Go West, Alison

“If your life was a book, would anyone read it?”

I first heard this while plopped in front of the television as a kid. It was uttered during a Navy TV spot enticing adventure-seekers to enlist. Promising excitement and fulfillment, the ad showed young Americans descending from helicopters, ocean waves licked at their heels, or jetting across the sea with faces hidden behind camouflage.

The ad failed to charm me into joining the military, but this bookworm was struck by the metaphor. Would anyone read my story? 

In truth I’m not sure my life would make much of a NYT Best Seller at this point, but I’d like to think the lands I’ve visited, paired with a talented illustrator, might lead it to fair well … at least as a possible coffee table selection.

And so, if my life were a novel, moving to California would be a plot twist.


I always felt destined to leave Iowa. Early on I became enamored with the East Coast: its bustling urbanites interwoven with the country’s history and earliest artifacts.  As my college friends picked up and moved out East, my eventual move felt even more right.

But then I got a job in San Francisco and quickly warmed up to the idea of living in a region of the US that I had not explored.  

And here we are: Berkeley, California.  Our arrival on Tuesday was relatively smooth for two people flying with four checked bags, four carry-ons and two disassembled bikes.  We utilized Uber XL to transport us and our belongings to our new apartment. Tired, Derrick and I weren’t very eager for conversation during the 20 minute ride.  The only conversation we did have with the driver occurred after we passed by an accident on the other side of the interstate.  The driver bemoaned the stupidity of drivers and the dangerous conditions on the road. It was at that moment Derrick and I realized our lane, the innermost one, was precariously small and lacked a shoulder between us and the concrete median wall. As our driver continued his brief rant, our eyes made their way to our right side where vehicles whizzed past.

If someone is texting or not paying attention and drifts over to our side, the driver continued to explain, I have no room… and BAM, an accident. 

Gulp. Just another reason we were glad to sell the car back in Iowa. 

Since our arrival, we’ve been running around the Bay Area, on errands and picking up things to help us settle in. We registered with Zipcar and went to Emeryville where we shopped (and briefly lunched) for general household items: pillows, mattress protector, ironing board. We finished off our list at Target, right next door and with our remaining time stopped at the Berkeley Bowl.

image6Although some people disagree with me, Berkeley reminds me of Iowa City. The college town vibe, the cyclists, the concern for the smallest of causes and the appreciation for all things local. No doubt, it’s also very different but the Berkeley Bowl took me right back to grocery shopping in Iowa City. 

The Berkeley Bowl is like IC’s New Pi Co-op, filled with all kinds of fresh produce and other food items…only it’s larger — both the general store and definitely the produce section. Need some apples? There are 10 different kinds. Peaches? Three different kinds. I even saw the deliciously stinky Durian, the famously funky fruit from China.

Although we’re closer to Trader Joe’s than the BB, we definitely plan to bike there frequently for our produce (and various other) needs.  

So to my readers (basically, my family): We seem to be settling in well. Despite exhaustion, we unpacked and cleaned up yesterday and the apartment already feels like home. We’re trying to soak up the dwindling days of unemployment before I begin my new job next week. Derrick is still looking, but has several inquiries he’s juggling. Unemployment may soon be in the past for him as well.

Pura Vida

Blogger’s Note: So I started writing the first two paragraphs exactly one week after we arrived back. But job searching and general bouts of laziness pushed the publishing of this post to now… one month later. I’m keeping the beginning because it’s still just as cold ( feels like -5) as it was when I wrote this a month ago.

This time last week I was sprawled out on a beach chair with a book on my lap, a view of the ocean, and the only things covering me were a bathing suite and 70 SPF sunscreen (I sizzle easily). It was 80 degrees and a sloth was dozing off in a tree probably 20 feet above me. Was it heaven? For an Iowa girl who’d endured subzero temperatures only two weeks prior, Costa Rica certainly was heaven wrapped in sugar-laden pina coladas and all the mahi mahi you could ever want (too much mahi mahi by the end of the week). We traveled to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica to celebrate Derrick’s friend getting married … but to be clear, sun and sand in January wasn’t a hard sell either.  We flew from Chicago to San Jose, crashed at a hostel for a night before flying out on a tiny hopper flight to the coast.

Since too much time has passed since the trip, I won’t prattle on about our experiences. But some notable highlights:

– Derrick used a screwdriver at work the day we flew out of O’Hare and forgot he had it in his carry on until the security check found it and kept it. R.I.P screwdriver.

– We arrived in San Jose in the wee hours of the morning and crashed at a hostel near the airport. Sounds convenient until your alarm clock is a large jet that takes off right over your head at 6 a.m.

-Despite spending a week in Costa Rica during the ‘dry season’, it seemed to rain a lot. Every day. I can’t complain though, it didn’t last long and I was just happy to be walking around in shorts and sundresses. Not to mention a sudden downpour led us to unknowingly take  shelter in a gay bar, which had amazing happy hour specials ($1 margaritas? Por favor y gracias!) pretty good food and a bathroom with posters of Calvin Klein underwear models in the bathroom.

– I went hoping to brush up on my Spanish, but Manuel Antonio is basically a resort area so everyone knew English. I felt bad about only talking in English until I realized the waiter knew English 10x better than I knew Spanish and me fumbling with grammatically insufficient Spanish would a) be humiliating and b) just waste their time. I did get to use it once. On the last day, Derrick and I hopped on the public bus and zoomed down the mountain to nearby Quepos so we could print off our airline tickets at an internet cafe. A combination of my basic Spanish, hand gestures and Derrick’s sense of direction,we found it.

– I finally met a lot of Derrick’s friends who I’d heard about for years. Most lived in New York and a few other places. Although expensive, I’d definitely recommend a destination wedding to anyone. It was awesome to get to know the bride and groom (whom I’d never met before but allowed me to be a part of their big day anyways) and be genuinely excited for them by the end of the trip when they got married. Being a Plus 1 is always great at a wedding, but it always feels like you’re just generally happy for the couple if you don’t really know them. Lucky for me, I got to sip margaritas and snorkel with the soon-to-be Piaseckis before seeing them say, ‘I Do.’