Why This Was Not My Trip of a Lifetime

As I prepare to rent a 24-foot truck next week and empty out our storage facility, I have been reflecting on the past two years.  This journey has brought me many places and taught me so, so much, some of which I’ve shared on here, but much of which is waiting to come out once I have a little distance from the journey.  Now that the travels are coming to an end and I am moving somewhere that, surprisingly, seems to meet almost all of my initial criteria in what I was looking for in a new place to call home (more on that in a later post), I am coming to terms with a change in focus and identity. While the past two years were spent exploring new corners of the country and trying to figure out where we were going to lay our head each night, I will now be focusing on setting up a home in a town where we know no one.  I will be sorting through the massive quantity of things we stored, stripping out the inessentials.  And since I am still the same person I have always been, I will be doing a healthy bit of exploring our new home state.

It is with this frame of mind that I recently enjoyed The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau. 9780385348843 I will mention upfront that I thought the book was rather choppy and could have been edited better, but I really enjoyed the subject matter.  The author pursued a quest to visit every single country, which makes my goal to visit all 50 states look like child’s play.  But the book is about more than his quest.  It’s about quests in general and it focuses on a diverse bunch of folks that have all pursued their own version of a quest.  My favorite was a woman from Oklahoma who set out to cook one full meal each week from every single country in alphabetical order.  It took her four years, but the impacts went well beyond what she had imagined. Throughout the book, the author discusses different stages of a personal quest and puts together pointers for discovering your own quest.  Since we are winding down our own version of a quest, the book was timely.  Especially the parts that discussed how you may feel once your quest is complete.  For some, like the birdwatcher who wanted to see as many different species of bird as she could (and eventually broke the world record doing so), their quest is never really over.  But for people who wish to walk across the country, see all of the Roman Catholic Basilicas in the United States, or have a date in each state (all actual quests discussed in the book), there is a clear ending.

For me, this journey also has a clear ending, and this is it.  After almost two years of choosing to live without a home, or choosing to make anywhere and everywhere a home, I will be picking one spot and making a home there.  This will be a transition for all of us, especially for the little guy who asks us EVERY SINGLE DAY “where will we be driving to today?” and “what state are we going to today?”  After three weeks in the same house in Maryland, he had a fit that we were going back to the same house because “it’s just the same!”  Yeah, so I’ll be dealing with that, too.

But even though I will be trading my traveling shoes for a more rooted life, I have discovered the importance of having dreams and, even more, that I can make these dreams my reality.  Chris Guillebeau talks of planning a new quest once you have completed and digested your current quest.  It is with that spirit that I am putting together an audacious list of lifetime goals that I will working towards.  Which will be my next quest?  I don’t know.  But if this trip has taught me anything, and it’s taught me more than I ever thought possible, it has taught me how doable it is to follow your dreams.  And it is for this very reason that I never once referred to this journey as my “trip of a lifetime.”

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review; however, I am completely honest in my reviews.  If I didn’t like the book, you would hear about it.

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Giving Thanks

WithoutYou

It is Thanksgiving Day.  My favorite holiday of the year.  Not only is it a day to eat large quantities of delicious food, it is a day to simply be.  A day to enjoy the company of family and friends and to reflect on the many blessings in our lives.

Alan, Van, and I have a new-ish ritual of saying one thing we are thankful for before eating dinner.  Van’s answer almost always relates to food  on his plate in front of him (he’s three, he lives in the moment – though there was the one day he said he was thankful for the library).  I so recommend something like this if you are not already doing it.  Though it can sometimes feel silly or trite, taking a moment to think of something I am thankful for grounds me.  Sometimes I even begin anticipating the evening’s ritual during the day, thereby enriching my day with good thoughts.

And so, on this Thanksgiving Day, I would like to thank the many, many friends and family who have provided love, support, and friendship over this past year.  My family and friends are the most important part of my life.  Without you, I would only have the wilderness.

As you all know from reading my past posts, this past year has not been without its challenges.  There are four individuals in my life who have provided tremendous support and love over this past year who deserve to be thanked publicly.  I am honored to be your daughter (Mom and Dad) and your friend (Shannon and Cathy).  From the bottom of my heart, thank you for listening, for being there, for loving me, and for providing a real home to the three of us.  Or, in the case of my parents, for providing a home for the four of us.  We are so lucky that you love Hickory as much as we do.

I hope that you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you have much to be thankful for.  I know that the holidays can be hard for some people.  If this is you, please know that you do not need to force a smile because it is the season of “merriment,” and please do not feel afraid to reach out if you need a hand, an ear, or a cup of warm tea.  Much love from our family to yours…

Move Over Harold, I Have My Own Purple Crayon

Van is a reader.  Cue the applause!  I couldn’t be happier about this, even when I’m reading the same book for the seventh time in a day.  His latest book on repeat is Harold and the Purple Crayon.  Since I’ve been reading it again and again, I’ve been trying to read it with different eyes.  Last night, a few parts hit me.

Harold, with the moon in tow, goes out on an adventure when “he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere on the long straight path.”  He winds up in one-tree forest, in the water, on a boat, on a mountain, and in a hot-air balloon before trying to find his home.  He spends a long time looking until he realizes that he was doing it wrong all along.  “He remembered where his bedroom window was, when there was a moon.  It was always right around the moon.”  Upon remembering that he could make his home anywhere, he drew the window for himself and his bed so that he could crawl in and be at home.

While there are many clear parallels to my life at the moment (even down to his obsession with the moon), isn’t this true for us all?  Very few, if any, of us take the long, straight path.  Instead, we alternate between a stride with purpose and a wander that leads us down new paths that we may have missed if we were too focused on the goal.

When we planned to leave our lives of comfort and convenience for a journey on four wheels, we had two intentions, to have adventures and to find a new home.  What I failed to realize was that the latter goal would have more to do with how I would change over the course of our travels and less to do with the places themselves.  Yes, we found places that we loved that surprised us (central Kentucky, anyone?), and we added places to our list of dream towns (Bozeman, Bend, Crested Butte…), but ultimately, our priorities for a place to call home changed in some significant ways.

Proximity to wilderness is still a top priority, but living in the middle of it is no longer something we’d prefer in this season of life.  A sense of community is still important, but what that means to us has shifted.  I’m less concerned with the specific interests and make-up of a community and more interested in general community traits like kindness, generosity, self-sufficiency, and a lack of self-centeredness.  Snow is still at the top of our list, but less because we like snow (we do) and more because I like what snow does to people.  It forces us to check any misguided notions that we are the center of the universe.  Snow makes us contend with forces greater than ourselves and helps to deflate the ego, even if just a little bit.

All this adventure has brought me a lot of introspection.  I’m different now than I was two years ago.  But as my friend Saskia recently reminded me, home is something that I’ve had with me all along.

 

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.

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!