Monday, May 11, 2020

PCS Status: 2020

It's that time again!  That time when the Army closes one chapter and ships us off to the next!  

Fort Bliss, TX may seem like an unlikely choice for a little family like mine, but three years ago when when Eric and I talked about and factored in all of the intricacies that go into making certain decisions for our life, we had no doubts that Fort Bliss was the exact right place for us.  

And we were right!  Life unfolded seamlessly here and we can look back on this chapter fondly.

El Paso has been gracious and loving to our family.  Isabelle has thrived and blossomed here; having all the space to explore her heritage in a way that Eric and I could never have provided otherwise.  I was welcomed with open arms into the community where I spent my time volunteering at a homeless shelter and also nudging my shy self into local hiking groups where I explored every trail in the Franklin Mountains.  And Fort Bliss was where my husband was extremely successful and got to work side by side with incredible Soldiers who he will remember for his lifetime.  

El Paso, TX may seem to you like an unseemly city, but take it from us that El Paso is special, and we are better for having lived here.  Our little family got to witness firsthand how tight-knit and resilient this community is after the mass shooting that happened on August 3, 2019 at a Walmart that we were at just the day before.  The community pulled together in a way that is impossible to put into words.  El Pasoans are some of the strongest and most loving people you will ever meet, and I can say that because they enclosed us into their love and protection when things got scary.

But... it's that time again, and I have to be honest... we are very ready to leave.

I've mentioned a time too many that this hasn't been my most favorite area of the world I've ever been to.  We just aren't desert people and that's taken a toll on my spirit after almost three years of living here.  And for all the love El Paso has given us, El Paso was sure to claim a few of our most precious things in exchange for that love... our beloved Brewsky, my wedding ring, and almost my father-in-law (but then God Himself stepped in for that one).  While I can appreciate the delicate balance of good/bad, bad/good that the Universe constantly manages, my little ol' self will never be the same without those precious parts and I'm angry about it.  

So it's time.  I am ready to leave. 

AND GO TO.... 

VIRGINIA!!!  Fort Lee, Virginia!  

Y'ALL!!  We are going back to Virginia!!!

{We've actually known this for a good while now, but with everything going on in the world it wasn't certain whether our move would happen as scheduled.  There's still a lot of unknowns as current events unfold, but we now have official orders and that's as good as it gets in Army life.}

Fort Lee is where we lived briefly while Eric was a student, but now he will be the teacher!  We are so excited!

Except that... the Army is opening a new chapter for us right before Isabelle starts her Senior year of high school/college.  
I can't remember if I've mentioned this on my blog or not, but, Isabelle is currently earning her associates degree in Biological Sciences from El Paso Community College (EPCC) at the same time as her high school diploma (our baby is smart).  It's not easy to move ever, but especially during high school, and especially right before her Senior year.  With all that our daughter is working towards, it would only hurt her future to force her to move to a different school just one year shy of finishing everything she's started.  

Military children are incredibly resilient and adaptable because they are asked to make sacrifices that are not always fair and are never convenient.  These traits will serve them well in life, but it's hard when life changes and you never know when or often even why.  Isabelle moved three times between two different countries and two different U.S States in her 8th grade year, alone.  And that was really hard on her.  Isabelle is a good girl, she is smart and ambitious, she is mature and self-sufficient and makes friends easily, but at the end of the day she's just a kid trying to live her life while having almost no control on when her entire world will change.

And that makes being a kid that much harder.  

Eric and I knew that the timeframe for another PCS would be near Isabelle's Senior year.  This was one of those intricacies that we had to factor into our decision when we were getting ready to move here.  After watching Isabelle struggle with an initial transition, we decided that we would not ask her to make any more sacrifices for Eric's career, no matter what that meant.  So we were mindful to keep Isabelle involved with all of the conversations over the past three years of the different ways in which Army life may unfold for us, and have let Isabelle be involved in forming our decisions.   

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that Isabelle wants to stay here in El Paso in her house, at her school, with her friends.

Eric and I sure can't blame her, so we are honoring all of the commitment she's given to her academics and are making plans for Eric to live apart from us for Isabelle's Senior year.  

Now, there are things that the Army will do to help keep life consistent and families together in situations like ours, and we sure did discuss those particular things, but ultimately, what is best for us is for Eric to move to Fort Lee and for Isabelle and I to stay in El Paso so that she can finish high school/college here with her friends and in her house.  It's going to be hard, and require a giant adjustment, but we have made the right decision.  And anyway, it's only for a year.

So like I said, it's that time again!  That time when the Army closes one chapter and ships us off to the next!  


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Cheers to Ten Years!

Eric and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last month!  We celebrated the way we celebrate all things, with a low key dinner out, fancy champagne, and exchanging cards (cards are our thing and I've saved every single one we've ever given each other).  It was a perfect evening, but 10 whole years of adventures as a little family is a special milestone... and I couldn't help but feel that this anniversary deserved a bit more celebrating.

I've mentioned before (on probably every blog post I've written since moving here) that we aren't all that happy in this area of the world that we currently live.  That doesn't mean we aren't going to explore and experience every little facet of this area of the world that we possibly can while we're here, it just means that we won't make an effort to come back if we don't have to (and we really hope we don't have to).  And so far, I feel like we've done a pretty good job of exploring all the things!  Almost none of it has made it onto this little blog of mine these last couple of years, but we really have seen all that this area has to offer, from hiking, to being involved in our community, to regular day trips, we've really seen a LOT!!

It is our dream someday to wake up in a different national park every few weeks.... but because Eric is fully committed to his career and Isabelle is still in high school, that someday is a bit further than we'd like it to be.  But we aren't ones to just to sit around waiting for all the experiences we want to experience to come to us, even if they don't look like that dream we're working really hard towards, we will still joyfully run towards all adventures every chance we get and not wait a single second longer than we need to!  

So spending the night in Big Bend National Park is the bestest way for a couple like us to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary!

Eric is actually standing on a cliff overlooking both America and Mexico. 

That's a coyote!  The mascot of my alma mater is a coyote!  So that means I'm a coyote too and we're best friends! 

Eric and I are nooooot desert people.  At least not the kind of desert that is in and around El Paso.  Our souls belong in the mountains.  Any mountains, anywhere, we don't care, just put us somewhere where we have to look upwards and walk uphill to do anything.   

We left home early in the morning for our anniversary trip and once we got to Big Bend we kept driving.  We drove throughout the whole entire park stopping every so often to take pictures.  Since we were driving along the border of America and Mexico and in and out of the Chisos Mountain range (the only mountain range in the U.S to be fully contained within the boundary of a national park), we didn't have cellphone service, which is pretty much the best combination ever - mountains + no cell service - because if you know Army life, you know that a Soldier's phone never. stops. dinging.

There is a lot to do, see, and hike in Big Bend National Park, but we were a little bit limited on time because we had made plans for the evening and had already taken up too much time aimlessly wandering around the park, so we decided to pick just one thing to hike to and explore which was to the Boquillas Hot Springs.

There was an older man standing literally just off to the side of this picture waiting patiently for me to get my picture taken so that he could go find peyote plants to harvest. 

The hardest part of the Hot Springs Trail was the drive to the trail head.  Once we turned off the main road onto the gravel road that lead to the trail it was just a 2 mile or so drive, but it was rough, very very rough, and at times narrow.  A big dually probably wouldn't be able to make it through, and RV's and trailers aren't even allowed at all, making the hike that little bit longer, but once you get to the actual trail, it's easy peasy.  This particular trail was a 1.4 mile loop trail with no gain in elevation.  It was the easiest hike I've ever done, so easy that I'm not sure I'd consider it a hike at all.  

But worth it!  So worth it anyway!

The trail starts at the old historic district which was a resort area developed in the early 1900's when the developer heard of the healing powers of the hot springs.  It's long been abandoned, but once you make that rough drive to the parking area, you become amazed, and even amused, at how anyone could have accessed this little resort one hundred years ago, or how anyone would have even know that it was there at all.

I felt grateful to be seeing and experiencing it.

The Boquillas Hot Springs grocery store that operated from 1942-1952. 

 Early 1900's resort cabins

The Rio Grande and Mexico 

The Hot Spring is considered fossil water - ancient water that has been contained in an undisturbed space, like an aquifer, for millennia.  

If that isn't just the coolest thing ever!

The Rio Grande was at a higher than usual level, although not flooded, which tends to happen, and it was extremely muddy, so the Hot Spring was muddier than usual from the overflow.  It's said that the minerals in the Spring have healing powers for both the body and soul, but I had zero desire to get in and soak when I saw how muddy it was.  None.  Ew.  No thanks.  My soul is a germaphobe and muddy minerals aren't going to heal that.  But there were a lot of people we met that day who did and loved it, it just wasn't appealing to me seeing how muddy it was.  The consistent temperature of the Spring is 105° but the Rio Grande was significantly colder!  Especially at this time of year - the river water was freezing!  
It was really really cool to feel the drastic difference in temperatures even though they were in the same body of water.  The Hot Spring was hot!  Very hot!  It takes a minute to be able to hold your hand in the water for very long because of how hot it is.

The hot spring! 

Eric and I had thought about crossing the border at the Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry, we even brought our passports so that we could, but because we stopped so much to take pictures along the way, we were cutting it a little too close to get back over the border again before the crossing station closed, so we decided to turn around and head to our hotel instead.

When planning our trip I figured that we couldn't celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary in just any ol' hotel... we needed to celebrate big and in the most authentic way for a national park as possible! (Except not authentic like camping in a tent.  I had one of the worst experiences of my life tent camping when I was about 12 years old and I will never ever sleep in a tent ever again.)  So what better way to spend a night in Big Bend National Park than to spend it in a...



Eric and I spent the night in a fully furnished teepee!  We had everything a person could need - wifi, a small fridge, wine, heat, coffee maker, just about everything... except, a bathroom.  Our teepee was at the end of the camp which gave us more privacy and is why I booked that particular one, but we had to walk just a teeny bit to the bathhouse.  We knew that none of the teepee's had private bathrooms and that the bathhouse was a shared space when we booked it, so we weren't bothered by not having our own bathroom in the least.

The bathhouse had two separate and large showers that were clean and beautiful and fancier than we're used to with an extra large shower head for two people showering together (wink, wink).  Everything was seriously so. cool.  The actual teepee was bigger than it looked from the outside with a queen sized bed, futon, and two chairs for seating.  It was so warm and cozy and comfortable.   

It could not have been more perfect!

For dinner, Eric and I went into the Ghost Town to their most well-known restaurant, only to find that they were closed for the evening for a private event.  We had stalked their menu beforehand and knew exactly what we wanted to eat, so we were sooooo buuuuumed that they were closed the one night we were there.  

Our luck.  

So we had to find a different restaurant to eat at who's menu we didn't get a chance to pour over and went there having no idea what we wanted, like a couple of bums.  But we didn't let any of that ruin our evening.  By the time we were figuring out where to eat, we were beginning to feel the day in our legs anyway, and just wanted to eat something and go back to the teepee to relax.  As long as we got food in our tummies, it didn't really matter where we went.

Or at least that's what we told ourselves to stop from being super disappointed.

After our bellies were full of hamburgers and beer, we went back to relax by watching the sun set behind the Chisos Mountains until the stars came out.  

We could have started a small campfire in their fire pit if we wanted to, but decided it was more work than it was worth, especially since we knew we weren't going to stay up too late.  I know that a campfire would have added to the whole experience of the day and night, but we were just too sleepy.  And frustratingly, I had spent a large chunk of time after dinner trying my damnedest to get a picture of the glowing teepee under the stars and bright moon.  I had my tripod all set but was never able to figure out the needed settings on my camera to get a good picture.  I haven't been taking pictures like I used to so I am rusty, but being rusty on top of already being an amateur is just a whole level of frustration that I was too tired to deal with.  So I gave up getting the pictures I wanted and was very sure that we didn't want to mess with starting a fire by the end of all that, otherwise I would have thrown both my camera and tripod right into it.  

After the best sleep of our lives, we woke up earlier than usual since Big Bend is in a different time zone than our home, so we were first to the bathhouse and then made coffee as we watched the sunrise.  The scenery was unobstructed and breathtaking, every time we looked up at the mountains they looked different.  It was peaceful... and perfect.

We spent our trip together reflecting on 10 years of marriage and decided that we still couldn't explain how marriage works or what the secret is (or if there even is one).  Eric and I are not perfect people and have arguments, disagreements, and annoyances just as I assume everyone does, but for us, marriage has never once been hard.  Not ever.  

Life though, yes.  

Life gets brutal.  And messy.  

My husband, daughter, and I have seen our fair share of excruciating and absolutely unfair moments throughout our decade of sharing this path the Lord has made for us.  But being together is where we find refuge, and we just like each other.  A really lot.  And in all ways for always.

But spending the night in a teepee in a national park is as close to knowing what the true secret of a happy marriage is as we've ever found.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Caribbean Vacation 2019

HE'S HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!

My husband returned safely home at the end of July and we've been living in a time warp ever since.

The last 9 months were the longest months of my entire life.  Eric deployed last fall with no notice, which just means that because of the circumstances surrounding his specific position, we were given a less than 3 week notice that he would be deploying.  Less than 3 weeks didn't give our heads, or hearts, any time to process all of the major changes that come with a long term separation.  I'm a planner, his deployment wasn't something that could be planned (not much in Army life can be) and that made it even harder for my obsessive brain to deal with.  Besides that though, our little family does everything together, so having to figure out how to do life when we're incomplete was disorienting for a good while after he left.  Eric and I suffered major heartache the entire time he was gone.  Isabelle too, but her's was delayed by a little bit, but then sure enough it set in about January when it finally hit her that he wasn't here for her to lean on in all the ways she needed to lean.  She then texted him constantly for the rest of the time he was gone, even as he was getting into formation minutes before walking through the doors here at Fort Bliss.  
Our heads eventually caught up and we adjusted and found a new normal, but our hearts never really did and the months that he was gone seemed to drag on for forever.  There were moments that Eric missed that made it feel like he was missing too much and we wouldn't be able to catch up whenever we were finally together again.  

I've made no secrets about any of this and have talked about how disorienting, frazzled, and pathetic I felt throughout this deployment - both on this blog and my personal Facebook.  As his homecoming approached, I began to get reeeeally nervous about ridiculous things like him not recognizing us, or us not recognizing him, or him not wanting anything to do with us when he got off the plane (the list of things I worried about is ridiculous, I could keep going but I really don't need to sound even more pathetic.  Too late?  I thought so.).  

But the second my husband came home, it felt like he never left and the last 9 months completely disappeared.  

That's the time warp we've been living in.... somewhere between each having lived 9 whole months without the other, and feeling like not a single second was spent apart.  Somewhere between time quadrupling the number of hours in every day while Eric was deployed, and no time having passed at all.

It's been weird and great and hard to explain all at the same time!

Reintegration can be difficult for some Soldiers and families, it's a process and is different for everyone, so I braced myself for another adjustment - an adjustment that I couldn't possibly know how it would evolve until he was home.  But for us, it was seamless.  Not even Journey acted like Eric was gone for so long!  We all fell right back into life as a complete family again and have the time warp to thank for it!  

Eric took the entire month of August off of work and we've really made the most of it.  Mostly we've just been lounging around, sleeping in, drinking allllll the wine, and not working out one single solitary time, but then we decided to take a vacation, because who knows how long this time warp will last and we never pass up an opportunity to go somewhere!


After a long deployment Eric really needed a vacation - that part did not make it into our time warp; His feeling like he was worn out and needing a vacation did not disappear the same way as the past months did.  I was aching to go somewhere tropical, and Isabelle really only cared if there was WiFi or not.  So I reached out to a high school friend who owns a travel agency and she booked us the PERFECT cruise vacation!  
We've never been on a cruise before, but traveling is our most favorite thing.  We travel as much as possible and have every intention of seeing every bit of this earth God allows, but this time we wanted to do something new and different (to us).  And I didn't want to have to worry about or plan any part of it.  I was especially mindful that Eric wouldn't have to worry about any part of it.  I wanted the hardest part of our vacation to be deciding what fruity drink to get next.

So, me, Eric, and Isabelle went on our very first cruise!  To the Caribbean!  Thanks to Getaways by Amy, we got the most amazing stress-free tropical vacation of our lifetime (so far)!  We got the drink package (unlimited alcohol), a balcony room, WiFi, and left every care we ever had at the dock in Galveston, TX as we sailed off into the sunset!

It. Was. Glorious.

We spent the entire week of our cruise disconnected from everyone but each other.  We were so disconnected that I barely took any pictures, and the pictures I did take were on my phone.  I had all that I needed on the ship with me so I never needed to worry about taking my phone anywhere.  That, and it got in my way of holding my drinks, so I just left it in our stateroom all the time.  I even bought the waterproof phone cases with floating wrist bands and still barely brought my phone anywhere to take pictures.  I didn't think about anything but my little family and keeping my glass full with some sort of frozen alcohol.  I soaked up all the sunshine I possibly could, and actually surprised myself by enjoying being in a bikini and not giving a damn what anyone thought (a bigGIANT  deal for me), but that was it.  I literally had NO cares!

It was the most perfect state of mind I have EVER been in! 

Date night in the middle of the ocean!

This wasn't even our favorite bar, but for some reason I took a picture of this one and not our favorite.

We visited country #'s 23, 24, & 25 while on our cruise!  But as my daughter ingeniously pointed out, this was different from our other travels... this, was a vacation!

My little family thinks traveling, and all the experiences that can only come from traveling, is the most valuable thing to give each other.  Eric, Isabelle, and I try to see and do as much as we can when we can in every place we visit.  We have traveled all over the world and make a real effort to experience the country/place that we are seeing as authentically as possible.  We immerse ourselves as best we can into their culture by eating their food, ordering from menus in their language, staying in Airbnb's, and talking to allllll the people (even if it's just through hand gestures.  Which, by the way, work really really well!).

But this.... this trip was a VACATION!

And we decided that a vacation is not totally the same as traveling.  We did get to experience new things, met amazing people from all over the world, and saw things we have never seen before, but we only got one day in each country, and since I didn't plan a single thing, we relied on Royal Caribbean's own excursions to see the things we wanted to see.  In fact, the cruise ship provided every little thing, and it was great!  We got to order whatever drink we wanted whenever we wanted, eat whatever food we wanted, go on an excursion if we wanted, go see a show if we wanted, they literally provided every single experience and all we had to do was decide whether we wanted to do it or not.  I didn't have to worry about anything!  More importantly, Eric didn't have to worry about anything - not cost, not how much we were spending, not driving or parking, not anything!  I swear that not even calories exist on a cruise ship.

And that, is a vacation!  

So by the time the ship arrived at its first stop, without a worry and already having the time of our lives, we were ready to explore!  It wouldn't be like us if we didn't.  

First stop: Cozumel, Mexico!  

Chichén Itzá in Yucatán, Mexico- one of the New Seven Wonders of the World! 

I have NO idea how I managed to snap this picture without a single tourist in it! 

I knew that if we were going to the Mexican Caribbean I wanted to see one of the 'New Seven Wonders of the World.'  It was a no-brainer.  We've already seen one, The Roman Colosseum, but we'd like to see ALL of them, so I wasn't about to pass this up!

Living in El Paso we've become accustomed to "dry heat" and had completely forgot how awful humidity is.  Actually, I should say that Isabelle and I forgot, Eric was used to it from being deployed, but my gosh, it was so humid in Mexico!  We were sweating buckets the entire time we were walking around, which is really gross but we didn't let it ruin our time there.  We explored all that we could and just let our excitement for seeing something new distract us from the sweat.  Chichén Itzá was beautiful!  The Mayan people (who's language, culture, and people are still alive today) were geniuses for that time and our modern world wouldn't be what it is today without them.  It was interesting and beautiful and the exact kind of thing we loooooove to experience when we travel!

We got back to the ship after a two hour round trip drive through the Mexican jungle and got ready for dinner.  I don't have any pictures of our waiters, Elvis and Eduardo, but they became our friends and we looked forward to dinner every evening because of them.  

Next stop: Georgetown, Grand Cayman!

Leaving Mexico and sailing on to Grand Cayman!

One of the things that I really hoped to do on our vacation was to swim in the ocean.  We were getting our hearts filled with ocean views and sunshine, but other than the pools on the Lido deck, we didn't get any chances to actually touch the ocean, and dammit, that's what I was going to do!

Isabelle has been a passionate animal rights advocate since she was old enough to talk.  She is a vegetarian and meticulous of the products she uses and buys so that they are vegan and cruelty-free.  Because of her, Eric and I have learned so much about animal rights and animal exploitation and cruelty and have also become mindful of the things we buy (although we are not vegetarian).  So keeping inline with our personal feelings, swimming with captive dolphins was not an option for us, even if it is a very popular excursion for Grand Cayman.  Instead, we decided to take the opportunity to swim in the ocean with other humans!  I especially felt like the ocean in the Cayman Islands was the place for me because they have the deepest points in the entire Caribbean Sea, so their water is a deep gorgeous blue... and I couldn't wait to jump into it!

Grand Cayman was indescribably beautiful.  After we were home again in Texas, Eric and I decided that it was our favorite of all the stops on our vacation.  I don't know that I've ever seen colors anywhere in my life like the colors we saw there.  Eric, Isabelle, and I spent the day swimming in that beautifully deep blue ocean, and nothing else.  It was true paradise.  

I took this video as we were standing on the balcony of our stateroom.  The ship was "parked" in the middle of the water so we had to take a ferry to get to shore.  This is literally what we woke up to in Grand Cayman:

Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman

The last stop on our cruise: Jamaica!  And actually, Jamaica was the one stop where we didn't have an excursion already planned, which is how we kept it.  I did a little research and found that the port was so close that we could just jump off the ship quick, get our souvenirs and then get back so that we could pretty much have the ship all to ourselves.  We are hoping to do a trip just to Jamaica someday, the kind of trip that we can combine the all-inclusive feel of our cruise, with our kind of traveling and exploring, so there were no regrets about not having anything in particular planned.  And anyway, none of the excursions offered by the ship caught our attention, so I wasn't all that disappointed staying onboard.  I actually liked the idea of having the ship all to ourselves while everyone else did their excursions.

Even though Google had told me that the shopping area in Falmouth was really close to where the ship ports, I wasn't expecting to wake up to a small, beautiful village right outside our balcony!  That morning, Eric, Isabelle, and I woke up at port, walked out onto our balcony and there we were.... in Falmouth, Jamaica!

Standing on the balcony of our stateroom at the port in Falmouth, Jamaica. 

Falmouth, Jamaica with our ship (and stateroom) in the background.

The last couple of days on our vacation were spent cruising back to Texas.  We spent them napping, eating, drinking, and laying by the pool.  We almost never felt the ship move, but on one of those last days when we were sitting in the pool there were waves in the pool water from the movement of the ship and it was the most relaxing thing ever.  I was so relaxed and we were having so much fun sitting poolside watching the belly flop competition that we sat out there for a really long time and I didn't notice that I was getting sunburned until a few hours later.  

And holy hell did I get burnt!  

I got so sunburned that I developed an autoimmune reaction called a 'sun rash.'  Leave it to me to have some sort of dumb reaction to the SUN.  I had packed loads of organic aloe (and organic sunscreen that I learned the hard way doesn't last as long as the kind filled with chemicals, but I'll still take a sun rash over a non-reef safe sunscreen) so thankfully I was able to soothe some of the burning. 

But bejebus, a sun rash hurts sooooo baaaaaad!!!!  So I just got another frozen drink to forget that the bottom half of my legs were on FIRE with a million tiny red dots all over them and all was happy in my world again.

We had two days left on vacation, there were more drinks to drink, food to eat, music trivia at the Schooner Bar to nail (it was our favorite bar, long story, no pictures), and dinners to eat with Elvis and Eduardo!  Sun rash, shmun rash!

Isabelle's most favorite part of the ship was our balcony

Our last night on vacation and heading to a show!

The Caribbean Sea behind us, the Gulf of Mexico in front of us.

The color of the water, the beaches, the people we met... all of it, every single bit of our vacation.... was amazing!  And this time I really truly mean it when I say "amazing!"  I know I say that word a lot, but I really mean it this time!


All the great aspects of life came together so perfectly and sucked us into a time warp so that we could go on the vacation of our dreams.  Our Soldier returning safely home, Isabelle finally getting a break from school, all of the stress of the past 9 months disappearing with one kiss at the Fort Bliss airport, an all-inclusive vacation that allowed us not to worry about a single thing, being disconnected from everyone but each other, new experiences, and us three being together again.  

All because of a time warp.  I hope to never to leave it.