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What am I hungry for?

I wish that looked good.

I wish I could say this post was a giant metaphor – something about me searching for my purpose in life, but no. I’m actually talking about being hungry, and food.

The past few days, I’ve been feeling a little weird. My hunger is the same, but literally NOTHING sounds good to eat. In fact, the thought of eating nearly disgusts me to the point that I’ve had to force myself to eat because I am so hungry.

At first, I thought that maybe I was sick of eating vegan food. I’ve been eating mostly vegan for more than two years now, and well, it’s a lot of beans and veggies, and sometimes it’s difficult to mix up the flavors.

But I have always been one to do what I want, and that includes eating what I want. I eat vegan because it helps me sleep, not because I particularly enjoy making difficult food choices.

My hunger wasn’t leading me in any direction – so I kept telling myself that I’d eat no matter what – whether it was fast food junk, takeout, or even just sitting in front of a giant bowl of cereal. I was desperate.

But nothing – not even spicy chicken ramen from Whole Foods – sounded good.

So, there were a few meals I skipped and just suffered through the hunger pains.

Why was this happening? I consider myself a foodie – I love to cook! I love to try new things! I’m always eating at new restaurants!

But the thought of all food was grossing me out. I tossed nearly everything in my fridge. Then, when it came time to make a grocery list, I had no idea what to write because NOTHING sounded good. I sifted through hundreds of recipes – on Pinterest, on Instagram, and in cookbooks – and everything sounded gross.

My list consisted of “salad fixins”. I ended up getting spring mix, grape tomatoes, bananas, and coffee.

I headed over to Whole Foods to see if there was anything on their salad bar that looked good. I got 4 pieces of popcorn chicken and a small spoonful of pasta, which I forced myself to eat.

My mom asked me if I’d been hypnotized to be disgusted by food – it was a theory that I had not considered, but no, at least, not that I knew of.

Although I have been feeling a little chunky lately, I’m not so concerned about my physical appearance that I would stop eating. I love food much more than other people’s opinions.

I do know that it’s hot as hell and Sunday marked the 47th consecutive day that Austin has reached at least 100 degrees out. So maybe that’s it.

Each week, I go on a “food adventure” – a dorky way of saying that I go to a restaurant I’ve never been to, simply because Austin has sooooo many places and I’m determined to eat at as many of them as possible.

I’d planned to go on my weekly adventure on Sunday, but I wasn’t sure anything would sound good. But when I woke up around 4am with my stomach hurting with hunger, something fresh sounded good.

So I went to Blenders and Bowls on Sunday morning for my first ever acai bowl – this one had bananas, local honey, raisins, and cacao nibs on top – and it was good enough to eat.

I haven’t eaten much since then – a mini dairy-free ice cream sandwich last night. I brought a banana to work today and I packed one of those “salad rolls” from Whole Foods for lunch.

It’s certainly something that’s never happened to me before, and I’m sure it’s just a phase – I’m hoping it’s a short-lived one, because I sure did look insane going up and down every single aisle of Whole Foods multiple times, looking at food and then trying not to be sick.

And just to stop this rumor before it starts, no, I am not pregnant. I’m nearly positive that involves physical contact with a man, and that’s not one of my current hobbies.

I haven’t changed up any medication, either. I’ve increased my coffee intake and that’s about it. Maybe I should just eat all my meals at Blenders and Bowls, for freshness-sake?

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It’s Taco Tuesday!

Give me all the tacos!

I’ve been trying to eat mostly vegan (if not, vegetarian) for a year and a half now, and I can easily say that vegan or vegetarian tacos are one of my favorite things to make. The awesome thing is, there are so many options out there – delicious ones – and I wanted to round up FIVE of my favorite vegan taco recipes so far.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Vegan Cauliflower Tacos with Garlic Sauce by Vegan Heaven

I made these last night! I admit, I was slow to get on the cauliflower taco train, but it’s so crazy how much it feels like you’re eating meat or seafood. I was able to get most of the ingredients at Aldi (always a win) and I served them with rice and beans and some store-bought mango salsa. Get the recipe here.

Corn & Green Bean Tomatillio Tacos by Love & Lemons

I had these on my “to try” list for so long, and I’m glad I finally did because they are so good! I wasn’t sure what to expect with the green beans, but they are quite yummy. I love tomatillio salso, so it was impossible to go wrong there. The original recipe (find it here) is technically vegetarian since it includes cheese, but I simply excluded it – more on this a little later. I served this up with pinto beans on the side!

Roasted Cauliflower Tacos with Chipotle Romesco by Minimalist Baker

Okay, I love the Minimalist Baker for all of my simple vegan recipe needs – so, I put all of my trust in her, as this was the first cauliflower taco recipe I tried. Now, I have a bit of a confession to make: sometimes I cut corners on recipes. If a recipe calls for something different (that I don’t already have) or something hard to find, I’ll omit it. But I have really been trying not to do that, because sometimes that little thing or ingredient makes all the difference – and that’s the case with this romesco. I thought, how could this tomato sauce made from almonds be all that great? WRONG. It is great, and so worth it (and not hard to make)! These tacos are spicy and yummy, and would be delicious in the fall (or any time, obviously) – here’s the recipe.

Spice Sweet Potato & Grilled Portobello Tacos by Cocoon Cooks

Ok scratch what I said above because I didn’t grill my portobellos in this recipe – I live in an apartment complex/don’t have a grill of my own/I’m too lazy to walk to the pool and use the shared grill, but I sauteed mine – and it was still amazing. These tacos are spicy (which I love) and very filling between the cashews and the sweet potato. I served them with a side of coconut rice (from Chrissy Tiegen’s cookbook, “Cravings”). So good! Get the taco recipe here.

Crunchy Black Bean Tacos by Pretty Plain Janes

This is another vegetarian recipe, but you can easily sub out the cheese for vegan cheese if you want. This recipe was a little out of my comfort zone frying the tortillas, but it’s well-worth it in the end. These tacos taste like they are from a restaurant and I absolutely love the crunch combined with the heat from the jalapenos! I served these with a simple avocado salad (red onion, tomato, avocado, cilantro, with lime juice) Yum! Get the taco recipe here.

Before I wrap this up – I often get questions about vegan cheese. Honestly, I find that cheese is often unnecessary (and I do love cheese), but I have found a few goods brands that I like for certain recipes. For Mexican food, especially burritos and enchiladas, I usually get the Go Veggie brand shredded cheddar. It’s the closest thing to actual cheese, and it’s good when mixed in with other ingredients.

Got any vegan taco recipes I should try? Let me know! I’m always looking for new ones!

Living single… at 33.

Taking in the view on my own.

You might recall a popular TV series in the mid-90’s, “Living Single”, that followed six black singletons living in Brooklyn. They were in their twenties.

Because that’s when most people are single, right?

I haven’t written about my (lack of) dating life in a while – in fact, when I searched through the archives of this blog, it’s been at least a year. Why? Well, until possibly yesterday, I didn’t have much to say on it.

I used to look at being single as sad, and then it became a badge of honor. Now it’s just nothing – or at least, nothing that defines who I am or what I do each day.

I know I’ve got some new readers here – Welcome! – and it’s likely that you never thought this was once a place where ALL I talked about was dating. Why?

Because I did a lot of it in my twenties. I dated, I wrote columns about my experiences, I bartended and met more people to date, and then I published books about it, and spoke about it at open-mic nights… and now I just live it.

I had some fun experiences, some really bad ones, I fell in love a few times, and I also strung myself through abusive relationships.

And then I decided to be single.

Not the single where you have crushes, and “talk” via text, and meet new people on Tindr, and have casual sex. The kind of single where I just get to know myself.

That was at least five years ago, and I’m still in that space.

I definitely never planned on being single at 33, but I also never planned on living in Texas, eating mostly vegan food, or contemplating what life at 55 looks like for a singleton like myself.

At times, being single is scary. I have Miranda’s fear of dying in my apartment, alone, with my cat, and wondering how that ends. And some nights, settling into the covers of my big bed is just a weird reminder of how long it’s been since I fell asleep next to someone I really cared for.

Most of the time, though, I’m happy with my life. Many days, I can’t even remember what it was like to be in a relationship, or to even have a crush on someone. I can do nearly anything I want, and for the most part I do. That was always my saving grace at the end of a relationship – I was free.

If that doesn’t tell you anything about the kinds of relationships I’ve experienced, I don’t know what will.

My jump into being single likely got off to a bitter beginning; I was single because I’d been burned. And there are still remnants of that – it’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve never had a relationship that I’d classify as good or healthy.

But even between relationships, I would quickly meet someone new and move to the next person; one rebound after another.

So being single was a much-needed blow to the cycle. For awhile, I found it difficult to even look at a man, whether at a restaurant or when checking out at a store. I was convinced all men were the same, and I wanted no part of their game.

Don’t worry, I have softened a little since then, and although I don’t meet many people whose relationships I envy, I do follow a few bloggers that give me hope in dating, relationships, and possibly even marriage.

When I graduated from college (10+ years ago), it seemed like everyone was getting married, and many of those same people got divorced, and/or had children. But really, a study came out last year saying the number of marriages in the US, and around the globe, have been declining since the late 90s.

A report from the Urban Institute also stated that many millennials won’t get married until age 40. In the past (say, in 1960), people married for many reasons – to have children, for financial gain (taxes, military, etc.); there was also less pressure on education and careers, for women at least.

Today, being single can mean a plethora of things, and it can look many different ways. That’s the catch 22: there’s almost too many options on how I can spend my years. Do I adopt? Travel? Move elsewhere? Get more hobbies?

I suppose I’ve got time to decide.

In these five years, I’ve gone on a few dates, and unfortunately they’ve been really bad reminders of what I don’t miss about dating – ghosting patterns, mixed messages, messy homes, boring conversations, and selfish sex.

It’s unlikely I’ll go on a date before 2020 rolls around, but when it does, I have a better idea of what I’m after – someone who has it together; a good, fun sense of humor, an appreciation for life, and a kind heart.

Until then, I’ll be obsessively reading library books, cooking new recipes, and planning my next vacation.

Staycation Diaries: That’s a wrap!

It’s oooovvverrrrrr.

Okay… it’s almost 10pm on a Sunday night, and it’s about to be official: the end of my Staycation.

I’m definitely savoring these last few moments before reality hits when my alarm goes off at 6:30 tomorrow – I cooked a meal (I’ll be taking the leftovers for lunch tomorrow), I spent three hours on the patio with Blanche and a book, I soaked in the tub, and am currently in bed watching TV while I type.

On Friday, I felt this urge to be productive: I had freelance work to do, laundry to do, groceries to get, and I had an evening rehearsal. I also needed to get to bed early because the shoot for the music video was at 6:30 Saturday morning.

But, at the advice of a friend, I decided to do some work, but also have a little fun. So, I did finish my laundry and about an hour’s-worth of freelance, but I also took myself to Taco Shack for lunch (that was my first time there) and I took an afternoon nap before my evening rehearsal.

I didn’t make it to bed early – I stayed up until midnight talking on the phone – and then I still had to shower and do ALL the face/lip/eye masks… so it was at least 1am before I went to bed, and I got up at 4:30 to do my hair and makeup and make it to Bull Creek by 6:30.

I was soooo nervous about the shoot – there were parts of the dance I was less-confident about, and I was also worried about it being outside, and hot… but honestly, it was a lot of fun. All of us worked really hard and I think it will be a great video – it premiers July 29!

The shoot wrapped at 10:00 am, and I felt like I’d already lived an entire DAY. But it was starting to rain and I was exhausted, so I immediately came home, took a shower, and got into bed to binge season 3 of “The OC”.

I actually took a three-hour nap, but then I watched several episodes, hit up the grocery store, and was still in bed early.

I woke up this morning so, so sore. Dancing outdoors, on a picnic table, jumping off rocks, and skipping through the river took a toll on me!

This morning, I got up and got ready for a brunch I’d had on my calendar for awhile. A woman I met through dance was hosting a brunch with all of the creative women she knew.

Honestly, things like this make me a little nervous – I knew I wasn’t going to know many people aside from the hostess, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I could have easily stayed in bed, but who knew – maybe it would be great.

And it WAS. It was about 10 women, and we went around the table explaining all of the things we do and it was so neat to hear how different, yet similar we all were. It’s really cool (and comforting) to meet people who are dabbling in new things, facing fears, starting new businesses, and overall just being awesome women!

I am really excited to have possibly met some new friends, and to try new classes and hopefully go to more brunches with these ladies! I felt like it was just what I needed after a draining few months at the office.

When I got home from brunch, I really just wanted to continue to abandon all responsibilities and sit on the patio with a book – so I did exactly that. I went IN, too – I laid a blanket down, laid on a pillow, and read outside with Blanche for hours! It was really nice.

In general, I’m really sad that my Staycation is over. It was really nice to be able to have a whole week all to myself. But on the other hand, I felt like I was still pretty busy during the week, and it was a huge reminder of all the things I’ve got going on – which, on any other day, I would tell you is a great thing, but when you need a rest, it’s nearly impossible to put your entire life on hold.

I’m a firm believer that Newton’s First Law of Motion: a body in motion, stays in motion – applies to life as well. When I’m at work during the week, it’s easier for me to stay moving, go to dance after work, get freelance done, eat healthy, etc. But when I’m on vacation… I’m a slug (relatively speaking).

That’s not a bash to slugs; I also wanted to say that this week was a reminder of just how important it is to take a break, rest, step away. Even if it’s just for an hour, for a day, or whatever you have, you owe it to yourself to rest and restore, and you’ll be a better person for it.

So, I’m wrapping up this Staycation (I’m still going to stay up and read a little), but I’ve decided I’m going to stretch these vibes into the weeks coming. I’ve already booked a facial for Saturday morning, and I’m going to treat myself to meals at restaurants I’ve never been to much more often.

#StaycationForLife

Staycation Diaries: Day 4.

Day 4!

Howdy! Here we are, on the evening of Staycation Day 4 – I just got home from the Drafthouse where I saw “Tag”. But, more on that in a minute.

Since I last wrote about Staycation, I’ve been a busy bee. I had an informal jazz rehearsal Tuesday night (our video shoot is Saturday morning, and I’m feeling “meh” about it), I went to one of the restaurants on my list – Veracruz All Natural (it was delicious) – and I even made the other recipe on my list: Vegan Garlic Buffalo Brussels Sprouts! You can get the recipe from Rabbit and Wolves.

I also started on a necklace for my Etsy shop, worked on freelance, and did some work around the apartment. It’s really easy to see how days fill up when you’re not at work.

Yesterday, I didn’t think I was going to get to go to the ONE activity I actually had planned this week: the July 4th paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake under the fireworks! It was raining and storming all day… until it was time to hit the water!

I know in the last post, I mentioned my mental health, and you’re probably going to hear more and more about it because I’ll be starting my treatment plan ASAP (I found a place to complete an assessment today).

I’m not entirely sure what my diagnosis will be, but in general, I have severe anxiety. It’s so severe at times, that it makes normal, every day tasks difficult for me. Let’s take the paddle board thing for example.

I almost didn’t even buy a ticket because I knew driving there and parking would stress me out. And I was right, it did, I even had a stomach ache over it, and had to do some deep breathing… but hey, I did it, I got there, and it was worth it.

I got on the water around 7:30 and was out there until about 10:30 – I am so sore today! I paddled as far down as we were allowed, getting as close to the fireworks as possible (obviously), and it was really nice to just sit on the board with my feet in the cool water, watching a pretty big fireworks show. I have always enjoyed July 4th!

When the show was over, everyone was racing to paddle back by the curfew – and I will say that paddling in the dark is much, much different than it is during the day. It’s a little creepy, and it’s difficult to see juuuuust how far you are away from the right dock. It seemed like it was taking forever to get back; I was really happy to see the dock, and to relax on my couch once I got home.

Today, I worked some more on my Etsy jewelry, soaked in the tub, and went to the movies! Let’s talk about “Tag” – let me know if you’ve seen it! Here’s the description from Google:

One month every year, five highly competitive friends hit the ground running for a no-holds-barred game of tag — risking their necks, their jobs and their relationships to take one another down. This time, the game coincides with the wedding of the only undefeated player. What should be an easy target soon becomes an all-out war as he knows they’re coming to get him.

The movie was really, really funny – I felt like I was laughing the entire time, honestly. There was a part in the end that was a little sad, and it’s impossible to forget that this movie is based on a true story, because they show footage from the real story (which is equally as funny)!

In the movie (this isn’t a spoiler), a reporter for the Wall Street Journal is along for this epic game of tag because she’s writing a story on it – and in real life, that story was published in 2013 (I wanted to read it but you have to subscribe). Surprisingly, the movie wasn’t that much different than the real story – these guys really did play tag for almost 30 years, complete with formal rules, and hiding out in odd places to tag the next person.

It makes the movie that much more funny! You’ve got to see it if you haven’t yet.

Tomorrow is my last official day of Staycation! Ugh! I am going to sleep in, but I’ve also got to be productive. I’ve got laundry to do and I need to go to the grocery, all before a jazz dress rehearsal. What a difference a day makes…

Staycation Diaries: Day 1.

If we’re not counting the weekend, today was officially my first day of Staycation! But, I did have a good weekend – I went to two places in town that I’ve never been – Counter Culture and Capital City Bakery (both vegan).

I also laid out at the pool, finished reading a book (and am already close to finishing a second), and went to Sprout’s Farmer’s Market for the first time.

As difficult as it is for me to admit, my mental health has been suffering lately. Sometimes, I feel like my brain is about to explode! It’s difficult for me to tell if it is grief, work stress, fatigue, or a combination of all three, but what I know is that my usual comforts haven’t been reliable, and that’s scary.

So, part of my staycation will be giving my mind and body the rest that it needs, but also moving “Find a Therapist” from the bottom of my to-do list and move it to the top.

Yesterday, I started making the vegan Banana Cream Pie that was on my Staycation list – it took awhile since the filling had to set overnight, but it was worth the wait. I finished it this morning and immediately had a slice – it was very good, very light! You can get the recipe from the Minimalist Baker.

I spent a majority of the morning on my patio, drinking lots of coffee and reading – it was really peaceful and nice.

But, it wasn’t long before I ventured to my computer, because even though I’m off at my day job – freelance work means you’re never truly on vacation. It also didn’t help that my boss from my 9-5 is also on vacation and she set me as her backup – le sigh. Communication really is key, folks.

I’ve talked some about my freelance career on here, but it’s something I’ve always done on the side to earn extra money and to keep my skills fresh. I find that no matter the day job, I am always looking for a change of plans.

Currently, I’m really lucky to have several steady jobs going at once, and they’ve really broadened my horizons because most of them are in other countries, including Switzerland and Columbia.

But it also means lots of organizing, juggling, and time management. For a few hours, I actually felt like I wasn’t on vacation at all. Then I remembered that I do have a whole week ahead of me, and even though I’m still doing work, it’s nice to be doing the work while posted up in bed, binging on MTV’s “Ex On The Beach”.

I did take a break to run to Michael’s, because I need to ship an Etsy order tomorrow! Ps. I am currently running a summer sale in the shop – get 20% off + free shipping when you order any two items!

I did get some supplies to make a few new items for the shop, so you’ll have to keep your eyes open for those.

In about an hour, I’m heading to a yoga class, and tonight I’m going to cook dinner, and probably head back out on the patio to finish reading a book!

I was gifted the LUSH sleepy shower jelly and lotion, which I have been dying to try – I’ve heard you really zonk out after using it – so I’m going to try that. Really partying hard over here!

Stay tuned for Staycation Day Two… and keep up with me on social media @OrangeJulius7 (especially if you want to see how my pie turned out)!

Staycation, all I ever wanted!

I am fairly certain its bad blogging etiquette to say how exhausted I am, but it’s been a crazy few weeks at work, and life has just been SERVING it to me. Lucky for me, I planned a staycation for myself months ago and have the entire week off!

At first, I didn’t think I’d be that excited about a staycation (I’ve never really had one) and I also thought a week (or 9 whole days) off work would be almost too long. Turns out, I’m already feeling like I probably should have asked for two weeks off.

Regardless, I made a list of things I might do next week – with an understanding that I also might just lay in my bed until the morning of July 9th, when I’m expected back at the office. So, here’s what I’m thinking:

Brunch at Holy Roller

This downtown gem is known for their witty, religious twist on their decor and menu items. They are also home of the “Trash Fries” – but I’m also eyeing the “Grilled Cheesus”. Take a look at their menu for their full offering.

Head to the Movies

It’s been a minute since I’ve been to the movies, and I really want to see “Tag” along with the new “Jurassic World” – I even have a free movie pass to use, so I’m really hoping for one of those afternoons where I’m the only one in the theatre…

4th of July Paddleboarding

This is the only event I know for a FACT I am doing because I already bought my ticket… plus, I’m pretty excited about it. This is a 2-hour stand-up paddle-boarding session on Lady Bird Lake at night underneath the Downtown Austin fireworks on July 4. I can usually see fireworks from my apartment, but each year I always wish I would have actually gone somewhere to see them closer… and I think this is about as close as I can get! I have only been paddle-boarding once before, but I didn’t fall, so I’m hoping I have similar luck!

Lounge by the Pool

It’s a no-brainer that at least a few times, I’ll be at the pool with my head buried in a book, alongside a cooler full of snacks (and white wine).

Binge on ‘The OC’

I bought seasons three and four and have no had a chance to start either of them! I really have some catching up to do.

Lunch at Veracruz All Natural

I heard that Round Rock’s Veracruz All Natural has THE BEST shrimp tacos in Austin and I will happily forgo my vegan diet to try these bad boyz. They also serve 32-ounce agua frescas and I am so freaking excited to get a pineapple one!

Cook in the Kitchen

While I do plan on eating out and enjoying food at the Drafthouse during movies, I do want to cook a few new vegan goodies right at home, including Garlic Buffalo Brussels Sprouts from Rabbit and Wolves, and a Banana Cream Pie from the Minimalist Baker #treatyoself

And so concludes my list. I sort of wanted to include a few productive things on my list, like renew my passport, renew my car registration, and wash my car… but I decided to drive myself insane and did it ALL this week so that next week – I’m completely without obligation.

I’ll let you all know how it turns out on Instagram and SnapChat @OrangeJulius7

BBC: ‘One Plus One’.

During my road trip to Marfa, I listened to my first Jojo Moyes’ book: “One Plus One”. I’ll be honest here, I know people love Moyes, but I have never read a description of one of her books that made me really want to read it.

So, I was excited at the sound of “One Plus One”, because I want to like her books! Here’s the description from Jojomoyes.com:

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight in shining armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever. One Plus One is Jojo Moyes at her astounding best. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, and when you flip the last page, you’ll want to start all over again.

…That last line is a flat-out LIE. This audio book was 12 hours long. Parts of it were interesting; like when love-interest starts to perk up between Jess and Ed. But in general, I found this really difficult to pay attention to, and I thought it was boring.

If you’re a Moyes’ fan, I’d love to know if there’s a different book I should read, or what I’m missing from her books.

So… I’m not recommending this book, but hey, at least I tried, right?

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “The Vanishing Year” by Kate Moretti.

Meanwhile, I participated in a Hackathon over the weekend, and it was so much fun! I met some new people, and was able to create a web-to-text chat app for my 9-5 website. I also created a guidelines and policy document that will help train the folks replying to all of the web chats… it’s amazing what can happen when people put their minds together, right?

I am working all this week (a little brutal after a mind-boggling weekend), but am rewarding myself with an ENTIRE week off afterward. I am planning some activities to celebrate my staycation and will share them here, but if you’ve got any good ideas, feel free to let me know – I’ll have 9 whole days without obligation!! #DreamBig

Marfa: From Dawn to Dusk.

​It’s been several days since I’ve returned from Marfa, Texas – a place they say is “Tough to get to. Tougher to explain. But once you get here, you get it.”

I’m not quite sure I get it, but I’ll explain as much as I can.

On Saturday morning, I set out west in the morning, and planned to drive through Marfa to get to Valentine, Texas – home of the Prada Marfa installation. And that’s exactly what I did.

For the most part, the drive wasn’t near as rural as I expected. There really was no stretch of land without gas stations, food, or rest areas (maybe one-hour stretches) as I had read online. There was, however, lots of cattle to see along with mountains and desert scenery – it was beautiful.

About 30 minutes outside Marfa is a town called Alpine. It’s small, but loaded with stuff! There was the Big Bend Brewery and a visitor’s center, and it’s home to a super nice-looking University, where I later learned that most people in the area attend.

Between Alpine and Marfa proper is the Marfa Lights Viewing Area, which is in the middle of NOTHING.

Anyway, I drove through Marfa (it takes about 3 minutes to get from one side of town to the other), and made it the 30 miles further west to Valentine (population 217). I was seriously SO excited to see the Prada Marfa, and when I pulled up, there were several cars parked across from it with the same intentions.

It looks a little smaller than I imagined, but still just as cool. It’s not too risky to run across the highway, because there’s not many people passing through Valentine. Up close, I’ll admit, things look a tad creepy. The shoes and bags inside have been there for 13 years, and they are dusty and weathered. Surrounding the installation is a chain-link fence where people have placed locks, because we just have to put locks on every possible fence, right?

When I’d seen what I needed to see, I headed back east to Marfa to check in to my trailer at El Cosmico.

El Cosmico is off the main drag in Marfa, and is just as cute as promised. The lobby serves as a provisions store, too, and they’ve got some cool stuff, and it looks like an expensive camp, which I suppose it sort of is.

I got my key, and hauled all of my bags via a little wagon that embarrassingly rattled down the rocky path all the way to my trailer.

My trailer, “Amigo”, was pink and silver, and cute! It was a little smaller than I imagine, but definitely big enough for me and probably another person. There was a booth, a kitchenette, and a full-size bed.

They had towels, robes, shampoo, and kitchen utensils, which was a nice surprise. My toilet was outside, shared with one other trailer, along with a shower.

After I got settled, it started storming, and I was suddenly so thankful for my trailer and felt sorry for all the campers in the teepees. I decided to order a pizza and pick it up, so I called into Pizza Foundation, where there’s about 3 pizzas to choose from, and I guess they always have a 2-hour wait.

They didn’t tell me a time to come get it, so I decided to go check out “town”. I quickly realized that yeah, this place is tiiiiiiny. You’re lucky if the road is paved, and because of the rain, many of them were flooded.

The only big name store I saw was Dollar General, so I stopped there to kill time. When I made it to Pizza Foundation, there was still a wait on my pizza, but they had a stock of beer from Big Bend Brewery, so I grabbed a seat and started sipping.

Pizza Foundation is likely the only place to get a pizza in town, and despite its popularity, its in a big warehouse that has little decoration and uses card tables for dining. And yes, everyone that came in was told there was a 2-hour wait on pizza.

I got my pie (an 18-inch, because there’s only one size) and took it back to my trailer where I proceeded to drink an entire bottle of wine and eat half the pizza while it continued to storm. I nixed my plans to search for the Marfa Lights because I figured they wouldn’t appear in the rain.

I quickly slept in a fog of wine, and rain on a tin roof. I woke up feeling pretty rested, and I was ready to mark things off my list of sights to see.

My first adventure was making coffee in a percolator, which was in my kitchenette. It was too small to keep the induction heater on, so I took it outside to the outdoor shared kitchen and put it on a hot plate. This wasn’t really working, so I went back to my trailer and called maintenance.

The maintenance man came and probably thought I was an idiot, until he saw the problem, too, and I ended up rigging the induction heater long enough to make one cup of coffee, which was less-than-stellar.

I immediately went to Squeeze, where I got a cup of Big Bend coffee the size of my head and some scrambled eggs which I ate in about 2 minutes.

Then, I headed to the Chinati Foundation, where I was excited to see the famous works from Donald Judd. The cement blocks were free, but I paid $10 to see a few other things – his untitled mill aluminum boxes, and “Dawn to Dusk” by Robert Irwin.

Oddly, the Robert Irwin installation was a little bit of a drive from the Chinati Foundation and it was definitely at the end of a neighborhood road (many of these houses were run-down). When I walked up to the building, an employee reminded me not to touch anything inside, and no pictures.

Basically, the entire building was the art, and the inside goes from complete light to complete dark (or vis-versa depending on how you approach it). I realized then that I’ve never really seen modern art like this, and it was pretty trippy.

Next, I went back to Chinati to see the 15 Untitled Works in Cement. These are located in a patch of desert, and while there is a path around them, you’d have to walk in the desert brush to get anywhere near them.

So, I put on my boots and ventured as far as my fears would let me. There were deer, bunnies, cloudy skies, and I was fine until I saw several buzzards, and it took everything I had not to run in the other direction.

It is said that these concrete blocks were made to work with the environment, and they do – oddly. They serve sort of as frames to various parts of the desert, but they just stood so strong, that my feeling of eeriness was heightened even more.

Next, I moved on to his 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum. These mill aluminum boxes are stored in two sheds that previously stored artillery. They are brick with steel curved roofs; there’s 48 boxes in the first building and 52 in the second.

And you could hear a pin drop in these buildings. So imagine how it sounds when someone opens the metal doors to get in and out? Yikes.

These mill aluminum boxes are all the same dimensions on the outside, but inside, there’s different shapes or formations of the aluminum, which eventually starts to play tricks on the eyes. I know they offer sunrise viewings of these, and since there’s so many windows in the building, I’ve heard the reflections are really cool.

It was neat overall, and I looked at every. Single. Box. But I honestly didn’t understand that a place like Marfa, known for its art, drawing people from all over, how is it that these boxes were dusty and had at least 1 dead bug inside each one?

Like… can we get a vacuum here? I mean that just seems disrespectful, and a horsefly or whatever it was is super obvious against a complete aluminum structure. Just saying.

Next, I went to Frama – a coffee shop inside the Tumbleweed Laundromat. I got a hazelnut latte with almond milk for $5 and it was awesome.

It was about this time that I started to wonder about Marfa. Yes, there were cute spots to go visit, but as I ventured from spot to spot, it was obvious that the roads needed work, the homes were old and run-down, and I wondered where all of the money from tourism was going? Was it really doing this town any good?

I had a few shops I wanted to visit, so I went to those next: Moon Gems and Freda. To my shock, Moon Gems had wooden crates of rocks scattered outside. I was so confused, especially since there were several hipsters drooling over the piles of $2 rocks.

Inside, there were finer gems on display, but I left empty-handed.

When I got to Freda, it was about the size of a walk-in closet, and there were a few candles for sale, bars of soap, and a tray of necklaces that were about $200. I was out of there.

I was hoping to have drinks and a lite lunch at The Capri Bar, but when I arrived, it looked completely empty and closed for good. So, I headed to Jett’s Grill at the Paisano Hotel – the set for several movies and home of the spiciest salsa in town.

I had a few margaritas, chips and salsa, and was literally the only person sitting there for hours. This is possibly where things turned even more for me – where WAS everyone? Was this what small town life was like?

I paid my tab and went to the shops inside the hotel where I found a few souvenirs, and then I headed back to my trailer.

Things were starting to get to me. I’d pretty much seen everything on my list, felt like everywhere I went I was alone, and I couldn’t quite understand what was so special about this place. It seemed almost sad to me.

I was also getting a little tired of the silence. Without wifi or a cell signal, I couldn’t listen to podcasts, so I turned on the radio in my trailer to the only station in town: Marfa Public Radio. I fell asleep in my bed and snoozed off the tequila.

When I woke up, I wanted to do something fun, and I had one place left on my list to go: Cochineal.

So, I changed clothes, and put on lipstick and ventured out. It was early for dinner, but I knew this was usually a busy place. When I walked in however, most of the tables were empty.

“Do you have a reservation?” the hostess asked.

I didn’t, and I still got a table, because NO ONE IS IN THIS CITY, I thought.

I was delighted to see all of the yummy-looking things on the menu, and my waitress was really nice. I ordered a glass of rose and got the ceviche.

Upon finishing said ceviche, I ordered a piece of fish, and proceeded to have an anxiety attack. I have dealt with anxiety for years, and as of late, it has combined with grief, and in general I am still a mess.

I felt hot, shaky, and sick, and I needed to leave, immediately. I tried to keep my cool and got my food boxed and paid my check – sadly leaving a majority of my wine in its glass. And I went to my trailer to try and cope.

The thing is, anxiety attacks can creep up at any point, sometimes they happen when you’re feeling great! But, I knew I was suppressing feelings of Father’s Day, and general feelings of being alone out in the middle of nowhere.

I was also tired of the cloudy skies, the desolate roads, and the silence. At home, in Austin, I’ve managed to create a plan for myself when I’m feeling low: I seek comfort in my kitty Blanche, watch a funny show on TV, or listen to Johnjay and Rich.

I’d left all of those things 7 hours east.

I was also a little tired of having every little thing seem different: I was tired of using an outdoor toilet, tired of jiggling the lock on my trailer door to get inside, tired of everyone knowing I was a tourist, and tired of not understanding anything about this town.

After talking with a few friends via phone, I felt a little better, or at least, better enough to head out of town and see these famous mystery Marfa Lights.

I heard mixed things about the perfect time to see these lights that supposedly only appear 15-30 times a year. I decided to go in time to see the sunset, and then I’d see how long I wanted to stay out there.

I went out around 8:30, and the sunset was gorgeous. It seemed unreal.

There were a lot of people at this viewing center, which was slightly raised and had a few built in sets of binoculars.

I was standing there just looking into the distance, when an older woman came up beside me.

“So, do you think we’re going to get to see the lights?” she asked.

“I hope so,” I said. “It seems clear, right?”

She introduced herself. Her name was Connie and she lived in Pennsylvania. She’d ridden to Marfa on a motorcycle, along with her husband and their friends, who shortly joined us on the platform.

They started telling me stories of all the places they’d biked, and we swapped information about the lights – times to see them, what we were supposed to be looking for, etc.

After about 30 minutes, Connie and her friends were convinced tonight was not the night for the lights.

“You probably came out here to enjoy some peace and quiet,” her husband said.

“No, I’m thankful for your company,” I said.

“Well, enjoy your vacation, or whatever it is you’re hoping to find out here,” her friend said.

I smiled. What exactly was I hoping to find out here?

With any trip I take, I’m always looking for a bit of an escape a change of pace, a chance to see how other people live, try new food, see what’s out there… and in a way, I suppose you always end up learning a lot about yourself when you’re out of your element.

By the time Connie and her friends left, it was beyond dark. The sky was dark, the desert even darker. But the stars were so clear, it looked like someone tossed a fistful of glitter into the sky and it stuck.

In the distance, there were lights, but conversations started to buzz about what lights were accounted for – a cell phone tower had a red light on it, and a distant highway was home to moving headlights.

But around 10pm, a staggering line of three small lights twinkled near the cell phone tower. They moved up and down, and sometimes disappeared entirely.

A woman next to me was quiet, but I pointed toward the lights, “What are those?”

“The lights!” she said.

Her son was a Marfa resident, and he said he’d never seen them so bright. Looking through a telescope, he explained his theory on what the lights were: a reflection of some sort from the moon. He said that even when researchers went to the spot directly under these lights, they couldn’t be seen.

The lights weren’t how I imagined – but they had been described many different ways. To me, they looked like little white twinkle lights – but appeared together like they were connected somehow.

After a terrible night of barely sleeping, I left Marfa right after sunrise. I was ready to get home. Looking back on my trip, I’m glad I went and saw what I’ve heard so much about. But the best way I can describe it now is from Robert Irwin, “Dawn to Dusk”.

It went from exciting and vibrant to dark and creepy, physically and mentally. But that’s the risk you take going on your own – everything relies on you, and sometimes that depends on what’s happening inside your head at the time.

West Texas was simply a backdrop for another adventure, but the Mystery Lights were certainly a bright spot in a desert of darkness.

The Road to Marfa: Reasoning.

Beautiful!

I leave for Marfa, Texas early tomorrow morning – my bags are packed, my rental car is ready for pickup, and I’m reflecting on why I wanted to make this unique trip in the first place.

I heard about Marfa for the first time on an episode of “Courtney Loves Dallas” (on Bravo), when her friends join her for a road trip across Texas to see Prada Marfa. I honestly can’t remember if they did much else, but she later went on to make a Marfa t-shirt for her blog followers, and continues to shoot promotional items for her blog within Marfa:

I thought the Prada Marfa was cool enough to see one day, and when I moved to Austin almost 3 years ago (!), I knew I had to visit one day.

Truthfully, I’ve always enjoyed camping experiences. As a kid, my babysitter had a pop-up camper and I thought it was such an adventure. I loved walking around the campground to see how other people set up their temporary homes – with lights and patches of plastic grass.

I also loved it when the local mall had their camper and RV show – I loved looking through all of them, and thought they all looked so fancy.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted an adventure in some sort of desert (or deserted) environment. I have long romanticized life out west – perhaps that’s why I love Texas so much. The cacti, tumbleweeds, dust clouds, and horses have always appealed to me.

Like my dad, I’ve got a bit of a fascination with small towns – how people inhabit them and never leave; how they create lives off-the-grid; and how it all contributes to some semblance of meaning for us city folk.

Like anyone about to hit the road, I’m looking for clarity, a bit of a challenge, and a new perspective. I have always believed that in order to create, we must constantly work our creative muscles; always looking for new things to discover and digest.

But of course, I’m looking to unplug a bit, too. Work has been incredibly stressful, and lately, the weekends just aren’t enough time for me to recharge. I also randomly picked this weekend to travel, and as the days have crept closer, I see I’ll be well west on Father’s Day – I’m really thankful that I won’t be able to see anymore online chatter about the holiday I’m missing this year.

Grief has been so hard on my heart, my mind, my body, and my social life. I know one weekend won’t solve it for me, but I hope that with each adventure I take on my own, I grow stronger and more confident in the daily challenges I face.

I’m really looking forward to actual quiet, the quiet I’ve only experienced in the Tennessee mountains at night. That same darkness, too – it brings rest.

And of course, I’m hoping to have fun, meet people, share stories, eat local food, and take pictures; spend some time in a hammock with a book, or sit outside with my journal.

Whatever happens out there, I look forward to telling you all about it.

Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.

-Anthony Bourdain

The Road to Marfa: Packing Notes.

I’m not quite packing this lite…

Since I’m staying in a trailer with AC, I am really lucky that I don’t have to pack bedding, a tent, or any super serious camping supplies. However, the things I’ve packed for this trip are definitely a little different than what I’ve packed for other trips in the past.

I thought I’d share some of the more unique items I’m bringing in case you’re planning a similar trip!

Road Needs

As I mentioned, I got a rental car for this trip (can’t trust my Jeep). On the on hand, I have peace of mind that I’ll actually make it to Marfa, but on the other hand, I’m missing out on the comforts of my own car – specifically, XM radio. And while, yes, I could have paid extra to get XM in the rental, I took it as an opportunity to load up on audio books and CDs from the library. I’m bringing:

  • “Anthem” – Hanson
  • “Backwoods Barbie” – Dolly Parton
  • “Collateral” – Phillip Phillips
  • “Jekyll + Hyde” – Zac Brown Band
  • “Memories: Do Not Open” – The Chainsmokers
  • “Music of my Mind” – Stevie Wonder
  • “Unorthodox Jukebox” – Bruno Mars
  • “The Very Best of Prince” – Prince
  • “Wilson Phillips” – Wilson Phillips
  • “First Women” by Kate Anderson Brower
  • “One Plus One” by Jojo Moyes

I also downloaded an app called Stop by Stop that helps you plan your stops for food and gas. There is a 4-hour stretch of nothing, so I am really thankful I can easily see when to fuel up! I am also going old-school and printing all of my directions just in case I lose service.

Food + Drink

I am packing snacks and drinks for the road, but am bringing plenty just in case all the restaurants are closed and I find myself in need! Here’s what I’ve got in my cooler:

  • Pretzels
  • Sour gummies
  • Trail mix
  • Thunderbird Bars
  • Popcorn
  • Homemade cookie bars
  • Melon chunks
  • Apples + peanut butter
  • Water
  • Canned green tea
  • Bottled coffee
  • La croix
  • Wine
  • Tequila
  • Lime wedges
  • Plastic cups, flask, reusable water bottle

Electronics

I am very much planning to unplug, but I am bringing my cell phone, a wifi hotspot (for directions only), and a flashlight.

Books + Writing

I’m not necessarily planning on sitting around reading, but El Cosmico (the campground where I’m staying) does have hammocks and fire pits, plus I might want to read before bed or if I’m hanging out in a coffee shop. So, I am packing a few books (listed below) along with my journal – I have been writing in it every day lately, and I know I’ll have lots of thoughts running through my mind this weekend.

  • “Blood, Bones, & Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton: I was being SO picky about books I wanted to bring along, but I picked this memoir off my shelf because it’s about a chef’s journey in finding purpose and meaning in her life.
  • “Loop Group” by Larry McMurtry: This is also from my collection, and I chose it because it’s about two friends who set off on an adventure out west.
  • “The Vanishing Year” by Kate Moretti: This one was a reserve I picked up about a woman living a glam life and she has all these secrets coming back to haunt her. It’s basically a suspense novel that has no relevance to this trip and I’ll likely keep it at the bottom of my stack.

Clothing

I didn’t give clothes much of a thought other than for utility, and I packed a mix of things because I do think it will be cooler at night and I’m planning to hit up some bonfires, and will be outside searching for the Marfa Lights. So, I packed a baseball hat, a sweatshirt, a rain jacket, and oversized pajama pants in case I need to use the outhouse in the middle of the night. I also packed shower shoes along with slippers for wearing inside the trailer.

Linens

El Cosmico provides linens, but I did pack my own towel, and washcloth just in case. I also packed a blanket to bring with me to bonfires and for catching the lights.

Toiletries

This isn’t a trip where I’m stressing over makeup and hair, but instead I packed a First Aid kit, antibacterial gel, sunscreen, aloe gel, bug spray, baby wipes, toilet paper, kleenex, lip balm, and… I couldn’t consider this a getaway without packing a few clay face masks and a travel tube of sunless tanner.

So yeah, I think that about sums it up! I have been packing all week and just sort of tossing things in a pile as I think of them, but I feel prepared. Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about WHY I’m taking this trip and what I’m hoping to gain from it.

The Road to Marfa: The Sights.

Teepees at El Cosmico. Photo from Texas Lodging.

While I have never been to Marfa, Texas, I have been doing lots of research to figure out some things I want to do while I’m camping there this weekend. Yes, I said camp. I’ll get to that…

What I’ve found is that, while Marfa is sort of a town known for being small and weird and remote, there’s enough to entertain just about anyone for a few days. I’ve put together a list of possible activities:

Lodging: El Cosmico

I mentioned camping, but it’s more like glamping, as I’ve booked my stay at the most well-known place in town, El Cosmico campground. There are safari tents, yurts, teepees, and vintage trailers. I’ve got a reservation in a trailer, so I won’t quite be one with the elements, but I’ll still be using the outhouse and the shared shower. It’s going to be rough enough.

Must-see: Marfa Lights

During the 19th century, ranchers, Apaches, and meteorologists reported seeing strange lights along the horizon, with no source in sight. Today, the mysterious lights draw tourists from across the country. The real kick? They are only seen about 15 times a year, and are often described differently by anyone who sees them. Marfa has an open field where light-seekers gather each night hoping to see the ghostly orbs.

Art: Chinati Foundation

I guess you could say the Chinati Fountain was where it all began, since minimalist artist Donald Judd created his art installations that made Marfa an art mecca worth traveling for. His art philosophy was to be one with nature, and between his cement boxes and reflective sculptures, many have said his work is memorizing.

The draw: Prada Marfa

Many people are drawn to Marfa by its 2005 art installation of a Prada store front – but it’s not actually IN Marfa – it’s 40 minutes outside of the city. Don’t worry, I’ve got to see it – but it will add an extra 2 hours to my trip home. From what I’ve heard, it’s quite a sight, so I’m looking forward to it.

Dinner: Cochineal

I’ve heard mixed reviews about the food in Marfa – some people say it’s impressive, others say you’re so hungry that you’ll eat anything. But everything I’ve heard about Cochineal sounds great – the food, the drinks, the atmosphere – and apparently they have vegan items!

Drinks: The Capri

The Capri is located inside Thunderbird Hotel, known for the movies filmed there. I’ve heard great things about the food, and even if it’s subpar, it sounds like the scenery is worth a visit.

Shopping: Freda

While El Cosmico appears to have an impressive provisions shop, I’ve heard Freda is the place to get envious souvenirs, including unique jewelry. I’m there!

Coffee: Frama

This coffee shop is not only inside the Tumbleweed Laundromat, but it also has a menu made entirely of Scrabble tiles. Say no more.

And that’s my list! Am I going to do ALL of these things? Maybe. Here’s the thing about Marfa, and West Texas in general, the locals are on their own schedule. Many, if not all, businesses do not operate under regular business hours. Some tourists have said there are nights when no restaurants are open, so there’s that (I am packing plenty of food).

The other thing is (and I’ll get more into this in a later post), I’m really trying to go with the flow for this trip. I’m not going to have cell service, wifi, or TV – there is a single radio station – so I’m just going to sort of wander and do whatever. If that means resting in a hammock at El Cosmico all afternoon, then that’s where I’ll be.

Tomorrow, I’m talking about famous road trips!

The Road to Marfa: A History.

Photo of the Marfa Welcome sign from ‘The Local Palate’.

Early Saturday morning, I’m taking yet another trip that’s been on my bucket list for many years and am heading west to Marfa, Texas.

Marfa’s slogan is, “Tough to get to. Tougher to explain. But once you get here, you get it.” Before I take to the road, I’m going to attempt to share all of the reasons why I’m heading to this small town, what I’m going to do there, and what I’m hoping to get out of it, all this week on the blog in a series I’m calling, “The Road to Marfa”. I hope you’ll join me.

Today, I want to talk about how Marfa came to be.

Marfa was established in 1883, and served passesrsby as a water stop and was the freight headquarters for the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway. It has been said that the wife of a railway executive was reading “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyoder Dostoyevsky, and named the town after one of its characters.

Another version of the story claims that the town was named for the character Marfa Strogoff in Jules Verne’s “Michael Strogoff”.

Marfa is at the junction of US Highway 90 and 67 in the northeastern part of Presidio county. To the north are the Davis Mountains, to the southeast the Chisos Mountains, and to the southwest the Chinati Mountains. Marfa lays semi-protected within these escarpments on a great highland plain known as the Marfa Plateau. It sits at an altitude of 4,830 feet above sea level in a semiarid region.

Photo from the ‘Dallas Morning News’.

By 1885 Marfa had one or two saloons, a hotel, and a general merchandise store—Humphris and Company. Poker bets in the saloons were often made with deeds to town lots. Traveling salesmen stayed at the St. George Hotel, who came by train, established their headquarters in the hotel, and from Marfa made stagecoach trips to Shafter, Fort Davis, Valentine, and Presidio to show their wares.

In 1886 Marfa was now home to churches, a school, and a newspaper. C. M. Jennings began publishing the “New Era”, the town’s first weekly newspaper. Over the years, it changed hands several times until the weekly finally merged with the “Big Bend Sentinel” under the management of T. E. Childers.

In 1900 the population of Marfa was 900. Eventually the town had literary clubs, fraternal organizations, telephone service, and a bank.

Marfa’s population reached 3,909 in the 1930s, and in the 1940s, the government housed the Chemical Warfare Brigades, and soon built a prisoner of war camp nearby. Marfa Army Air field was also created near town, and when all of these military camps closed, it hit Marfa economically.

In 2016, Marfa’s population was 1,747.

The Stardust Motel sign in Marfa, Texas.

Until the 1970’s, Marfa was best known for the ghost lights and the film location for James Dean’s final picture the “GIANT”, also starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Dennis Hopper. The classically beautiful Hotel Paisano, served as the center of activity during the making of the movie.

In 1971, Donald Judd, the renowned minimalist artist and sculptor, moved to Marfa from New York City with the intention of permanently installing his art. He purchased several acres in Marfa, including the buildings of Fort D. A. Russell, and established galleries for contemporary art.

Before Judd died in 1994, he’d acquired an army base and filled it with art, which is open for tourists.

These beginnings eventually led to Marfa’s growing reputation as an artists’ community, and support for the visual arts has been carried on by the Chinati Foundation and other groups. Various art museums and galleries attract creative spirits as well as tourists and have garnered international attention.

In 2009, The New York Times started publishing several features on Marfa – the art, and the food scene. At the start of 2013, the internet freaked when Beyonce visited Marfa and posted pictures on her social channels. Natalie Portman, Robert Pattenson, and Jake Gyllenhaal have also made the trek to Marfa.

Remember how Marfa claim it’s hard to get to? It’s about 3 hours from El Paso, Texas, near the Texas/Mexico border. It’s about 7.5 hours from Dallas to Marfa, in fact, the nearest city is 170 miles away, and it’s in Mexico.

Talk about remote!

Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about what there is to actually DO in Marfa.

Sources: Visit Marfa, Texas State Historical Association, NPR

BBC: ‘Dumplin”.

For the past couple of weekends, I’ve had this really weird feeling of not knowing what to do with myself. I don’t know if it’s because I usually have a lot of things planned, or what, but to avoid that, I made a “weekend to-do” list hoping to avoid that lost feeling.

I think it helped – I got a lot done yesterday (some errands and some things around the apartment) and to reward myself, today I’m going to the pool with a giant grapefruit margarita (and a book).

But, I’m thrilled to tell you about the latest read from Blanche’s Book Club, because it’s such a fun one; it’s “Dumplin’” by Julie Murphy.

A few months ago, I read “Ramona Blue” by Julie Murphy and I loved it so much, I looked up all of her other books and started following her on Instagram. The library had a copy of “Dumplin'”, so I immediately added it to my reserves list. Here’s the official description:

For fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell comes this powerful novel with the most fearless heroine—self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson—from Julie Murphy, the acclaimed author of Side Effects May Vary.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom, Willowdean has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American-beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked . . .  until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.  

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does.

Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

Before I get into it, I’ll say that I kept referring to this book in my mind as “Puddin'”; sometimes even WHILE I was reading it! And then I would think, how would someone get a nickname “Puddin'”, out of “Willowdean”? And then I just thought about how crazy it was that I couldn’t get the title of this book right.

Until I sat down to write this blog post and I see that INDEED Julie Murphy has just released a book called “Puddin'”, that is the companion to “Dumplin'”. Weird, right?

But anyway, “Dumplin'” is all stereotypical things Texas: small town, big hair, beauty pageants, Dolly Parton impersonators, and lifelong locals. I pretty much love all of these things, and Willowdean, or Dumplin’, is just as lovable. Here’s a few quotes I took note of while reading:

  • We’re not off a highway or any major route, so it’s the type of place that can only be found by those who want to find it.
  • For a moment, the pageant makes sense, and I get why my mom devotes half of her life to it and why most of the girls in this city dream of gowns and spotlights when the sky is heavy with stars.
  • To my mom, powdered iced tea is almost as bad as the possibility of being left behind in the wake of the rapture.

I started this book thinking it would revolve around the pageant. And while it does a little, it’s more about Dumplin’ growing up, and balancing being a teenager in a small town, along with her friends and crush.

This book is laugh-out-loud funny, and I’m recommending it to anyone who loves all things Texas, or YA novels.

It’s sort of funny that I read the book now, as I’m preparing to take a road trip to Marfa on Saturday! In the book, the fictional Clover City is located close to Marfa and mentions one of its draws: the Marfa lights.

Anyway, I’ll be talking ALL about Marfa basically all week right here as I prepare for my travels. The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “The Missing Hours” by Emma Kavanaugh.

Enjoy your Sunday!

The Writer’s Retreat!

On Saturday, I packed a backpack and headed about 40 minutes outside of Austin to Elgin, Texas, where New Republic Studios is located. I was going to my first ever Writer’s Retreat, and it was also the inaugural Writer’s Retreat hosted by the Austin Film Festival, where I’ve been volunteering for the last two years.

I have always wanted to go to some sort of writing retreat, and I was excited about this one because it was just a day event, so I could test the waters. When I registered, I got an email saying to just pack my writing supplies, lunch, and any snacks – everything else would be provided.

I feel like I always have so many ideas in my head for things to write, but I’m not very good at just sitting down and bringing it to fruition. This is a problem many writers face, especially if we’re doing other things to pay the bills (there’s no shame in that game) and/or if there’s no deadline or reason to write, other than to satisfy our minds. We are all guilty of putting ourselves and our needs last, right?

The thing is, one of the major projects on my mind involves my dad, and I’m still very emotional about it. I know that is a big reason I’ve been putting it off. I’m so emotional, in fact, that the entire WEEK leading up to the retreat, I felt anxiety and grief. I finally just had to keep telling myself that this retreat was for me, and if I went and didn’t feel comfortable working on that particular project, then I didn’t have to – I have so many other things I could work on. I also reminded myself that I was under no obligation to stay the entire time. If the retreat wasn’t beneficial to me, then I could leave.

So, I packed up my laptop, notepad, journal, pens, headphones, and lots of snacks, and headed on my way. The little road trip to Elgin was a treat in itself. I am a sucker for scenery, and some of these tattered curves seemed straight out of a Nicholas Sparks’ book – there were dusty roads, cattle, and rolling fields of bluebonnet. I even spotted a cardinal perched along the road!

When I got to New Republic Studios, I was impressed. I’ve been to movie and sound studios before, but this was such a neat setup. It’s right along the Colorado River, and has multiple studios for filming.

The schedule.

Upon checking in, we got a schedule for the day, and there was free cold brew coffee and snacks. A few different people welcomed us, and talked about the day, and how important it was that we were carving out this time to work on our craft.

Then, everyone sort of went their own way and got to work. Some people went to an optional improv hour, and others (including me) went to write. I chose a spot outside – it was such a beautiful day, and I feel like I don’t get outside enough.

I worked on my project about my dad for as long as I could, and I also worked on my blog some, but I spent hours just journaling. I started writing in my journal in October, when I felt like I couldn’t turn to my blog as an outlet, and I stopped writing in it about three days before my dad died. I think I was scared to even go there – but I filled many pages on Saturday!

I sat outside almost the entire day – moving to a shady spot in the afternoon. I’d packed a small blanket so I could sit in the grass, and that was nice.

However, one of the people who is affiliated with Austin Film Festival, was at an outdoor table for most of the day, and spent that entire time talking and laughing to a few other people. I don’t know if anyone else was bothered by this, but I definitely was. It’s really difficult for me to concentrate on my work when I can hear other conversations.

This was a Writer’s Retreat, not a talking retreat, and this was someone who had just given us a speech, “You are a writer, no one can write the story in the way you can.” And here he was being so loud that he even said, “Sorry if we’re being too loud,” but then continued to talk! How about not being sorry and simply being quiet?

I put in my headphones and listened to music for a little bit, but then I realized, what is the point of me sitting here with my headphones in? We all paid to be here, and I could sit anywhere with headphones in. So, I packed up and left about 30 minutes early. I’d gotten all I was going to get out of that day.

All in all, I really enjoyed myself. But I would encourage the Austin Film Festival staff to be more respectful to those of us who need a quieter environment.

I couldn’t help but think about how much it takes for some people to write. I have had this blog for more than 10 years, among other blogs I’ve had, and am always doing something that involves writing. And maybe I’m a rare breed, but I do feel like many writers will go out of their way to avoid actually sitting down to write.

This is something Stephen King talks about extensively in his memoir, that writing is something you just have to DO, even if it means locking yourself in a room and doing it, and it often doesn’t look like anything fun or glamorous.

I met so many people at the retreat who were scared to even call themselves writers – because they hadn’t been published or hadn’t had a movie made… it takes work! And even sometimes, the result might not be what you planned.

It certainly does help to have retreats and environments that support writing and creativity. But sometimes you’ve got to make those spaces for yourself, or you’ll never get it done.

After the day at the retreat, I felt relaxed, like my mind was a bit clearer. And that is something I haven’t felt in a really long time. I’m so thankful for that.