Thursday, March 31, 2011

Starting over again...

TN to WA adventure
Trip facts:
Drove over over 2800 miles in 7 days. Made it 2750 miles without an incident. ;)
Passed through 11 states.
Listened to two audiobooks and one CD over 15 times (stopped counting after that), and never listened to the radio.
Saw a Bald Eagle in Nebraska, a whooping crane (1 of only 300 left in the wild), a huge fox as roadkill, and saw a tumble weed roll across the highway in Wyoming.
I had sore muscles that I didn't know could get sore... my eye muscles. You don't realize how, throughout the day, your eyes focus and lose focus and you move from focusing on objects close to you and far away... always moving and resting when needed. But when you are driving they have to be always attentive and scanning the distance. It was weird; when I would stop at the end of the day and my eyes would just want to blur over.

Tips for the career traveler:
1. The entertainment is crucial! Get some good music.
2. Use t-shirts and socks as packing material around fragile things rather than newspaper.(When you are trying to pack lots of stuff in a little space you get creative.)
3. Dry milk. Its awesome to still be able to have cereal without having to worry about refrigerating the milk. Just add water.

Now, the traveling is done (at least the cross country traveling). I have been working in WA for almost two weeks now and I am finding Home Health PT to be very interesting. The schedule is pretty flexible and it is great to get one-on-one treatments with the patients. The flexibility of the scheduling is also the hard part about this job, though, since scheduling is not done by the office staff. It is left up to the therapist to make sure all their patients get seen at the right time and for the right number of visits. I am going to have to be extremely organized.
As far as the area goes...I am loving it! There are coffee shops all over the place and all the cherry trees are blooming. The downtown Seattle area where Jess and I went last weekend was hopping with a wide variety of people. Very eclectic. We went to the public market and walked around all the vendors. A ton of them were selling flowers... mostly daffodils and tulips. They were beautiful.
First Starbucks!

Daffodils lining the roof of the market

I didn't get any flowers, at the time, because I still had not moved into my own apartment. In fact, tonight will be my first night in the new place. I have been staying with Jess till I found something which has been so much fun. We have spent hours catching up and cooking together and just chillin'. I'm kinda sad to leave, but she is in a one bedroom place and we both have so much stuff. :) I moved in to a really cute one bedroom townhouse style apartment not too far from Jess' apartment building. (Pics to come later.)
WA has definitely lived up to its reputation for gloomy, rainy days. So far I think there has been one sunny day since I have been here. I'm not too concerned though. How can I be depressed when life is so good?
Hopefully, the sun comes out for a little bit this weekend so Jess and I can go snowshoeing!! It will be my first time ever doing that. Should be interesting... :) :)

Monday, March 21, 2011

I've made it!

Friday morning I left from Salt Lake City. I was trying to make it as far as I could go. I drove through northern Utah and then into southern Idaho. These areas were, by far, the least populated areas I had driven through the whole trip.

When I got to a town just a few hours away from Jessica's place I decided to try to just go ahead and get all the way to Redmond, WA before stopping. Unfortunately, this was probably not the best choice. I got into the mountain range and it began snowing. Of course! I called Jess to see if she could find a hotel room for me to just pull off and stop, but there were none up there. It was a complete white out for about 20 minutes right when I was going through the peak of the mountain pass. After about two hours stuck in the snow and one tow truck later I was able to make it all the way to Redmond, WA by 1am. Again...I hate the snow, and after this experience I plan to get chains for my car. Why is it that I always end up driving in the worst snow storms without any knowledge that they are coming? My new favorite radio station is 1610 AM. The roadway advisory station. ;)
Other then my snowy adventure, which had the potential to be really bad, but turned out fine (thanks to AAA), I just had a long driving day and then was able to recover all day Saturday. Jess and I cooked dinner and had a great time hanging out.
Today, Sunday, Jess showed me around town a bit and I have been looking at places to rent while I am here. Tomorrow, I start work. I will be doing Home Health PT on this assignment. I have no experience in this at all so I will have to let you all know how that goes later on. Hopefully, I am able to pick it up pretty quickly. I am excited to be here in WA and I can't wait to let you know how my first week goes!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mountains, and temples, and mormons, oh my!

Wednesday was another big driving day. Since I had spent so much time at the farm and bird watching and spent so little time driving on Monday I had to make up for it on Tuesday and Wednesday. Unlike Tuesday, however, the terrain I was seeing as I left Cheyenne, WY quickly turned to mountains. I could see them out there looming in the distance knowing that I would be crossing them before the days end. As I entered the mountains I began to see snow on the ground on the sides of the highway. Ever since my last experience driving in the snow I have a strange reaction every time I see snow anywhere near a road. Its like when you eat something and it makes you sick. Then the next time you see that food you have an aversion to it and you get an awful feeling in the pit of your stomach. Well, that's how I feel toward snow. The good news is the roads remained clear the whole way so I was spared a repeat of my bad experience. In fact, the weather on my trip so far has been outstanding. There were some ominous clouds hanging around as I approached SLC yesterday, but nothing much came of them just some showers in the last 5 minutes of my drive.

The only real interesting thing from my drive was how incredibly windy it was. The wind gusts were really strong and were pushing my car around on the road pretty bad. There was a sign that read, "Strong winds possible next 5 miles." So I was thinking "Oh! 5 miles is nothing then the wind will calm down." But 5 miles later there was another sign saying the same thing, then another, and another and so on. Total it was at least 70 miles of windy conditions. The signs are just a little deceiving. :)
blurry, but it said "strong winds possible". Look at the windsock :)
 Even with the windy conditions the scenery was just breath-taking! It was fun trying to imagine how in the world the pioneers were able to cross this terrain. That took some serious determination!

Today I stayed in Salt Lake City all day. No driving at all. I have read some books on the history of the Mormon Church and I was interested to go to Temple Square and see how the Mormons themselves portray their history. Historical events can be communicated in different ways by different people based on their perspective and their objective. That is certainly the case with this religion. As I watched the multiple films they produced on the church history I noticed that they left out huge chunks of information that would be detrimental to their objective, converting non-believers. They portray the founding fathers of their faith, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young as loving husbands of only one wife, and as completely innocent men who did not deserve any of the persecution they endured by these raving mad heathens who were too closed minded to accept that Joseph had been visited by Jesus and given the authority to translate new scriptures. The fact of the matter, was some of the persecution was directly due to the fact that the concept of plural marriage was being taught in their churches as the will of God. When the videos and tours never even mentioned the idea of plural marriage I was a little taken aback. How could they just leave out such a large part of their history? Especially since, when I asked about it they said that, although the church does not condone the act of plural marriage anymore, it was the right thing to do at the beginning of the church to build up a large "faithful generation." If it was the right thing to do in that time, why be so ashamed of it now?
Nonetheless, the day spent at Temple Square was interesting and I got to share some of what I believe with the young girls who were on their "mission" (they were the tour guides for all the sites), and they tried their best to convert me. (Wasn't happening.)

never seen this scene portrayed on stained glass before...

By far, the most interesting thing in the museum... an odometer for a wagon! Impressive!

Two other cool things then I will stop blabbing on...
1) I got to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse. Every Thursday they have a rehearsal that is open to the public. They are really great! However, they did not get through a whole song without the conductor stopping them and correcting something. On the one hand this made it hard to really appreciate the song, but, on the other hand, it was super cool to hear the instructions being given and how precise each note and word has to be in order for them to sound as amazing as they do.

2) One teaching of the Mormon church that I do completely agree with is the importance of family.  The Mormon Church has a family history library where you can go and do some research on your ancestry. So I spent a few hours looking up as much as I could on my relatives.
Grandy, I found out that your dad worked at the Chicago Police department and your mom was only 18 when they got married in 1923.
Grandad, your parent married around 1930 and your mom worked at a jewelry store at the time.
Probably not astounding revelations to you, but it was cool digging up these little hidden treasures.
Tomorrow, is another long driving day. Hopefully, the weather will continue to hold up.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

O beautiful for spacious skies!

Monday, morning I went to "Branched Oak Farms" which is an organic dairy farm I found online who advertised tours and homemade cheeses. I was expecting that it would be a touristy place with a gift shop and such; just like the maple syrup farm I visited in Vermont. However, I realized my preconceived notions were wrong when I was driving up the driveway and knocking the front door of this families home.

Doug and Krista, the owners of the farm, welcomed me in to their kitchen and we talked for a while and got to know each other. They were interested in my travels, and I, in their farming experiences. They own over 200 acres of land (which is considered a small piece of land out here) and only about 50 cows. They have been milking cows forever, but only just recently in 2006 started making cheese from some of the milk they produce. The whole operation, from milking to cheese, happens in just a couple rooms about the size of a 4 car garage. Unfortunately, the "cheese making class", as Krista called it, that I was expecting to take was really just her neighbor wanting to learn how to make cheese and Krista was going to give her a lesson. Well, the neighbor had to cancel and, therefore, no cheese making class. Bummer!
It seems like everything goes slower on the farm. I was thinking I would get the tour, maybe learn how to make some cheese and then leave, but I ended up spending most of the day there. They just made me part of the family. I helped them clean some barrels for milk storage, Krista hung her laundry out on the line, and I listened as they chatted about cheese. Half of which I did not understand. Who knew cheese making was so complicated? I really experienced the mid-west hospitality when they insisted on feeding me lunch. (Side note: During lunch I got to taste some of the cheese Krista makes and loved it! So I bought a few packages of it and have been enjoying it the past couple of days on crackers.) They even offered me a room for the night. I told them, thank you, but I had to keep heading west and so they pulled out all their maps and gave me some great tips. They told me that this time of year, this particular week, in fact, is when hundreds of thousands of Sandhill cranes and other migratory birds are heading north and they all funnel through this one area of Nebraska called Grand Island.
I took their suggestion to stop in Grand Island and see the birds. As I was driving down the highway towards the nature center I was talking with my Dad on the phone just chatting about the trip and all of a sudden I noticed the skies were becoming very crowded! There were so many birds flying in their "V" formations. It looked like black and gray ocean waves in the sky. 

The pictures I tried to take just did not do it any justice. Just imagine this scene, but across the whole sky and it does not stop for 5 miles!
Once at the nature center they showed me where I could drive around and see the cranes on the ground feeding in the corn fields. This drive was nice. I just rolled my windows down and listened to the sound of the cranes and the dirt road under my tires. It was sunny and the breeze was blowing. The cranes call is not the most pleasant thing ever, but it is great just to listen to nature and I loved every minute of it.
These corn fields seemed to go on forever, and I never stopped seeing the cranes. I eventually had to turn back so I could get to the foot bridge by sunset. The birds all return to the river at night for protection so this is really the best time to see them all clumped together.
Today, Tuesday, I drove through the rest of Nebraska. Part of the way was on the Sandhills Journey scenic byway. The sandhills of NE area the largest grass stabilized sand dunes in the world. It was amazing driving across this vast expanse of land that just had wheat fields and what looked like barren land. However, I have learned that the sandhills are far from barren there are actually tons of wild life. They are just hard to spot especially in winter when everything is brown and the animals blend right in.

I noticed that there was a change in crops as I drove through the mid west. In northern Missouri and Eastern NE there were only corn fields and mostly dairy cows. Then as I got into Western NE it turned into wheat fields and beef cattle. I was pretty impressed that I could tell the difference. I can thank being in Maine for this new found knowledge. The difference in appearance between corn and wheat fields in the winter season after it has been harvested is very slight. (The cows are a bit easier to tell apart) :)
Can you tell the difference?

As I came into WY the scenery began to change. More hills and plateaus dominated the landscape. Once in Cheyenne I stopped by the State Museum and the State capitol building. Both were interesting and gave lots of history about Wyoming.

I have to say while I was driving across the plains today it struck me how amazing and how varied our country is. It gave me a new appreciation for the greatness of America, and every time I hear the song "America the Beautiful" it is going to hold a whole new meaning for me. I would highly recommend that everyone, at least once in their lifetime, makes a cross-country trip. It will change your perspectives and widen your horizons!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Gateway to the West

Last night, I stayed in a hostel that was just a few minutes from the Arch. The hostel itself was an old building that left a lot to be desired. My hostel experiences are always interesting. At this one I was not afraid for my own safety, but for the security of the belongings in my car. I was told to take my bike off the back of my car so it would not attract people looking for an easy target. I was hoping some homeless person would not decide that my food, clothes, and camping equipment were just too good to pass up. So I spent a mostly sleepless night listening to the noises of a big city. Not really my thing. However, before I went to bed and right after I finished my last blog post a nice young lady came into the hostel. She was from Chicago and was just in town for a little while. As we talked we found out that we both wanted to go see the St. Louis Arch in the morning and decided to go together.

In the morning the owner of the hostel, a very nice man, drove us to the Arch. He had offered to do this after explaining that the parking garage there was the worst place in the city for car break-ins. I was really longing for one of those force fields from Star-trek for my car. Wouldn't it be cool? The bad guys would just bounce off when they got too close. Of course, I know I do have a force field surrounding me... just not the star-trek kind. :)
Anyway, my new friend and I arrived at the Arch right when it opened and were one of the first people in line for the tram ride to the top. The little tram cars were so small and they looked like little space pods. (What's with this post and space references?) The ride to the top only took a few minutes,  and was not as scary as some of the informational websites made it seem. There was some clicking and rocking, but nothing unnerving. I guess if you were claustrophobic it may have been an issue.

The weather was perfect for top-of-the-Arch viewing. It was a crisp clear day. You can see the historic courthouse and the new Busch stadium.
Under the Arch there is a museum featuring information on the western expansion including the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition. Part of my route actually follows Lewis and Clark's trail. I feel like this stop was very symbolic since this is my own expedition west. Thank God my trip will be in a heated car and not a covered wagon or by foot.
Across the street from the Arch was the court house I mentioned earlier. This was also open to the public as a museum so I wandered around there for a while before heading back to my car and getting on the road again.

I passed through Kansas City, KS where I did not feel very comfortable getting out of my car so I just drove around the historic downtown area and headed north to Nebraska. On the way I drove through vast areas of corn fields and farm houses. It was not super exciting scenery, but pretty nonetheless.

I have stopped for the night in Lincoln, NE and tomorrow I plan on going to a local dairy farm and taking a cheese making class! Cant wait!