Old Farts like stockpiles

Thanks to AGMA, a fellow Old Fart blogger, I have reblogged her multi-faceted post Under the sink strategery on which I can expound for what I hope will be a thoughtful and thought-provoking Independence Day Old Fart Friday, even though I didn’t actually do it till Sunday.  Old Farts hate schedules.

First, let me confirm by Old Fart bona fides by confessing that (1) I knew what NPR was before AGMA explained it and (2) I am comfortable in concurring that Walter Cronkite, who has been off the air since 1981, would indeed have been proud of this masterful reportage.  I must also confess that my Old Fart bona fides may be somewhat tarnished as I have been remiss in embellishing my aged intellect;  I don’t even know what the local NPR station is, let alone listen to it.  Perhaps that will be a 2017 New Year’s resolution, if I remember it six months from now.

I am also in agreement with AGMA’s attitude towards “expiration date control” and the efficacy of the multiple meds stashed in my bathroom drawers as well as under the sink.  I have practical proof, though, that expired (by at least a few years) Benadryl, still works on my allergy to horses and other furry creatures to which I am not exposed on a consistent basis.  We’d dragged our kids to a rodeo from which I emerged barely able to breathe.  May have been mind over matter or just distance from the source, but I contend to this day that the expired Benadryl I downed ASAP after leaving the rodeo saved my life and now I don’t leave home without them even if I’m just going to visit my sister and her dog or my daughter and her cat.

Where this post really got me, though, is right where I live, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, AKA The Secret City or, more appropriately here, The Atomic City.  My safety concern would of course center around radiation hazards in addition to biohazards.  That’s in addition to as opposed to instead of.  As I’ve learned in the five years that I’ve lived here, if the potential exposure to uranium and other radioactive materials stockpiled in nearby federal facilities wasn’t a big enough concern, then potential exposure to chemicals and other byproducts of research and development projects undertaken at any of the local government facilities certainly could be.

I won’t bore, or frighten on my behalf, any of my very few but hopefully also very interested readers, by providing ALL the gory history and details here, but suffice to say you all should be able to get the picture from this summary.

In 1942, the federal government established the Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) in Anderson and Roane Counties in Tennessee as part of the Manhattan Project to research, develop, and produce special nuclear materials for nuclear weapons. In 1989, the ORR was added to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) National Priorities List because over the years, ORR operations have generated a variety of radioactive and nonradioactive wastes that are present in old waste sites or that have been released to the environment. Since 1992, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has responded to requests and addressed health concerns of community members, civic organizations, and other government agencies by working extensively to determine whether levels of environmental contamination at and near the ORR present a public health hazard to communities surrounding the ORR.   ATSDR scientists have completed or are conducting public health assessments (PHAs) on iodine 131 releases from the X-10 site, mercury releases from the Y-12 plant, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), radionuclide releases from White Oak Creek, uranium releases from the Y-12 plant, uranium and fluoride releases from the K-25 site, and other topics such as contaminant releases from the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Incinerator and contaminated off-site groundwater.

AGMA, bless her little Southern (lives in Atlanta, I think) heart, also expressed concerns about which antidotes to stockpile in the National Stockpile. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there is no antidote for any of the nasty things that could occur in a body if exposed to unduly high levels of radiation.  That’s a potential concern for as there are only ten miles between this Old Fart’s retirement home overlooking beautiful Melton Hill Lake and Y-12.  What, you may ask, is Y-12?  It is part of a National Nuclear Security Complex and is, among other things, responsible for the maintenance and production of all uranium parts for every nuclear weapon in the United States arsenal.

Located somewhere on the west side (the side closest to me, of course) of Y-12’s 810 acres is this lovely and inviting building, the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF), a 110,000-square-foot, fortress-like storage facility which may very well house the world’s largest inventory of bomb-grade uranium at a single location.


According to a local scribe who for the last thirty five years has been, in his own words at Atomic City Underground, “Piecing together information from multiple sources until a story took shape. Challenging the system — the federal government — to do what’s right…given its size and the scope of work and the security that surrounds it (and he should know since he’s actually been inside and lived to tell the tale), the HEUMF has maintained a fairly low profile over the years.” Many thanks to the very recently retired Frank Munger for that bit of reassuring news, along with this bit from one of his last articles summarizing the results of a Department of Energy (Y-12’s owner) assessment of the site’s, especially its WWII era buildings, criticality accident alarm system.

The currently used suite of accident detectors located in the building were uranium is still actively processed, as opposed to just stored, at Y-12 were purchased and installed in the 1990s, according to the DOE’s report, which went on to say that “Overall, the operability of CAAS (criticality accident alarm system) is adequately being maintained and is verified through routine completion of surveillance testing requirements defined in (safety documents)”, though there were  “deficiencies that indicate that there is some amount of uncertainty in the CAAS detectors’ ability to perform its functional requirements specified in the safety basis.”

“The coverage area for the installed criticality accident detectors in Building 9212 — the main processing center for bomb-grade uranium — is not in compliance because of the shielding inside 9212 and possibly some adjoining buildings.”  Fortunately, the “intervening shielding” in some Y-12 buildings is greater than what’s assumed in the safety documents that establish the area covered by the accident detectors.  The report said the assessment team also identified other deficiencies “with a lower level of significance.” Among those was that Consolidated Nuclear Security — the government’s managing contractor at Y-12 — has not adequately responded to issues related to a backlog of maintenance on the criticality accident alarm system. That backlog is reportedly growing.

You might guess that, like AGMA, this Old Fart has some concerns about the efficacy of our government’s stockpile for this radioactive stuff, especially since our feuding representatives up there in Washington, D.C. can’t even agree that terrorists who can’t fly here should not be allowed to purchase guns here.  As she is concerned about deployment plans for some good stuff- getting the stuff from the warehouse to the people who need it – I might be equally concerned about the contractors who let three protesters — including an 82-year-old nun — make a mockery of Y-12’s security by cutting through multiple fences to reach the uranium storehouse in the plant’s forbidden zone, if they hadn’t already been replaced.  I might also give a small thought to other, occasional news stories about the uranium storehouse, including a report that cracks had developed in the exterior of the mammoth concrete structure.

In conclusion, like AGMA, at this point this Old Fart has already decided that, in the event of local momentous bad news, I would probably kiss my sweet Aging Gracefully ass goodbye, get a bottle or can of beer of something-or-other from Spouse’s beer fridge, as opposed to AGMA’s bottle of champagne from the wine fridge, dive under the bathroom sink and start popping open expired bottles (or cans) of whatever I’d found.  AGMA gave and accepted for herself a 50-50 chance. This Old Fart will also take those odds.

Aging Gracefully My Ass

Raiders_Of_The_Lost_Ark_Government_Warehouse_newPhoto from Google Images courtesy of Steven Spielberg and Indiana Jones

Yesterday, AGMA heard about her worst nightmare. Okay, that may be a bit dramatic. Redo. I heard about something that caused my head to pound and my eye’s to glaze over.

Not that far off of a typical morning for AGMA.

NPR’s Morning Edition reporter Nell Greenfieldboyce did a segment on the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS).

Does that sound like an oxymoron to anybody else?

For AGMA friends across the globe, NPR stands for National Public Radio. It’s non-commercial, not for profit, as close to unbiased media as you can get in the U.S. It relies on a combination of listener contributions, corporate donations and some public monies for funding. In other words, it’s independent, fact-based journalism at it’s best. Old school stuff.

Walter Cronkite would be proud.

So evidently there are these six huge (double super WalMart sized)…

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Knoxville and Me – a hate-love relationship

Knoxville is the home of the flagship campus of the University of Tennessee, whose sports teams, called the “Volunteers” or “Vols,” are extremely popular throughout the entire state.  It is also the major source of the hate part of my relationship with this city. The Tennessee Technology Corridor, home to 13 research and development firms, stretches across 7,000 acres (2,800 ha) between West Knoxville and Oak Ridge, where I live.  That’s part of the life of this city that if I don’t love, I at least appreciate very much.

I love that Knoxville is home to a rich arts community and has many festivals throughout the year. Its contributions to old-time, bluegrass and country music are numerous, from Flatt & Scruggs and Homer & Jethro to the Everly Brothers.  Contrast this genre with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra (KSO), established in 1935, which is the oldest continuing orchestra in the southeast, as well as the Knoxville Opera.  If that’s not enough music for any area resident, in its May 2003 survey of “20 Most Rock & Roll towns in the U.S.”, Blender ranked Knoxville the 17th best music scene in the United States and, in the 1990s, noted alternative-music critic Ann Powers, author of Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America, referred to the city as “Austin without the hype”.

Although there are really way too many “festivals” (a term which I am defining very loosely since the setting and attendance of those I have visited vary quite widely) in the Southeast US, some of the more popular and well known held in April alone in Knoxville include the 17-day Dogwood Arts Festival and the Rossini Festival, which celebrates opera and Italian culture. There is also a range of large and small ethnically related festivals and fairs that celebrate, among others, the region’s African American, Latin American and Greek American heritage and communities.  Although I have not attended many of these events, just the sheer variety, plus, more tellingly, the lack of overtly religious-related events in the list, have started what is the tenuous love relationship that I have developed to date with Knoxville.

Since moving to the South ten years ago, Husband and I have developed a real interest in the Civil War.  After Virginia, more of the battles of that “War of Northern Aggression”, as it’s referred to by some Southerners, occurred in Tennessee than in any other state. Most of the larger battles in Tennessee did not take place in the Knoxville or Nashville proper areas.  I am sure that there are many fine historical and educational institutions where I could have learned more about the history of the Nashville area, when I lived there, if they had been as widely available, well publicized, and reasonably priced as they are here, closer to Knoxville.  Aside from the wide array of cultural sites and activities in the area, the major reason I have really started to love the part of the Volunteer State where I now live, is the plethora of nearly first hand educational opportunities I have enjoyed, including many that really informed me about the history and development of Knoxville.

First settled in 1786, Knoxville was the first capital of Tennessee. The city struggled with geographic isolation throughout the early 19th century, though the arrival of the railroad in 1855 led to an economic boom. During the Civil War, the city was bitterly divided over the secession issue, and was occupied alternately by both Confederate and Union armies.  I saw remnants of the battlements from the Battle of Fort Sanders when I toured the UT Archaeology Research Lab a couple of years ago, including artifacts discovered during the excavation of that site in advance of the construction of a “Sorority Village” at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  As a result of the finds, the Sorority Village plans had to be slightly modified to commemorate this key location in the Siege of Knoxville, though it’s possible that some of the cannon emplacements may still have ended up under the one of the newer and therefore more popular sorority houses. More recently I have made the acquaintance of Dennis Urban, President of the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable and have attended several of his interesting and well-researched presentations describing some of the colorful citizens of Knoxville at the time.

And speaking of colorful citizens, both corporate and individual, movie theater chain Regal Entertainment Group and Scripps Networks Interactive, broadcast and production home of HGTV, DIY Network, Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel and Great American Country, are both based in Knoxville.   The largest privately held company based in Knoxville is Pilot Flying J, the nation’s largest truck stop chain and sixth largest private company, which is owned by the Haslam family.  Members of this illustrious family include Tennessee’s current governor and former mayor of Knoxville, Bill Haslam, and Jimmy Haslam, who recently purchased the Cleveland Browns professional football team.

Following the war, Knoxville grew rapidly as a major wholesaling and manufacturing center. Between 1880 and 1887, 97 factories were established in Knoxville, most of them specializing in textiles, food products, and iron products. By the 1890s, Knoxville was home to more than 50 wholesaling houses, making it the third largest wholesaling center by volume in the South. The Candoro Marble Works, established in the community of Vestal in 1914, became the nation’s foremost producer of pink marble and one of the nation’s largest marble importers The post-war manufacturing boom brought thousands of immigrants to the city. The population of Knoxville grew from around 5,000 in 1860 to 32,637 in 1900. West Knoxville was annexed in 1897, and over 5,000 new homes were built between 1895 and 1904.

Knoxville’s reliance on a manufacturing economy left it particularly vulnerable to the effects of the Great Depression. The Tennessee Valley also suffered from frequent flooding, and millions of acres of farmland had been ruined by soil erosion. To control flooding and improve the economy in the Tennessee Valley, the federal government created the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933. Beginning with Norris Dam, TVA constructed a series of hydroelectric and other power plants throughout the valley over the next few decades, bringing flood control, jobs, and electricity to the region. The Federal Works Projects Administration, which also arrived in the 1930s, helped build McGhee-Tyson Airport and expand Neyland Stadium. TVA’s headquarters, which consists of two twin high rises built in the 1970s, were among Knoxville’s first modern high-rise buildings.

Knoxville hosted the 1982 World’s Fair, one of the most popular world’s fairs in U.S. history with 11 million visitors. The fair’s energy theme was selected due to Knoxville being the headquarters of the Tennessee Valley Authority and for the city’s proximity to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Sunsphere, a 266-foot (81 m) steel truss structure topped with a gold-colored glass sphere, was built for the fair and remains one of Knoxville’s most prominent structures.  Knoxville’s downtown has continued to develop since that watershed event and now includes the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the East Tennessee History Center.  Since 2000, Knoxville has successfully brought business back to the downtown area. The arts in particular have begun to flourish; there are multiple venues for outdoor concerts, and Gay St. hosts a new arts annex and gallery surrounded by many studios and new business as well. The Tennessee and Bijou Theaters underwent renovation, providing a good basis for the city and its developers to re-purpose the old downtown, and they have had great success to date revitalizing this once great section of this city that has endured more than its fair share of economic ups and downs.

Now, back to the hate part of my relationship with Knoxville.  The University of Tennessee (UT) does have its good points, including the aforementioned Archaeology Research Lab and its externally funded research centers that partner with major progressive institutions such as the Appalachian Collaborative Center for Learning, Assessment and Instruction in Mathematics, the National Institute for Computational Sciences, the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, and the Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT).  UT and the nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory also jointly conduct numerous research projects and co-manage the National Transportation Research Center.

For me, that is the best part of what The University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus can contribute to my quality of life.  On the downside, Neyland Stadium, where the Vols’ football team plays, is one of the largest stadiums in the world, and Thompson-Boling Arena, home of the men’s and women’s basketball teams, is one of the nation’s largest indoor basketball arenas. I have not attended a game played by any of these teams, mainly for fear of being sickened by the sea of orange and white (the school’s colors and not my favorites anyway) I would be forced to confront in any of the seats in those megastadiums.  This effect is only slightly ameliorated in my mind by the prior presence within those programs of recently retired quarterback Peyton Manning and Patricia Sue (Pat) Summitt.

Pat Summitt is the former UT women’s basketball head coach who now serves as its head coach emeritus. She coached from 1974 to 2012, all with the Lady Vols, winning eight NCAA championships (an NCAA women’s record when she retired), and surpassed only by the 10 titles won by coaches John Wooden of UCLA’s men’s basketball dynasty and Geno Auriemma who still coaches the women’s team at the University of Connecticut, longtime rivals of Pat’s Lady Vols. She was named the Naismith Basketball Coach of the Century in April 2000. In 2009, the Sporting News placed her at number 11 on its list of the 50 Greatest Coaches of All Time in all sports; she was the only woman on the list. In 38 years as a coach, she never had a losing season.  In August 2011, Pat Summitt announced that she had been diagnosed three months earlier with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Despite the diagnosis, she did complete the 2011–2012 season in a reduced role, stating “There’s not going to be any pity party and I’ll make sure of that.” In 2012, in recognition of her many accomplishments, unusual for a woman in so many ways, Pat Summitt received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

I find Pat Summitt, who could boast of a 100 percent graduation rate for all her players who finished their career at UT, and her admirers to be admirable and generally broad-minded and forward-thinking, at least as far as Southeastern Conference (SEC) Sports fans are concerned.  The same cannot be said of SEC football fans, however.  On December 1, 2008, Lane Kiffin, former head coach of the Oakland Raiders, was announced as the new head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers football team.  This was his only year at UT, a year in which the Vols finished the season with an unforgivable, at least to the rabid and rowdy UT faithful, record of 7-6. During this short period of time, according to Wikipedia anyway, Coach Kiffin made a series of “controversial” decisions, at least in the eyes of some UT alumni.  For the 2009 season, UT paid $3.32 million to all assistant football coaches, the highest combined salary among public schools.  Kiffin’s departure for USC (the University of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, not south Carolina) in 2010 after just one season as head coach of the Volunteers upset some students and fans of the University of Tennessee.  Hundreds of students rioted on campus at the news of Kiffin’s departure. Knoxville police and fire department were brought in after students blocked the exit from the Neyland Thompson Sports Center and started several small fires.

One of our personal vehicles was also affected by this outpouring of Orange and White anger.  Husband drove our maroon and gold (USC’s team colors) Ford Expedition to his job at the Nissan production plant in Smyrna, Tennessee.  It also sported a souvenir USC Trojans license plate, which apparently made it a visible and highly desirable target to be egged by some disappointed UT football fan or fans where it was parked in the lot next to his office on or about on or about January 12, 2010, that infamous day when Lane Kiffin departed “the Hill” as the heart of UT’s main campus is known by students and alumni.  I have carried forward a mild hatred of that place and that institution ever since, which has been softened of late by exposure to the more genteel UT fans who are now my neighbors.


Two East Tennessee “J” Towns

I currently reside in one of the newer small towns in East Tennessee.  This is a naturally beautiful and historically significant part of the state that encompasses many isolated and interesting small towns.  Many area events and points of interest relate to the geography and culture of the region, especially the Appalachian and Great Smoky Mountains.  When we first moved to the area, Husband and I took a drive to visit two of the J towns around here, both located in Washington County.

Our primary destination was Johnson City, home of East Tennessee State University (ETSU), the alma mater of my last boss, aka “Twit,” with our secondary destination of Jonesborough, hometown of the cousin of a now former friend, one of the few friends I made while living in Brentwood whose acquaintance I was actually grateful to have made.   The cousin’s family includes Josh Kear, a songwriter and Jonesborough native who has become known as one of the country genre’s most consistent hit makers.  He has written several popular and award-winning hit songs including “Need You Now” performed by Lady Antebellum and “Before He Cheats,” one of Carrie Underwood’s earliest chart toppers.

I was a country music fan long before (well, maybe for 5-10 years or so) we moved from L.A. to Nashville in 2006.  Long before then, even, I had read a novel by Catherine Marshall, who was born in Johnson City.  That book , Christy, is a work of historical fiction set in the fictional Appalachian village of Cutter Gap, Tennessee, in 1912, and explores faith and mountain traditions such as moonshining, folk beliefs and folk medicine.  While endowed with abundant natural resources, Appalachia has long struggled and been associated with poverty. In the early 20th century, large-scale logging and coal mining firms brought wage-paying jobs and modern amenities to Appalachia, but by the 1960s the region had failed to capitalize on any long-term benefits from these two industries. Beginning in the 1930s, the federal government sought to alleviate poverty in the Appalachian region with a series of New Deal initiatives, such as the construction of dams to provide cheap electricity and the implementation of better farming practices.   On March 9, 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission was created to further alleviate poverty in the region, mainly by diversifying the region’s economy and helping to provide better health care and educational opportunities to the region’s inhabitants.

In Johnson City, ETSU has a host of programs that benefit both the region and nation, including the Quillen College of Medicine, consistently ranked as one of the top schools nationwide for rural medicine and primary care education. Unique programs at ETSU include a nationally acclaimed and accredited program in Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music, the nation’s lone master’s degree in Storytelling, and the Appalachian Studies programs, focused on the surrounding Appalachian region.  Jonesborough is the home to the International Storytelling Center, which holds the annual National Storytelling Festival on the first full weekend in October. The Festival builds on the Appalachian cultural tradition of storytelling, and has been drawing people from around the world for more than 35 years. The festival inspired the development of ETSU’s  storytelling program.

Jonesborough, the Washington County seat and “Tennessee’s oldest town” attracts heritage tourism because of its historical status and its significant historic preservation efforts.  Its annual October National Storytelling Festival, held in town since the festival was founded in 1973, has grown over the years to become a major festival both in the United States and internationally.  Husband and I whipped through what we considered to be the high points in Jonesborough, The International Storytelling Center and The Jonesborough Historic District which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.  We went through quickly as, at least at that time, neither one of was a storyteller.  I didn’t find the history of those buildings to be that interesting, especially compared to the history of the town I now live in, and surprisingly did not indulge in any retail therapy in any of the shops currently occupying most of the historic buildings.  Other than ETSU, Johnson City did not hold many attractions for us either.  Its location, layout and structures paled in comparison to those in Chapel Hill, NC, another “college town” I have visited. The town’s downtown district, most of which was probably built in the 1930s when it was for a time, the fifth-largest city in Tennessee, really showed its age, with blocks and blocks of tarnished and empty brick buildings.

Johnson City’s biggest growth spurt seems to have occurred in the early 20th century.  During the 1920s and the Prohibition era, Johnson City’s ties to the bootlegging activity of the Appalachian Mountains earned the city the nickname of “Little Chicago”.  Stories persist that the town was one of several distribution centers for Chicago gang boss Al Capone during Prohibition. Capone had a well-organized distribution network within the southern United States for alcohol smuggling; it shipped his products from the mountain distillers to northern cities. Capone was, according to local lore, a part-time resident of Montrose Court, a luxury apartment complex now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Together with neighboring Bristol, Johnson City was noted as a hotbed for old-time music; it hosted noteworthy Columbia Records recording sessions in 1928 known as the Johnson City Sessions.

By 1990, Appalachia had largely joined the economic mainstream, but still lagged behind the rest of the nation in most economic indicators though, at least in my neck of the Appalachian woods, there are many nonprofit organizations that continue to work with people here to improve their living conditions. I am an active volunteer with one of those organizations that is headquartered in the town where I live.

Aid to Distressed Families of Appalachian Counties (ADFAC) began in the mid 1980’s as a local ecumenical effort to provide assistance to impoverished families and evolved to become an independent nonprofit agency that exists to serve the basic needs of primarily low-income residents in Anderson and surrounding Appalachian counties. ADFAC’s goal is to help families become stable and self-sufficient through a variety of direct assistance services provided through both Social Services and Affordable Housing programs.  This nonprofit group envisions and supports the development of sustainable, healthy and viable communities where families are self- sufficient, productive and free of the need for continued public assistance whenever possible by continuing to focus on addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in Appalachian society and providing the most comprehensive scope of services of any agency serving this still needy community.

I first discovered ADFAC when I was still a working woman and saw an ad in a local publication for its “Dine & Donate” program.  This is actually a monthly event through which area restaurants donate a significant portion of their sales to support ADFAC’s work in the community.  The organization promotes Dine & Donate as a fun way to raise needed funds for ADFAC and support local eateries.  I saw that it had an added benefit, especially for working women, as a way to feed a family and do some good in the community while requiring little to no manual labor.  I was “in” for that event while I was working and have delved deeper into ADFAC’s efforts to help Appalachian residents since I retired.

Brentwood, Tennessee (not California)

Brentwood is an affluent neighborhood in the Westside of Los Angeles, California.  As a member of a group of nearby neighborhoods that are affluent, it is known as one of the “Three Bs”, along with Beverly Hills and Bel Air.  This Brentwood is now most famously known as the site of the 1994 stabbing death of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, by her ex-husband, the now infamous, O.J. Simpson.  Brentwood is also a city and an affluent suburb of Nashville located in Williamson County, Tennessee.  This Brentwood is little known outside of the Nashville area, unless you’re an already wealthy local celebrity or an aspiring country music star.  I certainly didn’t know anything about the Brentwood in Tennessee, until we made the difficult decision to Relocate there in 2006.

Husband had been working for the same large company for 25 years.  We were both in our very early 50’s when husband’s employer told him they were moving from the L.A. area to the Nashville area.  At first, I didn’t want to go.   My entire family lived in California, I had a good, cushy and flexible job, and I was spoiled by the whole situation, but knew we would not be able to stay in California unless husband could find a good new job that he might like to do for the next 15 years at least.  In 2006, I had been working for a small company for almost 10 years, and for the last five years of that part-time, which gave me a lot of flexibility as a parent.  Our two daughters were of high school age; one about to enter and the other with two years to go.  We reluctantly decided that a move at that time would be the least disruptive of our looming unsavory options.  After all, Tennessee’s climate is relatively temperate.  We thought there would not be too much snow in the winter, compared to the far northern US, and not too much heat and humidity, when compared with the Deep South.   There was no state income tax and the overall cost of living in the Volunteer State was low compared to the Golden State.

We started house hunting in Brentwood in late 2005.  We’d decided to settle there since it was touted as having the best public schools in the Nashville area.  I might have known right off the bat, though, that this city would end up being not my kind of place, when the realtor made a point of emphasizing that it was only a day’s drive from the beach, by which he meant Florida.  Blind and overwhelmed fool that I was, I assured him that this fact was unimportant, since I’d lived near the beach all of my life but didn’t go there very often anymore.   More so, I should have taken a clue as to the pending uncomfortable affluence of the place when he showed us houses in a private gated golf course community and a home formerly owned by a current country music superstar, on that first visit.   It’s amazing to look back on it now, but the golf course homes were “too much” and Trisha Yearwood’s house was not enough, maybe because she didn’t have kids, I guess.

Snowfall in February 2006, when we signed the purchase contract

On our second trip, we finally settled on the purchase of a home The Highlands of Belle Rive, the third or fourth subdevelopment in one of the town’s older subdivisions i.e. after Belle Rive I, II and III.  Passing the signs with fancy-shmancy subdivision names, like  Carondelet and Concord Hunt, Fountainbrooke and Fountainhead, The Governor’s Club, King’s Crossing and Princeton Hills, should have been my second clue that this city would end up being not my kind of place.  This was also the first time I recall ever hearing anyone use the term “subdivision” and we’d always lived in usually unnamed and untitled i.e. anonymous neighborhoods that, if anything, were identified by the closest major intersection.

The HOBR (Highlands of Belle Rive, the very fancy title of our swanky and exclusive-sounding “subdivision”) and our new house, on a quiet interior corner, and steeply pitched, lot, did have beautiful views, ready access to Brentwood High (3.5 miles down the hill) and the Deerwood Arboretum (1.5 miles up the hill).

Photo of view taken from our patio, the only flat spot in our backyard!

When we completed the second of our two moving trips in the early summer of 2006, we made two startling new discoveries, both courtesy of my mom who had come out to help us settle in, inspect the place, and prove to herself that it wouldn’t be too hard to visit us in the future:  (1) Two of our new neighbors were also California transplants due to relocation by the same employer and (2) summers in Tennessee, even if it wasn’t Florida, could still be extremely hot and really humid.  It was so uncomfortable to be outside, even in the evening, that none of us felt like going to the park down the hill to watch the July 4th fireworks.  Mom was also the person who bestowed the title “The Beverly Hills of Tennessee” on fair Brentwood, after she found out what it would cost to finish the basement.  This ended up being nearly a third of our purchase price, mainly due to the city’s requirement to have a bedroom window for egress and where our classy and meticulous contractor found a boulder that required a few weeks between storms to remove.

School started in August and in September the HOBR HOA held a Labor Day get to know you potluck supper up the hill at the closed end of my new short cul-de-sac block.  By then, the weather was closer to comfortable and I met some of my more-established neighbors on that socially level and financially egalitarian playing field, including some young transplanted (from Seattle and New Orleans, I think) entrepreneurs who took pity on my lonely soul a few years later by employing me to write some of their press releases on contract.  Found out when I was working for them that they were also Emmy winners who kept a condo in a downtown Nashville high rise as their office space.  Still pretty fancy for this California bumpkin!

By now the reader may have an inkling that, as noted in Wikipedia, Brentwood, Tennessee, is also known for its rolling hills as well as being one of the wealthiest cities in America relative to the average cost of living, and is also Tennessee’s best educated city, proportionately, with 98.4% of adult residents (25 and older) holding a high school diploma, and 68.4% of adults possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher (2010 Census).  On top of that, Brentwood is located in  Williamson County, which is ranked among the wealthiest counties in the country. In 2006 it was the 11th wealthiest county in the country according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but the Council for Community and Economic Research ranked Williamson County as America’s wealthiest county (1st) when the local cost of living was factored into the equation with median household income.

As I set out to “find myself” in this strange new place, this atypical California girl encountered many unexpected roadblocks, which proved frustrating to my pursuit of new friends in real time, i.e. in my five year residence there, but, in the comfort of my current and comfortable 20/20 hindsight, I now find them to be oh so understandable.