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You Mean I Have to PAY to Drive Here?

Before my life as a military spouse, I was born and raised and grew up in California. Not Northern California, either. The part of California where most people live - in various towns back and forth between the coast and the Central Valley. I started life as a military spouse with all sorts of pre-conceived California notions. Like:

Snow is exotic and interesting and fun!Rain is wonderful! We don't get enough of it!Toll roads! Ha! What a novel idea! I supposed it's a good idea if it helps to keep the roadways fixed!Tortillas and fresh guacamole are staples of life. I'm SURE we'll beable to get them wherever we end up stationed! I mean, we're still inthe CONUS, right?

Ahem.

Can we start with what I've learned about snow and also extremely cold temperatures? Because they really aren't fun. Really. Not at all. Well, maybe for, like, an hour.

The first non-vacation snow storm I ever lived through was when we were stationed in New Hampshire, and it was a blizzard. As soon as white out conditions started I was pasted at the window, oohing and aaahing over the wonder of it all. I even bundled up (to Michelin Man proportions) just so I could go stand outside safely out of the wind and "experience" the snow coming down around me.

The next morning I discovered snow shoveling. For one, maybe two, snow days I was able to jump into the joy of shoveling with an attitude of, "I'm exercising! I'm exercising! I'm healthy!" Then I was just too irritated (and cold) and cranky (and cold) and tired (and cold) to want to deal with that patooey before Air Force Guy could manage to drive to work.

Now I alternately dread and look forward to the first snow of the year. I mean, I've never lost my love of the white winter wonderland (and sledding, I adore sledding),but it's definitely tempered with an adult realization of high heating bills and hard work to follow. Not to mention that I manage to take a good dive on the ice Every. Single. Year. And it's usually spectacular. One year I managed to take my annual ice fall down some stairs at Rockefeller Center during Christmas Season. I took out an entire line of tourists.

Also in the areas I grew up in, rain was treasured. First of all, in most of Central and Southern California it only rains at prescribed times during the year. The window generally runs from (possibly early November) December through February, with some chance of rain in March. It's like a clock. You can plan picnics and outdoor weddings with impunity from June through September. I'd never even heard of a rain date until I moved to Texas!

We're in Virginia now. It has rained a few times every single month we've been here. Usually when we have something important planned. In fact, this particular month of rain has started to make me wonder if we need to build an ark or something. Every time I check accuweather.com I see that irritating banner for a SEVERE WEATHER ALERT! I used to find rain pleasant - now it just gets in my way. In fact, AFG came home from a 6 month TDY on Friday and I gussied myself up just for the occasion. Guess what? It was raining. And since the natural state of my hair is disorderly frizz (thank heavens for Redkin 05 and Sebastien Potion 9), that is how I greeted my husband.

Another great lesson brought to us by the military lifestyle - sometimes rain sucks.

Oh, and toll roads. I'd like to mention now that I'm not a fan. How much else is there to say about tolls? I was permanently burned off the novelty of tolls when we drove to visit a friend in New York (every other visit involved the wonderfully easy - and cheaper - rail system) and had to cross the Varrazano-Narrows Bridge. And that was only ONE of the tolls we encountered en-route. A recent drive up to West Point for my nephews' baptism only stoked that irritation, although I did have the pleasure of gassing my car up in New Jersey (where, for the record, it is illegal to pump your own gas and every station has an attendant to do it for you).

And no, you cannot get fresh guacamole and tortillas in New Hampshire. Or Maine. At least where we were stationed. Then again, I'm pretty sure you probably can't get fresh shrimp or lobster around Fort Hood, so there's a give and take everywhere you go. I realize this now.

It's been more than a decade of this lifestyle for us, and it has become second nature to adapt to local weather, food, and pay-for-driving traditions. At this point in my life I love being a nomad, because it's like someone else is paying for my vacations. I know that might make me sound like Pollyana, but I'm reminded of how different my life (and my children's upbringing) is every time someone from "home" comes to visit us. We have a grand old time showing them around DC - there are some awesome places everyone has heard about and some amazing places that you only find if you live here. We had the best week ever hiking in the White Mountains with my grandmother and brother and ordering lobster that only cost 8$ a plate in Maine. And few things beat dining outside on the Riverwalk in San Antonio for pure romanticism. Sure, I miss the tortillas and guacamole. And I'm really ready to lose my mind if the rain doesn't slack up right quick. Oh - and any visit home involves me driving up to Kings Canyon National Park and sniffing Redwood Trees for about six hours.

But I'm ready for my next cultural attitude adjustment! And since we have received notice that our next move will most likely take us to quite an exotic locale outside the CONUS - I'm already making plans. It's a pretty safe bet they do not sell tortillas or guacamole there, however. On the bright side, I'm also pretty sure they don't have toll roads.

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