Year

2016

Georgia On My Mind

I’m back! Maybe. Hopefully. I have several posts banging around in my head and think I have time to write again. So let’s get on with it. . .

Last week I took a red eye flight from San Francisco to Atlanta to present at a conference. This was my first time on a red eye and my first time flying across that many U.S. time zones in one go (international travel doesn’t count, as it’s a whole other ballgame). It wasn’t quite what I expected.

Red Eye Misconception #1: The flight wouldn’t be as full.
I’d always heard that late night flights were appealing because they weren’t as packed. Boarding would be smoother and empty seats would leave room for spreading out. Nope. This flight was 100% full even after bumping a few volunteers. Coming home, I landed at the same gate at 11pm and saw a similar crowd waiting to fly out.

Red Eye Misconception #2: The flight would mostly be adults.
Again, nope. Lots of kids, several toddlers, and even one infant. We didn’t board until 11:30 and those toddlers were in that extreme-hyper-to-avoid-sleep phase. You parents know what I’m talking about. This might have been a product of the flight distance – I can see the appeal of taking my kids cross-country during a time they would easily fall asleep once belted into a seat. And – despite the nervous energy at the gate – they were quiet on the flight.

Red Eye Misconception #3: The flight would be cheaper.
And another nope. This flight was the same price as daytime options. It was about $20 less than other non-stop options; that is a plus, but not a huge one. I mean, $20 is $20, but that isn’t enough of a discount to compensate me for the inconvenience (if price was the only reason I was flying at midnight).

That brings me to a big plus of this flight – it was nonstop. I’d gladly fly out at any time to go 2500 miles without having to change planes. Living in Little Rock, it was next to impossible to go any large distance nonstop. I’m enjoying this big city perk.

And of course, you take the red eye so you can sleep. That was nice, but my internal clock lost four hours so it wasn’t quite as helpful as it might had been if I was traveling the other direction. Overall, I’ve always enjoyed evening flights more and the red eye was no exception.

Another plus – congestion at the Atlanta airport at 7:30am was well above manageable. I stopped to go to the bathroom then picked up a coffee and by the time I reached baggage the first class* luggage was already taking a ride on the carousel. No line for a taxi either. I was at my hotel downtown within half an hour of walking off the airplane.

In this case, I picked the red eye because I needed to make it to Atlanta with enough time to take a short nap and put in a full day of work in my hotel room. I could have worked all day Wednesday in my office and traveled to Atlanta that evening, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t as jetlagged for my Thursday morning panel. That went great, by the way. Standing room only for our session and excellent feedback afterwards. I was talking about a couple of projects I worked on at my last job and it was a really nice send-off for something I’m passionate about and hated to leave behind.

*I’ve mentioned this before, but when I fly alone I like to fly first class so I have room for my fat ass.

On My Bookshelf, June 2016

Engineering EdenEngineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature by Jordan Fisher Smith (2016)

The good: This is an excellent story. Well-researched and told with an almost-extreme amount of backstory. It really paints a good picture and I enjoyed reading most of it.

The bad: In cramming all of this backstory, the book jumps around a lot from timeline to timeline. All this happens within chapters – sometimes a few paragraphs, sometimes a few pages. For the first third of the book, I had trouble keeping up with the characters and how they fit into each timeline. I considered putting the book aside. I think the author did his work a disservice by not organizing the material into larger sections.

In the end, a decent read. But not one I’m likely to recommend.

Just a side note in case you happen to get your hands on an advanced reader’s copy – it had a lot more errors than I would expect for something so close to print. At some points it was actually distracting. This didn’t play into my review at all . . . just a head’s up.

From Amazon.com: In this remarkable excavation of American environmental history, nature writer and former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith uses Harry Walker’s story to tell the larger narrative of the futile, sometimes fatal, attempts to remake wilderness in the name of preserving it. Tracing a course from the founding of the national parks through the tangled twentieth-century growth of the conservationist movement, Smith gives the lie to the portrayal of national parks as Edenic wonderlands unspoiled until the arrival of Europeans, and shows how virtually every attempt to manage nature in the parks has only created cascading effects that require even more management. Moving across time and between Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier national parks, Engineering Eden shows how efforts at wilderness management have always been undone by one fundamental problem–that the idea of what is “wild” dissolves as soon as we begin to examine it, leaving us with little framework to say what wilderness should look like and which human interventions are acceptable in trying to preserve it.

ShrillShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West (2016)

Loved it. I actually wrote an entire post about it, but I might have been just a little bit tipsy so I’m not going to publish it. I have to keep at least a little bit of dignity. But I will share one quote from the book that really spoke to me:

“So, what do you do when you’re too big, in a world where bigness is cast not only as aesthetically objectionable, but also as a moral failing? You fold yourself up like origami, you make yourself smaller in other ways, you take up less space with your personality, since you can’t with your body. You diet. You starve, you run until you taste blood in your throat, you count out your almonds, you try to buy back your humanity with pounds of flesh.”

The entire passage is powerful for me, but the one little bit that really struck home, that really made an impact, is rather unassuming. . . “you count out your almonds.” I have counted out some many damn almonds in my life. Little baggies of perfectly portioned, individually counted almonds. Approved food that was supposed to make everything better. Stupid fucking almonds.

From Amazon.com: Shrill is an uproarious memoir, a feminist rallying cry in a world that thinks gender politics are tedious and that women, especially feminists, can’t be funny. Coming of age in a culture that demands women be as small, quiet, and compliant as possible–like a porcelain dove that will also have sex with you–writer and humorist Lindy West quickly discovered that she was anything but. . . . With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss, and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.

*This post contains Amazon Associate referral links.

Complain, Complain, Complain

Okay, fair warning. This post is not going to be happy and uplifting. I’m living in an empty apartment in a place where I don’t know a soul and – damn it! – I’m cranky. Like, even more cranky than normal.

How does one makes friends as an adult? Scratch that. How does one even make acquaintances as an adult? I’ve been in this apartment for four weeks and have only ever seen two other people who live on my floor. I can’t even positively say three out of the eight apartments that I walk past numerous times a day are even occupied. Is that normal? It’s been so long since I’ve lived in an apartment . . . maybe there is some special multi-family etiquette I’m forgetting. Where are those other random 30-somethings with kids whose wicked sense of humor is hidden by the nondescript appearance? There is a nice group of grandpas who hang out at Starbucks every morning, but that really isn’t my scene (nor am I their ideal new coffee-mate).
Rachel Green Alone
Now let’s talk about the dog.

The top two things I miss from the Arkansas house are 1) the couch and 2) the dog door. The couch will join me here eventually, but I’m going to have to leave without the easy access of a dog door. My dog is tiny, so I’ll assume his bladder is too. He hasn’t had to wait to go outside in at least a year and adjusting to this new schedule is a work in progress. I get that. I’m not always fast enough for him in the morning and it is difficult to do anything after work because I’m the only one here to go home and take him out. On his end, Marv tends to operate in extremes. He either tries to refuse to go out by rolling over for belly rubs while I’m trying to put on his harness or he waits by the door every hour because he is in the middle of a marking war with another little yappie dog named Stewie.

And don’t assume that refusing to go out means he doesn’t need to go to the bathroom. 99.8% chance he is just being lazy and will try to go in the corner when you aren’t looking.

Good thing he is cute. Otherwise I might trade him for a pizza.*
Dug
And for the icing on the cake – we had to borrow money. Ouch. I really hate not having enough to provide for my family. Makes me feel about two inches tall to have to ask for that kind of help. I mean, we are grown adults who make comfortable salaries . . . there should be enough. Not when selling a home, operating two households, and moving cross-country to one of the places with the highest cost of living in the U.S. Unfortunately.

I haven’t sat down and added up exactly how much this is costing us – no, I prefer to think about this is little chunks or I’d curl up on the couch and never take the leap – but it we haven’t already hit five figures it is coming very soon. And ya’ll, I’m tapped out. When the Arkansas mortgage and the California rent came due on the same day with only one California-level paycheck under our belt . . . well, there just wasn’t going to be enough.

It certainly doesn’t help that we weren’t at all prepared for this move. It was only 10 weeks between “remember that job I applied for? I’ve got an interview” to “get in the car, we’re leaving!” I really don’t recommend that. Money is flying out of our hands left and right. It is going to take quite a few skimpy months to recover (and don’t even mention building back up the savings). I don’t expect us to be really comfortable again until 2017.
Acid Betty Money Dress
Thinking long-term however, is much more promising. I’ve made a big leap in my career and the husband is about to reside in one of the best areas for his field. Services for the little man are going to explore and we’ll be able to send the daughter wherever she wants to go for college (::cough, cough:: Berkeley ::cough::).

It is the right move, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.

Well, I feel better already. Let’s all have a glass of wine and watch some YouTube.

*Kidding! Geez.
**Looking for an inexpensive house in a bedroom community of Little Rock, Arkansas? Hit me up!

From Oakland to Sac-town, the Bay Area and Back Down

My brain is fried and full of new information, so we’re going to do this update bullet point-style. I promise that I’ll eventually stop titling these California posts with song lyrics. . . but for now, how could you not?!

Our new home on a beautiful day.
Our new home on a beautiful day.

-I’m back at the same Barnes and Noble I was at last Sunday. With many of the same people who were hanging around in the Starbucks last week. While I don’t have wifi at home yet, I can access an xfinity hotspot so I’m not completely cut off. It works better for my phone than the computer though. For some reason that can only be qualified as a first-world-problem, I have difficulty working on my laptop without being connected. This makes no sense.

-I bought a new air mattress, so I’m now elevated a few inches above the floor instead of waking up with most of my body on it. I’d love to be in a real bed, but I’m fairly comfy with this arrangement. And the dog seems to like it.

-I went out on Saturday and bought all of the things I had overlooked when moving out here. Like something sharper than a butter knife. I also picked up a pizza pan and a pot for making pasta. My plan to exist on sandwiches and chicken breasts bit the dust big time. I do still need to buy a coffee cup – how I made it out here without one is beyond me – but I’m being picky since it will be my only one until the boxes get here.

-Perk of living alone = my apartment is super clean. Annoyance of living alone = no one else to take the dog out.

-Speaking of a clean house, Merry Maids tackled the Arkansas house last week in prep for realtor photos on Monday (today!). The husband sent me a video and that place has never looked as clean. We basically asked for them to come in and give it their deep clean treatment and I highly recommend it if you ever need to reset your home. They cleaned things we didn’t even know existed.

-The Arkansas house will be listed on Wednesday. I’ll be so glad to get out from under that. It isn’t a huge expense (especially compared to my California residence), but it will be a big mental relief. I’d love for it to be under contract before the husband and kids move out here at the end of the summer. Cross your fingers!

-I have no clue where I am at any given moment because this place is just a whole bunch of tiny towns smushed together. For example, I’m in five different cities during my eleven-mile drive to work. Five! I’ll work it all out eventually, but for now I just map everything because the address doesn’t tell me anything about how far away if might be.

-I have photos from the drive out here I keep meaning to share. I need to do it soon or it will just have been too long. How about a teaser?

Golden Gate Bridge - foggy, but beautiful.
Golden Gate Bridge – foggy, but beautiful.

-It is going to get a little hot today (Sunday, when I’m writing this). Yes, the high is a scorching 80 degrees down by the water where I live. Ha! You bet I’m rubbing it in. Southerners just can help but rub it in when we visit or move to areas with more temperate climates.

Arkansas – What I’ll Miss

As I begin this journey across the country, I can’t help but think about some of the things that I will miss most about my home in Arkansas. I’m not talking about family and friends here – no, they are all dead to me now.* I’m talking about that other stuff, those little things that make a place feel like home, or brighten your day when you are feeling a bit down.

I’ll find new places to fill the void, but – for now – this is my list.
Arkansas
Fort Smith National Historic Site
Visiting Judge Parker’s gallows, complete with the sound recording of the little door opening and a rope tightening as a criminal dropped, was an annual trip when I was a kid. It is likely what set me on the path to becoming a historian. And probably made me a little bit morbid.

The Capitol on Christmas Eve
One of my favorite family traditions is taking the kids in their pajamas to see the lights, exhibit, and Santa’s workshop at the Arkansas State Capitol on Christmas Eve. We would tour the building and take lots of photographs. Someone would make the assertion that the daughter was posing in front of her future office when we make her stand by the door labeled governor. Assuming it was actually cold, we would get hot chocolate on the drive home.

Crystal Bridges Museum of Art
Crystal Bridges is hands-down one of the best things in Arkansas and can compete with pretty much any other museum of its size. I’ve written about a couple of trips there already, read them here and here.

Shopping for Gifts at Ten Thousand Villages
Okay, so it is a chain. It is still something I’m going to miss though. I worked just down the block, so it was an easy to pop down there on a lunch break to pick up something nice for a friend of family member.

Memphis
Yes, that is in Tennessee. But It still counts as something I will miss about Arkansas because we could just pop up there for a Saturday anytime we wanted. Memphis always felt comfortable and I’ll miss not playing tourist on its streets.

And some food spots, of course
Eating pimento cheese at Capital Bar and Grill, juicy burgers from David’s Burgers, hummus from YaYas Bistro, hushpuppies from the Flying Fish, and cheese dip from Mexico Chiquito . . . just to name a few.

*Kidding. Actually, I left so fast I didn’t get to say goodbye in person to a huge number of people that I’m really going to miss. It is all quite sad.

California. . . Knows How To Party

SNL CaliforniansIt is 9:30 am on Sunday and I am sitting in a Starbucks inside a Barnes and Noble. I just dropped my family off at the airport and I am officially both a Californian and alone. Quick! – Someone tell me how an adult in a brand new place where they don’t know a soul makes friends. Is there a book I can check out from the library?

I’m avoiding reading about the tragedy in Orlando, as I just don’t have it in me today. I’ll focus on some good news instead. . . I have an apartment! I’m so happy to be out of a hotel and especially glad the family was able to spend a night there with me (even if it was only with sleeping bags and a slowly deflating air mattress).

We ended up in our first choice complex in Foster City. I actually like a building in Burlingame better; it had wonderful 1960s architecture, but couldn’t compete with the other’s location. We actually had two options opens in our preferred complex. Both with the same layout, but different plus and minuses due to their building locations. Eventually, the high ceilings and extra windows beat out the more private location. Our balcony overlooks another building, but it is a small price to pay for the extra bonuses inside.

I feel a little bit like a college student. I have only the most basic and inexpensive essentials. No point duplicating what we already have in Arkansas. I’m also on that aforementioned deflating air mattress, so that is going to be a problem. It isn’t going to make it until when the bed arrives at the end of July, so I’ll have to find a new solution. I am not sleeping on the floor for two months.

I’m also not going to have internet or television until the family gets here. We need to keep expenses low – operating two households is an odd balancing act. Especially when one of those households is in one of the most expensive areas in the country and when one of those adults is still on an Arkansas salary. And a nonprofit salary, at that! No extras for a little bit, but it is hardly something to complain about too much.

Door-to-door, the new place is 1,958 miles from the old. I think the new place is going to be nice. It will be an adjustment, for sure – we’re moving from a three-bedroom home we owned to a two-bedroom apartment we are renting. It feels a bit like a hotel and I wonder how long it will take for us to stop whispering in the hallways. The noise is going to be a big adjustment for us too. It seems to be a fairly complex, but people are everywhere and there is noise. Plus, the windows are open 24/7 since the weather is wonderful in the bay area. We were officially welcomed to the building by a fussy baby in the next building over. I’m going to try not to be cranky about it.

Other bonuses of the new place – there is an Asian grocery, Starbucks, pizza place, and Korean bbq place in the shopping center next door. The library is only a couple of blocks down the street (already signed up for my card). Travel a couple of more and you’ll find Target, Safeway, and Costco. Asian food is in abundance (duh) and the family loves Asian food. You’ll hit water just about any direction you go and the heated/covered pool overlooks a canal. There is a dog park just across the water. It has a full size washer and dryer, none of that stackable nonsense. Parks everywhere. Very walkable, including kids going to and from school.

Well, I can smell real food heating up at Starbucks. That is probably a good cue to move on. See you Wednesday!

And I Would Move 2000 Miles

13178599_10100453791027146_7722111268941119391_nSo, California. Yeah. We are about to move 2000 miles.

There is a long story surrounding this with a lot of details, but you don’t really care about that so I’ll give you the short version – I accepted a great new job in San Francisco with a start date only seven weeks later. The employer was able to be more flexible about the start date, but we made the decision to go ahead with it, assuming it would work better for us in the end if I set up on the west coast and left the rest of the family behind until the end of summer.

Seven weeks might feel like a lot at first glance. But remember – this isn’t just stopping one job, taking a little time off, and then starting another. This is uprooting a family of four across the country. In that scenario, seven weeks is just a drop in the bucket.

What’s our theory behind this two separate household things? It gives us time to transfer all of the little man’s services, find new medical providers, set up insurance, etc. It also gives more time to sell our house with someone actually still living in the same state at the property. If we all moved together right now, the husband would have to wait to find a new job until school started up again (since we wouldn’t know anyone to set up care for the little man). Another plus of doing it this way is his continued salary during this very expensive move.

Let’s talk about the move. We’ve never moved this far before, so I tried to do some research online. But almost every source I found only offered one bit of advice – get rid of as much as possible. Sources that actually offered more details tended to either be 1) moving with a full service company or 2) flying to the new location and starting over. Once this whole thing is said and done, I’ll recount our process and maybe offer some insight to someone out there.

There are some sad bits to this move. Obviously we are leaving behind family and friends. Aside from that, our older dog Leela isn’t going to be able to come with us. Poor thing would hate living in an apartment and we made the difficult decision to find her a new home. It will be better for her. Still hard to do though.

I think I’ll stop this post here. This move is all I’m going to have to talk about for a while; I don’t want to use all my material at once.

And Then There Was Fourteen

Today is our 14th wedding anniversary. That is a lot of years. Oh sure, plenty of people have more years on us. But still . . . fourteen is a lot. Especially when you take into account the fact that we were married at the age of nineteen and twenty-one.

Hallmark tells me that the traditional gift for fourteen years used to be ivory. That is obviously out now, so the “experts” suggest gold jewelry or, if you are still feeling traditional, something elephant themed. One website cleverly suggested piano lessons (you know . . . so you can learn to tickle those ivories).

Like many couples, we aren’t buying each other anything for our anniversary this year (although we do plan to live-it-up tacky-style in Vegas for the big fifteen). If we weren’t moving to California*, we’d rope someone into watching the little man so we could go out for a romantic dinner. Every penny counts right now though, so instead we will take the family out for a standard dinner at your generic family-style place. It’s about being together, right?

So, in honor of fourteen years here are Fourteen Things I Like About My Husband:

  1. He makes up and sings weird songs with me, creating an unusual soundtrack for our home life.

  2. He never misses an opportunity to goof off and embarrass our daughter.

  3. He cooks 99.95% of our meals and only complains about it occasionally. Bonus – he makes a mean meatball and is always open to splurging on some pizza.

  4. He is on top of this dad thing. Like, really. All over it.

  5. He never puts ranch dressing anywhere near my food.

  6. He supports my extreme dislike of those family stickers people put on the back of their mini-vans and oversized suvs. No knocking mini-vans and suvs, I just never really see those on smaller vehicles.

  7. He is about as far from pretentious you can get.

  8. As a kid, he dressed up as the “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” lady from the commercial for Halloween.

  9. He likes to watch Good Mythical Morning with me and doesn’t complain when I turn on Bob’s Burgers for the sixteenth-millionth time. Sometimes he still laughs when I quote the show or even – amazingly – quotes it himself. That is a sign of some serious spectral traces right there.

  10. The one and only time I had a really serious pregnancy craving, he went out early in the morning to buy me a tub of powdered mini-donuts. Then watched me eat one after another in silence.

  11. He lovingly refers to our lifestyle as “one step up from the bottom.”

  12. He always remembers our wedding anniversary and only makes fun of me a little when I have to ask him to remind me. Plus, he never holds it against me that I just can’t seem to remember the date. I think he secretly likes being superior in this part of our relationship.

  13. He is completely supportive of uprooting our family and moving 2000 miles away so I can follow my dreams.

  14. 85% of the time he smells damn good.

Here’s to love, ya’ll!

*YES! More about that Monday. . .

On My Bookshelf, April 2016

Some Possible SolutionsSome Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips (2016)

I liked this one. Some of the stories were unsettling. All felt a little bit ethereal. Side note: I received this book for free through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

From Amazon.com:Some Possible Solutions offers an idiosyncratic series of “What ifs”: What if your perfect hermaphrodite match existed on another planet? What if you could suddenly see through everybody’s skin to their organs? What if you knew the exact date of your death? What if your city was filled with doppelgangers of you? Forced to navigate these bizarre scenarios, Phillips’ characters search for solutions to the problem of how to survive in an irrational, infinitely strange world. In dystopias that are exaggerated versions of the world in which we live, these characters strive for intimacy and struggle to resolve their fraught relationships with each other, with themselves, and with their place in the natural world.”

Thousand Naked StrangersA Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard (2016)

This was good and covered a lot of ground – touching, funny, sad, frightening. A great read if you like memoirs and don’t mind the subject matter. I should probably note. . . this is not a blood and guts kind of book. Yes, Hazzard is telling you true stories here, but not to shock or disgust. It’s well done.

From Amazon.com: “A former paramedic’s visceral, poignant, and mordantly funny account of a decade spent on Atlanta’s mean streets saving lives and connecting with the drama and occasional beauty that lies inside catastrophe. In the aftermath of 9/11 Kevin Hazzard felt that something was missing from his life—his days were too safe, too routine. A failed salesman turned local reporter, he wanted to test himself, see how he might respond to pressure and danger. He signed up for emergency medical training and became, at age twenty-six, a newly minted EMT running calls in the worst sections of Atlanta. His life entered a different realm—one of blood, violence, and amazing grace.”

UndergroundUnderground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami (2000)

Yes, more Murakami. It is nonfiction this time though. Overall, I loved this book. It is basically an oral history of the Tokyo gas attacks. I have vague memories of the attacks (I was only 11 at the time, so watching the nightly news wasn’t really one of my hobbies but I do remember a general feeling of fear and shock), so it was nice to learn more of what happened and why.

From Amazon.com: “It was a clear spring day, Monday, March 20, 1995, when five members of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo conducted chemical warfare on the Tokyo subway system using sarin, a poison gas twenty-six times as deadly as cyanide. The unthinkable had happened, a major urban transit system had become the target of a terrorist attack. In an attempt to discover why, Haruki Murakami. . . talked to the people who lived through the catastrophe—from a Subway Authority employee with survivor guilt, to a fashion salesman with more venom for the media than for the perpetrators, to a young cult member who vehemently condemns the attack though he has not quit Aum.”

Oregon TrailThe Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck (2015)

Spoiler alert! He did not die of dysentery.

This book was dense. Really dense. I think it could have been about a hundred pages shorter, but I enjoyed it. Rinker Buck is a lot of fun. As you follow his wagon, you learn about his life, his family, and numerous aspects of American history.

From Amazon.com: “An epic account of traveling the length of the Oregon Trail the old-fashioned way—in a covered wagon with a team of mules, an audacious journey that hasn’t been attempted in a century—which also chronicles the rich history of the trail, the people who made the migration, and its significance to the country. Spanning two thousand miles and traversing six states from Missouri to the Pacific coast, the Oregon Trail is the route that made America. In the fifteen years before the Civil War, when 400,000 pioneers used the trail to emigrate West—scholars still regard this as the largest land migration in history—it united the coasts, doubled the size of the country, and laid the groundwork for the railroads. Today, amazingly, the trail is all but forgotten.”