ISO: Home Sweet Home

If We Wanted to Live in a Ghost Town, We'd Just Shack Up Here.

A potential home?  Albeit, located in a ghost town.  Details, details…

Yes, we’re traveling to explore, and camp, and hike, and check out the variety of grocery stores and laundromats that populate our country.  But we’re also traveling to see if we spy a spot that we may one day call home.  As this trip progresses, what we’re looking for becomes more clear to me.  I expected this to happen as we saw more spots and had a better sense of what options are out there.  But I think it’s really happening because I have more time to listen to myself and understand my reactions to a place.  For example, I’ve always known that I’m a cold-weather gal.  I like winter, I dislike really hot and humid summers, and I love snow.  But spending time in the high desert, which is undeniably beautiful, made clear to me just how much I would go crazy living in such a hot and sunny locale.  My mood changed noticeably (for the better) when we traveled away from places in which the blazing sun was rarely filtered by leaves or green or anything really.  Clearly my sensitivities to weather are more pronounced on a trip where our home is nothing more than nylon sheet, but given that my preferred location does not have four walls, this is important information.

This is where you come in.  As we spend more time on the road, we’d love any suggestions from our readers of places that we may want to consider.  If we had to choose a place before traveling, it’s likely we would have wound up somewhere in Vermont or Western Massachusetts.  To clue you in to what we’re looking for, I’ve put together a list of ideal characteristics for our new home (the original list was much longer, but Alan suggested I not bore you all to zzzzzzzz). I’m not naive (at least not all of the time); I know that we won’t find a place that meets all these ideals, but hopefully we’ll find a place that meets some of these and feels like home.

  • Access to the outdoors is out our back door, or at least within biking distance.  Ideally, I’d love to be able to get in a couple of mid-week after work hikes.
  • In close proximity to mountains and water (lakes, rivers, whatever), and with places nearby to hike, bike, cross-country ski, kayak, etc.
  • I do not want to live in the suburbs – I’ve spent much of my life there.  I know that it works for some people, but I always feel like an imposter there and it never feels quite like home.  Cities can be great, vibrant, diverse, beautiful places, but I’m just not a city person.  I’m glad I know this about myself or I might still be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  What I do like are small towns, small cities (Burlington, VT and Bozeman, MT seem like the largest I’d like), or rural areas.  In fact, I love rural areas near small cities or towns.
  • An area that is welcoming to outsiders, or at least a place where it wouldn’t take us ten years to make friends because we didn’t grow up with everyone else.
  • Cultural or intellectual outlets, be they art museums, lecture series, book readings, great classes, or something similar.
  • A DIY ethic where folks put creation above consumption.
  • Snow in the winter.  And by snow, I mean real snow and lots of it.
  • Access to quality locally grown produce and pastured meats and dairy.
  • Quirky.
  • A place where people prioritize time over money and quality over quantity.
  • A place where diversity of thought and opinions are common and embraced.
  • A place that has good educational and recreational opportunities for our son, but not a place that is overrun with uber-competitive families on the quest to raise an Ivy-league grad.
  • Somewhere with a strong sense of place.  I’d prefer to live in a place, even if it is nearby to something bigger or more well-known, that has its own identity and culture and isn’t merely a footnote in the other place’s story.

So, with that modest list of qualities, any suggestions, folks?!?!  Please comment below and let us know if you can think of any places that may fit the bill.  Perhaps it will be the place we wind up calling home.

Friends, Vacuums, and Wal-Mart

Our first couple days on the road largely consisted of driving and visits with good friends.  We decided to begin slowing down our journey once we reached southwestern Virginia, which meant Van had to suffer through two longish days on the road.  Luckily, these two days were broken up by visits to dear friends.  We spent our first night just an hour south of where we left, visiting Brian, Amy, and their two spunky daughters, Mary and Zoe.  I’m not sure whether Van liked the spontaneous dance parties to pop music (his favorite) or their play kitchen the best, but I know we had a great time seeing Brian and Amy.  I realized that this will be the longest I go without seeing them, which makes me sad, but motivated to plan a longer visit with them next time.

We spent our second night down in DC, which gave Van the opportunity to have some final play time with his best bud Liam before hitting the road, and us some time to enjoy the company of Lauryn and Brendan.

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After hitting the road and heading south, our first night camping in the van was a success!  We were feeling like we were in the groove when we headed down to Blacksburg to have lunch with an old friend Cara and her husband Ean.  During lunch we chatted about the area and I asked about snowfall.  They mentioned that it hasn’t snowed a whole lot in the area over the past decade, but when it has, they’ve lost power for extended periods.  With this information fresh on our minds and weather reports calling for another cold but likely dry night, we headed towards our intended campsite for the evening.  Van fell asleep on the way and instead of stopping at the campsite, we decided to drive around for a while to give him a longer nap.  Unfortunately, he tends to wake up when we stop the car.  Along the way we spotted a collection of vacuum cleaners alongside a barn.  This was not a yard with a lot of other random objects, so we could only guess why they had so many vacuum cleaners and, more importantly, why they were stored outside instead of inside the nearby barn.

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During our drive it started to drizzle and then to sleet.  There weren’t a whole lot of inside options to wait out the rain, so we made for a Wal-Mart and took a stroll up and down the aisles.  Next thing we know, we’re looking out the front door at large snowflakes quickly covering up the cars.  What?!?!  This was not in the weather report and, judging from everyone else at the store, was not expected by anyone.

It has been years since I’ve been to a Wal-Mart, but in our trip planning we discovered that the company is very friendly to RVers and others on the road.  Company policy allows folks to spend the night in their lot as long as you introduce yourself to the manager and the individual store doesn’t have a policy against it.  Alan and I had discussed this at some length before we left, each of us with very different degrees of comfort over doing this.  I figured that at some point along the way this would be the best option, but I did not think that would happen on our second night of camping.  After some discussions over the fruitlessness of making our way to the campground and the bad road conditions given that no one was expecting this storm, we decided to stay put.  We parked ourselves near a cart return and set up for our first free camp at a Wal-Mart.

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Early in the Snowstorm

All things considered, the night was better than I expected, which may be attributed to my low expectations.  However, I didn’t give too much thought to how the lot would be plowed until I was awoken at two in the morning to feeling our van shake.  I peeked out from behind the curtain and saw three small pickups, not much larger than my former pickup, driving very quickly and straight for us as they pushed the snow towards the edges of the lot.  Over and over and over again they were inches (or less) from the van.  Even though Alan and Van are lighter sleepers than me, they managed to miss all the action while I kept a lookout until our section of the parking lot appeared to be clear.

I eventually fell back asleep to the distant sound of plows and we awoke dry, warmish, and to clear roads in the morning.  Our unexpected night was a success, but not one I’m hoping to replicate very often over the next year.