Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Trial escape to Kentucky.

One thing I have to say about making plans to abandon your current life for one of adventure and new is that it makes the previously mentioned current life seem really boring.  Going to school, going to work, cleaning your house, doing laundry - well, it all sucks.  We have rid ourselves of many of the modern day conveniences that we used to own, but we are still stuck in this house.  The kids still have a week left of school and Troy is still a manager.  Our brains however have left the building.  Each day the kids wake up begging to stay home from school and go to the beach instead.  This may seem the norm for most kids but mine have always been excited to spend their days in the educational institution.  I cannot even stand to look at my house.  It is still the wonderful abode it has always been, but now all I see is a really expensive ball and chain.  Luckily the weather is vastly improving and I can spend the majority of my time outdoors.  There is not too much that can be done regarding our discontent with the current situation. We have to figure out arrangements for this house and we have made commitments for the summer months.  We chose to leave in September for a reason and we need to focus on those and make it through the next few months.  Not only make it through, but enjoy, thrive and be joyous within that time.

After the sale, we decided it was time to commit a bit more to the lifestyle we plan to live in the near future.  We have been holding our daily 'meeting of the minds' and discussing exactly what it is we want this trip to be - how we wish to mold it - what we want to get out of the experience.  It is true that this is a trip across the States, but it is so much more than a road trip to see landmarks.  We desire an American experience.   What that means to us is an experience heavily influenced and surrounded by people.  When you break it down, that is what the U.S. is - a collective of minds, beliefs and cultures.  We want to immerse ourselves in people.  We want to bathe in experiences unknown to us in this small place of being we now reside in.

During our interview with Erin at the Northern Express we learned about a great web based organization of couch surfers and knew instantly that we wanted it to be a part of our experience.  We have been rethinking the plan of traveling in a camper van.  There is something about it that does not feel right.  We want that human interaction and boon-docking in Walmart parking lots is not exactly what we had in mind.  I am not saying that the van will not play a part in a future portion of our trip, but at the start we are leaning towards a more integrated path.  We have a lot of enthusiasm at this point and we wish to use that as fuel.  We feel we can do anything at this time.  That may not be the case six months in - but for now it absolutely is.  We are heavily leaning towards the idea of kicking our tour off with our Subaru, some backpacks and an eagerness to really see this country in a new light.  We want to see the 'behind the scenes' version.  We want to trek through the backcountry.  We want to see how you really live.  We want to discover what you know. And so we are going to make that happen.  But before we do, we figured it might be a good idea to do a few test trips and make sure we do not loathe the experience.

Our first step was to get some gear - packs and light weight living items that will be needed during our year on the road.  If we are going to be staying in the homes of generous strangers, we want to leave as little impact physically on their lives as possible.  We want to have the ability to make coffee on our own and have a bed wherever we happen to be.  Backcountry North hooked us up and we planned our first getaway.  After a small poll on Facebook, we decided Mammoth Caves in Kentucky would do more than fine for our backpacking experience.  As for the couch surfing aspect, we thought it wise to stick with family the first go round.

We headed first to Kalamazoo.  We only had a few hours to drive because Marnie desired to attend a school field trip during the school day.  It was a lovely stop - my cousin just had a beautiful new baby girl and we got to share a few snuggles and surf a couch.  We headed out early the next morning in the direction of one of my closest friends, Catherine.  A few hours drive lead us to a few more hours of great company.  Our children were able to play in the sunshine together while we caught up in person - something that only happens a couple of times a year unfortunately.  A little lunch and a small child being wheeled over by a Power Wheels later, and we were off in the direction of Nashville.

We had originally planned on heading straight to Mammoth and spending a few days exploring the park.  However we remembered our wish for our experience to be filled with people and we sought out a few others that happen to live near enough to our final destination.  Troy's brother and sister-in-law live in Nashville as do two of my cousins.  Discovering how close the city is to the caves, it was an obvious choice.  My lovely cousin Ana graciously agreed to let us stay the night and we made plans to meet Troy's brother for lunch the following day.  Everything just fell into place so easily.  It was lovely.  The drive to Nashville was ridiculously long but we made just as the day turned over.  My cousin was already asleep but we were able to slip inside and get some much needed sleep.

We tried to make as little of an impression as possible and I think we did a good job.  We bring our own bedding so no laundry needs to be done after our departure by our host.  We come with our own water supply and food.  Everything we need comes in with us on our backs.  It is amazing and I think I love it.
Ana was gone before we woke, so we packed up, took a picture of where we laid our heads (something I think I am going to continue to document as we proceed on our journey) and took off to explore Nashville. 

The last time we spent time in the beautiful city was as evacuees from Pensacola during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.  This was a bit of a different experience.  For one thing, the kids could walk this round.  Hands down that makes this trip the clear winner.  We met Ana and her sister Mo for a quick cup of coffee.  The weather was sticky hot and the conversation easy.  We soon departed and met up with Troy's brother Joe and his lovely bride Rachel for some lunch at a delicious Latin eatery. We had not seen the pair in over five years, so the experience was filled with excitement.  The kids were thrilled to meet family they did not quite remember and we felt similarly to to reconnection.  Joe was able to break away a bit longer and spend some time with us in a park downtown.

To catch up was probably the greatest part of our trip.  We had such an amazing time and are already making plans for a return stop.  One day is not enough to really 'do' Nashville.  After a quick trip to a replica of the Parthenon (which the kids thought outrageously boring... actually, it was pretty boring), we headed on to Mammoth.

The first night we arrived late, so we stayed in the campground.  We rose early, packed our belongings and hit the trails.  In the early afternoon we made it back to the visitor's center to join a group for a cave walking tour.  As we waited we did a quick tick check and found several.  We had heard they are especially bad this year and let me say that is no joke.  We found at least a couple on each of us and that was just after a couple of miles on a wide and easy trail.  At the conclusion of our trip we would have pulled off an easy 40 ticks off our bodies.  That being after we took all recommended precautions.  We wore the right clothing and covered ourselves in deet.  They are crazy bad.  Rocco had so many covering his body that we had to take him into the vet to have them removed.  He was smothered.  They gave up after thirty and just gave him meds to kill them off.  I digress.

We did a cool 3.5 mile hike through the caves by lantern light.  The kids walked in awe of the caverns.  Our guide was very John Wayne-esque and had no signs of a sense of humor, but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.  He was very interested in sharing stories of those who died in the caves which obviously our children very much enjoyed.  Troy and I likewise enjoyed the great peaks and descents the tour followed. After we reemerged into daylight, we headed off to the trail head that would lead us to our camp for the evening.  

Let me say that we all walk quite a bit.  The kids walk 3 to 7 miles each day and we easily do double.  That in no way indicates how quickly we were to travel in back country.  Who knew that narrow and winding trails, rocks and trees to climb over and rivers to cross would slow you down?  Well, everyone apparently.  Everyone except me.  Had I thought of it, I would not have chosen a camp five miles in from the trail head.  I also would not have started our trek at six o'clock at night.  However this is exactly what I chose to do.  About a mile in, the headlamps came on and the remainder of our hike was done in the darkness.  It was strange to hike without being able to see the beauty that surrounded us.  It was still there but all I could see was the five feet in front of me and I had to trust the markers that had been placed as a guide.  We stopped at what we believed to be our camp (later discovered that we in no way traveled nearly as far as assumed) and set up our tent.  We ate in near darkness as moths continuously attacked my head and the lamp that adorned it.  We collectively collapsed into sleep to the sound of a river a probable short distance away. 

When we woke the following morning, we found ourselves beneath a canopy of the lushest greenery my eyes have seen.  A small river lay beside us and waterfalls were scattered down the slope.  It was an unreal experience.  The kids immediately hit the water and played for hours. It was stunning.  Kentucky is beautiful.  I felt part of the earth in that moment.  The incredible vastness of everything and yet so small in the same moment.

We hiked out of Mammoth that same day and left Kentucky as well.  We made another quick overnight stop and stayed with some friends in the Chicago area.  We returned home the following morning.

The success of this trip means much to us.  We had non-stop togetherness and enjoyed it.  We were able to test our gear in various situations and make notes of what else would be needed.  Above all else however is that we acquired true thirst.  This new life is something we have wanted very badly, but is no longer just a desire.  We had a taste of the life we will lead and it is already a part of who we now are.  There is this great life - these amazing experiences out there to be had by us.  I know it exists and we will soon reach the place where we can enjoy it in all of it's glory.  For now however, I can only trust that we are on our way.  Much like our hike in the darkness - we too must now follow the markers before us.  Trust what path has been placed for us to follow and put one foot in front of the other.  Soon we will open our eyes and the sight will astound us.  This I know to be true - and I am grateful.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Most of our stuff is gone.  We held a sale where we parted ways with the better portion of our belongings.  It was an insane three days.  The few days that preceded the sale were quite intense as well.  I had been putting off the pricing of our belongings for a few reasons.  One reason I had not done prepped much ahead of time is that showings were being scheduled and I wanted the house to look as presentable as possible.  The second reason had something to do with the notion that we just did not have all that much to get rid of.  Seeing as we were planning on selling everything we owned, we had decided to hold the sale mostly indoors.  This seemed like a good idea - we would not need to move the larger furniture and weather would be a non issue.  I finally got around to pulling everything out from the closets and drawers on Thursday night before.  I made it through the living room before the panic attack came on.  Not only was there much to be displayed and priced - there were also memories attached to almost every item that had to be dealt with.  We had already parted with about half of our belongings.  Apparently that was the crappy half that meant nothing.  Why is it that we buy things to remember events?  Why can we not just remember them?  Every item that I would pick up, I would have an instant flashback to some event.  The quality of the event played no real part.  A broken plastic cone dragged me back to the time in which our then six month old puppy had to have surgery on his eye to fix an entropian.  He wore the cone for two weeks and constantly ran himself into walls until the cone finally fell to bits.  The complete set of the Roseanne series DVDs took me back to the days when I was a small child and my family was yet to be broken.  We sat in the living room on a brown blanket and watched the show together.  Later, my husband bought me the series for Christmas due to my feelings of nostalgia.  It was endless.  Every item.  My emotions ran the gamut.  I know in my heart of hearts that all of the stuff does not mean anything in reality.  But why does it feel differently?  Troy commented as he tackled the garage that he felt certain items represented the man he thought he would become at one time.  The football he bought with hopes of taking on a sportier persona for our son.  The fishing gear, the hunting stuff, the wood working tools.  All good intentions.  Some parts took hold and some slipped on by.  Stress was high but we soldiered on.  Everything got a sticker.  Everything had to go.
One thing we had agreed upon is that as of the day of the sale, we would handle ourselves in a completely objective manner in regards to the letting go of our things.  There would be no tears.  We would tell stories and encourage purchases.  We prepped ourselves mentally for this.  It turns out that the extra effort was completely unnecessary.  The sale was a huge success from moment go.  Cars were lined up and people rushed in as soon as the doors swung open.  Items were flying off the shelves.  Items I had deemed as completely unusable were eyed as treasures.  My mind was baffled.  I could barely keep up as people tried to leave with their newly acquired notions.  Every item that walked out of my life and into someone’s car left me with a new feeling of freedom.  The money in my pocket was nice as well, but the knowing that I no longer needed to think about that particular item was an astonishing rush.  I wish, just for a small moment, that everyone could experience something similar.  It took years and years to accumulate the things that disappeared in mere moments.  I must say the sale is also a kind warning against accumulating anything in the future.  Watching a necklace go for $5 when just three years before you paid over $100... well that is just sad.  
I did manage to also sell a big ticket item... my beloved orange VW beetle convertible.  A couple pulled in mere moments before we shut the whole thing down on the very last day.  They bought a few small items for their home.  A toy helicopter, a shovel, a hammer.  They talked us down from $2 to $1 on the hammer.  They then bought my car for exactly what I was asking.  It was surreal.
There are still things to shed ourselves of at the house - and of course, we have the house itself.  Progress however is being made.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What hair did.

Today was my last day at the salon.  It was an interesting feeling that swept over me as I packed up my tools and headed for the parking lot.  Hair is not and never was my passion but at times I have thought that it really saved my life and my sanity.  I was married and soon pregnant at 21.  I worked unhappily in a hospital laboratory until my second term with Marnie when out of the blue thee pregnant women (myself included) were let go.  I found myself unintentionally a stay-at-home-mother.  It had never occurred to me to stay at home with my baby as I didn’t dare to dream we could make it financially.  The way was made however since a heavily pregnant woman is not exactly a highly sought after commodity.  I slept, I ate, I cried.  I slept again.  Troy and I were in Pensacola, Florida at the time - a fact that I was extremely less than thrilled with.  A few weeks before becoming pregnant we had relocated to the southern location in order for Troy to attend a strict Christian college - he had a fleeting desire to become a pastor.  I never had desire to be a pastor’s wife and if you were to ever meet us you surely would not guess this year’s worth of time to be part of our history.  It came at a time where Troy was trying to tap back into his childhood faith and in his typical ‘go big or go home’ mentality, he chose to get as close to the big guy as possible and become one of his right hand men.  So we moved to Florida.  Unfortunately for us (and God) the college turned out to be much more similar to a cult than what Troy had been hoping for and soon he was regretting the move.  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that soon I was making him sorely regret moving me.  I was pregnant for the first time and a long way from home.  Troy’s family lived somewhat near by but I wanted to be in the North.  I wanted snow for Christmas, my mother at the birth of her granddaughter, and no Christian cults.  My firing at least benefited me in one way - Troy had to quit school.  We could no longer afford it.  So, being the great man he is, he sucked it up and found a job.  Then the hurricane hit and we moved back to Michigan.  Soon after,  baby number two came.  Troy began to train for management and it proved to be better for us financially if I stay home with the babies.  When Marnie was born, this job was a pleasure.  She was the easiest of babies and we could maintain the same schedule.  Eat when she eats, sleep when she sleeps.  It was a lovely time.  And then Ethan was born.  Let me start this by saying he was born on 6/6/06.  No lie.  I love that kid beyond words, but had he been my first, he would have been my last.  He was a different kind of baby from the moment he was born.  He was six weeks early and had to stay in the NICU.  He came home with colic and never slept.  He cried and cried and cried.   Colic is supposed to go away at some point, but his just never did.  He did not sleep through the night for over a year and a half.   We took him to doctors who would dismiss our pleas and send us on our way.  I struggled at home.  Marnie was two when Ethan was born, so she was well into toddlerhood during this strenuous time.  Thank the sweet Lord that she was and easy toddler or I do not think I would have made it.  I was slipping though.  I was losing all sense of happiness and my temper was quick.  We had been moved to Indiana by this time for Troy’s work and I was yet again away from family.  We had rented a home in the country and were far removed from interaction with actual people.  Troy worked so many hours and I was alone and very lonely.  He would come home at night and I would talk at great speed for hours due to the effects of only having babies as company.    I began to want something else.  I knew I could not leave the kids at this time for daycare was expensive.  I still do not understand how so many parents can manage that expense.  I decided to give at ‘at home’ jewelry business a try.  I did end up with some great stuff... but in the end was unsuccessful and still unfulfilled and sad.  I had no real skills, Marnie was starting preschool and there was still something wrong with Ethan.  At 18 months old, he still did not babble.  He did not say a word or seem to understand anything.  He cried constantly and nothing soothed him.  A crying baby is the most heartbreaking thing in the world.  A year and a half of a crying baby will make you lose your ever-loving mind.  Crazy eyed and panicked I demanded his doctor do something and run tests.  Finally they agreed.  Low and behold, my baby boy could not hear.  His eardrums were not vibrating and he was not having his needs met.  Surgery was scheduled the day after his results came in.  Although supposedly in pain, I will never be able to describe the glee on his face when he arrived home and heard music for the very first time.  His eyes were lit from within and his legs moved in rhythm.  I cried for three days straight.  The work was only beginning as he now had to catch up.  He began speech therapy twice a week and occupational therapy every Friday.  Progress was slow.  He had depended on his crying, frustration and anger to get me to do things for him and we now had to learn to communicate in a new way.  We learned to sign.  We worked at it.  Marnie had begun school at this time and I had to drive her an hour each way three times a week.  The school she attended was amazing and worth the commute but between it and all of Ethan’s appointments I began to forget who I was.  There was no time for friends - not that I had many anyhow - and Troy was working many hours in a neighboring town.  I began to gain weight and shy away from social events.  I withdrew from the life I once had and all I could manage was to make it to scheduled children’s events.  I was unhappier than I ever had been.  We managed to buy a house and continue on the path that was supposed to make us happy.  If the details were listed out on paper, it would have appeared that we were doing everything right.  Troy had a stable job, we had two beautiful and (now) healthy kids and they were cared for by their devoted full time mother.  It was all true but I was miserable.  I loved being with the kids but there was something missing.  I needed adult interaction and even more,  I craved using my mind.  Troy was a great companion but his job demanded so much of his time. I was literally losing it and worried for myself.  I sent myself to the doctor and went on antidepressants.  Things slowly began to improve.  My sanity returned, but my longing for something more grew in intensity.  I wanted to go back to work.  Troy was doing well enough that with a little planning, daycare was not so far fetched.  I did not want to go back to school.  I knew I needed a plan that would pay off a bit more quickly.  I wanted something creative and social.  I needed to be around people.  I had lived as a hermit for five years or so by this point and I could not handle it any longer.  I decided on beauty school.  Within a year and a half I was holding my license.  It was not without trials and I have many stories of crazy to be told at a later date.  There was a four month period in which I quit after my father was killed and I became a non-human.  Again, that is a story for a later date.  I did go back and I did get that piece of paper.  I had started something and I finished it.  I had a valid reason to leave my house.  I was happy to return at night to be with my babies.  Soon we were to return to Traverse and in no time at all I was hired in at the salon that until this very day I have worked happily at.  My entire life turned around because of this profession.  I had a natural talent and was able to build a great client base.  I was able to interact with unique people and be creative.  My boss is an amazing woman and compassionate beyond words.  Epiphany turned me into a different person.  Doing hair gave me back a life and personality.  I do not think this story or any words I can muster even begins to show how it saved me.  I am so thankful that I believed in myself even slightly in those dark, dark days.  I am grateful that my boss allowed me the opportunity to grow in her establishment.  And today I had to say good-bye.  I am not sad to not being doing hair anymore.  I am not sad period actually.  It is time to close this chapter and I know it with my entire being.  It is just an odd place to be as I now know I no longer need it.  I have been holding on and not wanting to let that part of myself go.  Partly because I found much joy in the career and that time in my life - partly for fear that I would revert back to that sad person I once was.  I know this is not true.  I am not that girl.  I have power now and much more than a little faith in myself.  I am ready for a new adventure and a new life without fear.  I am ready, but I do not forget where I came from - so once again, thank you.  Ready, set, here I go.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How about it?

Today Troy and I did an interview with the Northern Express - a cool weekly that is put out here for us Northern Michiganders to enjoy and keep up to date on the local happenings.  I am sure that many people who will be reading these words in the upcoming week or so are in fact being lead here from the discussion we had this very afternoon.  As interviews about our trip and perspective usually are, it was fun.  Erin, the reporter, had a lot of great questions and got us thinking.  The thing that I truly find enjoyable about reporters and interviews is that usually there is at least one great question that I either never had thought of before or that I hadn’t focused on long enough to come up with a definitive take on.  Erin was no exception.  She asked a lot of great things - all of which you can read when the article comes out, but the point of inspiration today actually came to me via Troy.  I do not recall what the exact topic was that we were discussing, but at some point Troy brought up this blog and that he found it interesting how people’s reactions to what I write about reflects what they themselves value.  This statement struck me as quite profound and I would like to expand it further.  
Since the moment we posted our intentions to sell off everything we own and hit the road for a different kind of existence to all of our family and friends on Facebook, we have gotten a lot of varied feedback.  The comments have ranged from the very discouraging and intolerant to outrageously positive.   We expected this.  Our trip is not everyone’s cup-o-tea and that is fine.  Comments of interest in our doings is what first inspired me to record my thoughts and our doings on this blog.  Our family, friends and a few others now check it out regularly.  Since it’s start, the way people see our trip has changed and what I did not anticipate is how almost everyone has a different view of what it is they believe we are trying to accomplish.  Everyone is reading the same words - and yet the perceived intentions can be entirely different.  A few times in our Meeting of the Minds we have discussed this happening.  Someone would approach Troy at the gas station and congratulate him on putting his kids first in life.  Another couple mentioned how great it was that we were taking a stand against the system and choosing freedom over a 9 to 5.  We pondered over the difference in thought.  Eventually we rested at the notion that what people took from our story is in fact what they value in their own lives.  If they envision our trip being a bold move to spend unlimited time with our children, perhaps they too would love to shift their busy lives around to include more time with their children or loved ones.  Those who came forward with stern warning and harsh words of discouragement - I can assume come from a place of great fear.  Those types of comments, while unfortunate, always roll off and out of our thoughts.  We have no time for fear or ill thoughts.  This time is short and it is intended for happiness and acts of living.  With the exception of the negative Nancy’s out there - all of the other commenters have been right.  And wrong.  All of the aspects that have had light shined on them do in fact hold some truth as to why we are making this trip.  We do have the desire to spend as much time with the kids as possible.  I do not like them or my husband being away from me for so many hours each week.  We do believe in homeschooling so that we may tailor each child’s education to their particular interests and passions.  We do not believe that material possessions hold any true value. We do not want to wait for retirement to enjoy traveling.  We do in fact believe that owning a home gives you a false sense of security and that if you truly wish to feel safe you instead need to look inward and acknowledge your own value and power.  These and many other points are true statements and are all great reasons to make this move forward.  Not any one in particular however is the sole purpose of this trip or the way we choose to live our lives.  If you were to ask Troy and I separately why we are mixing everything up, I am sure we would have entirely different reasons.  Certain aspects of the trip hold unequal amounts of value to each of us.  In fact, I would even extend that statement to be that on different days, the value of any reason can go up or down.  It all depends on the moment we are asked. It is incredibly interesting to me how this is so.  And we are adding new reasons all of the time.  Even more interesting however is that the opposite is not true.  There has not been anything that has come along to make us seriously reconsider our trip.  It is as if it has already been added to our lifetime timeline.  There are still many notches to go until we reach that point where we fill up the gas tank and take off, but we are definitely on our way.  Each day in the meantime is incredibly fun and surprising.
I completely understand that our dream is not for everyone.  I would never want to push my desire onto another person.  As my sister-in-law told me, she loves hearing about our crazy doings but to actually do it herself makes her want to puke.  I get that.  I am wondering however what exactly, if given the opportunity to do so, would people choose to do with their lives.  If every obstacle was removed from your path and there were absolutely no repercussions to be had, what would you chose to do with your forever?