Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Days 126 and 127 - To Nashville, Vanderbilt

To Nashville at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Virginia Beach, Virginia
Distance - 727 miles
Time - 12 hours

*I'm so glad that I drafted these entries last month, otherwise I think I would have forgotten a lot of the details!*

While Uncle Bruce was up and off to work at some crazy hour before dawn, it took me a little longer to get going. But eventually I was on the road only a little later than anticipated and managed to miss what little rush hour traffic VA Beach might have. When I left it was in the 50s, but soon the temperature was dropping fast and I was in a dramatic snowstorm - the first "snow built up on the road, everyone's going 40 on the highway with flashing lights because of no visibility" experience that I've had in at least a few years. It was a little scary at points, but thankfully we all came out safely on the other side of the storm where it was blessedly sunny.

The snow part of the drive was over but the temperature was now parked somewhere around 10 degrees (10 degrees!) and my poor desert dwelling car was no match for such a meteorological insult. The washer fluid sprayers were completely frozen and I started stopping every few exits to wash my windscreen from the cloudy build up of salty road spray. In an odd twist of serendipity, I had bought washer fluid in New Orleans and still had about 1/3 of the gallon in the bottle in my backseat - invaluable! The washer fluid at all of the gas stations was also frozen solid but I could splash some of mine on the window and use their squeegee to wipe it off, although a friend did later suggest a spray bottle and using the windshield wipers, which I think would be a great idea.

I finally made it to Nashville and only got a little lost trying to find my AirBnB host Karyn, but after giving her a call she got me to the right house and I was greeted by her dog Coda and their foster dog Rocko. Karyn and her husband Paulo were very friendly and welcoming, but I did get the feeling that they were planning a family movie with their daughter so I happily went and settled into my room for the evening.

Then there was Tuesday. Some days start with the best laid plans. And then you don't wake up until the "Time to Leave!" alarm goes off on your phone, inevitably the day you actually have to be somewhere important, like a tour and interview at the graduate program you've applied to. *sigh* I have a habit of being late to things, so now I build in so many buffers that I often end up being early (when I'm not, you know, running late) and on days like today, it means that I show up on time. I looked at my phone and jumped out of bed, washed my hair (just my hair, drying the rest of me would have taken too long), got dressed and even put on makeup, grabbed a cup of coffee, scraped off my car, and made it on the road heading towards campus in 12 minutes. Not bad for someone that usually takes at least an hour to get ready. There was an accident right in front of the parking garage where I was told to park, but I managed to get in, find a spot, and as I was leaving I found a nursing student who saved me valuable time by directing me to the correct building and floor to get to the admissions office. In the end, I was still a minute early and feeling pretty pleased with myself. Win!

Cheryl in the admissions office had arranged a whole morning of activities for me! First it was off to HEHI, a 3 hour class with all 150 of the pre-specialty students. Despite such a big class size, since they take everything together it was still obvious that I was an outsider. But I learned new things and even confirmed that I already know things! (It helped that the topic of the day was birth/post-partum). Happy feelings. Cheryl met me at the end of class to take a quick tour of the nursing school - quick because it's just three interconnected buildings. They no longer do BSN classes besides this pre-specialty year, so their MSN and DNP/PhD programs are the only focus. The simulation lab was the coolest part! There's a whole room set up to look like a hospital ward, complete with those robotic patients that can be programmed with symptoms and a variety of breathing/heart rates, etc. There's even one that is pregnant and has pregnancy complications! I was grateful that I was the only student touring around so that I could be all geeky over the neat technology and the potential that I might get to use it.

Other things that I learned while visiting : Remote proctors for exams are a little amusing (the name) and a little creepy (the idea that a 360 degree camera is watching you take your exams when you're not in Nashville). No matter how long I looked at the school's website, there are still so many things I thought I knew that I was very mistaken on. Like the clinical years - I thought they would assign us to a location if we didn't have a preference for either staying in Nashville or going back to our hometowns. Instead of getting randomly assigned to some new town, it's up to each student to contact a potential clinical site for the years that we're doing the specialty part of the program. That lead to a whole new set of questions : Where do I want to live and work? I love Tucson but I had mentally prepared to leave for at least 3 years. What would it mean to stay there? To be settled in a place?

It made me realize that I've always had a foreseeable end date to most every place that I've ever lived - Denver for elementary and high school - 12 years. South Hadley for college - 4 years. Burkina Faso/Kossouka for Peace Corps - 2 years. Tucson applying to grad school - 9 months. My car while traveling - 4.5 months. Back to Tucson before grad school - 6-7 months. I always though that this would be followed by grad school for 3 years, giving me ample time in which to contemplate that next step, where to move and actually live for an extended period. Now I'm contemplating the reality of being in Nashville for only a year and then...where? The idea with this program is that you do your specialty years in the city you plan on moving to, since by then you'll have started establishing your professional network and have job potentials. How do people chose where to live when everywhere is an available option? I love Tucson and I do think I'd actually like to live and work there. But I've also been smitten with Salt Lake City and Asheville and Ft. Collins, among other places I've traveled to on this trip. Votes? Opinions? I kind of feel like part of me expected to move somewhere new after grad school, a fresh slate if you will, but I also like that I've started to build a community in Tucson and want to finally stick with a place for a while.

So there's all that.

I had a lunch interview with the head of the Women's Health program and with the acting head of the Adult-Gerontology program, which was a fantastic chance to ask questions and get to know exactly what it meant that I had applied to the duel degree instead of just one or the other. I expected the option of a duel specialty to be really popular with students, but they said that each department usually has about 30-40 students but only 6 current students are enrolled in both, partially because you have to be accepted independently to each specialty and most students really are focused on one or another.

After lunch I was introduced to some students who were in their first specialty year of Adult-Gerontology (having completed the pre-specialty year) and it was such a great opportunity to ask a bunch of questions and find out that a good number of the students come from a huge range of backgrounds (I met a stay at home mom, a commercial airline pilot, and a social worker, for example). They really reassured me about the distance learning, as well as letting me know that the crazy traffic I experienced on my drive over was not at all uncommon - the take away lesson being live as close to campus as financially possible.

After a final meeting with the financial aid office, I drove around Nashville for a while, found some food for dinner and the next day, then went back to the house and had a great time playing with the dogs while chatting with Karyn and Paulo. I wish I had more time and energy to see more of Nashville, but overall I'm feeling really excited about the potential for this to become my home next year. I never expected to move to Tennessee, but I also never expected to move to Arizona and I've loved Tucson. I get the sense that Nashville might be similar in that regard, I hope I get accepted and get to find out if I'm right! (And if I'm wrong, I guess I'll be in class all the time anyway so it won't really matter if I don't like the city :p)

 Cloudy start to the day
 Then the sun came out for a little bit and it was beautiful!
 Until I ran into the beginnings of the snowstorm. I think snow is beautiful, but prefer to be the passenger rather than the driver when I encounter it in a car. I didn't take any photos during the "skidding around the buried road" part, for obvious reasons
 Freezing but pretty sunset driving through Tennessee
 Hello Nashville!
 Cool bridge/sculpture
 I feel like I have so much to say about this photo! But I'll just leave it here for now.
Rocko the foster pit bull who was simply a sweetheart (with a head that almost seemed too big for his body)
Rocko and Coda
Coda helping me blog

Friday, January 17, 2014

Day 125 - The Airport Day

The day where we sat in a line at Norfolk airport for most of the day trying to get Daisy home.

We were feeling so proud of ourselves - we were up and out of the house early so that we could take a nice leisurely drive and see the beach, we even arrived earlier than expected and parked in short term parking. Then we got inside and saw that the switchback line in front of United was full. And heading towards the Delta line. And stretching past all of the Delta counters. And turning the corner at the end of the ticketing hall. Well then...

It turned out that due to that crazy little polar vortex thing, the morning flights to DC had been cancelled. Not for other airlines, not the later flights on United, just the first two of the day. We went into problem solving mode - they had auto re-booked her on an earlier flight, but even with 90 minutes until it left it was clear that we weren't going to make it to the front of the slow moving line before then. We called the phone number listed on the email, went through a series of (in hindsight) hilarious mishaps with the automated directory ("No, I said the 5th! The 5th! Not the 10th!") that proceeded to tell us that he was sorry he couldn't help us, he would love to transfer us to a representative but due to high call volume there was no one available, goodbye. We got hung up quite a few times - it's a little embarrassing to get rejected over and over by a machine!

As we researched other flights from other airports, train tickets, even car rentals, we started chatting with our similarly-situated neighbors and had a pretty nice sense of camaraderie going by the time we all got to the front of the line 5 hours later. There were some people that were getting frustrated and upset, but between the guy in front of us and the couple waiting behind us, we all managed to keep a sense of humor and accept that there wasn't anything we could do but wait. We finally got up to the desk with the lady who had earlier been visibly angry with the people she was talking with, but Daisy turned on her charm and got the last ticket on the last flight out to D.C, with a continuing flight on to Hartford in the morning. Sweet! We hugged our neighbors goodbye and wished them well, and were on our way back to Uncle Bruce's house.

When we returned to the airport that evening we were still a bit nervous about her getting home in the face of the wave of airport closures and continued reports of flight delays. She made it all the way to DC! And then she got stuck - the next flight to Connecticut wasn't expected for a few days. But we went ahead and kept searching for other solutions, and she happily made it home by rental car the next day - a happy ending to a day of travel madness

 Look, a beach in Virginia Beach!
 Wait - there's one! One poor guy who gets to deal with...
...a very long line of frustrated delayed travelers.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Day 124 - To VA Beach

Distance - 428 miles
Time - 8 hours

Leaving after a long stay is always hard, but Daisy and I magically managed to get up and out of the house just about on-time, rearranging our cars and saying goodbye to Alynn, Aaron, and the elusive Sioux (who crouched in the hallway staring at me for almost 20 seconds! Progress!). It was a pretty cold morning again, but the ice layer on the car had mostly melted the day before, only minimal scraping required.

At the recommendation of Alynn and Desiree, Daisy and I stopped for breakfast on our way out of town at Biscuit Head, mostly because we both are ridiculously fond of biscuits and couldn't resist the name and the promise of a "jelly bar". That's right, instead of a salad bar there's a serve-yourself bar full of jams, jellies, marmalades, fruit butters, flavored honey, and flavored butters! I got the goat cheese grits and a biscuit, then divided each half into quarters so that I could sample as many flavors as possible - I tried the cherry jam, strawberry jam, lime marmalade, sweet potato butter, bananas foster jam, kumquat honey, lemon curd, and one of the butters (I just can't remember the flavor now, I think it might have involved maple?). My favorite was the lime marmalade, and Daisy liked the bananas foster, but all of them were really good, I don't think there weren't any that we wouldn't eat again. :)

Then we drove and drove and drove! North Carolina was a revelation to both of us - we just kept exclaiming about how beautiful the view was, particularly driving through the mountains. I think we were both really grateful for the chance to see them, and to appreciate Asheville and a part of the country we never had really thought about as a place we were going to enjoy so much.

After a few more hours, we made it to eastern Virginia and stopped to see Auntie Joan and Uncle Wayne! I don't actually remember how old I was when I met Joan when she started helping my grandparents as my grandmother's health started to decline, maybe about 10? I was young enough to happily adopt this wonderful woman with her Scottish accent so like my grandmother's as "auntie" and ever since I've only had a growing admiration for the passionate dedication she has to the families that she works with (really, she adopts us too, I think) and her generous heart-warming hugs. It somehow struck me as odd when we pulled up to her house - I'd never been there before. It was wonderful to get to sit and catch up - we got to meet their new husky puppy and even meet two of their grandchildren! They all had evening plans, so after another round of hugs, we chased the dog back inside and were on our way.

Daisy and I drove another 20 minutes or so and dropped in on my Uncle Bruce to say hello. Daisy had a long lost branch of her family living in Virginia Beach (I'll call them her aunt and uncle for simplicity since we never did manage to establish the actual relation) so we soon were back out on the road headed for dinner at a delicious new Greek restaurant called Ammos. The four of us had an amazing meal and were conversing over some wonderful (and huge!) desserts when I noticed a woman in some kind of a costume by the door labelled "Office".

"Oh dear, I hope it's not the belly dancer again, does she look like a belly dancer?" asked Daisy's uncle. Indeed, she was! In an upscale Greek restaurant. If you get there before 8pm, you'll be treated to some incredible, authentic Greek food that is clearly several steps up from the (now out of business) restaurant where I had my first job in high school. If you get there later, you'll have some unexpected entertainment, although the music did make conversation a little difficult. We called it a night and went home and had a nice chat with Uncle Bruce over a glass of wine, then headed for bed.

Goat cheese grits and the jam bar sampler
Inside Biscuit Head
"There is no snooze button for a cat who wants breakfast"
For diners who want their own space?
Mountains! (photo by Daisy)
Cloud front
I still have such a happy reaction seeing mountains, any mountains (photo by Daisy)
It's a lot easier getting photos of state signs when you have a co-pilot! (photo by Daisy)
Hills! (photo by Daisy)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Day 123 - Chilly last day in Asheville

January 3rd: at least it was sunny after snowing all night!
We woke up and this was what the windows looked like!
We all enjoyed the excuse to sleep in and stay inside a little longer, then went to meet Desiree at yet another amazing Asheville restaurant, the Sunny Point Cafe (ostensibly for breakfast but then we didn't get there until noon). I was debating between breakfast and lunch but then I found the breakfast salad - oven baked herb potatoes, bacon, and an egg on top of a spinach salad - the best of both worlds! (I know, an egg on a salad sounds weird, but somehow it still worked)
I really wanted a Gnome picture with these little houses! So on our way back to the house I convinced Alynn to let me out and then drive around the block and pick me up.
I'm telling you, there are murals tucked everywhere!
Most don't seem to have titles like this one, I wonder if "Chicken Alley" was inscribed when the mural was painted or after the fact by someone else?
On the side of one of the tattoo parlors, across from Chicken Alley
The underpass going into downtown was covered on all sides with these beautiful, vibrant murals
Some of the murals were indoors
Anyone recognize this guy? Is he famous?
Hi Aaron! Desiree and Alynn had to go home to work, so Daisy and I looked up the road conditions on the Blue Ridge Parkway
The road was almost entirely closed in this part of the state, except for the 1 mile stretch that allowed access to the visitor's center. Good enough for us! (photo by Daisy)
(photo by Daisy)
It was a very slow mile to the visitor center, but you could tell that this would be a beautiful drive in the summer (photo by Daisy)
I always forget how small black bears are until I see one like this
Panorama of the visitor center

They had a lot of information about how the Parkway was constructed, and had a little hands on activity to build an arch and then stand it up to see if it was stable. It took us two tries and a lot of tweaking to get it to balance properly - I imagine it's a pretty challenging for small kids, but it kept big kids like us entertained for a while!
The construction phase of the parkway looked pretty brutal to the landscape, but by now it looks like the road just fits perfectly into the trees and fields (at least looking at pictures!)
After leaving the visitor's center we drove back downtown to ZaPow!, and then drove around a bit before heading home to hang out with Alynn, eat cake/pie, and finish off our marathon of Orange is the New Black

Days 121 and 122 - Happy 2014

Somehow it feels like I'm always falling behind on this - I think it's because I'm so so close to being home. Still, I started with a goal and I'm determined to finish; in the meantime - photo updates!

Photos from January 1st:
Being that it was the day after a very late night, we turned off our alarms and slept in pretty late.
I woke up to make french toast, and we went on a little driving tour around town before heading home to continue our House of Cards marathon and keep napping.
A relaxing day of good conversations with friends, writing postcards, and taking photos of the cat - somehow a perfect way to start the new year! (Isn't Aaron so cute?)

Pictures from January 2nd:
The German chocolate cake! I've started making them from scratch - last year I did cupcakes, this year I made a layered cake using this recipe and it turned out wonderfully! The cake was moister than most recipes I've found, and the frosting wasn't overly sweet like the stuff in a can (which admittedly I used to love so much that I would eat it instead of frosting the cake with it).
Alynn had to actually be productive, so Daisy and I took a trip out to Target and then stopped for lunch at Luella's (can you really travel through North Carolina without stopping for barbeque?). When asking around for recommendations, everyone first suggested the 12 Bones Smokehouse but would follow the name with "but they have a waiting list that's usually a few months long, so..." and go on to suggest Luella's as a second choice, conveniently located on the road we were taking from Alynn's house to downtown Asheville and back! I particularly enjoyed the brisket, and Daisy was enamored with the novelty of hushpuppies :) (photo by Daisy)
Driving through downtown (photo by Daisy). We went to the postoffice for stamps, then our next stop was in this incredible art gallery called ZaPow! (with the "!", and which we both failed to take a picture of/in). The work was decidedly modern, tending towards colorful, whimsical, steampunk, and anime/cartoonish styles - it was like Etsy had opened a retail store. We both found a lot of pieces that we loved, and the best part for us was that it all felt very reasonably priced. You could buy original pieces for a few hundred dollars but nearly every artist also had giclees and prints going for $10-$50, which the owner told us was intentional to reach more people who otherwise might not be able to afford to buy something they really enjoy.
After our stop at the art gallery we proceeded to wander around the downtown area, wandering in shps and taking photos. We found a giant iron?
Clearly we both needed a photo with this marvel!
Comic murals?
In our wanderings we also stopped in at a store called "Chocolate Fetish" where they had chocolate high heels that had been hand painted in some beautiful patterns, and we sampled the sipping chocolate that tasted like a melted chocolate bar mixed with cream - yum!
I believe Alynn's comment upon seeing this picture was "Why did you force this poor child statue to hold that?" ;)
Dancing in front of a performance hall

It was a whole bronze scene, out in the rain
These ladies were walking a little aluminum dog across the street from The Spice and Tea Exchange, where we happily spent at least 20 minutes smelling all of the spices/blends/teas/flavored sugars/flavored salts. (photo by Daisy)
  And just up the street from that was this cool cityscape surrounding a tree. You would think something like this would be around all of the trees but it was apparently just this one.
Near this tree was yet another cool independent bookstore (Malaprop's Bookstore Cafe) where Daisy was brave and bought a "blind date" book, wrapped up in paper with descriptive words written on the front. (photo by Daisy)
Another mural, as we drove home (photo by Daisy)
I saw these little mouse house doors on our first day in Asheville and I was determined to get a photo! Even if it was by asking Daisy to take one out of the window as I slowly drove by :)
We were both very impressed by this bike store and all the painted gears (photo by Daisy)
Stormy weather was brewing! (photo by Daisy)
Mmm...cake! We ended our day with Alynn's kale/spinach ravioli, some roasted veggies tossed in with a salad, and the beginning of a new series - Orange is the New Black. Look at me actually being caught up with pop culture things as they happen (a very rare event)! At one point we stopped to look outside and realized that it must have been snowing for quite a while - everything was covered in a white layer of snow. Happy 2014!