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.

 

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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!

Five Fun Things To Do In New Jersey and New York

I was tempted to title this blog post, “The Top Five Things To Do in New Jersey and New York,” because I thought it would be a little catchier, but it’s a pretty big claim to say that something is one of the top things to do. So, I settled for a little less flashy, but more truthful title.

Last week we had spring break (a little early to quite deserve the title “spring,” in my opinion). My parents came to visit for the break to take a little vacation to the East Coast and to see where I live. Here are five of the things we did while they were here:

  1. Walk along the Jersey Shore

It’s definitely the off-season at the shore, but that worked out really well for us because we had almost the whole beach to ourselves. It wasn’t warm enough to sit on the beach or swim in the ocean, but we had a good time walking along the beach, picking up shells and enjoying the sunny day. It was quiet and peaceful in a place where it is normally busy, noisy, and expensive. We ate dinner at a little seafood market and restaurant that I would highly recommend: Shore Fresh Seafood. It’s a tiny little place that is mainly a fish market (we got to watch them filleting salmon and putting out scallops while we wait), so the seafood was so fresh and delicious!

And a bonus: you don’t have to pay for a beach pass in February!

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  1. See a Broadway Play

We saw the play “American in Paris” and I would highly recommend seeing it (or another Broadway show) if you visit New York City. There are really no words that can do justice to a theatrical performance, so I’m just going to post the video trailer so you can get a little glimpse. All I can say is that it was true work of art that included amazing dancing, innovative projected scenery, incredible music, and a charming story. And if you can’t get to New York City anytime soon, check out the movie that the play is based on. I haven’t seen it, but if it’s anything like the play, it’s definitely worth watching.

  1. Hike at the Delaware Water Gap

This was my favorite part of our trip last week. I have been hearing about the Delaware Water Gap since I first moved to New Jersey and have wanted to go hiking there for a long time. It was really nice to get outside and be away from the city for a day. It was a challenging hike with a great view at the top. Pictures say more than words, though, so here are a few:

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  1. Ride a Ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty

I wend to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty when I came to the East Coast for a school trip in High School. It’s something that I would highly recommend, though, especially if you have family that immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island. There are a lot good exhibits about immigration before, during, and after the time of Ellis Island. It was amazing to see how people traveled here with very little to create a new life for themselves. It made me a lot more grateful for the family members who made the sacrifice to leave their homes and come to this country.

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  1. Visit Thomas Edison’s Laboratories

On the last day of my parents’ visit, we went to the little-known gem of West Orange, NJ. Thomas Edison had a laboratory in West Orange where he developed and manufactured many inventions that led to many things that we know today. One of his biggest inventions was the phonograph, which was the first device to record sound and play it back. It sounds simple, but think about how much of our world today is based on the ability to record sound. In his laboratories you can see the library, storeroom, machine shops, recording studio, moving picture film studio, photography studio, and many other rooms and building that made his inventions and the manufacturing of those inventions possible. If you’re in the area, I definitely suggest checking the museum out!

 

 

Photo Friday: A Look From Above

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I love flying. I love seeing the earth from above and trying to guess what is below based on little clues like bodies of water, the color of the vegetation, and major roads. It is a change in perspective that makes me think about how big our world is and how many people are out there trying to make a life out of what they have been given. Last weekend I got to fly home to Minnesota for Thanksgiving break and I took this picture of Minnesota as I was flying back. I think that the view from the plane looks even cooler with the snow. I had a wonderful trip home and it is crazy to think that I’ll be back there in just two weeks for Christmas break. So, this photo was a goodbye to Minnesota, but it won’t be long before I see this place again!

A new year and some old pictures

I was looking through some of my pictures from my trip abroad last summer and I realized that there are quite a few that I never shared here. As I type this it is 10 degrees Farenheit outside, so it warms me up to look at the sunny (or at least warm) days and reminicse about the fun times. I know that it is not as interesting to hear about and see pictures after my trip, but I would like to share some more pictures and stories (even if it is just for my own enjoyment). I will be keeping the blog posts short because it gets a little overwhelming to think about writing a huge post, but it is much easier to sit down and post a few pictures.

Tonight I am going to share a few pictures of the college that I lived in while I was at Cambridge. The colleges are a part of the university and this system is different than most American universities. There is a better explanation of colleges on the Cambridge website: http://www.cam.ac.uk/colleges/. For me, Pembroke college was the place where I lived, ate, and used the library. During the school year, it is the community that supports the students academically, socially, nutritionally, and in many other ways.

Each college has its own personality or “feel.” I was officially part of two colleges, both Pembroke and Kings, even though I lived in Pembroke. Pembroke was a Victorian era college with colorful gardens, cobblestone walkways, modest brick buildings, a clock tower, and winding arched staircases. Kings was a lot larger and more grand, with gothic spires, immense green lawns, and a huge chapel. Today I am going to share a few pictures of Pembroke college, the college that became my home away from home.

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Tour of Cambridge

The first view I see when I walk out of my building each morning at Pembroke College.

My walk to church.

My walk from church to class.

The cafe of the Cambridge Union Society where I have class. It is all decorated for the Olympics now.

The Cambridge market.

The outside of King’s College.

The entrance to Pembroke College.

The Pembroke Library.

The gardens at Pembroke.

The door to where I live!

My hallway.

I Found a Secret Place in Cambridge

My secret place really isn’t a secret, but to most of the other students studying at Cambridge through the PKP program, it probably is. I have never seen anyone I recognize from the program here. This is a building that everyone has probably seen, but few have been inside. This place is my sanctuary, the way I start each day, and my home away from home. This place is Our Lady and the English Martyrs Catholic Church.

The church isn’t a secret in Cambridge with its tall gothic steeple that pierces the clouds, and it is a place I have come to call my own while I have been here. I come here every weekday at eight a.m. for Mass; the familiar words of the service help me to feel at home here. Similar to going to Mass during my first year of college, Mass in Cambridge is the stable force that has helped me to find my place in a foreign location. Through the Mass, I am able to connect with God through his Son Jesus and this helps me to find my way in unfamiliar places and circumstances. This time each morning centers my day and stabilizes my perspective on my day and on my life. Whenever I am feeling lonely, I can go to this place and take comfort in prayer and meditation.

This “secret” place has also been a place of growth for me this summer. I have grown in my faith, my zeal for the Lord, and my need for God. By being alone here in Cambridge, without the family or friends who root me in my faith at home, I have been inspired to find my own solace and hope in my Creator. My faith in a God who unconditionally loves me and always cares for me has been strengthened. This faith connects me to home and to the people I love because it is something I share with them.

The church is my home. It is a place I can go when I am struggling or when I am joyous. This is a constant source of comfort to me whenever I am traveling or am going through a time of change. God is not limited by place; He is anywhere and everywhere at the same time. Wherever I go, I will never be without Him. The Catholic Church is remarkable in its universality. The symbols, prayers, words, and rituals are the same at any Catholic Church around the world. I am reminded that wherever I go, I will have this special (if not secret) place.