Discovering Friends Amongst Strangers

All it takes is a genuine smile and a glass of wine over a fire to find friends anywhere.

For every mile you go forward, your past drifts another mile away. It is the down fall of traveling I have found. I love new adventures and seeing things that I have always dreamt about, but the lifestyle also means that am isolating myself from my family, friends and familiar acquaintances. It means there are fewer and fewer people that know and understand my inside jokes. There are no longer “girls night out” while my husband stays home with the kids. It can be lonely. You miss the feel of good friends chatting into the depths of the night.

It makes it even worse for me. I do not make friends easily. I am anxious about new people and I feel awkward engaging in conversation or even approaching someone new. Not the best combination for a girl on the road. At times I wish I was instantly comfortable walking up to a new group of people and bonding. At other times, I enjoy the excuse of being awkward so I don’t have to even try. However, every so often, it feels natural. I just hoped that this would occur more with our new lifestyle.

Truth is: not very many full-time RV’rs or campers are all that comfortable with strangers either. We spent 3 weeks in Barstow and talked to a total of four different individuals LIVING at the RV park; each only once. I figured that in the RV community or even camping community, the physical boundaries that are reduced will increase the amount of socialization. Turns out, it is generally only with the people they already know. Strangers are still strangers, no matter where you are.

Yesterday, we traveled on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We had booked a KOA (Kampgrounds of America) for the next four nights in Coleville, California. The town itself is a mere 550 people but had a genuine charm that made you want to buy a small farmhouse and enjoy a simpler, kinder life. The KOA didn’t look like the standard ones you see on the website. It had charm and was smaller but with a unique individualization that was different from the cookie cutter KOAs we have stayed in recently.

When we got to our RV space, we quickly realized that our huge 43’ Fifth Wheel was going to have a almost impossible time making a tight turn into the spot. It was the making for a terrible ordeal. The site was on a slope and with a 90 degree turn to get in, we feared the worst. We also found that our huge RV was drawing attention from other campers and I am sure there were quite a few bets going on whether or not we would succeed. I decided to stay out of the truck why Dan figured out what to do because I have learned in the last couple months that the best thing I can do is to let him handle anything RV wise… especially driving it.

As I stood outside the RV on the road trying to look like I was devising some master parking plan, something crazy happened. People came up and talked to me. Yes, strangers decided to talk to me. This is one of the first times this has happened since we started off on our trip. In fact, most of the people we have communicated with is because we have initiated the conversation. However, this time the tables were turned and before you know it, I had found two guys that helped Dan (a thousand times more that I ever do) park the beast and we had a few invites to go over to their area for wine.

Such a simple invitation was such a refreshing feeling. In fact, over dinner we talked about our previous stays and how this was what we thought would happen everywhere we went; people wanting to meet and engage with strangers. Fellow travelers wanting to enjoy other’s company and swap stories over the campfire. But that never happened. Yesterday though, made the wait worth it.

After dinner, we headed over to the fire of our new aquaintances. As we came up, we were welcomed as if we had been friends for years. Talk was easy and the stories, ideas, and laughs flowed freely. The people were real. Humble. Kind. But most important: welcoming. It may be the best evening we have had at a campground so far.

Last night made me think a little differently about things. While I am generally very polite and nice, I may not be as welcoming as I can be. I always say hi but rarely do I put myself out there for conversations or friendships. It makes me wonder what responses I can get if I am the one who initiates real conversations instead of just pleasantries. There are so many potential friends hidden amongst the strangers in our lives. Maybe if we were just willing to tell them to come over for some wine, the world would be a different place.

On a side note: if you ever find yourself in Eastern California, check out the Meadowcliff Campground: Coleville/Walker KOA. The place is amazing in every way from the friendly owners to the gorgeous campground. It is by far my favorite KOA I have seen and will certainly be a future destination for our family.

All Dogs Need a Heaven

The beach should not just be reserved for people. Dogs need some sand, sun and freedom too!

This morning, I awoke to an amazing life. We are currently in San Diego for a long weekend and have been able to visit great friends, eat delicious food, play on the beach and enjoy life. Today was my day. My kids handed me flowers, my husband handed me a card with a homemade mimosa and my puppy snuggled up next to me. It feels good being a mom.

Since it was my day, I got to choose what to do. I had never been to the Pacific Ocean before, so that was the first thing on my list. We drove through the psychotic traffic of San Diego and found our way first to a pleasant park called Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. There wasn’t much for the kids there other than the grand views, some trails and the water, so we decided to go out to Ocean Beach.

Ocean Beach is the big deal in San Diego. It is where you can sit and watch surfers, play in the sand, get into a volleyball game and truly experience the San Diego laid back way of life. Your stresses disappear as quickly as the sand falls between your toes. It is a slice of heaven.

Now, we are not newbies when it comes to the beach. We spent five years living in the Panhandle of Florida where the turquoise waters of the Emerald Coast illuminate the sparkling white sand of beaches that are found almost nowhere else in the world. We love the beach, but today I saw what we were missing in Florida: a dog beach.

Maggie is a yapper dog. She is a whopping 9lbs of energy and excitement so when we take her out, she is bursting at the seams. So she will bark at every dog. Jump up and then sometimes growl when she isn’t allowed to play or sniff whatever she wants. She has never had an issue with another dog, but what kills me is that 20 seconds when she first meets another one or her continuous yapping when she sees another canine roaming the streets.

This made me quite hesitate at first. My excited yapper dog surrounded by dog’s whose right paw weighs more than her. However, I took a deep breath, unhooked her leash and watched her beeline for the first animal in view.

Without the leash, there was nothing I could do, but an amazing thing happened. There was no barking. No growling. No yapping. Just a quick sniff and few playful chases and she was back at our side. In fact, that is how every encounter with ever dog turned out. I saw no out of control animals. No growling. Honestly, I see more aggressiveness on the children’s playground everyday.

We spent the next hour or two sitting at the beach. Our kids played in the sand and laughed as the dogs ran over the sand castles. Maggie spent her time dashing into the water, chasing (other dogs’) balls, and running wild and free. All without any yelping, barking, or issues of any kind. When she needed a break and some salt-free water, she came over, dried off in Daniel’s towel (not by Daniel’s choice), got her water and went back out. She hung out with us, the kids and greeted the other dogs and people that wandered by. It was most likely the best day of her life.

Sitting there in the sand, watching the dogs run freely may have been the best part of my day today. It was a moment when one of my amazing children was able to be free and happy and live to the fullest. I am so blessed to be able to watch my beautiful human babies do this on a daily basis, but today it was my dog’s turn. Seeing all the dogs on their own playground, their own beach, their own slice of heaven; that warmed my heart.

It is a shame that there are not more dog beaches and parks in our society. Every person on the beach today picked up any waste, to include litter that had blown in with the wind. The dog parks and dog beaches seem to be the cleaner than the dog-banned ones. Places like these give dog owner the ability to reward their children. It gives them  place to go to help their animal and people to talk to that have common interests. Finally, it makes the dog a better dog.

When we finally left the beach, Maggie was a different dog. She didn’t take off running towards a new dog that was on its’ way to doggie heaven. She didn’t bark or yelp or even jump on any dog on the walk back. She didn’t even freak out at the squirrel antagonizing her on our walk. She was satisfied and I think she is beginning to understand that she gets a whole lot more positive interactions when she stops being a yapper.

I think it is the time to push for more dog-friendly places in this country. Parks where the dogs can play, roam and be dogs. Not tiny fenced in areas that feel more like a kennel than a park. We need places where the focus is making life a little better for them. A place where they know what Heaven on Earth actually feels like.