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Posts Tagged ‘washington’

Okay, it’s probably time to stop pretending I have the time or intention to write with anything resembling the regularity I used to Back In The Day on platforms like LiveJournal and Vox.  But I couldn’t let 2012 slip into 2013 without taking a moment to write about what was a pretty momentous year (although you might not know it based on the number of blog posts I wrote).

A few moments ago it occurred to me that exactly a year ago, Stephen and I were driving through Oregon, just a few hours away from beginning our lives together in Bellevue, Washington.  I imagine for the rest of my life, I’ll look back on the brief months I spent in Washington as a truly wonderful time in my life.  This isn’t because of any enormous thing that happened, or anything particularly remarkable to most people—and in fact, I spent a lot of time sad to be so far from my family and my adopted hometown of Montevallo, Alabama.  But many things just added up to make it otherwise perfect:  living with Stephen, and thus for the first time in our relationship no longer being a long distance couple; the peace and relaxation of really having no responsibilities (a generous gift of Stephen, who encouraged me to take that time off from working before grad school), especially in the wake of having previously been working full time and taking several classes to finish my psychology degree; and the refreshing nature of finally living in an area where I felt my beliefs and values were part of the culture as opposed to standing in harsh contrast to it.

I also have a number of lovely memories from that time.  Within a few weeks of my arrival, Washington delivered a housewarming gift to me in the form of a storm that brought an unusual amount of snow to the area.  I was able to experience Opening Night ceremonies for the Seattle Mariners (who unfortunately… lost).  My parents came to visit in May, which was completely a blast—and I was surprised by how much they loved Seattle!  I got to meet in person Mari, a dear friend whom I’ve known online for something like 12 years.  Stephen and I spent one of our final days in Washington in a rented two-seater kayak on Lake Washington; the day was warm and absolutely beautiful, we were treated to an unexpected airshow from the Blue Angels above our seats on the water, and we marveled at a bald eagle who, deciding “NO, I CAN MAKE THIS MORE PICTURESQUE,” flew low not too far over our heads and landed in a nearby tree.  That one easily falls under my definition of a truly perfect day.  Moving was bittersweet, and I still think fondly of our cute little apartment in a sweet little complex, with the adorable Middle Eastern kids next door who were never more cheerful than when Fritz was in the window meowing at them.

But move we had to.  In February I interviewed along with 20 other hopefuls for a spot in a clinical psychology PhD program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.  The interview weekend began as a disaster, complete with an airheaded mistake leading me to miss my flight from Denver to Colorado Springs and a frantic rental car drive in unfamiliar territory to make it on time for a dinner before interview day.  The day of interviews went much better thankfully, and I was ecstatic to be invited along with four other students.  I happily accepted, and in August Stephen and I set out on our second major road trip in less than a year—although after the five days and 3200 miles it took to get from Alabama to Washington in winter, the two days and 1400 miles from Washington to Colorado in summer was a piece of cake (although a bummer to drive in separate cars).

The first semester of graduate school has been a mixed bag—a pre-midterms period of thinking the easiness was too good to be true, and the post-midterms period of realizing yes, it was too good to be true!  But even in this short amount of time, I feel I’ve learned a tremendous amount and gained valuable experience.  While I look forward to learning even more, the prospect of five-and-a-half more years until gaining a doctorate is daunting at best and depressing at worst.

Stephen and I are happy to be back in Colorado, although the Springs is quite a bit different from Boulder, where Stephen lived when we began our long distance romance.  Still, we love the house in which we’re living and the scenery is always breathtaking—snow is falling gently as I type, and to see Pikes Peak constantly snow-capped on my drive to school each morning is just wonderful.  Though I’ve been consistently busy since moving here, we’ve been able to enjoy a few excursions, including some nice hiking and a week-long visit from my parents for my birthday.  As in Washington, we also have a great little walking trail in our neighborhood.  I would be lying if I said I’m as happy here as I want to be, but the drawbacks are not worth going into; I’m grateful to be where I am with Stephen beside me.

I’m now enjoying a much-needed break from school, though I’ll return on the 14th for training at the University Counseling Center (eep!) and on the 22nd for Spring term.  I just returned from my first visit back to Alabama in almost a year, where I had a wonderful but all-too-short time with my family, including my nephew—another change that 2012 brought!  I was surprised to find that being back in Alabama didn’t feel strange, but returning to Colorado did—kind of a sad side effect of living so far away from family, I suppose.

Despite some major ups and downs of 2012, I’m inclined to label the year a great success.  I feel very fortunate for everything in my life, and as for the negatives—well, my New Year’s resolution is to focus on positivity and the present (how very Buddhist, no?).  Here’s to 2013, and may the changes it brings be happy ones!

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Day 5: Saturday, December 31st.  Total Miles for This Day: 608.6.  Total Miles for the Trip: 3162.8.

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Comfy bed, clean room, cat-friendly, affordable rate: Best Western Twin View Plus Inn & Suites, winner of the coveted Joie's Favorite Hotel of the Trip Award

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It was hard to believe when we awoke on this morning that by the end of the day, assuming no major catastrophes, we’d be home together at last.
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"Yes. This is a vast improvement over that moving chair you've had me in for four days."

Fritz makes himself at home.

"You guys go on ahead; I'll catch up."

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The feeling was thrilling, but we had some obstacles to overcome as well.  For starters, we still had a long way to go mile-wise, and we were still living life with a check engine light hanging over our head.  Second, we knew that Oregon had seen some serious snowfall in the past week.  The weather was clear for our trip through, but as far as I could tell, some areas required you to have chains in the car as a just-in-case.  We were off to another Auto-Zone, where we dropped $80 on chains we planned to return but wound up keeping (for now).  Another stop at Starbucks, and we were on our way for the last leg of the journey.
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It's POSSIBLE that at some point I told Stephen to play with Fritz a little, and that Fritz did not play nice. Hello kitty, indeed.

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Once again I was grateful we had waited for morning to continue.  Continuing on north of Redding took us through some incredible, breathtaking mountain scenes.  We had great views of Mt. Shasta.
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Mt. Shasta peeking out

We were loving all the different rock formations in this area.

Approaching Mt. Shasta

I'm interested in the tiger mural on the left side of this picture. I didn't realize we'd gotten a picture of it; when I saw it as we drove, my Alabama brain naturally assumed this was an Auburn tiger. Aubie miles from home? I'm guessing not.

Does what the picture title says: This mountain looks like a big pile of dirt.

Based on what I've heard about Portland, I'm surprised the two weren't closer together.

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The pace and attitude of other drivers was on the other end of the spectrum from the rest of our time in California, too; here everyone moved safely, respectfully, and peacefully.  As we continued on, the scenes just became more and more spectacular; Northern California was otherworldly.  We passed mist-covered fields with rolling hills and trees with flowing nearly-white tendrils; it was like something out of Tolkien.  These weren’t the absurd groves of the I-5 corridor in Southern California, where endless rows of identical trees looked like disturbing inorganic machines; these were real farmlands.  I was smitten.
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Mountain under a cloud comforter

I loved the clouds that hung so low they seemed about to fall out of the sky altogether.

Even Fritz wanted to get a look! (Don't worry; we only let him take a peek from the center console, but he wasn't allowed in the front seats while we were moving.)

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Poor Fritzy wasn’t entirely recovered from his respiratory issues, which was sad for him but hilarious for pictures.
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"Ah-... ah-... AH-..."

"...CHOO!!! *sniff*"

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We stopped at a rest area in the mountains of the extreme north portion of California to take pictures.  Since our time was limited and we very much wanted to make it home to ring in the new year, we opted to make that our last stop for scenic purposes.  I made it count.
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CLASSY, Y'ALL

Okay, that's a better view.

Making a hilarious joke, I'm sure.

This was a fantastic little rest area, nestled smack in the middle of the mountains.

Patiently enduring more photos...

I refuse to be deterred from taking pictures!

Of course, eventually my subject tried to escape. :(

You are here!

Happy travelers

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A few last images of California from the road…
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Hilly Northern California

The Auburn-like tiger painting was not the only sight that reminded me of Alabama.

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And then we passed into Oregon, still marveling at the incredible mountain views and the green-green-green that was beginning to show up, a welcome contrast to the desert scenes we’d spent so much time in in previous days.
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Still technically California, I think, but on the border.

Oregon Road

Kind of hard for the passenger to get pictures out of the driver's side at 70 miles an hour, but you get the idea: mountains, trees, general prettiness.

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But around halfway through Oregon, something changed.  The hazard of knowing you’re hours away from your destination means that those hours play a cruel joke on you, stretching out so that you look at the clock after you’re sure you’ve been driving for 30 minutes, only to see that barely 10 have passed.  What?!  Stephen, fix the clock.  Also, invent teleportation.

Furthermore, days of driving on mostly straightaways had yielded to the most windy-ass mountain roads I’d ever driven on.  In Northern California, at the beginning of the day, it was “Oh! How lovely!” But in the middle of Oregon, in the waning daylight hours and a persistent Pacific Northwest drizzle, it was, “I CANNOT DRIVE FASTER THAN 55 WITHOUT GETTING MOTION SICKNESS AND/OR A TICKET, I CANNOT PUT CRUISE CONTROL ON, I CANNOT ZONE OUT.”  In short, I was a crank-pot.  We were both feeling pretty antsy and tried to listen to some stand-up comedy on Stephen’s computer to relax and distract ourselves, but I was watching every sign with eager, frustrated eyes.  Portland, 117 miles.  Portland, 113 miles.  Portland, 110 miles.  We stopped taking pictures.
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This was the last shot we took between southern Oregon and our destination: a view from a Taco Bell parking lot. Which sounds depressing, but kind of makes me happy in a weird way.

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The pleasant surprise came from the fact that I had no idea where Portland actually is in relation to anything else (“I’m not a geography major!”).  All my life I’ve imagined it smack in the middle of Oregon.  So when we finally got there—and if I’d been in a better mood, I’d have wanted to explore; even the bridges were beautiful!—I despaired.  It was already after dark!  We still weren’t even in Washington!  How on earth could we possib-

And right there, smack in the middle of my mounting tantrum, we crossed into Washington.  I wouldn’t have even realized it if I hadn’t seen good ol’ George’s silhouette start appearing on the route signs.

Public Service Announcement: Portland is right at the tippy top of Oregon.

This was … a huge moment.  For both of us, I believe.  Without getting too sappy, I’ll just say that crossing into the state where we were about to begin our lives together was momentous.  For months my wailing refrain had been, “We’ll never live together!”  This was sad when the time was so far away that it indeed felt like it would never arrive, but as our trip drew closer, it had morphed into a running joke with us.  As we crossed into Washington, Stephen said something to the effect of, “We’re here.”  “We’re not there yet!  We’re never going to live together!” I whined back.  But even I couldn’t stop smiling.

Unfortunately, Bellevue did as Portland didn’t and located itself right in the middle of the state, which meant that even after crossing the border, we still had another 2+ hours of driving.  We spent the time fantasizing about the Papa John’s pizza we planned to order as soon as we got in.  We grabbed a few snacks and drinks at a convenience store to avoid having to get in the car the next day for a trip to the grocery store (as it turns out, man can live on potato chips, pizza, and Pepsi alone) before making the final push up I-5 to I-90, and from there, finally, mercifully… to home.  The car was unloaded, the pizza was ordered, and Inception was watched for the billionth time.  We rang in 2012 in the best way possible: together.
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Home at last!

Map of Day 5

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Epilogue

Fritzy finally got over his sneeziness after we’d been settled for about two weeks.  My car’s check engine light turned out to be related to “insufficient coolant temperature”—but this seems to have been an error.  The battery, as I previously mentioned, lasted until the car sat unused for a week in cold weather. I STILL HAVEN’T CHANGED MY OIL EVEN THOUGH I SHOULD HAVE RIGHT AFTER THE TRIP; I’M SORRY, DAD.

It took me two and a half hours to write a first draft of this tale, using more words than total trip miles.  Photos came from my cell phone, my Fancy Nikon, and my little Sanyo camcorder.

I still can’t believe we did this, and I can’t believe that—a few minor inconveniences and anxieties aside—we were so incredibly fortunate to not have any real difficulty.  It was, as several people told me it would be (and as I tried to convince myself), a fantastic adventure.  It looks as though we’ll be making a similar (BUT SMALLER) trip this summer… but that’s a story for another day!
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Thanks for reading!
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That's a whole lotta country.

Trip Map

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Prologue

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I’ve been thinking about writing this post (or posts?) for more than three months now, and each time I consider it, I give up before even trying.  How can I possibly organize the bajillions of pictures and five days’ worth of stories into a coherent, readable whole?  But I realized I’m writing this post more for myself to remember, and the memories are becoming fuzzier every day.  For that reason, at 2:30 in the morning, I’ve decided the best plan is to just start writing already, damn it.  I can’t guarantee that it will be readable or pretty, but if you feel like reliving my trip with me, I hope you enjoy the ride.

After living my entire life in Alabama, it was decided in January 2011 that I would be moving after finishing my psychology degree at the end of the year; long-distance relationships are tough, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.  But Stephen and I had a light at the end of that tunnel.  Unfortunately, moving across the country is neither a simple nor inexpensive task.  We decided against flying—I was worried the trip would be too long for Fritz to go without pottying, or that he would be altogether too big for the cabin pet size limit.  We also weren’t comfortable driving a U-Haul, especially with a cat.  So we utilized a nice service called U-Pack to take care of my belongings and drove ourselves in my beloved little Mazda 3.  Our course wound up looking something like this:
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That's a whole lotta country.

Trip Map

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With one person driving (Stephen doesn’t drive stick, and maybe I have some control issues I wanted do all the driving), the trip would take five days.
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Day 1: Tuesday, December 27th. Total Miles for the Day: 701.3

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All my bags are packed / I'm ready to go

Stuffed Trunk

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This was the longest day of the trip and probably my least favorite.  It was rough enough saying my goodbyes with my family, and too little sleep plus too much anxiety didn’t help.
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Car takes gas, Joie takes coffee

Coffee always helps, though.

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We at least had a gorgeous morning to see us off.
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Will the sky look like that in Washington?

Morning Sky in Alabama

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Fritz, whom we’d originally planned to allow free reign of the car but whom we wound up confining to a large carrier on the recommendation of my vet, became very, very agitated after about 45 minutes of driving—and very, very loud about it.  And he wasn’t stopping.  “Just give him time,” I said.  “He’s just anxious.”
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Kitty Jitters

"I did NOT sign up for this."

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But I knew Fritz could make the hour commute from my apartment to my parents’ house without complaining.  After just one hour of driving, we were stopped in Union Town, a notorious speed trap.

But we were not stopped by police.  We were stopped by my cat crapping in his carrier.

Really?!  Already?!  This trip couldn’t have given me ONE DAY of smooth sailing to ease into it?!

Fritz was given free roaming (and constant access to a litter box) from that moment of the trip forward.
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"Don't even look at me. Don't. You. Look at me."

Also, he was no longer speaking to us.

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Crossing over into Mississippi felt monumental.  Construction work in Alabama was the slowest and second most agonizing part of our trip; but crossing into a new state, where we could actually go the speed limit, was the first time I really felt I was on an adventure.  I allowed my brain to tell itself, “Wow, we’ve already gotten to another state!  And we only have to go through like, seven, so we must be close already!”
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The state that consistently makes Alabama look good.

The free coffee was welcome enough.

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You need these kinds of things when you’re going to be in a car for four and a half more days.
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It's only balanced if you eat two bags.

You also need healthy food, which Mississippi's rest areas were happy to highlight.

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The rest of the day went surprisingly well.  We passed into Louisiana from Mississippi (crossing the bridge was gorgeous!… and something we failed to get a picture of).  My brain congratulated itself on conquering another state; my butt congratulated itself on not being asleep yet.  I had some major Sleepy Moments in Mississippi and Lousiana, but they passed as we entered Texas.
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"We have to go deeper!... into Texas!"

At least, I THOUGHT I woke up. But then there was this Texas within a Texas... TEX-CEPTION?!

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Our original strategy was to take Interstate 20 all the way to Interstate 5 in California.  But somewhere shortly before Dallas, we were advised to take Interstate 40 instead.  I was wary of this, given the blizzards that much of I-40 had seen in the week or two before, but I gave in, and we started making our way north.
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"Still not speaking to you."

"What kind of cat carrier is this?"

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Even at no-traffic hours, driving in Dallas was terrifying.  I can’t imagine commuting in that city.  We got ourselves as far away as we could for the night in hopes of avoiding any traffic the next morning.  It was a wise decision, but it left us completely exhausted.  We stopped at a friendly Comfort Inn in Decatur, Texas, managed to order pizza ten minutes before Pizza Hut closed, and finally, we relaxed for the day.  My left knee was killing me, I suppose from being ready to hit the clutch for the last 12-13 hours.
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That's gotta be like, 75% of the country or something, right?

Map of Day 1


Coming Up in Episode 2:  Texas!  Texas!  And more Texas!  Texas represents 67% of the area of the United States of America*.


*Not even a little bit true

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Snow Days

It’s been over a month since my last post, and I’m feeling quite settled here in Washington!  The trip out was an adventure, and one on which we had a lot of good luck—but I’m not ready to build that post yet.  Instead, I want to talk about what last week brought, which represented a dream come true for this Alabama native: SNOOOOOOOOW!!

A LOT OF IT.

One disappointment I had upon finding out that Stephen and I would be living in Washington rather than Colorado was that I wouldn’t get to see nearly as much snow.  Fortunately for me, last Wednesday our area saw a historic snowfall, fresh on the heels of a couple inches of snow from earlier in the week.  And in case you didn’t know: I am the Queen of Loving Snow.

I even have a crown. Although I haven't been able to find it since it warmed up outside...

Now much like Alabama, this area is apparently not equipped to handle any kind of substantial snowfall in terms of road maintenance.  And with the addition of a crazy ice storm on Thursday (followed by even more snow), travel was pretty much a nightmare.  Good news for me, as that meant that Stephen could work from home—and of course, I could make him take his lunch break to go Snow Walking with me!  We’d already snapped some pictures around our apartment from the previous weekend’s relatively minor snowfall:

Bridging Washington's lovely green and snow's sparkling white.

These snowberries taste like snowberries!

Snow at Sunset

 

But that was nothing compared to Wednesday and Thursday’s Snowmageddon 2012!

 

Fence along the trail

Evergreen icicles

I have reason to believe Narnia is just around that curve.

A snowy place to sit

It was a working lunch for some of us.

 

One of my favorite things about this past week was that we had been walking this trail before the snow began and I’d gotten a lovely picture of a moss-covered rock wall.  I took a picture of it on Saturday; got another one for the first snowfall almost exactly 24 hours later; and took another picture on Wednesday, after Sunday’s snow had melted and been replaced with even more:

 

Saturday...

...Sunday...

...and Wednesday!

 

I was in heaven for most of last week, with both my snow-loving self and my inner weather geek satisfied (I was even featured on my beloved weather blog from back home—something I shall brag about until the end of time).  But I must admit: sad as I am that most of the snow has since melted, it’s nice to no longer feel too afraid to drive anywhere.  Of course, maybe my favorite thing about this cold weather is that it’s an excuse to get cuddly.

 

The Snowy Couple

 

Here’s hoping for more snow days this season!

 

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