Two Months Later…

I realized this morning that it has been two months since I returned from my road trip. I honestly cannot believe it has been a full two months — a sentence usually followed by a photo of a baby wearing a “2 mo.” sign or a regram of a couple’s wedding photo. In my case, it’s just been a whirlwind period of time in my general life. In fact, this whole year has whizzed by, and I’m dizzy from circling around trying to figure out what to do if I were to stop spinning.

For Christmas last year, Nathan gave me a trip to Puerto Rico. Seriously, he’s the best. I’ll leave the sap here, but I’ll say it again, he really is the best. So in January, we took to the sky and landed in San Juan. We walked through Old San Juan, ate amazing mofongo, listened to the ocean crash against the shore, and hiked through a rain forest.

We returned to New York City, where we continued to live for a few more months and where we decided that the city was just too expensive. [I would like to add here that we loved living in New York. Our reasons for leaving were purely financial/work-related. If I could afford to live there comfortably without having to work myself to death, I would. I did feel “at home” living there and made some incredible friends in the city. I miss it every day.]

We moved back to Jackson, Tennessee at the beginning of April for a temporary stay as we explore the idea of living in another new city.

As you may have noticed from my blog, we took an amazing road trip at the end of April, starting in St. Louis, driving through Kansas, stopping in Denver, picking back up by hitting a few National Parks (Arches, Canyonlands, and the Grand Canyon), camping and freezing in Monument Valley, sweating in Phoenix, resting in Dallas, and finally returning home. We visited cities Nathan and I had never visited, ate like the locals, visited some friends and family, and explored and explored and explored.

The road trip ended in mid-May, and I was lucky enough to land a temporary job to hold myself over for the next couple of months while Nathan and I looked for new jobs in a new cities (and our search is still underway.)

I cannot continue to describe the rest of this first half of 2017 without stopping to say that God is at work. He’s always at work, but I feel like He’s guiding me in ways for which I’ll be thankful for the rest of my life.

As we planned to move back to Tennessee, I was excited to spend some quality time with my grandparents. My dad’s parents, both 97 years old, and my mom’s parents, both 94, were doing well, but I had not seen them since my very quick trip home for Christmas. I visited both sets of grandparents and told them all about my adventures. Then I took off again, this time for our road trip adventure.

A few weeks after we returned from the West, my grandpa, Tom (97), began complaining about his back, and his doctor discovered some spots on his back following an x-ray. At the time, we weren’t sure if he had an infection or cancer. A week or so later, he fell and broke his hip. He grew ill in the hospital and nearly a week after his surgery, he passed away. I could easily have been living 1,000 miles away, where my most recent visit I would have seen him on Christmas Day. Thank God and praise God that I was able to spend some quality time with him while he was still in good health. I’m not even sure how to thank Him for that special time. My grandpa was a character, full of travel stories and terrible jokes. Occasionally, he would call me while I was in New York to tell me about how he could take a train from Manhattan to Coney Island for five cents when he was stationed in Long Island. He and my grandma were married for 74 years. I feel equally as grateful that I’m able to be here to spend time with her.

The week following his funeral, I traveled with Nathan’s family to Figure Eight Island, North Carolina, where we enjoyed a week at the beach. One photo my grandpa was particularly proud of was taken beside the North Carolina state sign standing next to his motorcycle. A few years ago, he wrote out the details from his trip from 1939 and asked me to type it out [pictured]. So when we crossed the state line, I decided to get my own picture with a state sign.

For 30 years, I had all four of my grandparents. My whole life, I’ve been surrounded by a family who knows when to love, when to laugh, when to advise, when to work, and when to rest. I have a God who loves me unconditionally, and sometimes I’m not sure why. Even when I forget about my faith, even when I’m confused about the church and its followers, even when I act before thoughtfully praying over my decisions, He continues to catch me. I feel like He’s been catching me a lot lately and that I don’t deserve His help at all. I hope that in these coming months, years, and onward, I can give back to Him as He has given to me.

As long as this post is, I’m leaving a lot of trials and challenges to myself. This has not been an easy year. It’s been exciting, but it’s also been difficult. Six months into the year and I feel like I’ve never experienced so much personal growth, particularly unintentional personal growth, and I am no where near finished growing. My current challenge is finding a job (and relocating), which I am hoping will be Part B of 2017.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017: Day Eighteen

Tuesday, May 9, 2017: Nathan was officially tired of driving. I was officially tired of living out of a suitcase. Both of us were officially tired of the go-go-go. We honestly wanted to just plop down in front of a TV and watch Netflix all day.

But our eighteenth day of our road trip was also the day before we drove back to reality. So, we pushed forward.

We got our day off to a later start and decided to get an early lunch at Raising Canes. I feel like part of this trip involved us trying as many different fast food options that we could find. Nathan was familiar with Canes, but I’d never had it. Simply put, it’s Zaxby’s with a slightly better sauce and a little too much grease. However, I can now cross that off my fast food list and add a pound to my thighs.

Dallas, unlike some of the other cities we visited, is just loaded with stuff. By that, I mean that no matter which way I turned my head, I saw restaurants, businesses, retailers, apartments, houses, etc. I know these all sound very common, but when you drive forty miles without seeing a patch of empty grass, it seems less common. So, after lunch, we went to another mall. We took our time wandering in and out of stores empty-handed before decided that we both definitely needed coffee.

We found a place called Houndstooth, which hit the spot. After driving a little more around Dallas, we decided to make our way back to Kim’s house to hang out before heading to dinner.

I couldn’t leave Texas without eating TexMex. We met up with several of Nathan’s cousins at a place called Gloria’s, which has an awesome patio area, where we all sat and chatted for a couple of hours. It was 80 degrees and beautiful outside and my enchiladas were delicious. I can’t think of a more perfect way to end our last night in Dallas.

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We found a Texas longhorn

Monday, May 8, 2017: Day Seventeen

Monday, May 8, 2017: Before this trip, I had never been to Dallas. Nathan has family and friends here and has visited off and on over the years. So, I had a pretty good tour guide for this last stop on our trip.

I should note that because Dallas is more familiar territory than the other places we visited on this trip, and the pictures from this part of the trip are few and far between. Most of our Dallas explorations involved driving around and pointing out the window. We drove past where JFK was shot. We drove through a few of the Dallas suburbs, around the hip Deep Ellum area, and downtown.

After a morning tour of the area, we met Nathan’s college buddy Jeff for lunch at Velvet Taco. Y’all, this place. New York is apparently still in my system because when I ordered my chicken tikka taco, my Cuban taco, and my shrimp and grits taco, I was expecting to receive three tiny, but fancy street tacos. Nope! We’re in Texas. These tacos were business.

After lunch, we decided to stop by Northpark Mall. I needed a change of cloths for whatever we decided to do at night, and there was also talk of booze coffee at a place called Bread Winners also located at the mall. Nathan and Jeff spent the majority of the time at the Windows Store, where I was later coerced into giving virtual reality a try. By the end of our mall experience, I had a new dress, had petted a robot dog on a mountain, and had indulged in the “booze coffee.”

After hanging out and catching up at Bread Winners, we met Dan and Hannah, also Nathan’s college friends, at Inwood Tavern before grabbing pizza at Fireside Pies.

It’s been so great to get to know some of Nathan’s people on this trip. With both of us having friends and family who live in different parts of the country and with us living away from our own friends and family, this road trip has given us so many great opportunities to meet each other’s friends. Talk about a major bonding experience.

Sunday, May 7, 2017: Day Sixteen

Sunday, May 7, 2017: This was our longest driving day of the trip. We left Santa Fe at a reasonable 9am Mountain Time and arrived in Dallas at 9pm Central Time.

We saw the desert transition into the plains and then we saw more plains and then some additional plains. In a nutshell, this drive didn’t exactly give me much material for the blog.

We stopped at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo for a photo op and to add some spray paint to the cars. However, the strength of the wind made it very difficult to paint the cars. In fact, I think we were wearing more of the paint than we managed to get onto the cars.

Because we were on a state highway road for most of the drive, we had to plan our bathroom breaks wisely, and by wisely, I mean that we stopped at nearly every one. But I will add that I was dehydrated from the altitude in Santa Fe and required a lot of coffee that morning, so mathematically, every stop was necessary.

Before we arrived in Dallas, we stopped at a Whataburger for dinner. While I wish they were serving breakfast and I could have had a honey butter chicken biscuit, I, instead, dined on a delicious burger.

We arrived in Dallas after dark, and I can now say that I understand what people mean when they say the city is “expansive.” It really does go on and on and on. We are so appreciative of Nathan’s cousin, Kim, for letting us crash at her place for our Dallas stop!

 

Saturday, May 6, 2017: Day Fifteen

Saturday, May 6, 2017: Santa Fe is a really cool city. From the adobe structures to the art culture to the food, I’d say we did Santa Fe right.

We started the day by grabbing coffee at Iconik Coffee, which is located in an industrial-style building. I ordered a horchata latte, which, to my surprise, came with a horchata-flavored shortbread cookie.

After coffee, we took off for downtown Santa Fe. We started the day by checking out a few notable churches. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi was the first stop, a beautiful church in the heart of Santa Fe. Next, we visited Loretto Chapel, which is known for its “miracle staircase.” When the church was being built, it lacked a staircase that would lead to the choir loft. It was common at the time for ladders to be used for access to the lofts, but the Sisters at the church prayed for a structure to added to the church, particularly because their habits made it difficult for them to climb the ladder to the choir loft. After nine dedicated days of praying, a stranger appeared and constructed the staircase. The Sisters believed the staircase to have been built by St. Joseph, however, the carpenter who built the staircase was gone before he was identified. Another miraculous note is that the spiral staircase was not supported (however, it has been reinforced in more recent years).

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Miracle Staircase at Loretto Chapel
Before grabbing lunch, we stopped by the oldest church structure in the U.S. (built 1610) and the oldest home in the U.S. (built 1645).

Because we missed out of Cinco de Mayo, we decided to indulge in some of New Mexico’s finest food and beverage for lunch. We ate at The Shed, which came highly recommended on FourSquare, Yelp, and our shuttle driver. I stuffed my face with blue corn enchiladas and a blood orange margarita. Three sips into the margarita, I was reminded that Santa Fe is at an even higher altitude than Denver. So, one was definitely enough.

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Blue corn enchilada in red sauce and a blood orange margarita at The Shed
After lunch, we decided it was important that we walk for a long while. The Cross of the Martyrs is located on a hill that overlooks downtown Santa Fe and is home to a large cross that memorializes the 21 friars who lost their lives when the Pueblos fought the Spanish in 1680.

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Cross of the Mayrters
Following our hike to the cross, we walked down to Canyon Road, which is basically a long stretch of art galleries. We decided to pursue the art of chocolate and visit a chocolatier called Kakawa Chocolate House. We sampled their hot chocolate elixirs [So. Good.] and purchased a few chocolates, a rose caramel, a mescal truffle, and a horchata truffle.

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We spent the remainder of our afternoon wandering in and out of shops in downtown Santa Fe before grabbing dinner, once again stuffing our faces, at Casa Chimayo. Guys, the red sauce on my chili rellano had my eyes sweating.

We called it a night after grabbing one more Seis de Mayo margarita. Even with all the food I consumed today, the altitude still made the beverage more potent than expected. However, it was a delicious way to end our day in Santa Fe.

Friday, May 5, 2017: Day Fourteen

Friday, May 5, 2017: Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Before you get too excited about me being in the Southwest for Cinco de Mayo, let me go ahead and disappoint you. We were on the road until 11pm and now we’re exhausted. We did grab a Mexican dinner in Albuquerque at a restaurant called Frontier, where I chowed down on an enchilada and Nathan enjoyed nachos. More importantly, we left with a frontier sweet roll for the road, which we both discovered is basically a fresh, warm, extra large honeybun. Alas, not a single margarita was had. We’ll probably need to make up for that on Seis de Mayo while we’re in Santa Fe.

We left Phoenix around 10am after grabbing a bagel from Einstein Bros. Knowing our trip to Santa Fe was going to be a long one, we planned a few stops along the way.

We started by taking a bit of a detour. Nathan plugged in his phone and queued the soundtrack for this excursion, “Take It Easy” by the Eagles. I’m sure you’ve guessed it because below is a picture of me “…Standing on the corner of Winslow, Arizona…” Sure enough, there was a girl and a flatbed Ford. Winslow may not have much, but it definitely has this street corner.

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Not too much further down I-40 (Route 66), we entered the Petrified Forest. Since we bought an annual pass to the National Parks for this trip, we decided to add another park to our list. We were in a bit of a hurry, but we made a couple of stops within the park to check out the fossilized wood, some petroglyphs, and see the original Route 66.

After a quick trip through the Petrified Forest, we made our way to Albuquerque. This took us longer than anticipated after we hit a long stretch of traffic that set us about an hour behind our intended schedule. This was the first real block of traffic we’ve hit on this trip.

We arrived in Albuquerque for dinner around 10pm and finally made it to Santa Fe by 11pm. We have yet to actually see much of New Mexico in daylight, however, I did see a man wearing a Heisenberg-style hat minutes after crossing the New Mexico state line, and moments later saw a very familiar looking RV that made Nathan and I both raise our eyebrows. Friends, I do believe some folks are still breaking bad around here.

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 We love our National Parks!

Thursday, May 4, 2017: Day Thirteen

Thursday, May 4, 2017: We have reached the point in our trip where all of our constant activities are catching up with us. I honestly can’t believe what all we have done in the past two weeks.

To help process the passage of time, we grabbed a cup of coffee at Lux Central, per Bree’s local recommendation. We walked in the door and were surprised to find employees frosting cinnamon rolls and squeezing orange juice right beside the customers who were sipping their coffee. At 10am on a weekday, this coffee shop was packed. Some people were working on their computers; others were drumming on their tables to their music. I ordered a latte and Nathan ordered a cold brew, and as I was preparing to call this place “overrated,” I took a sip and simply could not. Y’all, I think I may have had the best latte of my life here.

With a new pep in my step, we headed to Scottsdale to grab lunch with Allison, my college friend (for life) and new(ish) resident to the Phoenix area. We caught up over delicious, fresh eats and an amazing tea called “Medicine Man” at True Food Kitchen. Full from the food and the good company, Nathan and I set out to explore the Scottsdale area and drive past a couple of its bright green golf courses.

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With Allison at True Food Kitchen

To walk off our lunch, we went back to Papago Park, this time to climb up to the Hole in the Rock. As I got out of the car and began to apply sunscreen, a man who was approximately my age yelled to me, “Little lady, better not put on that perfume. There are bees up there.” I call attention to this little moment because “Little lady” is condescending. Guys, don’t ever address a stranger in this way. I turned around and said, “Well, it’s sunscreen. Guess it just smells good.” Anyway, I’m still mad he called me “Little lady” and even more mad that he thought I’d douse myself in perfume while standing in the middle of a parking lot in broad daylight. Who even does that? Why even make that assumption? ANYWAY! MOVING ON!

Without getting stung or seeing even a single bee and while not getting sunburned, we climbed to the Hole in the Rock, which provides a pretty neat view of the park and some of Phoenix.

For dinner, we discovered there was an Ethiopian restaurant near where we were staying in Tempe, Café Lalibela. After Nicole introduced us to Ethiopian food in St. Louis at the beginning of our trip, we’ve wanted to find another opportunity to eat the cuisine, since there definitely isn’t a place in Jackson we could go for Ethiopian.

Completely stuffed and exhausted, we decided to spend the rest of the night watching Arrested Development until we passed out.

 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017: Day Eleven

Tuesday, May 2, 2017: After spending some time in Flagstaff writing three days work of my blog, we took off for Phoenix.

We decided to take the scenic route through Sedona, stopping there along the way.

Highway 89A took us through an incredible ponderosa pine forest, down through a mountain ridge and into Sedona. Sedona is an adorable town where a large collection of western movies was filmed. The area is still a bit forested but is speckled with huge red rock monuments.

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Bell Rock (Left) in Sedona

We grabbed lunch in Sedona overlooking the red rocks and then made our way to see the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which was built in a butte before heading to Phoenix.

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Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona

As we began to approach Phoenix, we passed the sign for Arcosanti and decided to take a slightly off-road adventure to visit the experimental laboratory/artistic community. Years ago, my dad brought home brass bells made at Arcosanti. I love these beautiful, handmade bells. The tour took us through the community, giving us background on the architecture, explaining their plans for sustainable energy to support the community and detailing the way in which the bells are made. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

After our tour, we headed to Phoenix, where we will be for the next few days. Before calling it a night, we made sure to get in an In-N-Out fix. I’d had In-N-Out before when I was in Long Beach, CA, but this time I knew to order my fries “animal style.

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Monday, May 1, 2017: Day Ten

Monday, May 1, 2017: I woke up with the sun in Grand Canyon National Park at 5am and was so proud of myself I couldn’t help but smile. And then I went back to sleep and awoke again at 7:30am.

We checked the weather later, and according to the National Weather Service, temperatures got down to 25 degrees. This time, I didn’t realize it was ever that cold [I’m not convinced it actually did]. My two layers of North Face jackets may have made the difference this go-around.

As we packed the tent into the car and closed the trunk, we turned around and a pack of mule deer passed directly though our sight. Nathan and I silently grabbed our cameras and phones and grabbed a couple of photos and enjoyed watching the park’s big-eared deer pass through our site. [By the way, we have actual cameras with us. So far, I’ve only posted phone photos on this blog.]

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Mule deer creeping though our campsite

We wanted to make sure we didn’t leave the Grand Canyon without getting the full experience. So, we decided to hike down into the canyon on the partial South Kaibab trail which stops by Ooh Ahh point. After we “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” and dragged our legs up the equivalent of walking up 76 stair steps. Once we made it back to the top of the canyon, I was beyond ready to wash my hair.

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The view from Ooh Aah point

So, we waved goodbye to the Grand Canyon, feeling proud and expressing our great appreciation for the park surrounding the canyon, which was about as impressive as the canyon itself.

We made it to Flagstaff in the early afternoon. Nathan and I spent the remainder of the day trying not to fall asleep.

Flagstaff is a neat little city, not much bigger than Jackson, TN (my hometown). The Route 66 city located at the foothills of the San Francisco Peaks has more local coffee shops than I’ve ever seen in such a small region. Its downtown gave off a more hipster/hippy vibe than I would have expected. I think we drove around the entirety of Flagstaff before finally grabbing a meal at night.

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View from outside the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ

We’ve bounced around through different time zones for the past couple of weeks, and the impact of these changes is just now starting to catch up with me. Only two months ago, I was living in the Eastern Time Zone. In March, I moved back into Central. When we made it to Denver, we adjusted to Mountain Time, which we enjoyed in Moab and Monument Valley. The Grand Canyon is in the Pacific Time Zone this time of year, and so now we’re all Pacific and my brain hurts.

Needless to say, with all the camping and hiking, I was excited for a solid night’s sleep and a shower.

 

Sunday, April 30, 2017: Day Nine

Sunday, April 30, 2017: After attempting to sleep in 29°F, Nathan’s alarm went off at 6:00am so that we could catch the sunrise. This made my night of freezing worthwhile.

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Sunrise over Monument Valley

The sun rose directly behind the monuments. The whole experience was overwhelming. I knew I was blessed, but it settled in with me even more just how blessed our country is to have access to these kinds of experiences. We complain a lot about the state of our country [I know I do anyway], but I cannot complain about the diversity of geography, biology, and cultures within our boarders. Friends, we have access to a lot, and I encourage you [and continue to force/encourage myself] to get out there and see it. Get to know that which is unfamiliar to you. You’ll be better for it, even if you continue to disagree with it or dislike it.

Camping was unfamiliar territory for me, and to tell you the truth, I found it scary and difficult. I am eternally grateful for having experienced Monument Valley, but my lack of sleep was getting the best of me.

After an early morning in Monument Valley, we took Nathan’s Altima on a wild 17-mile ride through rocky terrain of Valley Drive. While I was excessively nervous about the ride; however, we were surrounded and blown away as we passed by even more deep red-colored monuments.

We left Monument Valley later in the morning to begin making our way to the Grand Canyon. Our first stop along the way was to check out Horseshoe Bend. We caught it at a busy time, but there was no denying just how incredibly beautiful the Colorado River looked in the giant horseshoe-shaped canyon.

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Photo credit: Nathan (iPhone) of Horseshoe Bend

So, here’s the thing, we were planning to camp in the Grand Canyon the day after we camped in Monument Valley. I had not showered in nearly two days at this point and was exhausted to tears and nervous about what kind of wildlife might trap me in a tent this time. I’ll admit that I had a bit of a nervous breakdown. I almost gave up on camping in the park entirely. My lack of sleep made me emotional and anxious and I almost let my anxiety get the best of me. But I decided to go for it anyway.

Before setting up camp, we drove around and visited a few viewpoints along the canyon. Because we visited Arches, Canyonlands, and Monuments before the Grand Canyon, I was nervous that we could be burnt out on canyons. However, this was not the case. In fact, I think it made the Grand Canyon look even grander.

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“All the earth worships Thee; they sing praises to Thee, sing praises to They name.” Psalm 66:4

It was another cold night on the campground, but unlike Monument Valley, we were able to have a campfire. Praises be! Seriously, this plus the other campers enjoying their campfires added a little comfort in my paranoid mind. I have to brag on Nathan. He was willing to change plans about camping if need. He did not make me feel bad about being overcome with anxiety, but he did help me to feel safe and reminded me that I was not alone in this experience. I knew this was an experience I did not want to miss and in my mind, we were definitely going to camp one more time. I was just scared. When the FOMO (fear of missing out) kicked in, it overpowered my (admittedly irrational but very real-feeling) fear of an elk kicking in the tent or a coyote attacking me on my way to the bathroom. So, I reluctantly agreed to sleep outside again.

So we set up the tent, got a campfire going, roasted hotdogs, and made s’mores. Basically, we experienced actual camping this time, whereas in Monument Valley, we experienced Monument Valley. My exhaustion finally got the best of me, and miraculously, knocked me out.

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Tent set up at Mather Campgrounds in Grand Canyon National Park

ALSO: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY DAD!