A Retreat in my Mind

You know that place that the visualization gurus tell you to find.  Your happy place.  A place where you feel completely relaxed.  A place where you can close your eyes and imagine yourself there.  A place where your hunched up shoulders relax, the tension just melts away and for one brief moment, all is right in the world.

Sometimes those gurus forget to tell you that it’s got to be a place that’s written on your heart…it’s got to be carved into your DNA so you can feel it, smell it, truly be in it.

I have a place like that.  A place I slip away to when the kids are bouncing off the walls, the checkbook is missing and the bills are waiting to be paid.  A place where I feel totally accepted and happy and stress free.  A place that I can smell and see and feel when I close my eyes.


It is a place carved into my heart.

It’s a retreat of my mind.

But this retreat wasn’t imagined into being.  It was once a real retreat.  A retreat where I walked barefoot and relished the native plants growing wild around me.

A retreat where the sun streamed in the windows and there was no pressure to do or to be, no expectation to meet.

A retreat where my kids’ eyes shone a little brighter with the immersion into a captivating summer world complete with jars of fireflies, bowls of freshly picked ripe black raspberries and adventures exploring a winding creek.

It was a home away from home.  Made possible by the thoughtfulness of one amazing vacation rental owner.

The details were attentive and deliberate.  We felt welcomed in as if the home had been waiting just for us to arrive.  The fluffed pillows, the soaps scented with essential oils, the throw over the back of the couch for the evenings when the sun had set and a chill settled over my feet.

The books on local flora and fauna just waiting to be looked through, the telescope aimed directly between the break in the trees so we could catch glimpses of stars far away.  It was all so incredibly thought-out, as if we were long-awaited guests not simply renters.

But it wasn’t just the property.  We were smack dab in the middle of a luscious valley that sparkled with waterfalls and blossomed with plants brought to the area many years ago by the Shawnee Indians.


It was an adventure with medicinal flowers and edible plants and zip-lining through the tall trees.  It was quaint restaurants, long bike rides and the library of a nearby university lined with oft-coveted pre-1963 books.

It was lovely.  Absolutely lovely.

There is not a bad memory from that week.  Not a fight or an angry word.  Not a frustrated sigh or an impatient glance.  It was as if time stood still and we all remembered that kindness matters.  It was a moment to snuggle and whisper late into the summer evenings.  It was a moment to read with abandon, a moment to write with heart.  A moment to breathe.

And sometimes that’s what we need.  A moment to breathe.  A moment to re-live the happy moments.  A moment to escape our reality and find ourselves immersed in a peaceful memory.

There is value to visualization.  Value to remembering happy moments.  Value to imagining ourselves somewhere happy.  It gives us a moment to recenter ourselves.

It allows us to remember what that peace feels like and to find it again in this intentional moment.




What I Learned in West Texas (part 3)

(This is the final part in my West Texas post.  You can read part 1 here and part 2 here).

Some of those touristy things?  Totally worth doing.  The boys spent a morning horseback riding to see an old mine while Katie and I went into the ghost-town, Terlingua, and did some shopping at their trading post.  One night we visited the Starlight Theatre with its live music and delicious food and, of course, we spent some time in the historic Terlingua Cemetery.

Riding off to see the mine

Katie was too young to horseback ride on the trail but she fell in love with the owner’s dogs inside the office

The Terlingua Trading Post

Ha, gotcha!

Starlight Theatre in Terlingua

The ladies at the stable were very kind and let Katie ride a horse around the arena

The McDonald Observatory was well worth a visit.   It was incredibly educational and fascinating to see.  We did the solar viewing and the star party (along with the twilight program that preceded the star party).  The boys loved every moment especially looking through some huge telescopes at the star party.

The actual fort at Fort Davis is beautiful and worth a visit.  We watched the introductory video and then walked around the fort.  It’s set up with the mountains as its backdrop which made for pretty scenery.  The boys loved the museum (especially William as there were quite a few weapons for him to actually see).

I forgot to mention earlier, but my kids love getting their National Parks passports stamped each time we visit a National Park.  They were able to do that here.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to pick up many mementos in Fort Davis or the Davis Mountains as their AT & T wire was clipped and everything west of Menard (I think!) lost their phone connection so cash was king.

There are quite a few cute towns and nice restaurants once you hit Alpine and travel further north and then east.  Personally, we loved the murals in Alpine and enjoyed lunch outdoors at the Reata (although not our finest pick with children).  Fort Davis was charming with its main street and drug store.  We drove through Fort Stockton and saw the famous 1-10 Silhouettes on our way to Sonora, where we camped at the X-Bar Ranch on our last night before heading home (we ate breakfast the last morning of our trip at a delicious Mexican restaurant called La Mexicana).  By the time we reached the X-Bar Ranch and I was required to sign a liability release form (which actually felt like a death warrant as the form was a full page of all the dangerous things I MIGHT encounter while camping there including but not limited to rattlesnakes, poisonous spiders and insects, sharp, jagged rocks), I was about ready to kiss West Texas good-bye and rejoin the comfort and familiarity of the suburbs.

Oh!  Somehow I almost left out the flora of West Texas.  And that was actually one of my favorite parts.  There were some incredibly unique plants (some that you will only see in the Chihuahuan Desert).  The Barton Warnock Visitor Center was completely worth the visit thanks to their exhibits on the plants as well as their desert garden.  I loved the idea that those plants we saw are probably some of the most hardy plants…they have to survive some serious conditions including drought and extreme heat.

That about wraps up what I learned about West Texas.  As happy as I was to return to trees and towns close by, it really was an amazing trip and the kids had a blast.  Not everything was what I expected, but really? Traveling with this gang makes any trip worth the drive and every adventure that much sweeter.








What I Learned in West Texas (part 2)

(This is a continuation of what I learned in our travels to West Texas.  You can read part 1 here.)

Wildlife abounds.  Deer, javelinas, birds, butterflies, lizards.  But nothing prepares you for coming around a bend and stopping two feet short of a rattlesnake sunning himself directly in the path of your four year old’s foot (don’t bother scrolling quickly…there is no picture of the rattlesnake…in my concern to get us all safely around the dangerous critter, I failed to snap a photo).  Tread lightly.  Humans are the minority here.

Mexican Jay

Deer prints

Western Scrub Jay in the Davis Mountains

Mule deer in the Davis Mountains

There is beauty here.  Lots of lots of amazing, beautiful spots.  Hidden off the beaten path.  Just be prepared to travel many miles of cactus as far as the eye can see to find those amazing, beautiful spots (refer to my first point if you’ve forgotten about the many miles you will travel).

Santa Elena Canyon

The overlook at the Barton Warnock Visitor Center

The Window

On the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains

A view of the Rio from Big Bend State Park

I really wish just one of the travel books had given this piece of advice:  Pick a section of the park (west, east or central) and stick to it.  Settle in that area and spend all your time there exploring that area.  It’s just too much to try to do a little of this end and a little of this end.  Take it from someone who made the mistake…we spent more time in the car traveling from one trail to the next than we did actually hiking trails.  I’m not kidding.

When the national park tells you their campsites are full, don’t believe them.  Camping at a national park doesn’t compare to camping at a Texas state park.  I had no idea how spoiled I was from camping at state parks until this experience.  You call a Texas state park and they know exactly who is in which spot and when they plan to leave.  You call the national park and they don’t have a clue although they’re quick to say they’re full.  We spent our first night at Stillwell Ranch which is just north of the entrance to Big Bend.  Somewhat primitive camping with lots of cactus (I think I heard “Mom, there’s a cactus in my shoe every few minutes” that night), no water and no restrooms, but beautiful, dark skies and no neighbors to bother with our music plus campfires were allowed (which turned out to be a huge deal as the rest of our camping spots would turn out to be fire ban zones).

It takes a special person to settle the west.  I’m still in search of a first hand account of an early settler to the area.  I want to know what in the world possessed them to stop their horse and buggy and say, “Yes!  This is it!”  My guess is that maybe that far into the desert they were just too worn out to keep going and too worn out to turn back. Or, more likely, they were in love with the idea of their own land.  I can imagine Native Americans out there (it helps that I just read Empire of the Summer Moon) but I have a hard time imagining myself leaving the comfort of civilization to settle an unknown territory.  Of course, that’s what makes humankind so interesting…we are all so different and where I would be hesitant to give up the security of townsfolk and access to food and water, some folks would be willing to sacrifice it all for solitude and land.

I was impressed with the story of Sam Nail and his brother.  Somehow they created a beautiful oasis smack dab in the middle of flat, cactus laden land.  Literally an oasis.  They settled, dug a well, planted fruit trees and a garden and built themselves a house made of adobe.  And I can imagine waking up and seeing the mountains on the horizon and feeling like it was just the most beautiful spot until the summer sun hit 115 degrees and I remembered that the nearest town didn’t exist and there was no convenience store to run and get water from.  You see what I mean?  This is taking some serious stretching for my imagination to travel out here and say to myself, this is it!  But some people did and there are still plenty of people out there.

I did strike up a conversation with the postman at Big Bend and I was interested to learn that he’s originally from Washington state.  My face rarely hides my emotion and clearly he read what I was thinking as he responded, “I know, I know.  I left behind those beautiful mountains and rivers and forests and came here.  But here, almost every day of the year, I look out my window and see the sun shining and there’s nothing that lifts the spirit like sunshine.  So I wouldn’t trade that beautiful scenery I left behind for all these sunny days.”  (Just for the record, we visited in late October and every day was beautiful and sunny until we got to the Davis Mountains, then it was cold and sunny thanks to a cold front that blew in.)

The remains of Sam Nail’s house

The windmill that keeps the water flowing to support the oasis of fruit and nut trees on the old Sam Nail ranch

To be continued…



What I Learned in West Texas (part 1)

We recently took a trip out to West Texas and visited Big Bend and the Davis Mountains.  It was vast and often barren (with the exception of loads of cacti) but it held a unique beauty that I have never seen before.   I read every travel book and guide I could get my hands on before I went but there were things I only learned once I got there.

It’s big.  I mean really, really big.  In my mind, I was prepared for this.  It was, after all, a ten hour drive for us and I had read the travel guides and I knew that Big Bend National Park itself is over 800,000 acres yet I still wasn’t prepared for the vastness of the entire area.  After we passed through Del Rio, the towns became fewer and farther between.  Then we hit the Big Bend area and I’m not sure what I was expecting but just entering the park was a bit of a reality check.  We went in through the gate and literally drove miles to get to the first ranger station.  Then it was another 45 minute drive to our campground.  Miles and miles stretched before us as we made our way from one end of the park to the other.  That meant it took a long time to go from one trail to the next.  All on twisty, curvy roads.  So if motion sickness is an issue, expect to feel it here.  Around every beautiful bend.  Down every magnificent hill.

But it wasn’t just the park, it was that entire part of the state.  Miles and miles stretched before us as we went from one small town to the next.  It seemed as if nothing but land stretched before us as we hoped we’d make it to the next gas station. Grocery stores?  Not many.  Walmart.  Hardly.  Cell service and wifi?  Incredibly sporadic.

On the way to Big Bend, we stopped to camp one night at Kickapoo Cavern State Park and then we went to Seminole Canyon State Park for lunch.  Near Seminole we caught our first glimpse of the Rio Grande.  The river has clearly been appropriately named as we learned in exploring Big Bend.  There was only one area that we saw in our exploring where the river seemed crossable (those goats you see are on the Mexican side of the river); the rest of it seemed to be a wide raging river separating us from Mexico.

Our first glimpse of the Rio Grande

The Mexican goats

Down by the Rio Grande which we accessed from the overgrown Rio Grande nature trail

Fishing in the Rio

That vastness though?  It made me appreciate just how incredibly little we are in the great big scheme of things.

Hiking up the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains

Mule deer in the Davis Mountains

The boys really were this tiny in all that darkness in the wild Kickapoo Cavern.

It also made me seriously think about how easy I have it living in the suburbs.  Forgot bananas?  Just run down to the store…no literally, I could run to my store.  Out there?  It was a good 45 minute drive to even get out of the park and then that grocery store wasn’t what I’d consider big or well-stocked (although there was a small convenience store located near Panther Junction in the center of the park).  Food was expensive out there as was gas (and rightly so, it has to travel many miles to be delivered).  The Cliff bars that I sometimes treat my kids to go for $2.98 at my local grocery store.  Out there?  $6.79 a box.  A quick trip for a few bags of ice, some jugs of water and a few grocery items (including some much desired fresh fruit) came out to over $100.

No one – and I mean no one – is going to welcome you to the wild west.  I mean that both literally and figuratively.  I honestly imagined myself walking into our first camping reservation desk and someone saying to me, “Welcome to the Wild West.”  (I think that daydream might even have included saloon doors and me twirling a revolver on my hip so keep that in mind and remember I might be a bit prejudiced in my disappointment.)  It didn’t happen.  I walked into the visitor center at the Big Bend National Park and I think the most I got was a nod.  I walked into a restaurant that looked like an old saloon and again my imagination was less than fulfilled.  No “Welcome to the Wild West” there, not even a “Welcome.”   Those folks in the west, while kind, seem a bit wary of strangers.  It felt like everywhere we went, we might just have been intruding on their privacy.  Once we got past Alpine and up into the Davis Mountains, folks seemed a bit more friendly and engaging.  Still no one welcomed me to the Wild West (or even to the West) but at least they didn’t seem wary of me and they were quick to engage in a conversation.

(I sat down to write this, thinking I only had a thing or two to say…turns out 10 days in West Texas made me think I have the right to say quite a bit about the area, so…)

To be continued…