Welcome to Another Year of Crazy

I had intended to write this before the new year rolled in, but here it is mid-January and I’m finally getting around to it. Last year was weird. I mean, there were some great things and some not so great things, as usually happens. But last year was particularly weird, and I feel the need to tell you about it!


Farewell from my Art Institute co-workers Jan. 2017.

In January, I quit my job at the Art Institute of Chicago to accept a job as the Educator at the Confederate Reunion Grounds State Historic Site in Mexia, Texas, a town of 7500 people. It sounds like an odd choice, but I saw it as a career opportunity. From my journal, January 11th, 2017: “God has blessed me with what I asked for (a job), but I’m sure he also has many things to teach me through this next season of my life.” Oh, how could I have known everything that was in store for me this year!


Mom and Dad visit for the Civil War reenactment, and my birthday April 2017.

By February I was moved down to Texas, started my new job, and was hit with a wave of culture shock! As I slowly settled in, I had my first visitors come to stay, and started to explore more of Texas, going to San Antonio, Nacogdoches, and College Station. In April I conquered my first major event at work, a Civil War reenactment and living history weekend, which Mom and Dad came down for. I also celebrated my 30th birthday with the lovely ladies from my Sunday School class at church, who have been such a blessing to me. In May, I wrote this in my journal: “I believe the Lord is leading me on a great journey, a big part of which was my rock-bottom days of last year, and my shifting attitudes, and my leap of faith to my new life here in Texas. And this Sunday school class has been a part of it too! To know that I keep failing because I try to do it all on my own! Now to learn what it is to abide in Christ.”

At the end of July, I had the awful and humiliating shock of being fired from my new job. Two days afterwards, I wrote this: “I can’t sum up what has happened this week, and I don’t even want to. I have been rudely and unfairly fired from my job, had all kinds of negative things said about me, and no one was willing to stick their neck out for me. I was doing a good job, and anyone I’ve heard from has said so. My boss just didn’t like me and was looking for reasons or opportunities to fire me. But WHY?”

In August I struggled with my new circumstances and started looking for another job, but also took time to get away. I went camping in the Texas hill country, and spent time on the beach at North Padre Island, only weeks before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. In fact, I traveled a ton. In September I went to London and Paris, and spent a week with my good friend Esme. In October my brother came down to visit, and we had fun spending time together and exploring Dallas and Waco. In November, I flew to Florida, to spend a week with my cousin Bonnie and her family, and got to spend some more time on the beach! Finally, I became “Aunt Rachel” on November 24th, when Brian and Jessica welcomed baby Fiona into the world. What a blessing!


Holding my adorable niece Fiona!

I went home for the Christmas holidays, and treasured seeing many friends and family. But the new year saw me packing up all my belongings (somewhat un-enthusiastically), and heading on another adventure. I’ve accepted a position as a Collections and Interpretation Intern for the Fort Bend History Association in Richmond, Texas, which includes the Fort Bend Museum, and the George Ranch Historical Park. While I’m still praying for a full-time job, this gives me a place to live, a new region to explore, and more museum experience to gain. Now, instead of 1000 miles from home, I am 1117 miles away! Not that it makes much of a difference (except in the weather – wheeee).

I was going to say something slightly cheesy about all the lessons I’ve learned in the past year, but I won’t, for two reasons. For one, it should go without saying that you learn more when things are hard than when things are easy. And two, I wouldn’t say the hard is nearly over – my unemployment benefits have just been revoked, and I discovered what it’s like to have all your pipes freeze in a south Texas ice storm! But this past year has made me far more resilient, and I’m sure that will serve me well in the future.


Checking out the new area at Brazos Bend State Park.

CouchSurfers Invade!


CouchSurfers Invade!

by Rachel Smith

The recent popularity of city invasions within the CouchSurfing community has been hard to miss. In fact, across the US and Europe there was at least one invasion every weekend this summer, oftentimes more. So what exactly is an invasion? According to the CS Wiki, it’s when CouchSurfers collectivelly decide upon a city to explore, and then plan on arriving there at the same time. “Generally, members from one city will contact members in another city and propose their intention to invade. Members from the city to be invaded then organize events that showcase things that are fun, interesting, or unique.”

XXXXXXXXXXXPhoto by  Joshua Smith

Though the term “invasion” may be relatively new, the idea is not. Major cities such as Paris and Vienna were some of the first cities to host invasions. This year’s second edition of Vienna Calling, which took place in June, was a five-day event that drew an estimated 400 people for a series of barbecues, workshops, parties and more. Paris’ fourth invasion, Paris Rendez-Vous, this July, had over 350 people subscribed. While these events have become traditions in the CouchSurfing community, many other invasions are popping up in other cities.

City invasions are ideal for CS communities that are trying to establish themselves on the map. The Detroit Couch Crash is one prime example of a city invasion that shows off the lively local culture and community. Having participated in the event’s two editions, Derek is an enthusiastic fan. “I never thought I would want to go to Detroit, love it so much, and want to go back every year.”

This year’s Detroit Couch Crash included a “Forgotten Detroit Track” — where participants visited abandoned buildings and passed out food to the homeless –, a photo contest, and trips to local thrift shops.

With its activity-packed weekend, the St. Louis Invasion didn’t stay far behind, and helped place this small city on the CS radar. “I knew that St. Louis would have a lot to offer for an invasion,” saidSarah, who first brought the idea to the city group, also known as Lou Crew. “I’ve been to several invasions myself: one in Chicago, one in Iowa City — which turned that sleepy little town into a mecca of fun –, and one in Krakow which blew me away.”

XXXXXXXXXXXPhoto by Michael Anderse

There’s always a new city being invaded. Washington DC’s 1st Couch Crash took place on Independence Day — could there be a better way to celebrate this North-American holiday? Kari Hatfield, who came from Baltimore for the Crash, said she “loved everything about it: the community, the camaraderie, and the events.” In the program were museum and monument tours, visits to some of DC’s most diverse and historic neighborhoods, and watching fireworks over the Washington Monument.

While most invasions aim to include an array of activities diverse enough to please all sorts of people, there’s a recent trend of invasions catering to specific interests. At the Slovenia Invasion for Motorbikers, CouchSurfers completed a heart-shaped route through the country, with an inevitable stop at the Motorcycle Museum on the way. And Glasgow’s Scottish Invasion focused on an art and music festival with plenty of Gaelic folk music and dancing.