Nomads in Search of a Home

No one ever told me that this was going to be easy.  The first nine or ten months of living on the road, traveling as we pleased, and living out of a backpacking tent were, more or less, amazing.  Yes, we left our van on the side of the road in Memphis, but overall, our trip had many more ups than downs.  But what we didn’t have was an exit plan.  Well, we sort of did.  Our exit plan was to travel, find a place we loved, move there, and then find jobs and figure it out.

We did part one – travel – but the rest has not been nearly as straightforward.  We found lots of places that we liked, but no one place called to us and whispered “I am home” as we drifted off to sleep.  Lesson learned – there is no perfect place.  There are really great places and really lousy places, and you make one of those really great places your perfect (or as close to perfect as you can get) home over the course of time.  So, back to the drawing board.  We made lots of lists (we’ve been doing that for years), weighed the pros and cons, and thought we had come up with a location – Western Massachusetts.  Okay, so now part two was checked off, or so we thought.

Now it was time to move there, find jobs, and figure it out.  And this is when things got real.  Or rather, when we really began digging deep and figuring out what we really want out of this short time we have in this beautiful, ragged world.  We spent several months in Western Massachusetts trying to figure it out – half of which was spent in an artist’s unfinished, musty basement that leaked when it rained.  If that wasn’t motivation to figure something out, I don’t know what would be.

We figured out a lot.  We realized that we didn’t just want to find any job, we wanted to do something that was meaningful and that we were good at.  And I wanted to stay home for a few years until the little guy is in school.  And so we began anew on a journey for Alan to focus on his talents and his passions.  And so, the last year has found us bouncing around from place to place while we figure things out and while Alan completes coursework and studies to pass a certification exam for his new career.

This past year has been one of the hardest of my life.  Which, when I look at it in perspective, means that I’ve been an inordinately lucky lady.  Yes, the past year has seen more than my fair share of tears.  It has been hard to not have a home for so long.  It has been hard to feel unmoored and to deal with drama that is unnecessary and defeating.  But we have our health, we have each other, we have amazing people in our lives, and we have learned more about ourselves than we ever would have if we had not decided to jump into certain adventure.  But the challenges have made it difficult to share openly on this blog, which is why posts for the past year have been sparse.  I’ve been struggling with what to share and what to keep close.  By not sharing, I realize that I have become guilty of airbrushing this nomadic lifestyle. And so, with renewed attention, I plan to begin sharing again.

We have decisions to be made over this next month or so.  Big decisions.  Decisions that will hopefully allow me to announce that we found a place to call our (for now) home.  And I have so many plans.  Plans for us, for the little guy, and for continuing to share our adventures as we gulp down the moonlight.  Bear with me as I dip back into the blogging world and try to wipe off any veneers of perfection.

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August in New York, Minus the Humidity

The view from our home for two weeks.

Instead of crickets, horns. Instead of late-night revelers around a fire, late-night stumblers struggling to turn their key and escape into their box in the sky. Instead of hikes through lush woods or up mountains, walks on pavement through a canopy of skyscrapers. But the food and the friendships are so much easier to source here. After two weeks in Manhattan, I grew weary of the city life and was eager to spend much of September hiking through the early fall leaves of the Green Mountains. But I enjoyed every minute of being there (minus those ten minutes mistakenly walking through Times Square that I can’t get back), especially those spent with wonderful and dear friends. That those times were spent over delicious foods that are harder to find in other parts of this beautiful country made it even sweeter. I only had a few points on my agenda before we arrived – see several friends that I haven’t spent time with for way too long, visit the 9-11 Memorial, explore the High Line, listen to my favorite band in Central Park, and eat lots of ethnic food. Before long, our agenda filled up with all of that plus five live music shows in as many days, lots of time wandering the neighborhoods south of mid-town, watching the little guy get braver on the nearby playground, taking the boy on a boat, and using the gym like a normal person with a home and a routine.

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Van’s favorite playground in the city – Madison Square Park

As our two weeks drew to a close, I penned a few words of advice for those visiting Manhattan:

  • Unless you’ve never been to Times Square before, skip it.  I’m not a city person, but I absolutely love New York City.  However, if all of the city was like the area around Times Square and Rockefeller Center, it would be one of my least favorite places in the world.  Yuck!  It’s worth seeing once (maybe – it’s debatable), but make it a quick trip and then start exploring the rest of this city.  It can take lifetimes.
  • Whatever you do, don’t skip the High Line – it’s magical.  I spent much of my pregnancy taking long walks through Central Park to get my nature fix, but I really should have been up on the High Line.  The beautiful (and distinctly not city) smells are reason enough to spend an afternoon.
  •  If you visit the 9-11 Memorial, don’t skip a visit to St. Paul’s Chapel.  I’ve been half a dozen times in the last ten years and it never fails to make me cry.  It is a personal and beautiful testament to the best in people.
  •  Spend time in the city’s living rooms (and dining rooms, but hopefully not bathrooms) by enjoying at least one full day in one or more of the city’s great parks.  Central Park is an obvious choice, but there are so many.  I made my first trip out to Governor’s Island on this visit and can’t recommend it enough.  Especially with kids.  We took an early boat out (the first couple of boats out are free!) and spent several hours exploring with my dad before Van was beyond ready for a long nap.
  • Eat, eat, eat!  But not boring food.  Eat the kinds of food that are harder to find elsewhere.  Eat the kinds of food that satiate you and your sense of adventure.  After checking out many different eats around the city during our visit, Van proclaimed Korean food to be his favorite.  And I will admit, that was an amazing meal.  Thanks, Dad!
  • Put on your walking shoes and just wander.  I could write this advice for just about anywhere, but I think it’s particularly applicable to such a walkable and large city.  There is no better way to experience the city (other than living there) than walking through its various neighborhoods.  Though we didn’t conquer any epic walks (Alan’s longest pre-kid NYC walk in one day was about sixteen miles), we bypassed public transport a number of times and walked many, many miles to explore neighborhoods we hadn’t seen in a while.
Grandpa and Van enjoying a car-free Park Avenue for a day of strolling.

Grandpa and Van enjoying a car-free Park Avenue for a day of strolling.

I must mention that we lucked out when it came to the weather.  I wouldn’t normally recommend that a NYC visitor plan a trip in the middle of August, but I really wanted to spend some time there before we settle somewhere new and the timing worked well for us.  I could not believe how amazing the weather was – seventies with low humidity.  Where was I again?  It was bliss!

One more shot of the view - I can't resist!

One more shot of the view from the balcony – I can’t resist!

Free Admission to Over 1,000 Museums – This Saturday

Are you looking for something fun to do this Saturday?  If you live near one of over 1,000 museums across the country that is participating in Smithsonian’s Museum Day Live! (and chances are you do), you have the opportunity to check out a great nearby museum for free.  Go online here to check out which museums are participating and to obtain your free tickets.  Keep in mind that you have to obtain your tickets in advance online and that there is a limit of two tickets per person.  This is a great opportunity to visit that museum you’ve always thought of checking out, but that never quite made the cut when you planned your excursions.

We’ll be headed to Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont this Saturday.  Museum Day Live! happens to coincide with the connected Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park’s Forest Festival, so I’m sure it will be a full day.  We’ve already spent two days exploring the National Historic Park (and Van has a junior ranger badge to prove it), so we’ll spend more time at the farm and museum and are very grateful to have the opportunity to visit this great museum at no cost.

Will you be headed to one of these museums this Saturday?  If so, where will you be exploring?  Let us know in the comments if it’s a museum you’d recommend to others.

White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Truth be told, White Sands was one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting when we came up with this crazy idea to travel so extensively with a two-year old.  Although we were not able to camp in the monument, our visit did not disappoint.  I was so looking forward to camping on the white sand, but the monument only has limited back country camping.  We were a little puzzled as to why we were not able to camp there.  Once we arrived, it all made much more sense.  I guess the Federal Government prefers that family campers don’t set up camp in the middle of an active missile range.  I knew that the monument was near a missile range, but I did not realize that it was smack dab in the middle of the missile range.  In fact, the monument and the main highway leading to it had been closed earlier in the week when testing activities were being conducted.  My understanding is that this can be a weekly occurrence.

Lucky for us, the only activity we were caught in the middle of was yet another immigration checkpoint, well inside the borders of our country.  We were waved through once we told them we were on our way to White Sands, but we couldn’t help but think of all the folks doing exactly what we were doing who would have to stop and answer many more questions simply because of the color of their skin.

Our first stop at White Sands was the visitor’s center.  Van ran in with his passport in hand, eager to collect yet another stamp.  I picked up his junior ranger’s packet and off we went, ready to explore the park for the day.

Van working on his junior ranger packet

Van working on his junior ranger packet

We all had a great time running around the surprisingly cool sand.  Unlike the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, this sand is made of gypsum and is very cool to the touch.  Bare feet for the win!

The best part of the day was watching Van examine all the crystalline-like sand structures and spotting tracks of various small critters.

Our long and fun day at White Sands was capped off with our very last night of tent camping on the trip.  We drove to nearby Alamogordo and slept at a local campground, but given the low evening temperatures (it had been dipping into the 20s), we decided to finish out our stay in New Mexico at rustic cabins, local motels, and two lovely nights at the home of friends in Albuquerque.  Though it was sad to pack up our tent and realize that it would be staying in the car for the foreseeable future (and has since been replaced), sleeping in the relative warmth of an uninsulated cabin was heaven.

What Do Truth or Consequences, a Veterans’ Home, and a Classic Car Show Have in Common?

You may think that because my posting hiatus began while I was posting about our time in New Mexico that I was not a huge fan of the state.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  We loved so many things about New Mexico, chiefly the food, the people, and the gorgeous landscapes.

After leaving Silver City,we took a circuitous route to Las Cruces so that we could check out the interestingly named, Truth or Consequences.  For those not familiar with the history of how the town received its unique moniker, the town of Hot Springs renamed itself in response to a marketing ploy by the game show, Truth or Consequences.  Given its location, I was expecting a sleepy little town.  Instead of just a quick trip through the decidedly awake town, we stayed for the day and took part in the local (and very popular) car show at the local VA home.  My vote went to a sublime cherry red pickup from days long ago (surprise, surprise), while Van was very attracted to the many, many Mustangs.

We eventually pried ourselves away from the festivities and headed south to one of the nicest places we stayed on this trip, a Days Inn in Las Cruces.  As we pulled up to the hotel, Van started pointing and saying “Idaho, Idaho.”  We went back through our memory banks and realized that we had only stayed at one Days Inn on this trip before Las Cruces.  And it was, in fact, in Idaho.  Twin Falls, to be exact.  What a memory this kid has!

We spent one full day in Las Cruces soaking up all the culture we could at the excellent New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.  If you’re ever down in Las Cruces, it’s a must see.  Highlights included a private demonstration of separating milk from cream, watching the process of making a nail from start to finish, a history of New Mexico license plates, and a stunning photography exhibit on Pie Town.  The two most interesting facts I learned that day?  That the state actually had to add USA to its license plate at one point because too many people in the rest of the US didn’t realize that New Mexico is actually part of the US.  Write this down as reason number 56,323 that travel is important.  And secondly, that nails were so valuable before mass production that some settlers would burn down their houses before moving so that they could take the nails with them.  After seeing the process of making just one nail, I have a much greater appreciation for the many modern conveniences that allow most Americans (ourselves and just about everyone we know included) to lead such luxurious lives.

Las Cruces Farm and Ranch Museum

New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum,   Las Cruces