Ain’t that America

Today is the one year anniversary of our arrival in Maryland. I decided to re-post the chronicle of our cross-country journey. I migrated this from the original blog that I started — and I will probably repost several of the entries from that blog over here from time to time.  It was fun for me to read back through this.  I hope you enjoy it as well.

 
 
The last few months have been a whirlwind. The Reader’s Digest version is that Lloyd accepted a job in Washington DC and we have moved to the ‘burbs (!) in Maryland. Honestly the area of Maryland that we’re in is still semi urban, but a little less so than we like.
 
Each day, I have a million different thought about what it is like to live here. Instead of bombarding my Facebook and Twitter friends with all of these random thoughts as they come to mind, I decided to try writing it all down. I’ll start with the 5 day journey across our great country. We passed through 12 states, most of which I had never been to but had an opinion about anyway (that falls into the same category as “I was a great parent before I had kids”).

Day One: Washington State
We left Olympia at around 4pm after watching Jake perform in the final CTE performance of the summer. The three of us piled into the Ford Focus, along with the dog and the cat and hit the road. First destination: Spokane.

 
It was a beautiful, summery day and Mt Rainier was majestic against the blue Northwest sky. Up to this point, the summer had been…well, rather winter-like. Either Washington was bidding us its finest adieu or it was mocking us. And, if you know me well, you know that I’m a glass half empty kind of person, so I am sure it was the latter.
 
We avoided a near collision on the 512 (note: brakes don’t work as fast when you are hauling a trailer), but soon settled into a groove as we traveled over the mountains. We stopped at a rest area as the full moon rose over the wheat fields as the sun was setting. There it goes again…mocking us. I started to feel a tinge of sadness, but driving across Eastern Washington bought back memories of two young college students who had fallen in love and decided to make a go of it no matter what. We had the attitude that nothing could stop us…and here we were, 18 years later, on a grand adventure. It was exactly where we were supposed to be.
 
 
We spent the night in Spokane that night….learned that hotels often have a platform-like contraption under the bed and it’s an excellent hiding place for a cat. We also discovered that making room for the dog’s crate would be a necessity as her snoring kept me up much of the night.
 
Day Two: Idaho and Montana – Destination: Sheridan, WY
We learned on “How the States Got Their Shapes” that the Idaho panhandle used to be part of Washington and was given up in part because of the unruly gold diggers — and the folks in Montana and Washington didn’t want to deal with them, so they gave it to Idaho. In my opinion, this was a huge mistake because it is, without question, the most beautiful part of Idaho. Driving through Coeur D’Alene in the early morning was absolutely breathtaking. I looked forward to the trip through Montana though…I’d never been and I just knew that there would be part of me that wanted to just stop and stay forever.

Boy, was I wrong.

I was completely underwhelmed by Big Sky Country. I realize that I was on the interstate and there is much more of Montana to see, but it just wasn’t what I expected. I guess I expected Colorado, which wasn’t fair at all, given that a piece of my heart will always be in Colorado and nothing could ever measure up.

I will say that the funniest thing I saw on the trip was in Montana:

We also learned about Our Lady of the Rockies and that there are no trees in Big Timber.

Montana is a big state though and the last two hours were excruciating. We tried to play “I See Something”, but there was nothing to see. We couldn’t even find a house. I was so happy when we crossed into Wyoming that I wanted to get out of the car and do a happy dance.

Maybe it’s because I’m married to a transportation dude, but I tend to notice the way that roads change when you cross into a different county or state. A perfect example is when you cross into King County from Pierce County and voila!…the freeway is smoother and there are suddenly HOV lanes. Well, the interstate in that part of Wyoming is pink. Mr. Transportation explained that the chip seal used to resurface roadways is often made from natural resources — and Wyoming has an abundance of pink granite.

We spent Night 2 in a surprisingly nice and comfortable Best Western in Sheridan. It was a really nice little town — reminded me of Cortez, CO (where I grew up). I didn’t want to stay forever, but I can certainly see why people do.

Day 3 – Wyoming, South Dakota Destination: Sioux Falls
We left fairly early in the morning and after a very mediocre cup of coffee, I started to become aware that I hadn’t seen a Starbucks since we left Spokane. Didn’t mean they weren’t there…just that they weren’t on every corner. We were on our way to Mt. Rushmore for the only “touristy” part of our trek. The rest of Wyoming was beautiful and the public radio station was excellent. We left 1-90 to enter Mt Rushmore from the western Black Hills via Highway 16. This was where I saw the funniest political sign of the trip.

Sheriff Dudinski sounds like he should be on Reno 911, doesn’t he?

The Black Hills were beautiful and I tried not to think about how it came to be that we acquired the land to build a monument such as Mt. Rushmore. But, it was amazing to see the sculpture. We didn’t have as much time as we would have liked and it was hot — thus making it necessary for one of us to stay at the car with the animals and trade-off touring the park. I really wish the National Park Service was more pet friendly — and at least provide areas of access within the parks that are shaded and have water. But, I digress. I have to say that Mt. Rushmore was *smaller* than I pictured it. Most pictures that you see are close up and make it seem enormous. And, I don’t mean to take anything away from how awesome it was when I say that. It just struck me in the same way that it struck me how ENORMOUS the Lincoln Memorial seemed the first time I saw it. The following pictures offer an example of what I’m talking about. I was under the impression that you could actually get as close as the first picture.

 

As we left Mt. Rushmore, we made our way back to I-90 via Keystone and Lloyd remarked that he was glad we hadn’t entered this way as it would have somehow cheapened the experience. Keystone is a strange little tourist town that reminded me of Gatlinburg, TN. I don’t get why you need go-karts to entertain yourself when you are surrounded by such natural beauty. But, that’s just me. And, I’m probably wrong because Keystone appears to do quite well without me and my opinion. I will say though that a great retirement project would be to open up a pet sitting operation here.

We were getting hungry, but decided to wait another hour or so until we got to Wall. Everyone (including signs that had started to appear a good 100 miles back) told us that we had to stop at Wall Drug. So that was next on our list. Oh. My. Goodness. I don’t even know where to begin with that place. To be fair, it’s typical for me to decide I don’t like something just because everyone else does. I’m contrary that way. I can see why people go there, but I also think it was a giant waste of our time and I’ll just leave it at that.

Back on I-90….remember what I said about the state of roads being different everywhere? Well, in South Dakota, interstate is awful. They have lots of signs about construction and the freeway was often reduced to one lane for miles on end, but we never actually saw any work being done. It was really annoying. In fact, I was starting to get annoyed with the entire day when I passed a sign that read “Entering Central Time Zone”. WHHHHAAAAAAAAAT?! I was certain that we would not enter Central Time Zone until we left South Dakota (even though Jake tried to tell me otherwise). So, this excruciatingly long day just got longer. We finally arrived in Sioux Falls and were treated to the BEST hotel swimming pool ever at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel. I seriously considered just staying here another day, but we didn’t have time. Sioux Falls is another really nice town. I wish we could have spent some time exploring.

Day 4 – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana Destination: South Bend
The states got much closer together after South Dakota. It felt like we were making more progress by ticking off more states in a day. Minnesota was beautiful. It was here though that we happened upon the most ill-advised business name I can ever recall:

 

Clearly, I did not take this picture — I wasn’t quick enough with the camera, but a quick google search showed that I’m not the only one who was entertained by it. And, it’s one of those things that you have to see in order to get the full impact.

One of the things I loved about Minnesota was the wind farms. They are just amazing to see.

This is one of those instances where I can so clearly see that God is the greatest scientist. He gave us the wind and the brains to figure out how to use it to sustain a healthier planet. It may be cheesy, but it really gives me goose bumps to think about.

Minnesota is also the state where I realized how much corn is in this country.

Honestly THERE IS SO MUCH CORN. 

One of my favorite parts of the trip was crossing the Mississippi River. It was almost like a turning point. We were definitely not in the West anymore, which was a little bit bittersweet for this West Coast girl. I was driving as we drove into Wisconsin and John Denver was on the iPod, reminding me of growing up in Colorado and more specifically, my grandfather. He’s been gone for almost 18 years and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and miss him. This particular song, “On the Road” brought back a very vivid personal memory of me with my grandfather — and it also was very appropriate to our journey at the moment. I wondered what my grandfather would think of all of this and if he would be proud of me.

It was about this point in the trip when I realized that ever since we had crossed into roughly South Dakota that there was an abundance of Go-Kart rentals places and water parks. No commentary there…just an observation.

When I was planning the trip, it never occurred to me to think of when we might arrive in Chicago…the biggest city we had encountered so far (our route didn’t even take us through Seattle). And, we managed to hit the Windy City right at rush hour. And, the traffic was just as horrendous as you would imagine. Lloyd was driving — thank goodness — and he did a great job of maneuvering in the traffic and staying calm. I would have been freaking out. I could not wait to get to South Bend.

Which brings us to South Bend.

First of all, the time changes just before you get there. So, once again, we had an hour tacked on to an already long day. So it was almost 9pm and we were all hungry. I have a friend who lives there and she recommended a place to eat, so I typed the address into Google maps and it took us a very long and convoluted way. And when we got there, the restaurant was closed. For three weeks. Oh yeah…it’s a college town in July. So, we decided to just go to the hotel and figure out food later. Again, we typed the address into Google maps and it took us to the wrong part of town…in every sense of the word. We were lost and my dear, sweet husband stopped to ask directions. Which is great, right? I mean, most men don’t like to ask for directions. No. Not in this part of town with bars on windows while we are driving a car with out-of-state plates and hauling a U-Haul trailer. I really thought this was where it was all going to end. By the grace of God, we made it to our hotel, which still didn’t look like the greatest part of town, but it was clean and there weren’t bars on the windows so we decided to just make a go of it. Lloyd went out to get some food and Jake and I started to settle in. That was when the baby next door started screaming. I promptly went and asked for another room, which I was graciously granted. Lloyd came back with dinner from a Greek/barbeque joint (I know, right?) and since Mr. Picky Pants won’t eat much, Jake got a hot dog. Within minutes of finishing it, he was complaining of not feeling good and spend the night running to and from the bathroom.

On the way out-of-town the next morning, we stopped at Walgreen’s for 3 things that spell nightmare for a road trip: Saltines, Ginger Ale and Children’s Immodium. We also finally found a Starbucks. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of Starbucks coffee. But, there is something really comforting about walking in and feeling like you could be “home”. I think that’s the secret of places like Starbucks and McDonald’s…there’s something to be said for consistency.

When we were leaving, I googled South Bend and found comments like “South Bend is like Detroit without the charm”. Who knew? To be fair, the little bit we saw of the Notre Dame campus was beautiful, but I recommend sticking to campus and the immediate surrounding neighborhoods if you ever find the occasion to go there.

Day 5: Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland
This is where we were on turnpikes almost the entire way, so all we experienced were the rest areas. And, they aren’t really “rest areas” like I have ever experienced. They are like mini strip malls with gas stations and food courts. It’s really bizarre, but efficient. There’s nothing worse than exiting a freeway to get gas and having to drive a mile. I’m sure there’s some kind of sociological experiment that you could conduct at these places – you see all walks of life. I mean everyone has basic travel needs — gas, bathroom, food….but in places where you have more choices there is probably a rhyme and reason to why people choose what they choose on the road. Here, you have everyone all lumped together. The strangest thing I witnessed was a customer telling the guy at Sbarro that the slices were too big and that if he ate a whole slice he would fall asleep on the road, so he was going to go to McDonald’s instead. Oooohkay.

We crossed into PA and a friend of my on Facebook said that the Pennsylvania Turnpike was the most depressing road in America. He was right. I can’t really put my finger on why though. We had a bathroom emergency (remember the hotdog?) and didn’t know when the next rest stop was (although PA doesn’t have the same fancy rest areas that Ohio has). We managed to find an exit but could not find a gas station. Instead we stopped at a Super 8 Motel which looked practically deserted. When we drove up, there was a woman (the manager, perhaps?) and a maintenance man sitting on the bench outside smoking. They were very gracious and said we could use the bathroom. The woman guided Jake and I up a flight of back stairs and entered a room that had been completely cleared out, save for a few chairs lined up against the wall. She opened the bathroom door and said to me “you probably want to go in with him”. That sort of freaked me out, but I opted to just wait outside the door. When we were leaving, we saw a woman in the parking lot pushing a shopping cart and there were no cars to be seen anywhere. We wondered where she came from and where she was going. I told Lloyd I felt like we were at the Bates Motel.

It felt as though we drove downhill the entire way through PA. The turnpike was very narrow and had a lot of construction going on (once again, Lloyd drove and I was very glad). At one point, I looked up the elevation only to find the highest elevation in the whole state was 3200 ft. But, down we went. As we approached the Maryland state line, there was a sense of anticipation in all of us…and as we passed the “Maryland Welcomes You” sign, the iPod was playing “Hello Goodbye” by the Beatles. So fitting (and not at all planned).

 

So here we are. In a new and different place, experiencing new and different things. We plan to explore the area as much as we can. I plan to use this blog to chronicle those experiences or just the random thoughts that I have. Thanks for sharing the journey with us.

Advertisements

The difference a year makes

One year ago today, we set out on one of the biggest adventures of our lives.  We are no strangers to change.  We have always gone where the wind blew us and in the 18 years we’ve been married, the longest time we’d ever stayed at one address was 5 years.  But, this was a huge change.  We’d been in the Olympia area for almost 9 years – it was the only home that Jake had ever known.  Lloyd had been with the Department of Transportation for that long as well.  We had family nearby, friends that were like family, a fantastic neighborhood and a church that we loved.  We had traditions.  In short, we had a great life and it would have been easy to stay in Olympia forever.  But, when the job opportunity presented itself, Lloyd and I knew that it was something we couldn’t pass up. 

When we were first married Lloyd was a newspaper reporter.  He worked at a group of weekly newspapers in Kitsap County.  He’s a good writer and was a fantastic reporter.  He had what it took to go far and I always pictured him working for a paper like the Washington Post or the New York Times.  We’d been married about 2 years when he was offered job at the daily newspaper in Twin Falls, Idaho.  A daily newspaper.  It was the mother lode for a young reporter.  I loved Twin Falls and thought that it was a no brainer to move there.  We flew out for the interview and got the grand tour.  Then, when we returned…I don’t know what happened, but I got cold feet.  I told him I didn’t want to go and the short version of the story is that we didn’t go.  We ended up selling everything we owned and moving to Phoenix where life certainly took a very different path than it would have if we’d moved to Twin Falls.  Deep in my heart, I knew that Lloyd always regretted not taking that job.  And, I regretted it too because I knew that if I hadn’t said anything, we would have gone.  So, when this job came up — I knew that this was another moment like that.  A once in a lifetime chance.  Our realtor came over and gave us the grim news that there was no way we could sell our house without it costing us tens of thousands of dollars.  But, we decided that we weren’t going to let that be the reason we didn’t go.  We would rent the house.

People would ask me how I knew that we were doing the right thing and the only thing I could say was that there was literally no opposition.  Every time we began to hit a speed bump, solutions just fell into our lap.  Doors flew open right and left.  Everything just fell into place.  And, on July 24, 2010, we set out on our cross country trip — with no idea what to expect. 

One year later — there are certainly things that I miss.  Our friends and family top the list, of course. We miss our neighborhood and our house. I miss the beauty of the Pacific Northwest — the mountains and the water.  I miss the traditions that we had — the comfort of just knowing the area. We’ve lived in the Northwest longer than we’ve ever lived anywhere and it’s home.  But, we are slowly beginning to feel at home here. 

We have family here — Lloyd’s cousin, who he had not seen in 25 years, lives just 15 minutes away.  We have loved building a relationship with her and her husband.  Lloyd loves his job.  Jake has had amazing opportunities — he’s thriving in school and has a wonderful piano teacher. We’ve found a church that we love and are building relationships with people that I know will always be part of our lives.  We’ve been able to do things that I never thought we would do.  We have a wonderful tenant — who happens to be a dear friend of ours — so we hardly worry about our house.  We are probably less stressed than we have been in years.  And life is good.

It’s amazing the difference a year makes.

Loving the unlovable

There’s a character in The Secret Life of Bees that I relate to.  May Boatright is a complicated personality. Highly sensitive to the pain of others, she carries the weight of the world in her soul.  She built a wailing wall in her backyard and goes there when she is upset.  I often joke that I need a wailing wall of my own.

A few years ago, I started praying that God would break my heart for the things that break His.  It’s one of those “be careful what you ask for” prayers because sometimes the pain of the world and the people around me are crushing.  I’m not meaning to sound dramatic and I’m certainly not going to drown myself in a river over the things that weigh on my mind and heart, but sometimes it is exhausting.

For several weeks, I have been exhausted by the Casey Anthony trial and discussion surrounding it.  Let me first be very clear — my personal feeling is that she probably had something to do with her daughter’s death.  But, our justice system is one that puts the burden of proof on the prosecution — everyone is innocent until proven guilty.  It is my personal belief that the jury took their job and the instructions given to them about reasonable doubt very seriously.  And, I suspect this case will haunt them forever.  I was obviously not in the courtroom and did not watch the trial on television, but I do know that there was never a cause of death determined.  I don’t know how a person can be convicted of murder when there is no cause of death.  All of the evidence was circumstantial and as unfair as that may seem at times like this, a person simply cannot be convicted of a crime based on circumstantial evidence.  How incredibly ironic it was that this verdict came down just hours after we gathered together in communities across this country to celebrate the Declaration of Independence and the freedoms that we enjoy as a result of that historical document.  How often do we hear of innocent people being held prisoner in other countries because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We often regard those countries as barbaric and backwards. Our judicial system is not perfect and I believe that sometimes criminals go free on technicalities or by lack of evidence.  We are right be enraged at the injustice of it all, but at the same time, innocent people often spend years — decades — even lifetimes — in prison. Where is the outrage when it’s discovered that somebody has been wrongly convicted of a crime? What about when we discover, after it’s too late, that somebody was put to death for a crime they did not commit?  Where are the mobs of chanting people then? And then I wonder why Caylee Anthony’s story gripped the nation and stories like Christian Choate’s don’t spark a greater public outrage (I’m not saying that there isn’t outrage…just that it didn’t make the news cycle in the same kind of way).  Believe me, my soul aches for what Caylee endured at the hands of somebody she trusted.  But, that’s not the only thing that makes my heart heavy.

In the days and weeks that have followed the shocking verdict, I think that the most disturbing things I have heard is professing Christians saying things like “I hope she burns in hell”.  Often they are the same kinds people who attend evangelical churches and wear WWJD bracelets.  Really,  I do not think  that Jesus would say, “I hope she burns in hell”. In fact, I am 100% certain that He would not say that.   The reality is, if you are a Christian, you believe that Jesus came to save us from a destiny just like that.  It is the very basis for why we worship Jesus.  On Sundays, we lift up our hands and praise Him for the work that he did on the cross.  A work that, in a very uncomfortable way, looks a lot like the picture of Casey Anthony leaving the jail in the dark of the night.  Guilty.  And yet set free.  Now, I realize there are fundamental differences — not the least of which is that nobody has paid the price for the crime that was committed.  It can be argued that many have paid a price.  But, for the crime itself, nobody has been held accountable.  And, I think that is what outrages people the most. 

But my point is this:

As Christians, we are called to love God and love others as much as we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-31).  And, if only we could live up to those two seemingly simple commandments, we would not have situations like babies being found dead in a swamp. But at the same time, wishing somebody eternal damnation in hell is just something that my heart cannot even fathom.  Because I think that if you really believe in hell — and you really take the words of Jesus seriously as He calls His followers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), then you would be on your knees praying for Casey Anthony’s soul.  Because if you look back at that verse in Mark — Jesus doesn’t command us to just love the loveable neighbors. He just simply said we are to love our neighbors.  And by neighbors, He meant everybody.

I don’t even know how to end this post because it’s so complicated.  I don’t even know why I feel so compelled to post this in the first place.  I know how I feel, but I don’t have any answers — especially for people who don’t believe what I believe about Jesus and God and Heaven and hell. What I can tell you is that I believe that God’s heart breaks for what happened to Caylee.  But, I also believe that He grieves for the way that people who claim to be His followers behave in the aftermath of such a tragedy.  We must think before we speak…because I think that our words reflect the state of our hearts (Luke 6:45).  And, we cannot testify to a God of forgiveness and love if our words are hateful…about anyone.

Beautiful Stories…continued…

I haven’t posted in a while.  I am writing about a couple of things — hard things — and the thought of posting them for everyone to read fills me with fear.  I said it in my first blog post…you won’t always agree with me.  The challenge to my readers was to accept differences of opinion for what they are — differences.  I hope to overcome my fear of rejection soon and get these thoughts out of my head, but in the meantime, I read this blog, “Finding God on an Airplane” and all I could think was YES!  This is exactly what I was talking about in my last blog post.  This is exactly why we should ask people how they are.  This is exactly why we should really care how people are.   People want to be known…they want their stories to be heard. 

Ask somebody how they are.  Really listen to their story.  It will change your life.