I've been brainstorming and thinking about this post -- to coincide with my new design -- for months.

My initial idea was to base it on the start of a new academic year and the students' return to school, a reflective post I've traditionally written around Labor Day. Then I was going to base it on the second weekend of October, the one-year anniversary of The Dream and the beginnings of this infamous adventure. Then I was going to base it on daylight savings time. Then I was going to base it on the one-year anniversary of my job interview. ...

The fact I didn't make any of those deadlines serves as a perfect illustration of how this last year has gone for us. Almost nothing has gone the way we imagined or hoped it might. From selling our house for a loss. To our summer stint in the hospital. To our troubles finding a house in The 'Ville. Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would have toured 40 houses and still be renting at this point.

The question has been asked of us over and over this year, in any number of ways: How are things going? How are you liking it? How are you settling in?

The answer consistently has been: “We’re doing … well.”

I'm as happy as I've ever been as a working adult. From the beginning of our adventure, I was struck by the vigor and energy of my new environment. There's a commitment to excellence that is so refreshing. I get to work with an enormously talented team of people. We listen to and respect each other, and our collaborations have been fruitful. I’m treated like a valuable part of the team and my opinions are heard.

There are elements of my work now that are more intense, more demanding, more consuming and more stressful than my years of newspaper reporting. As I’ve told numerous friends and colleagues, I may be busier on a daily basis now than I was in the newsroom. But the work is far more fulfilling and it doesn’t wreak nearly the emotional havoc on me that crime reporting did. It’s an entirely different kind of stress. It’s a fun kind of stress, a stress that I'm glad to take on.

It's interesting that a year ago, my mind overflowed with knowledge of uniform crime reporting, fatal car crashes, balloon-style construction and how it fueled house fires, grisly domestic violence incidents, drunken driving laws, Taser use, drug behavior and gang activity. ... Now, I find myself discussing student success, retention, innovation and graduation rates. I'm learning about pedagogy, benchmarks and analytics. It's both refreshing and nerve-racking.

And instead of interacting with cops and firefighters on a daily basis, most of my interactions now are with students and teachers -- two of my favorites kinds of people. (Though my years as a crime reporter gave me a profound respect for emergency workers.)

Having some of my former professors as colleagues now is a bit weird but also very cool. Most of them had very positive impacts on me and continue that trend today. Some, whose classes I did poorly in because I didn‘t put forth the necessary effort, I’m seeing in new light now and wish I could have a do-over. And there are others who I had no clue existed when I was a student, but I’m fully appreciating what they bring to the table now. … The same could be said for several of my former college classmates who, like me, have returned to serve the University.

I'm overjoyed to have a job that allows me to teach and have an impact on students, to visit their classes, talk with them and share my knowledge and experiences. Their stories and drive impress me every day.

Then you add in the benefits of working in academia -- from the campus food court, to the fitness facilities to the vacation time -- and the natural surroundings of what is arguably one of the most beautiful and well-maintained campuses in the country, and my history with this place, there are days I can't help but pinch myself and break into a wide smile, thinking, How did I get here?

From the day we set foot in The 'Ville, people here have been extraordinarily welcoming and have gone out of their way to help us settle in. Our new church family has been a huge part of that, and we couldn’t be happier about the friendships we’ve begun to build.

People have told us repeatedly what a great place The ‘Ville is to raise a family, and we’ve found that to be true, as well. From our almost nightly walks to the neighborhood parks during the summer, to the Saturday football games this fall, and the community meals each Wednesday night at our church. Trick-or-treating at the lake and campground outside of town was another highlight. Opportunities for family bonding have been bountiful.

And though we’ve discovered more drawbacks to living in a rural, small town than we anticipated, being part of a college town has an upside. It adds unique cultural and entertainment elements to the town that give it a city feel. … There are concerts and musicals and art shows and athletic events. I saw the choir perform last spring at the magnificent basilica outside of town, and I attended the school’s large production of “The Music Man.” This fall I saw The Hunt Family perform in concert, and I’ve listened to numerous lectures, including Shawn Johnson, whom I had the chance to meet a few weeks ago. Heck, we celebrated the beginning of the school year by watching fireworks light up the campus.

We feel very privileged to have landed where we did.

But not everything is peachy keen. There have plenty of hiccups and burdens to bare along the way. The gut-wrenching move in late June. The above-mentioned hospital stay. Then the start of the school year hit us like a tsunami, and Kates and I just now feel like we’re settling in.

We’re infinitely exhausted and sometimes there doesn’t appear to be a break in sight.

Kates has made enormous sacrifices. Sure, she’s teaching the same grade she’s taught for the last nine years. But any similarities to her previous life stop there. … She’s had to adjust to an entirely different curriculum, a different set of policies and procedures. She’s gone from having her very own classroom to teaching in an open space with four other teachers, each of whom are responsible for teaching 20-some students of their own. She’s taken a heavy pay cut; she has fewer days off and no spring break. She’s taken on more responsibilities than were expected at her previous school, including lunch and recess duties.

There are times both of us miss the union protections and benefits we enjoyed at our previous workplaces -- though those protections also meant some unfavorable restrictions on what we could do in our jobs. That played a role in me wanting to escape.

Phoebe’s daycare. Well, it’s legal, and we feel comfortable with the supervision she receives; Phoebe adores the college kids who assist and play with her at the center each day. … But it lacks the charm and structure of her previous caretaker. The classrooms have a pig pen feeling to them and we worry at times that Phoebe is regressing in her learning.

The housing crisis has been well-documented. The nation's and our own. Forty houses toured. They’re either overpriced, or they need far more work than we’re willing to take on, or they’re in less-than-ideal locations. Only a few have appealed to us enough that we’ve considered placing offers, and none of those offers have panned out. … The housing search has worn on us more than anything. There's a feeling that The ’Ville won't truly feel like home until we have a place to call our own.

People also ask if we miss our families, or we’re homesick. The weekends are hardest -- when, if we still lived in K-Town, we might have been meeting them for dinner, a family gathering or a ball game. The distance forced us to miss two weddings in recent months.

But it’s not just our families. We miss our old doctors. Our old radio stations. Kates misses her old hair stylist. The variety that generally comes with city life and the feeling that you don’t have to travel far to get it. … Now our nearest city -- meaning Target, Menards, Culver's, Kohl's, a mall -- is a 40-minute drive.

We’re trying mightily to find a balance between work and leisure. Upon every bump, I’m second-guessing this adventure and shouldering a load of guilt for proposing it. For leading the charge and for removing us from our familial nest in Wisconsin. ... Then Kates reminds me we're in this together and she was just as much a part of the decision as I.

We reflect on where we came from and the bumps we've overcome, and we maintain we needed to make this move to learn and grow and experiences new things. There was a time we couldn't fathom leaving K-Town; we built so many wonderful memories and friendships there ...

But things changed.

And in a few years, it's very likely we'll look back at all of this and sigh with wonder at how we made it through.

Like a column I read recently in the Chicago Tribune recently. The headline said it all: 'Even the terrible things seem beautiful to me now'.

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