Mark’s Special Mission at Arlington National Cemetery by Gregory Keeney
Purchase Mark’s Special Mission at Arlington National Cemetery here
Purchase Mark’s Special Mission at Arlington National Cemetery here
Errands. We sure seem to have a lot of them lately. Perchance it has to do with that little move to the other side of the globe that is just a month away now. Possibly. Maybe. Conceivably. Regardless, there has been a lot of little things that need taken care of over the last few weeks- phone calls, emails, runs to this store and that shop, dropping off paperwork here and picking up passports there. Lots and lots of stuff to do.
The dress I ordered to take to Chengdu (see the whole story in “From Coloring Books to Formals”) finally arrived. The shop both called and sent an email last week, so I was feeling the pressure to go out and pick it up. Since I am currently (again) in the midst of a vacuum when it comes to a daily routine, it was no problem to find the time to go to Rockville. It was mostly a matter of finding the effort required to put my book away, close the book review that was in progress and put on clothes worthy of the public and make the hour (each way) trek to the boutique. It was while on this errand last week, mid-grumble to myself, when I realized that in the course of a year, my errand running has gotten (and will get) progressively more difficult. (If I had been a better math student, I would create a lovely line graph with the X axis being difficulty level and the Y axis showing time and the points indicating where they intersect with a pretty pink line connecting them in a steep upward trajectory. But alas, math and science weren’t my strong points, so instead, a narrative it is!)
I should be grateful for the relative ease of going to pick up this dress. (Heck, picking it out too!)
A year ago, when we were still living in the lovely house in south Nampa (the one that is still for sale at a rock-bottom price if anyone is interested!), if I needed to run some errands, it was as easy as getting an 8th grader to giggle at a fart joke. Say we needed light bulbs. (It always seems like we needed light bulbs and we always put it off until we needed a whole stack of them.) In Idaho, I would just grab my keys (in the figurative sense of getting stuff ready to go, as I always left the keys in the ignition in the car in the garage. Oh, how I loved having a garage!) hop in my cute little Celica and head to the store. Which store? The choices were endless, from the Walgreens and Albertson’s just down to the road, to the Shopko (always a good place to find things- like husbands!) or Target just up the road the other direction. I could get the light bulbs, pick up a few other random goodies and be home before Mabel, the resident basset hound, even awoke from her nap. Light bulbs in a flash.
Now, in Arlington, if I need light bulbs, it takes a bit more planning, but not excessively so. I can always run down to the labyrinth below the mo-partment, in hopes that Rite-Aid has some, but that is always a bit of a gamble. Rite-Aid has an odd and unreliable selection of household items. The more likely scenario holds that I will check the Metro website, pulling up the Adobe document with the schedule for the near-by 9A bus. Once determining the time of the next arrival, I’ll grab my bag and skitter down to wait at the stop that is in front of a creepy, abandoned post office. All the while, I will be crossing my fingers, hopng that the bus actually stops for me. (To be fair, if I am running this errand on my own, which is usually the case, the bus is going to stop. Three times in our year here I have had the bus blow by me at that stop. All three times I have had Thad with me. Something about him just must look sketchy to the drivers!) On the bus, I’ll scan my card and find a spot to enjoy the couple miles ride to the shopping center that is home to our local Target. At Target, I will get my light bulbs and anything else that strikes my fancy, being sure, of course, that whatever I purchase is easily cartable, as it is going home with me again on the bus. Now, this is where it gets tricky and/or frustrating. Going to Target, I can check the schedule and arrive at the stop just prior to the bus, but coming home, I am at the mercy of the bus. More times that I care to count, as I walk out those automatic doors of Target, I have glimpsed the taillights and smog spewing back end of the bus I wanted to be on. That means, it will be twenty to thirty minutes until the next one. There is no good people watching available from the Target bus stop, but I do get to enjoy a symphony of horns, honking for reasons unknown. All this, for want of a light bulb.
It was while on the Metro train on my way to Rockville to pick up the dress last week though that I realized I should be quite content with my current errand running system, for in just a few weeks, that difficulty is going to step it up a few notches. It is like playing a video game. (This is possibly the worst simile I could come up with, as I never play video games, but I’ve watched a lot, so I think I have a bit of wiggle room here.) Once you reach a certain point in the game, you level up, making each task harder and more complicated to accomplish. Well, soon, we are leveling-up.
I can’t speak for Chengdu, as we’ve only spent limited time there during Peace Corps trainings, but in Chengxian, buying a light bulb or two could become an all-morning process. The first matter was to figure out what exactly we needed. Things never seemed to work in quite the same way as they did the US, so it didn’t take us long to learn to take whatever it was we wanted replaced with us to the store. With light bulb in hand, the next step was to identify the area of town in which the desired item could be found. In Chengxian, there was the clothing shop section of town, the plumbing supply section of town, the live fish/eels/turtles section of town, etc. Once arriving in the electricity-related section of town, it was just a matter of finding a store with the same light bulb, negotiating a price and hoping that the bulb worked when we got it home.
I am sure Chengdu will not be quite as complicated as Chengxian, as there are mega-stores that probably have all these odds and ends items in a single location, but even getting there will be more work than it is here. Language will always be a bit of a barrier, as will the blonde hair and blue eyes. (Not because it makes me ditzy, but because it stands out and it different from the norm, making me a great topic of conversation that must be concluded before purchasing can occur.)
So, as the difficulty of daily errands is getting close to leveling-up (I can almost see the colored bar hovering over my head as I complete each task here in DC), I am reminding myself to be thrilled with the ease of each chore accomplished, since that simplicity is to be short-lived.
With that in mind, I’m off to buy mosquito repellant and milk. What an odd, and hideous, combination!
With just a few hours remaining in 2011, there is no time like right now to pause and reflect on what has happened over the last 365 days. There is only one word to sum up this last year for us- CHANGE.
2011 was a year of transitions for Thad and me. It started with Thad being on the register for a job with the State Department, but also with him still facing the final hurdle- passing a speaker phone-proctored Chinese test. (I can’t understand English over speaker phone half the time, let alone trying to decipher a second language that way!) Only a few close friends and family members knew that he was in the midst of this process, so as the year started, we harbored secret hopes of major changes in our lives. After many hours of practice and preparation, he successfully completed the phone test and bumped to the very top of the register. Within weeks he received a job offer and we broke the news to our bosses, colleagues and others who we had kept outside the loop and began plans to move to Washington DC.
2011 saw me quit (for a second time) the job I loved! After nine years of teaching 8th grade English and reading in the same classroom at Marsing Middle School, I left my job to move east with Thad as he embarked on a new career path. Nine years in one classroom is much like moving out of a home you’ve lived in for a decade. I had hundreds and hundreds of young adult books to sort through, all sorts of posters and wall hangings to divvy out to my fellow teachers, binder upon binder of teaching materials to sort and decide which would stay and which would go with me and several closets full of random personal items that needed to be packed up and hauled home. The sorting was the easy part of the process. The goodbyes were not. I thought I was going to keep it all together, but that resolve lasted about three whole minutes. Saying goodbye to my wonderful colleagues who had become more than just coworkers, who had become my friends, was not an easy task. I had my dream job, worked for an outstanding principal and loved nearly every minute of what I did. It was definitely not easy to turn in my keys and walk out of my building one last time.
2011 was a year of downsizing. We moved from our beautiful home in south Nampa (which is for sale, if anyone is interested!) to a 600 square foot apartment in Arlington, Virginia. While clothes went with us to the new place, the rest of our belongings are in temporary and long-term storage, awaiting the next phases of the diplomatic lifestyle we’ve undertaken. We sold both of our cars and are now beholden to public transportation for all of our conveyance needs. My endless bookshelves of books mostly went to charity, and I get my reading fix from the much smaller, much more portable Nook e-reader.
2011 saw Thad get his first diplomatic posting- Chengdu, China. We couldn’t have been more thrilled, as that was our number one choice off of the bid list. It has also seen him spend countless hours in Chinese class and even more hours at home studying in preparation for the upcoming move.
2011 was a year of travel for me. After the move to Virginia, I flew home for my dad’s birthday in July and then flew to New England to meet up with my parents for a road trip in the fall. We visited several US states and a few Canadian provinces while we were at it. The year rounded out with a trip to Idaho for the holidays.
This last year has been filled with so many changes that it is hard to keep track of them all, but they have all headed us in a positive direction. I know that, for many people, this last year was one of hardship and frustration. Thad and I have been very lucky that the changes that have come into our lives are ones that we initiated and wanted to take place. We are excited to welcome this new year that is just a couple of hours away. It is going to be another year of transformation as we finally move abroad again, as I search for a job to replace the career I am leaving behind and as we tackle a new country and lifestyle.
As 2011 fades into the background, 2012 is emerging on the horizon, filled with endless possibilities and opportunities. Welcome!!