Deep in the heart of Texas…

Were you worried we were gone for good?…

Not yet, anyways.

We are back in Lajitas, Texas for the month of January and it is sublime. Much different from last year for many reasons. Dave’s working part-time so there’s more time for us all to be together, Eli’s a full-blown toddler (and almost kid) so he’s more independent, interested, and interesting, and instead of being “on the road” we’re simply “on vacation.”

Our pace is slow and fluid. We’ve been here 10 days already and haven’t yet gone into the national or state parks. This is partially because Eli has been sick, but honestly sitting back and relaxing has been more than enough. I’ve gone on two short mountain bike rides and we’ve hiked a bit behind the campground. Otherwise, it’s been quiet warm days and cool starry nights.

We made the reservation to come back here last year shortly after we left. Despite its remote location, it gets busy here. And to be honest, until about 4 weeks ago we weren’t sure if we were going to make it here. For most of the year it was a fingers-crossed-we’ll-see situation.

There were a few moving parts in the plan.

We got back to Madison at the end of May and campground hosted there until mid-August. With our house still rented out (we had decided when we rented it that we would not displace the tenants), we rented an apartment with intentions to stay there for at least a year. In October, a little bird told us that our renters had bought a house of their own in town with a planned closing date of December 2. Dave and I brainstormed and at that point were planning to re-rent the house. We both wondered, “How will we make it to Lajitas?…”

Thanksgiving weekend the official notice came that our renters were moving out 12/18. Though at first seeming like a nuisance, Dave and I simultaneously had a change of heart and plans. We opted to break our lease, move back into the house, and take the Lajitas trip. This way, there would be no unfinished business or renters to worry about. [If we sound like irresponsible tenants, you’ve got it wrong. Most contracts can be easily broken for a cost. We paid the fee, and the office happily handled the apartment showing process. The (fantastic) apartment rented in 2 weeks.]

It ended up being a little crazier than it sounds (if it doesn’t already sound crazy). Our renters moved out on Tuesday, I packed up basically the entire apartment in 3 days, Dave and I moved all our things on Friday while Eli spent the day at the babysitter, and then we literally threw all our stuff in the basement of the house, locked the door, and drove to Chicago for the holidays. A week later, we got back to the house, unpacked the necessities, packed for Lajitas, and hit the road just 4 days after getting back. So needless to say most of our stuff is still in the basement.

Dave and I have an official habit of moving in the middle of winter. This makes it move #3.

3 days of towing the camper through single-digit temperatures and we finally made it! It really didn’t get above 12 degrees until we got into Texas. I thought I was being super adult and responsible when I stocked up on groceries before we left. It didn’t occur to me that we might need to put food in the camper refrigerator to keep it WARM. We lost most of the produce, a water filter, and a few plastic bowls. They all died in the frigid temperatures. The 48 eggs, after much TLC and transport in/out of hotel refrigerators, all survived.

Yes, we stayed in hotels on the way down. It was too cold to stay in the camper. Genuinely. The pipes would freeze and even the space heater might not have been able to fight off the cold. Also, hotels allowed us to drive later and leave earlier. By day 3, we were out of bed and on the road in under 30 minutes.

In Kansas at the beginning of driving day 2 we ran into some truck trouble and spent 8 hours in Wichita. Eli was pleased to see balloons at the car dealership, and I found a lucky straight edge, loose razor blade on the showroom floor that they use “for the balloons.” Idiots. I could see the fear in their eyes as I gave them my unforgiving baddass-mama-bear glare.

But they fixed the truck issues and we were able to still get a couple hours driving in. And we still made it to the campground on schedule the next day!

Traveling with Eli is definitely different now. We finally turned his car seat around. Waiting for this trip was a good way to go. He spent the first day simply staring out the window (finally!). After that, he read through his 40+ books at least once daily, slept decently, and then gave the “blue kindle” a good workout for the rest of the hours. And – bless this kid – with the exception of one meltdown on night two (after being at the car dealership all day), he was happy and calm the whole drive.

And then of course there’s Big Bend. Have I mentioned how great it is here? You should come.

I also recommend 4-week vacations. There’s too much pressure when a vacation is short. You have to pack it all in and see all the things to see… It’s too much. Ever feel like you need a vacation after your vacation? Well, we have time to relax and do what we feel like doing. Definitely a better way to go. If you’re not able to do it, blame your employer and blame your country. Just sayin.

Eli needed to go to the doctor yesterday so we drove to Alpine which is pretty much the closest town, and certainly the closest hospital. It’s about 100 miles from here. It took the whole day. But who cares?… We had the whole day to do what we pleased. “A raging ear infection,” the doctor told us. We had figured as much but it needed to be said. Turns out she did her residency in Madison a few years back, and that she misses the thriving ultimate Frisbee community. She told us we should come spend the night with her family this week. It’s right between Lajitas and the Observatory, so stay with them we will! Anitbiotics and a new friend… that’s a good doctor’s visit.

Most of our friends we made here last year are back again. They have us beat for sure… One couple will be here for 2 months and the other for 4-5 months! So if you think we’re super special for taking a 4-week vacation just understand that some people really know how to spend their winters wisely. Sometimes we hang out together and mostly we’re simply nearby and sending loving smiles from one campsite to the other.

Tonight is an exception. Dave and I made Chili for the group, Connie and Keith and making corn bread, Carol Sue and Johnny are bringing guacamole, and John will “at least bring potato chips.” We decided it was a good night for a group dinner, partly in response to the “Casitas rally” that’s dominating the park right now.

“Rallies” are when travelers with the same camper all get together in a single location to socialize and such. A “Casita” is a small pod of a camper, not unlike a marshmallow in shape and color (and size). They were here last year too, and will be for years to come. We all know this because they reserve out half the park years in advance. They never actually fill half the park, yet they still reserve that many sites. And they, en mass, venture out to local restaurants and venues. I call in “the casitas infestation.” I try to avoid “us/them” cultures, but something about it just bothers me. Like mosquitos. Just… go somewhere else. But people have to meet somewhere and they have to bond over something. It might as well be here and over their marshmallow pods.

I have to add what happened last night. This is a “dark sky community,” which means turn off all your exterior lights at night so we can see the beautiful night sky. We are, after all, in one of the darkest skies in the entire country. Very special and hard to find.

I was sitting by the fire last night trying my best to adjust my eyes around the few surrounding RV lights when I suddenly see moving, colorful lights flashing on the side of my camper, on the hill to the north of us, and even on the camper next to ours. Confused for a short time, I figured out that 2 sites away one of the casitas has a disco-style colorful laser display spinning and turning the side of their small casita into a neon night club without the house music. And of course, since the casitas actually are the size of marshmallows, the lights also made their disco way onto everything else around them. Needless to say I almost lost my mind.

I knocked on the door without knowing exactly what I would say. “This is a dark sky community, not a rave,” or maybe, “I don’t know where you think you are…” or, “I didn’t drive 1500 miles to watch your obnoxious lights. Grow up or go home.” Of course I didn’t say any of those things. But when I was 12 I might have said them all. Instead I said with a half-smile, “Could you please turn off your light? I’m two campsites over and it’s… everywhere.” Not completely effective, as far as adult standards go. She turned it off without an apology or even a response, and climbed back into her pod with beer in hand to join her friends. Clown-car style, I’m not sure how many of them were in there, but they seemed to be having fun.

It brought me back to my college days working in residence life where, when “on duty,” I wandered the halls all over campus knocking on disruptive doors, mostly as a warning before campus safety did the same thing. No matter what the grievance, and though I never exactly used these words, the message was always the same: Stop being an idiot. And if you can’t STOP, at least be less of an idiot. Towel the door and open the window, at LEAST; turn the music down from 11; maybe DON’T play beer pong in the common lounge; if you’re going to streak through Math Department building, just don’t tear down posters and break things. Am I asking too much?…

So, save your spinning laser abomination for Vegas, or even just Dallas? Don’t make me call campus safety…

On happier notes, the musical couple from Michigan is back again for their 10th year, providing entertainment 3 nights a week at the clubhouse. She plays the standing bass and he plays guitar as they recite classic country tunes. We go when we can and it’s always a pleasure. The Packer games have been taking precedence lately though. Yes, I am a Packer fan now. I dare say a football fan. Don’t ask how because I can’t tell you.

We’re also pleased to return to Terlingua, a nearby revived ghost town, where the old theatre is now a converted restaurant called the Starlight. I can smell the burgers and taste the prickly pear margaritas now… A quaint Saturday market (think 4 vendors) offers some produce, crafts, and music. And then there’s Cottonwood, the we-carry-all-things-sacred grocery shop where I can’t even believe the wonderful things they carry in the middle of nowhere.

Dave and I are doing well, which – if you remember from previous blog posts – we were not. Going back to Madison was a lifesaver. I was depressed and depleted and we both needed help. Help from family, friends, and providers. After a year of conversations all ending in, “We both need to focus on ourselves before we can focus on the relationship,” we were finally able to do just that.

Dave dropped his consulting gig and transitioned full-time to his Bluetree IT gig. Going into the office is great for him, and it is an amazing company of great people.

I finally was able to address my depression and we both got into more balanced and reasonable routines. And of course, have a house that isn’t on wheels helps with the stability. 😉

In September, I opened up a private practice and business is growing steadily. Eli started daycare 3 days a week, which has been great for everyone. He gets to play with peers, his teachers are amazing, and we all get some needed alone time. It’s all very sane.

And we’re back in the house. Full circle, and yet, we’re no where near where we started.

Glad we did it? Yes.
Glad we stopped when we did? Yes.
Glad we’re home? Yes.

For now, I’m just glad to be in Lajitas. We’ve already made our reservation for next year, of course. Whether we’ll make it isn’t the point. We’re here now. We did it. We made it work. That’s what it’s all about. Working with what you have and also creating what you want – that back and forth.

Until of course, it all goes to shit again. We’ll deal with that when it comes. That IS the balance, isn’t it?

Oh, who cares.


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