Only 6 weeks left

Here we are on the other side of spring break with only six weeks left in the semester. The year has gone by so fast (even though it felt sooooo slow at times). I can’t believe we have been married eight months and in Texas for seven. It feels like it has been so much longer than that. We are adjusting to life in Texas and I am finally starting to feel at home here. It is really nice to be able to get places without using a gps and have favorite spots to recommend to visitors. I am making friends outside of work and finding things to do that are relaxing and restful. I have my classes that I go to at the gym, my knitting class that I go to on Thursday afternoons, and my favorite coffee shops to visit when I need to get work done or need motivation on a sleepy morning. It’s amazing to think that at this time last year, Ben and I didn’t know that we would be leaving New Jersey and coming to Texas. It’s amazing how much can happen in a year!

We have a lot going on this spring. Here are a few things that are coming up:

Visitors

March and April are our months for visitors this year! We have 7 people staying with us  and 5 people visiting but not staying with us at different times throughout these two months. We are so excited to show everyone Texas. Three women that I worked with last year in New Jersey were here a few weeks ago and I got to show them around San Marcos, take them out for authentic tacos, go hiking at Enchanted Rock, and visit Zilker Park in Austin. We also had them over for dinner and we are excited to have them over to our apartment.

Ben’s parents came last week and my sister is coming next week. We are so excited to show our families around the places that we have come to love over the past seven months!

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Our Patio

Over the past month, I have been working on making our patio a place that we can enjoy and love. Since we got here, we’ve used our patio only for storing our bikes, but as it has started warming up and feeling like spring, I decided to spruce it up. We found a place to lock the bikes outside the patio and then I was left with a six-foot by seven-foot concrete space with four-foot high walls surrounding it to use as a blank canvas. I started with plants because I’ve been wanting a place where I can grow vegetables to cook with. I bought big pots, filled them with soil, and chose plants to plant in them. We are now growing tomatoes, peppers, kale, spinach, onions, eggplant, strawberries, lavender, dill, sage, mint, and rosemary. There are no fruits or vegetables yet, but the plants are definitely getting bigger! We also bought two chairs and a little table so that we could eat meals out there. I hung up the lights we bought for Christmas. Now we have a little outdoor oasis to enjoy as the weather gets nicer. 🙂

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Backpacking

Last week Ben and I headed on a short little vacation together. We went backpacking in Big Thicket National Preserve. We’ll be hiking for five days and four nights. We had fun planning meals, gathering our gear, and planning our route. It was good for us to have something that we love doing together to look forward to because it’s been hard to leave work at work when we work for the same place. Preparing for the trip has helped us to get excited about something we are doing together that is not related to work. Here are some photos!IMG_1251IMG_1256IMG_1266

 

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While we wait…

As of Sunday, a new liturgical season is here. Advent, one of the two penitential seasons, has begun leading us closer to the holiday we’re all waiting for: Christmas. I think Advent is a tricky season because there are so many other things going on at the same time. The competing attentions of finishing semesters, Christmas preparations, and other winter preoccupations make this liturgical season a hard one to focus on. Lent, on the other hand, happens during a time of year that has little else to offer. It is a dreary time of year and we are not focusing on baking cookies and purchasing gifts because we don’t celebrate Easter with the same vigor as Christmas. Although fasting, almsgiving, and prayer can challenge us (and particularly test our self-control), there is a certain ease of focusing on the season of Lent because we are not being pulled in a thousand directions.

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It requires a special focus and special attention to make Advent more important than material preparations for Christmas. I still struggle with trying to balance the quiet waiting and reflection that the season is made for with the tasks of making cookies, buying gifts, and getting ready to travel. But our hearts need this time to prepare. It is not Christmas yet. Christmas should (and does) carry with it a great joy–I’m not trying to minimize that. But, it has its own season. In fact, Christmas is not just one day, but twelve, and if we wait to celebrate Christ’s birth until the Christmas season, we won’t be so tempted to take down our Christmas trees on December 28th. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I want to downplay Christmas. In fact, I think that if we focus on Advent when it is Advent and Christmas when it is Christmas we will be able to celebrate Christmas so much more! By preparing our hearts and then celebrating for 12 days, we can truly rejoice in the great gift of Christ.

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As Ben and I start our own family traditions, it has been challenging to match my actions to my words. I love everything to do with Christmas: the cookie baking, the decorating, the gift giving, the hot chocolate, the Christmas movies, and the general joy of the season. So, when we had to stay in Texas for Thanksgiving, I decided that we should put up our Christmas decorations to give our apartment a bit of winter cheer. I also wanted to start making Christmas cookies (and freezing them so we can take them to Christmas parties) and watch Christmas movies. It was weird pulling down the boxes because all my senses are telling me it’s not Christmas time yet (mostly because the high today is 80 degrees and I can’t wrap my head around December not being cold and snowy). But, beyond that, as we pulled out the ornaments, I started thinking about how our apartment could reflect the waiting that I want my heart to be doing in this season.

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So, we set up an Advent tree instead of a Christmas tree. We decorated our tree with white lights (really the only lights we had) and only our purple ornaments (luckily my favorite color is purple and my mom had bought us a whole set of purple ball ornaments). It looks sparse, but that is a reminder that the real celebration is still to come. When Christmas arrives, we will add all the rest of our ornaments and ribbons and a topper. We also set up an Advent wreath using 3 purple IKEA candles and one white candle with a pink ribbon around it on a plate with a sprig of greenery (make one with what you have). The advent wreath sits on the middle of our kitchen table as a reminder of where we are in our journey towards Christmas. I refrained from putting up any more of our Christmas decor. For now, our home is in Advent, and like us, it is waiting for the birth of the King.

Out and About

Ben and I have been exploring! And not just driving around aimlessly, but we have been on a quest. For this last week, we have been participating in the Hill Country Yarn Crawl.

For those of you who have never heard of a yarn crawl, I will give you a brief explanation of what it is. There were 19 yarn shops in central Texas that were part of the crawl and the goal was to visit all 19 shops in 10 days. I had a passport that I got stamped at each shop we visited and I put my name in a prize drawing each time. Also, each shop had a featured knitting pattern that they gave out and the yarn to knit that pattern was on sale.

I had heard about the crawl at the knitting class I was taking at a shop near Sam Marcos. The shop has been preparing for this week for a long time and so I heard quite a bit about it in the weeks before the crawl. I wasn’t planning on doing it because I thought it was a little crazy to drive around to 19 shops in such a short period of time. But, at the last minute I decided to buy a passport and see if I could go to a few.

When I came home from knitting class with a passport, I wasn’t sure what Ben would think of me setting out to visit as many yarn stores as possible in the next week. I’ll admit, you have to be a little crazy to try this. But, he was willing to come with me and explore Texas while we visited a few yarn shops. Ultimately, we decided we would try to go to as many as we could with the goal of seeing parts of Texas that we wouldn’t normally visit. The crawl turned out to be a great way to explore and we found several places we definitely want to go back to.

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This is a map of all the shops. Each color represents a different day of driving. We visited 14 of 19 shops and the ones we didn’t get to are marked in light grey.

I’ll spare you the play by play of all the shops we went to, but here are the highlights:

Independence Farmstead Fiber Mill

This was definitely my favorite stop of the yarn crawl. We got to tour a family-owned mill that makes yarn out of mostly-Texas-origin wool. The mill is run by the woman who gave the tour and we learned a ton about how yarn is made. She is passionate about local wool and was fascinating to listen to.

Finished yarn spun at the mill. (This is not my photo. I was so intrigued by the tour that I forgot to take photos. This is from the fiber mill's Facebook page.)

Finished yarn spun at the mill. (This is not my photo. I was so intrigued by the tour that I forgot to take photos. This is from the fiber mill’s Facebook page.)

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Wool ready to be carded before it is spun. (This photo is also from the fiber mill’s Facebook page.)

Hill Country Weavers

This was a very cool yarn shop in South Austin. They had a huge selection of yarns and patterns. They also had a trunk show of one of my favorite pattern designers. I found a sweater that I really want to knit. We’ll see if I get to it with all the other things I want to knit!

Rohan Meadery

The Rohan Meadery was a very special place to visit. It was so peaceful and calm to be out of San Marcos and be on a quiet farm. They make their own mead (honey wine), wine, and cider. They were the sponsor of the yarn crawl, so they were offering tastings in special wine crawl glasses to all those participating in the crawl. Ben and I are looking forward to taking some friends back there to have a peaceful and relaxing afternoon.

Round Top

We drove by this fun area of Texas and can’t wait to go back and check it out more. There were a ton of antique shops and flea markets that just kept going and going as we drove. This is definitely a place we’re heading back to.

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This yarn shop also had a trunk show that exhibited some beautiful sweaters from Quince and Co. After visiting, I had another thing to add to my knitting list!

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This is my “Local Yarn Shop.” It was fun to stop by during the crawl to see how things were going at the shop. They said it’d been a very busy week! I bought some sock yarn to make Ben a pair of socks to thank him for accompanying me for most of the crawl.

Yarnivore

This yarn shop was in San Antonio and was one of the best places we visited. I really wish it was a little bit closer to San Marcos. We were browsing the spinning wheels they had (I’m thinking about learning to spin) and one of the ladies there started telling us all about the wheels. Pretty soon, her husband was helping me spin yarn on a drop spindle and they were helping me try spinning on the wheels. It was so fun to hear the passion and excitement they both have about spinning and it made me even more excited to get my own equipment and try it. I’ll definitely be headed back whenever I’m in the area!

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    We planned to take pictures at each shop, but only remembered to at the first stop. This is a mural outside Hill Country Weavers in Austin.

October Goals

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Several other blogs that I have read lately have shared their monthly goals, both professionally and personally. To give you all a glimpse into what I’m trying to do on a daily basis, I’m going to do the same. Also, focusing on just a few goals will help me narrow down what I am working at this month. I just got married and moved across the country, so some days I feel like I am trying to do everything–from meal planning to event planning–better all at once. That’s hard! So, for October, this is what I want to focus on:

Professional Goals

Read The Joy of The Gospel by Pope Francis: Each of the missionaries on my team are reading at least one professional development book this semester. I have a couple on my list, so I want to finish one of them in October. Pope Francis’ book is up first!

Plan a manageable amount of things to do each day: I often plan WAY too many tasks for each day and then I end up moving many of them to the next day. I am trying to use my planner to only plan what I can actually complete in a day so that I don’t feel so overwhelmed at the end of each day.

Intentionally invest in relationships with students: Since I’ve been here I’ve been mainly focused on the administrative tasks and helping plan events and small groups. Those are important things, but I haven’t had (or made) much time for getting to know students. Building relationships with students is my favorite part of this job, so I can’t wait to make time for it.

Write 2 blog posts per week: I want to blog more regularly so I’m setting a goal of 2 times per week. One post will be regular length and the other will be really short, but I’m hoping you’ll get to hear from me a little more!

Personal Goals

Finish knitting Christmas stockings for Ben and I: Last month I took a class on knitting Christmas stockings at a local knitting class to meet new people. This month it’s my goal to finish the stockings and make name tags for them so that we’re ready for Christmas.

Figure out a routine for meal planning and grocery shopping: We need a plan so that we aren’t left hungry and frustrated at 5:30 pm when we get home and the chicken breasts are still in the freezer. This week I did meal prep on Sunday and planned 3 meals that will be made in the crockpot. It was magical to come home to chicken parmesan cooked and ready and it took us a record 18 minutes to heat spaghetti squash, boil green beans, set the table, and sit down to dinner. This is the first weeknight since we’ve been here that we were eating before 6pm. Now I have to figure out how to keep up the routine of planning and prepping ahead.

Start writing wedding thank you cards: This is something that I have been telling myself I can do after we get settled in Texas because it was too overwhelming to do with the move. Now we’re settled enough to start this project. It’ll take a while to write them all because I love writing notes and have a habit of writing a lot, but my goal for October is just to get them started.

Get a Texas drivers license with my new name on it: The state of Texas gives you 90 days to get a new license once you move here, so it’s about time to get started with the process. Plus, I just got my debit card with my new name on it, so my I.D. should probably match my bank cards.

So, that’s what I’m going to be up to for October. What are your goals?

Explore Texas: Pedernales Falls

I’m trying out some different topics for posts, so please let me know what you like to read about. I’d like to highlight some of the places we visit in Texas because we are making an effort to explore the state while we are here. I am hoping to mix posts about mission work with posts about my home, explorations, hobbies, and more. I’d love feedback about which topics are the most interesting to my readers!

After a month of weekends spent cleaning, unpacking, organizing, and furniture shopping, Ben and I decided that this weekend we would take a break and do some exploring. One of the great benefits of living in Texas is that the season for doing things outdoors is just beginning as it should be starting to cool down to a more reasonable 70-80 degrees over the next month. So, we decided to buy a Texas State Park annual pass so that we could get outside and explore the natural side of the state. In Minnesota, the outdoor activities (besides skating and skiing) would be wrapping up soon, but here, the time for hiking, camping, and swimming is just beginning.

We started off this weekend by exploring a park called Pedernales Falls. Do not be deceived by the spelling of the name, it is pronounced pur-də-nal-iss not pəd-ər-nal-iss. This confused me all day as I tried to say the name right when reading the name. On Saturday morning, we packed up our backpacks with lunch and lots of water and drove about an hour to the park.

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When we got there, we started by hiking near the falls area. It was absolutely beautiful to see the reflections in the blue-green water next to the solid yellow-white rock. We climbed around on the rocks and after several weeks of spending our time inside and in an urban area, it felt so good to climb, jump, and hike in a completely natural landscape. We got a little over an hour of hiking in on the rocks before it got so hot that we had to take refuge in the shade. We drove to another part of the park and found a nice shady spot on the side of the river where we could swim and eat lunch. It was the perfect way to spend the afternoon.

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If you visit central Texas, I would recommend taking a trip here. The park was not very busy for a Saturday, so it was a nice place to get away from crowds. There are a lot of hiking trails that we didn’t get to explore on this trip so we are planning on going back to try them out. It does get very hot on the rocky falls, so I would avoid them between noon and 3pm. It was hot but bearable until noon, but after that it got noticeably hotter and very uncomfortable. I am a northern-born, Scandinavian-blooded girl that is not used to the intense sun and high heat. You are not allowed to swim or wade in the water near the falls because of the flash flood risk, so at noon we headed down stream to the area of the river that you can swim to cool off. It was a perfect place to relax, so my recommendation would be to explore the falls during the cooler part of the day and then sit in the shade and/or water for the hot, sunny mid-afternoon.

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All photos on this post were taken by Ben Huntley.

 

The Trip

Now that I’m blogging more regularly, I want to share a few stories from the last month. A lot has been going on, so there is plenty to share. I’ll start with The Trip. It earns capital letters because it was quite the journey to move from Minnesota to Texas. Last year, the journey from Minnesota to New Jersey was an adventure, but it was in a different category than this trip. Moving from Minnesota to New Jersey was more like going on a road trip with a very full car. We fit everything into the normal car that we drive, so Ben and I were able to drive together and switch off driving.

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The route!

Moving to Texas was a different beast all together. We started by packing up a 16-foot moving truck. Then we each drove a vehicle 1200 miles over 3 days. But, the story starts a little bit before that. A group of students from Texas were in Minnesota for SPO’s annual student conference and they had brought a trailer with them to hold their luggage. Earlier in the summer, we decided we would get our own trailer (we were starting to realize how much stuff we had). However, due to some last minute changes, the students didn’t have a second trailer hitch (and we can’t haul a trailer with our car), so that plan was out. Our next plan was to use that trailer to transport our big furniture and then fit the rest in cars (ours and 2 of our coworkers).

Three days before we were going to leave, we tried to fit as much furniture as we could in the trailer. It was tight, but we thought it would work. (Or maybe we were just determined to make the impossible possible.) Over the next 24-hours we thought about it more and more and realized that there was no way that the giant pile of boxes in my parents’ basement would fit in 3 cars. So, we totally changed the plan. We originally didn’t want to rent a moving truck because of the expense and the hassle of driving two vehicles all the way to Texas. But, we decided it was the only way to get our things moved. Thirty-six hours before we were set to leave, we went online and reserved a truck.When we picked up the truck, the company didn’t have any 12-foot trucks left, so we ended up with a 16-foot truck.

So, after that long version of the story, we are back to packing up a 16-foot truck. With a ton of help from my mom, dad, sister, grandma, and students from both New Jersey and Texas, we got everything packed and ready to go. The moving truck was a blessing in disguise because we were able to bring a few extra pieces of furniture that have been very useful now that we’re here. After we packed up all the main furniture and boxes, my parents and sister took the truck over to my Grandma’s house to get the extra furniture that we didn’t think we’d be able to bring while Ben and I went to the closing banquet of the student conference.

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The truck before my parents and sister added the last of the furniture. We had a lot more stuff than we thought!

When we arrived back at my parents’ house the next day everything was packed up and ready to go. We had a delicious and relaxing brunch with them because we didn’t have a huge amount of driving to do that day. Our first day’s driving was from St. Paul to Kansas City, which is only about six hours of driving time. It was a very uneventful drive (in a good way). I drove our car and Ben drove the truck, so this was the longest I had every drove continuously. With a few podcasts queued up, it wasn’t too bad to drive for that long. It was an easy drive because we followed Interstate 35 from the whole way from St. Paul to Kansas City.

Day two was our longest day of driving. I got to get breakfast with one of my best friends (who now lives in Kansas City), which got the day off to a great start. We headed out after Mass to drive through Kansas, Oklahoma, and into Texas. We were headed to Ben’s aunt and uncle’s house in Dallas to stay the night. I listened to a lot of podcasts that day. Podcasts are much better than music for me while I’m driving because they give me something to think about, which helps pass the time. A new-to-me podcast called Limetown (http://www.limetownstories.com) kept me on the edge of my seat for many hours of the drive. Oklahoma was beautiful to drive through, so although this day was long, it wasn’t that painful. And, as a bonus, we stopped at a roadside stand and got fresh peaches as a snack (which was way better than stopping at another Arby’s).

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From morning sun to evening sun: photos of the road on day two. I took these photos with one click while my phone was sitting in the phone holder on my dash. So, no dangerous driving was done for the making of this photo.

We arrived at Ben’s aunt and uncles in Dallas in the evening and ate dinner with them before crashing for the night. In the morning, we left early because we only had a short leg left from Dallas to San Marcos (about 3.5 hours of driving time). This last day, with the shortest drive, was the most painful because there was rain, traffic, and construction the whole way. Up until this point, it had been pretty easy for Ben and I to stay together on the road. He would follow me and we were able to stay that way easily on the other roads. On this day with more traffic and more lane-changing (due to construction), we had a much more challenging time staying together.

When we arrived in San Marcos, we drove directly to our apartment complex to sign the lease. We got everything situated with the leasing office and got our keys! After hopping around every couple of days since our wedding, it was such a relief to have keys to a place that we were going to stay in for a long time. Before we unpacked we went and got lunch (we’ve learned not to do anything challenging on empty stomachs.) Then, during a small break in the rain, we moved everything from the truck to the living room.  It looked like a disaster at that point, but at least everything was inside!

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This is what our apartment looked like at the end of day three. At least everything is in the right state! Now for the work of making order out of the chaos.

That was the end of our trip across the country. It was actually pretty uneventful for a journey of that length, which we were really grateful for. I know you’re on the edge of your seat waiting to see what the mess turned into ;). Wait for next week to hear more about moving in, getting settled, and starting the year at Texas State. Talk to you soon!

What’s been going on?

I haven’t written anything for this blog since June, but that doesn’t mean that nothing has been going on! It’s been a crazy summer full of so many wonderful things. Here’s a little run down of everything that has been happening.

  1. Mission Leader Training

    In June (at the time I wrote my last post) SPO Missionaries came to Minnesota for a time of training to prepare for the summer and following year. We learned (or were reminded about) the mission of SPO so that were prepared to talk to mission partners throughout the summer. We also met our team for the coming year!
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  2. Ben’s sister’s wedding

    In June, Ben’s sister got married! It was really fun to meet his extended family (especially before I got to see them again at our wedding) and celebrate his sister and brother-in-law’s marriage.
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  3. Wedding planning

    One of the big themes of the summer was wedding planning! We did as much as we could in New Jersey, but there was a lot that couldn’t get done until we were back in Minnesota. The best parts were wine tasting, ice cream tasting, taco tasting, salsa tasting, and beer tasting–basically all the tasting! I also really liked practicing bouquet-making and figuring out all the decorations.

  4. Apartment hunting in Texas

    At the end of June we took a trip down to Texas to look for an apartment. It felt like we were on an episode of House Hunters. We worked with a real estate agent and apartment broker to look at several condos, houses, and apartments. We saw 9 places in 2 days! The hardest part was choosing a place after we had seen them all. It came down to a cute little house with a 25-minute commute or a basic 2-floor apartment with a 10-minute commute. We ended up choosing the apartment and were able to apply to live there before we left. It was a huge relief to have a place ready to move in to when we got here in August.

  5. Mission Partner Development

    Throughout the summer both Ben and I worked on inviting more people to be mission partners as we continue to work with SPO. It was a blessing to get to meet with people we don’t get to see very often and share our missionary work with them.

  6. Bridal Shower

    My aunt, cousin, sister, and mom threw a me a bridal shower a few weeks before the wedding. I loved having so many friends and family from different parts of my life in one place at one time!

  7. Wedding

    Of course the highlight of my summer was getting married! There is way too much to say about the wedding than I can fit in one little caption, so I’ll write a separate post about it (complete with photos when we get them back from our photographer). I will say, though, that it was a beautiful day and I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful wedding day!
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  8. Honeymoon

    Ben and I traveled to North Carolina for our honeymoon. We kayaked, ate amazing food, sat on the beach, toured a historic house and battleship, walked around boardwalks and a cute town, and visited antique shops. It was a very relaxing time in the midst of a crazy summer. We highly recommend visiting the North Carolina coast if you’ve never been there.
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  9. Packing

    When we got back from our honeymoon Ben and I worked on getting all of our things packed into boxes for the move to Texas. After our honeymoon we weren’t living at my parent’s house anymore, so we were able to pack everything except our suitcases. When we were done we had one giant pile of boxes in my parent’s family room that were ready to load up for the move.
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  10. Mission Team Training

    At the beginning of August, the SPO missionaries gather again in Minnesota for another time of training and preparation for the year ahead. This training was focused on preparing for the school year so we got to work with our Texas team a lot and plan for the coming school year.
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  11. SNE

    After MTT, SPO students from around the country join the staff in Minnesota for a week-long conference called the School of the New Evangelization. The goal of this time is to train and equip students to share their faith on their campuses. The theme verse of this year’s SNE was John 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
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  12. Traveling to Texas

    After SNE we packed up a moving van with all our boxes and jumped on highway 35 to head down to Texas. I drove our car and Ben drove the moving van, so we each had to drive the whole way. I’m pretty proud of the trip because I had never driven that far by myself before. We stopped in Kansas City and Dallas on the way to break up the trip and see family and friends. P.S. Don’t worry about the photos below. I used Siri to take them from my phone mount on my phone so my eyes were on the road the whole time.
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  13. Unpacking

    When we got to Texas the work of moving wasn’t done yet. It was a weirdly rainy week when we arrived, but we got the boxes out of the truck and into our apartment between showers. We’re still working on unpacking the last of the boxes, so it’s been quite the process, but it’s been awesome to finally set up a home that we’ll be in for a while.
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  14. Household Retreat

    Last week we had retreats for the Men’s and Women’s households at Texas State. We spent a few days talking about the vision and practicals of living in household and getting to know each other. It was great to meet all the women and men and kick off the year with them.

  15. Setting up a new apartment

    As we’ve been settling in, Ben and I have enjoyed setting up and decorating our space. We bought a mattress online (which felt a little crazy, but worked really well), made a big trip to IKEA, shopped flea markets, and have assembled a ton of furniture. We’re not done yet, but we’re getting closer!

  16. Starting work at Texas State

    Last week I got to meet the other staff that work at Our Lady of Wisdom (Texas State’s University Parish) and settle in at my new desk. It’s good to finally have a place to to work (it’s so expensive to work at coffee shops all the time) and to meet the people that I’ll be working with. We’ve already had a few opening week events for new freshman.

  17. Welcome Week!

    This is the first week of school so we have a bunch of events coming up. I’ll post more about them as they happen (and as I have pictures), so you’ll have to wait and see next week. 🙂

Thanks for sticking with me for this really long post. I promise, now that the school year has started, that the next post will come much sooner than this one did (and be much shorter). Coming up, I hope to share about SPO events, what it’s like to move to a new state (again), pictures of our new apartment, and much more about missionary life in Texas. Talk to you again soon!