On feeling beautiful at 40
April coffee date

Total solar eclipse and the border wall


Recently we drove for two long days to arrive in Austin in time to see the total solar eclipse on April 8. Originally I thought I'd do a recap post just about our experience traveling to and seeing the eclipse. But on the way home we drove along the border wall at the U.S.-Mexico border for many miles and I can't separate the two experiences, solar eclipse and border wall, and so I had to write about them both.

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On the road again

We were all road trip pros after our recent trip to California and overall the kids did amazing on the road. Our basic formula for road trip success seems to be: unlimited screen time, ample snacks and treats, and a fair number of roadside stops along the way.

On our drive I felt excited to be part of a migration of eclipse chasers. In the very small town of Van Horn, Texas all the hotel rooms were booked and I was thankful that I had booked ours three weeks before. When we checked in the woman said, "Eclipse?" And that all their rooms had been booked for the past week. At a roadside Sonic our food order took 20 minutes because it was so crowded with eclipse travelers.

A lesson we learned on this trip is that we might be a two hotel room family now. We brought Maeve's great little inflatable toddler bed with us so having enough sleeping space for everyone was not an issue with one room but having a break from each other was. One kiddo really needed that break at the end of our first driving day and we only had one hotel room. Learning our lesson, as soon as we got into Austin I booked a second room for our return trip through El Paso and that night was much better.

Another lesson: if you can afford the nicer hotel with the indoor pool do it. There's nothing better for energetic tween boys at the end of a long driving day than horsing around in a hotel pool.


Experiencing a total solar eclipse

I've had this eclipse trip penciled in our family calendar since my parents and cousin saw the solar eclipse in Nashville in 2017 and I'm so glad we made the trip.  On the day of the eclipse was the weather in Austin was...cloudy. Womp, womp. But we had been watching the weather and knew it would be. It was a bit of a bummer for sure to wait for so long for something and be at the mercy of the weather. But so it goes! I was ready to be happy with whatever eclipse experience we had.

There's a large field next to my parent's property so we set up chairs there to watch. We were joined by family and family friends and the atmosphere was fun and festive. Around 12:45 p.m. we drifted out to the field. We donned our eclipse glasses, looked up, and we could see the moon already moving in front of the sun!

As totality approached, sometimes the clouds would be too thick to see the sun. Because it was so cloudy we didn't get a sunset or the cool shadows that can accompany an eclipse. But we noticed the light fading and the temperature cooling slightly. The changes seemed to happen in small stair steps. All of a sudden we'd turn to each other to say, "It just got darker! Did you see?!"

At the moment of totality the clouds were parted and we could take off our glasses to see the moon almost completely blocking out the sun, except for the flaring corona at the edges. It was wild to see, like something out of science fiction. It also got so dark! The automatic lights on my parents' house came on and I remember looking up the street to see a FedEx truck driving down the street, in the middle of the day, with its headlights on.I couldn't help but exclaim, "Wow! Wow!" At totality I meant to listen to see if I could hear a difference in fewer birds and insect chirping but I forgot to listen.

And then as soon as totality was happening it was fading as the moon continued to move across the sun. We noticed the light getting stronger and soon the clouds moved in so that we weren't able to see the sun any more. What I remember feeling is that I just wanted it all to last longer. I wanted to linger in that rare event with celestial bodies and forces that are nearly beyond what I can fully grasp. I love experiencing natural phenomena that remind me of how powerful and mysterious nature is. They are truly awe-inspiring and I wanted to stay for longer.


The rest of our Austin trip

We had not visited Austin since October of 2022 and I'm so glad that the eclipse prompted us to make a trip. Being at my parents' house is always really grounding for me because it's where I grew up and I feel a deep connection to the house, yard, and surrounding area.

We were only in town for three full days and so kept plans simple and just with family. Plus, the day after the eclipse was Dash's 11th birthday! My sister now lives on the same street as my parents and so we had lots of quality family and cousin time. The cousins are so cute and sweet together and I really loved spending the time with my niece and nephew. Big hits with the cousins were a sand pile my dad recently built, playing backyard baseball, a tree swing, and for the four year old cousins, riding their scooters up and down the street.

For Dash's birthday we enjoyed breakfast tacos, Amy's ice cream, and took the boys to play pool. One morning Chris and I had a coffee + breakfast taco date at Drifter's, a new place near my parents'. On our last day we ducked out for a lunch date at Launderette in East Austin, which has become a go-to date spot for us. Austin has changed so much since I moved away in 2006 (wow that was a long time ago now!) and so I feel really out of touch with the restaurant scene. But we have a few favorites like Launderette for a nice meal, Bouldin Creek for great vegetarian fare, and of course Thundercloud for subs and Magnolia Cafe forever (not an exhaustive list of Austin favorites but just a few top-of-mind faves).

I also managed to go to HEB everyday which I count as a win. I love the Texas-only HEB grocery stores and have fond memories of going with my mom while I was growing up. So I love to visit my childhood HEB and also a newer, giant one also near my parent's house. Their store brand is so fantastic and while I'm partial to the smaller size of Trader Joe's generally for grocery stores I'll make an exception for HEB.


Heading home

And then, after three full days, it was time to hit the road again! We fit in a lot and honestly three days of parenting out of our routine felt just about right at these ages (or maybe it's just for age 4).

On our way home, while the kids were happily immersed in their screens, Chris and I queued up the audiobook How Not to Diet and really enjoyed listening to it all the way home. It's over 24 hours (!!) so it's a perfect book for a road trip. Chris and I don't often overlap in taste for books but we found that we can agree on research-backed health nonfiction (we're so fun haha). Even though we're already very steeped in health and nutrition info (this is Chris's area of expertise and teaching as a professor) we still both learned interesting things and came home very motivated to eat even more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.


Along the border

On our second day, from El Paso to home, our route directed us to save time by foregoing the I-10 for less busy highways. This is how we ended up driving along the U.S.-Mexico border for many miles in New Mexico. The recently built giant, metal wall the separates our countries was visible as a continuous brown line bisecting desert. We pointed it out to the boys and gave a brief lecture about why there is a wall and why it's more complicated than just a steel structure that is 30 feet high. At border checkpoints going into and out of Texas we pulled up to a border patrol agent armed to the teeth and verbally confirmed that we are all U.S. citizens. And even though we all are we still found the experience mildly rattling. When an armed guard asks you to confirm something, you can't help but wonder, "But what if I wasn't?"

It's a route I wouldn't take again, because of how remote it was which was sometimes a bit unsettling and also just inconvenient because there were many fewer gas stations for bathroom breaks. But Chris and I both said we were glad we had the experience. Immigration is a complex, challenging, and emotional issue facing our country, and one that I care a lot about. There are no easy solutions. I thought about the memoir Solito, about one boy’s harrowing two-month journey across the border as a nine-year-old in the care of a coyote whom he had never met before.

I came away from our drive appreciating having had a tangible experience, even if ever so brief and surface-level, of immigration to the U.S. and the border wall.


Seeing the eclipse was exciting, eerie, fascinating, and joyful. I felt a deep connection with the natural world and with everyone else experiencing the eclipse. Then on the way home we witnessed a stark physical expression of separation. I keep thinking of these two things together, eclipse and border wall. Bringing people together, and building walls. The power of our natural world, and the power of humans and how we wield that power.


Friends, did you see the solar eclipse on April 8? If so, I'd love to hear about your experience? And if you live near the U.S.-Mexico border or have seen the wall I'd be curious to hear about that experience as well.