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!