Idaho: Coming Back to My Reality For Two Weeks

After two months of travel and adventure in Western USA, coming back home (for two weeks) was more than I expected. d

We are back in Idaho. Home sweet home. However, Idaho brings about a whole new set of emotions with it. A little less than two months ago, we set out on our first adventure. There was so much to see and so much that we didn’t even have time to see. We added trips to Utah with Zion, Bryce and Cedar Breaks and Arizona with Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. These were not on the initial itinerary but were phenomenal additions that helped me cross off some bucket list items. The entire trip was breath taking with a lot of great pictures, memories and feelings along with it.

Coming back to Idaho was a wakeup to reality though in a way. The day after getting back into town, I had a couple doctor’s appointments and today rounded it off with another optical appointment. Each brought back the harsh reality that I am not the same girl I was a year ago and there is a big possibility that I will not be the same girl a year from now. It is a hard pill to swallow.

Going on the first trip was almost an escape from reality. There were issues that we had to overcome. Days like Bryce Canyon where I can barely remember the day because the pain in my eyes was so bad that I laid in the front seat on our way there trying not to throw up. However, the storm settled and I pulled it together to go on a bike ride with the kids, soaking in their smiles and the beautiful landscape that unfolded before my eyes. The reality of how life has changed in the last eight months was always present, but less to deal with since in a way I was trying to run away from the reality of it. I suppose it was bound to catch up with me.

Oh! But I have missed Idaho. I miss the “suspiciously nice” people that live here. I miss the scenery. Good friends and a familiarity that I hadn’t had in nearly two months.

The thing that got me was the doctor appointments. It wasn’t bad enough that there were still no answers or solutions to the puzzling health issue. It was the fact that I was returning to my former place of employment. The place I had to quit because I was no longer physically able to work. My old life. It hurt more than I was prepared for. It hurt bad enough that my doctor had tears roll down her cheek as she gave me a hug and told me WE would get through this. Being there reminded me that my life has taken a huge 180 and brought me from a professionally motivated go-getter to someone who can’t read for more than 5 minutes without pain and can not work because she got death the wrong cards. It was not the place I was ready to be at.

The first couple of days in Idaho also made us think a lot about where we want  to be. Do we stay in Idaho where the mountain streams beckon to our wild west side? Or do we leave the West and move closer to family, who will not only provide the support and history but also allow for our kids to grow up while getting into mischief with their cousins? How long will we travel full-time? We are currently doing two weeks in Boise followed by two weeks on the road. What is our end game? There are so many things on the table that make things hard to figure out. What we do know is that we are happier having a simpler life. We are in a house that is about 400 square feet but are more relaxes than when we lived in something five times the size. It brings with it an easy fresh start, new adventure, or good memory. Life is better when it is less complicated. Less stuff. I focus more on the stuff that matters instead of the stuff that I once collected to impress those around me.

Coming back to Idaho has really shown me that while you can’t hide from your life, you certainly can embrace the new normal and make the most of it. It has made me appreciate the relationships I have with my friends, family and those I meet along the way. It makes me realize that we need to have an end plan. Maybe even a place to settle down and make my own. It had me torn about where I should be. For just the beginning of the Grayt Adventure, it sure seems to pack a lot of emotions with it. Good thing, we leave for the next chapter in less than two weeks. Maybe it will bring yet another perspective of the future. Only time will tell.

Hiking with Children

While the trail is not tranquil when kids are involved, it can still be magical.

Traveling across the country has been quite an adventure. It is filled with exploration, discovery and adventure. Hiking with our children is an adventure of it’s own. It is a different experience than you would have without children; a different perspective.

When hiking solo or with other adults, the conversation is generally limited. There is a peaceful connection to your surroundings. You become part of the landscape. You go at your own pace, tackle your own obstacles and find a deep inner peace within yourself.

This is not the case when you have children, at least young children. Evelyn is four and Alexander is seven. Alexander is old enough to keep up and be adventurous, but hasn’t quite hit that age where he absorbs the quiet energy of the trail. Instead, he is powered by the excitement of the adventure and the challenge of jumping off big rocks, climbing hills and jumping in every stream or puddle along the way. Evelyn goes at her own pace. Sometimes she runs along enthusiastic bout being a trail leader. Other times, she barely moves at a snail’s pace, secretly hoping we will offer a piggy back ride. Generally, her hand is intertwined with mine as she floats along the trail giddily telling me everything that comes to mind. She talks about the butterflies, fairies, rocks, flowers and just about anything that she sees, touches, hears or feels. Those are the moments that I hold onto as much as possible.

I have also discovered that children think about food more than I ever imagined was possible. We could be at a beautiful waterfall, and Evelyn will turn around and say, “This is a great place for a snack Mom!” It’s incredible how much the topic of food is on their brain. They do expend an inordinate amount of energy trekking through the forest, so we do make sure to bring lots of snacks that are both nutritious and delicious. IMG_1181

Hiking with kids is also interesting in the fact that you have to go at their pace and their level. Sometimes, this means taking an extra five minutes to get past an obstacle. Sometimes, it means going a different way because there is a really cool rock that they just have to climb on. You have to be alerted to everything and point out hazards in order to avoid more cuts and scrapes. In fact, you wind up with more scrapes trying to minimize the dangers of thorns, rocks, and branches as your body seems to be the perfect barrier between them and the danger. You also ration your water differently than you would if you were solo. You know how much your kids will guzzle down or spill or use to wash off a rock so you not only hide an extra bottle, but you enforce a hydrate but don’t gulp rule. It rarely works. IMG_1219

The biggest thing about hiking with kids is seeing the small stuff. The forest is a huge place that makes the biggest adult feel small. For a child, the forest becomes a magical, enchanted land. The trees are teaming with life. My kids watch the beetles that are hauling their food across the pine needle carpet. We stop at ant hills to observe their behavior and make hypotheses about what each of their roles are. We notice the different animal droppings along the way. We take a break to compare the tracks in the mud that we see. Nothing is done with efficiency or speed, but when it comes to raising children, those are not terms often used anyway.

While hiking with children is not the serene, healing experience that it can be when alone, it is worth every moment. Conquering a trail give the kids more confidence. It gives them a sense of accomplishment. It brings them back to nature and offers countless learning opportunities. Their senses are awakened as they get lost in the trees and their imagination is sparked. There are no computers. No iPads. No video games. Just Mother Nature and two children soaking in every moment. As a parent, this is the best thing you can offer: a place to thrive and become independent. It is worth every mile.IMG_1123

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.

How to be a “Leaf in the Wind”

The lessons I am learning as I work at letting go the idea of normal.

I had a conversation with my mother yesterday. Being Mother’s Day and all, I tried my very hardest not to engage in any kind of argument, however, being she is my mother and I her daughter, that can be quite difficult. It also didn’t help that I called at a time when I was not feeling the best. I was on edge and didn’t have much patience for some reason. I would love to blame it on the medications I am on to help save my sight and even though being grumpy is a common side effect, I am bound and determined to be in control of my emotions. This means I was just not in the mood.

Before I begin this story, I suppose I should also tell you that my mother does not know of my medical issues, therefore she really doesn’t understand the basis for us renting out our house, buying an RV and traveling. She does not know that I have lost vision in one eye and that I had to quit my job due to the illness, not because I wanted to explore the country, homeschool my kids, and start a blog. She believes that I chose to do this because I am a “leaf in the wind” of sorts; not wanting to settle down and establish roots. I’m still waiting for the right time to tell her, but telling her over the phone is not the place and considering I haven’t seen my mother in over ten years, I am not sure when this conversation will take place.

The conversation started with the traditional “Happy Mother’s Day” stuff followed by me letting her know I was currently in San Diego. We talked about the kiddos a bit and how nice the shower pressure was in the hotel compared to the RV. (Surprisingly, I was not as thrilled with staying at a hotel as I thought I would be after living in an RV). She then asked me the loaded question: “So how does it feel to just not to work and travel all the time?”

“Deep breath. Know your audience. Count to ten. Close your eyes. Another deep breath. Remember…. It is Mother’s Day.” My mental list for relaxing was not quite working. Yes. She is right. I did quite my job and yes, I am traveling. But I had to quit my job. I am losing my vision. I can not stare at a computer all day. Even as I write this post, my eyes are closed due to the immense pressure and pain caused by straining or even trying to move my eyes. We are traveling because I want to see this country while I still can. We are not on a vacation. We are living the RV full-time lifestyle. I am homeschooling two kids. That is more work than ANY job I have ever had. In fact, I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss having a “real” job that earned money and allowed me to run away to a corporate environment while my kids drove their other teachers to drink. We are not bringing in the same money we used to. It is not all fun and games all the time.

I love traveling around the country. It is beautiful. The people are unique and diverse. There is so much to learn, see, visit and experience. However, it isn’t always that spectacular. It is a lot of work trying to figure out campsites, places to visit, YOUR BUDGET. It is exhausting when you realize that on top of seeing the beauty of the country, your first priority is to teach Math, Grammar, Spelling, Reading to the little people living with you and now provide all three meals of the day.

Being a “leaf in the wind” requires a whole new perspective. One that allows you to accept any change and to roll with it, whether it is good or bad. It means that some days, even though life may be shitty, you figure out how to let it turn to gold. I’m not quite at that point. I am more like a kite. I have let myself fly in the wind and am getting used to the breeze. I am learning how to soar and I pray that when I land in the branches, it is only temporary.

I wish I could tell you how to be a leaf in the wind. How to accept and embrace all the changes. Hopefully one day, I will be able to write a post about that. Until then, I have learned a few things I can share:

First: There is no such thing as normal. We are all mutations of sorts. All abnormalities trying to get along and survive in this crazy world. I don’t want to be normal. I want to learn how to embrace my new normal. Whether it is a good day or a bad day, it is MY day.

Second: Stress comes in more forms than one can imagine. Whether it is working, planning a trip, homeschooling kids, getting dinner ready or even going for a walk; there is some sort of stress that is wrecking havoc in your body or head. Having an autoimmune condition is slowly teaching me that I need to embrace the stress instead of fight it. If something is too much, I need to stop the battle. If not, I only fuel the stress.

Third: You BECOME the people you surround yourself with. Negative people only come branches keeping you from flying in the wind. I was able to see some great friends this weekend that reminded me of all the good energy that I need in my life. I am also so blessed to have a husband that is willing to sacrifice so much and be so supportive of me in this crazy time. If I gave into the fake people, the negative people and the people who thrive on insecurities, I would only suffer more. Instead of letting the negative people control me, I let them go and do not waste my time trying to make them happy. It is better this way, even if it is hard at first.

Finally: Breath, laugh, reflect, relax and enjoy the ride. You may not be thrilled at the ride you are on or satisfied where it has led you, but it is YOUR ride. Make the most of it. I don’t have the best relationship with my mother, but I am bound and determined that that aspect of my life isn’t going to hold me back. My body is fighting itself, but it isn’t going to keep me down. Gas prices are through the roof in California, but that doesn’t stop me from taking a walk on the beach. YOU are the only one who can make your day be good or bad. It is alway YOUR choice on what you FEEL.

So going back to my phone conversation. It was Mother’s Day. I didn’t lie to make her feel better but I did tell her (for the 50th time) that this wasn’t a vacation. I love homeschooling the kids. I miss working in so many ways. However, I was okay. I was making the most of every day. I was exploring and I finally was able to SEE the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life. Maybe this summer when I am finally able to visit her and introduce her to the man I have been married to for eight years and her two grandchildren, I will tell her more about the life I have been living. But until then, I am doing my best. I may not be a leaf in the wind just yet, but I am doing alright being a kite in a field.

Honey, you shrunk my kitchen!

The kitchen doesn’t have to be large in order to still work efficiently and create lasting memories for your family.

The kitchen has always been my favorite room in the house. It isn’t just the place where food is stored, it is a place of memories. A place where lessons are learned, magic is created, and imagination comes to life. I have been cooking for as long as I could remember. I have never been the best when it comes to baking pies and breads; maybe that is why my waistline still likes me. However, when it comes to the savory dishes, the eclectic salads, the tantalizing side dishes… well those I am pretty good at. I love making food memories. I love the process and the delight when a creation takes place. The reward of hard work. That is why the scariest part of moving into an RV was the size of my kitchen.

In order to come to terms with the shrunken version of my favorite room, I moved in phases. The first phase was getting rid of all the nice things that have limited function, but can be replaced. Basically, anything made by Pampered Chef. I love Pampered Chef and still have a couple things, but I know how to use knives with great efficiency and I have found that over the years, it is easier to grab a knife to dice up vegetables, rather than finding that one tool specifically made for that one specific vegetable, putting it together, using it for 5 minutes and then having to disassemble it and clean it. Second phase was knowing what I needed as far as pots and pans. Having a good pan is more value than having ten. I reduced my pots and pans to six total. (You don’t want to know what I did have). I also grabbed my Ninja, my crockpot, and my electric skillet just in case I needed extra help. Finally, I had to limit the amount of mixing bowls, as well as serving dishes, tableware, wine glasses (glass breaks on the road. I now have beautiful stainless steel ones!), and anything that was “excess”.

Little did I know that was the easy part. Imagine if you will, having two children (age 4 and 7) who LOVE to help you in the kitchen. Reduce the space to a small countertop, six square feet of walking space and having everything to include the stove, oven, sink, and fridge in that same area. It gets a bit tight. You have to get a little bit creative; use other tables in the RV. You learn that since you have to do dishes by hand, one of the sink’s sections is for clean dishes and one for dirty ones. You learn to prep even hours before you are going to start cooking. Prepping is what saves your sanity.

Then there is the food. In a “normal” home, you have a huge fridge. You have a huge pantry. you have the ability to house anything and everything your heart desires. You don’t have to worry about what you put in your grocery cart as you wander the vast aisles of Whole Foods. You have the room. Now…. in an RV. Things are different. But it isn’t bad like you may think. The fridge I have is SMALL. I think it my fridge may actually be envious of college dorm refrigerators sometimes. Cupboard space is limited. We have no room for junk food. We have no room for things we don’t need. We don’t have room to waste.

The average family in America wastes over 25 pounds of food a month. We don’t have the luxury to have that food just sitting in our fridge, growing new colonies of mold. We see everything in our fridge and it all gets used. Our fridge looks like the picture perfect image of the Ketogenic Diet. It is simple, yet elegant. Meat. Cheese. Milk, Veggies. Fruits. The masterpieces you can make when you have clean, fresh food. I am still able to make those inspiring dishes. In fact, I am actually forced to make them, because now, I don’t have the room for any frozen dinners, pre-packaged food, preservatives or fillers. Just real food. I also have to be creative while doing it. No more spreading out over an entire room, using 20 dishes to create one meal. I have become more intimate with my cooking; and I love it! I also love the amount of money I save as a result! We now spend about $100 a week on food for our family of four!

The best part: my children love it too. They still get to help. They will help me prep and they are more aware of what we get when we are grocery shopping. We don’t do snack foods. I don’t go and buy the 5lb container of fish crackers anymore for snacks. Instead, they ask me if they can have a cucumber with lemon squeezed on it. They know there aren’t any gummy snacks in the cupboards so they don’t ask. Instead, they ask for grapes. It makes me realize that even though my kitchen shrunk, the memories made in the kitchen didn’t. Now, I am giving my children the knowledge, the skills, and the nutrition to set them up for success later in life so one day, they can create their own food memories.

The First Week

I have always been a very passionate and ambitious person. I set my goals high and want only the best. However, what is the actual definition of “the best”? Is it is the biggest house, fastest car, nicest watch? It is an office with a view or your name on the building? To be honest, no matter how much money I had, I never felt any better than how I felt when I was struggling to pay the rent as a teenager living on my own. I have had many great jobs. I have served my country in more than a few ways and I love the mission associated in making this world a better place. But no matter what money I have made or what job title I have held, I still have not felt as though I was living the BEST life. My husband and kids are great but I am nowhere near the best wife or mother. I have always excelled in things, but never found that true passion.

What I have found is that the more and more stuff that I bought, the more stressed out I became. The more shoes and clothes I have to choose from, the harder it was for me to decide what to wear to work. When you accumulate so many things, they begin to own you instead. You work hard to enjoy your time off, but end up spending all your time off maintaining the things that you have.

SO WHY NOT JUST LET IT ALL GO?

That’s what we did. We sold or gave away pretty much everything. It was overwhelming at times. It hurt at first, but then I felt relieved not to have all of that extra stuff burdening me. The same stuff that I thought I had to have in order to live the best life. In less than two months, we moved from a 3 bedroom house with a  3 car garage (that we didn’t even park in due to too much stuff) to an RV. Two adults. Two kids. One dog. Just an RV.

It’s been one week. How does it feel? Honestly: amazing. Life is simple. It is easy. The kids go outside more because there is not enough room for them to spread out. We don’t buy as much food because our fridge is smaller. We don’t waste any food because I don’t think we can if we tried. We are closer as a family. The kids even put their shoes away! I guess when you don’t have much room for things, you can’t really make a mess.

Do I miss my stuff: no. I really don’t. I am learning that the best life isn’t one filled with things. It is filled with memories. With adventures. With moments that mean something. I don’t need to go to the store to buy everything I need. I already have it right here with me. So far, week one is a complete success. I know in the next month, I will be making a list of the things that you need to prepare for when downsizing to this extreme. Right now I think the biggest adjustment is just learning how to relax a little bit more. Maybe being ambitious isn’t the greatest thing in life. Maybe life is.