Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Making our way South and other challenges

If you're a morning person, you can probably skip some of this. You won't understand. If, however, you're like myself, it takes you a little while to feel functional after a good night's sleep. Personally, I require coffee and at least 15 or 20 minutes of solitude before I'm fit for human conversation. 

My child, however, wakes up WIDE AWAKE and in full color. The morning "conversation" goes something like this:

Ethan: Erin! Erin! Erin! Come play with me. Erin! Wanna play on the Wii?  Erin!
Mom, did you sleep well?  Dad, did you sleep well?  Erin, how did you sleep?  Did you sleep well?  I slept okay.  Mom! How much longer until we go on the plane?  (in November) How many weeks is that? Will we see Reese?  Who else will we see?  Are we going to dress fancy to go to Murray's?  What time do we have to get up? 3? 3 in the morning?  I'm so excited!
Mom! What's for supper tonight?  You're going to see your friends?  What are daddy and Erin and me going to have for supper?  Dad! Dad! What are we having for supper?  Should we go to Burger King?  Do you love Burger King, dad? 
What do you think Reese is doing today?  He has school, right?  What are we doing today?  I want to stay here.  We did something yesterday.  Are you guys going for a walk?  Can Erin and I play together?  Mom! Make Erin play with me. Erin! Erin! Erin! Play with me. Erin!

Whew, right?  Yeah, this is all within the first 5-10 minutes of him being awake. This was a bit different in our "before RV" life.  I was a floor removed from the kids.  But beyond that, we got up at 6am.  I set an alarm and was up before they were.  I had those moments to myself, as tired as I was.  Now, Ethan is always the first one up and the stream of consciousness verbal tirade begins.  We can all hear it.  Heck, so can our neighbors, I'm sure. 

There are a number of things that have changed for us since we downsized. But mornings and bedtimes are among the most challenging.  Cooking in a tiny kitchen was an adjustment, but I have managed it.  Making the beds in an RV is an exercise in futility. It's only surprising when I don't pull a muscle. And subjecting your home to the equivalent of an earthquake every time you move to a new campground means not trusting any unopened cabinets once you've arrived.  But these obstacles have easily been overcome. 

Mornings and bedtimes, though, still try my patience and fortitude.  I'm so glad we've done this for our kids. I'm reasonably sure they will look back on this time in our lives fondly.  But I'm not too proud to admit that there will be things I won't miss as they get older.  Certainly, I don't miss diapers and the screaming of toddlers.  I won't miss mornings in the RV either. 

In the realm of other challenges, we've now had only our 2nd official breakdown! We pulled up into a gas station in Texarkana and didn't get out.  The truck refused to start.  It actually does this a lot, something to do with it being a diesel engine.  Nothing wrong with it. It just needs to cool down for awhile after working hard.   This time, it just wouldn't cool down. So it got a ride on the back of a tow truck while its family and its RV got a ride to the local KoA.  A few hours later, the Ford dealer called to say that the truck is now rested and happy to start up!  GAH! So, yeah, basically, $360 to cool down our truck for a couple of hours.  Meanwhile, though, the ants found us and invaded.  Apparently, there are quite a lot of them on the Arkansas/Texas border.  We've never had a bug infestation like it in the RV, though I certainly remember how many there were on the 10 acres in Shakopee, MN.  I'll admit that in a tighter space, it seems like a LOT more of them.  We are poisoning them as I type this.  I don't even feel slightly guilty. 

We'll be in Dallas for another week and then it's on to Houston and Corpus Christi.  We will stop there for a month, which I suspect is going to feel like a big, fat vacation.  I'm so tired of the driving part. I hated it before we started this adventure and, a year and a half in, that hasn't changed.  This challenge is at least as great as mornings with Ethan. 

Overall, we're still enjoying ourselves.  We are seeing museums and attractions that we never would have seen if not for this craziness. Arkansas was a revelation. We spent a beautiful afternoon at the Garvan Woodland Gardens.  Their chapel is one of the loveliest buildings we've seen anywhere. So far, the benefits still outweigh the challenges.  Onward, ho!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Cowardice and Social Anxiety

I may be a coward.  You can decide.  I've been writing this blog in my head for a few weeks now.  I'm hoping to strike the right balance between gratitude and brutal honesty.  My goal is to hurt no one's feelings.  I may not succeed.

The last few months have been a lot of fun for us. We've gotten to see so many friends and most of our family members.  We tried to cram a year's worth of socializing into 12 weeks.  Is it possible to have a socializing hangover?  If so,  I have one.

Here's the truth. I'm an introvert and suffer (sometimes greatly) from crippling social anxiety.  But Christi, you might say, weren't you on the radio? Yes! But, you see, I had a character to play. It was an exaggerated version of myself.  But Christi, you might protest, weren't you a theater major in college?  Why, yes! Again, I always had a role to play. That was not precisely me on the stage. Rather, it's a fairly clever way of hiding.  But Christi, you might scold, didn't you host parties at your house whenever you could and teach dog training classes to groups of people on a daily basis?  Yep, and I'm pretty sure "teacher" and "hostess" are roles with well-defined parameters.

The culmination of a very full social calendar in the Twin Cities was a surprise 50th birthday party for me at a friend's home.  If you are introverted, you might understand the horror of being the center of attention without clearly defined boundaries for an indeterminate amount of time.  Luckily, I was able to refrain from hiding in the bathroom for the entire party.

As I started to question why such a thing would happen to me, I realized that it is completely my responsibility.  I am far, far too good at masking my social anxiety.  Many of my closest friends admitted that they'd had no idea that such a thing would make me nervous.  That's on me. And that's why I might be a coward. Why mask at all?  Why not just come out and admit that parties take a toll. My husband, of course, knows this. He's seen me completely shut down after a party.  Entire rides home pass in total silence, recuperating.  And there are a few other people who know about my sensitivity only because we've directly discussed it (not because they see me freaking out at a party).

One could argue that it's not necessary to show off one's weaknesses all the time to everyone.  However, I feel that I need to come clean about this one, if only to make sure that I'm never the target of such a well-meaning, thoughtful and lovely gesture ever again!  I'm an Introvert. And I suffer from social anxiety.  If pushed too far, I will self medicate with cocktails.  And I will pay for the effort of seeming upbeat and cheerful later.  I will require lots and lots of quiet, sometimes for days.  The last few months of socializing have left me feeling the distinct lack of silence.  When we move on from Chicago, our last social stop for awhile, I suspect I'll soak in the silence like a hot bath for weeks before needing so much as a phone call.

So, cowardice?  Self-preservation?  Maybe it's a bit of both.  Either way, I'm done hiding it.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Kindness of Strangers. Yes, Period.

There could have been several titles for this post.  Among the front runners were: I Love My Husband, Side Trips are Stupid and I Hate the Internet.  But ultimately, given the recent events in Virginia, kindness won out (as it always should).

I rarely have so much to say.  My entries generally, I think, scream "Brevity!"  But today, I find myself brimming with words.

We had one of our very worst days on the road today. Before I go any further, let me assure you that by "worst day", I mean a pretty excellent day by the standards of most people.  I mean, let's not forget that we are retired.  We were not in a hurry.  We didn't need an expensive repair on our rig or truck.  And we didn't have to be to work the next day.  I really do understand how lucky we are, and I am grateful that our bad days are on a small scale now.  Anyway, this particular day was completely unnecessary.  It is a side trip to see the solar eclipse, an event that I am assured will be well worth our struggles.  But to my mind, the teeth-rattling, bone-jarring, head-shaking roads that make up Minnesota and Iowa are among the worst we've experienced thus far, and no amount of moon-blacking-out-the-sun greatness can overcome that headache. I truly can not do this sensation justice in this post.  It was as I imagine a shaken toddler must feel when its parents are overcome in a fit of fear and anger right after it has run directly into traffic in the Target parking lot...except for 6 hours straight. At least the toddler gets a secure, bolstering hug to stabilize it after the nerve-wracking strain.

Besides the incredible discomfort, the bike that we had stashed on the back of the RV came loose. It did a fair amount of scratching and flailing around back there before we lashed it back on its moorings.  I can't yet assess my husband's frame of mind on that score, because there are bigger fish to fry.  When we arrived at our destination, I experienced a bit of Deliverance. Our host for the week struggled with the basic facts of where we should put our rig and how we should hook it up.  It was a 7 hour day, so my patience with Billy (oh yes, that is his real name) can only be described as heroic. I even smiled at him encouragingly. Where the heck is my Oscar? When we finally backed into our spot, our leveling system was so thwarted by how steep the hill was that it bowed out of the negotiations completely. I think we're level now, several hours later, but only by the sheer force of my husband's will. Our RV had nothing to do with it.

As all of this was going on, recent events in Virginia permeated our air space.  I tend not to lash out at hate groups on social media, nor do I feel the need to cast blame on our President or my fellow citizens.  These pitiful little groups were here long before any one President took office.  And they, sadly, will be here long after I or any one President will.  I do not wish to make light of the events in Charlottesville. In fact, I won't comment on them at all here, because it's far too large a topic. What I will do, however, is take to task those who have scolded anyone who won't engage in the dialogue on social media.  I have been passively admonished this week for being quiet.  A few of my friends, and a few "news" outlets have suggested that Silence Implies Consent.  How I have gritted my teeth over this attack!  Silence does NOT imply consent, any more than it makes one complicit.  I don't throw my thoughts about a great variety of topics out on social media, but that doesn't mean I condone evil. The reason I, and I think many others, have refused to jump on the latest train of fear-mongering is that we see that it gains nothing.  Fueling the fire of division and hatred makes it stronger. The fights I choose are smaller, more personal. And dare I say it? They're more effective. If I can change one person's mind about their thought process, I win.

So why this title?  Why kindness?  Well.  Remember the bike making a break for freedom?  The reason we caught that at all was because of the generosity of a stranger in his truck, signaling for us to pull over.  Not only did he alert us to our bicycle's escape attempt, he actually got out of his own car, on a busy highway, to make sure that we were able to secure it.  Oh, and that leveling system?  Our next door neighbor in this park helped us to level our rig manually. What's in it for him? Not a darn thing, except perhaps the knowledge that he did what he could on one day.

We have been doing this, traveling across the United States, for well over a year now. And I can say without any doubt, because I have experienced it first hand, that more people are kind than are not.  People are, by and large, inherently good.  They don't need to be bullied or scolded to be so. They simply are. And today will be a better day.  

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The grey line between Vacation and Retirement

Early retirement is a bit confusing when you throw homeschool into the mix.  There are definite obligations that need to be met.  We do homework every morning from 9am until around noon.  The question of whether we are doing a good job at this remains to be answered.  I guess we will find out when the kids try to get into college.  There are assessments we are trying to use before then, but until they take the ACT, I don't think we'll have an accurate idea of where they fall in with their peers.

Besides homeschooling, though, retirement looks an awful lot like vacation, especially lately.  We've been fortunate to meet up with friends from Minnesota over this summer. We had playdates in Minneapolis, shared Yellowstone with my daughter's bestie and explored Banff and Glacier with people we've known for over 15 years. 

We went out to eat a lot more than we would if we were on our own, most likely. But other than that, sharing our friends' vacations looked an awful lot like our normal life as it is now.  I don't say that to glorify it or to brag. It's just the reality of our lives now.  It's pretty tough not to be grateful on a daily basis for the scenery we've been able to enjoy.  It was clear to us that when our friends left us, they were going back to their jobs.  We were going on to our next destination.  I was so relieved not to be returning to my job.  I remember taking vacations like this when we were working. And it was exhausting in its own way!  At the end, I often felt like I needed a vacation to recover from the vacation. 

If there's anything that truly separates this version of retirement from vacation, it's the amount of driving we have been doing. And on this matter, we're all in agreement.  It's way, way too much. All four of us are getting burned out by the road. We have been changing locations about every two to six days.  The routine of setting up and tearing down the trailer has become rote, and we can do the whole thing in about half an hour.  The trips themselves have fallen into a routine. We start with quiet acceptance but that's quickly followed by progressive crankiness, senseless bickering and finally sullen silence.  The discussions lately have centered around stopping, as in "Please when can we stop for a month or two?"  We talk about being burned out on being tourists.  With each new location, we start over, check in to the latest campground where we know no one and find our way to the nearest services.   The month we have scheduled in Corpus Christi, TX is looking like nirvana at this point.  The month that we were stationary in San Diego seems like a lifetime ago.  I can see why so many RVers choose two or maybe three favorite locations and simply wander between them.  We may get there, but it won't be any time soon. We have the next year planned out. After Texas, we'll be making our way up the East Coast in the Spring with the goal to see Nova Scotia by Summer.  I am praying that the roads get less bumpy as we travel East, but I am doubtful. 

People are always saying that it's the journey, not the destination. But I am starting to think that the destination is pretty darn nice. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Paring Down

When we sold our house and most of our possessions, I truly believed we had downsized.  We left  Minnesota with plenty of clothing, kitchen supplies and various games and activities.  It turns out we needed only a fraction of what we brought with us.  The paring down started right away when we quickly realized that we weren't going to need our lifejackets in the RV.  I'm not quite sure how they made the initial cut. We put them in a box and sent them to my mom for use at her lakeside home.   Then we realized that I have a mild spice addiction.  Okay, oksy, maybe it's more like a moderate to severe issue. I can not leave spice store empty-handed, and I have Penzey's on speed dial.  I started to throw away old bottles of thyme and sad-looking packets of fennel.  Also, why I had three full boxes of cocoa powder is beyond me. Out they went, but it still wasn't enough. 

So at the end of our first year of RVing, we did it again.  We got out boxes and filled them with things for Goodwill.  We discovered that we don't play board games very often. But when we do, we play the same two or three.  We found out that my childrens' addiction to stuffed animals makes my spice rack look like I have never set foot in a kitchen.  Bags and bags of toys went to Grandma's for "storage".  If a few of those toys find their way into new homes, well, my guess is that my kids won't miss them. My husband went through his ever-growing pile of t-shirts.  An aside: T-shirts have a strange way of multiplying.  I believe this warrants further study in the scientific community.  No matter how many he leaves behind, his stack of t-shirts grows. Many were just thrown out this time, but even more were sent to storage.

And you know what?  It's even better the second time around. Every time we get rid of the stuff, the clutter, in our lives, it frees up space in our heads for the really important things. 

We are probably still carrying more than we should. We are certainly carrying more than we need.  With each purge, I feel a little clearer and a lot cleaner.  I highly recommend it. 

I am also aware that someday, we will be done with the traveling and settle somewhere.  I have no idea where that will be, but my goal is to remember this feeling of freedom.  I hope never to fall into the trappings of stuff ever again.  For as surely as saffron is the spice of life, too much of any good thing becomes a prison.  I don't ever again want to be held hostage by our accumulations. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Can you go home again?

Yes, I do realize that it's been over a month since I blogged.  I was stalling.  I wanted to have the return to Wisconsin and Minnesota behind me before I tried to dissect this question.  The process of catching up with so many dear family members and friends has left us all feeling completely overwhelmed.  I have lost track of all of the conversations, hugs and tears we have shared in the last month. 

Here's what I have learned, in no particular order. 

We came back too early.  There was an entire week wasted in Illinois in an absolutely beautiful campground due to the rain.  It rained. And then it rained some more. And then we hit Wisconsin in time for more rain.  On one of our last days in Minneapolis, the sun shone. And then it rained again.  I will never again return to the Midwest in what passes for Spring.  It's one thing if you have a house. It's an entirely different experience in an RV.  The sad thing is that I really like rain! ...just not this much of it in consecutive days.

We came back too early in terms of seeing our friends as well.  School is still in session, so the kids were really limited in terms of play dates.  Most everything had to be scheduled on a weekend, so those were jam-packed. 

We saw our old house and our old cat. Neither remembered us. They have moved on and created new memories in the year of our absence from their lives.  They are both healthy and were nice to see.  But they are definitively not ours anymore.  And that was just fine with me.  We have moved on too, as it turns out. 

As we traveled around our old stomping grounds, we could not shake the sense that we were supposed to be working.   The associations with having to be somewhere at a certain time are still very strong.  The roads we traveled for our jobs are still just as clogged with traffic, just as time consuming and frustrating.  The reasons we took our feet off the treadmill surrounded us in the Twin Cities. 

On the other side of the spectrum, seeing loved ones face to face can not be underestimated.  Sharing a hug and having a real conversation simply can not compare to a phone call or Facebook post.  We will be back in Minneapolis in the Fall, and I'm already looking forward to seeing these people again.  The acquaintances we've met at various RV parks around the country are lovely, but they can't yet hold a candle to the deep knowledge we have of our own people.  Am I closed off to meeting new friends?  No, but that does seem to require a certain amount of standing still.  Maybe we just don't have the hang of this yet.

Because our plan is to eventually move onto a sailboat, I've been gathering our people to us.  I'm reminding them that they need to prepare to visit us at sea, because naturally we will be more isolated.  Thankfully, most of them are willing. 

All in all, I'm happy that we can visit. But that's now what it is, a visit. This isn't our home anymore.  And that's okay.  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Art of Saying Yes

I think optimism is a widely admired trait.  Yet so many of us have a desperately hard time maintaining it. It's something that we've been talking about a lot lately, especially as fortunate as we are.  Both Henry and I grew up in low income brackets, he more so than I.  There was always food and a house, but there weren't a lot of extras.  We both worked our entire adult lives up to this point, and we were lucky enough to live in the US and get quality educations.  Somehow though, good fortune still brings out the pessimism in us.  How can it possibly be this good?  When is the bottom going to drop out?  We both just feel "too" lucky. 

We now have a 2 year plan to continue RVing across the US. We've started to make our way East again and plan to be in the Midwest by the end of April. After a Summer and Fall "back home", we'll be making our way to Corpus Christi, TX for the winter.  The following Spring will mean a slow trek up the East Coast with a Fall in the Midwest.  We may winter somewhere warm once again, but then...

Our current plan has us buying a sailboat at that point.  Because we have been discussing this more seriously lately, I have actively been trying to shut down the naysaying inner voice.  "What if something bad happens?" it says.  "I welcome good fortune into my life," I say.  "But what if you can't afford it?  What if the market crashes or you get robbed or...something else horrible occurs?" it says.  "I am content and capable," I say.  "We can handle whatever happens.  Now, shush!" 

It's pretty persistent, the little bugger. 

But here's what I have learned.  No matter what happens to us, we cope with it. It's not always perfect or what we expected, but we make it through.  Our successes in simply surviving should give us all confidence in the future.  Now, when we reach for something resembling greatness, we practice saying "That could totally work out! I think that's going to happen!" Or even better, "That is going to be even better than we think. Look what we've done so far!"  Trusting ourselves to handle adversity is a huge step.  We all have within us the ability to overcome.  This is, to me, what makes optimism possible and worrying such a waste of energy.

It may seem new-agey to meditate or practice affirmations, but I find that until I talk to myself differently, nothing around me changes.   There's a terrific Improv exercise in which you may only say "Yes, and..." when your partners make a suggestion, no matter how outlandish. And in the beginning, it's tremendously difficult for actors to stop saying "No, but..."  I think this is an essential trait for life.  When the idea comes to you, "Hey, I could..." your inner voice should say, "Yes! And it's going to be amazing!"