Big Dreams

The Final Frontier

I have chosen an ominous title for this roadtrip, for this journey that will take me from central Texas through northwestern New Mexico and across the great state of Colorado, because it is my last trip before graduate school. I’m so excited to be back on the road–having just left my job, but having not yet started classes, I feel like I can really rest in a way that’s just hard to do otherwise. And once school starts, it doesn’t stop or break for two years. And while I would love to take a trip immediately after school (but before my first post-graduate job), I know that I’m enough of a workaholic that that just might not happen. This might be my last roadtrip for like, a long time.

Also because my  dad is a Trekkie, and I can’t help myself.

Dan and I left Texas yesterday, striking out from Lubbock (where a family friend was kind enough to put us up–thanks, Michael!), and ending up in Fruitland, New Mexico, where Dan’s uncle Doug and aunt Izzy are being fantastic hosts. Dan is driving his car (which is a stick shift, and I haven’t gotten it together enough in my life to learn to drive a stick shift) the whole way, and that leaves me free to look at the landscape…which is one of my favorite things to do on a roadtrip. This country is CRAZY DIVERSE. The panhandle looked like this:


And then we started seeing things like this:

New Mexico

And then BOOM:


Mountains. Uneven horizons make my heart sing.

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Today is a special day–one that honors not just Fathers, but one that also honors my mom and my gramma (who have birthdays today). Sounds like a lot? My late grandfather’s birthday would be tomorrow. The O’Neals are an efficient bunch…we like to knock our holidays out all at once.

I can’t laugh and cook and eat with my family this Holidays, but I can tell stories at basically any time (a trait learned from my father’s father and my father).

This is the only time you’ll ever see my Dad, a die-hard Aggie, in orange.

Things My Dad Taught Me That I’m Thankful For:

-How to shoot. Also, my kick-ass dad once gave me a rifle for my birthday, in preparation for the upcoming hunting season. We spent weeks customizing the rifle to my not-so-typical-of-a-rifle-owner frame, and more weeks practicing at the local shooting range. My father-daughter dates were cooler and louder than your father-daughter dates.

-How to clean a fish. He also taught me how to cook up a rainbow trout on a campstove, which is, I swear to everything remotely special, the best breakfast ever. He also gave me a fillet knife (again, for a birthday) which was a gift he got growing up from his father. It was a great gift because it was useful, but also because I’m the first girl to own it, and I really like that my dad didn’t see my gender as a barrier to using or having it.

-How to smile in photos so your eyes scrunch up (he didn’t actually have to teach me this…but it’s all his fault that my face does that).

-That you can’t grow up too fast, or all at once. This is one of the few lessons in life he spelled out explicitly…he’d just come home from taking my brother to football practice when my mom was in the hospital when I was 14 to discover that I had done every piece of laundry in the house, meticulously set the table, and promptly burned dinner. It was a good thing to remember, then and now.

-How to make Bachelor Pie and Sink Salad, both of which he made up back when he was a bachelor. I’d tell you the secret recipes, but then I’d have to kill you. Both dishes are like, super-elegant.


Reasons I Am Grateful My Mother Was Born:

-She’s sort of the textbook example of an independent woman: she put herself through school (on the 9-year bachelor’s degree plan–and I thought 4 years was long!), deliberately chose a career she knew she’d be able to support herself in, and spent most of my boy-crazy middle school years demonstrating all the reasons I didn’t need a man in my life to be worth something  (which I mostly ignored at the time…but it stuck, mom! I promise!)

-My mom was born with excellent genetics, and even more excellent wrinkle-resistant skin…which, as her daughter, I’m looking forward to enjoying when I’m much older than she is now (which is 29…as of today, she’s totally 29). She totally held out on me with the dimples and dark hair…but that’s beside the point.

-She’s been around to (try to) teach me how to not sweat the small stuff…which she acts like she needs to work on, but I think she’s totally got it down more than most people. One of her favorite mottos is “everything washes”. And it totally does. And if it doesn’t, it’s probably not that big of a deal. Stains happen.

-She’s always been supportive of me, even when I was doing things she didn’t like…maybe because one day, a really long time ago, she did things people in her life didn’t like? I don’t know where she got the perpetually-supportive role model…but I do know that she’s really good at it, and that I’m super-glad she’s always been there for me, even when we both know I was being a big dumb idiot.

-She had me! I like being alive–and I like that I was born to my mom. I’m totally biased, but objectively, I think she’s the best mom (objectively. With some bias). The best.


Reasons I Am Grateful My Gramma Was Born:

-She raised my dad to have good manners, which undoubtedly helped him woo my mother, who likes good manners.

-When I was younger, she definitely gave me cookies every doggone time I came over, and taught me words like “embellish”, which made me sound smarter than all the other 6-year-olds (this may also have been for entertainment value…but I totally didn’t know that at the time). She also let me watch TV, which was kind of a really big deal, because I otherwise didn’t have cable, and cable TV is AMAZING when you don’t have cable.

-For every summer, from age 8 to age 15, she and my grampa took me to Colorado for 1-2 months…and I know I wasn’t always fun to put up with. Goodness, that woman has been patient–and she’s given me a good example of patience to look up to. Also, without this, I wouldn’t know anything about running a campground…and now I’m pretty sure I could do a decent job.

-She is such a great example of never being to old to learn new things–at 78, she started a jewelry business, selling out of a salon, and sold out nearly every week. She’s still taking custom orders. What are YOU planning on doing at 78?

-Without her, I wouldn’t have had the social finesse I did at 10 (which I’m pretty sure was my peak…I’m much more awkward now). She and grampa carted me all over the country and made me speak to all sorts of people I was shy about speaking to. It was a good thing.


And so, oh my family: Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, and Happy Father’s Day! You guys are a better family than I would ever hope to ask for. I’m so lucky to have yall in my life…wish I were there to celebrate.


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I never uploaded the canoe-camping pictures, or wrote an update to my last post, which clearly promised an update. Oops.

Forgive me?

I made it back to Austin safe and sound, in the company of a great friend I met up with in Michigan. On the way I got to meet Ethan (Julie’s little boy) and experienced my first ever true Canadian traffic jam. There were no car problems, the hotel room in Missouri was clean, and I discovered that US gas prices are now lower than they were at the beginning of the summer. Yay!

Here are the pictures I so sincerely promised (and so rudely didn’t deliver). Some of them are taken by me, quite a few were taken by Dana or his dad, Don. All were promised over 2 weeks ago… oops.

First off, we camped in beautiful places.

Canoe-camping isn’t something I was at all familiar with before this trip. I’ll assume that your level of ignorance is similar. You canoe across lakes:

Unpack all your stuff…


And haul it to the next lake.

Including the canoe.

Rinse and repeat. It was a lot of fun.

On a very hot day, we hiked up to a place called Silver Peak.

On Silver Peak, we sat and absorbed the view and ate incredible snacks. Which reminds me…Yvonne (Dana’s stepmom) was in charge of the food that kept us energized enough to do all these crazy hikes/portages/paddles. She did an incredible job. In the seat of civility, when I have access to electricity and a kitchen, I don’t eat food as well-prepared as what she pulled out of those food barrels.

She and Don make a pretty good team.

Dana and I made a pretty good team; we just tended to excel at different things. For example, Dana really excelled at looking effortlessly windswept.

And I really excelled at realizing that I was going to miss Canada, and French, and a certain windswept redhead.

Niagara Falls, on our way back to Montreal, looked like this:

And the road, on the way back to Texas, looked the way roads leading home always do: long, familiar, bittersweet, and empty enough to be filled with whatever nostalgia and hope you’ve got lurking in your luggage.

Au revoir, l’ete.


Final notes:

This is my last post for a while (though I may continue with Wordless Wednesdays. Perhaps the pictures will even improve!). My final year of nursing school begins tomorrow morning, and so I’m putting the blog to rest for the academic year. Thank you so much for reading and following my travels this summer–all the correspondence I’ve received via emails and comments makes me feel incredibly blessed, and made some of the lonelier, “I’m-so-awful-at-French-and-even-the-dogs-in-this-city-know-I’m-a-foreigner” days much, much easier. You guys made me smile so much–and from a distance of 2000 miles, that’s no small feat!

So thanks for reading. It mattered to me.






Categories: Big Dreams, Travels | 2 Comments

Oh, Baby!

Remember this picture?

Well, this lovely lady is no longer pregnant–but she is a mama! Julie delivered her precious little boy, Ethan, the day after she hit the 3rd trimester–he was just far to eager to meet his adoring fans! Mama and baby are both doing well, though prayers for the whole family (beautiful Julie, her awesome husband Nathan, and tiny baby Ethan) are greatly appreciated, especially until everyone’s been deemed recovered/healthy enough to head home.

Cheers, to two amazing new parents, and to one beautiful little boy. I can’t wait to see yall again!

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Packing Cats for Travel

Once upon a time, there was a cardboard box.

This cardboard box (of the heavy-duty, corrugated variety–think small appliance, and not shoebox) probably had a great many adventures, and probably held a great many things, before it found itself stranded under a car in the parking lot of a southeast Austin apartment complex. I suspect it was adorned with tape at some point. Given it’s resting location, it was probably used for moving during its lifetime. But on the night of May 8th, 2010, when this box was found under a parked car in southeast Austin, this box was holding kittens.

The kittens (all 5 of them) still had umbilical cords attached, and were rather upset and hungry and tiny and weak when they were found by a kind nursing student, and so were taken in, and, in lieu of a lactating cat, were put on a bottle-feeding regimen (the aforementioned cardboard box was recycled). Over the next 10 days, 3 of the kittens died (side note here: the mortality rate for “bottle babies” is very, very high. Their death can’t be attributed to anything done or not done by the kind nursing student, who was–and is–awesome), and the kind nursing student had to leave Austin for the summer. Oh no! What would become of those other kittens?

Cats would become of those other kittens. Atlanta (a recklessly acrobatic and highly adorable brown tabby) and Hunter (an aggressively affectionate and clumsily athletic black feline) are now just over a year old, and look much more adult than they did when they came into my life at 10 days old. In case you were wondering, kittens are really not that cute at 10 days of age. They are much cuter (and less rat-like) much later.

In 2 days (is it significant that Departure Day is also the anniversary of D-Day?), all 3 of us will start the 30 hour drive to Canada. I’m armed with up-to-date health certificates, tunatreats, and sedatives (to be used PRN), and I thought that you should be armed with some freaking adorable pictures.

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Goodbye, Texas

Departure day can be a little bittersweet.

I’d be lying, and also a little dumb, if I told you I wasn’t nervous. I am, however, also extremely excited to get on the road. Today is the day! I’ll cover about 400 miles or so before stopping–my goal is to be in a state that didn’t raise me by nightfall. I’ll post an update sometime tomorrow. For now, just know that I’m listening to great music (or perhaps having great thoughts? And perhaps these are not mutually exclusive activities) and covering lots of new ground and, ultimately, growing.

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I have this constant need to feel frantic.

Generally, my innate desire for panic is satisfied by a never-ending to do list, multiple jobs and year-round status as a full-time student. But in an odd breach-of-character, I decided to attempt to reduce my feelings of impeding doom/perpetual exhaustion. I quit 2 of my 3 jobs (leaving me with only babysitting–which, I must say, is a divine occupation), and made the rational decision that instead of going to school this summer, I should “take some time off” before my time-consuming clinical classes start in the fall. “It will be relaxing”, I told myself. “You’ll feel so GOOD.”

I was wrong.

I have outsmarted myself. Realizing my innate need to feel rushed and hurried, I have spend the last 5 days (the length of time I have been back from Colorado) panicking over small, unimportant things. I have organized my apartment 3 times. I have vacuumed twice. I have begun fun-but-needless apartment-decorating projects. I have made pages and pages of lists outlining my plans for menial tasks (like “clean the refrigerator”: Wake up, get out of bed, get dressed, eat food, brush teeth, wash face, open fridge door, remove icky food, close fridge, place icky food into compost or trash, open dishwasher, place icky food containers into organized rows in the dishwasher, close dishwasher, run dishwasher, ignore noise, smile, feel proud of productivity-check!). I have discovered an addiction to making quick, assertive pen-marks through completed tasks. It makes me feel accomplished, and also like my blood pressure might recede to a normal level.

I am attempting to channel my need for panic into productive areas of my life (like packing for my trip!) but it seems to be a little premature–I’d pack my clothing, but I should probably wear clothes between now and my departure date. I should also probably use my toothbrush/contact fluid/mouthwash/soap/shampoo. There is, however, one thing that I have packed, that I don’t plan on using before get-out-of-town day:

And this is why medicine never fails me.

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