Our journey back into “normal” life started in North Carolina, which is where my parents and sisters live. First on the list of items needed for our new life? A car. Pff (that is a French expression for annoyance). We haven’t had a car now for at least 3 years, and have thoroughly enjoyed NOT having one. But life in the U.S. means car dependency, so luckily my dad had found one through his neighborhood contacts that was perfect for us – driven by an old lady, which meant low mileage, dependable, and well priced. Check off the first item.

After visiting with my family, the journey continued to Ohio for an Evans family (aunts, uncles, cousins) visit. My math isn’t good enough to figure out when the last time I saw everyone was…suffice to say it was TOO long, and it was fabulous to catch up with everyone. Of course invitations for a visit to California were extended.

Then on to Michigan, which is where Neal’s family lives. While we enjoyed seeing everyone, we were anxious to get on the road after 2 weeks of family visiting. So on the road we went…to somewhere in Illinois, just a bed to sleep in between travel days.

The Badlands. That was the first planned site to see on our way across our country. And was it worth it. We pulled into one scenic overlook after another, with dramatic rock formations, steep canyons, bighorn sheep, and sprawling grasslands. We stayed at the Custer State Park in an adorable cabin close to a little lake, which we hiked around. And when we went to dinner at the lodge, we could read the menu and understand everything the waitress told us about the specials. Ahhh…

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From South Dakota, we headed to Livingston, Montana, which is where A River Runs Through It was filmed. As soon as we crossed the Continental Divide, I felt like I was home again. The air, the people, the landscape, it all just felt so comfortable to me. I’ll admit I was not sure what it would be like to come back after living abroad. But when I breathed in that Western air, I knew it would all be OK. We stayed in Livingston for 2 nights, exploring the little town and some of the surrounding trails. On the Yellowstone River with a backdrop of mountain ranges, Livingston is a stunning and charming place, with dogs, kayaks, bikes, and artists. I could live here I decided. And then my husband reminded me of the winters. We were off to the next location.

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We drove through Yellowstone National Park from Livingston, and ended up in Victor, Idaho, staying at Morley’s Acres for 2 nights. Let me summarize our stay: pigs, chickens, dogs, cats, horses, feeding baby lambs, tiny western town with a drive-in theater and fantastic Thai food, homemade breakfast from local farm ingredients. Did I dream it? Possibly. And we did some more hiking, this time at the base of the Tetons.

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On our way to Lake Tahoe, the final stop before life was about to get real, we stayed the night in Elko, NV. While there we got the chance to catch up with a lovely couple, Laura and Chris, whom we met on our cruise. After chatting over lunch, we were off to the largest alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra Nevada. And we weren’t disappointed. I think pictures can describe so much better what we saw while walking the trails around the lake…

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After 2 nights there, we loaded up the car (again) and headed out – both starting to feel a little anxious. Sabbatical. Is. Over. Now we would have to 1) find jobs, 2) find a place to live, 3) furnish the house, including dishes, forks, broom, wine glasses…you get the idea. I think we were both still excited about our new life, but now realized this shit just got real.

We had booked an Airbnb rental for the month of June. This was our base as we explored the city, applied for jobs, and looked for long-term rentals. The whole process ended up (in hind sight) going pretty quickly – we had a permanent rental, 2 jobs, all the furnishings and essentials by the end of August. Now I will admit, for a couple of weeks we started to sweat (and not because it was over 100°). We were both waiting on (hoping for) job offers, but didn’t have them yet; our temporary rental was about to run out, and we didn’t want to sign a yearlong lease without jobs. So what was the back up plan? We decided that on a certain date, we would start looking in the Bay area. Too crowded for us, definitely too expensive, but more job opportunities. And then…BOOM! Neal got a job offer. We were all good. Started looking for a full time rental. And then? Diane got a job offer.

So here we are one year later. After living in Sacramento a few months we decided we liked it enough to stay. There is a happening restaurant and arts scene, and it is known for its diversity and tree canopy (Neal’s favorite feature). The ‘farm to fork capital’ has year-round outdoor fresh produce markets, and a plethora of fresh local food served in our fantastic restaurants. There is also a vibrant arts scene, with the Crocker Art Museum (yes of course we are members there), and 2nd Saturday art walks every month. And the weather? Sure it gets hot in the summer. But it’s dry heat (Neal says if I say that one more time…), and in the evenings the Delta breeze blows in and cools things down. So the heat generally doesn’t ramp up until late in the day, and then it almost always cools down at night. And the rain? Well there isn’t any ALL SUMMER LONG. And? No. Snow. Ever. (that would be MY favorite feature)

Sacramento is also not more than 30-60 minutes from some fantastic hiking trails, about an hour from Napa Valley, and an hour and a half to San Francisco, probably my favorite U.S. city.

All of this added up to us settling right in, and shifting from adventure mode to nesting mode. And I mean nesting. We ended up buying an adorable little 1940’s house near downtown, started planting vegetables, and adopted an adorable, sweet, lovable, funny, and tad bit crazy dog. Oh and Neal now has an electric lawn mower, that he gleefully mows his little lawn with on the weekends. I don’t even know who we are.

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Being home feels good in some ways, but really challenging in others. Our country feels incredibly divided, hostile, and full of hate – more so than when we left. It’s different then just right vs. left, differences in opinions on policies. A misogynist, demagogue is leading our country, and there is no ethnic or female representation in crucial national decisions. Am I frustrated to return to that? Absolutely. Do I often feel sad and angry at the current climate? Of course. Am I embarrassed every time I hear words come out of his mouth? No question. But there are also some lovely people here. Take for instance my sweet little Armenian neighbor who taught me how to make dolmas (the best I have ever had, by the way). And the ladies across the street who brought us lunch on our first day in the neighborhood. And how could I forget my new friend Kelly, who so far has brought us fresh flowers, a dog-training book for our new addition to the family, and talked me into mountain bike riding again. We love our new house, our new neighborhood, our jobs, and our Maggie. So we are tolerating the rest of it, and enjoying our new life in Sacramento; incredibly grateful for where we have been, the memories we have, and the new experiences that lie ahead.

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