SW Road Trip, part 3: Carlsbad

After our days in Las Cruces, we entered what turned out to be the most negative part of the vacation. Not that it was all negative, but we had a few things happen that soured some moments. I’m going to try to focus on the positive, though!

Day 7 – 9/30
We reserved Day 7 for travel, going from Las Cruces to Carlsbad (the city, not the caverns), where we would spend three nights in a hotel. The trip was only about 3.5 hours long, but we didn’t want to try to cram both travel and an excursion into the same day. We figured that if we wanted to, we could find a park to hang out in, or do something else fun. And that didn’t end up being the thing.

When we arrived at our “hotel” in Carlsbad, it turned out to be a motel instead, despite the Hotels.com description. Parts of the motel were under construction, with broken out windows and doors. The lobby smelled like cigarette smoke. The whole place looked very sketchy. I was reminded of when we first moved back to TX in 2017 and ended up at a motel that was full of roaches, rats, syringes, used condoms, and other detritus. I didn’t even want to get out of the car, and I certainly didn’t want to check into a room. We’d arrived early, so we canceled our reservation and set up at a nearby Hyatt. It was, thank goodness, far better!

(literally my only pic this day)

Unfortunately, Carlsbad itself was awful, especially in contrast to Las Cruces. We tried to find local places to eat, and there were very few options. Everything was on the just-above-fast-food level – Mexican food that could double as Taco Cabana, cheap bbq, and greasy bar American food. Literally nothing else in the entire stupid town. We ended up getting pizza the first day because 1) it was close to the hotel and 2) we hadn’t eaten lunch because we were driving through the the middle of nowhere at the time. And then there was the stink – the whole city smelled of sewage or rotten eggs. Jason said it was because it was an oil processing city, and that was the smell of the oil refineries. But GAH. Just yuck.

One more note from the day: I woke up to a message from a distant cousin asking me to be careful at the parks, spouting conspiracy theories from a man who runs a Bigfoot search organization, and the whole thing was just so sad. It pains me so much to have friends and family fall for this bs, and it’s just so common right now in the wake of Fake-News-Prump and Covid.

Day 8 – 10/1
This was our only good day in Carlsbad, mostly because we got out of the city and went south 15 miles to Carlsbad Caverns, my second-most anticipated stop on the trip. I’ve wanted to go into these caves for ages! They didn’t disappoint. We took the elevator down rather than going through the natural entrance (which would have involved hiking down a potentially slippery 750-foot drop), and then walked the 1.5-mile loop around the Caverns. The biggest thing I can say is this: I understand why the people who first found places like this believed in underground creatures. Your eyes pick things out and make stories of them. Some of those stories were pre-named (like the Fairy Garden or Mirror Lake), but J and I had a great time making up our own. The oogie boogie man. The king and queen of the underworld. The pit of despair. The giant skull. Dinosaur. Etc.

The only issue with the Caverns had to do with the air pressure. Being 750-feet below ground, I started getting a pressure headache almost immediately, and the spots that were clearly mildewed weren’t helping (I’m extremely sensitive to mold!). So yeah, I had a headache, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

Afterwards, we got quite a few souvenirs – a pin for my bag (actually two, because we found one with a bat on it in the second shop we visited), a spoon for Laurence, a bat bookmark (currently sitting in my RIP book!), a stuffed bat for when our next kid leaves home (long story, family tradition), and a few other things.

We returned to our hotel for the afternoon, picking up some ice cream along the way, and this is when the food situation started to get dire. I’d been eating as well as possible all through this trip. We even bought fresh fruit and salads while in Las Cruces! But there was just nothing in Carlsbad! We ordered dinner through DoorDash and what arrived was…inedible. And yet there was nothing else we could order. So we ended up eating leftover pizza, snacks, and more ice cream than we should have. I think my dinner mainly consisted of poptarts and mint chocolate chip. It didn’t bode well for the next day!!

Day 9 – 10/2
You have to have one failed day on a trip, right? This was our failed day. We got up early, grabbed the hotel breakfast (they had a hot or cold option), and set to eat on the way. My food was literally a small croissant. Jason’s was french toast sticks…that were moldy. UGH. Bad omens all around. Guadalupe Mountain National Park is about 45 mins away from Carlsbad, which is the closest city to it (hence why we continued to stay there). As I said in my hiking post, this was my least looked forward to destination – basically chosen because we would be in the area anyway. And again, as I said in that post, our first trail got us lost, and the second trail didn’t even truly get started because the really crappy eating in Carlsbad was catching up with us. While the Guadalupe Mountains were beautiful, I didn’t enjoy them at all.

We left the park, and on the way back to the hotel, we decided to go home a day early. Every night, I’d facetimed home to see my (human and feline) babies, and I was growing homesick. Plus, I wasn’t looking forward to trying to scrounge up a Walmart meal for dinner, as we already knew the restaurant situation was AWFUL. I just wanted to be home. Unfortunately, we couldn’t cancel our last night of the reservation, but we left anyway.

The trip home was 6.5 hours of drive time plus any stops (we had to get both lunch and gas a few times along the way). The first 2.5 hours were soooooo long, driving through the armpit of the world (the oil basin areas), slowing for every podunk town, stopping at several more of those weird one-lane roads with stoplights (at least these worked!). When we finally got on I10, it was the best thing ever. My car is tiny and doesn’t really do 80 mph very well, but I ran it like that anyway. We put on the audiobook of Elantris, because Jason hadn’t heard it before, and that kept us occupied for the rest of the trip. At least most of what we passed on I10 was pretty, going through an extended hill country and getting out of the oil part of TX. We’d warned the boys that we were coming home early, and it was good to have a welcoming committee (happy cats, sarcastic boys…) when we arrived.

Favorite photos from these days of the trip:
My three favorite photos from this trip (two from the Caverns, one from Guadalupe) are already featured above.

Fun stuff along the way:
Um, to be honest, this part of the trip was so blah except for the Caverns trip that I don’t have a lot of extra fun stuff…

  • Ironically, it was faster to drive through Texas to get to Carlsbad than to go through NM. So we entered El Paso right at the beginning of I10, and now both of us have seen the very first and very last mile of I10 in TX.
  • We saw another rainbow before entering Carlsbad Caverns! –>
  • There’s one restaurant in Carlsbad called KaleidoScoops, which we wanted to go to for ice cream, except all the reviews talked about the very non-pandemic-safe practices, so we chose not to. Great name, though!

So there you go. I know this ends on rather a down note, but overall, our vacation was actually quite nice. And I got to see a new part of the world! Plus, Jason and I spent most of our time away from other people, making sure we stayed safe and hopefully covid-free. It’s been since September 2018 that we’ve had a vacation, and it was really nice to finally have another after three years!!

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The Ex Hex, by Erin Sterling

Heartbroken at nineteen years old, Vivi breaks the family motto: Never mix vodka and witchcraft. Of course, she and her cousin Gwyn are just playing around. The “curses” they put on Vivi’s ex, Rhys, are of the utterly ridiculous type. And as far as Vivi can tell, nothing comes of that night. Not until nine years later, when Rhys returns to Graves Glen to strengthen the ley lines his ancestor put down, and suddenly the town is overrun with demonic toys, talking cats, and a spate of twisted spells gone wrong. Vivi must right her wrongs, while trying not to fall back in love with Rhys, who is just as alluring (and attracted to her) as ever.

Aah, this book was awesome! Definitely my favorite I’ve read in awhile. It’s chaotic, cozy, creepy, sexy, silly, and fun. For years, I’ve looked for romance novels that focus on magic rather than creatures (so sick of vampires, werewolves, and especially angels/demons!), but that’s really hard to find! And yes, technically, the characters in this story are witches, but does that count as creatures, really? It’s different than the typical paranormal romance genre, in any case. The focus was on the magic, not the fact that they were witches. And it’s the magic that I find interesting.

So yeah, it’s very seldom that I find a book that combines sorcery and romance. This was done very well!! The writing was excellent, and the story was top-notch. I’m very picky about which romance novels I read in general, because too often I feel like the romance has been slipped in to spice up the story (in which case, the writing feels awkward and out of place), or the plot is superfluous to the sexy bits. When an author can pull them both together – a story that would be excellent without the romance, but also fits the romance parts in seamlessly – I’m here for that. The Ex Hex did exactly that – and then added magic on top. Couldn’t get more perfect!

I tore through this book in a day, loving every bit of it. Now I need to go check out more of Sterling’s books!

PS – The talking cat was the absolute best. Clearly narrated by someone who knows cats well.

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SW Road Trip, part 2: Western New Mexico

Of all the days we spent traveling, these were my favorite. Western NM is a treat. I didn’t expect that at all, but I absolutely fell in love with the area. I understand now why people retire there.

Day 4 – 9/27
Literally the only thing on the agenda this day was to travel to our vrbo in New Mexico, roughly a 3.5-hour drive. Along the way, we would stop off for lunch on Roswell, because who wouldn’t stop off in the alien capital of the world for kitschy pictures, right? We got to sleep in and leave at our leisure. The vrbo person had already sent us instructions for the house (yes, house!) we’d be staying in for the next three nights, so we knew there wouldn’t be any problems there.

It didn’t take long to cross into a new state, in Texico, New Mexico – a name which had us in stitches. Not long after that came Roswell. We decided to save time by not going through the center of town. Instead, J read me facts about the city – disappointing facts, like one of their high schools’ mascots being the Coyotes, and hilarious ones, like their minor league baseball team being the Invaders. There was little alien stuff on signs and by motels and for sale at those side-of-the-road places that sell metal lawn kitsch. But we couldn’t even buy a stuffed alien at the gas station, so that was disappointing. We also couldn’t find any food besides fast food, so we ended up at Subway. Funny story: I didn’t plan this, but I was wearing my Unsolved Mysteries shirt that day, and two different Subway employees told me how much they loved that show and asked me if I’d seen the Roswell episode with the aliens. Ha! We weren’t even in a touristy part of town!

(2nd set of mountains)

After Roswell, we started to enter the mountains, and the landscape changed completely. I don’t remember which mountains were which – we crossed through the Sacramento and San Andres mountains during this trip – but the first set were covered in a tall pine forest, and both of us were just continually amazed by the beauty. Eventually, the first set of mountains ended, and we caught our first glimpse of White Sands National Park.

This is where we screwed up. For some reason, when we planned our trip, the maps app showed us the wrong location for White Sands National Park, putting it instead at the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument next to Las Cruces, NM. So when we should have been staying in Alamogordo – home of the world’s largest pistachio, which was a disappointing statue rather than, I don’t know, a mutant pistachio that was fist-sized or something – we ended up in Las Cruces, 45 mins away from White Sands. But tbh, I don’t regret this mistake at all. First, it meant going through a second beautiful mountain range (pictured above), this one full of crumbling rocks and scrub rather than pine forest. Second, Las Cruces was amazing, and the house we rented for those three nights – three bedroom, 2.5 bath, view of the mountains in the distance – was awesome, and cheaper than the cost of a normal hotel room. Third, it gave us options for our unplanned Day 6 of the trip, but I’ll get into that later.

(view from our balcony)

Like I said, Las Cruces was beautiful. I’d always seen those flat, adobe, terracotta houses in movies, and thought that was just a stereotype of the southwest. I’d also seen replicas here in SA (and even up north), and they always looked silly and kinda stupid. In NM, they fit in with the landscape properly, and I fell in love with them in a way I never expected. The house we were in had a curly terracotta roof, a balcony with a good view, and a “yard” of astroturf. We ordered out from a local restaurant that night, India Hut, and had our first non-chain meal in days. It. Was. Bliss.

Day 5 – 9/28
We woke up on Day 5 to the most beautiful weather. A cold front had come through and it was in the 50s out, with no expectation to climb higher throughout the morning. This was our White Sands day! White Sands was my top destination on this trip, and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve talked about the hike itself previously, but I just want to take another moment to express how incredible this place was. I could’ve spent days and days out there. It was an entirely different landscape. Jason, who is interested in the history of things and reads up about them, told me all about how the area formed. I had no idea that it used to be a shore there! So when I said it felt like walking on beach sand…well, it WAS walking on beach sand. Except with no ocean anywhere near. The water table is also very close to the surface, keeping the sand cool and moist just under the surface.

One thing I didn’t discuss in the hike post was the sledding. Everyone told us that we needed to sled on the dunes. When we arrived by the trail we chose, we were literally the only car in the parking lot, but it was clear someone had been there at some point because two sleds had been left behind (grrr!). You can buy them at the gift shop, as well as the wax to make them slide easier, and then sell them back afterwards for part of what you paid. This had been our plan, but instead we grabbed these two that were essentially left as trash. After our hike, we each slid down one of the dunes. Unfortunately, because we didn’t have the wax and because of the on-and-off rain, it wasn’t good sledding weather. We each only went once. But I’m glad we got the experience of it! (PS – We returned the sleds to the visitor’s center, and donated them rather than selling them back.)

One really weird and/or sad thing: I lost my Ouija pin that was on my hiking bag. Several times since I got it, the backs had come off when packing my bag. They were clearly cheap backs, and I intended to get better ones when we got home from vacation. Meanwhile, I simply checked the bag each time I put it on and took it off. This is where it got weird. At the gift shop of White Sands, I got a park pin to add to my collection. I put it on my bag before we even left the park to return to our rental. The Ouija pin was still on the bag. But when I brought my bag into the house, it had disappeared. I only noticed once we were inside, so I thought maybe it dropped off somewhere on the walkway up to the front door. But we couldn’t find it there, or in the driveway, or dropped anywhere in my car. It was just gone. The only thing I can think is that it fell off and someone must have seen it and picked it up? I’m sad it’s gone, though. I really loved that pin.

The rest of the day was a relaxing day of hanging out, watching TV, reading, napping, whatever we wanted to do. We got to plan our Day 6, which was open to whatever we wanted. Our park pass would let us return to White Sands, or we could hike somewhere else in the Las Cruces area, or we could have a lazy day.

Day 6 – 9/29
So guess what? I didn’t choose a lazy day. Heh. Jason and I headed out to the mountain range southeast of Las Cruces, entering the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. (This was the place that claimed to be White Sands on our map originally.) We’d chosen a trail with a decent slow climb (up about 700 feet in 1.5 miles), and out-and-back with ruins in several places along the way. Again, I discussed the hike itself at the link up above, so no need to go into that.

(xeriscaped visitor’s center!)

There was a volunteer at the visitor’s center that talked with us for awhile. He and his wife were from San Antonio and Austin, and had retired to Las Cruces. He said it was a great place to retire with a low cost of living, tons of outdoorsy things to do, and just gorgeous. This man was a volunteer at all the local parks, monuments, forests, etc – there’s a lot of State and National areas there – and told us about the search-and-rescue operation at White Sands a few months back. (A man went off trail, got lost, and ended up dying out there before they found him. We’d read about this the day before, and didn’t realize we’d meet one of the volunteers of the search-and-rescue the day afterwards.)

Sadly, there was no gift shop, so no pin for the Organ Mountains, but J had gotten me a New Mexico pin with aliens on it, so I decided to count that instead. (I didn’t get a pin from Colorado Bend State Park either, because everything was closed, so I’m missing more than one from this trip!) In any case, it was a nice day-trip only 15 mins from our rental, and then we had another lazy afternoon. That night, we got Lebanese food delivered from another local place. For a city with a relatively small population (~100k), there was a surprisingly diverse range of places to eat! (This stands out, because our next section of the trip was the exact opposite!)

Favorite photos from these days of the trip:
I have so many great photos from these days, it was hard to narrow down. I’m splitting this into two sections: White Sands and Organ Mountains. (I took no photos except the view from our balcony on Day 4 – I was driving, so Jason took a bunch from the car, and I only count photos I take for my faves!)

Clockwise from top left: grass growing along the boardwalk; the dunes against threatening skies (x2); the bathrooms, recycling, and dumpster in our parking lot, which stood out against the stark landscape and made the whole place look like we were in another world (also, the graffiti said stuff like “you deserve to be here” and I just love it)

Top left: Someone left this drawing on an old metal container of some kind
Top right: barbed wire by the ruins of a former outpost
Bottom: mating grasshoppers with faces that give off very Thomas the Tank Engine vibes, staring at my camera as if to say, “Rude!” Ha!

Fun stuff along the way:
A few things I didn’t already touch on above!

  • We passed the Tire Tree again, which turned into a running joke about tire fruit, tire skins, tire husks, tire pulp, tire seeds… There were a lot of places between Amarillo and the NM border that had heaps of tires or pieces of tire everywhere.
  • a giant cowboy statue tipping his hat to us
  • the signs in NM were hilarious: “Gusty Winds May Exist” and “Dust Storms May Exist” – I was giggling at these for ages
  • our rental had a half-done magnetic puzzle of the map of New Mexico on the fridge, and you better believe I finished that puzzle. (It was likely only 100 pieces total, max. And five were missing. But what a fun thing to have in our rental!) (Photo above)
  • Noteworthy: As I’ve never been to New Mexico before, this crosses off another state in my goal to see all 50 states! I’m up to 36 now.
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The Haunting of Gillespie House, by Darcy Coates (+ bonus)

Elle is thrilled to have landed a housesitting job that will get her out of her crappy apartment for awhile and into a place where she can have complete solitude. Except that solitude isn’t all its cracked up to be when some of the doors in the house are locked, and there is scratching inside the walls, and a man who should have been dead for the last 200 years seems to be banging against the walls of his locked crypt…

Darcy Coates really does write the best creepy horror novels! There was a lot of tension in this one as Elle starts to fall into the memories of a former resident of the house, to view the cult of Jonathan Gillespie, who should have died 200 years ago. Someone is trying to tell her something, or get her to comply with certain demands, and she’s not very good at resisting the urge (or her own insatiable curiosity). Does it seem like the setup for a haunted house horror movie, where the protagonist rushes straight into danger. Yes. Yes it does. And it’s absolutely thrilling.

One negative: The climax is rather anticlimactic and a little too easily resolved. The book was more novella than novel, which is probably why. Things got wrapped up very quickly. On the other hand, that left room for three additional short stories to be included in this collection! I liked two of them better than the full-length novella.

Bed and Breakfast
What’s creepier than a haunted house? How about a haunted hotel? One that involves ritual sacrifices of chickens, a ghost with an ax, and a hapless blogger who didn’t used to believe in the paranormal? Absolutely delicious story.

Crawlspace
This was the inspiration for primary novel of the book, according to the author’s note, and honestly, while I enjoyed it, there was a bit too much “was it a dream?” emphasis to fully captivate me. But perhaps that’s just because I don’t find small spaces scary, so this might not be hitting my personal buttons.

Lights Out
Creepy mannequins turn a strip mall from dingy and mundane to delightfully horrific. This was probably my favorite story of the set, and I loved the ending!

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SW Road Trip, part 1: Texas

Back in late spring, Jason and I made plans to use some of our cruise credit (from the Planniversary cruise that was canceled in May 2020) to have a short holiday. Of course, with covid rising, we again had to cancel that. We still wanted to go on vacation, though, and began a second plan. This one involved going to Colorado, because the lady who intended to adopt Angus and Ghost lived there. Except then she pulled out of the adoption, and suddenly, we could go anywhere. Colorado was still one possibility, but instead, we put together a trip that would break up the driving a bit more and allow us to see a few more places. This collage detailed the general outline of our plans, and we scheduled days, hotels, park passes, etc. This post will detail the first third of the trip, the parts where we stayed in Texas.

Day 1 – 9/24
Technically, our vacation didn’t start until the 25th, but our first few stops were a bit rushed, so we decided to leave after J finished work on the 24th. San Saba, where we would stay our first night, is only about 2.5 hours north of us. I don’t drive well in the dark, so the plan was to get off right at 4pm so that we could arrive at our destination before dark. Things…didn’t go as planned.

(ready to go!)

First, we didn’t get off until 4:30. Then, we had three stops to make before leaving the city. Then, on our third stop, we realized a few things we forgot at home that were too expensive to acquire along the way, so we circled back and eventually started our trip maybe 5:30ish? Next, we tried to stop a few times for dinner, but in these small towns, either there would be an hour-long wait, or the restaurants (even fast food) would be closed. Eventually we found food at a gas station (ugh), and the last 45 mins or so was driving in the dark on back roads, which was terrifying. We reached the vrbo at about 8:15, only to realize that 1) we had no idea which unit we were supposed to be in (we were given a name for the unit, but they were labeled with numbers!), and 2) they’d never sent us the pin number to get in. It took nearly an hour of phone tag (pictured) to get ahold of someone, and eventually we did make it into the room.

(TINY!!)

I say room because our vrbo rental was tiny. Smaller than the smallest bedroom at our house, it basically fit a queen size bed with a couple feet of space on three sides around it, plus a tiny bathroom and closet. Maybe 100 sq ft. Maybe. We were definitely forewarned, so we were expecting small, but we weren’t exactly expecting “smaller than the smallest cruise room” small. But anyway, we only needed to sleep there, no big deal. It was late, and we had an early morning ahead of us, so we went to bed almost immediately.

Day 2 – 9/25
I slept very badly, due to both the anxiety of the drive up to San Saba, and worry about the next day’s plans. The plan was to pack up and check out, travel to Colorado Bend State Park (45 min drive), hike the Spicewood Springs Trail, then drive straight up to our hotel in Amarillo. The part that made me anxious was leaving all our belongings in the car in a parking lot at the park, including valuables! So while I tossed and turned, I decided on a different plan. We were already getting up early, and we’d leave our stuff at the vrbo while we went out to the park. We’d hike a shorter trail (Gorman Falls), and be back in time to check out at 11. Then we’d drive to Amarillo.

(sunrise drive to CBSP)

Ha. Ha. Ha. This didn’t work out well. When we entered CBSP, there was no one there, and a sign said to go to Headquarters to check in. I already had reservations, but you still have to check in. Headquarters was a 20-min drive away, and when we got there, they were also closed. We had to drive 20 mins back to get a self-pay form to show that we had a reservation, and we got onto the trail much later than expected. Then, of course, the trail itself – an out and back – had a huge dip-then-climb to the falls. Not only did that portion of the trail take a lot longer than expected to hike, but the second half of the trip was consistently uphill. I strained my body a lot dragging myself up the rock-climbing section, so I had to take a lot more breaks than normal. Jason ignored my advice to take water because the hike was only 2.8 miles, so of course we ran out. (I didn’t let him ignore my advice again after that.) I knew that there was no way we were going to get back to the vrbo in time to check out at 11.

(Windfarm on the trip to Amarillo)

Thankfully, because of the mishaps the night before, the owner extended our checkout to noon, and that gave us all the time we needed to make up for the extra issues. We grabbed food – again, gas station food, gross – and started the loooong drive to Amarillo (about 7 hours). It was a relatively uneventful drive, and we looked forward to getting a real dinner, hopefully at a local restaurant, after we checked into our hotel. Which is where we ran in to our second hotel issue of the trip.

Somehow, Hotels.com (where we booked everything) LOST our reservation. We’d paid for it, and it hadn’t been refunded, but it wasn’t in the computer system. When J looked at his hotels.com account, it was there, but when he called their help line, his confirmation number didn’t work. It took an HOUR to eventually get us checked into a room, and they were only able to do it by canceling the lost-in-the-internet reservation and making us pay a second time. We’re supposed to get a refund, since we paid twice, but have yet to receive it. Ugh. By the time we finally checked in, we didn’t have time to find a local restaurant, and we went to a nearby Olive Garden for dinner. Still, that was better than gas station food!! Just wish I hadn’t been driving in the dark again. Oy. At least the hotel room was nice, clean, and large enough to walk around without tripping over each other!! (Sadly, the indoor pool was closed. But in better news, the caution tape and falling covers on the door to the pool (photo) was hilariously nightmarish.)

Day 3 – 9/26
The first two days of this vacation were very rushed, as we were trying to fit in a lot into small amounts of time. Starting Day 3, things got better. J and I got up early and traveled the half hour away to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. As I said in the hiking post that detailed this day, it was incredible to just watch a canyon appear out of nowhere. It was like entering an entirely new landscape. The park was absolutely gorgeous, and I was really upset at myself because I forgot to bring my nice camera with me and had to do with phone pics!! The phone takes great photos in good light, which was perfect for that day, but it’ll never show the great depths of field that my nice camera shows. Oh well. In any case, we enjoyed our hike immensely!

(it all looks so much flatter than it really was!)

After hiking, we stopped by the Trading Post to get souvenirs (a pin for my hiking bag, and a collectible spoon for Laurence). They had ice cream for sale, so I got some mint chocolate chip and Jason got himself a root beer float. We ate in the car (because so many people weren’t wearing masks!), and then headed back to the hotel. We arrived at the park just before 9am and there was no line to get in. We left around 11:30 and the line was miles long. So I guess that’s the secret: get there early!

We didn’t do much the rest of the day. Hung around the hotel room, caught up on a few things (social media, journaling, TV shows, napping, whatever). There was a Waffle House really close to the hotel, so we decided to go there for dinner. If you’ve never been to Waffle House, you won’t understand. It’s a horrible place. The food is cheap and not the greatest. It’s dirty and there are usually flies everywhere. The people inside are worse than People of Walmart. And it’s the absolute best. It’s just one of those things. The closest Waffle House to home is 70 miles for us, so we took advantage while we were practically next door to one!!

Favorite photos from these days of the trip:
Some of my favorites from the day are already pictured above (the “ready to go” car selfie, the ice cream photo, the nightmare pool door). Here are the rest:

Left to right: bunny doorstop at the first vrbo; pathway along the Kiowa trail; tiny purple flower covered in tons of ladybugs

Fun stuff along the way:

  • a large portion of the road leading into CBSP was an open livestock area, so there were cows and horses right next to (and sometimes in) the road
  • one road had a 55 mph speed limit, but it was so full of curves with speeds anywhere from 20 to 45 mph that Jason and I were laughing about how the speed limit on the road should have been labeled “it’s complicated” or “55 mph unless otherwise stated”
  • We ran into a one-lane road on the trip to Amarillo. It had stoplights (to keep people from crossing) that were meant to turn green in turns. But we could see the other side, and there was no one there, and our light had been red for ten mins, so eventually, we just went for it.
  • At one point, we ran into a corvette party. Literally 2-3 dozen corvettes of different ages, colors, and customizations ran along the highway in a single row, like a fast funeral procession. We have no idea what was happening and were very curious about whatever corvette party or convention was going on! This was out in the middle of nowhere.
  • Near Amarillo, we came across a business called Tire Tree. It had a big fake tree out front, with tires hung on the branches like Christmas ornaments. Ha!
  • a shop on the way to Palo Duro called the Rodfather RV Repairs (ha!)
  • In Waffle House, a man was earnestly telling his companions about how you can’t say a product is prosciutto unless it comes from a particular region in Italy. It was obvious he was talking about Parma ham and just confused. Jason and I locked eyes and it was so difficult not to burst out laughing.
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Sunday Coffee – Tohoku Daishinsai (Guest Post)

The following is written by my friend Chris Messer, who lived with his wife in the area of Japan where the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant meltdown happened in March 2011. When I read Ghosts of the Tsunami in September, I reached out to Chris to see if he would be open to writing a firsthand account of his experiences during that time. The rest of this post is his response, a beautifully written essay on the experience from the point of view of he and his wife, Hiroko.

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Tohoku Daishinsai
The Chris and Hiroko Messer Version

Introduction
Amanda asked me to give a bit of my perspective on the events of the earthquake, tsunami, resulting nuclear disaster, and recovery that ultimately happened in Japan. I thought about this a lot. As someone on new medication for sciatica, this has been a dreamy task and some thoughts that come to mind are the excitement of the middle school children practicing their graduation ceremony, the lunchroom tables dancing around like football players on one of those mid century vibrating game boards, my suspicion of the youth making chemical batteries in the science lab with no supervision, or even climbing the tower to find a cell signal to email anyone to say I was alright and we would not be having our seminal Dungeons and Dragons game on Skype that evening. I want to move past all of that.

I lived in this part of Japan for almost 10 years. It had snowed a total of 4 times, always in January or February. It snowed once, that afternoon, briefly. This was my only night in Japan where I saw stars, constellations that were usually hidden by light pollution were clearly visible to the naked eye. From the tower I could see Yuriage burn, propane canisters flying into the sky. I didn’t fully understand what I was seeing at that time. It was a time of humanity, sacrifice, humility, and understanding.

I don’t want to talk about insurance, property, or law. The way that things work really comes down to how people agree, and I have seen a lot of different agreements. The pressure of disaster can cause agreements to take a lot of different shapes, and it really just comes down to your ability to produce what people need.

A Cup of Coffee
18 hours after the water had come in, we were okayed to leave. I was able to get my bike through the water back to town. Hiroko, my wife of just 4 months to the day, was just returning to our cafe when I arrived there. She had just arrived from our apartment. The last words I spoke to her on the phone were, “Tsunami! Tsunami! Tsunami!”

We set everything up as best we could. I had recently prepared for just this type of thing, and we had a camping stove with some butane canisters. It wasn’t proper restaurant code, but this was a disaster and there wasn’t a restaurant inspector coming around anyway. We started making coffee, and opened the shades on our kiosk and a line formed immediately. In line to our shop the 7th, 8th, and 9th customers were men from the propane facility across the street. They were in for a lot of work as they would surely have to go to every house and reset every propane tank on every residence they service. My first move was to go up to them directly and proposition them with free coffee if they turn my gas back on.

Now this kind of thing is totally unacceptable. You don’t bribe Japanese people. Especially professional Japanese people, and especially in front of people in public on the street. But, I had a couple of simple things working for me. Number one, it’s coffee. Number two, it’s no more than 12 feet of line that needs inspection. Number three, they can bring their boss over if they want, I’ll give him coffee too. Everyone agreed to keep quiet about it, and with that, we were the first restaurant open in town.

Damned Yankee
When you are in business, you take advantage of every situation you can. You find a good location. We had the first business location off the west side of the train station. It was tiny, but it was convenient. You make sure you have a product people want, something quick and convenient. To go coffee and food. Something you can eat/drink in 2 minutes. Something we have ready on the go. We did hamburgers, if you wanted to take 5 minutes, and they were, heck they still are, worth it.

When everything went wrong, everything closed down. Our landlord had a bar just next door that couldn’t open because everything was smashed. We had a fridge full of meat and eggs and cheese, but no power. Our meat was frozen hamburgers, our cheese wasn’t going to go bad, our bread was the only problem, because we used to run out every night and had to get more every day. It turns out that not only is Hiroko a licensed Japanese chef, she’s also a baker. Without using a book or the internet, we talked to our landlord and went into his bar. Using the flour from his bar and a couple other ingredients she snatched, I wound a hand powered flashlight while she made bread from scratch.

I suppose at this time I should tell you we didn’t have running water. I probably should have mentioned that before. We had to ride our bicycles 10K to Hiroko’s uncle’s house. He had running water. We filled up a bunch of bottles and brought water to our shop, where we would make bread dough. Then, I would press the dough on our flat top grill with a hot pot, and these flat pieces of bread would become makeshift pizzas.

Were they the best pizzas? No! Did people care? Not at all!

Soon people would line up just to buy something. People had money, but there was nothing to spend it on. We weren’t gouging people, we never adjusted our prices different from what they were before the tsunami, and the people in the neighborhood knew it. They insisted on paying us something, and for the most part they just wanted to feel normal. So you’d sell a little 8 inch pizza made with hotdogs and colby jack cheese, you’d talk about the weather, and who had what services, and you’d wish them luck. Heck, one day a guy stopped in to announce he was alive! He had been trapped between the sea and a mountain, and was trying to get back to a place where people knew him, and he just wanted everyone to know he was alright.

Things did get tough though, and a lady one day bought everything we had. We sold it to her, and realized that might have been a mistake, but we all learn from our mistakes. There was enough for everyone in line, and she bought it all to take away. That was a mistake. We shouldn’t have allowed that. We know that now, and she still comes up from time to time when we think about bad situations. Bad situations don’t mean you are done though. It just means you have to reevaluate what you have left, what options are still on the table.

Now, it just so happens that I almost fell out of my chair the first time I was given sweet tea in place of tea. I did complain, and I still prefer tea, thank you very much. This doesn’t preclude the fact that I am aware that sugar is an easy way to make money. I also had a kiosk type cafe on a walking path between a train station and a high school. One where girls dawdle, and complain. They had just recently become confused by a large foreigner and interested in french toast and toad-in-a-hole. So I just happened to look up the recipe for sweet tea the very afternoon that the earthquake struck.

People did not like sweet tea. When we did eventually run out of food, there was nothing to do. We couldn’t sit at home, it was so boring. We stayed in our community instead. Being social was good for us and the cafe became a kind of hub. A friend who evacuated had given us a tub of popcorn. I would put the popcorn on the flat top grill, and put a bowl over the seeds. This would make a terrible mess, but it made popcorn. I would hand out free popcorn, and sweet tea for children. Eventually I realized I hadn’t seen clean fingernails for many days.

Book Report
The first movie I remember seeing at a theater setting is Raiders of the Lost Ark. We were at the drive-in theater in Bemidji, Minnesota. I remember it well, because that was a good movie. I remember the sound not being great, the box hanging off the window, like we were at the A&W. I remember how glassy everyone’s eyes looked. I remember the waxy way the nazi’s faces melted when they looked at the spirits that came howling out of the ark. Woooo!

Hiroko had gone to get more water from our apartment now. They had fixed the water at least that far. We no longer needed to go as far as her uncle’s house, still, it was quite a bit of a drive to get somewhere. We had found some hot dogs, and a new way to make pizzas, so that was back on. I was running a cafe, the sun was shining, it was windy, and cloudy, and just a nice day. Joe, our landlord, had his Winnebago, his Humvee, and his smart Car set up at the Taxi Pool by the Train Station; he was kind of the unofficial mayor of this side of town. Our restaurant looked right at his encampment. Due to his generator, he had power, the rest of town did not. People would come by and he would give them the news, etc. It was a little luxury he was providing people, and I appreciated it because it indirectly brought us business.

It was probably around 10 am when he came up to my window and used a word I shouldn’t know along with a gesture. He was speaking only Japanese. Difficult Japanese. The kind of Japanese that belongs in colleges, that someone like me who learned Japanese drinking with people at parties shouldn’t know. But in 3rd grade I had written a book report about Hiroshima, and for some reason when he said Hibaku, and made a gesture, I remembered the word Hibakusha from that book report, and face melting off Major Arnold Toht, and knew exactly what he was talking about.

I asked him for some more details, and he showed me the news report. I took in the news, and went back to our shop. For 5 minutes I thought, “It doesn’t get more punk rock than this, I’m running a cafe at the end of the world. This is it, this is what the 80’s were all about, the fallout, the everything.” Ride this out, this is my bomb to ride, like Slim Pickins.

Except it isn’t.

I packed up everything. Everything edible in the shop. I put it all on my bicycle. Hiroko wasn’t there, and I decided to ride home the one way we rode to the shop. On the way I ran into Adam, a friend. I told him the news. I explained he could come with me. I was going to evacuate, and follow fallout protocol, since he was younger he might not know, but I would take care of him. He understood, and turned to his Japanese girlfriend, she shrugged and said, “It can’t be helped, it’ll be whatever it is.” He didn’t like that any more than I did, but he said he could take care of himself, and went on to do that.

On the way home I met Hiroko. I explained we needed to turn around and go home. We did go home, we got home, and closed up the house. I used everything I ever learned. Closed all the windows, sealed any air gaps, washed or threw out our clothing, filled a tub with water because the water we have comes from an open air reservoir. And waited. Eventually the power came back up. When the internet was available, I got in touch with friends. The first one to be helpful was from Australia, they were able to help us get out. In time, Hiroko and I adapted to be of one mind, and trust in each other, before all others, and move on our own, before trusting in organizations.

Scary
Am I better now? Are we better now? Could we be in Japan today? Should we? Are we better here? Is there a better? There are so many questions, but looking back doesn’t help any more than looking forward. Today we have a daughter, Jessica. She is wonderful. She makes us happy, if not a little hairbrained, and strung out. We have our concerns, and we worry but try to keep that to a minimum, because we have learned that you can only control what you can control so we spend a lot of time making sure we know what that is.

*****
Thank you again, Chris, for writing up your experiences. I appreciate it, and I hope my readers do as well. Love to you, Hiroko, and Jessica!

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Quarantine Diaries – Weeks 81-82

Because I was on vacation for most of Week 81, I didn’t hear a lot of news – I kinda avoided it on purpose, tbh – and have combined these two weeks together. And really, with things settling down again, and less news happening, I’ll probably go back to a couple weeks at a time in general, unless/until there’s another surge.

Week 81 – 9/24-9/30
The numbers this week:

  • Cases: 310,957 (+4,188)
  • Deaths: 4,426 (+112)
  • Seven-day rolling average: 554 (-41/day) (595)
  • Positivity rate: 5% (+0.1%)
  • Cases per 100k: 30.1 (-11.7)
  • Hospitalizations: 659 patients; 227 in ICU
  • Vaccinations: 1,503,099 first dose (89% of eligible population, 75% total); 1,240,394 fully vaxxed (74% of eligible, 62% total)
  • In L’s classes: none this week (cumulative: 5 students, 6 staff)
  • Week 5 for our school: 7 students, 0 staff (cumulative: 63 students, 4 staff)

Literally the only piece of news I heard this week came from my brother-in-law, who works for American Airlines. The airline has announced that all employees must be vaccinated and can’t opt for a regular testing alternative like some other airlines have provided. People can still apply for an exemption, and I don’t know how many of those they’ll grant, but I’m glad at least AA isn’t accommodating anti-vaxxers. The more businesses that do this, the more people will get vaccinated. I’m not a fan of capitalism, but this is what capitalism is supposed to do – push people into doing what is best for businesses, and what’s best for businesses is to NOT have a raging pandemic!

This isn’t really news, but I’ll also say that while on vacation, 85% of the people J and I came across in indoor spaces were maskless. Gas stations, rest areas, stores, restaurants, etc. We stayed safe – wearing our masks indoors, choose hotels that required masks as much as possible, keeping our excursions outside, using doordash for meals, etc. Hopefully it was enough. In Texas in particular, everyone looked at us like we were aliens when we walked in gas stations and were literally the ONLY people wearing masks (not even the employees). Sigh. No wonder things are f-cking insane here.

Week 82 – 10/1 – 10/7
Mid-week, I went to the chiropractor for post-travel care, and there were two women sitting across from me in the lobby talking to each other about the vaccine. One woman had gotten her shots because otherwise she wasn’t allowed to see her grandchildren (yay to her son or daughter for enforcing that!). The other woman was refusing, and said she would be getting a fake vaccine card if they tried to force her to show one. She said the government was “encouraging” people to get fake vaccine cards by trying to force them to get vaccines. I mean, forget the fact that most people need other vaccines for school, certain kinds of employment, etc, and no one very few are complaining about that. Forget the fact that this woman is probably very angry about immigrants getting fake green cards (not that this is common, but she believes it is) because they aren’t allowed to enter the country legally. Forget that this woman probably couldn’t figure out a way to get a fake vaccine card anyway. It’s this kind of sentiment that pisses me off so badly, the hypocrisy of it, the ignorance, the sheer stupidity and selfishness! Ugh. Anyway, numbers:

  • Cases: 314,185 (+3,228)
  • Deaths: 4,559 (+133)
  • Seven-day rolling average: 400 (-154/day)
  • Positivity rate: 3.9% (-1.1%)
  • Cases per 100k: 23.7 (-6.4)
  • Hospitalizations: 496 patients; 184 in ICU
  • Vaccinations: statistics not updated this week
  • In L’s classes: none this week (cumulative: 5 students, 6 staff)
  • Week 5 for our school: 9 students, 0 staff (cumulative: 72 students, 4 staff)

We hit a grim milestone in the US this week as we surpassed 700k deaths in this pandemic. It’s frustrating because this didn’t have to happen. Nearly all of these deaths could have been prevented if people would’ve just gotten vaccinated!! The entire period from 600k to 700k, the vaccine was available to EVERYONE ages 12+. And guess which states have suffered the worst? Florida (17k) and Texas (13k), as ANYONE could have predicted. Those two states have 15% of the US population and over 30% of the nation’s deaths. What a surprise. Unfortunately, up to 30k of that last 100k could be breakthrough cases – and the preliminary data shows that vaccinated folks dying from covid nearly entirely caught the disease from an unvaccinated person. UGH. As of October 1st, only 65% of Americans have had a single dose, and 56% are fully vaxxed. This is nuts.

I wish I could get my mom and her side of the family to look at this data and take it seriously, because they’re all still refusing to do the right thing! My mom’s been sick for the last two weeks. She took a home covid test early on and it came back negative, but this has just lingered, and she’s still going to work at the preschool my aunt runs, where multiple kids and their parents have been exposed to covid and yet are still coming to school, so they’re getting it from all sides. In a recent message from her, she said they’re getting covid from all sides and she’s just tired of dealing with it, and I want to scream THEN JUST GET THE DAMN VACCINE but I smile and nod instead. Sigh. It doesn’t help to hear numbers like this: Texas schools, in the first six weeks of the school year, saw 172k student cases state-wide, which is more than all of last year combined.

In better news, the city’s risk level has moved down to Mild now. And Pfizer has put in for emergency auth for the vaccine for ages 5-11 – hopefully soon, some of my nephews will be eligible. Also, I got my third covid dose this week, which makes me feel a lot better! (Plus, no side effects this time, barely even a sore arm. Bonus!)

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Wellness Wednesday – Hikes of 2021, #47-51 (Vacation!)

As promised, today’s hike post will be completely different. Jason and I just got back from a nine-day road trip through TX and NM, hitting different state and national parks along the way. There were six areas that we explored, but one of them (Carlsbad Caverns) wasn’t really a hike, so I won’t cover it here. Here’s how the hiking portion of our adventure went!

47. Back in December, Jason and I were supposed to go up to this park for a little mini-anniversary getaway. We had an airbnb booked for a weekend. Then Morrigan got sick with possible covid, and the whole house had to go into a two-week lockdown. Anniversary plans canceled for the second year in a row, boo! Colorado Bend is only 2.5 hours north of us, so we decided to hit this park before finishing our trek northwards. Originally, we planned to hike the Spicewood SpringsTrail, but time constraints led us to the Gorman Trail instead. It was a short out-and-back, but the last part was straight downhill (and then uphill on the return) to get to the falls. Like, literally there were railings to hold so that you could get down, and there were places that were so steep that on the way back, I was literally hauling myself up rocks with two hands. Most of the trail was fairly easy, but that part was STRENUOUS. Pretty, though! [Hike 32/52 for my 52 Hike Challenge.]

Continue reading

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September 2021 in Review (Except Vacation)

September was divided into two very distinct sections. There were the first three weeks, filled with a whole lot of malaise and depression, and the last week, which began Jason’s and my nine-day road-trip vacation. I’m keeping the vacation portion of the month as its own separate set of posts, so what’s below won’t count vacation highlights and such.

Reading and Watching
It hasn’t been as fun of a month in books as I wanted. I culled/abandoned far more than expected, including some that I’d really wanted to read. A bit disappointing. In the end, I only finished two books and only enjoyed one of them (Ghost of the Tsunami). It was a much better month for TV, with a bunch of new seasons of shows starting (GBBO, NCIS, NCIS Hawaii, SVU). Plus I watched Truth Be Told, which I quite enjoyed, and J and I have started watching through the second season of Victoria (several years after watching the first season!). Right before vacation, I devoured the first two seasons of Manifest. So yeah, it was a TV-heavy month!

Goals
Not much on this front, but Jason and I did pay off one of our two credit cards this month, so that’s a thing. Woohoo!

I’ve also switched my thinking a little this month. I’ve spent a very long time making goals that center around weight-related health issues (whether that be weight loss, improving body image regardless of size, etc). There’s one thing I haven’t done, though, and that’s to address longterm goals that have remained in my head as “when I’m thinner” goals. For example, I’ve wanted to get breast reduction surgery for most of my life. When I’m thinner, my chest is easier to manage because I can “sister-size” up without too much pain, which allows me to find bras that kinda fit. But even when I was super thin, I was in a G+ cup. It puts a lot of strain on my back at every size, causes difficulty with clothing, makes self-exams and mammograms difficult (I’ve been told that I have some of the densest tissue they’ve ever seen on multiple occasions), and generally causes a (literal and metaphorical) headache. I’ve always been told that you can only get a reduction if you’re thin, to prove your breasts won’t shrink when you lose weight. Well, I have picture proof that even at 110-125 lbs, I was in a G+ cup. And if I have to pay for this sh!t out of pocket, which is 99% likely, I’d like to just get it done NOW. Why am I waiting to lose weight again, especially as I’ve been unable to do so for seven years??

Health
I got back into more exercise this month for the first time since April. When I decided to take some time off for injury in May, I never expected to be bombarded with problem after problem going forward! It’s difficult to move back into a fitness space after essentially four months of rest. At times I overdid it, and had to take longer breaks. Depression also contributed to breaks. But I also enjoyed getting back out there again.

Favorite photos
The following will be photos from September excluding vacation photos, as those will be many and I didn’t want them to overwhelm the daily-life photos that I keep here. Vacation photos will come in a separate post, of course! As always, these photos are taken by me and aren’t always the best photography, just the photos I personally like most for one reason or another!

Top left: autumn bouquet; Bottom left: spider hanging on a leaf which seems to dangle in midair; Right, top to bottom: bonded pair; snail; post-surgical Angus

Highlights of September
Weirdly, I had a lot of highlights this month that later got taken off the highlight reel because they got canceled out. Like, for instance, we found an adopter for Angus and Ghost so that they could stay together, but then the adopter moved into a new place that had a no-pets policy so that fell through. Here is what remained:

  • snagging a Spellbound set from Lucky Sew & Sew (Eeeee!)
  • the Gherkinoodle –>
  • mini cranberry-orange scones
  • my first ever wine tour/tasting (with friends!)
  • the first cool(ish) fronts of the season
  • my kittens getting high on catnip toys
  • Nathan Pyle’s comic on finding your ghost name (I’m Atmatnoodat, ha! The best is Laurence’s, though: Latureeeeboonooceboo)
  • that time that the NFL referee yelled “Unsportsmanlike conduct!” and I genuinely misheard him say, “I was forced to buy a condom!” Ha!
  • being able to sleep with the windows open twice this month!
  • fun acquisitions this month: Archer & Olive blackout journal and pens; a complete vintage set of Old Maid cards identical to the ones I had as a child (they’re from the 60s but I had them in the 80s); new fall-themed mugs; a new Ouija pin for my hiking bag with a moving planchette; my first Cat Lady subscription box; some awesome Lucky Sew & Sew bras

Coming up in October
The first little bits of fall, I hope. We usually get those at the end of the month. Plus, spooky season! We love spooky season!

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Sunday Coffee – Culling Social Media

It’s time.

I first got on social media in early 2006, when I was a stay at home mom to three boys aged five and under. My job was 24/7 and I had no way of meeting people, living in a new area, and absolutely going crazy. Back then, my media of choice was MySpace, because it emphasized meeting people rather than reconnecting with people I already knew. I’m actually still friends with some of the folks I met via MySpace, and have met up with many of them in person over the years.

In late 2008, I joined Facebook, then added Twitter sometime in 2009 (?) though I haven’t used it in five or six years, and began on Instagram in the summer of 2012. Through the years, there has also been blogging (of course), and SparkPeople (which no longer exists), and more recently, TikTok (though I use it more for mindless scrolling than actual social media). And honestly, all these different platforms have gotten overwhelming.

Facebook is the big one. I really dislike FB for many reasons, and really, there are only three reasons I’m still there. First and second are two groups that I’m part of. The third is that FB carries 12-13 years of memories and photos. The photos are no big deal, really, as I keep them all on my own cloud storage as well. But the memories aren’t ones I want to lose. Still, I don’t want to continue to USE facebook. So I’m taking steps to get rid of it.

I’m not sure exactly what the plan is yet – make a private blog to post memories for each day? Download the same in journal form? Keep the account for the groups and memories, but don’t ever post on it or interact with people? I don’t know. But I want to put a plan together in the near-future, so that by my 2022-anniversary of when I joined, I’ll be off completely.

Has anyone else done this? Any advice?

PS – At present, my favorite social media is Instagram, though it’s gotten so ad-spammy lately that that may change…

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