Monday, January 19, 2015

Chimayo, NM

Have I mentioned how beautiful New Mexico is? Because seriously. This is one dramatically beautiful state. 

On our last day in Santa Fe we drove about an hour north to Chimayo, the site of a little Catholic mission church. The dirt inside the church is said to have healing powers, so people make pilgrimages there.

The church was ok, but the best part was the amazing scenery on the drive there. Wowza.

The church grounds are quite pretty and have a lot of different statues and mosaics from different cultures, from Mexican inspired folkart to Native American designs and even a Vietnamese statue.

The church itself is really small. It's said that the Tewa Indians used a hot spring nearby for its healing powers, and when the Spanish came and built a church, the same healing powers were found in the dirt inside the church. It was crowded by pilgrims when we visited, so I'll never know for sure!

On the drive back to Santa Fe, Fionn stopped the car and took a few shots of the landscape while I looked out over the hills. As a proud southern girl, I never gave much thought to the lands beyond my own Georgian backyard. But I have to say, after my first taste of New Mexico and the Southwest, there are some incredible places out there. Can't wait to see more!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Weekend in Santa Fe

We arrived in West Texas during a freak 3 day torrential rainstorm that brought flooding and mayhem. In between the downpours we drove all over town looking for a place to live (and dodged desert motorists who don't know how to drive in the rain). We found a place quickly, but found out it would take almost a week for our stuff to be delivered. After the second night of waking up with a sore back from our air mattress, Fionn declared, "Let's spend the weekend in Santa Fe."

So off we went, leaving our empty apartment behind and heading north for New Mexico.

I'll be honest. West Texas is kinda ugly. But you drive over the border into New Mexico, the "Land of Enchantment", and it's gorgeous. We took back roads to Santa Fe and marveled the whole time. Then we got to Santa Fe and marveled some more.

Founded in the 1600s by the Spanish and the oldest capital in the US, Santa Fe has lots of history. The city mandates that buildings have a Spanish Pueblo Revival look, which gives the city a lot of charm and makes it more interesting than your average American city center. When we ventured into the newer part of town, it was cool to see that even the Best Buy and Target had gotten a Pueblo makeover. 

Downtown, you've got a lot of air museums and some cool shopping and restaurants. It's a little pricey, probably because Santa Fe is popular with retirees looking to escape the snow. 

We stopped in a few thrift stores looking for some Texas-approved wardrobe staples. I got lucky with some vintage cowboy boots! Fionn tried on a few but finally decided the cowboy look just isn't his scene. You can take the boy out of the city...

One thing I love about New Mexico is that the people are always so friendly. Everywhere you go, people are striking up conversations, asking where you're from, telling you about their state. This wasn't just the shopkeepers, it was also the gas station clerks and diner waitresses. New Mexico is one of those states that doesn't get a lot of attention, but it's really a hidden gem.

Up next...Chimayo, NM!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

It's OK to hate your new town

I've moved a lot in my life, and I am a firm believer that any place can become a good place with the right combination of cool friends, stuff to do, and a fun, fulfilling routine.

But, just because it's possible doesn't mean that it happens right away...or at all. For example, my move to Bavaria was a tough one. The first 8 months were miserable as I struggled to make friends, find a job, and invent reasons to get out of bed in the morning. Over time, everything got better-I made amazing friends, had fun adventures, and wrote about my experience in Sometimes Being an Expat Sucks, which is one of my most popular posts to date. It didn't happen overnight, but I eventually grew to love Bavaria and make it home. It wasn't the place, it was the people.

No matter your locale, whether you're in a beautiful, romantic European capital or the armpit of Texas, the adjustment that comes along with a big move is HARD, and it just takes time to make that new place a home. Some moves are easy-you're lucky enough to make cool friends right away, find a favorite restaurant or store, or land a job pretty soon after you get there. But sometimes it takes months before you feel settled, and that's when depression and loneliness can creep in.

Our move to Texas has been one of those hard moves. We've been here 3 months, and I still feel lost and lonely. The job search has gone nowhere, I haven't been able to meet many people, and Fionn will be leaving on a deployment soon.

Today, in an attempt to branch out and meet new people, I went to a local women's ministry group. The president of the group was giving a speech and in her speech she started calling out those newcomers that hate this town and don't want to be here.

"Get over it!" was her sage advice. Get over it, accept where you are, and stop complaining. Bloom where you're planted! Hunt the good stuff! SILVER LININGS, GUYS!

And truthfully, those words hit me right in the gut. I left the meeting early and sat in my car in tears.

Get over it? What, with a snap of my fingers?

After a lifetime of moving, I am the LAST person to encourage anyone to wallow in self pity and hatred for a new city. Yes, some places suck. As an outsider with no routine or support system, it is normal to feel hostile towards a new environment and long for home. I always encourage others (and myself!) to get out, try new things, make new relationships, and try to stay positive and give the new place a chance. You can usually find cool people anywhere in the world.

But moving just SUCKS, and it's ok to admit that sometimes. It's ok to hate your circumstances, or your loneliness, or to grieve your old life. It's ok to feel exhausted at the prospect of starting all over again and putting your life back together. It's ok to feel frustrated that it's taking so long or that a new place is so different than home.

But I think that just barking, "Get over it! Bloom where you're planted, cupcake!" is a cruel way to deal with someone who is going through something incredibly difficult and life disrupting. Because no matter how hard you try to make a home in a place, you can't do it alone. You can't force people to be your friend or to build memories with you. It has to happen organically. It will happen eventually. But it takes time.

I wish that woman had said, "Hey, we know moving to a new place is hard. We're sorry you're going through this right now. We know this city gets a bad rap sometimes, but we would love to help you see that this place has a lot to offer."

Something encouraging. Something that made me feel understood. Something that didn't make me feel like I was failing or not trying hard enough.

Moving is hard. Why aren't we allowed to just say that?

In the meantime, I'm back to trying to meet people and finding things to do. This isn't where I want to be, but it's where I am, and I'm trying to make it into something good. Keep on keepin' on.

Austin, Texas

Fionn and I love cities with good food and culture, so people are always telling us, "You'd love Austin!" And they were right, we did like Austin!

We only had one day in Texas' capital before we had to hit the road for the final leg of our move to West Texas, so we tried to make the most of our time in "civilization" before we entered the desert wilderness. It just so happened that Fionn's best friends from college had all recently moved to the Austin area, so we spent a lot more time with them than sightseeing. Oh well, it's a good excuse to come back!

I'm a big history nerd, so I really enjoyed the history of Texas museum. I'll be honest-I've been to 32 countries but the farthest west I'd ever been in my own country was New Orleans, so a lot of the exhibits of pioneers and frontiersmen resonated with me as we made our own trek across Texas.

I'm not sure what I expected Austin to be like, but it still surprised me. Maybe I thought there'd be more cowboys and horses? But it's a pretty normal state capital, except with a lot more stars on everything.

After a great evening out with Fionn's friends and so much good food (so good I didn't even bother to photograph it), the next morning we hit the road for our new home in West Texas. Everyone told me that once you start that drive it's pretty much nothing for hours. They weren't kidding! It was literally 8 1/2 hours of rocks and tumbleweeds-in some areas we didn't even have radio stations. I watched the hills become flat, then turn into rocky mesas, then turn into desert barrenness. Driving across Texas reminded me how enormous and diverse America is.

We stopped every two hours or so to stretch our legs, eat some snacks, and talk to each other. Since we were each driving our own car, it was a long and kinda lonely day. I looked forward to our roadside breaks in the middle of nowhere. Plus the empty roads made for some good photo ops.

Finally, 10 hours after we started, we made it to our new home, right on the border with Mexico. A long way from Georgia, a new adventure, and lots of work to be done to make it home.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Road trip to Texas: San Antonio

The second leg of our great road trip to Texas was from New Orleans to San Antonio. Normally this would be an 8 hour drive, but due to a crazy Texas thunderstorm, an insane amount of traffic jams and one texting-while-driving-jerk who rear ended my car, it took more like 12 hours.

(Don't worry, my car and I both escaped unscathed. DON'T TEXT AND DRIVE.)

I'd never been to Texas before this roadtrip, so I went to bed that night with a terrible first impression of the state we would soon call home.

Luckily, that all changed the next morning! We had a breakfast of Texas shaped waffles (I would soon learn that Texans love Texas-shaped everything) and set off for San Antonio!

The lovely blogger Sara of C'est Moi, Sara Louise had given me the insider scoop on all things San Antonio and Hillcountry, and as soon as we got downtown I started kicking myself for not planning more time. There is so much cool stuff to see!

First off...they have a super cool Riverwalk area to walk around in. Totally not what I expected in the middle of a city center.

Just around the corner we found the Alamo, which is smaller than you'd expect, just like everyone says. We asked a passerby to take our picture in front of it and he smiled and said, "So where y'all from? I know you ain't from Texas!"

We replied that I was from Georgia and Fionn from California but that Texas was our new home. 

"Well, you finally made it to the best state!" came the reply.

Yep, Texas is totally the Bavaria of America! :)

After wandering around the Alamo and indulging our inner history nerds, we did some more walking around the city.

We had to drive to Austin that afternoon, so we followed a friend's suggestion and went to the Mercado for some great Tex-Mex and shopping. It was really fun and colorful and I'm sure it's really fun on a fiesta weekend.

We stopped for lunch at Mi Tierra Cafe and Bakery. The food was good, but the BAKERY! Oh my gosh. We bought $15 worth of pastries and sweets for the road and every one was better than the last.

After lunch we did some browsing in the shops and bought a few souvenirs. All too soon it was time to head to Austin, but my impression of Texas was already much improved.

Next up, Austin!