits on where we definitely would not be going, I thought that maybe a quick (very quick) walk around the mall I used to work at would appease the Universe, and then that way I could make my argument to go back to the hotel for a nap since I was exhausted and would have thoroughly done my part in whatever shenanigans the Universe was up to with steering my path backwards.  

Sounded like a plan to me!

I thought I had blocked out a lot of my years in Albuquerque... until we were actually in Albuquerque and I realized I remembered my way around as if I had never left.... and it was... weird, and made me want to leave but then want to see more, which was weird too and then I started to feel all sorts of ways and I wasn't sure I liked it.
The mall I used to work at was updated and nicer than I remembered.  Most of the stores and restaurants were the same and in the same place, but then the updated things made the mall seem newer and I was happy for that.  Mostly I was happy that I no longer have to work in retail (I'm a much better dental hygienist), but thankful for the experience it brought me and the lessons I learned during that time.  I wasn't sad walking around that mall and it was really neat being able to talk about some of the things that happened while I worked there with my daughter and husband - like that one time a man walked into the store I worked at wearing all black, black gloves that completely covered his hands, and a full face motorcycle helmet with a blacked-out face shield that he kept down and refused to take off or put the face shield up so we all thought we were about to get robbed.  Eric, Isabelle, and I laughed at what an idiot he was and I'm guessing still is.

On the way back to the hotel we drove past the hospital where my babies were born.  And that was all that I was ready to see from my past.  But as I was quickly embracing those few parts from my past, I began to remember the life that I had there, and that there was more that I could have seen if I had been ready to, and that actually, I wouldn't have minded to see more if I could have taken my time.  I still have dear friends that live there and have kept in touch with all these years that I DEFINITELY would like to make time to go back to see. 

What my spirit absorbed from the Universe that weekend is that the ghosts that are in Albuquerque aren't there to hurt me; that what was there hurting me... can't anymore.  And that the city deserves to be explored and visited just like I would any other city in this amazing world we live in.  

I was so sweetly reminded that I am safe and loved, and that yes, I can go back.  If I'm ready, when I'm ready.  

For balloons, for friends, for adventure.  

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Labor Day 2018 in Arizona

Before Isabelle's school schedule and Eric's work schedule could get the best of us this Fall, we decided to high tail it out of town and go somewhere.  But I must have been off my trip planning game though, because finding that somewhere proved to be way harder than I anticipated it to be.  

Eric, Isabelle, and I reeeealllly needed to get out of town for a minute.  El Paso is a great city with great people, but I can't tell you that it's our most favorite place that we've ever been to and it does something to us when we're here for too long.  But the Army would only let Eric go so far for the weekend he had off, so I wracked my brain for a good while trying to find somewhere we could go to get away but that wasn't too far.  Except that El Paso is pretty far from a lot of places.  All of those places are places we would really like to see while we are on this side of the world, close to El Paso or not, but we were a little limited on how far we could go this time.  I Googled until I couldn't Google anymore and wasn't having any luck finding anywhere close-ish to here that would be a place we could spend time exploring and I was beginning to feel that maybe I had no trip planning game at all anymore when....



Eric, Isabelle, and I packed our bags for a weekend trip to the Wild West!  We made the simple 4.5 hour drive to Tombstone where we were transported back in time to the 1880's Wild West of America!

It. Was. So. Cool!

We drove into Tombstone, parked the car, and started falling in love with every bit of the teeny tiny town with a giant personality!

Eric and I don't usually go anywhere with a whole lot of expectations.  We like to experience the world exactly as the world is, whether it's good or bad we make it a rule never to make demands of it.  We figure the world will give us a story no matter what and we've found that going at it without expectations allows us to receive more purely what the world wants to give.  But, we do loooooove an experience, and Tombstone was an experience!  We immediately fell in love with the atmosphere and knew we were going to have a blast.

Everyone was dressed up as they would be in the 1880's, the buildings and businesses were set up to look as though they would be back then too and I just couldn't get enough of it!  Eric especially loved it, and I had to laugh at how excited he was at everything because he doesn't often show much excitement (it was adorable).  Maybe it's because we honest-to-goodness had no idea what to expect when we got there and as long as our butt's weren't in El Paso for a few days we were going to be happy, but Tombstone ended up being way cooler than we imagined it to be!


The famous gunfight at the O.K Corral took place on October 26, 1881 and is what made the names of Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and his brothers, Virgil and Morgan, go down in history as some of the most famous lawmen of the wild west.  
The showdown is one of the most famous gunfights of all gunfights and represents a time in our history when the American frontier was an open range for outlaws who were mostly unopposed by any kind of penalty or law enforcement.  They say that 30 shots were fired in 30 seconds, but I'd like to know who was honestly counting?  Virgil and Morgan Earp were badly wounded in the shootout but survived, and Doc Holliday suffered a superficial hip wound but also survived.  Three of the the outlaws died during the gunfight, while Ike Clanton ran in fear when the shots began.  Only Wyatt Earp emerged completely unscathed, cementing his name in American history forever.  

Movies have been made about these men and the gunfight (starring a 1990's Val Kilmer.... yum!), and Tombstone takes special care to do live reenactments every day.  I'm just giving y'all some context for some of my pictures.  The very first few pictures I posted above are of some reenactments too but I didn't catch what they were reenacting, but it's the pictures below that are of the reenactment of the infamous gunfight at the O.K Corral between the Earps and the Cowboys in 1881.  It seemed like everyone in Tombstone was in character of some kind and we were all apart of the show in one way or another.  It was seriously so cool!

"Doc Holliday" 

Morgan, Virgil, & Wyatt Earp

Me in front of the real O.K Corral

Eric, Isabelle, and I stayed in Tombstone all day and evening exploring every bit of the town.  The town is very small so it was all about going slow and enjoying the experience of it, which was exactly what we had hoped for for our weekend away!  We ate dinner at a saloon where an older gentleman was singing and I ordered a margarita that the bartender put a few extra shots of tequila in and I was feeling all kinds of awesome by the time we headed out to our hotel.

Our hotel was a replica of an old west town.  It was the cutest, most peaceful hotel we've ever stayed at.  I'm sure I've said that a bazillion times about hotels all over Europe, but this time I really mean it.  This place was so cute!  They had horseback riding available and trails to hike and a saloon with board games that you could borrow and then go play while rocking in the rocking chairs outside of your hotel room while listening to the folk singer inside the saloon - I mean....c'mon


This was our room, the Bordello. 

The morning horseback riding group just getting started!

Eric and I woke up early the next morning so that we could hike a bit before breakfast.  We let Isabelle sleep in and snuck out the door to explore around the hotel.  There were big rocks that looked to be perfect for climbing and I was itching to get out there.  Since this was all right behind our hotel I knew that we were safe to go out without any supplies, not like our disastrous hike a few weeks ago.  Eric and I vowed not to go hiking again until we purchased a few hiking necessities and we haven't done that yet (we figure they'll make for great Christmas gifts), but we were literally right behind the hotel so we didn't pay any mind to bringing anything with us other than our hotel key and my camera.  

We worked up a bit of an appetite as we climbed rocks and boulders.  As we would climb one rock pile we would see another and make our way over to that pile, then we'd see another and another and keep climbing.  We could see over top of the horses and got to watch the handlers getting them ready for their morning ride.  Unfortunately the clouds hadn't cleared yet so we didn't get to see much of a sunrise, but it was still beautiful all the same.

At some point Eric and I decided to make our way back down, then we woke up our teenager and had a home cooked breakfast.  It was such a great way to get our day started!

My buddy


Since Tombstone is teeny tiny, we knew before we ever left El Paso that we were going to have to find other things to do to fill our time other than just watching reenactments.  Not that we didn't love the reenactments, it's just that we definitely wanted to maximize our time in that corner of Arizona.  So after I pinpointed a destination, I stretched my search out a bit to look for more things to do and found Saguaro National Park!

The park is located just outside of Tucson and about an hour from Tombstone.  I found that they have a 'Cactus Forest Loop Drive' and I immediately knew we had to go!


A few weeks ago Eric and I were in a very bad and very dangerous situation on a hike in the Franklin Mountains that really affected me.  I have fallen madly in love with hiking and have set some ambitious hiking goals which needs for me to practice hiking on all kinds of trails so that I can eventually get to those goals.  But I refuse to go back out on any trails until we get better prepared, which just means that we need to buy a few hiking essentials.  To be honest, we already should have those essentials and it's embarrassing that we don't.  I'm not sure that we can even consider ourselves actual "hikers" without them, but whatever, until we get a few things I absolutely won't go hiking again (but I still consider myself a real hiker {hair flip}).  
I'm also having major issues about being in the desert since our hike-gone-wrong.  Y'all... we **live** in the desert.  So I have anxiety pretty much every time I leave air conditioning, and I have to have water with me every time I leave the house.  When I tell you that that hike affected me, I mean, it affected me.  That hike a few weeks ago was really truly that bad, and we did not think we were going to make it out without help.  I wasn't and am not exaggerating it.  So going back into the desert to see all the cacti was something I was going to have to get my mind right for.

The Cactus Forest Loop Drive is an 8 mile scenic drive that winds through a saguaro forest.  It is a paved, one-way road that begins at the visitor center and allows you to stop as often as you want to take pictures and get as up-close and personal to all the cactus you could possibly imagine!

Since we knew that we would be driving through the desert, Eric and I packed 2 gallons of water and put them in the trunk of our car before we ever left El Paso.  I knew that the scenic drive meant that we weren't going to have to hike anywhere if we didn't want to from the research I had done, so if I got too hot I could jump back into the car whenever I needed to and wanted to.  But this is the thing about my husband... he is so empathetic and never makes me feel silly, and he knew that that wasn't enough to calm my fears.  So he stopped to top off the gas tank before we got to the national park.  Knowing that the car had a full tank of gas made me feel secure because I knew I had access to air conditioning at all times, and that we weren't going to get stranded out in the middle of the desert.  Also, Eric had packed three more extra giant water bottles that he had put behind the drivers seat unbeknownst to me, one for each of us, so that when I felt anxious he could gently tell me that there is water in the back seat where I could reach it if I needed it.  He did this because he understands me.  He did this because I take care of him in our every day life, and he takes care of me.  He did this because he understands my anxiety about being in the desert and because he too was affected by the very awful situation we had experienced together, and he knows I'm not being silly or over dramatic.   

I don't know what I would do without him. 

Since Eric took the time to care for my fears before we ever arrived at the park, I was able to completely enjoy our day!  It truly was a cactus forest!  You might not be able to see all of them in my pictures, but there are cacti of all shapes and sizes for as far as you can see!  Most are as tall as houses or taller!  It was really beautiful and really cool!


Big fella!

For our last little bit of time in Arizona we decided to go to the town of Bisbee.  It is a small town nestled in the Mule Mountains and is a very artsy, folksy sort of place.  Eric is NOT an artsy, folksy kind of guy, but he married the granddaughter of the most extraordinary artsy woman this world has ever seen, so he has a special place in his heart for the arts that that most extraordinary woman introduced him to before she left this physical world.

We didn't stay in Bisbee for long, just long enough to wander around and see the Historic District and enjoy the artsy vibe.  We were all really tired after spending the day in a cactus forest, if we were going to sit and enjoy music and food, we wanted to do it at our hotel.  But we seemed to be the only people who didn't want to stay because everyone else who was there found a cafe to settle into and listened to music and didn't seem to be leaving anytime soon.  

So don't be like the Schnell's!  Go to Bisbee and stay awhile!  You'll love it!

I haven't figured out if I'm good at planning trips, or if it's just the way that my little family approaches the world that makes our experiences so great.  Not all of our trips have been great, but all of our trips have given us a story, and I personally consider that to be great, and I'll take what I can get when the world is so generous to give.  But this trip... was more than we expected.  I think I was on top of my trip planning game, for sure!  I was just a little out of practice.  {hair flip}  

Sometimes, when finding that somewhere is hard, that somewhere finds you.