Utah is a weird place.
When we decided to move here, Joel had visited once for his job interview and I'd visited once for work five years ago. (I have seriously neglected this blog since I had a baby, left my office job, and started doing 98% of my internetting on my phone but I am so grateful for the record of things past that it provides. Without this blog entry I would have zero idea what year it was that I went to Salt Lake because REALLY? FIVE YEARS AGO?, as well as zero proof that I actually HAVE worn that green corduroy jacket that I cannot seem to part with, even after lecturing Joel many times on his hoarding.) And even from that one visit -- during which I saw much more than I normally did on quick work trips because of the awesome tour Heidi gave me in her fabulous red beetle (RIP) -- I got the sense that Utah was an odd place. Weird and wonderful would have been my description, to rip off West Virginia's state motto. The mountains. The impossibly clean city. The... statue of a sphinx with Joseph Smith's face. Beautiful. Amazing. Weird.
Living here for six months has pretty much changed nothing about that initial impression except to deepen it, both in the wierd and wonderful categories. It's odd living in a red state when I've spent my whole life on the East Coast. Maryland had its fair share of rednecks to be sure, but Baltimore is about as liberal as a city comes. I stay as far away from politics as I possibly can (not just on this blog, but in real life too), but I didn't realize how used to living in a largely liberal bubble I was until I started seeing the billboards on the highway about how Obama is out to steal our retirement savings. I don't think we're in Baltimore any more, Toto. I have not seen a single billboard for HIV or paternity testing since we moved, that's for sure.
I also cannot get used to seeing people who are not police officers walking around with guns clipped to their belts like someone else might have a cell phone. Utah is an open carry state. It is perfectly legal to bring your gun to the mall (which is where I first saw a regular-looking dude walking around with a handgun clipped to his belt in Macy's). A good friend of mine, a fellow stay-at-home-mom of a toddler, has a concealed carry permit for her handgun. Why, I asked her when she mentioned it. Why not, she responded with a shrug.
And of course, there's the Utah equivalent to "what exit are you from" New Jersey joke: "so, what number wife are you?" Oh, how hilarious. But it's true: everyone in Utah is Mormon. (Though I have yet to meet a single polygamist. Or see a single Home Plus store. It's like HBO just... makes stuff up or something.) I know MORMON is the first thing people think of when they hear the word Utah, but I kind of figured it was one of those exagerrated stereotypes, like the idea that everyone from New Jersey has big hair and everyone in Baltimore says "hon". Turns out, no. Everyone in Utah is Mormon. That's not a bad thing, because by and large Mormons are exceptionally kind, conscientious, family-oriented folks... but it is a bit odd to be a non-Mormon in the land of Mormons. There are Mormon temples everywhere. Like, probably five within five miles of our house. At the park you're as likely to overhear conversations about temples and missions as you are swim lessons or preschool. As a white middle-class very average lady, it's been strange and probably a good experience for me to see what it's like to be in the minority for the first time in my life.
There are some big perks to living in the land of Mormons as a transplant, though, as opposed to moving to another "regular" place. There is a cohesive non-Mormon community that made it almost too easy to meet new people -- which was one of my biggest fears about moving. I was expecting to spend a few months courting new mom friends and creepily handing out my phone number at the library just to stave off the crushing sense of isolation that can come with stay-at-home parenthood. Instead I found a mom's group specifically for non-LDS moms of infants and toddlers before we even moved. Since then I've found several other groups and made some great friends. It's been a huge, huge relief to find a network of other moms and kids to hang out with (this probably sounds very pathetic to those without kids, but dude. I love staying home with Hannah. I love it. As long as we don't actually stay home. The difference between counting the seconds until bedtime and looking at your watch and realizing oops it's 6pm, I need to get this kid home and in bed is having mom-friends to talk to). I miss our Baltimore friends, but love the people I've met out here. And I spent nearly a year handing out my phone number at story times back in Baltimore; here it was easy. Simply because we all have two things in common: we have small kids and are not Mormon in a land where most people are. So, that has been really great.
Plus, you can go to the grocery store or Sam's Club on Sunday and there is NO ONE THERE. No one. I normally go to the store during the week just because I don't want to waste precious weekend time on chores I can do with Hannah by myself, but dude. Sam's Club on a Sunday in Baltimore was something we did with a game plan and a map and emergency supplies. Just the parking lot was such a shitshow that it gave me panic attacks. Here? The store is empty. EMPTY. You can wander the aisles all leisurely-like, check out quickly, and then walk to your car -- which is parked in a spot not ten miles across the parking lot. Because everyone is at church! It's pretty wonderful. It balances out the fifty times I've tried to go to other stores on Sunday morning and found out that DURR THEY ARE CLOSED beacuse it is Sunday and everyone is at church.
That's the weird stuff. And then there's the wondeful.
Things here are so cheap. So, so cheap. I have never been a person who has a set grocery budget, but I have been using a meal planning service (The Fresh 20 -- LOVE IT) to help pull me out of a what's-for-dinner-oh-how-about-pasta-again rut, and along with the shopping list for the week, it gives you an estimate of how much the week's groceries should cost. Our total is always $15-20 below the estimate, which is fairly conservative to begin with. Hannah and I are on a two-week visit to my mom's in New Jersey right now and my eyes just about bulged out of my head when I saw the price next to a gallon of milk was $3.99. A non-organic, regular old gallon of milk at a non-fancy grocery store. FOUR DOLLARS. Milk, the thing we buy most often with a cereal-loving husband and sippy-cup chugging todder, is one of the few things I do know the price of off the top of my head. In Utah it's $2.00 or less. Even at Whole Foods.
Everything else is cheap, too. I laughed out loud the first time we parked downtown in a garage right on Temple Square. Parking is FREE for the first two hours. FREE. No money. After that? TWO DOLLARS AN HOUR. I used to pay more than two dollars to street park outside the public library in Baltimore. (Of course, that first time we were there I also lost our parking ticket and we ended up paying the maximum fee to get out of the garage. Luckily the maximum was only $20.) Swim lessons at the local, beautiful rec center are $12. A MONTH. Not $12 a lesson. $12 a month. I knew that things were cheaper out west, but it's one of those things that I just couldn't fully grasp until I saw the bills myself.
And then there's the mountains.
The mountains are everywhere. You cannot escape them. They loom over you when you drive down the highway and they peer in, impossibly close, through the windows in our house.
They're there when you're stopped at a stop light. They lurk behind the neighbors' houses. They tower over the Target parking lot.
I've stopped noticing them all the time, until someone comments on a photo that I post on Facebook about the view. Oh, yeah. That. That's pretty awesome.
Now that the weather has transitioned to full-on summer, we've been trying to get out hiking as much as possible on the weekends, while I still can*. There are tons of trails just a few miles from our house that have views of waterfalls and unbelievable mountain vistas.
It's an easy 30 or 40 minute drive up the canyon to reach the ski resorts, which all have impossibly beautiful, well-maintained trails. We can drive up to Snowbird or Alta or Brighton, get in a hike, and be back in time for Hannah to take her nap. It's amazing. It's everything we wanted.
I'm a little afraid of the winter, but spring and summer in Utah have sold me so, so hard. I love it here.
*I have been kind of bummed that we're only able to hike on the weekends, since a bunch of my friends do mid-week hikes. But I need Joel to carry Hannah because 1) she weighs upwards of thirty pounds now, and 2) I can no longer buckle the hiking backpack around this.
Surprise! (Or, uh, not so much if you follow me on Twitter, where I outed myself at about six weeks pregnant because a lady needs a place to complain about the fact that Wendy's does not deliver fried chicken sandwiches.) We're having another baby! It's allegedly another girl, though she had her legs pretty firmly closed during our ultrasound and since we didn't find out Hannah's sex until she was born I am sort of dubious of this whole science. You can see inside my belly? With that magic wand thing? Ask the baby what its name is while you're at it then, and save Joel and I some serious list-making.
The alleged Baby Girl Herring 2.0 will be making her debut on December 2, 2013 and not a moment earlier because I need my mom to fly out and watch Hannah and the weekend before is Thanksgiving and there are going to be no flights. So. That's settled.