Saturday, October 16, 2010

Move to Memphis

Not ones to pass up a road trip, we looked upon our cross-country move as a great opportunity to see some places we'd never seen before.  We've already made the drive between the Northwest and Midwest twice and so opted to take a completely different route this time.  I-80 from Nebraska?  Check.  I-70 through Kansas?  Done and done.  I-90 across South Dakota?  Let's do it.

Fortunately, this road trip was much less eventful than last time.  No U-Haul malfunctions or major delays.  In fact, since all of our household goods were already en route on a tractor trailer, we traveled relatively light, although Jon did get a cargo box for his car.

As it usually does, cleaning took much longer than expected, so we got a pretty late start on a Thursday night.  And due to some work obligations, we had to alter our route slightly, which unfortunately meant we wouldn't be able to visit friends along the way like we had anticipated.  But, our condo was empty and the carpets freshly steamed, so despite the fact that it was after 11pm, we said our final good-byes to DuPont and hit the road.

We only made it as far as the Snoqualmie mountain pass, but it was important for us to leave when we did.  The next morning we motored through eastern Washington, stopping in beautiful Coeur d'Alene, Idaho for lunch.

We stayed a bit longer than intended in Idaho, so when we arrived in Missoula, Montana for dinner, we decided to quit driving for the night and get an early start the next day.  Driving at night after driving all day is such a strain, and even though I thought we needed to get a little bit farther, I'm glad we stopped when we did.  I was not glad at 5am when we woke up, but overall it proved to be a good choice.

It was essential to start so early on Saturday because we had some ambitious driving goals.  Even though we knew we no longer had as much time to get to Memphis, it was still extremely important for us to get to North Dakota.  Neither of us had ever been there before and couldn't foresee another time we would be within striking distance.  No offense to anyone with connections to North Dakota, but it certainly didn't rank very high on our list of vacation spots.

I feel like I've alluded to (or outright mentioned) this before, but Jon and I have a goal of traveling to each of the 50 states.  We're at approximately 36, each with a couple the other hasn't hit.  At any rate, because of this aspiration, we were going to get North Dakota, gosh darn it, even if it meant driving 12 hours in one day.  Which we did.  The road got awfully long and lonely once we exited from I-90.  We chose to pick off North Dakota with the least possible deviation from the straightest route, but that meant we were on a state highway.

We've driven enough to encounter our fair share of road construction, but North Dakota's take on it was a bit different.  Usually at least one lane is left for drivers to traverse.  Not so on this highway.  The entire thing had been dug up and was being re-done from scratch.  And we could still drive on it.  So, there we were (new manual transmission driver behind the wheel, no less) following a pilot car and a Buick through an active construction site.  I think that qualifies as something significant enough to be able to check North Dakota off the list once and for all.

So, where did the pavement begin?
Once we survived North Dakota, we knew we were in for a whole lot of South Dakota.  This was where the vacation part of our trip kicked in.  We were treated to some fantastic military discounts at hotels (because it took more than one day to make it across) and visited some locations that should be on Americans' list of places to see.  We hadn't really given much thought to all South Dakota has to offer, but they certainly won't let you forget once you arrive; their statewide PR is...persistent.

We caught our first glimpse of the Black Hills once we crossed the border and vowed to visit the Mount Rushmore National Memorial first thing Sunday morning.  Just the little bit of history we absorbed in the visitors center made the mountain even more impressive. 

Next on the list were the Badlands, a national park we were encouraged not to skip.  However, on the way there, we kept seeing billboard after billboard for the world-famous Wall we had to pull off the highway.  Cheesy and genius all wrapped up in one, I'm glad we stopped, if only for making the "license plate game" that much easier.

The origin of the name "Badlands" is about as obvious as it gets.  The land is literally bad land.  Bad for farming, bad for traveling, bad for living...but awesome to visit.  It was breathtaking and really puts things into perspective.  The erosion that created the land patterns occurred over thousands of years and is still going on.

We had a lot of ground to cover and time to make up so the rest of South Dakota went by in a blur.  We did have one more stop to make, much to Jon's chagrin.  My college roommate first clued me in about the Corn Palace of Mitchell, South Dakota.  Imagine the "corniest" (pun intended) tourist attraction in the world, and you've got it.  Unfortunately--or maybe fortunately--it was closed for the day, but we did get some fun photos of the outside.

On Monday, we were back in familiar country for me.  We were able to stop for some of my grandpa's homemade apple pie in Nebraska before heading into Missouri.  I felt incredibly guilty driving past Kansas City and not stopping, but justified it because we had just entertained my family the previous weekend.  Night fell by the time we hit Springfield, leaving just a short half-day's drive into Memphis.  And once we cut across Arkansas and started to see cotton fields, we knew we had arrived at our new home. 


Battle in Seattle

I know that by writing this post, I jeopardize the fragile equilibrium which will remain in our marriage until the end of the college football season.  But frankly, I don't care for two reasons:  1) I had been looking forward to Nebraska playing Washington in Seattle since I first heard about the game several years ago, and 2) Jon barely writes on this blog anymore, so he can't complain.

For those of you unaware of the very important event that took place on Saturday, September 18, 2010, allow me to enlighten you.  The Nebraska Cornhuskers descended on the Pacific Northwest to crush the Washington Huskies by a score of 56-21.  This game had been on my calendar--and that of thousands of other Husker fans--for quite some time and it made my heart swell with pride to see so much red in Husky Stadium.

And it wasn't just red at the stadium.  While we were waiting at the airport for my brother, sister-in-law, and niece, we saw throngs of Nebraska fans.  (Jon thought it was pretty indicative of what was going to happen in the game when they all kept going the wrong direction for the baggage claim.  It wasn't.  The Huskers found the endzone just fine, thank you very much.)  There were even more touring downtown Seattle on Friday.  Pike Place Market was full of fans...and the vendors knew it.

What you must understand about Nebraska fans is that they are devoted with a capital "D" (which would make it "Devoted," I suppose).  They also don't have any other teams to root for, at least on such a large scale.  But even those fans who have moved away to areas with big-market sports are incredibly loyal, resulting in alumni and friend groups across the country.  I even saw some fans with "Carolinans for Nebraska" t-shirts, which was surprising since Seattle is just about as far as you can get from Carolina, even farther than Lincoln.

So, with that being said, it should come as no surprise that a lot of families plan vacations around away games--Husker fans travel extremely well.  It may be tough to swallow for the home team to have that many opposing fans in their stadium on game day, but like Jon said, "Despite the outcome of the game, Seattle wins.  Big."  In fact, when my mom and I were scrambling to get into the stadium before kick-off, a very kind Washington fan welcomed us, wished us luck...and then urged us to spend lots of money.

But the best part of the event for me--even more than the Huskers' domination on the football field--was having my family come out to visit.  For a variety of reasons, no one in my immediate family (with the exception of my mom) was able to make the trip to the Pacific Northwest until this game.  The fact that it occurred about a week before we moved away was a bit ironic, but we still had an awesome time.  It was so much fun showing everyone around, and we felt honored that our niece's first plane trip was to visit her aunt and uncle. 

Jon is a top-notch tour guide, so everyone was in excellent hands, and it was a good opportunity for Jon and I to do a lot of "Northwest things" before the move, like grilling fresh salmon on a cedar plank, going for a walk to the beach, touring Seattle, eating mini-donuts and piroshky at Pike Place Market, watching a Mariners game, hitting up "the Ave." (University Avenue), devouring a Red Mill burger, enjoying a Dick's Drive-In milkshake...  Are you surprised that we've vowed to cut back a bit on our food indulgences, participating in what we've dubbed "Memphis Detox"?!?

All in all, a great time was had by everyone (well, Jon didn't exactly enjoy the game).  Next year, the Huskies travel to Lincoln for a re-match.  Jon has already scorned my grandpa's season tickets and vows to sit in the visitors' section...which begs the question, will there even be a visitors' section?

September to Remember

So that's it.  We have officially left the Northwest.  But before we did, we had quite the September.  Surely you've heard the cliche "going out with a bang."  Well, we did.  And then some.  I could expound on each of the really cool things we did all month, but in order to get a complete picture of our awesomeness/insanity, I'll treat this post as a month-in-review.

September 1:   Trivia night at the Harmon

September 2:   Tacoma Rainiers vs. Colorado Springs Sky Sox

September 3:   Going-Away Extravaganza at our abode

September 4:   Bumbershoot with Bob Dylan

Even though we had a hard time understanding what he was saying half the time, it was still incredible to see a legend in concert
September 5:   Family wedding in Eugene, Oregon

September 6:   Road trip to California

Mount Shasta
September 7:   Wine tasting in Sonoma

September 8:   Visit to friend in Davis, California
September 9:   California Gold Rush Museum and Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Sutter Mill (replica), where gold was first found in 1848

Lake Tahoe (great excuse to check Nevada off our list of states to visit)
September 10: Return to Washington, Seabrook beach house with family

September 11: Pacific Beach Kite Festival

September 12: Ocean Shores Interpretive Center

September 13: Final Book Club

September 14: *deep breath*

Battle in Seattle
September 15: Trivia at the Harmon, pick up family at the airport
September 16: Olympia Farmers Market and Chambers Bay Golf Course

With the exception of the rice--which came out of a box--everything we had for dinner was fresh from the market

The new pedestrian bridge at Chambers Bay which connects the golf course/trail to the beach
September 17: Tour of Seattle, pick up more family at the airport, Seattle Mariners vs. Texas Rangers

We witnessed Felix Hernanadez pitch a no-hitter into the 8th inning
 September 18: Battle in Seattle (more to come in a subsequent post)

September 19: Family returns to Midwest, get organized for packers

September 20: Packers
September 21: Errands
September 22: Movers
September 23: Cleaning and more cleaning, leave for Memphis

And then we had a 4 1/2 day road trip to Memphis.  I'm exhausted just re-reading it...but oh-so-glad we took advantage of all our opportunities to hang out with friends and family and do some pretty darn cool things.  I'm looking forward to a bit of a break, but at the same time wondering "What do we do next?"

Grand Experiment in Urban Living

We had a goal.  Go down to Memphis (for the first time ever) and in three days, find a place to live.  Success!

Jon did an excellent job of researching the Memphis-area, both from Afghanistan and Washington.  I admittedly did not do much, but I figured that since Jon was already hard at work and doing a much better job than I would have, I stepped back.  It wasn't until we arrived in the "Land of the Delta Blues," however, that we really figured things out.

We started to get a feel for the city immediately after disembarking from the plane.  And by feel, I mean sweat.  Despite spending all but the past three years of my life in the Midwest, I am not used to humidity any more.  These wimpy Northwest summers are spoiling me.  But we'll be in the thick of it (literally) soon, so it was probably good to begin the re-acclimation process.  Fortunately, it was much cooler than it had been, so we didn't have to suffer through anything hotter than the low 90s.

All along, we knew we wanted to live in the city, near Jon's work (and hopefully mine if I can get a job).  We will only be in the area for a short time, and since we don't have kids or pets, we weren't concerned with the school system or having a big backyard.  A suburban girl through and through, I have never lived in an actual city before, so I'm pretty excited about the change.  Jon lived in Seattle during college and really enjoyed it, so using that experience as a guide, began looking into the outer neighborhoods in Memphis and had some areas picked out.

Naively,  we opted not to rent a car, figuring we could navigate with public transportation.  The trolley and bus systems are fairly good...but not that good.  We started our apartment-hunting expedition in earnest by trekking out to an area called Mud Island.  On a map, it's not that far away from where we were staying.  On foot, in 90-degree heat, it was quite the hike.  I'm a fairly good sport most of the time, but I was not happy to discover that our directions got mixed up and the place we were supposed to be looking at was actually another half-mile away.  Jon wisely called a cab to take us to our next location.

Mud Island is nice, but it is very similar to the area we live in currently, so we kept on looking.  Our next destination was Midtown.  Jon read somewhere that "Memphis is Midtown," so both of us were thinking that this was it.  However, Midtown was much too spread out to tackle on foot (although believe me, we tried), and we are really eager to find somewhere walkable. 

On a bit of a whim, we took a look at a couple of places in the downtown area.  The city--specifically the police force--has done a lot over the past couple of years to clean up Memphis' reputation, and from what we could tell (over the course of a short three days), they are doing a good job.  Memphis is not an imposing city at all.  We felt comfortable and safe and with a dilemma.  Not only did we find one apartment we could see ourselves in but two.  Our list of positives for both places continued to grow and included things like, next to a minor league baseball stadium, above an operating train station, view of the Mississippi River, military discount.  Tough decision to make. 

But Jon is relentless.  After two full days of searching, I was tired and crawled into bed with a book.  Jon continued to dig up all the information he could find and even found one more place to check out so we would feel confident about making our final decision.  On our last day in Memphis, we headed out to what I will call "Apartment #1."  Ten seconds after walking in the door of the leasing office, we learned that the apartment we had looked at the day before had been rented.  In my mind, that was problem solved.  We'd head to "Apartment #2" and then have the rest of the day to ourselves.

Yet Jon convinced me to check out "Secret Apartment #3."  As we were looking at the front of the building, the construction supervisor came out and offered to show us the inside.  We were pretty much hooked.  The building is over 100 years old, yet has just been renovated.  It's absolutely beautiful with exposed brick, huge windows, and a rooftop garden.  The trolley line travels right down the street and Jon will be able to walk to work if he wants to.  We hemmed and hawed a little bit over lunch and went back to the building to walk through with the realtor, but I think in the back of both of our minds, we knew where we wanted to live.  We got the application filled out for "Apartment #3" just minutes before the office closed and mere hours before we left the city.

We just signed the lease this morning, so start making plans to visit beginning in October.

*So, clearly this post is dated as it is already October and we've already moved.  But I spent valuable time writing, so I'm posting it anyway.  Thanks for reading!

Military INdependent

Even though we take great pains to avoid posting too much personal information, I'm confident most of the readers of this blog are aware (especially after Jon's recent analysis of Afghanistan) that I am married to the military.  Being in the military comes with a tremendous amount of benefits to balance the significant hardships that our service members face.  But this blog post isn't about them.  It's about me.  Or rather that group commonly known in military circles as "dependents."

I cringe every time I hear that term because out of all the military spouses I know, very few of them are what one would typically refer to as dependent.  In fact, they are the most independent group of people I know, more than capable of taking care of themselves (and often children as well).  Separations are a part of life for the military community, leaving throngs of single parents and "geo-bachelors/bachelorettes" in their wake.  I have friends who have juggled work and school, managed the schedules of multiple children, planned international travel, relocated to another state, taken care of tumor-ridden rats, and even given birth, all while their spouses were deployed.  I don't think a dependent person could have handled any of those things.

While I didn't face anything nearly so daunting during Jon's last trip to the desert, I experienced my fair share of challenges.  And honestly, I had my fair share of fun as well.  In my quest to keep myself busy, I had a pretty adventurous couple of months.  I even created a list of things to do while Jon was gone, which featured such gems as eat mushrooms, watch movie musicals, look at flowers in Victoria, tap dance in a recital, and drive a stick shift.  Yes, you caught the last one correctly; I learned how to drive Jon's car, which has a manual transmission.

Jon has attempted on multiple occasions to teach me to drive his car.  Rarely did the lessons leave the parking lot and when they did, Jon had to motion to the vehicle that pulled up behind me to go around because my "performance anxiety" caused me to kill the car at the most inopportune times.  Truth be told, I was not the best student.  I didn't practice enough and I didn't handle Jon's instructions (which I perceived to be criticisms) well.  I was just too emotionally involved.  But after the third or fourth time of having to wake Jon up on his day off to move his car because he had parked me in, I vowed that I would learn.  I just didn't tell him that when he grumbled his way out of bed.

I figured I would do better with a different teacher and actually contemplated going to a driving school.  But then I remembered that I'm cheap and asked some friends to help.  Paying for pizza was certainly a lot more affordable than professional lessons.  So, my good friends and I headed out on a Sunday afternoon and took several spins around the middle school parking lot.  I remembered more than I thought, so my teachers directed me out to an actual street.  With other cars.  And hills.  Those two things came together quicker than expected as I found myself at a stop sign at the top of a (small) hill.  Both hands gripped tightly on the steering wheel, I started to get nervous when a car pulled up behind me.  But I successfully made the turn without killing the car or freaking out, which prompted one of my teachers to proclaim, "Now you know how to drive a stick shift" (or something along those lines).

That vote of confidence did wonders for me.  I continued to take Jon's car out on brief errands around town with the goal of picking him up at the airport when he returned.  And because I like surprises so much, I kept the entire thing a secret, made only slightly more difficult when Jon informed me that he had reduced his car insurance since the car wasn't being driven (I managed to turn it back on).

The day finally came to meet Jon at the airport, and on top of all the normal nervous anxiety caused by his return, I had to drive a manual transmission approximately 35 the tail-end of rush hour traffic.  But it was all worth it.  Jon was so surprised that his first comment on seeing his car instead of mine was, "So, I have to drive home, too?"  I think he was pretty impressed when I slid behind the wheel instead.

So, yes, I get the slightest bit annoyed when referred to as a dependent.  When I told Jon what I had decided to call myself instead, he thought it was a much more accurate description.  In fact, he thinks I should start a whole new blog on just this topic.  Apparently the domain name is still available...

Dispatch from Afghanistan

The Kandahar summer is hot - over 100 degrees most days, but it is tolerable once 
you get used to sweating constantly.

My unit is part of a construction battalion. We have been busy building base 
camps and checkpoints all over southern Afghanistan. It is exciting 
but tiring work.

The country is poor - in money, and in land. It takes a lot of arduous 
labor to coax crops from the dry land. Years of poor farming practices 
and overgrazing have eroded the soil to desert.

The people are poor but resilient. Only the hardiest survive in this 
climate, through decades of war and generations of poverty. Tali-ban 
literally means one who is on a journey, but the vast majority of the 
country are just concerned with surviving, and improving conditions 
for their children. Once one can get past the cultural diferences, it 
is easy to see that people are the same here as they are anywhere. 
Childen still laugh and play; they have yet to learn to hate and kill. 
Women buy groceries, albiet with their face and body veiled, and men 
work fields.

Violence is born out of desperation, a sense that there is no 
alternative, no peaceful way to affect change. There is no forum for 
public discourse -- no way to voice a dissenting opinion without dire 
consequences. The modern world of mobility and global communication 
has disrupted millenium-old tribal traditions. Women wearing burkas 
living in mud homes may now use cell phones. A day-long trip into town 
now takes an hour thanks to a second-hand motorcycle.

I think a big source of unrest here and in other developing nations is 
this rapid change. Western states made this rocky transition over the 
course of two centuries, countless wars and much social upheaval that 
finished before most of us were born; Afghanistan will come crashing 
into the modern world in a quarter of that time. It is not unexpected 
that they would have trouble with the transition. Each generation will 
be better adjusted than the last, but progress will likely lag behind 
the developed world for the foreseeable future.

I pray everyday for the safety of my soldiers, that they return to 
their families with ten fingers, ten toes and all their wits. I also 
pray for the future of Afghanistan. I pray the people of this storied 
nation find peace with each other and find their way into the global 
community. I pray that the violence ends and people can cease living 
in fear. 

I thank everyone for their support while I was in Afghanistan. Notes from home really mean a lot when one is stationed halfway around the world. Now, we are on to Memphis, Tenn., for new challenges and new adventures. Hope to see you here!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Literary Mecca

Next up in the "Kristin's Favorite Things Queue" is a place that needs little to no introduction (if you've been there, of course): Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. Powell's is the world's largest independent new and used bookseller. It pretty much lives up to its reputation.

Jon wisely brought me here on our first trip to Portland several years ago. We walked in the door, I wiped the drool from my chin, and we dispersed to our respective interests...for 3 hours.

Powell's is so large that it encompasses an entire city block and is three stories high. There are maps at the door to help you navigate through the color-coded genres. I spend the majority of my time in the bargain book section and the blue room (fiction). I also buzz through the rose room (children and young adult), while Jon prefers...well, I don't know what Jon prefers as I don't see him until we reconvene at the cash register with our treasures.

I have a weakness for used books. I tried to cut myself off a couple of months ago by deciding not to buy any more books until I read the ones already on my shelf. And then I saw a sign for a library book sale. How could I pass up $3 for all the paperbacks you can fit in a grocery bag?!? So, needless to say, when we went to Portland a couple of weeks ago, I was finished before I even began. It's a good thing I picked up a new (IKEA) bookshelf this spring.

Shakespeare in the Park

This post will be the first of a series of at least two describing my favorite things. Woo hoo, get excited. One of my all-time favorite things about summer is Shakespeare in the Park. I was first introduced to SitP by a beloved high school English teacher (no, not me) and was instantly hooked. The Heart of America Shakespeare Company puts on a fantastic production in Kansas City's Southmoreland Park. Elaborate settings and costumes, lighting, and sound enhance the incredible perfomances by a professional troupe of actors. Best of all, it's absolutely free. (It helps to make a nominal donation at the door so that the men-in-tights don't harrass you throughout the evening, though.) I, along with a couple dedicated friends, attended faithfully each summer. Sometimes we dragged others along, and once I even convinced a few students to meet me (but were unfortunately foiled by a classic Midwest thunderstorm). So, maybe we didn't always understand some of the lesser-known plays, but we always had a good time. Plus, the people-watching is fantastic. SitP attracts an interesting crowd, ranging from mature adults to families with small children to adolescents. A self-proclaimed "professional people-watcher," I often try to guess people's life stories; that's the writer in me, I suppose. One way that we have categorized the SitP audience is by what kind of food they brought. For our first show, we brought teenage snacks: Soft Batch cookies, microwave popcorn (already popped, of course), Twizzlers, etc. Total amateurs. Looking around, we observed other people similar in snack status, but also had our first glimpse of the "wine and cheese people." These people are the ones with the mini table and low-backed chairs, plastic wine glasses, fancy (re: smelly) cheese, exotic deli meats, and elaborate summer salads usually involving olive oil and balsamic vinegar from the specialty market. Beyond these delicacies however, this crowd exudes a particular sense of self-confidence. They're the ones who laugh at all the humorous lines, making you feel kind of stupid because you don't get what's so funny. Summer after summer we watched the "wine and cheese people," one day aspiring to be them. We had to wait several years, of course, to actually be able to drink wine, but we did slowly increase in sophistication. We steadily went from Twizzlers to fresh strawberries until the day we finally broke the wine barrier. Mini bottles with screw-off lids, but wine is wine. When I moved out west, I figured Seattle would also do some type of outdoor theater and I was not disappointed. Seattle's version of SitP is a little bit different from Kansas City's. There are a couple of options for SitP: Green Stage and the Seattle Shakespeare Company's Wooden O productions. Both companies perform in multiple outdoor venues, which means that the sets are much simpler and the crowds are slightly smaller. But Shakespeare is Shakespeare, and I've been treated to great performances both times I've been able to attend.

2008 production of Hamlet in Woodland Park

And in our own special way, Jon and I became "wine and cheese people." We did disguise our wine by putting it into a plastic water bottle, but that was mostly because we figured we'd spill and/or break a glass one. But we did hit up the specialty market before the show and picked up fancy meat and cheese. Now that's classy. This summer, I convinced a motley crew to join me for the final show of the season. Even though our view was pretty obstructed, it was still pretty neat to watch a play I read with my seniors this fall. We didn't quite attain "wine and cheese" status (I was so enthralled that I didn't even open the bottle), but still had a lovely afternoon.
2010 production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Seattle Center
The "wine and cheese people" we aspire to be

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bu Reunion, Chicago-Style

Despite our lofty intentions of reuniting again in Germany or on an African safari, the latest installment of the Bu Reunion was held in the good-old Midwest. (See last summer's Dirrrrrty Denver post: for additional details on Bu Reunions.) As one of the Bu Bees gave birth to an adorable little boy two months ago, we decided to travel to her. We spent a couple of days in South Bend, Indiana. We toured the Notre Dame campus, but really we spent the majority of time reminiscing about those five magical months in Bamberg, Germany. In fact, we've watched the video created by our "historian" so many times that it will no longer play in a conventional DVD player. Fortunately, we have the whole thing memorized. This year's reunion had a different feel/tone/pace from past reunions, marked by the accompaniment of the group's first "Bu Baby." For instance, "Team Pinot" engagements were scheduled around feedings and the art of bouncing the baby to sleep was perfected by all. (Who knew there were so many uses for giant exercise balls?) After our initial rendezvous in South Bend, we loaded up the car and headed over to Chicago. As we all have been to Chicago at various times in our lives, we were most content to enjoy each others' company. That is not to say that we didn't take in some essential tourist stops, however. Once we had checked into our hotel--and checked for a diaper change--we noshed (I've never actually used that word before, let me know if it works) on an obligatory deep-dish Chicago-style pizza. Totally stuffed, our next destination was Navy Pier. Kudos to our hostess who navigated the busy streets of Chicago in search of decently-priced parking (unfortunately, we never found any). Never having been to Navy Pier as my last trip to Chicago occurred in January--what were we thinking?--I was impressed by the views of the city skyline and Lake Michigan.

Seeing as how all of us are equally laid-back and indecisive, it took a while for us to figure out what to do the following day. We finally settled on the Lincoln Park Zoo...primarily because admission is free. I guess we were thinking kid-friendly as well, although how much is a two-month-old going to get out of a trip to the zoo?!? At any rate, we had a nice time, despite the heat and humidity. In all actuality, it wasn't that hot; I doubt temperatures even reached the 90s. However, my three summers in the Pacific Northwest have completely obliterated my tolerance for humidity. Needless to say, I was as uncomfortable with all the moistness as this rhino. We found it necessary to cool off with some lunch and then trekked down Michigan Avenue for a little shopping. And I do mean little. We were really only looking for one store: H&M. Some members of our group fell in love with this store--and its affordable prices--in Europe, so in our quest to find it, we hiked down the crowded street. Since the baby needed some cuddle time, I found myself pushing an empty stroller for most of the walk. I quickly learned that people will move out of your way if they think you have a baby in there, so I used it to my advantage. We got held up a little half-way to our destination when we saw crowds of people looking across the Chicago River; we deduced from the yell0w t-shirt-clad workers that we were passing the film set for Transformers 3. We closed out our Chicago experience by taking in a (free) concert in Grant Park. The Chicago Symphony was playing pieces that corresponded to sequences from the Discovery Channel's award-winning (I think) Planet Earth series. The music was incredible; at times we forgot we were listening to live music. The coolest thing about it, however, was that our hostess' brother moonlights with the Chicago Symphony while on summer hiatus from the Louisville Symphony.

As usual, we began planning our next reunion before this one was even concluded. We also began making plans for the movie version of the best-selling book we are going to write about our German adventures. So, the next time you hear about the Bu Bees, we might be in print or on the big screen.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Track Stars

As mentioned in a previous post, my mom recently visited the Northwest. Her week and a half-long trip stretched over the 4th of July weekend, but initially I had no idea how to celebrate the holiday. When some good friends mentioned a prospective trip to Eugene, Oregon for the Prefontaine Classic track meet, I jumped at the chance to tag along. Mom was up for anything, so we claimed the back seat of the Subaru for the four-hour drive to Eugene. None of the group had ever been to Eugene before, so it was an adventure for all. We arrived a bit earlier than expected, so we quickly buzzed around the University of Oregon grounds. There was definitely a small college town feel, but we were surprised to learn that there are well over 100,000 people. I am pretty sure that out of those 100,000+, at least 95% of them are runners. Steve Prefontaine, Nike, and the stand-out Oregon track teams put Eugene on the map as "Track Town, USA," a title that, as far as I can tell, is certainly deserved. We were dodging runners left and right; in fact, on the morning we left town, a race sped past the house we rented. Rather than stay in a hotel, our friends found a house to rent in a neighborhood fairly close to the university. The house was cute and very clean. The proprietor was, thorough in her "house rules." So specific that as we were cleaning up prior to our departure, she requested that we re-start the washer and add bleach (which was NOT in the original instructions, for the record). But she was also very helpful and willing to share several suggestions on things to do and places to eat (even though her recommendations didn't quite pan out the majority of the time). The neighbors were also very friendly. In fact, we were even invited to the keg party they were hosting...complete with live band. How thoughtful. Like the last trip we took, we once again adopted the "WWJD?" ("What would Jon do?") motto...meaning that we hit up the first brewery we could find. We weren't disappointed. The beer was good and the company even better. We engaged in one of my all-time favorite activities: the "let's-talk-about-Bamberg" game. I could pretty much do that all day (and I only lived there for five months). But the whole reason we even went to Eugene was the Prefontaine Classic. I'm pretty sure my mom had no aspirations of watching a track meet after I graduated high school, but she was a good sport about it. Speaking of good sports, the three-hour meet (they didn't do all the events of a traditional meet) flew by with one world-class athlete after another. So much was going on that it was hard to focus. I especially enjoyed watching the steeplechase, javelin, and pole vault (which was directly in front of us). But the highlight occurred when the runners of the Men's 5000 Meter race were announced. One of these runners was none other than Lee's Summit's Matt Tegenkamp. I remember seeing him dominate at countless high school meets; it was sort of surreal to see him compete professionally.

Tegenkamp is the tall white guy in the middle.

We were pretty tired from our strenuous spectating, so we passed the afternoon and evening fairly uneventfully. We hit up another brewery, but that should come as no surprise. Our relaxing weekend in Oregon came to a close on our nation's birthday, so we headed back north and celebrated in true American fashion by having a barbecue.

Out of the many options we had to view fireworks, we opted for the nearby coastal town of Steilacoom. Immediately upon our arrival, we realized how bad we were at watching fireworks. Grossly unprepared, we had no snacks, beverages, or games to occupy the hour and a half we would have to wait. Maybe next year.

We did remember to grab blankets, which was fortunate because it had grown quite chilly by that time. Naturally, we thought hot chocolate sounded good, so a few of us walked a couple of blocks to a coffee shop of sorts. We really can't complain because we did it to ourselves, but we literally waited an hour in line, only to get in on the very last gallon of milk. The espresso machine ran out of steam (which baffles the mind because I thought steam was just hot water), so really, we drank "warm chocolate." Regardless, we made in back just in time for a pretty spectacular show over Puget Sound. Not only were we able to see Steilacoom's fireworks, but we were also treated to several other displays in the area.

All in all, a pretty good way to enjoy the 4th of July weekend.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Travel Ninja

I had the distinct pleasure of hosting my mom for a week and a half during her "summer vacation." (I think she just wanted me to stop whining about the fact that no one comes to visit.) Even though I was fully aware that she had no expectations beyond relaxing at the condo, going shopping, and getting a pedicure (all of which we did), I still felt as though I needed to be the trip planner and tour guide extraordinaire. With that lofty title came more responsibility than I was expecting. I have become a very complacent traveler, content to let Jon take the lead. I'm a good-natured follower, so it works out, but that leaves me feeling ill at ease when I'm the one in charge. However, I viewed my mom's visit as an opportunity to go outside my comfort zone. I would take the lead and plan a trip to Victoria, British Columbia. I had heard from several people that Victoria is a beautiful place to visit...even if it is a "blue-haired trip" where you look at flowers all day long. Jon went there when he was younger, so Victoria was not high on his list of places to go. So, I figured that would be a great place to take my mom. Jon wouldn't be missing anything, and my mom and I could have a relaxing trip spent looking at flowers. In addition, the trip sounded feasible for me to organize--based on the incredible marketing the Victoria Clipper employs in their commercials during the morning news. Despite my (misguided) efforts to teach researching skills to my students, I'm not very good at it, nor do I particularly enjoy it. Therefore it works out quite nicely that Jon is the most thorough researcher I've ever met...even if his chief source is often Wikipedia. So, when it came time for me to research the Victoria trip, I turned to Facebook. I received some excellent suggestions of things to do and places to see. It's always better to get personal recommendations anyway because then you get a more accurate picture rather than relying on travel propaganda. My inquiries and the exuberant responses even prompted my father-in-law and his wife to join us as they had never traveled to Victoria either. Still a bit dazed from a late-night flight and not one, but three recital performances, my mom gamely re-packed her suitcase and off we were to Seattle (in Monday morning rush hour traffic, mind you) for the boat to take us to Canada. After a brief ride across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we arrived in what is surely the most British town in the Northwest. We walked to our hotel from the dock, checked in, had lunch, and then began planning our trip in earnest.
Armed with the suggestions I'd received and pamphlets from the hotel lobby, we began mapping out our 3-day, 2-night trip. Our hotel was within walking distance of nearly everything we wanted to see, and the weather was fantastic--albeit a bit chilly for my Midwestern mother--so we were all set. I was quite proud of myself for being able to read the map and help direct us where to go (although in all honesty, it was not that difficult).

We started out at the highly-regarded Royal B.C. Museum. It definitely lived up to its reputation. We were able to cover the entire natural history museum before closing time; I think the highlight--for Mom and I, at least--was the bird display. I'm still giggling over it.

After a stroll through the tourist gauntlet known as the Inner Harbour (notice this British spelling), we stopped at the Visitor Information Center for advice and then it was time for dinner. Even though we were seated in the "American section" of the restaurant (located in the very, very back--perhaps I shouldn't have worn jeans with holes in the knees), we had a nice meal. As if Jon were there, I ordered a locally-brewed beer and fish. That's right, the girl who doesn't eat seafood ordered fish of her own volition. (For the record, it was quite tasty.) We turned in pretty early that night with plans for flower-watching the next day.

The underlying theme of the trip was "WWJD?" or "What Would Jon Do?" (please pardon the unintentional blasphemy). We had already successfully read the map and gone to a pub, so it made sense that our next course of action involved public transportation. Too cheap and too stubborn to use one of the over-priced tour busses to visit Victoria's world-renowned Butchart Gardens, we decided to take the city bus. The slight hassle of procuring exact change in Canadian currency was worth the delightful trip. Everyone on the bus was so polite, each telling the driver "thank you" as s/he exited, and Mom, being the conversation-magnet she is, engaged in some friendly chats with several of our fellow passengers.

Butchart Gardens was recommended by everyone for a reason: it was breathtaking. Slightly overwhelming for someone who watered a half-dead poinsettia for six months, but beautiful nonetheless. We spent several hours strolling around, admiring and trying to identify the various plants. I went a little overboard with the pictures, but with so much color--and so much potential for people-watching--it was difficult not to.

After returning to town, we wandered around for a bit before serendipitously finding refuge from the rain in the picturesque Parliament Building. We arrived just in time for a free tour, so not only did we get to see the beautiful architecture, but we also got to hear the story behind it, such as how the aisle width in the Legislative Chamber was determined (it's exactly two sword lengths apart to avoid messy altercations).

The Paliament Building is lit up each night like the (Kansas City) Plaza at Christmastime, so we needed to stall for a bit after dinner. We successfully found a Nanaimo Bar (delicious chocolate, coconut, cream cheese concoction), but we still had over an hour to wait. We returned to the Inner Harbour and caught the majority of a very entertaining juggling act, complete with fire, a chainsaw, and a unicycle. Street performing is its own industry there, I think. We got so wrapped up in the show that we didn't even notice when the lights came on, but when we did notice, it was certainly worth the wait.

We really only had one thing on the agenda for our final day and that was the Craigdarroch Castle. In true castle fashion, it was located on top of a hill, so the walk there was a bit exhausting, but seeing the four-story mansion was worth it. The woodwork was incredible and I couldn't get over the stained glass windows. Plus, there was a turret at the front, which automatically earns it cool points.

The walk back down was exponentially easier, so we took our time. The remaining hours of our Victorian adventure were pretty leisurely, which gave me plenty of time to reflcet on my brief stint as a pseudo-vacation organizer. I think Jon would have been proud of me and my "travel ninja" skills. I made plans (in a hopefully non-pushy way), booked travel, solicited suggestions, did research, drove into Seattle, read a map, asked the hotel desk for dinner recommendations, ordered local beer, ate fish and chips, found (and demolished) a Nanaimo Bar, took public transportation...all while hanging out with my mom and in-laws. In fact, I'm pretty proud of myself...although I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to being a tag-along traveler again soon.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

(Personal) Record-Breaking Performance

It feels good to accomplish a goal you set for yourself. Really good, albeit a little bit painful. This spring I set a goal for myself to break my PR (personal record) in the half-marathon. Just like teachers instruct their students, this goal was attainable, yet required focus and hard work to achieve. It was measurable, and the feeling of accomplishment I felt afterward proved to be all the reward I needed (because frankly, the ceramic tile I received at the finish has been sitting on my dresser for almost two months collecting dust). Talk about intrinsic motivation. The Capital City Half-Marathon marked the fifth time I laced up my sneakers for a 13.1 mile race. Each time I’d run it previously, I hovered just above the elusive two-hour mark, once rolling in somewhere around a heart-breaking 2:02. So, this training session I was determined to break two hours, meaning I would have to average around 9 minutes (or less) a mile. Not impossible, but a challenge (for me). I quickly discovered that’s tough to train for a race as long as a half-marathon by yourself. But I doggedly did all of my long weekend runs even though I didn’t have my resident cartographer by my side. Fortunately, however, I was able to borrow a friend’s Garmin GPS running watch which helped tremendously. Not only does said watch serve as a timer, but it also tracks your distance and keeps track of your mile pace (plus all kinds of other cool stuff that I wasn’t able to figure out). The Garmin proved to be a savior in the actual race, as I was aware the entire time of what I needed to do to break two hours…which was sometimes reassurance that I was on pace, other times a swift kick in the pants to speed up. Since I already spoiled this story and ruined all semblance of suspense by telling you I did in fact achieve my goal (by a mere 47 seconds), I’ll conclude with a motivational message to follow your dreams. No, seriously, I’ll include a picture to prove that I really did run and am not just totally making the whole thing up.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

(Soon-to-Be) Walkin' in Memphis

In order to utilize every possible medium of communication, I am going to use this blog post to announce (again) that Jon and I are moving to Memphis, Tennessee in the fall. After many months of waiting, we finally know our future holds, at least in terms of where we'll be. While I knew that moving was a possibility, it's sort of strange to actually, finally, have a plan. My patience has most certainly been tested over the past several months. But now we know. I'm excited about the upcoming adventure, the opportunity to explore a completely new place together. But when it's all said and done, I'm a bit sad at the prospect of leaving. I've sprouted roots here over the past three years and there are a lot of people I'm really going to miss. With the exception of having family too far away, the Northwest is a pretty cool place to live. Lots to do, beautiful scenery, great weather (in the summer). Speaking of which, if you've been thinking about visiting, your time is running out...

Room Service

When the stars aligned and my dance competition and night out with the Oregonians for Nebraska (see previous post) happened to be scheduled for the same weekend at the same Portland Hotel, I decided to make a weekend out of it. I booked a room at the hotel and headed down to Oregon. As is usually the case when I have ample time to do something, I try to do too much, typically behind schedule. Heaven forbid I be early somewhere or find myself with nothing to do. Even though I was well aware of this tendency, I still set off for Portland slightly later than planned and spent much longer at the outlet mall on the way than I had intended. Nevertheless, I still had just enough time to check into my hotel and be at the dinner on time. And what did I do with my "just enough time"? Tried to cram one more thing in. On my list of "Things to do in Portland" is a trip to Voodoo Donuts. I've been to Powell's Bookstore several times, seen--and performed at--a Trailblazers game, and tried just about every brewery in the city, but I had yet to go to Voodoo. I'd already tried their donuts, which perhaps moved this destination to the top of my list. I figured that Saturday evening would be a low-density time to pick up donuts...but even at 6pm, the line stretched out the door. However, rather than chock it up as a loss and try the next day, I decided to stick it out. The "stubborn gene" I inherited from every female relative I have kicked in hard core. So, by the time I picked up my maple bacon bar and chocolate/peanut butter/oreo cookie crumb donut, I had just enough time to run up to my room, change clothes, do the Heisman pose with Johnny Rodgers, and slide into my seat for the salad course.
Bacon makes everything better.

After dinner, however, I was able to truly relax. I got to watch cable TV (there was nothing on, of course) and sleep in. I didn't have to be at my competition until the afternoon, so I stayed in the room until check-out. I lolled around in my pajamas, tried cable again (still nothing on), and read a book.

And I ordered room service. I'd never done that before, so yet another thing to check off my list. The room service waitress knocked at the door promptly half an hour later with the requisite "room service" call. The tray had the quintessential covered dish. Perhaps butternut squash ravioli wasn't the smartest thing to eat before tap dancing to Stevie Ray Vaughan, but it still tasted pretty good.

And to top off a great weekend, our tap group "Hot Steppin'" won another 1st place trophy. Not a bad vacation, if I do say so myself.

Husker Legends

It is said that "absence makes the heart grow fonder" and that you don't truly appreciate what you have until it's gone. Both of those clich├ęs ring true when pertaining to Nebraska football. I completely took for granted the accessibility to the Cornhuskers when I lived in the Midwest. However, there is one great thing about living far away. Sometimes, the Huskers come to you.
I've been fortunate to discover--or have a husband who discovered for me--a strong alumni (and friend) group in Washington. Not only does this group sponsor the ever-popular Husker watch parties, but also some pretty cool events during the year, such as the Washington Cornhuskers Spring Event. This evening consisted of a silent auction, runza dinner, and speech by keynote speaker "Touchdown" Tommie Frazier.
With our good friend, Tommie
Jon good-naturedly accompanied me to the Ballard Elks Lodge where we bid on a number of items in the auction. Ironically, the only thing we "won" was a set of Washington Husky tickets (which Jon outbid me for--seriously). We had our obligatory excited fan photo taken with Tommie and settled into our delicious runza dinner, complete with green salad and Dorothy Lynch salad dressing (again, two things I took for granted). We randomly chose excellent seats that allowed us to chat with some nice folks, check out a beautiful Seattle sunset, and shake hands with Tommie as he finished his speech.
Mmmm...runzas (although admittedly not as good as the ones Grandma used to make)
One would think that would satisfy this Husker fan, but the fates smiled down on me again a couple of months later. The Oregonians for Nebraska were sponsoring their dinner/silent auction in Portland at the beginning of May. Ordinarily I wouldn't drive two hours on my own for dinner, but Johnny "the Jet" Rodgers was there and he brought his Heisman Trophy. Pretty hard to pass up. And coincidence of all coincidences, the dinner was held in the banquet room of the SAME hotel as the dance competition I would be performing in the following day. Now if that wasn't a sign I needed to go, I don't know what was.

The Heisman pose was his idea...although I totally would have done it anyway

Now, if only getting tickets to this September's "Battle in Seattle" would work out so well...


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