living in Utah – one year later

We have now been in Utah for a full year. We’re feeling settled and are having fun here. We’ve learned our way around, found friends, communities, volunteer opportunities, I found a job (!), we’ve done some outdoorsy activities (though not as much as either of us would like), and we’ve acclimated to the culture for the most part.

Utah is just different in some ways, with the dominant religion influencing secular life in a fairly large way. The refugee family I mentor was told by another volunteer that Christmas isn’t big here, and that Halloween is much bigger. That jives with what we’ve seen, but it’s influenced by religion (the Christmas thing, at least) rather than just being less important. The institution I work for is a Utah business, so we don’t get Christmas Eve off, just Christmas Day.

Another thing influenced by religion is the prevalence of specialty soda shops. There’s a big emphasis on sweets rather than coffee and alcohol. But those who aren’t LDS seem to drink a lot more coffee and a lot more alcohol to make up for it.

Some of the politics and legal stuff is weird, but it’s not terrible, and we’ve gotten used to it. I get angry about politics in a lot of places, so Utah is just another instance of this.

The outdoor activities in this state can’t be beat. We’ve been to three national parks this year (Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands), have gone camping at Nine-Mile Canyon (petroglyphs all over the place), and have gone on a number of hikes. No skiing last winter, but we’re hoping to change that this winter. There’s a walking/bike trail that goes from pretty far up north all the way south along a river. We’ve only explored a few miles of it, but it’s quite inviting.

The climate is more temperate than Kansas, still getting cold in the winter and hot in the summer, but nowhere near the extremes of Kansas. The downside of the climate here is inversion, which comes from living in a valley between two mountain ranges. The pollution stays in the valley, settling like smog and staying there for up to weeks at a time, until a storm clears it out. It gets so bad that people are supposed to stay inside, and people who work outside wear ventilators.

I’ve found people with whom to play board games, people with whom to knit, and a great voice teacher. People are very friendly and welcoming. My church is a wonderful community. Work is a good place for me to be.

All in all, we’re happy here and think we’ll be here awhile.

a look back, a look forward

This has been a year of change and redefinition for me, and next year is full of promise. Starting next Friday, I’m hoping to write a weekly round-up of things I’ve been reading, games I’ve been playing, things I’ve learned, rediscovered, or found interesting, and thoughts on events. I’m sure you’re all terribly interested in my thoughts on these things, so I hope you’ll continue to read. But today, I want to wrap up the year with an overview and talk about future plans.

The year began with anticipation of moving. We decided in October 2014 that we were going to move in 2015, and we were looking at jobs in Colorado and overseas. We love Kansas City, but it was time for a change. I grew up moving every five years, and I was getting the itch after being in our house for just about that long. We told Carl’s company in March that we were leaving, that it would be great if it could be with them, but regardless, we were leaving by end of summer. They brought up Salt Lake City in April, and the more we learned about it, the more excited we became. We thought the move would happen in June or July, then in August, but it finally happened in October. Our house sold quickly, and we sold off most of our stuff, as we were moving from a 4-bedroom house with basement and garage to a 2-bedroom apartment with neither. It’s been good to do with less, but I think both of us would welcome a garage or basement to store our camping stuff and bikes. We love SLC so far. We’ve had some snow, we’re excited about skiing, and we’re starting to make friends. It’s a good place for us.

Another big change happened in July when we both changed our last names! I had my hyphenated name from birth, and Carl and I both liked the idea of having the same last name. Of the three last names between the two of us, we chose my mom’s. I have to admit, when we got married (almost 6 years ago!), I didn’t ever really think about changing my name. It didn’t make a lot of sense, as I had started to establish myself in law under that name, and Carl’s last name wasn’t really any less complicated than my own. Since I left law, I had been wanting to simplify it, and Carl finally asked me why I didn’t, and he offered to change his name too. It was very sweet, and it has meant more than I expected to have the same last name as my husband. We were able to change our names with very little fuss, Carl’s work colleagues thought it was great, and apart from a few notable exceptions, everyone has either thought it was neat or kept their opinions to themselves.

The third big change has been my delving into software development. I started learning Python in March (a college class in it 12 years ago barely counts as having learned it before), after doing some HTML/CSS/JavaScript stuff, and I’ve been doing small projects and solving math problems (gotta love Project Euler!). I’m doing a class on how to properly test software too, and my hope is to start as QA and move into test automation and then a full-on development job. It’s a lot to learn, but I’m enjoying it, and Carl says I already think like a software engineer (not that his opinion is the be-all and end-all, but it’s nice that he has that faith in me). I have a list of projects to conquer in 2016, and I’m looking forward to doing them. Keep an eye on my site for them!

In other news, I welcomed a niece in August (she’s beautiful), and I celebrated with friends and family for their own milestones. I gave two recitals, sang with multiple choirs, and went to both Universal Studios in Orlando and Disneyland in California. I made plans for Harry Potter things, learned new board games, learned to crochet, finished some knitting projects, and read a lot. It was a wonderful year, and next year looks like it will be just as good.

first impressions

I have been in Salt Lake City exactly one month. Our apartment is great (albeit with a tiny kitchen), we have our Utah driver licenses and our plates (Harry Potter themed, of course), and I’ve found a Lutheran church. The dogs are used to not having a dog door, we’ve gone on a few hiking adventures, and we have unpacked most of our boxes. I’ve met Carl’s colleagues, church people, knitters, and gamers.

SLC is pretty great. The mountains are right there, and even cold days aren’t bitingly cold like in Kansas (or Iowa, goodness). People are friendly, and communities come together really easily. We’ve moved down the crazy scale from Kansas politics (though not by tons), so that’s a plus. SLC elected its first openly gay mayor two weeks ago, and the governor isn’t actively trying to destroy the state.

There seems to be an “us versus them” mentality here though, between Mormons and non-Mormons. The LDS people I’ve met here have been friendly and open, and I’ve had some frank discussions about beliefs and lifestyles. From the non-LDS people, however, I’ve heard things along the lines of, “I tried to keep an open mind at first, but I just don’t understand,” and “I have some Mormon friends, but I hang out much more with my ‘normal’ friends.” The line often seems to be demarcated by what a person drinks. There seems to be a higher prevalence of drinking among non-Mormons, almost a shibboleth. I like drinking, but having it as a marker of my culture and/or religion makes me uncomfortable.

Overall, I’m really enjoying being here. One thing I heard from multiple friends in KC was that they had a hard time telling if I liked them at first (two people were convinced I actively disliked them). I’m working on that, trying to make my face less… what? grumpy? shy? I noticed it at church yesterday morning. I went to choir, and as I was introduced to people, I would give a small smile and say hi, but not brightly, and so after worship, I made a point to talk to the people that I hadn’t really engaged earlier. First impressions matter.

moving

Almost exactly one year ago, we decided we were going to move west. We love Kansas City, but we’ve been here for five years, and it’s time for a new adventure. We want mountains and a more temperate climate and more opportunities for outdoor activities. We told my husband’s employer that we were leaving, that it would be great if he could stay with the company, but we were leaving in a few months. The company came through and asked us to move to Salt Lake City! It wasn’t initially on our radar, but the more we learned about it, the more excited we became. It sounds like most everything we’re looking for in a new city. We thought we would move in June, then July, then on and on until now it’s finally going to happen in October. We found a two-bedroom apartment that is close to his work and not far from anything. The dogs will have a little bit of grass on our patio, but they’ll have to get used to not having a dog door.

Our house goes on the market at the end of the week, and I’ve been playing contractor, finding a roofer, landscaper, foundation person, painter, and carpet cleaner. We had a massive garage sale last weekend, then donated a bunch and took a lot to the dump. We got rid of thousands of pounds of stuff over the weekend, and there’s more to go. It’s a relief to have less “stuff,” to be downsizing and getting rid of things we once considered important. It’s also brought my husband and me closer together. We’ve been working hard to get things ready, staying up late, getting up early, packing, cleaning, carrying boxes (and beds, and furniture). It’s been a good lesson in patience and teamwork. We have two more days of push, and then we just maintain things while the house is on the market. Just two more days.

That’s what’s going on here. Still lots of cleaning to do, plus a couple trips to various places. I didn’t think moving would be this stressful. It’ll get done though. And soon!

baby shower

I hosted a baby shower for my sister-in-law recently, and it was pretty fun. It was an afternoon tea, complete with homemade clotted cream. No specified colors, but she wanted owls, so I did yellow and lavender (and owls, of course). Decorations included paper and tissue paper decorations, an owl mobile, and foam balls covered in fresh flowers (purple carnations and yellow daisies)

Food: four types of tea sandwiches cut into owl shapes (mango chutney chicken salad, cream cheese and cucumber, radish and butter with sea salt, and bacon tomato); three hors d’ouevre (bacon-wrapped dates (stuffed with blue cheese), mini caprese salads on toothpicks, crispy salmon bites with a yogurt-dill sauce); homemade scones (regular and blueberry) with clotted cream and sliced strawberries; and four desserts (berry tartlets, homemade petits fours, sugar cookies, and chocolates shaped like owls and baby feet… and dinosaurs, because why not?). Drinks: four hot teas (black, green, herbal, chai), coffee, three iced teas (unsweetened, sweetened, and herbal), and homemade lemonade with smashed strawberries. Everything was gluten free (Canyon Bakehouse bread), and I had some dairy-free options as well.

We played three games and had two activities. One of the games was guessing the contents of a diaper bag by touch. I bought a diaper bag with owls on it, and the contents of it included ten items: diaper, burp cloth, nasal aspirator, baby powder, wipes, sunbonnet (which I made according to this pattern), changing pad, rattle, pacifier, and bottle. The mother of a ten-month-old baby guessed nine out of the ten correctly. Another game was putting a paper plate on your head and drawing a baby on it with a crayon. Silly but fun. And the third game was guessing the baby animals based on the adult. The prizes for the games were pedicures in a jar (sadly, no pictures). I had labels on them, and each jar contained two colors of nail polish and the five-piece pedicure set from the Dollar Store (heck yeah). Our activities were writing messages to be opened at each month of the baby’s life and writing messages on diapers for midnight diaper changes.

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