Tuesday, May 21, 2013

It's Official!

We're licensed!  Caitlin and I went to the DMV this morning to get Utah driver's licenses.  We are now official Utah residents, and Caitlin is officially a 'Francis' according to the Department of Transportation (the last agency informed of her marriage).  Changing her name has been a slow process, but it's finally done!

Meanwhile, I discovered while at the DMV exactly why it is that Utah drivers are terrifying.  It turns out, the government of Utah has written it right into its law.

In order to be issued a Utah driver's license for the first time, you are required to take a written, open-book exam on arbitrary driving trivia, only occasionally relevant to your situation (e.g., 'how long is a military officer's Utah driver's license valid for after being discharged?'  Ninety days, fyi.).  Anyway, I missed one.  Twenty four out of twenty five.  Shameful.  What upsets me more though, is the question I missed:

"When a pedestrian is at a crosswalk, when should you stop for him?
A. When he is standing at the crosswalk waiting to cross
B. When he is crossing in the crosswalk, in or near the lane in which you are driving
C. When he is anywhere in the crosswalk
D. All of the above"

I didn't even blink; 'I don't need to look this one up,' I thought.  The Police in the Las Vegas would plant pedestrians waiting at crosswalks on busy roads all the time as a traffic trap to ticket those who failed to stop for them!  Surely...SURELY, the answer is 'D.'  You always have to yield to pedestrians, right?  And especially at crosswalks. 

WRONG.  Apparently that only applies in more refined societies.

No, the correct answer is 'B.'  So long as their toes aren't over that white, dashed line that signifies your lane, you can just smile, wave, and blow by that old man crossing the street--clipping his walker out from under him on the way.  This is the first place I have ever lived where you are not required to wait for the second-grade children walking to school to make it safely to the other side of the street before you fly by at 45 mph.  

When living in Wymount (BYU married student housing) last year, I had to cross 9th East to walk to campus every morning.  It always astounded me how long I would have to wait at the side of the road before someone would stop for me (despite the flashing crosswalk sign just a few feet away).  One day, I was crossing that same street (two lanes of traffic each direction, with a turn lane in the center) and got trapped in the center turn lane.  (As soon as I made it to that center lane, the cars behind me started going again, and the cars in front of me never stopped for me.)  Finally, after coaxing myself out of throwing all the coins in my pocket at the windshields of those cars flying by, someone stopped and allowed me to finish crossing the other half of the street.  I suppose I need to ask forgiveness for thinking bad thoughts of all those drivers who flew by without paying me the least respect as a pedestrian.  Apparently, they were perfectly within their "right."

Friday, May 17, 2013

Life in the Land Northward

We moved!  The night before we flew to Florida for our trip to the Keys, we packed up a U-Haul and brought all 12 of our possessions to the Great Salt Lake City!  (Until 1868, that was the city's official name.)  

All packed up!

Caitlin was not a fan of the "happy face spider" on our truck, but U-Haul was less than sympathetic towards our request so switch.

We forgot about my bike until the very end, so we had to get a little creative with our packing methods.

Once we made it to our new apartment complex, we stacked our boxes in the living room, laid our mattress on the floor, and fell asleep in exhaustion!  After a week of sunny rejuvenation, we came back to Salt Lake and began the unpacking process.  Another week later, we finally have everything all set up!

This is our new apartment, right where we wanted it on the 2nd floor (optimal insects to stairs ratio)!

This is the apartment's layout.  Hopefully this helps you orient yourself while you look at the pictures!

The apartment has fancy electronic keys!  If we ever lose our key, then we can have it deactivated immediately.  Unfortunately, it just makes it really expensive to replace a lost key.

Our living room.

Our patio door and new TV stand.

Our new bookcase in front of the bar.

The bookcase is perfect for displaying our fun wood animals from our trips together!

Our kitchen.

Our new dining set!  It was a beast to assemble.

The best part of our apartment is just behind those doors: a full-size washer and dryer!

The bathroom with our awesome sonicare toothbrushes.

Our tub/shower is one of the extra-wide jacuzzi tubs.  It is great for when you want to twirl around with your arms fully outstretched while showering; however, it is a little unfortunate when you realize that half of your bathroom is dedicated to your tub.

The toilet water is blue.  Pretty awesome.

And last, here is our bedroom.  Having just moved from a remodeled state penitentiary (not really, but Wymount's cinderblock walls did make it feel that way at times), you can see that we do not yet have many decorations.  Let us assure you, non-Rubbermaid end tables are top on our list.

So that is everything inside our new apartment, but what about outside.

Basketball court!

We were caught off guard a little bit by the hidden fees when signing our lease, but overall we are really excited about our new home!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Flight of the Alligators: Trip to the Florida Keys

Mom and Pops Francis took Caitlin and I to the Florida Keys for a week as a graduation present--we had a great time!  After arriving late Saturday night, we decided to take a Sunday drive from Key Largo (where we were staying) all the way down to the tip of Key West.  It is about 100 miles each way and quite the experience as you cross from island to island over long bridges, with nothing but ocean beneath you.  

Above is a picture of a sunset over the ocean, taken from the side of the road on our drive home.

In the Keys, it is impossible to be far from the water; this was the view from the balcony of our condo.  The weather was beautiful the whole time we were there!

Of course, you can't go to the Florida Keys without visiting the Everglades, and (of course) you can't visit the Everglades without taking an air-boat ride!  Apparently, you can zip up any old drainage ditch and see TONS of alligators!

Smallest ones in the back: usually I would complain, but the first row always gets eaten anyway. 

And off we go!
(Air-boats can go up to 110 mph...thankfully, we didn't.)

We saw some pretty fun things!  This guy was pushing his luck pretty close to the water.

He decided to catch a free, safe ride as we went by though, walking around the boat for a while.

Just in time, too.

The tour wasn't very long, but we did see at least a dozen or so alligators.  It was really a fun experience!

The tour guide's fear of alligators was at an unhealthily low level.  However many inches it is from the end of the nose to the center of the eyes on an alligator, is the number of feet long the alligator is in total.  Often times, in the murky water there, the amount of the alligator that is visible is just the tip of the iceberg.

Just a few blocks from our condo was a non-profit organization that uses dolphin interaction to perform therapy with underdeveloped children.  It was really inspiring to watch and to hear of the incredible success stories!  They gave us a free tour of the facility, during which they showed us a large "touch tank" with a lot of fun sea animals that you could touch and hold.  One of the most fun things in there was a huge 'sea hare' that took both hands to hold!  It was giant, slimy, and green--the combination of which led Caitlin to refuse to hold it.  The best part, though, was after that when we were passing around the small lobster.  I told Caitlin that she couldn't say 'no' twice, so she timidly agreed to hold the lobster.  Almost immediately after the lobster touched Caitlin's hand, it must have sensed her fear, because it jumped once in her hands, landed on its back, and flung itself about two feet out of her fingers (thankfully landing back in the pool and not on the ground)!  Needless to say, Caitlin shrieked throughout the series of events!  I laughed uncontrollably, and the worker thought Caitlin threw the lobster once she got scared.  We may not be allowed to the "touch tank" ever again.  Definitely a trip highlight.

After making Caitlin promise that she would not throw any of the sea turtles, we later visited the Turtle Hospital on the island.  Any sick or injured turtle that is found near the Keys gets rushed here where they have all sorts of operating and other medical equipment to help them recover.  It was fun to see all of the recovering turtles after hearing the presentation.  Many of them are just waiting to be cleared as healthy so that they can be returned to the ocean!

Most of the turtles are separated into individual tanks.  This way, diseases and medicines aren't mixed.

We spent two days snorkeling as well, which was really fun.  Caitlin had never been snorkeling before, and despite leaky masks, she really liked it!  We took a boat out and spent one day in the Coral Reef State Park (where we also rented a canoe and explored the mangrove forests), and we spent another day boating out and seeing the "Christ of the Abyss" statue (seen above) and surrounding area.  Unfortunately, my camera is not waterproof, though, so the above picture--courtesy of Google--is the only one we have.

We ended up in Miami one evening as well and were able to enjoy South Beach.  The "beaches" on the Keys were generally rocky and full of shells.  It was nice to walk barefoot without having to watch your step!

Mom began to question the authenticity of our air-boat-ride experience through a drainage ditch (which they assured us was representative of the Everglades), so we also spent a day driving from one end of Everglades National Park to the other.  It was really neat!  Apparently, the entire southern part of Florida is between 0 and 14 feet in elevation.  With all the water flowing through it, tiny elevation changes make a huge difference regarding vegetation.  This "pass" rising up to 3 WHOLE feet in elevation allows the landscape to change from the watery grassland behind us to this rain-forest-esque region at the far left of the picture.  The 14-foot variation in elevation, however, had no effect on the quantity of bugs though: always tons.  Both Caitlin and I have giant man-eating flies on our shirts in the picture above if you look closely.

It really was incredible though, how within a few hundred meters you go from Everglades grassland...

...to dense forested areas...

...to large ponds!  All because of a couple-foot change in elevation from one area to another.

One thing is clear: there is no shortage of alligators in the Everglades!  Just feet off the walkways are huge alligators just soaking up the mid-day sun.  Thankfully, they are mainly nocturnal in nature, leaving them fairly docile during our visit.  It is sobering to think, however, that with a top land speed faster than that of Usain Bolt, if one of these eating machines wanted me for lunch, there is not a whole lot I could do to stop it.  The only comforting thought was that--if all else failed--I knew I could outrun my dad.

There were alligators everywhere inside the park.  From right off the walking trails to the side of the road.

Big ones...

...and baby ones.

Alligators were not the only animals in the park, however.  Everywhere you stopped had tarps to protect your car from the vultures (apparently they love to rip the soft rubber off your car windows).

Even grasshoppers come in larger, more colorful variations there.

We even saw a soft-shelled turtle (alligators' favorite snack) trying to cross the road while we were driving.

They have some seriously goofy heads!

Between the Everglades and the Keys, there is a ton of variety in southern Florida.  We had so much fun!
Thank you, Mom and Dad!