It is with great joy that Derek and I share a successful relocation to our new home in Valparaiso, Indiana. Following the acceptance of Ashley’s new job as the Secondary Art Teacher at New Buffalo Area Schools, we began a thorough search of the area along the Indiana/Michigan line looking for housing. In the interim, we cleaned and packed the apartment into boxes while visiting townhouses and apartment complexes within a thirty-minute radius of New Buffalo, Michigan. Quite unexpectedly, there were very limited options for a move-in during August for two people with a small, furry animal. With Ashley’s school year starting after Labor Day, we didn’t have time to wait it out another month. Our radius pushed farther south along the Lake Michigan shoreline of Northwest Indiana where we visited an apartment complex in Valparaiso on an off-hand shot to request availability. Not only were we impressed with the apartment, but the location seemed an ideal place for us to live at roughly an hour outside of Chicago and 35 minutes from New Buffalo.
Just over a week ago on an early Saturday morning, Ashley’s dad, Tim, met us at our apartment in Elkhart, Indiana where we carried boxes and furniture down three flights of stairs to Tim that he stacked up onto his dolly to cart up the ramp into the U-Haul. It took just over an hour to load up the truck while our cat, Sprout, observed our comings and goings from her spot on the windowsill until she too was loaded up into her backpack and buckled into the front seat of the U-Haul. Tim offered to follow us to Valpo, where we reversed the process up another three flights of stairs at our new apartment. We were deeply grateful for his help on such a momentous, yet exhausting day in our journey. Sprout cried throughout the road trip but was able to calm down when she had finally settled into the confines of the bedroom in the new apartment. There’s nothing quite like the blood-curdling howls of an anxious cat for an hour and twenty minutes on the open road. It’s a relief to have that behind us now. Sprout has acclimated nicely and enjoys an evening walk most nights after her dinner.
*Note: Without elaborate description or undue negativity, the Jagers will never again reserve a truck from U-Haul. The short version of our experience is that U-Haul switched our pick-up location the night before the move and then were not able to assist us at the designated time and location in the morning. After over two hours of poorly managed customer service phone calls, we were finally able to pick up a new vehicle at a different U-Haul location. Never. Again.
Prior to the move, I had sketched out where the furniture, bikes, and even the litter box would be stored based on the lay-out of our one-bedroom apartment. This little drawing became my guide to unpacking the stacks of boxes within the front door to a functionally organized space where every item was placed for its new home. There are exciting luxuries for us to inhabit in this new space like a community gym, an in-home washer/dryer unit, a dishwasher, central air conditioning, and a larger kitchen area. When the kitchen was in order, we stocked the fridge and prepped our meals together as a team testing out new recipes by the UK Chef, Jamie Oliver, such as Wicked Chicken & Coleslaw, Crispy Tofu Poke Bowl, and Caprese Waffle Sandwiches.
Being a college town, the downtown Valparaiso atmosphere is both inviting and picturesque. We enjoyed strolling the sidewalks among a visual estimate of 80% of the general public wearing masks both inside and outside when around other people. It was also a treat for us to visit the Valparaiso Market where we picked out ripe Michigan peaches, mini-peppers, and jalapeño burgers purchased directly from the farmer. We will definitely be back again.
Derek carries on with business remotely through his company, Arbour Group, and I have been commuting to New Buffalo to work in my classroom and participate in staff professional development and teacher orientation. Despite the challenges that we face with COVID-19 this fall, it has been encouraging for me to be involved in an active community of teachers working together in open communication with administration to prepare the safest re-opening of the year that we can. As the days lead up to the Monday after Labor Day, I am tweaking everything about the art class environment so that students and staff can remain healthy including outdoor art classes, e-learning plans, and personal art supply packs.
After the work day, we have been investing time in exploring the area. With the moving process behind us, we have been getting back on track with our daily running activities. There are several parks in Valparaiso with pedestrian loops and gardens that peak our interest as well as a paved trail that runs parallel to our apartments and connects to a network of bike pathways. We ran a five mile out-and-back on the paved trail lined with residential gardens and street lamps for those evening runs. Later, we drove along this path and saw that it continued all the way downtown.
We also visited an arboretum at Purdue Northwest where we ran the trails through oak trees, gardens, and marshland. “This would be a perfect place to return with our binoculars,” I thought to myself as a great blue heron swooped overhead while running through natural grasses and wildflowers blooming with possibility.
Adding to the list of unique running locations is the Sunset Hill Farm County Park. A cross country team was wrapping up practice when we first arrived and we knew that this is where the true runners run. The hills at Sunset Farm dwarf what we had considered to be hills at our favorite OxBow Park back in Elkhart. Challenging hiking trails loop over an expanse of 238 acres of forest preserve and open prairie. There is also a small functional farm where we saw goats, sheep, and geese sunbathing in their pens.
The cherry on top of our new home is the close proximity to the lake front. We used to drive over an hour each way to visit the Indiana Dunes National Park for birding adventures. Last year we took several trips out to accumulate our birding life list, especially during spring migration. This past weekend, we took a quick 25 minute drive north to the Great Marsh Trail in Beverly Shores, Indiana where we spent a couple hours spotting Sandhill cranes, Field Sparrows, a Great Egret, and Goldfinches, among other species. What satisfaction it brings to be able to bridge the gap from the suburban to the natural world in a manner of minutes.
While we move away from friends in the Elkhart area, we continue to stay in touch online and through mobile communication. Our involvement in the community garden is on hiatus because it is simply too far for a daily drive to water and weed. For now, our garden plot is a little on the wild side until we return for the close of the season’s community duties. Gardening has been a rewarding experience for us this year and we will pursue this endeavor again another time. I also still have my bonsai tree and small houseplants to tend to on the porch. After teaching for seven years in Elkhart, I am excited for this next chapter in my career and the opportunity to teach for New Buffalo Area Schools. As we look at the memories we shared these past years and the journey that lies ahead, we are blessed to have each other, our family and friends, and hopeful for the future.