Leaving Home, Finding Another

When I first sat down to write this post, it was still the middle of summer. From my dining room table, I could see a fuzzy-tailed squirrel, nature’s acrobat, scamper across the top of the wooden fence around our backyard. The sun was just peaking over the third story of our building to kiss the petals of the tallest sunflowers across the alley. I could hear the steady chirp of crickets. I’m listening to them now; they seem to never stop.

As I sit down to finish this post, it is officially autumn. The days are becoming gradually shorter, with cool mornings and breezy nights. Trees are going from green to orange yellow red. Most of the sunflowers have wilted. Each time a squirrel jumps from one branch to another, a few leaves come wind-sailing down to Earth. The sweet shift of the seasons, something hard to find in Southern Arizona, is poignant here in the Midwest.

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Late afternoon in our backyard

Things are not so bad in Missouri. I’d go so far as to say they are quite nice, actually. During our first weeks here, most of my questions—posed out loud to no one in particular, as usual—were of the “what type of plant is that?” nature. I’ve learned and forgotten the names of so many plants: coleus, hosta, cone flower… Things just grow here! Things I’ve never seen before. And there are trees, so many, many trees. The streets are lined with sidewalks, which makes getting around on foot much more enjoyable. It seems that you need only drive another mile to reach the next park, which is just as green and inviting as the last. Good food is ubiquitous and inevitable. People smile. Children play. The sun rises each morning. So why am I so often overcome with sorrow? I am surrounded by all of these good, pleasant things, and yet all I can long for is home.

This will be the second time in my life that I’ve pined for Arizona. The first time, when I was living in France, I was surprised to learn that a critical aspect of who I am is inextricably linked to the place—the actual geography—that I call home. I feel deeply tied to Arizona, its skies, its mountains, its forests, and its deserts. It is part of who I am. So when I feel homesick, I am not just thinking of all the people I love back home; I am longing for Arizona. The place. Having experienced that homesickness once before, I was more prepared for it this time around in St. Louis. But that hasn’t made it any less difficult. All I want, in this very moment, is to stand atop a mountain and be able to see for miles in all directions, to be able to see the sun kiss the horizon, to be able to take a deep breath of crisp Arizona air.

But there aren’t any mountains here. Not a single one.

I cannot control what St. Louis lacks. As I did in Paris, I have had to be very intentional about choosing to look for and appreciate what St. Louis offers. And believe me, it offers plenty! There is always something going on, and most events are free. Two weeks ago was the Great Hot Air Balloon Race, and this weekend we went to the first of several Oktoberfest celebrations. Even if there is nothing going on, I can always take a bike ride through beautiful Forest Park or visit any of the numerous free museums. When I start to write all of these things down, it reminds me that St. Louis is truly a wonderful place to live. This city gives me a lot to be grateful for. Even so, it doesn’t feel like home. Not yet.

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Fun at Oktoberfest St. Louis; photo courtesy of Nick Youmans

Places are, for me, like people. It takes time to get to know them, to figure them out, and to make space in my heart. For me to feel at home in a place, I have to build a relationship with it. And like any relationship, that takes time. In fact, both of my moves outside of Arizona have felt a little bit like online dating, except once you go out on the first date, you’re stuck in that relationship for the foreseeable future. I did some research on St. Louis, checked it out, asked around. The background check was good enough to convince me to give the place a shot, and St. Louis made a good first impression. But like any new relationship, it has a honeymoon phase and a shit-just-got-real phase. That’s the phase I’m in now, and there’s no going back. But I have high hopes for the Lou. And assuming this desert critter survives the winter, things just might get more serious.

 

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My Guide to Tucson

As fate would have it, the year that I moved away from Tucson also happens to be the year that my little sister is moving to Tucson. She’ll be a freshman at the University of Arizona, just like I was 8 years ago. My first impression of Tucson, created from the small frame of my dorm room window, was not as positive as the impression it left on my heart 8 years later. When I first moved there, Tucson seemed like a desolate dust bowl. What I knew of the city was limited by the fact that I had only a beach cruiser to get me from A to B. My world was mostly the UA campus, University Blvd., 4th Avenue, and the Safeway on Broadway and Campbell. Luckily, a few months in to my time there, I met some people who had lived there a little longer—some a couple of years, others their whole lives—and they helped me to broaden my perspective. Soon, Tucson became a vibrant and fascinating place with far more to do, see, eat, and explore than I ever imagined.

I don’t remember when it was that Tucson became home. I have no memory of the moment when the desert shifted from a foreign, martian landscape to the place where I belong. Finding a community of inspiring people probably had something to do with it. I do know, however, what places and activities helped win me over. In this blog post, I’ve featured several of the things that are dear to my heart. I created a much larger Beginner’s Guide to Tucson to help my little sister find her way in the Old Pueblo. It is by no means an exhaustive list of all that is wonderful in Tucson, and I know I forgot a lot of things. It is merely a snapshot of a multifaceted and complex place. For anyone visiting or moving to Tucson, I hope that you get out of your dorm, apartment, AirBnB, yurt, or hotel and see all that Tucson has to offer. Go East, North, West, and definitely—despite all the myths and fear mongering—definitely go South. Talk to people. Listen to their stories. Eat their food.

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite Tucson things in no particular order. I should disclose that I worked at Time Market for 3 years, and I was a yoga teacher at all three of the organizations in the yoga section. So it’s not like I’m biased or anything.

Eats

  • The Little One: go for the food, stay for the hugs
  • The Taco Shop: best burritos
  • Tucson Tamale Company
  • Kingfisher: tasty desserts
  • Time Market: everything here is delicious
  • Falora: best caprese salad
  • Sher-E-Punjab
  • Yamato: best sushi
  • Raging Sage: best scones for both breakfast and lunch

Time Market Patio

Time Market’s patio in bloom

Drinks

  • Side Car
  • La Cocina
  • Downtown Kitchen and Cocktails
  • Crooked Tooth Brewing Co.
  • Tucson Hop Shop

An afternoon at Crooked Tooth 

Sweets

  • The Screamery: get a flight!
  • Monsoon Chocolate

Yoga

  • YogaOasis
  • Grounded Wellness
  • All Bodies Rise Yoga: various locations, check out the website for the schedule

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Outside YogaOasis Central

Things to Do

  • Go to the Zoo
  • Visit Mount Lemmon
  • Wander around Barrio Viejo
  • Watch (or participate!) in the All Souls Procession
  • Take a day trip to Madera Canyon
  • Support local vendors at the Heirloom Farmers’ Market in Rillito Park
  • Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

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Hiking in Madera Canyon

This is just a taste of Tucson! For more, download my Tucson guide here.

Enjoy!

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7 Things I Already Miss About Tucson

Here we are in St. Louis. Each day is a cocktail of compromises, celebrations, questions, resolutions, laughter, and tears—some happy and some not. Moving is exhausting. Despite the fact that we are making time to explore our little corner of this new-to-us city, I find myself missing the home we left. Here are seven things I miss about Tucson that are leaving my heart a little sore:

1. Murals, Murals, Everywhere

In the past few years, Tucson has seen a noticeable increase in the number of murals embellishing its streets, alley ways, and empty lots. Each piece is distinctly Tucson, featuring regional imagery and bold colors. Daily commutes are thrilling because each holds the potential to discover a new work of art.mural-2-e1530617883593.jpgmural 1

2. The Yoga Community 

Tucson will forever be my personal yoga homeland, the first place I fell in love with this practice that now forms such a key aspect of my daily life and identity. Seeing as there is nearly a yoga studio every square mile, it is easy to discover yoga in Tucson and find a studio, style, or instructor that makes your heart sing. All of these studios serve an important role in fostering the city’s yoga community, which keeps growing in not only numbers but in diversity and accessibility.

3. Mexican Food on Every Corner

Although I am as white as can be, I grew up eating a lot of Mexican style food (thanks, Dad!). Hence, when someone asks me what my comfort food is, I think bean and cheese burritos. Moving to Tucson from Prescott when I started college only increased my love of Mexican food, and I found that there was far more to enjoy than I had been exposed to as a kid. Chicken mole, chile relleno, horchata, and raspados top the list. Tucson gives you plenty of options, from fast food chains like Nico’s and Los Betos, to fancier historic spots like El Charro, to unique cafés like Little Poca Cosa. Luckily, here in STL, our apartment is a short walk away from a local taco joint. Stay tuned for the review!

4. Cacti

Springtime in the desert is divine. It reveals that beneath all the brown, all the dust, and all the pokey things there is life—stunning, vibrant, breath-taking life—just waiting to bloom. My time in Tucson made me a passionate devotee of cacti, their strange shapes, their mosaic of blossoms, their fruit, and their sometimes-sharp-sometimes-fuzzy exteriors. I brought two small potted cacti to St. Louis with us. They are currently sitting on the windowsill in our kitchen, where I am hoping they get enough light and warmth to survive. I find myself gazing up at them wistfully each time I enter the kitchen.

5. Monsoon Season

These are the months that every Southern Arizonan lives for. During the early months of summer, the atmosphere warms and causes the jet stream to move northward. This allows moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and Sea of Cortez to fill the gap. The sun heats the moist air and creates thunderstorm clouds, which build throughout the day and usually burst in the late afternoon. The torrential downpour is the kind of natural phenomenon that makes a parched desert dweller drop everything and head to the porch because you can’t help but watch as streets become rivers and dry, dusty washes fill with violent waves. Once the storm has exhausted itself, the air is filled with the sweet smell of creosote and the sky is painted in rainbows.

after the rain

6. Mountains on the Horizon

One thing Arizona has going for it is its diverse and interesting geography. Mountains are always on the horizon, and in one trip up to the top of Tucson’s most famous peak, Mount Lemmon, you drive through about six different climate zones. Having grown up surrounded by mountain ranges, it is always jarring for me to be in a place where the horizon is flat, or worse, where I can’t see the horizon at all. I like to see the place where the sun and sky meet the earth. There’s a certain sense of rootedness that comes when I can look up and see the mountains in the distance, purple and faded, but there all the same. Looking at these giants, I am reminded of where the sun rises and falls; I know where I am.

7. That Sweet Feeling of Home 

Finally, the thing that is both the easiest and hardest to find. Each day I am unmeasurably grateful that I did not leave Tucson alone, that I made this journey with a person (and a cat) that I love. As I grow older, I realize more and more how complex the word “home” is. First and foremost, it is the people you surround yourself with, the friends and family that fill the halls of your heart. But it is also familiar routines and favorite spots, sights and sounds and smells that make you feel like you know a place. Things like going to Raging Sage and chatting with the same regulars that you see every Saturday. Things like knowing where to find a good loaf of bread to go with dinner (Oh how I miss you, Time Market!). Things like the predictable toll of bells in the West University Neighborhood. Things like not having to use your GPS to get anywhere because this is your city. Luckily, all of that can be recreated, rediscovered, relearned. But unlike coffee shops and bakeries, proximity to people you love is something that is less easily replaced. It takes considerable effort to nurture relationships, even those that are tried and true, as you get further and further away from your friends and family. And then there’s the work of nurturing your relationship with yourself, of finding home within. All of it takes time and energy. And all of it is worth it. fullsizeoutput_36a

 

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Dispatch from the Brink of Change

Sitting down in seat 15 E on a Boeing seven hundred-something, tears rushed to overfill my eyes. I plunged my face into Carl’s chest, feeling a taste of relief and comfort as he wrapped his arm around my shoulder. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” I spluttered. But I do know. I cried today because this is my last flight into Tucson as an Arizona resident, at least for the next three years. As excited as I am for the years to come, I am equally saddened by what they mean. From where I’m standing, three years—and maybe then some—seems like a long time to be away from home.

I don’t remember the last time I wrote a blog post. I could go into all the details of what has changed and what has happened between now and then, but most of it seems irrelevant. I’d rather spend time on where I am now and where I’m going.

So, where am I? Physically, I am still in seat 15 E flying from St. Louis to San Diego, then on to Tucson. But beyond this uncomfortable navy blue airplane chair, I am waist-deep in transition. As of the end of May, my only income is derived from subbing yoga classes. The government has agreed (rather quickly and easily, I might add) to loan me more than $100,000 over the course of three years so that I can become a physical therapist. When we return to our little house in Tucson, I will begin sorting through my belongings, packing boxes, and attending a series of “going-way” events. I’ve been doing a lot of goodbye-ing lately. Although each of those farewells is given under the assumption that it is not goodbye forever, I can’t shake the feeling that it could be. It could be a very long time before I touch down in the desert and call it my place of residence again. Luckily, just because you don’t physically live somewhere doesn’t mean you can’t call it home.

I never thought I would leave Arizona for the Midwest. Sure— I thought I would leave, but not for Missouri! As I discovered this week during our visit-campus-and-find-an-apartment trip to St. Louis, it turns out that driving for 21 hours in the middle of summer to start a new life there isn’t a bad idea after all. In fact, I left feeling truly satisfied with my decision. St. Louis seems like the kind of place we can be happy. Most places are. But I know I will miss Arizona and everything it means to me. The mountains, painted in hues of purple across the horizon. The sky at sunset, ablaze with pinks and yellows and oranges. The cacti, erupting with splashes of color in the spring, as if someone dropped hundreds of paint balls across the desert floor. The monsoons, cascading down from sky to gutters to puddles in thick, impenetrable curtains.

The smell of wet creosote. That is, the smell of rain.

I remember the first time it rained in Paris during my year there. I was confused! “It’s raining?” I asked myself. “But it smells like…like old cigarettes and decaying leaves. This isn’t what rain smells like!” As I get ready to move to the great state of Missouri, one of my recurring concerns is the fact that when it rains, it won’t smell like rain.

A small thing to worry about, I suppose. I don’t worry about finding community or making friends or being happy. I’ve learned that if you want those things, you can make them happen anywhere. I am not afraid to start over. In fact, I’m relishing the idea of being anonymous, of leaving behind this familiar place that is haunted by so many ghosts and what-ifs. No more somersaults in my belly as I unexpectedly run into a person I once loved. No more anxiety bubbling to the top when I see a familiar silhouette in the distance, holding my breath, thinking, “Shit—could that be…”  It’s a unique opportunity to be able to start out with an untouched canvas, to be able to choose the paint and shapes and strokes anew, to be able to decide what a place means to me as a more confident, more complete version of myself. It’s a privilege that I appreciate more deeply with every passing day.

So where am I going, then? I’m going to St. Louis, MO to attend Washington University’s three-year doctor of physical therapy program. But I’m also going on a daunting adventure. And more importantly, I’m going down a path to personal fulfillment, chasing after that thing that fills my cup and brings meaning to my life. That’s what I’ve learned about living so far: you can’t wait for something better more fulfilling more exciting more challenging more meaningful to come along of its own volition and find you. You have to go get it.

Forest Park

A winding path in Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

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Around the South in 14 Days: Summer Road Trip 2015 in Photos

This post is long over due. But better late than never.

On the morning of July 3, my boyfriend and I departed for a journey of epic proportions through the South Eastern United States. We endured humidity, heat, and endless hours in the car, but what we gained made every drop of sweat, every backache, and every sunburn worth it. Five thousand three hundred and seventy-three miles later, I have a new appreciation for the stunning beauty, diversity, and complexity of my country, and more importantly, I have a deeper love for and trust in the man with whom I share my life.

Here are some photos from our trip, along with a map of our route. I hope they inspire you to take an adventure, whether it’s to the other side of town, or to the other side of your own country.

Day 1: From Tucson to Houston (A 16 hour trip, all in one day. Texas is HUGE!)

Entering NM in Tree Pose

Day 2: Houston (No photos of Houston, sorry.)

Day 3: Houston to Memphis

Arkansas/Mermaid 1

Our breathtaking AirBnB in the heart of Memphis:

Memphis AirBnB

Day 4: Memphis (spent mostly at the Memphis Zoo, which is fantastic!)

At the Zoo

Meerkats!

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Our Memphis Favorites:

Otherlands Coffee Bar (try the toasted muffins!), The Memphis Zoo (make sure to catch the bear feeding), the march of the Peabody Ducks (get there early!), and Memphis Pizza Café

Day 5: Memphis to Asheville

Crow Pose

Day 6: Asheville

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Our Asheville Favorites:

Mount Pisgah Campground (make sure to go on a hike!), and the Folk Art Center 

Day 7: Asheville to Savannah

Savannah in Savannah

Our Savannah Favorites:

Foxy Loxy Café (go for the Horchatta Latté), Fire Street Food (try the Savannah Roll), and Forsyth Park (bring bug spray)

Day 8: Savannah to Sarasota

Day 9: Holmes Beach (the location of my family reunion. That stunning woman at my side is my momma.)

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Day 10: Sarasota to Baton Rouge

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Day 11: New Orleans

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Our New Orleans Favorites:

Café du Monde (bring cash!), the Audbon Aquarium of the Americas, and Mr. B’s Bistro (save room for dessert— the bread pudding is divine!)

Day 12: Baton Rouge to Houston

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Day 13: Houston (Again, no photos. But certainly some precious memories.)

Day 14: Houston to Tucson

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We arrived home exhausted with sore butts and sleepy eyes. We were happy to have left home, and even happier to return. As I’ve learned time and time again, it is often in my journeys far from home that I come to appreciate all that I have right here in my own community. This trip, like all adventures, reinforced my gratitude for where I’m at, who I’m with, and who I am, right here, right now.

Next stop, Portland, Oregon! We just made plans to visit PDX in October. I’ve always wanted to see this city, and luckily, I’ll have an excellent tour guide. Stay tuned!

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