Saturday, February 20, 2016

2015: A Year in Review

So, I started this blog as a way to keep friends and family up to date with our lives. Well, I pretty much checked out the summer of 2014. A lot was happening, and for some reason, writing about it made it even more exhausting and overwhelming.

I was in my last year of grad school and starting my clinical hours. We were living in Texas, I had to stop working full time which put a financial strain on our family. I completed about 700 hours of clinical experience to meet the requirements for graduation. I pushed hard to graduate about 3 months early and I spent countless hours studying for final comprehensive exams and then the national certification exam. I passed all the required tests and in December of 2014, I became a certified family nurse practitioner (FNP).

During this time, we learned through friends, of an opportunity for Mike to work in the oil field in North Dakota. He was becoming increasingly frustrated with his job situation and earning far less than he was worth. He has always been a loyal employee and a hard worker. We decided to go for it! Once again, we found ourselves packing up and moving across country. But this was our plan, essentially, to be free spirited, take chances, and explore.

Brandon was 16 at this time. He really loved Texas, but when we discussed the opportunity in North Dakota, he was on board to go. He looked at it as another adventure. He did his research and thought it looked desolate and like a wild frontier! He was attracted to these attributes. Maybe I should have paid a little more attention when he described it as desolate!

So, on November 18, 2014 we had a caravan of 3 vehicles and a trailer, heading north. I was crossing fingers and toes and praying we did not encounter snow or ice on the way. We rolled into Watford City, North Dakota 3 days later. We had arranged to stay with a friend in an apartment until we would move into a house that was part of a job I was planning on accepting at a clinic owned by the local hospital. We had to board the dogs at a local veterinary clinic as the apartment did not accept dogs.

After a tortuous 8 hour interview with the hospital and their board of directors, I was terrified that I was going into a horrible situation as my 1st job as an FNP. The next morning, I began looking at other job options. There was one other clinic in town. Their website looked decent enough and it appeared the business was owned by 2 nurse practitioners. It was a shot in the dark, but I sent an email to the general information email address, explaining my situation as a new FNP that had just moved to town.

Fortunately, their jack of all trades employee, Bekki, quickly informed the owners and they contacted me that afternoon. I met with them later that day and I knew as soon as I walked into the clinic that this place was different. It felt comfortable and the owners were kind and passionate about their work. The clinic was beautiful. It is owned and operated by 2 nurse practitioners and they essentially offered me the job on the spot. Just one problem, it did not come with housing.

Finding appropriate housing in Watford City, ND for our family, including our dogs, was one of the most challenging tasks I have encountered. After a month of searching, a lot of tears and a whole lot of money, we moved into a house. Then, 3 days later, we moved out of that house and into a different house just down the road. But that's a whole other story. These were difficult times.
Our house was down a long dirt road. 
I had no idea there could be so many unpaved roads
in our 1st world country!
Lots of damaged windshields from semi trucks 
that travel these dirt roads, throwing rocks.

Watford City is/was referred to as a 'Boom Town'. It is right in the middle of the Bakken Oil Basin Formation. This area is using the fracturing process to produce a crazy amount of 'sweet crude oil'. Apparently this oil is much cleaner and requires less processing than oil form other sources or areas. There were more jobs than people. The unemployment rate was less than 1%. If a person wanted to work, there were plenty of opportunities, and the pay was extremely good.
I'm sure these folks don't mind the big pump jacks 
and storage tanks in their front yard as they are probably receiving a 
very attractive monthly check for mineral rights.


The area had a severe housing shortage. Apartments and homes could not be built fast enough to accommodate workers. There were man camps everywhere. These are similar to trailer parks with rows of small 'FEMA' trailers where men lived while working in the oil field. There were make shift parks with RVs and 5th wheels. I learned of indoor RV parks. I had to go see for my self because it seemed so unreal. Essentially there are large storage buildings where one can pull their RV inside and be protected from the weather. There are no windows. If you're living inside an indoor RV park, there's no daylight or dark!


These are basically FEMA trailers in a 
trailer park with a small kitchenette and beds on each side.
When we got to North Dakota, these were renting for 
$1200 per month.


I don't know the statistics but the female to male ratio was probably about 1:20. There were stories of the men being dangerous and committing violent crimes. I was told I should not walk alone or go the store by myself after dark. I honestly felt like this was a huge exaggeration once I got here and I have never felt uncomfortable or concerned about my safety. Except, for the time I took Taylor to Walmart and I was pretty sure about 5 male employees were trying to block her in the middle of an aisle! She thought I was overreacting when I snatched her up and glared at the men!

Well, as luck would have it, the price of oil came crashing down shortly after we moved here! There was lots of talk regarding decreases in pay and loss of bonus money with Mike's job. At one point we were just hoping to save enough money to move to the next place before he would lose his job. Fortunately, this time I really was overreacting! His job has been stable. He works a lot of hours but we are accomplishing some ambitious financial goals.

There are fewer people living here. We have seen entire trailer parks be cleared out. There is much less drilling taking place, but the existing pumps cannot be stopped. Companies can slow the extraction of oil, but they cannot stop production. This is a good thing as Mike's job involves existing wells. He travels to several sites per day and monitors the flow of oil and determines when and how much oil is shipped to a larger holding tank where it is then collected in tanker trucks and so forth. There's more to it than that, but the more I try to explain, the more I probably get wrong!

Rent has come down significantly, making life up here much more affordable. Traffic is improved since there are less people on the roads. Fortunately there are enough people still here that I stay busy at work. The clinic stays busy and has an excellent reputation in the community. I also took a 2nd job with Sanford Health where I work in a mobile medical clinic that provides occupational healthcare to the workers. We do drug testing, pre-employment physical exams, DOT exams, injured worker exams, etc.

The 1st 6 months up here were very much an emotional roller coaster. I worried about the stability of Mike's job. We were paying a ridiculous amount of money to rent a house that I was less than impressed with. The winter was brutal. There are limited services here in Watford City, and I was accustomed to constantly going to new places and restaurants and always being busy prior to the move here. We did not have internet for the 1st year we were here. We had no TV for the 1st 2 months. I thought I would go crazy.

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Uptown Watford City!
I've come to kind of like the quaintness of town!
The pharmacists and storekeepers know their customers. 
We have our favorite servers at the local restaurants. 

The closest Walmart is 1 hour away. The closest McDonald's is 1 hour away. I did not think I'd ever miss McDonald's, but sometimes, a familiar Egg McMuffin is hard to beat! Just being honest. I never thought I'd drive 3 hours to go shopping, and then 3 hours back home in the same day. That's how far the closest 'big city' is and that's Bismarck. For my Ohio family and friends, it's probably about the size of Kettering with less variety of restaurants.

I am not sure what happened, but I started to embrace North Dakota. I love the people. The people that are from here and those that have really made this place their home. The women here are the hardest working women you could ever know. They farm and ranch, raise families, have careers outside of the home, and participate in community and church events, simultaneously. The people here have been very kind to me and my family. The landscape is open and expansive. The badlands are at the edge of town. The skies are magnificent. I've been involved with more parades in the past year than in my entire life!
Sweet little Lutheran Church outside of town.
Large population of Norwegian Homesteaders and 
they are predominantly Lutherans.
North Dakota Skies are beautiful.
The sky really does feel bigger up here!


A young single mom posted a small, older camper for sale on a community Facebook page, explaining that she was trying to sell it to make money to give her kids a modest Christmas. Immediately, local business owners replied and invited her to come to their stores and select gifts for her kids. Folks in the community began offering money and gifts. I was stunned by the response of the community.

The Kids: Brandon graduates in the Spring. He plans to enlist in the Air Force. Deric is living just 5 hours south of us in Rapid City. He is still in the Air Force and is stationed at Ellsworth A.F.B. He is now living off base in a town home and has a dog named Marley. Taylor is engaged to Zach and living in Naperville, just west of Chicago. I became a grandmother this year, Taylor had sweet little baby boy Logan on November 4th. I made it with time to spare and I am so glad I was there to witness his arrival. Geoffrey and Chelsea are living in North Carolina. They keep inching their way closer to South Carolina! They are planning their wedding for Spring of 2017 in Ohio. Mike and I had the pleasure of visiting them in September of this year.

We're not sure what the future holds, but I'm sure it will be fun.
Hopefully I'll be more active in updating the blog to share with friends and family!


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Back to School

Combine travel, good food, friends, and a sort of spiritual retreat, and what do you have? School!!!
That's right. Regardless of how crazy it may sound! I am so excited to return to Frontier Nursing University in Hyden, Kentucky! The school is perched on the side of a mountain just above the quaint little town of Hyden, about 100 miles southeast of Lexington, Kentucky.

I won't bore everyone with details, but please check it out if you love nursing, history, women, babies, families, and pretty much anything else having to do with human life at Frontier. I was so fortunate to find this wonderful school and to be accepted for their bridge program.

I started with an associates degree in nursing (registered nurse). I completed a one year accelerated program to gain the equivalent of a baccalaureate degree and start a graduate program for a masters degree in nursing for family nurse practitioner (FNP). I went to Hyden, Kentucky for the 1st time in November of 2011 to prepare for the bridge year, and then returned in November of 2012 to "Cross the bridge"! I have now completed the didactic work(the book work!) for my masters degree and I am returning to Frontier for 8 days of intensive skills training, then on to 675 hours of clinical practicum in my own community prior to GRADUATION! I could not be happier.

Every time I return to Frontier Nursing University, I learn valuable things about myself and the world around me. I have opened my heart and mind in the past 2 & 1/2 years more than I could have ever imagined. This school is a special place, a retreat, a place for me to grow and hopefully return as a better person capable of helping those in need.

I'm extra excited about being at Frontier Nursing University in the Spring instead of the Fall. I know the campus will be beautiful and I cannot wait to take advantage of the scenery and serenity the campus offers.
Who knew school could be so amazing??!

My dream is to combine my love for travel with my passion for nursing! I'm working on figuring out how to best do that.....I'm thankful I have a husband ready for adventure and up for a challenge!
Main dormitory and dining hall where the kindest ladies prepare home cooked meals
 and we may or may not raid the fridge late at night!!

The school is perched on the side of a mountain
 providing beautiful walks!
An area dedicated to bonfires, fellowship, and wine in our free time




Our "Upperclassmen" Dorm rooms, equipped with living room and kitchen!!



Originally the barn that housed horses for the Frontier Nursing Service,
 now houses a library and media center!

Dorm Rooms (our 1st year, subsequent trips we were upperclassmen and got much nicer accommodations)!


The Chapel-Photo by Melissa Lawler




Sunday, February 2, 2014

Austin, Fredericksburg, and Gruene in 28 Hours

I was tired of work and school. I needed a break. I announced to Mike on Wednesday, that the next day when he woke up from working night shift, we were out of Kerrville, Texas, for a much needed break! We quickly talked about where we might go. We only had one night. Temperatures would be cooler at the coast, just 3 hours south of us, so we decided to head north, to Austin! 

We left Kerrville after Mike woke up around 2:00, and headed towards Fredericksburg. We stopped at Opa's Smoked Meats, a German sausage maker since 1947, and got jalapeno cheddar smoked sausage, pimento cheese, and crackers. We drove into downtown Fredericksburg and stopped at Grape Creek Winery for our free tasting (we're wine club members, always free 2 tastings, all of one wine=2 free glasses of wine each visit)! We found a lovely table in the warm sun, on the patio and enjoyed our goodies.

We've stayed near the Capital building in Austin before, in some beautiful hotels, but this time...we wanted something special and different! We stayed at the Austin Motel. It's located on South Congress Street, just over 2 miles from the Texas Capital Building. This is significant because I think it's really cool that you can see the capital from the motel! More on that in a bit...The Motel was great. It was quirky, dated (retro), within walking distance of great clubs, shops, and restaurants, and very comfortable! The following pictures were all taken at the motel!







 See the capital building, all the way at the end of the street?? I was SO excited about this!

So, as I said, the motel is in a great location! Doc's, an iconic Austin hangout, is right across the street. We met up with a new friend that we originally met in line (4 hours) for Franklin's BBQ (yes, it is worth it)! Jennifer W., founder of Austin Free Events has been a great resource, helping us find new places to discover in Austin. We met at Doc's, had $5.00 Nachos, which are more like tostados covered with meat, beans, and cheese, with an assortment of toppings! I love a good deal!

Then, we took off to the fairly new, Rainey St. district, where several...ummm...kind of ghetto houses, have been converted to great restaurants, lounges, and bars. We went to Bangers, a sausage house with over 100 beers on draft. Our kind waiter photo bombed us! Let me just say, at first, 100 beers on draft sounds exhilarating for beer lovers.....but really, it is just overwhelming! We were very excited about the sausage, but kind of disappointed with the results. Sometimes, it might be best to specialize, I mean really specialize in just a few great things instead of offering a lot  of mediocre things. Mike was smart...he said "stick with what you know" and ordered the chili cheese dog. It was ONE HECK of a chili cheese dog! Jennifer W. and I were both adventurous  and disappointed! Still, I would go back. It is my responsibility to keep it simple sometimes (something I really struggle with)! They had a great atmosphere, live music, and great service! 




Great Service


 Fancy sausage, I don't even remember what it was....Jennifer W. said it was TOO salty and essentially picked it apart for the more edible components.
 Mike's Chile Cheese Dog was Amazing!

So, after a long night, we retired to The Austin Motel, where I had the best sleep in a long time! It was a great experience I would highly recommend. It's not a fancy hotel, but it is a great place with a great location! We woke up and visited the The Snack Bar, which we fondly remembered from our last visit as having the BEST coffee we've ever had! We were not disappointed!

Then, the time had come to visit Guero's Taco Bar per the recommendations of a good friend, The Nomadic Texan! I met the Nomadic Texan (virtually), prior to moving to Texas. He helped me find a home, and has continued to offer helpful advice regarding Texas travel, dining, and adventure! He also inspires me to keep chasing my dream of travel! He told me that presidents dine at Guero's when in the area, so of course I had to go! We would've preferred to go at dinner time, but time was of the essence, so we went for lunch. We had a great lunch. Once again, Mike went for what he knows and got the Burrito Especial, which was amazing!
Again, we had Great Service!

After lunch, we strolled along South Congress Street...
After a great lunch and some window shopping, we went to the Capital of Texas for a tour! I was oddly excited about this! Texas is the most prideful state I've ever encountered and her people take their heritage very serious. It is inspiring. It is really something one must see and experience for themselves to truly understand. I wanted to experience it to its fullest and what better way than touring the Capital?!


T-E-X-A-S and the Texas Star can be found everywhere in the Capital!






After a great tour of the Texas Capital building, we went for a stroll around the grounds. So many monuments and memorials...Mike was definitely touched by the Peace Officers of Texas Memorial.



We eventually left Austin. I was sad. But, alas....we were going a different way home. There must be more to see??....absolutely!! I baited Mike with the Harley Davidson Shop in New Braunfels, Texas. Then, since it was nearing dinner time, I "googled" nearby restaurants. Much to my surprise, the cutest little town I've ever seen was just a couple of miles down the road! Gruene, Texas (pronounced green), home of the oldest dance hall in Texas, and Texas is pretty serious about their dance halls!!  The main street is lined with trees, shops, mansions, and restaurants that back up to the Guadalupe River. During the summer, this river is bumper to bumper, raft traffic! We stopped in to a few places, enjoyed some views , and had a nice dinner at the Del Rio Cantina!






 The Dance Hall is empty now, but come 8:00, it will be hopping with young and old...another thing I love about Texas, there are so many places that all age groups can gather for a good time!





My happy meter was definitely at about a 9.5 for our entire trip! We had beautiful weather and the scenery just got better and better! I don't know that a travel guide could ever duplicate such a great trip! Our anniversary is coming up, February 28th. It will be hard to beat this trip, but I certainly will try!! Stay tuned....