Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Re-Discovering Home, Or "When Did This Become A Super Target?!"

So I'm back in Champaign! For two years, at least. We'll see where the wind carries me after that. I'm not even starting to think about starting to think about that step of the road. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my first weeks back in my hometown. I love being close to my family. Not only because it means I can go home to mooch off the food at my parents' house, but also because I'll get to see them more than 4 times a year! Hooray! 

I have to say though, I'm finding it a tad strange that the city of Champaign thought it would be OK to change and progress with without me. For example, some stores that were in one place when I last lived here are in totally different places, and some are COMPLETELY GONE. Some have upgraded (i.e. the Super Target of this post's title) and others have just cropped up out of no where! Apparently there is a "Cactus Grill" near my apartment. I have not heard of Cactus Grill, nor did I approve this move-in. (However, they are hiring delivery people, so I suppose there might be a back-up career for me...) Other crazy things are happening here too, like my old grade school adding an entirely new set of swings! What's going on!?

Alright, I'm willing to admit I may be overreacting just a tad. (Just a tad.) But it does feel a little odd to have someone ask me "Do you know where ________ is?" and even give me the area of town, and I can hardly picture it in my mind. I did live here for a solid 14 years before college and then off and on in little chunks since then. Either I have to admit that my brain is turning to slime at a very early age or that, yes, things do change. 

Dang it! I hate admitting that change happens regardless of whether I want it to or not. I'm Type A to the core, and I like to control things. (Surprise anyone?) If I had my druthers, Champaign would be perpetually stuck in 2006 unless I OK'ed any sort of alterations. But I guess the thing about druthers is that you usually can't have them. (Although this may be alright, because if you picture the word "druthers"... well, it's not really visually appealing.) 

Anyhow, now I can tell I'm rambling a little bit. I guess the whole point of this is to say that while I'm so happy to be back in Champaign, it is still a little bit like moving somewhere new, and it takes adjustment. It's not perfect, but nowhere is. The best I can do is make this time beautiful by working hard and enjoying the small moments. Which I suppose is the only thing most of us can do anyway. In the meantime, I'll be dusting off my sparkle from wherever I packed it and looking for a place to hang it in my new apartment... 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Seward, NE: A Case Study in Love-Hate Relationships

I'm nearing the end of my time here in Nebraska and as promised, you're about to join me on the introspective adventure that is recalling the past two years of my life in the rural midwest. Hold on to your bootstraps, kids, these gravel roads are pretty bumpy!

Now, don't worry. I haven't been living THAT far out in the country. We do have paved roads here in Seward, and a lot of other great amenities such as electricity, indoor plumbing, and cable TV. It's all happening, people! 

Oh, I jest. As much as people probably think all of Nebraska is straight-up out of Little House on the Prairie, it's pretty much like everywhere else, except there's fewer people and less crime. In a lot of ways, Nebraska is exactly what you think it is: farms for miles and miles, slower way of life, and a freakish obsession with the Huskers. But there's other stuff going on here too. There's hipsters and minorities and all sorts of stuff you probably didn't think existed here! It's not as backwoods as you might assume. That all being said, I've got pretty mixed feelings about leaving this state.

When I arrived here in 2010 (SO LONG AGO), I was wearing my sludge-colored glasses. I pretty much disliked everything and everyone and didn't really want to be convinced otherwise. I'm not proud of my attitude, but life was kind of topsy-turvy for me at that point. If you'd like the really long version, just go back in the Sparlke, Sparkle archives. At first I just thought I would be here for the summer, then the summer turned into "no more than one year" and then "no more than one year" turned into "DEFINITELY no more than two years"... I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I was going to get myself out of this place.

But now that I'm about to leave (and going "home!") there are surely some things I'm going to miss. So instead of dwelling on the lack of Starbucks, Targets or decent grocery stores, I'll just touch on some of the things that I think I'll find myself pining away for (occasionally) when I get back to Champaign.

Lower gas usage! As long as I'm staying in Seward, a tank of gas in my trusty Cruiser will last weeks! My drive to work literally lasted less than one song on the radio. Going to Wal-Mart, which required a 3 minute jaunt on the highway, really started to feel taxing. In Seward, you will frequently hear people saying, "Eh, I don't want to go all the way out to Wal-Mart." AKA, I don't want to drive 7 minutes. But it was pretty nice living in a place where everything was within a few minutes.

The Movie Rental Store! And the Rivoli! If there's one place where inflation hasn't seemed to take hold, it's the Movie Rental Store and Seward's charming one-theater Rivoli. At the Movie Rental Store, you can rent 3 movies for 3 days for $3.50! Take that, Blockbuster! And if you're into immediate gratification, take that, Netflix! Catching a flick at the Rivoli costs about $7 if it's not a 3D film, but the concession costs are the real kicker. A medium popcorn and drink can be had for less than $5! Take THAT, every movie theater who thinks that $12 for popcorn is somehow justifiable. (And yes, sometimes I did go to the movie theater to buy popcorn and take it home to watch my own movie.)

The sky! OK, I know that Montana is the self-proclaimed "Big Sky" state, but I think Nebraska could give it a pretty decent run for its money as far as expansive atmosphere goes. When all you can see are fields for miles, the sky somehow seems to reach farther in every direction. And the colors that show up  in the evening are by far the best I've seen. They might not be the cliché beach sunsets that plaster calendar spreads, but the variety and brilliance of color in this huge Nebraska sky is just divine. Not to mention, we get a super long summer twilight here. So while states on the east end of the time zone seem to fade from afternoon to night in a matter of minutes, this region gets to relax in the most wonderful time of day from about 7 - 9:30, where the colors change by the minute and it doesn't get fully dark until 10.

Oh and there are more things I'll miss too... the nostalgia of everything that Seward has been to me through my whole life, everything that is tied up in my family's traditions at the 4th of July and Christmas, the way you can find places in this town where no one else is if you just need to be alone, the people that wave at you as you drive past - even if they don't know you, the old farmers who wear their hats perched right on top of their heads, the deep ties everyone seems to have with the land and the rain (my grandpa has a special calendar just to record each hundredth of precipitation), and the delicious donuts of the Bakery downtown.

One of my favorite things in Seward is this mural, because I think it sums up perfectly everything about this state:

So I'll leave here with mostly fond memories (I won't miss the relentless wind, extreme temperatures, or that claustrophobic small-town feeling). It's been a place where I changed and grew and became more of a real adult. So long Seward, Sparlke on.