Monday, September 27, 2010

- The Beginning of the End

There were times when this journey lasted forever.  But now that I'm at the end it doesn't seem like it took that long.

Today I officially accepted a job offer to be an R&D Scientist II at General Mills.  I mailed in the paperwork last week.  It's kind of crazy to think that the job I've been after for the last year and a half is mine.  I'm seriously moving to Minneapolis - and I'm nervous and a little worried about the cold, but mostly I'm ridiculously excited.  I am finally going to be a grown up and join the working forces!

Last week I applied for graduation.  All that really means is that I filled out a form online and pressed submit.  But you have to fill out that form to graduate.  Graduation is December 18th.  I'm throwing a party afterward - everyone is invited.

Now I have to write a dissertation.  Defend it.  Wrap up some research.  I'm minimizing how much there actually is left to do, but what actually IS minimal is the amount of time I have left in Raleigh.  In North Carolina.  Right now is the beginning of the end of my time here at NC State.  Nine years ago my parents were dropping me off at the dorm I had NO idea then that I'd be here for this long.  That I would leave as a Doctor.  

It's moments like this when I am overcome with the sense of awe at the way that things work out - how your life falls into place and ends up being exactly what you wanted it to be, even if you didn't always know that's what you wanted.

Friday, September 24, 2010

- Wherein The Road Became Un-fun

You know how they always say that the second part of a trilogy is never the best part?  Like with Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers is an awesome movie but no one ever says it's their favorite.  I mean by definition it's stuck in the middle - it doesn't start anything because that's what the first movie does, and it can't finish anything because then we wouldn't need a third installment.  Well, our second day of driving is a lot like that movie, in that it was probably our least favorite.  It had some epic awesome moments, but also some epic fail moments.  

We woke up in Salina, Kansas.  Well Kirk woke up.  I openly admit that I am not a morning person, and on this particular morning I was about as much of an un-morning person as you can be.  I was mad that it was morning - and had I had the energy, I would have shook my fist at the light of day and cursed whatever God was responsible for it being 7AM so soon after I closed my eyes.  My eye lids felt like they had 5-lb weights attached to them and I greatly regretted not bringing my cream that helps keep the size of your under eye bags in check.  I seriously could have packed my belongings in those bags instead of my luggage.

At breakfast we realized that Salina was pronounced to rhyme with saliva, and not like Selena, which is the way we'd been saying it.  We packed the car and found the interstate, eager to put Kansas behind us.  See, we didn't think there was much to Kansas, and there isn't.  I mean that place is flat and boring.  BUT, there was one cool thing about Kansas - windmills.  
They were huge.  They were everywhere.  And it was kind of serene (dare I say - pretty) to see their large turbines slowly turning in the gentle breeze/wind that rocked the car.  Oh and now is probably a good time to mention that this is right about when we starting playing "the cow game".  It works like this: See those cows in the picture.  They are my cows because they are on my side of the road.  I have like 15 cows in this picture.  Kirk collects the cows that are on his side of the road.  Person with most cows wins.  Feel free to utilize any and all distraction techniques that will prevent the other player from seeing the herds of cows that are on their side of the road. 

Sounds simple enough, but twist!  You can kill each others cows.  This is where it gets exciting.  If I spot a body of water on Kirk's side of the road, I can drown his cows.  Technically it's supposed to be a lake or river, but you best believe that if I found so much as a 5 gallon bucket left outside I would at least try to drown one cow in the rain that had collected there.  And if you find a cemetery on their side of the road you can kill all the cows!

I had no idea this game would be as fun as it was - but it really was.  Especially since we got pretty creative with it.  "Oh no, you can't drown my cows in that because they are too smart.  And if you do my cows will probably come back as zombies and then they will be even more of a force to reckon with."  Things like that.  I mean I wasn't losing cows unless I thought I legitimately should.  

Cows and state troopers that were parked on the side of the road but never had anyone pulled.  That's what we saw in Kansas.  And a whole lotta flat-ness: 
 
So we were glad to get to Colorado.  Ready to see the Rockies.  
"Colorful Colorado" looks like a lot like Kansas, so it was a bit anticlimactic to get there.  Our plan was to stop in Denver for lunch and luckily we had a friend who had just been and could recommend a great brewpub.  We figured that since we'd had a beer sampler the day before at lunch, we should continue that tradition.  But before lunch we had to stop at an awesome local electronics store - I don't know if you've heard of it before - Best Buy.  See when I packed I was really smart and assumed that the battery charger for my camera was in the bag.  It wasn't.  I had realized this the night before and figured that we'd be able to find one outside of Denver.

Sidenote: An Ode to my Blackberry.  It was at this moment in our road trip that I realized how deeply I love my Blackberry.  Denver was already pulled up on Google maps.  I clicked on the link Adam sent me for where we eating lunch.  Then I searched the map for a nearby Best Buy - zoomed in, clicked to call and was talking to a customer service rep in like SECONDS.  The best part was we were able to hit up Best Buy before lunch so that we could charge the battery while we ate, which ensured that the camera would make it the rest of the day.  Love you Blackberry, don't ever leave me.

We ate at CB&Potts and they had the best beer out of any of the places we stopped for lunch.  Everything in the sampler was delicious.  And I also liked the cheese fries and the ridiculous cheeseburger I ordered that came with ham, bacon, an egg and fried onions on top.  It should have been nap time after that meal, but instead it was time to get back on the road.

Our original plan was to go north from Denver on I-25 and hit I-80 in Cheyenne.  So when we left lunch that's where we were headed.  But after looking at the maps we realized that this route was going to keep us next to the Rockies without actually getting to drive through them.  So we turned around - went back to Denver and found "the road less traveled".  

Right about then is when I got a phone call, and a job offer to General Mills!  This was definitely a high point of the day, and I was stoked.  Then we started to drive through the mountains and it started to rain and that was kind of a bummer because the views would have been amazing had they not been obscured by rain and fog.  But blue sky did start to peek through:
Then we found this beautiful spot: 
There was a place to pull off right by this, but in order to walk to the best view, we had to walk on the road and jump the guard rail really quickly when there was a car headed our direction.  But all of that was worth it because the 300th picture we took on our road trip was one of my favorites:
This was taken by balancing my awesome camera on said guard rail and hoping for the best.  A risk worth taking.  I feel it is also important to mention that I drowned ALL of Kirk's cows in that lake.  
Colorado was beautiful, and we were glad that we chose to go the scenic route despite the time that it added.  I also managed to again kill all of Kirk's cows by spotting a small town cemetery with the help of Gloria.  We drove into Wyoming just before the sun set.  
And pretty much once it got dark, it wasn't so fun anymore.  About an hour from Colter Bay Village Kirk got pulled for speeding.  And he got a citation.  And the time it took for that cop to do all that was just enough so that when we reached the spot where they closed the road every night at 11 pm - it was 11:15.  The only time they let traffic flow through was at 1 am, so we had to park on the side of the road and wait.  That was where we hit our low point.  We were exhausted.  Disappointed and mad about the citation.  So ready to be out of the car, and yet stuck in it because it was about 40 degrees outside.  We did the best thing we could do: gave each other a kiss and pulled out the pillows and blankets to take a nap.  I remember saying something about not knowing if I could sleep and then promptly passing out.  At about 12:45 they came around and knocked on everyone's windows as a "wake up call".  

Kirk asked me to drive and so I went through the what felt like 50 mile construction zone, but that was only because it was an unpaved road for most of the way so you could only go like 25 mph.  When we finally got to Grand Teton National Park we of course got lost trying to find where my friend, a park ranger, lives.  Luckily we ran into another park ranger on patrol who helped us out.  It was nearly 3am when we crawled into bed and we were both too tired to really even be glad that we finally got there.  We were just ready for a new day.  Fortunately, Yellowstone more than made up for all the trouble we went through to get there...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

- Knoxville to Salina

A little over a month ago it was time to move out of my apartment.  Kirk came over to help but we had barely packed up my books when we spotted my road atlas.  I had just accepted his invitation to drive out to Davis with him, so we sat down on the floor and poured over the maps talking about where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see - discussed where we had friends that we could possibly stay with, and how many days it would take.  As we flipped back and forth between states and traced interstates across the country, a loose plan took shape.  Kirk wanted to see the Gateway Arch, I wanted to drive through Denver and we both wanted to spend a day in Yellowstone.  To take a day off would call for some insane driving on the other days so we decided to leave on Monday night and make the quick trip to Knoxville to get things moving.  Plus, my best friend Katie lives there, so we'd have a place to stay.

I love Katie.  I always have.  Ever since we laid in the great room of the Chi Omega house as pledges and talked in the dark about how our other choice was ADPi.  She's just one of those girls that's always there when you need her, when you don't need her, and when you don't think you need her.  But she's also a little crazy - in a completely endearing way.  So when we showed up to her beautiful loft in downtown Knoxville and then promptly asked her to take us grocery shopping - she got excited because she would have people to help her carry groceries.  We stayed up a little too late hanging out and enjoying her comfortable couch, then called it a night.  In the morning I crawled into bed with her to eat cereal and she told me that I couldn't break up with Kirk because we were too cute together and I was so happy.

I put on one of Kirk's tee shirts, we packed up the car, and plugged in our first destination - Salina, Kansas - into the navigation on Kirk's phone.  Gloria's voice (the navigation woman) came on to direct us back to the highway and we were off!
We stopped in Kentucky at the visitor's center and picked up a state map.  Kirk sat in a rocking chair and I told him about the world champion Tennessee walking horses whose portraits were framed on the wall.  On the road Kirk saw someone fly fishing and said that it "made his day".  Then we were in Illinois.  It's funny how often I look at maps, and it was at that moment that I realized that St. Louis is on the Missouri/Illinois border.  That Missouri borders Illinois. 
We pulled into St. Louis around 2pm and followed signs for the Gateway Arch so that we could get a closer look.
Mission accomplished.  Then we parked and walked around the riverfront downtown area to find a place to eat lunch. We picked a brewery and sat outside.  It was a nice day, but kind of smelly from the river.  The pretzels were way too salty but the pasta and beer were good.  We got back in the car and had an uneventful drive across Missouri, the "Show me" state.  As we drove through Kansas City, the sun was starting to set. 
And there was this awesome cloud that looked like Pegasus.
We were barely able to see any of Topeka from the road because it was getting dark and by that point we were ready to be in Salina and in bed.  Our first day was full of driving and we were in the middle of nowhere, but we were excited by the prospect that in a mere 24 hours we would be in Wyoming - if only Wyoming had been as happy about that as we were...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

- The L word

After he left there were times when I missed him so much it literally hurt. Until that point we had spent almost every day together and shared everything. Then he was gone. Going to bed every night meant that I was one day closer to seeing him again. His second cousin drove me three hours from Raleigh to his house. I hugged his mom and couldn't keep my eyes off him because I couldn't believe he was actually there, for me to see. He made lunch and we ate fried okra and drank sweet tea. His brother and sister-and-law came over that night and we had steaks and played Tripoley. When we crawled into bed that night he said "I think I might love you".

The next morning we had pancakes and bacon and went to church. I didn't sing the hymns because I am uncomfortable forcing a melody that I do not know. I took communion. We took a nap with the sunlight streaming through the trees into the window. We started packing his car and jammed the trunk full. That night we went to his family's fish fry at the pond. We lost in spades because his brother is amazing and if I ever manage to beat him it will be a personal victory. I met his mom's whole side of the family. We both wore flannel plaid shirts. I cuddled with puppies and talked to people and sat by the fire to stay warm. We drove back that night and I watched the stars out the window. As I snuggled up into the nook he said "I love you" and I said "I love you too".

He said that he's known he loved me since we spent a weekend at our friends house on the river. For some reason I couldn't remember when I first knew, only that I'd been waiting for what felt like forever for him to say it. But, as someone who remembers everything it really bugged me that I couldn't pinpoint when I knew. After replaying 1000 moments from this summer over again in my head - I remembered. It was the same weekend as him. We were driving to Harker's Island and he got a phone call from his dad saying that Pawpaw was going into surgery and things were uncertain. I knew as soon as he said "oh no" that it was not a good phone call. The look on his face after he hung up killed me. As I held his hand I realized that if there was another call with bad news it would break my heart to see him broken. It took my breath away to realize how deeply I cared for him right then, at that moment. My skin felt electric, I was shaky, and the tears were welling up. And that's when I knew that I had left "liking him" behind and moved on to loving him.

Since then there have been too many times to count that I've almost said it. That it's been right there on the tip of my tongue and forefront of my mind how much I love him. Sometimes I felt like it would just burst forth whether I wanted it to or not - and yet it was important to me to wait until he said it first. Not because I was unsure as to how he felt - the way he treats me left little question - but because I wanted the moment to come when he was completely ready for it.

The next morning we went back to the pond for a breakfast of epic proportions. He made me hot chocolate. While standing by the fire his dad told me how good I'd been for Kirk and we discussed how well he would do at UC Davis. Later, we had meatloaf sandwiches for lunch. Then I packed up my stuff and he and his dad packed his car from the floor to the ceiling. His mom made rice krispie treats and assembled snacks for us. And just like that, it was time. Goodbyes were said, hugs were given, tears were shed, and we started our journey across the country.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

- The Magic

I am working on like a million posts about my life and the awesome trip that I took with Kirk, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that such a highly anticipated trip already came and went and find the right words to do it justice. So, right now I'm going to share something else, and if it doesn't make you smile at all then you're cold and heartless and probably kill cuddly puppies for fun.

Let me preface this by saying that I think most people know that I have a dirty little secret - I like reading mommy blogs. And by like, I mean love. I've read a bunch here and there but my all time favorite is definitely Dooce.com. There aren't many "famous" people I would like to meet, but if I saw Heather Armstrong walking down the street I would probably squeal like a Justin Bieber fan. This week she posted a link to Do Fun Stuff - a children's album with music made by pop bands that this guy Ryan Marshall compiled for charity. And that's all well and good, but I knew about Ryan Marshall because through the chain of mommy blogs he became kind of a big deal when he took really cute pics of his pregnant wife and wrote sweet little messages on them. I had checked out the whole series before, and some of his other photography work, but what I didn't know is that he had a made a video.


Okay now, I love that video. I have a girl crush on his wife because she's adorable (seriously she made a unitard look good) and I very much want bangs that look like that. BUT - what's better than the video, is that flippin' song he used! I have watched that video like a million times this week just to hear that song which he said was by Rabbit, but I couldn't find it on iTunes because it's actually Rabbit! and punctuation is apparently muy importante when searching. I finally figured that out this morning and was able to buy the whole CD which is just amazing feel good pop, or sounds like it is. I'll know more when I can tear myself away from having Magic on repeat.

I just thought you should know that that's how I've been spending my time.