Here's a map of the first half of my travels spanning September - October of 2017.
Step 1: SLC, UT-->Colorado Springs (585mi)
I began by road-tripping home to AR (not an enviable task since it's roughly 1300 miles one way.) While it was difficult being away from my roommates and friends in Utah--especially knowing I'm moving out for real at the end of the year--I had so much fun going home in the middle of the year. Since leaving home to go to college I've never been able to be home in September/October, and it was a blast. I was able to meet my future sister-in-law for the first time and spend the weekend with her and my brother in CO (a super convenient, not-quite-half-way point between UT and AR.) Turns out she's amazing and the weekend was a blast! (Not to mention delicious--she's a heck of a cook!)
(I'll make this picture extra large so you can see their adorable faces.)
Step 2: Colorado Springs --> NWA (745 miles)
Then I went and spent some time with the nieces and nephews in North West Arkansas. Now in case you have trouble differentiating my baby face from the rest of the kids, I'm the one with longer legs. These kids are kind of stinkin' adorable, and if I could base my whole life on them (and still have a life) I totally would. I hate how big they get every time I leave.
Step 3: NWA --> Little Rock (219 miles)
Anyway, another important reason to come home was because I thought it would be rather difficult to be the maid of honor for my friend's wedding in AR all the way in UT. So here's her beautiful self at her wedding where I had to give a toast for the first time in my life. :O We got to spend a week together before the wedding doing all the wedding to-do's that we could, and it was amazing because we hadn't spent that much time together since we both went off to college. The week went by too quickly for me, but at least we had plenty of time for chick flicks, sushi, and watching Japanese shows together in between wedding appointments and errands.
Step 4: Little Rock --> Mountain Home (153 mi)
This was my first time being home in October in years and years. It was a bit sad to miss out on the scary movies, haunted houses, and parties with my roommates and friends, but also look at what I've been missing out by not being home these past 8 years! (Excellent pumpkin carving and also chocolate chip pumpkin cheesecake that I pretty much devoured solo.) Also, I usually miss out on my nieces' and nephews' birthdays, so this Mario party was another treat.
(This didn't need to be extra large, I just think everyone looks really funny with our mustaches.)
Step 5: Mountain Home --> NWA (130 miles)
And then I got to spend a week babysitting my sister's kids while she was in Florida with her husband. Let me tell you, going from being a single adult to a single mom was no laughing matter. At first, it was quite a shock having kids want my attention all the time, but then I remembered that I taught fourth graders and it wasn't actually that different (except there was no dismissal bell at the end of the day.)
I decided that I actually could be a mom if this was what it was like. Sadly, I don't think that's exactly what it will be like since Emily had a schedule typed up for the week, already had the groceries bought, the meals planned, the kids' snacks labeled, and their clothes picked out and labeled for each day of the week. BUTTT if parenting was like that then I'd totally be all over it. This is a picture of me being all over it. And bonus points to you if you noticed my niece, Bailey, mimicking my peace sign in the background (I sure didn't until later-sneaky little girl!)
Step 6: NWA --> Kansas City (238 miles)
After that, we did a trip to Kansas City to go to the temple together. It was just an overnight trip, but how fun to get away for a little while and stay in a house where all the kids were together. (By fun I mean fun, but also I mean crazy.)
Step 7: Kansas City --> Elkhart, KS (456 miles)
It was at this point in my life that I kind of appreciate the fact that I'd done all my driving alone because when the opportunity came to just randomly swing by Elkhart, Kansas I was able to take it without consulting anyone else about my schedule. (Not that people don't just "randomly swing by" Elkhart. My friend told me it's called the 'armpit of KS' and with a population of 2,205 (as of 2010) I can kind of understand why. But luckily at least 1 out of those 2,205 people were really cool, named Jessica Hall, and has just recently returned from her mission in Germany that's all the excuse you need to swing by.) And that's how I had an excellent week's visit of Hallmark movies, collaborative writing sessions, and late night girl talks.
Step 8: Elkhart --> Colorado Springs (574 miles)
As I wanted to make sure I got plenty of bonding time in with my future in-law before leaving the country (and I didn't want to drive 23 hours straight), I stopped by Michelle's again on my way back to Utah. I did mention how she's super good at cooking, right? Who else makes savory crepes from Le Menu?
Step 9: Colorado Springs --> SLC, UT (585 miles)
And, finally, without telling my room-mates, I made it home in time for Halloween! Literally made it home the day of, made my costume, and then ended up saying hello to everyone at the Halloween parties.
Here's just a couple of random photos to commemorate my last 6 weeks of living with my amazing roommates and spending time with my friends whom I'll miss terribly.
1) Roommate trip to Park City to work on our book, What to Expect When You're Not Expecting. Yes, it was necessary to take this mildly unflattering photo of all of us in bed.
2) Roommate Christmas, which we had to do about 3 weeks before Christmas since we weren't all going to be together after. Pretty much I feel like everyone nailed their presents, and I still can't believe we are splitting up.
3) Our CA trip that happened my 2nd to last weekend in Utah. These girls are amazing. I won't go into detail though since we already made a whole music video about this trip.
4) Normal roommate bonding at the temple. Sometimes it's pretty crazy with these girls, but it's always a good time.
5) Dinner with my 4th Grade team from my first year of teaching. I'll always appreciate these girls and how they helped me survive my first 2 years of teaching. I don't know if I'll be able to teach anywhere else because I was so spoiled with my team these first two years. Until the next time I'm in Utah and we can get Thai food and talk for hours.
6) Our amazingly fun group date that went very quickly from like 8 people, up to 20 people, and then back down to a more reasonable amount of14 (2 are missing in this picture.) Who knew that gingerbread houses could be so fun?
7) Finally, me saying goodbye to all my UT friends. It's funny how I've been here for 7 years and have all these people I know, but it takes me moving across the world to proactively reach out to people and find time to hang out/say goodbye.
Katie and Abram are one of my favorite couple friends to hang out with so it's lucky that they're planning on coming to Japan to visit. (Right, guys?)
(Jen actually isn't a UT friend so I didn't say goodbye to her.)
Here's the map of the 2nd half of my travels and trips, which all happened in the very short time span of about 6 weeks.
Step 10: SLC, UT --> Colorado Springs (585 miles)
Once more I loaded up my car (with the remainder of my belongings), said my final goodbye to Utah, and drove away. Just kidding! I tried to leave, really I did. But my battery was more dead than my social life in Arkansas. I took it as a sign that it wasn't time to go, but then an overly helpful friend helped me jump my car, and I didn't have any more excuses to stay (plus, all my stuff was loaded up so...) I stopped by Colorado Springs again, but, sadly, I missed Michelle this visit. I guess I'll just have to wait to see her again at her wedding! (Pretty crazy, right? People getting married and whatnot.)
Step 11: CO --> Mountain Home, AR (853 mi)
Plus there were our super wild new year celebrations where we took more family pictures. Here's mine. (You wouldn't believe how many takes it took for me to get all the kids to smile.)
Step 12: Home --> Farmington, AR (130 miles)
After an excellent Christmas break, I headed up to NWA to spend time with Sarah and her family because (SURPRISE) she's pregnant! Plus who doesn't love having an extra adult to adult around the house when there are kids running around during the day and an extra third wheel to hang out around the house when the kids are in bed? (None of my siblings anyway.)
If you're confused on how this picture relates to this experience then you're not alone. Sometimes Sarah likes to write nice notes on her sign like "Aunt Laura is our homegirl." And sometimes Johnny likes to rearrange the sign when she isn't looking. So there ya go. But at the same time, there's this blonde cutie who likes to randomly snuggle with me and spontaneously say things like "I love you, little sweetheart."
Step 13: NWA --> St. Louis, MO (363 miles)
Yes, this is the fantastically European-like basilica that prompted us to pretend like we'd gone to Switzerland together instead of just plain ole MO. No, we didn't spontaneously get on an airplane, but I'm flattered so many people thought us cool enough for that.
Step 14: St. Louis, MO --> Mtn. Home, AR (248 miles)
I may have said this before, but some people go away to college, fall in love, get married, and then drag the poor suckers back to retiree-central Mtn Home, AR to meet the family. I, on the other hand, travel a lot and drag my roommates home to meet my parents. A fair enough trade-off I suppose. I mean, it was one heck of a weekend trip, and they did hit it off swimmingly with my parents.
Step 15: Mtn. Home --> Urbana, IL (433 miles)
Sadly, the weekend ended too soon, and then I had to drop my roommates off at the St. Louis airport again. And since I was already 4.5 hours away from home in MO, it seemed like a good time to continue on to IL and visit Jen. It was only another 3 hours or so once I said goodbye to my roommates, and then I got to spend an exciting week with her. Ever taken a picture with a large Christmas tree in mid-January? Neither had I. Ever eaten three loaves of bread in one week by yourself? Neither had I. Ever given a talk in church in a ward that you were just passing through for the week? Neither had I. But I was able to experience all of this and more during my week with Jen. It was one for the books (or the blogs.)
Step 16: Urbana --> Knoxville, TN (488 miles)
Let's be honest, it would almost take me just as long to drive home from IL as it would take to go to TN and visit some more people. So I did what any sensible person would do and drove the 500 miles to visit Chad and Bri. This couple is another that I enjoy spending time with. It was disappointing when they moved out of Utah years ago, but I did get to see them when they moved to VA because they also stopped by AR and came to see me for a weekend. Clearly, it was my turn to visit, and I have no regrets. With movies, games, cookie dough, Cam (the adorable, grape-loving, 3-year-old), and college reminiscing the week turned out to be a blast and was over in a flash. I was a bit sad to say goodbye (maybe more than a bit), but it was time for me to head home.
Step 17: Knoxville --> home sweet home (758 miles)
With a little detour in Nashville to do some paperwork for my visa, I made the long trip back home. As I am now here at my parent's house writing this blog you can assume that I had a safe and uneventful voyage. And you'd be right. Well mostly right. It was pretty traumatic when I couldn't locate any Chick-Fil-A for the next 180 miles and I went into a minor hanger rage. That aside though, it was totally uneventful.
Step 18: Mtn Home --> NWA (130 miles)
And here I'll stay for the next few days until I head up to NWA one last time. My flight to Korea leaves from there so I have just 14 more days to spend with my family. While I can't say that there hasn't been difficult moments these past 6 months between me not having a steady job (meaning very little income), a real place or room to call my own, or a routine and consistency in my life, I also can't say that I'm not immensely grateful. At what other time in my life will I be able to have the flexibility, freedom, and drive (haha sorry, Dad's dad puns rubbing off on me) to spend time with all these different people? (Probably no other time.) I'm so grateful that I was able to spend my time seeing all these people who are so important to me.
Aside from the slight concern I feel every time someone asks me "are you nervous about Japan?" to which I respond, "no" and then wonder if maybe I should be since so many people have asked about it, I'm so ready for whatever's coming. I'm looking forward to having my own place in Japan. I'm looking forward to having a job and a schedule again. I'm looking forward to not living out of a suitcase and moving every week or two (or six). And I'm really looking forward to beginning a new life and putting down roots somewhere I've always wanted to live.
And while my brother may still tease me about looking anywhere from 8-14 years old, I did just drive almost 7,500 miles across America by myself before moving to Japan to start a new life. So, I've got that going for me. And people say that in like 20 years I'll also have the baby face going for me. Between Japan and that I may just burst with excitement.