Exploring El Paso on a budget.

Yesterday I had coffee with a friend and she was telling me about all the things to do and see here in El Paso. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised as this is a big city (500,000+) with a very unique mix of culture and heritage. I just didn’t know where to find all these fun things to do!

This morning, since I didn’t have to work, we went grocery shopping early at the commissary. It was a good time to go, as we went when they opened and it’s not the weekend after payday. We got everything on our list for $85! We would have spent probably $120+ had we gone to Albertsons or Big 8.

After settling all the food in its new home, we went to a thrift shop that my friend told us about. It wasn’t a bad place at all! We got two paperbacks for 35 cents each.

Then we went to the Museum of Archaeology, at the base of the Franklin Mountains. There was a nature trail walk, and admission was free to the museum itself. I guess I didn’t realize how many cultures are represented in this mecca… Native American, Mexican, Spanish… the list goes on. I should have taken pictures, but didn’t even think about it.

We picked up a free guide called “El Paso Scene” which  lists all the cultural, musical, art, basically anything-you’re-interested-in events in El Paso and the surrounding area. I got out a piece of paper, wrote down all the weekends from this one to the end of October and perused to see what we could go to on a budget.

Tomorrow (September 25):

Red and Green Chile War Fiesta in San Elizario, a short drive east from El Paso. Admission: free.

Socorro Mission Bazaar in Socorro, on our way back from San Elizario. Admission: free.

Next Saturday (October 1):

La Union Corn Maze in La Union, New Mexico, only a short drive northwest. I love that we’re so close to another state! Admission: $10, but $2 discount with military ID. We’ll try to get a group of people to go.

Weekend of October 7: (our “stay-cation”)

El Paso Zoo, downtown El Paso. Admission: $7.50 with military ID (normally $10).

Bodies Human Exhibit, El Paso. This one is a little pricier with military admission of $15. It’s a traveling exhibit, though, so I definitely want to see it!

Weekend of October 14

Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso. Finally hiking to the top of North Franklin Mountain. The park charges $4 per person to get in.

El Paso Chopin Music Festival, Chamizal National Memorial Theater, El Paso. Admission: free! 

Weekend of October 21

UTEP Football Homecoming game, Sun Bowl. Admission: $15.

Israel Houghton, Harvest Christian Center (our church!). Admission: not sure.

Weekend of October 28

Wine tasting at southern New Mexico wineries. Not sure yet which winery we’ll go to.

We’ve been spending quite a bit of money eating out. If we cut back on that, then going to these events won’t be an extra expense.

El Paso is our home for the next few years, and to make it worthwhile, it only makes sense to get out there and see what it has to offer!

So, this is home.

Tonight for a change in view, I decided to get my $10 Walmart patio “furniture” (just a chair and cheapo table) and bring it out front and sit like an old lady with my iced tea and my…. laptop. Yes, like an old lady… who’s up to date with technology. Anyway.

how quaint.
and to your right, you'll see an oasis in the sand.

A friend of mine posted recently about her feelings in her family’s cross-country move, and how she looked at the calendar and it felt like it was just a vacation. We’ll be going back anytime, right?

I think because I’m in a new environment, which isn’t nearly as oven-like inviting as “home”, I revert back to things of comfort. For me, that’s corn and bean fields, sounds of locusts and crickets, tornado warnings, days of rain and clouds, coldfronts that leave you feeling refreshed, and not being in the minority of language or culture. It’s homesickness, but it’s strange because I have my family (my husband), and my bed, and my blankies.

I stare down El Paso sometimes like it’s the bane of my existence, when really, the attitude is all mine. People here are very polite and welcoming, for the most part, and the roads are open with great views of the mountains, sky, and well, desert. I also stare it down like I’ll be in battle with it for the next five years… who knows how long the Army will keep us here.

I just want it to feel like home. I want to transport the comfort of even our third-floor apartment that overlooked a parking lot into our spacious house. I want it to look like the desert, but feel like I could cuddle up on my couch with a blanket and hot tea and welcome in the fall air. I want to see it get dark at 6 PM and see the snow falling… and then I think that and I ask myself, WHAT?! Didn’t you want to get out of the snow and cold that lasts for months? Well, of course I do. Digging my car out of a freakin’ blizzard with a dust pan and shovel were not my idea of fun. But at the same time, no. Because it’s comfortable. Because it’s what I’ve always known.

I’m already thinking of where I want to live after he gets out. On my list is not really the desert, but I could still see myself settling somewhere like El Paso… it’s home, for right now. And when we move on to the next place, I’ll take away memories from here, too.

(Like this little guy, named Jack. We’re watching him for a friend of my husband’s. Cuuuuuute.)

First impressions

It feels like we’ve been here for at least a week, but as I look at my [empty] calendar, I see it’s been only five days. Today has been an unexpected lazy day since they released Aaron this morning after formation. It’s also been a much-needed lazy day. In the past three weeks, we’ve had maybe two of these.

Here are some observations I’d like to make about El Paso, some first impressions, if you will…

  • It’s hot. Like, 95-101° for the high. However, it’s not humid. The relative humidity is usually around 20% or lower and decreases throughout the day. The weather in the past 24 hours or so has been a little different… it rained last night and it was only 81° until about lunch time. It felt, well, cool. However, I’m thirsty all the time. Water, water, water.
  • People actually go the speed limit. On I-10 through town, the speed limit is only 60, and guess what? People go 60-65, not the crazed 80-85 in a 55 like through Chicagoland. It’s strange, people not riding your butt or cutting you off, and if they do they apologize by a wave of the hand.  I’ve heard it’s a $500 fine for driving and texting. I’m doing my best to not drive like an Illinoisan, especially on post. Traffic violations on a military installation are not cheap.
  • There are soooo many “left turn only” and “right turn only” lanes… you’re just driving along and then you find you need to get over to the center lane to avoid turning unexpectedly. It seems even people with Texas plates have to change lanes quickly sometimes.
  • I found this out today: El Paso was ranked the safest city with the lowest crime rate in cities with a population over 500,000. How about that? I’m not sure why… maybe it’s because in this state, you just don’t know who’s packin’, so you just don’t mess with people. Or maybe that with all the violence in Juárez, law enforcement is that much more diligent.
  • The interstate around the city doesn’t have cloverleaf ramps… there are one-way roads that run along the interstate, and if you need to go the other way, they provide a u-turn only lane that goes under the interstate. Pretty cool.
  • So many people are bilingual. We went to Joann Fabrics today and the cashier spoke perfect Spanish and perfect English with no accent in either language. It’s crazy that I spent four years and thousands of dollars learning a language when I could have just come down here and learned it for free.
  • People don’t seem to care which language you speak, or if you speak both. They just go with the flow. Our waiter last night at Applebee’s helped us in English, but spoke Spanish with the two little old ladies sitting across from us. It seems in Illinois, there’s a much more harsh expectation. I heard about it every day in my classroom, “Mrs W., why do we even need to learn Spanish? We’re in America.. shouldn’t everyone speak English?”
    • Well, regardless of one’s political stance on that, the fact is that people speak Spanish. Lots of people. The cultures here are so intertwined and have been for so long, that you just go with the flow. It’s refreshing. I know that if I started speaking Spanish, I wouldn’t feel ridiculed for pronouncing something wrong or saying the wrong word. They would do their best to understand me, just as I do my best to understand people who try speaking English when it’s not their first language.
  • Gas is cheaper down here, especially on post. Yesterday, I filled up my tank for about $44, at $3.26 per gallon. Awesome. I love the benefits of being military.

Here are a couple pictures… today for lunch we stopped by this German café and bakery… yum. For two lunches (included a sandwich, side salad and drink) and four pastries (we got those for later), it was only $20. It is called Pascuale Bakery, but used to be Peter’s German Café and Bakery, started by a German soldier who relocated to the El Paso/Juaréz area.

one of the cases
aaron got the bratwurst sandwich + caesar salad, i got the caprese sandwich + garden salad... apple soda to drink!

So far, I like it here. In the past five days, I’ve learned where the basics are and how to get there. I’ve learned what gates are open all the time, and which are closed on weekends. I love the [mostly] seamless mix of culture and language… I’m eager to brush up on my español.

Friday we get keys to move into our house. We are also supposed to get our HHG (household goods) from Illinois. I cannot wait to make this place our home! Our home. It’s about time.

I have applied for a couple jobs.. one for the education office on post and one for a clerical position in an elementary school within a very short walking distance from the house. Thursday I go to take the clerical test and finish up my application. Either job would be awesome because since we have one car, I could take Aaron to work and then go work on post (or vice versa), or with the other job he can take the car and I can walk to work.

If it crosses your mind, please pray for continued patience and peace for me, and for this transition. It’s been great most of the time, but we have our moments. 😉

Only two days??

We can’t believe it’s only been two days since we arrived in El Paso. So much has happened already! Aaron goes to work tomorrow for inprocessing. For those of you who don’t speak “Army” (sometimes I wish I didn’t!) that means that he’s getting acclimated to this post and will be learning more of what he’ll be doing while he’s here. Not to mention attending tons of briefs with a lot of useless information.. a lot of hurry up and wait.

I have driven everywhere we’ve gone. Aaron doesn’t care when I drive, normally, as long as I don’t try to kill us. Or maybe he sends us into oncoming traffic… yeah. That happened when on our way to church today. “If you swing out wide, you could make a left here and turn around.” Yeeeaaahhh. Okay. Or not.

So. We went to church this morning at Harvest Christian Center, which is an Assemblies of God church. I had been listening to the podcasts and doing research on this and other churches before we got here. We really enjoyed it and will probably be returning next week. People were very friendly and welcoming, and we met the pastor, his wife, and his daughter, who leads worship with a baby grand. The message was great… he spoke on 2 Chronicles 20 and standing strong through hard times. He also shared a very poignant story from Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala (pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle). I read the book last year and loved it.

After the service was over (it lasted about an hour and a half) we got coffee at their coffee bar and sat down for a few minutes. Silly us… we got hot coffee when it was probably over 90* out by that point!

We went on post because Aaron needed to get new rank insignia for his uniform and PC (stands for patrol cap… no more berets.. yay!. We wandered around the mall there.. looks brand new. We got lunch at Subway and ate the rest of it tonight for dinner.


We came back to take a nap and for the life of me I could not fall asleep. I got on the computer and had a slight freakout about finding a job. I know, I know. Take it easy, Elizabeth. I’m still getting paid through August. And technically, I don’t need to work… but I want to. But I’m picky. I want a “normal” job, no retail, no food, no weekends or evenings (the only exception is Starbucks, naturally). I’ve looked a lot of places… school districts aren’t hiring for Spanish right now, or even aides, and it will cost around $500 to get certified in this state. I’ve looked at places like Sylvan… not hiring.  I have applied for a job on post, so we’ll see if that turns out.

Big sigh. I honestly don’t have an inkling right now what I should be doing, besides being a wife. I’ve been a “single” wife for two years to my “single” husband, so maybe it’s about time I focus on us and our house (but no kids!!).

I don’t know. I’ve been praying about it for awhile, and I got nothin’. Patience is not my strong suit… maybe it’s time I make it my strong suit.

I do know, however, that I need to spend more time in prayer, and more time studying the Word. I can be a judgmental person, and irritable, and rash, and impatient. I need to work on that.

I think I’ll start with that.

Well, it’s a dry heat.

Really. The heat isn’t that bad. We’ve been in El Paso for about two hours… and it’s not so awful. At least not humid! Oklahoma was waaayy worse.

We have been up the last two mornings to work out… go us! Before we left for El Paso this morning, we also went to the botanical gardens in Albuquerque. Very pretty.

We got to our hotel, right off I-10, and got settled in our room. It’s a nice room with a microwave and fridge, and good thing because we don’t know how long we’ll be staying here. We already have a few appointments to see houses over the next few days. We drove past one today and it was in the ghe-ttttt-o. Well, what I perceived to be the ghetto. Just not a very safe-looking place. I hope not all of El Paso is like this.

We can literally see Mexico from the view in our hotel room. We saw exits for Juarez, and lots of Mexican license plates. Being a Spanish major, this was fascinating to me. I’ve never been to Mexico. I know, I know, bad bad Spanish teacher. (Honestly, I’m not sure if we’re even allowed to go right now because of the military.)

We’re sitting at about 4,000 feet and it’s really not all desert-ish. There are trees and a little grass… the Rio Grande is, like, right there. We actually crossed it a couple times today on our way from Albuquerque.

I had a little freak-out this morning… or maybe I’ve  had a lot of little freak-outs over the span of our trip. I’m in a new place, and know virtually no one except my husband and a couple Army wives. So many people are fluent in English and Spanish, and I’m the gringa from up North who doesn’t remember slang from my first semester at Bradley….

All these doubts and fears could really run me over and cause so much anxiety, but I just have to go with the flow. I won’t know where to go or what to do but that’s okay. That’s what it’s like to live in a brand new place. It’s exciting because guess what: My husband and I actually get to live. Together. For longer than three weeks at a time. Really?! This shall be interesting….

at the botanical gardens in Albuquerque this morning


yeah, so there's mexico, waaaayyy beyond.


relaxing side by side... finally here!


kitteh's relaxing too.

The Fourth of July Blur!

Wowzers. The weekend of the Fourth of July. I’m posting now from our hotel room in Oklahoma City. After roughly ten hours of driving, we’re safe and sound for the night. Because of all the commotion in the past few days, I wasn’t too keen on blogging tonight, but as Aaron reminded me, the longer I wait, the harder it will be to remember everything. Here goes…

The movers came on Friday and packed everything up. Well, mostly everything. It was strange at first, seeing them touching all of our things, but then I got quite used to it and decided it was nice that we barely had to lift a finger!

sleeping arrangement from friday until last night.. ugh. kitteh not included.
box of silverware they forgot to pack.. in their defense the drawer didn't look like a drawer.
corner of crappola #1
corner of crappola #2

Friday night we went out to eat with my family (Mom, Dad, sisters Emily and Leah and Leah’s awesome boyfriend Tim) at Chili’s. The “children” then went across the street to get coffee… duh!

Saturday we saw my grandparents and then went to my in-laws for swimming and dinner.

Sunday morning we went to church at Faith for the last time for a long time. Pastor Rick, his wife Leigh Ann and lots of people prayed over us, and then we went to the all-church picnic and were able to visit awhile. We will miss our church family!

Sunday afternoon we got together with a good friend, Mila, and she took some pictures for us in the Pekin Park. We hadn’t had pictures done in almost two years, and we wanted some taken at one of our favorite spots in Illinois before we departed. Here are a few…

Sunday evening after we got pictures taken, we went over to my cousin Bryan’s house and had dinner with him, his wife Michelle (who has become a great friend and older sister to  me!) and this cute little Miss Thang…

me and my "niece" adeline (my cousin's daughter)

Monday was so much fun! We went to my in-laws’ house to swim, relax, and then go out to the fireworks. I definitely got some sun and had a great time with family. All four boys were together this weekend! Too bad I didn’t get a picture of that. Now you have to see our mugs again. 😉

After hanging out at the house, we went to the place at the park they had staked out since the morning. I never really went to the fireworks until we started dating. Last year Aaron missed them; the year before, we spent the Fourth at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona.

riding on a sweet trike aaron's uncle brought
mean faces! rhianna and uncle aaron
our niece rhianna! handstand!
squinting at the sun but oh so cute! our niece zaia

Speaking of this little girl, we were all up early Tuesday morning and on our way to the Children’s Hospital for Zaia’s open heart surgery to correct her sub-aortic stenosis. The surgery went perfectly (as I knew it would!), and we’ve been getting updates today from my sister-in-law and her mom, Anessa. Zaia no longer has a heart murmur! So glad we were able to be there. We didn’t get to see her awake before we had to leave, but I still gave her a kiss! God is truly our Jehovah Raphe, our Healer.

While she was in surgery, we ran around Peoria to get a few errands completed. Last evening, we went over to my sister’s new house in Farmington. She and her boyfriend, Tim, moved in a couple weeks ago and have made the place look fantastic! I should have taken pictures. Emily came over, too, and we had a nice time just relaxing after a long and stressful day.

I was up at 4:30 this morning.. I just couldn’t sleep any longer. Our goal was to get out the door by 6AM, onto Starbucks, and on the road. We had a long day ahead of us, as we were planning on driving about 700 miles from Peoria to Oklahoma City.

whoops! one beer left, guess it needs to be drank. don't worry, elizabeth was driving!
all loaded up!
backseat.. yeah. kitteh's in there.

We got everything, I mean evvveryythinng out of the apartment. We were 30 miles out and realized that we hadn’t dropped the keys and check off at the office… whoops! We had to drive back and drop them off. So we did, and were behind schedule about an hour and a half. After I stopped freaking out and realized the world wasn’t ending, all was well.

bye bye Peoria!

Annnddd.. we’re cozy in our hotel room in the OKC, like I said. No major incidents, no major scares. We stopped in Springfield, MO, for Arby’s and man did it taste good. Aaron drove the rest of the way.  Luthor did great, even after the sedative wore off. I think he slept most of the time.

It’s still hard to believe that…

  • 1) we’re in Oklahoma. Where the wind…. (you know the rest).
  • 2) the interstates in this state are great… very clean and well-kept.
  • 3) we will be in Albuquerque tomorrow!
  • 4) we get to actually live together. Craziness!

Please pray for safe traveling and good weather. I will post later with a blog of our trip! Thanks for reading; I love sharing mundane fun all things that happen in my life and it’s a pleasure to share it with you!

>Decompressing… ahhhh.

>My poor husband, seriously. I’ve been going crazy making lists and just being, well, for lack of better terms, OCD, about moving. Tomorrow the movers come and we are more than prepared. Everything’s off the walls, we have our clothes packed, and most of my list is crossed off (you know that means it’s a good day!). Over the next several days, we will be busy with family events which will be so much fun. I need to stop being irritable, cranky, whiny and just… worrisome.

We started off our day with a five-miler with none other than THE Gabriela! I love that woman… her influence and encouragement have had such an impact on my life in such a short time. I will miss our runs together terribly!

I’ve been cooking up a storm in this apartment… pasta salad, scotcharoos (both for the all-church picnic and Fourth of July!), oatmeal cookies (which were some of the best cookies I’ve made in this stupid oven), chicken stir-fry over rice noodles, spicy chipotle meatballs… and we’re making chili for the movers tomorrow.


Mmm. Made with all white sugar since I was out of brown, maple syrup, almond flour, and three cups of my oatmeal mix so we don’t have to pitch it. Yum.

We’ve also done a test run with the kitteh today to see how the tranquilizer will affect him… he did well, and now he’s just chillin’.

Kitteh iz reddy fore Texas, Ai finks.

I should have taken pictures, but I ventured out for a few hours for lunch and Target with mah bestie, who leaves for Czech Republic tomorrow. It will be awhile before we see each other again. 😦 I guess we’ll be having plenty of knitting & tea Skype dates!

When I came home, Aaron had this sitting on the counter for me… just a random card for no reason at all.

“just the way you are, regardless of what you do or don’t do,
past, present, and future, no matter where you go,
even on your not-so-good days, whatever you choose,
with all of your unique qualities, simply because you’re you”
“Sweetheart, I just wanted to let you know how much I love you
and how happy I am to be home and able to spend time with you.
You are an incredible wife and you make me feel like a lucky man.

Seriously?! I am such a lucky blessed girl! He used to leave notes on my car while I was at school (we started dating my senior year of high school and he’s a couple years older).

We FINALLY got ice cream tonight at Emack and Bolio’s in the Heights. I’m so addicted to ice cream it’s not funny, and summer temps only fuel that vice. However, hubby has been doing very well in discouraging me from partaking too often. I should have taken a pic, but I got the flavor “Beantown Buzz” in a small-ish Oreo and fudge-dipped waffle cone. A lovely indulgence.

Then we drove about a mile down the road to Starbucks and visited my sister Emily at work… visions of this pretty lady (with a star on her head?) help me relax, for sure… oh, and my amazing sister!

Green tea + Classic

Now, I’m off to enjoy the evening with maybe definitely a margarita… it just goes perfectly with the weather! and some downtime with  my wonderful husband. Really, despite the stress, what more can a girl ask for?

Wellllllll…… mayyyyybe some of this… 😉

>Brief update

>Sorry, friends, as I’ve been MIA recently on the blogfront. I’ve been trying to catch up on what’s going on with everyone.

Aaron got in Thursday night to O’Hare, and we stayed up there for a couple nights at this hotel. It was great to get a couple of days where we could just be together and not worry about anything moving-related.

Since he’s been home, we’ve had a couple meals with his family and mine, been to church, and gotten most of the apartment ready for the move. The movers are coming Friday to pack everything up! It’s a little surreal.

We’ve also managed to do very well with eating. We’ve been out to eat only three times in the past five days, which for us is an accomplishment. We went to the store yesterday and got lots of fresh produce and meat to make meals for ourselves and also to contribute to the all-church picnic on Sunday and also Fourth of July with his family. (Scotcharoos anyone??)

We went out yesterday morning for an easy 3-miler, and today we went for a 3-mile hike at one of our favorite parks. For once on “vacation” I don’t feel like I’ve been overeating the whole time. It’s nice that we both love healthy food (though are tempted by goodies!) and that we love being active. We’re excited for all the outdoorsy things to do in El Paso when it’s not 107 degrees!

I picked up this book at Target last week.. it’s amazingly written and gives wonderful insight to what life is like for our soldiers.

>Not sure what’s out there…

>…for me in Texas, but it’s all gonna be happening prettttty soon.

Within a week I’ll have my husband back.

Two weeks from tomorrow the movers come.

Three weeks from yesterday we say goodbye to Illinois.

The stress of moving fell upon me last night after I got back from St. Louis. It was definitely a reality check. So, like I always do, I made a list of everything that needs to be done…

  • schedule appointment to repair rock chips in windshield (USAA will be billed directly for this! LOVE this insurance company/bank)
  • schedule oil change
  • call lodging and reserve a room at Bliss
  • get hair done (duh! essential before hubby arrives!)
  • get cash envelopes ready (we got most of our travel money advanced to us.. thank you random finance person in Korea for doing your job)
  • schedule vet appointment for Luthor
  • pack bag for Chicago next week
  • make list of food to take to Chicago (yes, “making list” is on my… list)

I normally don’t make posts like this, but I’m a little overwhelmed. I’ve emailed some properties in Texas, but I can’t schedule an appointment to see places until we’re down there. Who knows what will be available in three weeks’ time.

No idea where we’ll live… no idea where I’ll work… there are only a few certain things. Here’s another list…

  • We are indeed moving to Texas. Though I’ve heard of orders changing en route. Lord, spare me.
  • I will be with Aaron. Every night. For a long time. 
  • I will miss my friends.
  • I will miss my family.
  • I will miss my church family.
  • I will love the heat, seriously.
  • I will love getting settled in our new place and decorating it.
  • I will love our road trip… just us + kitteh. I love driving around with Aaron.

Things are already beginning to work out…

>The beginning of the goodbyes

>Tonight, my amazing [and tall] friend Megan hosted a little get-together after practice for the worship band.. kind of a going-away party. Megan made this ammmmaaazing ice cream pie with Oreos, ice cream, homemade fudge sauce, Spanish peanuts and Cool Whip (Oreo Orgy, anyone? Haha). She also made the first guacamole I ever liked. Leigh Ann, Pastor Rick’s wife, made this lovely strawberry pie with whole strawberries and real whipped cream. Kim, one of the vocalists, made hummus and brought rice crackers… I want the recipe!

I seriously love the members of the worship band… and I give a huge shout-out to them for all their hard work. We’ve really gelled as a band in the past few years, and I have been amazed at my own progress as a musician and vocalist. It’s so fun, too, when you are actually friends with people you play with… it makes it all worth it.

This Sunday was going to be my last on stage, but because of Aaron’s delay, next weekend (the 19th) will be my last. We then will be around for two more Sundays before heading to Texas.

I cried a little tonight.. I realized how much I mean to many people, and I know they’ll miss me. Sometimes I feel guilty because I’m not all that sad. And I don’t think I should be. At the same time, I have no idea of what it feels like to move more than 15 miles away from my hometown, and all my friends and family. It will be an interesting journey.

I’m looking forward to the dinners, movies, hanging out, runs, and bike rides before I leave. Late night talks, ice cream outings, lazing around the pool. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a great set of friends. Thanks, Faith, for being so amazing! I will miss all of you, but I know God has great plans for wherever we will go.

Leigh Ann told me that after Aaron’s out of the Army, we should come back and raise our family here and the church will be our home base for world missions. Tempting offer….

Amelia, Steve, Leigh Ann, Megan, myself, Terry, Joe, Andrew, Kim, Aaron, Patrick