The New Grad Nurse’s Survival Guide


It’s hard to believe that it’s been three whole years since I was a new grad nurse.  What’s even more amazing is how much I have learned & grown as a nurse in what is really a very short amount of time.  I’d never have believed it if you’d told me I’d be a charge nurse or a preceptor starting at age 24!  There are several new grad nurses on my unit at work right now, & I also have several friends who are currently in nursing school, so I’ve been meaning to write a post like this for quite some time.  For one reason or another I have never gotten around to it, but tonight I feel motivated to give it a shot.  Please don’t think I’m identifying myself as some nursing expert or genius, but I do think I’ve gained a certain amount of wisdom over the past three years that’s worth sharing.  Here goes.nurse pic

  1. Find or create a good report sheet. I cannot tell you how important this is.  I created my own just a week or two into my first job & it made such a HUGE difference in how prepared & organized I was during those first few months as a nurse.  When I moved to NC a year later & got a new job I eventually created a new report sheet because I realized I needed something different.  Furthermore I realized that trying to cram all my information for 4-5 patients on one sheet of paper was just ludicrous.  As long as you have a clipboard, there is no need to fit everything for all of your patients on just one sheet of paper.  I now write all of my information for each patient on a different piece of paper (as in one paper for each patient).  I write meds & other scheduled procedures/tasks on the back of each sheet.  Then I can check them off (by highlighting them) as I go.  You just have to find something that works for you.  You can see my report sheet by clicking the link at the end of this paragraph, but of course your needs will vary depending on the type of unit/area in which you’re working. Nursing Report Sheet
  2. To extrapolate on that topic, invest in a good clipboard, the kind that you can store papers in. You can get them at Wal-Mart for about $8.  These things are genius because you can use them to store hospital policies, blank copies of your report sheet, & other such things that you want to have handy at all times but that you couldn’t possibly fold up & store in your pocket every shift.nurse clipboard
  3. Buy scrubs with plenty of pockets. I don’t care if they are the cutest scrubs in the world, if they don’t have lots of pockets (2-4 on the top & at least one cargo pocket on the pants), they are a waste of money.  Before you start your shift (either before or after report), stock your pockets with the most commonly needed items on your unit.  In my case, I always carry a roll of tape, scissors, a penlight, IV tubing dead-enders (“blue caps”), 10 mL saline flushes, alcohol swabs, a pen, a highlighter, & a miniature Sharpie.  Depending on where you work, of course, your needs may vary, but at a minimum you should always have alcohol swabs because nothing is more annoying than having to make extra trips up & down the hall just to obtain an alcohol swab that you could have easily had in your pocket.  (Additionally, penlights are awesome for night shift nurses because they make it easier to sneak into dark rooms without waking your patients OR tripping over equipment in the room.)scrubs pockets
  4. Don’t rely too much on information you receive in report. I’m by no means implying that you shouldn’t trust your coworkers, but I just know how hard this job is.  I know how easy it is to miss a lab value or to get one patient confused with the next.  ALWAYS take the time to verify orders in the computer (or God forbid the old-fashioned & horribly antiquated paper chart), research your patients’ lab values & test results, & read the doctor’s notes as much as possible.  Remember that if you’re ever involved in a court case, saying “Well, the day shift nurse told me such & such in report” is not going to cover you.  For example, if you’re giving blood, double-check that the patient has signed a consent form.  If you’re giving multiple IV medications at once, double-check that they’re all compatible.  Don’t just assume that if the last nurse gave them together it must be ok.  Really look at your IV & central line dressings & make sure they are dated appropriately.  Read over ALL the orders on the patient’s chart.  What I’m saying is it’s really easy to miss stuff & we all have to hold ourselves & each other accountable.  GO BACK TO THE SOURCE.  Read the orders.  If you’re uncertain, ask another nurse for help, then call the doctor for clarification.
  5. On that subject, before you page a doctor, have all of the information gathered that you might need. Get a set of vital signs, familiarize yourself with the patient’s medical history & test results, & try to have a plan in mind of what you want the doctor to order (SBAR really is brilliant, y’all).  If you don’t know what you should be asking for, consult another nurse.  As a new grad, sometimes it’s hard to know what to expect because you are new & inexperienced, but the more experienced nurses around you should be happy to help you (I know I always am).sbar
  6. Find a routine. I know this can be so challenging because every shift can be so different.  One of the hardest things about nursing is finding a balance between having a routine that keeps you sane & “on schedule” & having to be flexible & adapt that routine to the differing circumstances you face each shift.  Every nurse’s routine will be different & that is ok.  It’s all about finding what works for YOU.  Yes, this will take some time.  But really make an effort to analyze how your day went at the end of each shift.  Over time you will identify trends of what made one day better than the next.  Just as an example, I have detailed my basic routine below.  Obviously I have to shuffle things a bit sometimes based on various circumstances that occur during my shift, but in general this is the routine I try to follow because I have found it works best for me.
    1. After clocking in, I stock my pockets with all of the items I mentioned in point number three above.
    2. Then I look up my patients in the computer & start outlining my report sheets with as much information as I can. This allows me to know what questions to ask in report.  If I go into report blindly, it’s harder to anticipate what questions I need to ask.  I don’t always have time to look up everything I’d like, but even a little information is better than none.Abstract of Doctor Writing on Clipboard with Dramatic Lighting.
    3. Get report. I like to log into the computer in the room during bedside report so I can double-check orders, meds, etc with the previous nurse.  If the patient has a major wound/incision, a central line, a PCA, etc, I double-check that with the previous nurse during report.  If your hospital doesn’t participate in bedside report, I encourage you to do some research & suggest it to your manager.  A lot of nurses aren’t fond of bedside report, but I love it.  Here is why: It gives me a chance to meet my patients before actually doing their assessment & to ask them if there is anything I can bring for them when I come back to do their assessment.  I can then write down those requests & be more prepared when I next enter the room (in other words, it saves me time in the long run).  Furthermore it’s a huge safety measure that protects both patients & nurses.  And additionally if anything crazy happens during the first hour or two of my shift, I never have to worry that I haven’t even laid eyes on some of my patients yet because I’ve already at least seen them during bedside report.  As a new grad nurse in a facility that did not (at the time) participate in bedside report, one of my greatest anxieties was knowing that if anything slowed me down in the first hour or two of my shift, there were patients I literally hadn’t even seen yet (& there was no way I could guarantee when the last nurse had seen them either).  I no longer have that anxiety . . . Ok, I apologize for the tangent.bedside report
    4. After report, I get back on the computer & finish looking up lab/test results, orders, doctor’s notes (from the current day), & anything else that I feel is particularly relevant for my patients’ care. The only time I break this part of my routine is if I have a patient with a particularly urgent need.  Even then I make time to do this as soon as that urgent need has been addressed.  Yes, I do have a few OCD tendencies, but I really do think it’s important to have as much background on your patients as you can.
    5. Next I start on assessments & meds. As a new grad I usually tried to do all my assessments first & then do meds.  Eventually I realized this was taking me way too long & patients sometimes got annoyed if their 2100 meds weren’t given till 2200 or later (usually because they wanted to go to sleep earlier & didn’t want to be woken up for meds).  Nowadays I try to combine meds & assessments, usually starting with the “easiest” patients first (i.e. those with the fewest meds, those who are “walkie-talkies” & less likely to need 30 minutes of care in addition to everything else).  By starting with the easier patients, I can then devote more time to my more time-consuming patients without worrying that I’m late to see everyone else.  If you have a patient whose meds all have to be crushed or who is confused & likely to fight taking their pills, if at all possible, save them for last.  Exception being if they have some kind of truly urgent need of course, but that should go without saying.  It should also probably go without saying, but 99% of the time you can & should group your 8 & 9 o’clock meds, etc.  Just know what your hospital’s protocol is in regard to this.nurse giving meds
    6. Chart as you go as much as possible.  At the very beginning, this might not be possible because you might not yet be familiar with your hospital’s charting system.  But over time this is really one of the best ways to manage your time efficiently.  At the very minimum I try to chart safety checks, pain & IV assessments, & any relevant I&O since those things can all be charted relatively quickly anyway.  Then when I go back to finish up my charting later, all I have to do is add in my head-to-toe assessment, care plan, & patient education.  If I don’t have time to chart the head-to-toe assessment in the room, I’ll jot down notes & the time so I can remember it later.charting cartoon
    7. After I finish meds, assessments, & at least a little documenting, I’ll round on all of my patients again to ask about evening snacks, toileting, etc.
    8. At midnight (or noon, if you’re day shift) the cycle starts again at # 5 above.
  7. Get to know your fellow nurses, both as nurses & as human beings. I know I wouldn’t be the nurse I am today without the guidance, coaching, & support of so many great nurses with whom I’ve had the privilege of working over the past few years.  Nursing is absolutely a team effort & knowing you’ve got people to support you will go a long way in making your first year as a nurse more rewarding & less stressful.nursing teamwork
  8. On a similar note, build a good relationship with your NAs because your NAs will make you or break you. Show them that you’re committed to the unit & your patients by chipping in with vital signs & toileting when you can.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t ask them for help, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed, but don’t be that nurse who leaves the room to find an NA to take the patient to the bathroom just because you don’t feel like doing it.  That is unacceptable (unless of course you have a true emergency with another patient).  A good NA is worth her weight in gold.  When you have one, show them how much you appreciate them.  I’m a much better nurse when I have good NAs to help me & I always strive to make sure they know that.  Remember, we’re all in this together.
  9. When you’re scared to try something, do it anyway; just find someone to help you. I was never one of those nursing students who was dying to learn to start IVs.  In fact I was terrified by the idea.  Unlike some, I didn’t become a nurse because I wanted to stick needles in people.  I really didn’t.  It took me a solid six months as a nurse to really get a handle on starting IVs because I was just so freaked out about it.  I would get so nervous that I was practically paralyzed with fear.  But I am so thankful for a few nurses who really took the time to help me, to even push me into rooms to start IVs, even when I really didn’t want to, because guess what: eventually I got it.  And after a few more months, I actually became pretty good at it.  Not great perhaps, but good enough that people occasionally asked me to try an IV for them.  Sometimes you will fail over & over again, but every time you fail you still learn something.  And it truly is all in your head.  Once you master the fear, you will be amazed at how quickly your skills improve.  On the same subject, don’t obsess too much about your hands-on skills.  You will master them with time.  Focus on time management & critical thinking because at the end of the day these things are what will really make you or break you as a nurse.  I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again: as a nurse your must important tool is not your hands; it’s your brain.  Use it!!nelson mandela quote
  10. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. No one is ever perfect.  We’re all still learning, & that is part of what makes nursing so much fun.  And we all have days when we feel like we’re just barely keeping our head above the water.  It happens to the best of us.  It’s very easy to get burnt out in nursing between demanding patients (& family members) & unsympathetic/unrealistic upper management, not to mention the sickness & death we see on a regular basis.  Realize you will have times when you are not the angel of kindness you always dreamt of being.  Just be aware of it so you can temper it & not become a bitter, angry soul.  Go out with your nursing buddies & vent about your frustrations.  They really are the only ones who can truly understand what you’re going through.  Additionally, find outlets away from nursing that allow you to relax & rejuvenate.  For me that means listening to music, playing my flute, hiking, reading, & above all, writing.  It doesn’t matter what your outlet is, as long as it contributes positively to your mental health.
  11. If you’re working night shift, realize it does get easier with time.  I DREADED night shift.  I cannot tell you how paralyzed with fear I was about it because I have NEVER been a night owl.  Even in college, I never once stayed up all night.  But guess what: three years later I now love night shift (for a variety of reasons which you can read about here: http://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/06/06/10-reasons-why-night-shift-rocks/).  Everyone has to find what works for them in regards to adjusting to night shift life, but for me I’ve found that working three nights in a row is helpful so that I can have a more “normal” life on my days off.  Also black-out curtains are a MUST.  The Eclipse brand sold at Wal-Mart or on Amazon are fabulous.

night shift humor12. Perhaps the most important advice I can offer is also the simplest: ASK QUESTIONS.  If something doesn’t feel right, speak up.  Do not be afraid of “looking stupid” or “bothering” other nurses or even doctors.   Mistakes happen when people DON’T ask questions.

If you’re a new grad nurse or a nursing student who can’t wait to graduate, I hope you’ve found this post helpful.  Your first year as a nurse will be incredibly challenging & incredibly difficult at times, but please believe me when I say it really does get better & easier with time.  Take a deep breath, listen to some Five Finger Death Punch or Godsmack to get you all fired up, & go out there & be the rock star nurse you know you were meant to be!

If you’re an experienced nurse & would like to chip in with your ideas, please comment below.  I’d love to hear from you.  As I said, I’m always learning too.  Cheers!

Sweet Potato Curry Stir-fry with Quinoa


If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, or if you know me in real life, you probably know that cooking is mostly a chore for me, & it’s not exactly my forte.  Furthermore my husband & I have somewhat different tastes in food so it’s difficult to make something that truly appeals to both of us.  However, this weekend I hit the jackpot & created a delicious stir-fry that BOTH of us loved.  I originally made it just for myself, but my husband smelled it & got curious, so he tried it.  Turns out he loved it as much as I did!  I came home from work on Monday morning to find that he had taken a sizable portion of the stir-fry to work with him for his lunch that day.  And he texted me later on that day asking me to make more of it the next day so we could have it all week.  This has pretty much never happened before in our relationship, as between the two of us he is a far more talented cook, & more often than not we each cook for ourselves because we do have such differing tastes in food.  Cue me feeling like a domestic goddess!  Haha!

This of course got me to thinking that this recipe might be worth blogging so others could give it a shot.  Not only am I excited that I finally found something that both of us really enjoy, but I’m also proud of the fact that I created this dish purely out of my imagination.  This is not to say someone else hasn’t made exactly the same thing before, but I truly didn’t follow a recipe here.  I just took some ideas I’d found online & adapted them to what fit my own tastes & the vegetables I had on hand in our pantry.  Alright, enough talking it up . . . Here’s the recipe!

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Start out with your quinoa.  I used this kind that I got at Kroger which is a blend of quinoa & brown rice.  Now that I know I love quinoa, I’m going to buy it in bulk at Whole Foods since this kind does have a bit more sodium than I think is necessary (400 mg for the whole box, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that much, but still).  The spices that are in it are all things I already have in my kitchen so I no longer feel l need to buy it like this.  But if you’re just starting out with quinoa, I think this kind is a great way to get into it.  For this kind, you just add 1 3/4 cups water & let it boil until all the water is gone.  Once the boiling has started, turn the heat down to medium.

P1090776Once the quinoa is on the stove, you can start on your veggies, but first get out your skillet & whatever kind of oil you’re going to use.   I always cook with iron skillets because I think they’re healthier than Teflon & they make things taste better too.

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This is the coconut oil I use.  I get it at Sam’s Club.  I cook almost everything with coconut oil or sometimes olive oil because I think they are the healthiest AND taste the best.  You can turn your heat onto medium so that the oil heats up while you’re peeling & cutting up your sweet potato.

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Peel your sweet potato & cut it up into bite-sized pieces.  Then cover with curry.  I never measure but 1-2 TBS is probably about right.

P1090778Above is the curry I use.  It is also from Sam’s Club.  Curry is full of antioxidants so it’s a very healthy spice/seasoning that is also FREAKING DELICIOUS!  However, it does have a tendency to stain everything it touches a very BRIGHT yellow, so just be sure to rinse your counters/cookware as soon as you’re done cooking/eating so the stain comes off easily.

I had never heard of sauteing sweet potatoes until last week, but it’s actually a very easy & delicious way to cook them!  However, it does take a while, so the first step for the stir-fry is to add your sweet potato chunks to your now warmed oil.  Depending on your stove’s settings, you may want to turn the heat down to medium low once you’ve added the sweet potatoes to the oil.  Allow them to saute for a good 10 minutes before adding any other vegetables because they take a lot longer to soften than most veggies do.  Stir occasionally &, if you desire, add additional curry (or any other spices that suit your fancy).

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Use a fork to test the sweet potatoes for softness.  Once they soften a bit, you can add your other veggies.  I used frozen white corn & pearl onions, pictured above (both from Kroger).  I also used frozen yellow squash.  All of these veggies cook very quickly, so again make sure your sweet potatoes are more or less done when you add these veggies.P1090780Once you have all the veggies in your skillet, you can add your curry sauce.  I used Rogan Josh curry sauce, pictured above.  I love the Patak’s brand of curry sauces because they are all-natural, relatively low in sodium, & just plain delicious!  Someday maybe I’ll make my own curry sauces at home.  But I’m not THAT much of a domestic goddess yet, ha!  I usually get my Patak’s sauces at Kroger but I know Food Lion sells them also.

P1090785Doesn’t that look yummy?!

P1090784In case you’re not familiar with what quinoa looks like, above is the finished quinoa.  If you time things just right, the quinoa should finish about the same time as the stir-fry finishes (about 15 minutes).  Pour the stir-fry over the quinoa & your dish is ready to serve!

P1090787Finished product!  This is so delicious.  AND it reheats well which is really essential if you’re like me & need to be able to cook something that can last for several meals throughout the week.

 

You can easily make this a non-vegetarian recipe by adding beef or chicken or whatever meat you desire.  My husband & I are both devout carnivores, but we both really enjoy this stir-fry without any meat, so it’s definitely perfect as a vegetarian dish also.  Easy, healthy, & delicious; what more could you ask?

To sum up, below are the necessary ingredients:

  • 1 whole sweet potato
  • Frozen (or fresh) corn, yellow squash, & pearl onions (regular onions would work just fine too)
  • 1-2 TBS (or more) Curry
  • Rogan Josh curry sauce (many other curry sauces would work also)
  • Coconut oil (or whatever your preferred cooking oil is)
  • Quinoa/brown rice mix (plan quinoa or plain rice would work too)
  • About 15-20 minutes of time to devote to cooking

And here is a quick summary of the directions in case you want to copy/paste them into your computerized recipe book.  (Let’s get real: my recipe book is a Microsoft Word document in which I copy/paste recipes I find online.  Maybe it’s not all cutesy like an old-fashioned recipe book, but it works.  I can’t be the only person who does this.)

1. Bring quinoa/brown rice mix to boil.  Turn down to medium heat once boiling begins.

2. Bring coconut oil to medium heat.

3. Peel sweet potato & cut into bite-sized chunks.

4. Pour curry over sweet potato chunks.  I never measure but 1-2 TBS is probably about right.

5. Add sweet potatoes to warmed coconut oil.  Depending on your stove’s settings, you may want to turn the heat down to medium low while they cook.  Stir occasionally & add any additional curry or other spices as desired.

6. After about 10 minutes, or whenever sweet potatoes start to soften, as tested by a fork, add other veggies (corn, squash, & pearl onions).

7. After a minute or two, add the Rogan Josh curry sauce.  Continue to stir occasionally.

8. At this time, your quinoa ought to be finished.  Whenever the water is all gone, remove from stove & add to bowl/container.

9. Pour contents of stir-fry over quinoa.

10. Voila!  You’ve got a delicious, healthy, & easy dish to eat & share!  :)

I hope you’ll give this dish a try.  If so, comment below to let me know how it turns out!

A Letter to My Fellow “Man”


Dear “Sirs,”

I walked into a pizza parlor today & immediately I felt your eyes upon me.  As I made my way to the counter to place my order I could feel your stares just as strongly as if they had been your all too grimy hands.  And just a few days ago I had a similar experience at another restaurant when I stopped in for breakfast on my way home from work.  That time you had me surrounded.  Two of you in front of me in line, two of you behind me.  Then you found your way to a table & I found your leering eyes upon me every time I looked up from my own table.  I left feeling dirty & used even though you never touched me or even spoke to me once.

These are just the two most recent episodes of such behavior that I’ve observed.  Sadly these things happen far too often & not just to me & not just in America, but in every tiny town & every major metropolis & every culture in every nation on this planet.  I think it’s safe to say that women all over the world will concur with me that such behavior is offensive, intimidating, & simply degrading.

'BOY that REALLY makes my skin crawl when MEN undress you with their eyes!...'

I’d find all this unwanted attention a bit less shocking if I were dressed in clothes that scream “Look at me!” but I never dress like that.  Miniskirts, booty shorts, & low-cut tops have never been my style.  While I firmly believe both men & women have the right to dress however they choose within context, there is no doubt that our attire does send certain messages about ourselves, whether we realize or want to admit it or not.  (When I say within context, I mean that wearing a bikini to work is clearly unacceptable, unless maybe you’re a model.)  This is not to say that leering at women who choose to dress in more “provocative” attire is acceptable, but at least it is a bit more logical.  In the end though, the burden of responsibility falls on the person who is committing the crime.  And in this case that burden falls squarely on the shoulders of you “men” who have probably never stopped to think twice about how your leering at every unfortunate female who crosses your path might make said female feel.

Maybe this situation wouldn’t be so distressing if I had some means of seeking revenge upon you.  If I could make you as uncomfortable as you make me with your leers & snarky smiles, I’d be happy to try to turn the tables on you & give you a taste of your own medicine, so to speak.  But sadly if I were to leer at you with even half the lust with which you leer at me, you’d probably just be flattered & text your equally sadistic buddies all about it.  Let me be clear in saying that I do not buy into the age-old argument that sex is inherently demeaning or degrading to women.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  But your eyes tell me quite plainly that you view me as nothing more than a sexual object who exists for your pleasure, & this too could be nothing further from the truth.  In reality I am a human being with dreams, hopes, goals, aspirations, & yes, even sexual needs & desires, just as you are.  But that last bit doesn’t justify your treating me as nothing more than a walking vagina with tits & an ass.  Trust me, we females enjoy checking you guys out too, but by & large we don’t view every man who walks by as a piece of meat to feast our eyes upon.  And even if we did, we could never threaten & intimidate you the way you can us because biology is pretty simple & we are as a whole not as physically strong as you are.

women not pieces of meat

I know you probably think you’re doing me some kind of favor by paying attention to me, but your twisted logic isn’t fooling anyone but yourself.  The only thing you’ve accomplished is making it very obvious that you’re so far below my taste in men as to not even be a blip on my radar (not that I’m looking since I’m married, but that’s beside the point in this scenario).  You’re probably not so self-aware as to realize this, but your leers are just a power-play, a way to make you feel stronger when deep down your sense of self is weaker than you’d like to admit.  Real men who are confident in themselves & their ability to win an intelligent well-rounded woman don’t need to stroke their ego by intimidating women with lustful stares & winks at their friends.

And just in case any of you guys happen to be smart asses, no, the answer to this predicament is not me staying at home or putting on a burka to go out in public.  The answer lies in you learning to have some self-control & self-respect which will then enable you to show respect to others.

End message: We’re all human beings here.  Yes, we all have sexual desires & needs but that’s no reason to be disrespectful.  Get over yourselves.  Get your own act together.  And get your dirty eyes off me.

Sincerely,

A woman with too much self-respect to put up with your BS any longer

The Great Mommy Dilemma


Why, hello, 3:00 a.m., I never thought we should be so well acquainted.  I worked the past three nights & apparently my body is still stuck on night-shift mode which happens occasionally.  Honestly, I’m not sure why most of the world so resents being awake at 3:00 a.m.  It’s really a very nice time of night, though I suppose less so if you’re stuck in the dreaded 9-5 world.

Anyway, tonight I woke up just before 1:00 a.m. & haven’t been able to go back to sleep since then.  Naturally my mind is whirling with questions about life because that’s basically what my brain does any time it’s awake, regardless of what time the clock reads.  Tonight’s topic was inspired by a recent conversation at work in which a new coworker asked me if I had kids.  My response of course was no & I’m not sure if/when I ever want them.  This of course was met with the typical raised eyebrows & quizzical glances which it always inspires, particularly from other women.  I’m used to the reaction but it still bothers me a bit.  In the twenty-first century, is it really still so odd to imagine that a woman could have a uterus, yet have no real intention or desire to use it?  I know, I know, everyone says I’ll change my mind someday.  And I very well may.  But supposing I don’t . . . Is there really something WRONG with me for not wanting to have children? 

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From a biological perspective, I suppose it IS a rather odd choice.  After all you don’t see very many childless females in the animal kingdom.  (I’m sure there are some obscure examples, but for the most part females in the animal kingdom, mammals anyway, are rarely childless.)  The biological imperative is to procreate to ensure the propagation of the species.  And yet I seem to have been born without a particular urge to do so.  As a woman, the world views this with a certain amount of suspicion.  Perhaps they are justified in doing so.  But I must say it’s rather unpleasant to be on the receiving end of this suspicion sometimes.

Trust me, I don’t fear having children because I don’t want to give up partying & drinking at all hours of the night.  I’ve never been one to participate in such “pleasures.”  It’s giving up my freedom to write blog posts at 3:00 a.m. & work 40 hours a week without having to come home to anyone who needs to me to take care of them 24/7 that I don’t want to give up.

I came from where

Regarding parenting challenges, it’s not the difficult conversations about death or sex or the essence of morality that scare me.  To all of that, I say bring it on.  I can’t wait to teach my children to be critical thinkers & skeptics like me!  It’s the tedious processes of breastfeeding & toilet-training & other such endeavors that scare me senseless.  Everyone says (& there is probably research to back this up) that the first few years of a child’s life are absolutely essential in bonding with the parent & forming a relationship that will last a lifetime.  Well, since I don’t particularly like children under about age five, if I have any kids I worry they’ll be screwed for life . . . And I already value any children I may have far too highly to risk scarring them so badly . . . Why can’t kids pop out at age five or six, toilet-trained, eating solid food, & ready to take on the world?  You may laugh, but I am serious!

Even on the days when I do feel more inclined to be a mom, I’m met with the veritable dilemma over how to balance children & career.  I was raised in the generation of women who were told we could “have it all.”  But many of us are finding that the world isn’t so utopian as all that.  When I look at the world around me, I’m presented with plenty of evidence that trying to juggle raising a family (young children anyway) & a full-time job is about as easy & as fun as facing a lion, a tiger, a bear, a wolf, & a shark, all at the same time, without any sort of weapon at all.  In other words, it’s hell.

modern motherhood

Perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, but I think there are legitimate reasons why many women leave behind even the best careers to be “stay-at-home” moms.  First of all, maternity leave in America is a joke.  And second of all childcare is expensive, even for the more well-to-do among us.  Additionally there are the emotional rewards of raising your own children on a day-to-day basis . . . something that’s clearly impossible to quantify but also impossible to ignore.  How many times do I see women facing the agony of leaving their new baby behind after just six precious weeks at home?  It’s not easy to watch.

And yet I know I’m not the only woman who finds the prospect of staying at home all day feeding, bathing, & soothing a crying baby or entertaining a whining toddler far from appetizing.  In fact, it sounds downright miserable to me.  I know, I know, this probably makes me a horrible person, but I can’t be the only woman who doesn’t find babies & toddlers as ridiculously adorable as everyone else does.  Trust me, there are days when I see my friends’ pictures of their children on Facebook & my heart melts & I dream of the day when I too will share that scared title of mother.  But then reality sets in & I remember that most of the actual work of being a mom is far from glamorous.  I don’t know how many blog posts I’ve read lately from women who say “No one told me parenting would be this hard!”  I on the other hand can’t stop thinking about how hard it sounds & wondering if the rewards could possibly make all the stress worth it for me.  Trust me, I sincerely believe that most people truly do find parenting rewarding.  And I sincerely hope that someday I too will find the strength to believe the same will be true for me. 

motherhood grocery store

I often find myself wishing companies were more friendly to mothers (& fathers) of young children, & yet the logical part of me isn’t sure how practical that is.  After all, if every employee had a plethora of children, there is no way companies could afford to provide insurance for all of them.  (Of course not having our health insurance tied to our jobs would be a great start, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.)  And as much as I wish maternity leave were FAR longer, I also realize that expecting a company to pay a woman (or even just hold her job) for three to six months or more while she is NOT actually working for them is perhaps a bit much to ask.  Particularly if a woman has multiple children within a few years of each other.  Not to mention her fellow employees have to take on the burden of fulfilling her roles without any additional pay or benefits.  However, I also think it’s ludicrous to suggest that six weeks is enough time to fully recover, both physically & mentally, from having a baby, much less to actually get a firm grip on balancing the demands of said child.  Basically I see both sides of the coin & neither of them is very pretty.

motherhood not for sissiesTrust me, I am glad I live in a day & age & a society in which I have the choice to have a career or be a mom or try to do both.  Not having those choices would be a far greater torture.  I don’t really know what I hope to accomplish by writing all of this because I know there are no solid answers to the questions I’m asking.  If there are any good answers, they are certainly different for every woman.  I just wonder if anyone else is thinking about all of these things.  Very few of my college friends have kids so far, but at least half, if not three-quarters, of my high school graduating class are parents.  And most people in my family were parents at or well before 25 (my current age).  Did any of these people think about all of these things?  If not, were they better off because of it?  To all those who say I should just stop thinking about all of this so much, you might as well tell me to stop breathing.  If I had been a man in Ancient Greece, I would have been a philosopher.  For better or worse, it’s just who I am, the very essence of my being.

In the end I can’t imagine having children & sending them to daycare, at least not at a very young age.  But I also can’t imagine staying at home with them all day & giving up my career.  I suppose the answer lies somewhere in between, but gambling on trying to find the perfect balance is a risk I’m not sure I’m willing to take.

At least not yet.

 

3 Reasons I’m Ashamed of My Generation


A couple months ago I wrote a post entitled Six Reasons Why I’m Proud of My Generation (http://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/02/02/6-reasons-why-im-proud-of-my-generation).  To my surprise, it’s become one of my most popular posts to date.  And I still mean every single word that I wrote in that post.  However, lately I’ve been unable to ignore some of the things about my generation (basically people between the ages of 15 & 30) of which I am ashamed.  Or perhaps it would be more correct to say things that really frustrate me about my generation.  In any case today I will possibly (ok, probably) sound like a grumpy old lady but I really could not care less.  I’m slowly coming to peace with the fact that I am indeed old at heart & there is nothing much I can (or should) do about it.millennial

These are in no particular order.

  1. MUSIC. First off, I do realize that not all modern music is aimed at my generation, but I think it’s fair to say that most of it is.  However, I don’t know how else to put this other than that turning on the radio nowadays makes my ears bleed.  I literally want to shoot the radio because everything on it sounds so BAD.  Almost every song I hear is inane, stupid, vapid, & redundant.  As in singers quite literally repeat the exact same words or phrases over & over & over.  Not to mention popular music (& even country music) is nothing more than an endless stream of partying/drinking songs.  There is a time & place for such music but it should NOT be the mainstay of our musical diet as it has sadly become.  I’ll be the first to admit that some of these songs are indeed catchy, but I’ll also be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a musical snob (&, no, I’m not sorry for that) in that I believe music should be more than just a catchy tune that makes you feel good for a few minutes.  Perhaps even more revolting is the overuse of auto-tuning & other such musical Photoshop.  Eric Church said it best in his usual slightly crass but undeniably brilliant way: “It’s a little bit shallower than it was a few years ago — it’s ‘Let’s drink, forget our worries, beach, bonfire, lake.’ When something’s working, everybody falls into a pattern. One thing I miss is turning on the radio & just having a song punch me in the gut &, as a songwriter, knock me on my ass. And I think we could use more of that.”  Yes, Mr. Church, we certainly could.  And that’s just one reason I have an entire post on here dedicated to his talent (http://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/02/25/why-eric-church-might-be-the-musical-genius-of-the-21st-century/).  eric church outsiders quoteFurthermore, what happened to rock & roll being the anthem of young people?  There are still tons of great rock & metal bands, but many of them are seriously struggling to survive.  Rock radio is basically dead with most rock stations playing either classic rock (90’s & older) or this new-age hipster pop-rock that makes me want to puke (not necessarily because it’s all bad but because it’s replacing the REAL rock & roll that ought to be played on these stations).  At every rock concert I’ve attended I’ve been surprised at how many people are in their late 30’s & older.  While I find it admirable that these folks are still going to rock concerts, I can’t help but wonder where all the young folks are.  Oh wait, that’s right; they’re all listening to Luke Bryan, Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, & Pitbull.

 

  1. RELATIONSHIPS. Let me preface this part by saying that there are several things in regard to relationships of which I am actually very proud of my generation.  These include our ability to transcend gender roles & our acceptance of inter-racial or cross-cultural relationships.  I consider these to be huge milestones for our society & I’m proud to be part of a generation that is making these ideals come to life.  However, I am also frustrated at the state of far too many relationships in my generation.  Far too many of us are so afraid of commitment, or so afraid of being “tied down,” that we’re incapable of ever defining our relationships at all.  Then of course there are the inevitable “hook-ups” that everyone agrees always end badly & yet no one wants to be the “prude” who suggests that maybe sleeping with strangers (or near-strangers), particularly while drunk, really IS a bad idea. hook up culture I so often find myself wanting to scream at the masses: “Get yourselves together, people!”  It’s not that I think my generation is any more “slutty” (I hate that word but can’t think of anything better at present) than any other generation.  We probably aren’t.  But we could certainly stand to have a bit more honesty in our relationships.  If we want a casual “friends with benefits” relationship, then we should have the guts to say so.  And if we want a more serious relationship, we should have the guts to say that too.  We should also realize that there is really no such thing as uncomplicated sex.  All sex is complicated.  But probably the least complicated sex is that between two loving adults.  I’m not sure why that’s so hard to understand.  Additionally, both girls & guys of our generation need to have the self-respect to only accept a partner who truly respects us as a friend, a lover, & a human being.  We need to realize that putting up with anything less sends the message that such behavior is ok.  We also need to grow up & realize that real life isn’t a fairy tale & wanting to wake up beside someone is just as important as wanting to go to bed with them.  Basically I’m tired of hearing people complain about the lack of nice guys (& girls) when so much of the time these very same people are never honest about what they actually want out of a relationship & then are surprised when they don’t get it.

fairytale tequila

  1. DRINKING. I grew up in a family & a church who believed that all alcohol is bad all the time.  When I became an adult, I realized I didn’t agree with this view of the world because frankly I find it illogical.  But I also discovered that I really don’t like the feeling of being drunk.  Both physically & mentally, it is just not a pleasant feeling for me.  (A little tipsy is ok, just to be clear, but not actually drunk.)  Despite what the majority of the world experiences, alcohol really doesn’t help me relax.  (Trust me, sometimes I wish it did.)  Not to mention I still can’t understand why anyone would willingly sign up for a hangover.  To me this is just common sense.  party cultureTo be clear, I don’t judge those who truly enjoy getting drunk.  As long as you are responsible about it (don’t drive & have someone to watch over you to make sure you don’t do anything too stupid), I seriously don’t think less of people who enjoy getting a little more than tipsy once in a while.  But it really shouldn’t be the foundation of your lifestyle.  When I meet someone & all they can talk about is how much they can’t wait to get drunk this weekend, or how wasted they were last night, or if every story they tell involves being drunk, I can’t help but want to scream “Don’t you realize there’s more to life than getting wasted?!”  I know I must sound like a judgmental prick right now, but seriously I have to wonder if all of these people really enjoy getting drunk as much as they say they do, or if they just do it because it’s the cool thing to do.  Maybe I am just weird (ok, I am definitely weird), but I really can & often do have a great time with my friends without drinking anything at all or while drinking only in moderation (say one or two drinks).  I also much prefer drinking at home (or at a friend’s house) because it’s just way more comfortable.  If this makes me old & boring, I really don’t care because it also means I have a lot more money in my bank account because I’m not blowing it on overpriced drinks at bars every weekend.  End of story.

Anyone else under 30 understand what I’m saying here?  I know many of my friends do, & I am so incredibly thankful for y’all because you enrich my life in so many ways & remind me that I’m not totally insane.  Like I said earlier, I really hate to sound like an old grump but somebody has to do it, right?

The Most Powerful Songs in My Life


Music is an important element in every culture in the world, & I strongly believe that it is the greatest art form because of its potential to influence our lives.  Think about it: we listen to music in the car, at home, at the gym, & even at work sometimes.  And we carry around ipods so we can listen to music wherever we go.  What other art form so transcends our daily lives?

A few years ago I got the idea to write down what I considered the most powerful songs in my life.  Not necessarily my FAVORITE songs but the songs that I feel like have had the greatest impact on my life & capture the ideas that I believe are most important in life.  Today I was thinking again about the power of music in my life, so I decided to revisit that list & update it just a bit.

I would love to hear what songs have most influenced you & why, so please feel free to comment & share your thoughts.

Please note these are in no particular order.  I only numbered them so I wouldn’t lose count.

I’ve included links to YouTube for each song because I’m awesome like that.  :)

  1. I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack: This is such a simple song but the words are so powerful.  Every time I hear this song, it makes me stop & really think about how I’m living.  The metaphor of “I hope you dance” is so perfect for expressing the need to live actively rather than passively letting life pass us by.  I also love the fact that this song reminds us of the importance of standing in awe of nature, taking a chance on loving others, & never letting our hearts grow bitter.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RV-Z1YwaOiw&ob=av3eI hope you dance
  2. Fifteen by Taylor Swift: You can go ahead & laugh at me for having Taylor Swift on this list but I seriously love this song.  I’ll be the first to agree that her voice is far from perfect & that everything she’s released over the past two years or so has been absolute CRAP, but to me that does not diminish the power of her song-writing abilities earlier in her career.  In this song she expresses exactly what it’s like to be a teenage girl.  She captures the feeling that we all had in high school that this is your whole life & every little drama that comes along feels like the end (or beginning) of your world.  Yet she reminds us that in the end most of these things are but insignificant trifles in a life full of so many things so much bigger than we ever dreamed at fifteen.  She reminds us that despite what we thought as teenagers most of us had no idea who we really were then, much less how to really love another person.  I love how this song encourages girls to aspire to be so much more than the high school quarterback’s girlfriend even though when you’re fifteen that seems like the epitome of success.  In this song she also encourages us to think twice before making any big decision & reminds us that time can heal all wounds, two very important life lessons.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb-K2tXWK4w&ob=av2n
  3. Life Ain’t Always Beautiful by Gary Allen: This is yet another very simple but profound song that speaks of both the extreme joys & sorrows of life.  As the song teaches us, life isn’t always beautiful but the hard times & the changes give us strength & wisdom so that at the end of the day, life really is a beautiful journey.  I think Gary Allen’s deep gravelly voice perfectly demonstrates that something that isn’t perfect can still be wonderful.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VDNMtn0t2A&ob=av2elife aint always beautiful
  4. Best I Ever Had by Vertical Horizon: When I first discovered this song I listened to it over & over & over again.  This is such a sad but beautiful song that expresses the sorrow that so many of us have known in life when we have lost someone we love, whether through the end of a relationship or through death.  Initially I thought of this song as strictly about the loss of a romance but the more I listen to it, the more I believe the emotions expressed in this song could easily be translated to the loss of any loved one.  The song speaks of how we so often don’t realize the value of a relationship until it’s over.  I prefer the Vertical Horizon version simply because that’s the one I knew first but the Gary Allen version is hauntingly beautiful also. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bOCEp2lETI
  5. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (all four movements): There’s a reason this is Beethoven’s most famous work.  All four movements of this symphony are truly incredible.  The first & most famous movement is simply awesome.  The simple four-note theme begun in this movement is continued throughout all four movements, though cleverly disguised at times.  I’ll never forget hearing the third movement for the first time in a music class freshman year of college & how vividly the piece conjured up images of knights & castles.  To hear the transition into the fourth movement when the key switches from the angsty (Did I make up that word?) C Minor to the victorious C Major is truly heart-stopping.  Beethoven’s greatest strength as a composer was his ability to, without words, capture all of human emotion in his music, & I believe this piece is the greatest expression of that ability. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z4KK7RWjmk
  6. Nessun Dorma from Turandot by Puccini: Forgive me if I sound crude, but those of you who appreciate music as I do will understand my meaning here.  This piece is my musical orgasm.  Those last few notes at the end of the piece never fail to send chills throughout my whole body & have quite often brought tears to my eyes.  Words feel so inadequate to express the glory of this piece.  If you don’t know it, listen to it NOW, & I hope you’ll experience it as I do.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbGKQ8YASCY
  7. Colors of the Wind from Pocahontas: Yes, I have a Disney song on here.  I’ve never been a big fan of the movie, partly because it’s so historically inaccurate, but I have always loved this song.  In today’s fast-paced, technologically advanced world, it’s extremely important to remember the beauty & frailty of nature & that the world is not a limitless supply of resources to fulfill our desires.  Yes, we have smart phones that can do more than computers from ten years ago.  Yes, the internet has connected the world in ways that our ancestors never even dreamed.  None of this is bad, but what is it worth if we destroy our Earth?  We must never lose touch of the joy & knowledge that can be found in a simple walk through the woods or gazing at a flower.  As the song points out, we are all connected to each other & to the Earth, and thus all of our actions ultimately affect everyone else as well as this planet we inhabit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkV-of_eN2wcolors of the wind
  8. How Can I Help You Say Goodbye by Patty Loveless: I remember hearing this song as I drove back to my hometown on a break from college one year.  I ended up with tears streaming down my face more than once as the words of the song kept running through my head & I thought of how much I missed my grandmother.  This song has been special to me ever since.  Perhaps it seems odd to like a song that can so easily make me cry (it still does sometimes), but I love it because it covers all of the major losses in life that we all experience at some point or another: loss of a childhood friend, loss of a spouse or romantic partner, & loss of a parent.  I love how the song highlights the importance of learning to say goodbye & that it’s ok to grieve when you’ve lost someone important.  Yet it also reminds us that eventually we must learn to put the past behind us while always cherishing the memories we’ve made. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4F_cXGQN9k
  9. Bleed Red by Ronnie Dunn: This is one of those songs that I fell in love with the first time I heard it.  The whole theme of this song is that we are all human beings who experience pain, joy, sorrow, & pleasure.  We all make mistakes, we all bleed red.  As the song says, “If we’re fighting, we’re both losing.”  In a world filled with turmoil, strife, & incessant war, I can’t think of a better message. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVSOOBQB6I0&ob=av2nbleed red
  10. Born This Way by Lady Gaga: To me this is the ultimate “feel good” song.  If you feel down on yourself, listen to this for an instant “pick me up.”  The message of this song is that regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual persuasion, etc, we are all beautiful creations & should thus be confident in our existence.  I think that’s something we all need to be reminded of once in a while. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BsLd4Y060Q
  11. I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt: Here’s another song I fell in love with the first time I heard it.  Bonnie Raitt’s hauntingly beautiful voice combined with the jazzy piano phrasing makes this song unforgettable.  You can clearly hear the pain in her voice as she comes to the realization that so many of us have had to understand in life: you can’t make someone else love you no matter how much you love that person.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nW9Cu6GYqxo&ob=av2e
  12. Sangre Por Sangre by Hellyeah: Well, here is yet another song I fell in love with upon first listen.  The musical composition is nothing short of brilliant & the message makes it all the more powerful.  This song is not for the faint of heart for sure, but the band’s name alone ought to tell you that.  In any case, the lyrics so brilliantly describe how war & violence inevitably only lead to more war & violence & how futile this cycle really is.  The singer has stated that he wrote this song initially after losing a friend to murder, but he has also stated that the song has larger implications for wars & violence across the globe.  The visuals in the music video are a bit gruesome & haunting but they only serve to reinforce the power of this song.  I can never listen to this song just once; I have to listen to it two or three times in a row.  There’s just so much to absorb that once is never enough to take it all in.  (And just to clarify, the song is not in Spanish; there is only the one phrase “sangre por sangre” which means “blood for blood” that is in Spanish.)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keZ-GsRRVlQsangre por sangre
  13. 100 Years by Five for Fighting: This song talks about all the major stages of life & how each one is beautiful, terrifying, & wonderful all at the same time.  It also highlights how quickly life passes by & how important it is to enjoy every minute of it.  To me, this song also encourages us to never forget the vitality & strength of youth no matter how much the responsibilities of life seem to weigh us down as we age. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tR-qQcNT_fY&ob=av2n
  14. Iris by The Goo Goo Dolls: This has been a favorite of mine for many years now.  It’s always struck me as an achingly sad song for some reason, though I’m not sure exactly why.  To me this song is all about feeling really “at home” with that one person you love & how no one else in the world can really understand you the way that person does & how you yearn for that person when you’re separated for whatever reason.  I think deep down we all have a need to be 100% open with someone, but that comes at the price of making yourself very vulnerable which is why most of us can only find that sort of comfort with one person.  “I don’t want the world to see me because I don’t think that they’d understand . . . I just want you to know who I am.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdYWuo9OFAw&ob=av2e
  15. Hello World by Lady Antebellum: I’m not sure how anyone could listen to this song & not be affected by it.  It’s simply gorgeous.  I love how the song starts out very soft & gentle but gradually builds up to a thundering, dramatic finish.  It’s even more amazing when you hear it in person.  To me this song is all about rediscovering the true beauty & meaning in life which is found in the simple things that money can never buy: family, friends, etc.  We all have times in our lives when we get caught up in the day-to-day frustrations & forget the bigger picture.  This song reminds us of that bigger picture.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CUccxMOVHUhello world
  16. Sweet Dreams Are Made of This by Marilyn Manson: The first time I heard this song I was driving over to visit my then-boyfriend/now-husband one evening during my senior year of college.  It was dark outside & I remember getting goosebumps as I listened to this song.  I was both terrified & intrigued.  I was pretty sure it was a Marilyn Manson song, so part of me was screaming “He’s crazy!  You can’t like this!”  As soon as I got to a computer, I looked up the song on YouTube because it interested me so much.  I’ve been hooked on it ever since.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHRyMcH6WMM  (Note: The real video is pretty creepy & YouTube requires you to be 18 to watch it.)
  17. Painting Pictures of Egypt by Sara Groves: This is technically a religious song, but I don’t think you need to be the least bit religious to understand & appreciate it.  This has been such a powerful song in my life that I have a whole note on Facebook about it.  (I’ll have to make a blog post out of that sometime soon.)  This song speaks about the longing to go back to an easier or happier time in life & the fear of stepping out into an uncertain future.  (The metaphor is related to the Israelites missing Egypt when they left for “The Promised Land,” in case you’re wondering about the references to Egypt.)  This is something we all experience in life at some point or another.  What we have to realize is that like an old pair of shoes, the past no longer fits us anymore so we have to try on our new shoes & move forward in life.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUYAmVYnC-Y
  18. King of Anything by Sara Bareilles: The sarcastic attitude of the lyrics combined with the infectious beat made this song an instant favorite of mine.  This is the song to listen to when you’re tired of people telling you how to live your life or what’s best for you.  After all, “Who died & made you king of anything?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eR7-AUmiNcA&ob=av2eking of anything
  19. Justice by Rev Theory: Yet another song I loved immediately upon first hearing it.  This is just a fun hard rock song all around & it’s especially fun to listen to if you’re angry or frustrated.  (Which of course makes it a fantastic song for the gym.)  But more importantly it speaks to the need to find justice for all the many wrongs & abuses in the world.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5N80tNDCGg&ob=av2e
  20. We Were Young by Honor By August: I first saw Honor by August as one of the opening acts for Third Eye Blind at a street concert in downtown Raleigh this past spring.  May I just say that they blew Third Eye Blind out of the water by a longshot?  I don’t think I’ve ever so immediately fallen in love with a band’s music the way I did with Honor By August that night.  I had never even heard of this band or any of their songs before that night, but it was evident from the very first note they played that there was real emotion & wisdom behind their music.  It’s hard for me to even classify their music, but I guess you could call it soft rock, which is not typically my favorite genre.  But as I said before the EMOTION conveyed in their music is just so REAL that you cannot help but be drawn to it.  It’s hard to pick just one song of theirs that has really impacted me because there are so many, but We Were Young has to be one of the best.  This song conveys so many truths about how we tend to rush through our lives, especially when we’re young, only to realize later on how precious each day really is.  It also speaks of how life can change so much over the years but real love will last in spite of all the changes.  I saw Honor By August again this summer & I was just as impressed as the first time.  Seriously, you need to look up this band & find a live show to attend.  You won’t regret it.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2Qq0JpnNpM
honor by august

Honor By August

Lessons Learned in the Wild West


Ok, so maybe Montana & Wyoming aren’t really the Wild West anymore.  But it’s definitely a whole different world out there!   I’ve always found it fascinating to study other cultures & learn how people live in places far & wide.  From an early age I found myself drawn to reading & learning about other nations & cultures.  As I’ve grown up I’ve realized that even within our own nation there are vast cultural differences.  So I thought it would be fun to compile a list of things I learned/observed on our recent vacation to Montana & Wyoming.  I wrote a similar post on my Facebook page after our honeymoon trip to Maine a few years ago, & people seemed to enjoy it, so I thought I’d try it again for this trip.

Note: this list isn’t going to state the obvious “Holy crap!  The mountains are beautiful & there really are bears out here!”  That stuff goes without saying.  These observations are meant to be more cultural in nature.

If any of my lovely readers grew up or currently reside in Montana or Wyoming or that general area, please feel free to contribute your own thoughts about life in the “Wild West.”

1. This ain’t a place for the faint of heart.  Much of the rest of this list will explain why.

2. Late September through mid May = COLD.  Very cold.  BITTERLY COLD.  So basically 75% of the year is winter.  And I don’t mean the quaint winter wonderland kind of winter.  I mean the FREEZING COLD, massive snow drifts, can’t-travel-except-by-snowmobile kind of winter.  Yikes.  Even in early September, it’s not uncommon to have a bit of snow, as you can see below from Yellowstone.

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3. This place is desolate.  I thought I grew up in the middle of nowhere & relative to much of the world (certainly the U.S.), I did.  But holy crap, Montana & Wyoming are seriously isolated!  Montana, the fourth largest state in geographical area, has just over 1 million residents . . . basically the same population as the COUNTY in which I currently reside.  Maybe I’m simple-minded, but that blows my mind!  Wyoming is also quite large geographically but has less than 600,000 residents, making it the least populated state in the whole country.  To give you an example of how isolated these states are, when we landed in Bozeman, MT we went to the local Wal-Mart to gather some supplies for our trip.  We then drove about 5 hrs north to a small town near Glacier National Park.  It was not until we were within 30 minutes of our final destination that we located another Wal-Mart or any other real grocery store.  Certainly we may have passed a few that were off the main roads (if you can call them that) so we didn’t see them, but it is not uncommon for people to live up to 2 hrs away from a real grocery store!  Considering the weather issues discussed in the above point, I think you can now fully comprehend my first point.  This is not a place for the faint of heart!

4. Cowboy boots & cowboy hats really are everywhere out West.  This was my first trip west of Chicago & I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  Sure, movies play up the cowboy image, but I always figured that was mostly exaggeration.  And I’m sure a good deal of it is.  But lots of men (& some women) really do dress like that on a regular basis.  I also noticed that it seems much more acceptable for men to wear hats indoors, even larger hats like cowboy hats.  In the South older people at least seem to find that rude (for no logical reason, in my mind).  But out West this seems to be common practice.

 

Note the 3 men in cowboys boots & hats.  This is Main Street (basically the ONLY street) of Cooke City, MT, just outside the NE entrance of Yellowstone NP.

Note the 3 men in cowboys boots & hats. This is Main Street (basically the ONLY street) of Cooke City, MT, just outside the NE entrance of Yellowstone NP.

5. Casinos are EVERYWHERE in Montana.  About every other convenience store has a casino attached to it.  (And there are a lot of convenience stores.)  Granted these are not major Vegas-style joints, but all the same gambling is clearly a much more accepted practice in this area.  We overheard a bartender explaining to a customer one night that most of these casinos are just machines that run automated poker, & of course there are slot machines.  Anything more than that requires special licensing apparently.

6. There is no sales tax in Montana.  Not even on prepared food.  Woohoo!

7. The above point may be influenced by the fact that a large portion of businesses in Montana (& possibly Wyoming too) are only open May through September . . . the short but frantic tourist season.  If you’re wondering why this is, see point # 2.  I’m not totally sure what these people do for income during the winter months.  It can’t be easy.  See point # 1.

8. Drive around Montana for more than about 30 minutes & you will surely run across at least one white cross on the side of the road.  Drive a little longer & you’ll lose count of how many you’ve seen.  These crosses are markers for highway fatalities & they are placed by the American Legion of Montana.  The Legion started the program decades ago in hopes of combating Montana’s very high rate of highway fatalities.

montana highway cross

9. Having read # 8, you might not be shocked to learn that Montana has a very high DUI rate.  In fact this article

(http://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/04/25/states-with-the-most-drunk-driving/3/) states that Montana is # 2 in the country for DUIs.  And Wyoming is # 4!  If you look at the article you may notice that North Dakota tops the list & South Dakota is also in this shameful top 10.  Notice a pattern?  All very cold, very rural states with what one can reasonably assume is nonexistent taxi service.  And being rural there isn’t a hell of a lot to do except drink.  And when it’s brutally cold 75% of the year, who can really blame them for wanting a good buzz?  All in all though, it’s a sad picture.

10. Though Montana & Wyoming are both traditionally Republican states (at least from a federal/presidential point of view), the religious conservatism that often goes hand-in-hand with Republican voters does not seem to be quite as strong, certainly not in comparison to the South.  We saw plenty of churches, & plenty of Baptist churches at that, but the overall feeling we gathered was that there is a much greater “live & let live” mentality out West.  I got the idea that a lot of people may be religious & more traditionally conservative, but I also got the feeling that they are less concerned with enticing everyone they meet to believe exactly the same things they do.   In other words there seems to be a greater understanding of the idea that if you want to have the freedom to do & believe as you choose, you have to be willing to grant that same freedom to others, even to those with whom you disagree.  Perhaps this is because traditionally people who moved out West did so partially for the idea of being left alone.  I could be completely off-base in my observations here, particularly as I have no real scientific way to measure them, but it’s just something I observed that I thought was worth mentioning.

11. In the South we don’t like to call bars bars.  We like to call them grills, diners, pubs, inns, or restaurants, or maybe we might stoop to “restaurant & bar.”  But out West there are no such qualms.  There are lots of bars.  Most of them, maybe all of them, serve food & plenty of it.  In fact, like the South, most of them are more accurately restaurants that happen to have a bar.  But I couldn’t help but notice that out West, unlike the South, there seems to be no shame in naming an institution “such & such bar or saloon.”  But then again the South is all about trying to seem all proper & dainty when really we’re just as dirty as everyone else, right?  (This is partially a joke, partially not.  If you’re offended, I’m sorry.  But the South does rate highest in a lot of rather bad things: obesity, smoking, teen pregnancy, heart disease/diabetes, poverty, etc.  Ok, sorry, I wandered from the real topic at hand.  Oops.)

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12. From what I observed, there isn’t a very distinctive accent out West, in Montana anyway.  I’ve always been very fascinated by linguistics, & I love listening to the way people talk & pronounce various words.  Despite being very rural, I did not observe any real “countrified accents” like you encounter in the South.  Indeed I was impressed with how clearly & eloquently most everyone spoke.  I don’t meant that everyone we encountered seemed like a real genius.  But they didn’t sound like your stereotypical hicks either.  In fact the only real accent I picked up at all was a bit Canadian if anything, which perhaps is logical as Montana does border Canada.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Southern accents & have a bit of one myself at times (certain words, that is).  But I also like people to speak clearly & actually enunciate their words, & I make a sincere effort to do so myself.  Sadly, this is something a fair amount of Southerners have not mastered.  It’s completely unfair that such folks are often judged negatively for such a superficial thing, & yet it is what it is.   Ok, I’m back on the South again.  Oops.

13. Out West you don’t see a lot of sports cars on the road.  Thanks to the winter weather discussed in # 2, massive trucks & SUVs are the law of the land.  However, it’s also not too uncommon to see some rather, uhh, interesting “trucks” on the road.  See below for an example.

montana truck

14. Montana (& probably Wyoming but we didn’t spend as much time there, at least not outside of Yellowstone) isn’t a good place to be a vegetarian.  Not only are there a lot of delightful temptations such as steak, bison burgers, & even elk burgers, but there don’t seem to be a whole lot of places that offer a large vegetarian selection.  If you’re a vegetarian & you decide to visit or move to Montana, plan to eat a lot of boring salads or do most of your own cooking.

15. A lot of people really do refer to sodas as “pop.”  One of our hotels even had a sign over the vending machine area that read “Pop/Ice.”

16. Considering how cold it is the vast majority of the year, it’s really quite shocking to note how many trailers/mobile homes there are in Montana.  Can you imagine how cold it must get in those homes during the brutal winters?  See point # 1.

17. Huckleberries are huge in Montana.  Everywhere you go there is huckleberry pie, huckleberry ice cream, huckleberry chocolate/candy, huckleberry-scented lotion/candles/soap/etc.  You name it, they’ve got it in huckleberry.  The only things I tried were the huckleberry pie & ice cream.  But they were both DELICIOUS!

huckleberry

Overall, our vacation to Montana & Wyoming was AWESOME.  We hiked over 30 miles in total, & yes, I have 4 (healing) blisters on my feet to show for that.  But they were well worth it!  The mountains & wildlife were gorgeous, the air was clean, the people were friendly [though less likely to tell you their whole life story the minute you say hello, as some Southerners are wont to do ;)], & the food was delicious.  It was exactly the type of break I needed from the hum-drum of daily life.  Part of me wishes I could live out there in those beautiful mountains, but sadly I don’t think I’m cut out for the cold or the isolation of such rural life.  But I shall certainly be looking forward to my next opportunity to visit this majestic, fascinating, & challenging land of the Wild West.