Fallout From 83 Hours in the Car, Alone.

I’ve been back in my hometown for 9 days now, and one thing is clear: I am not the same person I was when I left.

As I drove from state to state, I listened to podcasts and music, and I thought. I thought a lot. I relived nearly every mistake I made during the 2016-2017 school year–remembering emotions and words, as if reliving them would somehow activate a “Choose Your Own Adventure” hack and I’d be able to fix all those mistakes. And then I would think about all of the things I think I want to be: Google Certified Instructor, Apple Distinguished Educator, Master Journalism Educator, a pianist who really and truly can play anything, a writer who can manage more than a book every seven years…and I wonder where’s the wisdom in splitting myself into too many boxes.

A lot of thinking, some of it instructive and enlightening, some of it destructive and dangerous.

I realized I was not the same about a week ago, when I helped someone move into a new home. A decent-sized crew showed up to help, and I was content to keep to myself, to not engage in conversation at all.

I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, so this shouldn’t have surprised me, except there’s a difference between keeping to myself and making an active choice to guard my words and body language. That’s what I was doing. At the time, I chalked it up to extreme heat and fatigue. Even at my most introverted, I usually connect with one person. I crack jokes, I ask questions.

Introverted doesn’t mean silent, it often just means selective. Introverted doesn’t mean emotionless–in fact I’m well aware that my emotions are pretty easy to decipher. Over the years, students have told me they know within seconds if I’m having a bad day. If I don’t put on the right face at church, it’s pretty obvious. And those who know me well usually see my most unfiltered self.

But then yesterday I bounced from one social event to the next–three in a row–and my behavior was the quite similar at each stop. I chose to not volunteer a whole lot of information. I worked to control facial expressions, not looking disinterested but also not looking too interested. With a few exceptions, I gave minimal answers to perfectly fine and logical questions.

I’ve learned how to be alone–go to restaurants, movies, cultural events by myself, and even travel alone–and I didn’t think for a moment that an epic road trip would be a struggle. And it wasn’t. But I also didn’t realize what all that time alone to think would do to me.

Even writing this feels too exposed, and a quick dig in my blog’s archives proves I bend toward oversharing, so this post fits with that. But now I wonder if hitting “publish” is a bad idea.

Maybe my current state is temporary and once school starts again, my old self will come back, but I’m not sure. All that time spent scrutinizing my failures and mistakes has made me a bit more cautious. A bit more afraid.

When I hopped in my car a month ago, I didn’t see that coming.

20 Things I Learned on a 5,549 Mile Road Trip.

  1. Screen Shot 2017-07-01 at 10.10.22 PMIce chests are awesome.
  2. So is ice.
  3. Packing breakfast and lunch is smart—much healthier and way cheaper.
  4. Snacks are vital, but be open to picking up a pack of Milanos at a gas station every now and then.
  5. I’m at an age where driving more than 8 hours at a time–alone–really isn’t feasible.
  6. I’m at an age where driving only 6 hours feels silly.
  7. Podcasts are boon companions.
  8. Sometimes learning a language while driving can keep me awake.
  9. Sometimes learning a language while driving can put me to sleep.
  10. Make time to work out at least once a week while traveling.
  11. Friends who encourage you to go to two Aqua Zumba classes in one day are worth their weight in gold.
  12. Eat local, and with reckless abandon.
  13. Wearing a jacket in the car can prevent uneven arm tans.
  14. Google Maps is thisclose to becoming sentient.
  15. Getting off Twitter for an extended period of time is good for the soul.
  16. Staying off Facebook can be equally healing.
  17. You cannot run away from your problems.
  18. Friends in faraway states can help you work through your problems.
  19. It’s okay to not dry your hair. Or put on earrings. Or wear perfume.
  20. Family isn’t always about blood.

One more day of driving. I can’t believe I did this, but I’m certainly glad I did.

Hoping to Find What I’m Looking For.

A month.

Really, over a month.

I’ve been silent for a long time here on my blog, and I don’t know that I’ll ever really be able to talk about why. Not that it’s anyone’s business in the first place. But if you want to read a little piece of why, have at it.

But Week 2 of summer break just began, and in two days I am starting the first leg of a 5,000 mile road trip.

Elizabeth Gilbert went to Italy and India, Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Coast Trail, I’m driving all over hither and yon.

And like Ms. Gilbert and Ms. Strayed, I’m looking for something on this trip. Peace. Clarity. Love.

I have a new phone that can store dozens of podcasts and thousands of songs (not to mention a movie or two), and the promise of friendly faces in every city I’m staying in. I have plenty of snacks and planned meals to eat in the car, and will still go to Jazzercise whenever I can.

I haven’t had a grand adventure since going to Japan three years ago, so I figure I’m due.

I’m sure I’ll post a time or two from the road–at the very least, perhaps a photo dump–but I’m hoping this trip will recalibrate my brain and my spirit. I need help with both.

 

 

Oh, Utah, You Trickster.

A year ago this past weekend, I was in Utah for two events to try and get people to buy my book. I wrote this when I got home, but never published it. Enjoy. 

Two weeks ago, I flew to Salt Lake City for a couple of book-related events. Given that my book is a memoir about a single Mormon woman, it made sense to return to the Motherland and share my stories.

My plane landed at 1:10. By 1:25, I was at the rental car counter. By 1:30, I had the following conversation:

Attendant: Email, please, to send a receipt to?
Me: Ms…
Attendant: Ms? What about your husband?
Me: I’m not married.
Attendant: What about when you DO get married? What then?
Me: Well, I waited 25 years. I don’t think marriage is happening. And I’m fine with that.
Attendant: Oh, that just means God knows you haven’t NEEDED a husband yet. When you do, you’re gonna have to change your email address.

Here’s the thing: I was not at all surprised by that conversation, which proves two things to me. First, marriage still reigns supreme in Utah. Second, I totes made the right choice to move away.

My reading was attended by a handful of people, but I expected that because my competition in Provo was a BYU football game. But I loved the people who showed up–they asked great questions and the Provo Library is a thing of beauty.

After my reading, we walked out of the room…and right into a bride’s photo shoot. My friend Peggy thought it was the funniest thing, to walk out of a reading of my book, in which I make peace with not being married, and into a bridal photo shoot.

I loved being in Utah with the mountains and the final breath of summerish air, and time with Peggy never disappoints. I’m glad I took the time to go, and though every time I visit I entertain the thought of moving back, I appreciated God’s gentle–and humorous–reminders that I belong on the prairie.

Road Trip Part 2, or My Nieces Are Awesome.

After a good night’s sleep, we piled in the car again and drove an hour north to the Agate Fossil Beds. I chose this national park because it said it had paved trails, which I figured the 7 year old could manage better than tall grasses. One small problem though:

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And true, I could’ve told them that we probably wouldn’t see any snakes and if we made noise they would stay away, but I must admit, I was also a bit freaked at the prospect of running into one of those creatures. Maybe I’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark one too many times.

So we walked up to a bridge and back, but did not make it up to the hills you see in the distance behind that rattlesnake warning.

The best part about this national park was Ranger Anne. The National Park Service has this great Junior Ranger program, which engages kids through a variety of activities at the park. Once the activities are completed, the rangers have the kids recite a pledge to protect the national parks, and they are awarded with a badge. Ranger Anne added a line to the end of the pledge, though: “And I promise I will not put a baby bison in the back of my car.”

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Emma still can’t look at a camera. But she conquered her fear of rattlesnakes and stepped inside the tipi.

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These two also weren’t afraid of potential snakes in the tipi.

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Obligatory National Park sign photo

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The nieces after an hour of tooling around the park. This was as close as we got to the fossil beds.

We headed back to Scottsbluff for lunch, but made a pit stop at the Black Sheep Wool Company, where we saw no sheep, but lots of yarn. And this–which I have never seen before:

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Apparently this is a thing! Little Free Library!

We ate lunch at Chili’s, where I realized Lauren had eaten chicken fingers for every meal but breakfast since leaving Omaha. Not having kids of my own, I didn’t realize this is actually rather normal behavior for kids her age. Usually my rule is that we don’t eat at chain restaurants when out of town, but between my FODMAP drama and Emma and Lauren’s pickiness, we needed to stick to places we could trust.

I promised them pool time, if the pool was fixed. It was, so they played around in a hotel pool that was the rough equivalent of a king-size mattress. Have hotel pools always been this small and I’m just now realizing it?

After some pool time, we headed up to Scottsbluff National Monument. Lauren and McKenna tell me on the drive up that the bluffs got here because Nebraska used to be an ocean. An ocean? I ask. They affirm. Yes, an ocean. I am not sure I believe them, but I’m a teacher and who knows what kids are learning in elementary school these days.

We drive up to the top of the bluffs, and I see a sign for a 1/2 mile hike. We head in that direction, and then a couple who had just returned from that hike tell us a rattlesnake had camped out in the middle of the trail. So my grand plan to take my nieces on any hike at all never materialized. But we did get some good photos, albeit with my iPhone, because I left the fancy camera in the hotel room. The fancy camera and I did not have a good couple of days.

We headed back down to the visitor’s center so we could watch the film about Scott’s Bluff, and wouldn’t you know–2 minutes into the film we hear that the bluffs are remnants of an ancient sea! Look at my smart nieces.

Emma picked up two more badges–one for Scott’s Bluff, and one for the centennial celebration of the National Park Service. Like I said, smart nieces.

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Sporting badges for her hard work.

Incidentally, how Scott’s Bluff got its name is really quite morbid. Ah, history. You fun.

We got back to the hotel around 7, popped in A Bug’s Life (we had seen so many bugs that day and thought that film would be an excellent choice), followed by Enchanted, and our trip was over.

We drove back to Omaha the next day, an uneventful but long drive back home.

I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who have driven across Nebraska, and they complain about the terrain on their drive. They aren’t wrong–the landscape along I-80 isn’t appealing. But on this trip, I was reminded of how gorgeous most states are if you take the time to get off the proverbial beaten path. Nebraska did not disappoint in that regard. Not 10 miles after we headed north off I-80 were we greeted by lush, green, rolling hills.

This was an excellent test run for a trip with my nieces–perhaps next summer we will go explore a different section of northern Nebraska.

One that doesn’t have rattlesnakes.