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SUMMER ROAD TRIP on Spotify

The summer season offers us opportunities, wrapped in sunshine, beyond our normal experience. The blur of passing scapes paired with a good tune creates whimsy and a sense of adventure. Guitar chords. The changing horizon. The hum of rolling asphalt. Rhythm. Whether you are on your way to the water, the mountains, or a friend’s house this summer, I hope this playlist will feed your sense of adventure.

I Know Bayonne | Wheat Wilderado | Fool for Love Lord Huron | South Hippo Campus |We Will All Be Changed Seryn | Notice Vodi | Town & Country Bibio | Pictures of Girls Wallows |Better Views Yellow House | Down the Line Beach Fossils |Seabirds Monohans | Same Bayonne

TAOS_websize-18TAOS, NEW MEXICO

Take me someplace where we can be silent together.
― Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things

We left for New Mexico before the sun, my one hand in his, the other holding coffee. I’ve always struggled to speak in the early morning, and after 14 years of marriage, I love that he doesn’t require it of me. Instead, music softly wafted through the car. We floated along the highway side-by-side, grounded only by touch and with respect for the dark quiet. Our words loomed with the glowing line on the horizon, a nebulous and powerful light. Over the week, we would speak often and laugh. We would eat, drink, wander, and enjoy one another in every possible way, but we were also silent of heart and spirit. We went away to listen.

TAOS, NEW MEXICOArroyo Seco, New MexicoEarthship | Taos, New MexicoTAOS, NEW MEXICOTwo note-worthy roads lead into Taos from the South, the High Road and the Low Road to Taos. Although not originally intended, we entered by way of the Low Road after missing a turn earlier in our drive. The metaphors feel endless. Winding along the Rio Grande River, between the rising rock ledges and the cold rolling rapids, one cannot help but feel small and vulnerable, a more humble perspective of glory compared to the sweeping vistas of the high road, a path we’d take home at the end of the week. We turned off the highway at some point, onto a tiny two-lane road, a more direct route according to our map. “Are you sure this is the right way?” he would ask. I would merely shrug, looking at our moving dot on the screen, “yes, according to the map.” Eventually, this path would lead us through Orilla Verde and then up a winding dirt road through the Rio Grande Gorge. The nearby Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a common tourist stop, would have been the safer, more obvious route, providing stunning and broad views of the canyon below. But driving up the canyon wall on a single-lane dirt road held a different sort of splendor and gratitude. The low road held quiet beauty and gentle lessons.

TAOS, NEW MEXICOTAOS, NEW MEXICOEarthship | Taos, New MexicoThe Love Apple | Taos, New Mexico

We spent the week in a more remote, off-the-grid home on the Taos Mesa, running solely on rain water and solar power reserves. Nestled within the Earthship Biotecture community, this spot seemed both educational and restorative, a perfect pairing for the level of simplicity we had in mind that week. We craved something quieter and more in tune with the natural rhythms of the wild. Souls are rarely stitched back together with city lights and busy streets, certainly not our own. We yearned for creation, to rise with the morning sun and rest with the afternoon rains, to purchase local whole foods and prepare them ourselves, to somehow again become comfortable without agendas and imperatives to see and do. 

Over the week, we would read, write, dream, and pray. These routines were not rigid or forced, but organic and restful. Our conversations occurred everywhere without the formalities of deadlines or time constraints. We reflected on God’s goodness in the same breath as our casual banter and joking. The time was slow but not boring, one activity and thought rolling into the next, mixed with idle afternoons and naps, glasses of wine, and long walks. We strategized ways to carry this same spirit into our daily life at home, how in spite of busy days we would live more slowly, more intently focused this coming academic year. For two driven people, this would require practical steps.

TAOS, NEW MEXICODH Lawrence Ranch | Taos, New MexicoTAOS, NEW MEXICOTaos, New MexicoTaos, New MexicoEarthship | Taos, New MexicoThe summer air in northern New Mexico is hot and arid. Cold summer rains commonly arrive in the afternoon, soaking the hot earth like tea, infusing the wind with faintest aromas of Silver Sage. Hiking guidebooks warn travelers of thunderhead clouds while in the mountains, as they drop rain quickly and can even cause hypothermia in the summertime due to the elevation. The lower areas near the river can rise quickly. We mostly hiked in the morning, just after our coffee and view of the sun cresting the Sangre de Cristo mountains. I’m convinced anyone could be excited about the early morning if they woke up to this light.

On our favorite morning, we climbed to Williams Lake in the Taos Ski area. The hike is a somewhat steep 2 mile-trek to an alpine lake through national forest and streams and snow (even in late June ). If we ever return, I’ll carry a blanket, books, and picnic lunch with us. We could have stayed all day. Around the lakeside, over the rocky perimeter and tucked behind the trees, a waterfall parades down the mountainside. We found a large piece of driftwood wedged between large boulders there, and he carried it back across the lake and down the mountain so it could rest in our home, a tangible memory.

Rio Grande Gorge | Taos, New MexicoTAOS, NEW MEXICOWilliams Lake | Taos, New MexicoTaos, New MexicoTaos, New Mexico

The town of Taos is casual and varied, as are the people. Like many small and beautiful places, artists flock, earning money by selling their wares in tourist markets near the Rio Grande Gorge bridge or in one of the local shops of Arroyo Seco or Old Taos. My favorite stop was Weaving Southwest, a minimal shop full of hand-dyed yarns, locally woven tapestries and apparel. At the back of the store, one of the shop-owners was giving a private weaving lesson to a beginner. I wished to join them and decided again to learn weaving with our children this year.

We traveled one afternoon to DH Lawrence’s Ranch, now owned and kept by the University of New Mexico. As we drove through the rolling outskirts of Arroyo Hondo, it is not hard to imagine why this British writer might have chosen this sunny place to begin a utopian society. There, Georgia O’Keefe painted his famous tree. The bench and the tree still remain just behind the main house, a tribute to legendary artists and ideas.

On one morning, we visited a public hot spring nearby in Arroyo Hondo. We traveled down single lane dirt roads and bridges and along the grassy riverbanks searching for two naturally-occurring warm pools. Instead we discovered only the higher pool–the lower temporarily swallowed by the river–and four nude strangers already bathing in it. We stayed for almost an hour (swimsuits on) carrying awkward conversations out of politeness. When the sun and two more travelers arrived, we gladly exited the tiny pool and clumsy talk. We changed into our clothes and went out for coffee, where we laughed at ourselves.

Earthship | Taos, New MexicoTaos, New MexicoEarthship | Taos, New MexicoTaos, New MexicoThe Love Apple | Taos, New MexicoTAOS, NEW MEXICOTaos, New Mexico

Before arriving, we had stopped in Santa Fe to pick up fair-trade coffee beans, wine, fresh bread, and other foods that might make the 2 hour ride north. In Taos, we’d discover Cid’s Market, not too far from where we were staying, and stock up on leafy greens, berries, and locally sourced cheeses and sprouts. We had decided ahead of time to make food on our own, both for economy and simplicity, with the exception of one evening where we would eat at The Love Apple, a quaint local eatery recommended by a neighbor, serving delicious organic foods sourced in and around the Taos area.

It rained that night, leaving the air too cool for my causal sundress, too wet for delicate sandals. I had opted to wash clothes earlier in the afternoon, when the outdoor line was dry and hot, just before the rain came. When it was time to leave, my denim still laid strewn about the studio, damp and waiting for sun. I wore what was dry: a random skirt, a mis-matched tank top, fleece jacket, and my Chacos. Again, I would find opportunity to laugh at myself, to get over myself, as no one else seemed to even notice.

The Love AppleEarthship | Taos, New MexicoLake Williams | Taos, New MexicoEarthship | Taos, New Mexico

Something foundational shifted in us that week in Taos. It often does when one rests. Over the last few weeks at home, we have been quietly re-ordering our home life, cleaning out unnecessary things both spiritually and physically, simplifying goals and roles, preparing for another academic year and homeschooling. More defined boundaries between work and rest will be a large part of our routine, one I’m sure will trickle out into this space over time.

Although Taos is a small town, with a few obvious musts, below I listed our favorite spots in the area, in the event you ever find yourself wandering there.

 

 

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When I got to New Mexico that was mine. As soon as I saw it that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted me exactly. It’s something that’s in the air–it’s different. The sky is different, the wind is different. I shouldn’t say too much about it because other people may be interested and I don’t want them interested.  — Georgia O’Keeffe, 1977

Burke pulled me aside, pointing to this quote painted on the museum wall. “Mom, this is the way I feel about New Mexico,” he whispers. I chuckle, not surprised that my young, introverted naturalist would find a sense of place among the quiet desert plateaus.  We were inside the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, trying desperately to keep the kids’ feet behind the small, ubiquitous grey lines on the floor. “No touching the wall, hands by your side,” Mark and I commanded quietly. Somehow their hands couldn’t resist the bare white walls. This would be the most restrained place we’d visit at any point on our trip, but it was worth it. We had studied O’Keeffe last year and read a few books about her since, and while I’ve seen several of her pieces in other museums, I had never seen this many together, in her context. None of us had. Toward the end of our visit, Mark waved us into a little room to watch a 20 minute video on O’Keeffe and her work. Only after 5 minutes when the video was debriefing us on O’Keeffe’s lover, Alfred Stieglitz, and his then controversial photography exhibit in NYC including 40 plus seductive images O’Keeffe, most of them nudes (which of course they had to show because it’s a video), did we think, “we’ve made a huge mistake.” We shuffled back onto the streets of Santa Fe, Mark spouting some witty remark about seeing more of Georgia O’Keeffe than he probably ever cared to, when the boys asked, “but why would someone want everyone in the world to see pictures of them naked?” Stay young, kids I thought.

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Mark and I had visited Santa Fe several times, but never together. We loved what we both could remember from our previous visits as children or young adults and now remember why. The oldest state capital (also the one at the highest elevation) in the US, Santa Fe offered us everything (except the water park Blythe requested) to begin easing into vacation mode. Here’s some of the highlights and recommendations from our three days there:

El Rey Inn: This was the only hotel we stayed in on the trip and completely worth it. Built in the 1930s, this place is quaint, unpretentious, and entirely kid-friendly. Surrounded by beautiful garden spaces with chairs and tables and fountains, the outdoor spaces feel more like a backyard than a hotel. They have a large swimming pool, two hot tubs, and small playground on the grounds. Plus, they offer a free breakfast on their patio. We’ll definitely be returning to this gem in the future.

Santa Fe Plaza: Santa Fe is most well-known for its art culture and museums, so if you have older children or are traveling without kids, you should take advantage of it. As per the story above, we only visited one museum, but we spent an entire morning strolling the plaza area, looking at the architecture (and people), trying out local coffee spots, and perusing stores filled with Native American art. Of course, we also stopped by the Palace of the Governor where Native Americans sell their art and jewelry in an open market. Most of the vendors loved discussing their trade with the kids.

Hillsong Zion concert (in an Albuquerque amphitheater): In light of our last two years, it seemed fitting that we’d go sing our hearts out to God together in the desert. For a few minutes it rained, and the boys said it was God’s presence.

Santa Fe National Forest: We all celebrated when we hopped out of the car at almost 10,000 ft. and could breathe cool midday air in June. This never happens in Texas. Since there were several forest fires burning while we were there, we had to choose trails that were open on that day (mostly depending on the wind direction). I recommend contacting a park ranger to help find trails that suit you/your family. If you are planning a trip, you can call ahead (as with any national park) to receive maps and brochures in the mail. Most trailheads have a bathroom facility and picnic tables.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument: This was an impromptu hike on our way out of Santa Fe heading toward Flagstaff. Located on the Cochiti’s land, Kasha-Katuwe was one of my two favorite hikes of the entire trip. Blythe was the least excited about hiking this one, dragging her feet the first half-mile. But when we curved into the canyon slots, she (and the rest of us) came alive, following the winding, sandy path through the tent rocks, a result of a volcanic eruption millions of years ago. We had just studied about some of the different types of rocks this last year, this seemed the perfect hands-on classroom to experience them. Years of erosion and settling has changed and shaped the space. We also briefly explored ancient civilizations lived in caves in the sides of the rock. A few of the caves still exist. Also, on a side note: because we hadn’t planned this stop, we were there in the middle of the day and it was over 100 degrees on the unshaded parts of the trail. So if you’re traveling in the summer, definitely head out early in the morning to be there at 8am when the park opens and bring lots of water to carry.

FOOD: We were traveling as cheaply as possible, so we would only eat-out at dinnertime.

    • BREAKFAST: We ate at the hotel, although several people recommended Chocolate Maven.
    • LUNCH: El Rey also had a mini-fridge in the room, so we kept sandwich fixings and pre-made salads from Trader Joe’s (a couple of blocks away from El Rey) stocked in the room.
    • DINNER: Our splurge in Santa Fe was Dr. Field Goods, a small, local farm-to-table restaurant. So wonderful.
    • SNACKS: We brought fruit, nut mixes, jerky, Cliff Bars, etc. with us. Each day we packed all of our trail snacks in our own and our kids’ Camelbaks to help us save money.

Thank you, Santa Fe, for reminding us of beauty found in the desert, for feeding our souls and reminding us to relax.

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tree | snow | lightsI know. I know. We’re into the first week of 2013 and I’m still talking about  Christmas. Here’s the thing: Christmas isn’t a day or even a weekend for us; it’s a week and a half event. Because of Mark’s vacation from teaching, we’re fortunate enough to be able to pack up to see both sides of our families and when the stars align correctly, even dear friends who live in other parts of the state, country, or world. And there’s a lot of them, which means we spend 10 days or so strung together with delicious food and drinks and little sleep, gabbing with our sisters and brothers and parents and friends, and the kids soak up their long-anticipated time with cousins. So it feels necessary to revisit this group of days after returning home again, allowing my heart to swell with gratitude for all of the good gifts (family and friends) we have in our lives. These people have made our life sweeter in more ways than I can possibly articulate here. If you ever think: how can she do all of this? I don’t. Behind these pictures, someone else has come along to help with a meal, to create a lovely date-night, to watch the kids, or provide a special event or evening for us. I am only a part. So to all of you, locally and beyond, thank you for the many, many ways you love and take care of us. We’re so grateful for you.

Here are a few of the highlights from the 2012 Christmas season: homemade and plantable gifts from friends; annual Christmas PJ picture with the cousins; 5-hour roadtrip with Kristen and our 6 kids; SNOW; visit from Ben + Joy; Madeleine L’Engles’ poem Mary Speaks: from Ephesus; visit from Tiffany; paper snowflakes; night out with my sister, mother, and sister-in-laws; date night with Aina + Caleb; dinner with my entire family; indoor waterpark; time with mother-in-law; time with Mark’s grandmother and new husband; a long hike through the East Texas pines with the boys; lunch with Steven +Dora; The Hobbit; Prime Rib for Christmas at Bethany + Josh’s; Olive’s delighted scream when she opened her Dream Light; Blythe’s scream to have a doll with a dress like hers; the boys’ comment “I’m so excited I’m shaking” while putting together their new Helms Deep Lego set; coffee each morning at my parents’ kitchen table; watching It’s a Wonderful Life Christmas day. Because it is. And it’s good for my heart to list them.

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After having four kids (whom I love desperately), I have new perspective when we get to travel without them: Eat. It. Up. Mark and I try to enjoy at least a weekend alone together a year to remember and celebrate us apart from our children. Really occasionally every parent should have the opportunity to sleep in, or eat without interruption or walk looking up instead of down, hands cupped with your husband instead of your child’s. Most of the time, it’s a weekend in an Austin or Ft. Worth hotel when my parents can graciously watch the kids. Every once in a while we get to do something extremely special like heading to the California wine country or a Florida beach or, like this month, taking a long weekend trip to Chicago. My cousin Ian married his wife Elizabeth at the beginning of the month, and half of my family traveled to be there. Several of our family and friends helped us make it happen (with money or childcare — THANK YOU!), and I admit, it helped me appreciate our precious weekend all the more. We met my parents, my youngest brother David and his wife, Karabeth, and my sister Kristen and her hubby (also Mark’s youngest brother), Tim. We laughed until our cheeks hurt and ate and drank and walked even more. My parents and Mark and I walked onto the Skywalk on Willis Tower (formerly Sears tower) — which was scarier than I expected (standing on glass floating above the city), and of course, we experienced the train where we met and conversed with a homeless man who somehow thought he was our personal guide, Mark and David became motion sick, and we watched a girl vomiting between the train cars (while it was moving). We walked State Ave. and the Chicago River and Millenium Park and Northwestern University and the shore of Lake Michigan all while discussing what we would eat next or where we get hot coffee. Instead of snow or bitter winds, we enjoyed warm sunshine and mild Chicago winter weather (high 40s and low 50s) with our warm chocolate croissants. In short, the entire weekend, although blurry with activity, was lovely.

Blythe, this last year as I watched you shoot out of your lingering baby chubs and try to bite apples with missing front teeth, I realized too soon you’ll be learning to drive and talking about boys and venturing out into the world toting your imagination and love of color alongside. And part of me wants to bottle up that toothless smile dressed in mismatched bright colors, but I know I can’t. And so I write and take pictures, relishing each day. Well, I try.

I love you, Blythe. I love the way you naturally watch over your sister and even your older brothers (although this can be source of grief and tension at times). I love the way you dance when you think no one is watching, and put everything (and I do mean everything) into a song — you’re living in a musical, I suppose.  Regardless, young heroine, you approach the world fearlessly and with sensitivity. I love this dichotomy in you. But more, I just love you.

You really wanted to ride a ferris wheel this year, so Dad and I surprised you (and the rest of the kiddos) with just that. Dad took a day off of work and we all drove down to the Kemah Boardwalk on the Texas coast. We rode the ferris wheel, along with other things that drop you, twist you, and spin you. You ate cotton candy, ordered soda with your dinner, and squealed in delight most of the day (minus your tears over not being tall enough to ride a handful of bigger, scarier rides with the brothers).  As I tucked you in that night, you looked at me and whispered, “That was the best birthday present ever.” My heart is still smiling. Happy 6th year, dear one. We loved every minute celebrating you today.

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October sailed right past us this year filled with sporadic puffs of cool air (one even requiring winter jackets). As a result, we spent much more time outdoors, often dragging our snacks or school work with us or starting our first Fall garden! Delightful. Have I mentioned how much I love the Fall? Also this month, Blythe turned 6, meaning Mark took a day off work, and we celebrated with a family day-trip to a small boardwalk amusement park on the Texas coast. (I’ll be back-posting her birthday note and pictures soon.) Fun doesn’t seem like quite enough of a word to describe the day, but I’ll tell you more about that later.

Another highlight in October was our academic “Fall break.” Although we don’t have a rigid annual school schedule, each year, I build in a week long break that coordinates with our weekly Classical Conversations group. It always seems by mid-October everyone (including mom) is losing steam and needing a change up in our routine.  So this year the kids spent a few nights at their Nina and Papa’s house (thank you again, Mom & Dad), and I painted the entry hall and cleaned/organized the house for our last gameday weekend rental. That’s right. We experimented and rented our home for two weekends this fall to avid college football fans — a chance to make a little extra income and invade  Kristen and Tim‘s for a weekend. It was a heap of work on the front end followed by heaps of laundering afterward, but both weekends went really well.

We rounded up the month with a road-trip to South Texas for Mark’s 84 year-old grandmother’s wedding! Yep. You read it correctly. This past August, 2.5 years after the passing of Mark’s grandfather, she announced to the family that she had fallen in love again — what an amazing story and testimony to life! So we all (along with her other kids, grandkids, and great-grandchildren) hauled down South for the event. “Do you know how rare it is to go to your great-grandmother’s wedding?” we kept asking the kids. There, we also hugged and visited with Scott and Diana (my husband’s brother and wife) — not only our family but also dear friends — who live in Morocco. Sadly, their kiddos had a stomach virus causing a pre-mature ending to our visit. (So disappointing. Sigh.) We wrapped up October 31 with an evening of trick-or-treating and then our own edition of a stomach virus which quickly spread through each member of the family. Until now. And just like that October vanished right down the drain.

Everything ends at some point. Some endings bring relief, like the end of childbirth or a difficult test or race, while other endings cause a sort of grief, like reaching the bottom of a good cup of coffee or book or, like today, the end of a vacation. July 31. The last day of my summer vacation. I mean, I homeschool, so in some ways dates are artificial. We’ll still swim through September (because it’s Texas and our summer here extends into October) and play at the park and meet up with friends during our school year; however August means Mark’s return to work, removing him from our home again for long hours at a time. I do realize this is the way most American families work (thanks to that glorious Industrial Revolution), so I’m choosing to be grateful for these two months of having him home with us, opposed to pouting which is what I really want to do.

Mark and I spent most of last week rearranging and re-organizing our home to prepare for the looming school year and our new housemate moving in this week, but with the 100 degree temps keeping the kids indoors more, the kids’ bickering seems relentless. We needed some relief. Ironically, we chose to start a fire in our new fire-pit area of the backyard as our relief. (Of course a glass of wine was involved too.) We toasted marshmallows and found relief in the cooler evening breeze — sweet goodbye kisses from our summer break.

I imagined this summer differently a few months ago. Mark had a full summer of classes planned and our family budget had dramatically shrunk this year, both leaving little room for a typical vacation. As usual, we carved out time to see our families, and I settled into the idea of being around our home more, filling our time with local activities, seeking some piece of clichéd summer americana to help form a new rhythm for our family. We sold my newer, nicer Toyota (we had just paid off last year) this spring to buy a cheaper, older Suburban to buoy our shrinking savings.  Although initially painful, Mark and I both agreed paying our bills and staying out of debt was better than driving a nicer car. Besides, this year, 2012, I had inadvertently declared “the year I get over myself,” testing the ever evasive limits of needs and wants. And it is truly evasive. In the meantime, Mark’s second summer class didn’t make, leaving us with more time coasting the long Texas highways in our new old car than I originally intended. I don’t know whether it’s the Suburban’s floating-living-room feel or the land, GREEN with sufficient rain, viewed from my window, but our family road-trips have been a part of my restoration this summer. And I’m brimming. That’s right, brimming. Who knew traveling in one car with four kids and without a DVD player or iPad I could leave me brimming?

We spent Independence Day this year in south Texas with Mark’s side of the family. They fed and housed our brood for several days, where we spent a day at the beach, swam at the waterpark, visited the family farm (where they each rode on the combine harvesting grain and ran in the cotton fields), and watched fireworks over the bay. Here’s a few pictures I caught with my phone.