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all but the cats write here ... to remember, to share, to mumble, to shout ... follow along by RSS or email if you like.

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10 things, one year, 4,517 miles

bethany

Christmas Eve marked the one-year anniversary of the start of this adventure, and over 4500 miles on the road so far.  It's been full of surprises, realizations, growth, and much joy.  Without further ado, 10 things that stand out for me about the first year of heartLOOSE …

1. Adapting to life in the camper has been way easier than I expected, in terms of the physical space and the ramifications that has on four people plus two cats. I've very rarely found myself wishing for something I didn't bring, and out-of-sight-out-of-mind is proving pretty accurate. The lack of kitchen counter was rather sucky until about two months ago, and now is no issue at all thanks to our reconfiguration of the kitchen table area! We have a lovely 6' long wooden counter that can either be 12” or 24” wide, and when not in use we have an extra wide couch area instead. Yay!

2. I didn't know how much more in love I'd be with my husband after a year of this, I was really afraid that we'd both miss personal time and space so much we'd get pretty cranky with each other. While that's happened a few times, it's nothing like I thought it might be. I love working with him and being with him more than ever, and actually parenting together? That's nearly a first … we so rarely were both with the kids at the same time in the past, other than a few evenings a week, and some weekends. It changes everything. In a very good way, and I love it.

3. People we visit are far more open than I ever expected. I wrote a bit about that last month, but it continues to amaze me. Open hearts and open doors … the trust, the vulnerability, the sharing of daily life in all its beauty and pain and sometime drudgery. Anything done together ceases to be drudgery though. Sharing the burdens and the joys for a bit is energizing, eye-opening, and delightful. It's a kind of intimacy that I had much more of when I was younger, and the sometimes false sense of connection I get via social media is no real replacement for face-to-face and side-by-side.

4. I thought we'd be on the West Coast by now! Twelve months and we're right back in the spot where we spent the 2nd night of the trip, in Knoxville?! While it is home base for us, I figured we'd have made it through a lot more states by the one-year mark. Hitting roadblocks in the first 5 months is the biggest reason for that, but we're also staying places longer than I anticipated. There's just more to do, and more willingness to let us do stuff, as well as the need for downtime.

5. Speaking of downtime, we do need it, a surprisingly large bit of it actually, in between visits. One or two nights on our own aren't enough … we need space to be just a family, to recalibrate our relationships with each other, and to concentrate on the things we can't do easily while we're “docked”. Things like writing, phone calls, do-nothing days, and getting stuff fixed and modified in our living space. And most importantly, head-space to figure out what's next, and take stock of the bigger picture.

6. I think I've learned more about myself in the last year than in the previous ten. A surprising and delightful side effect of getting out of my comfort zone, having lots of deep conversations and friend-mirrors, and being unbound from the usual constraints of time and expectations and commitments. I'm loving being unmoored, but had no idea it would help me see myself more clearly. Change of scenery, change of perspective. Similar to that vacation-inspired epiphany that makes you see your real life as needing a tweak or even a wholesale makeover once you get home. I've got an IV-drip of that going on. It's not all vacation mind you, and in fact far less so than you would think. But it's a real chance to gain viewing points, perspectives, and skills for choosing to act and react differently to things. Some of those things are absorbed just by watching relationships work, and some come by being introduced directly to new ways of thinking, healing, and interacting. A smorgasbord of information and knowledge.

7. Living one day at a time is easier, and more peaceful, than I ever expected. I knew I need to let go of a lot of things to make this way of life work, and yet I feel like the first five months of feeling stuck were partly because I didn't trust God to really take care of us. We thought we had to do more. Plan more. Become side-income wizards before we could take the first step. Hah! We just had to take the first step … and then the next one, and then the next one, and so on … one. day. at. a. time. Living on faith that if we do what's in front of us, and move on when we feel it's time to go, that it will all work out. And so far, it has. The blessings keep piling up … mostly in ways that have nothing to do with money, and everything to do with life.

8. It's become screamingly obvious to me that emotional work is just as important as physical work. For all of us. Not just the four of us, but everyone we meet. People are increasingly hungry for meaningful connections, and maybe I'm just extra hungry after two years of living without much contact with anyone but my kids for five days a week, but we need to spend time connecting. To listen, and not judge. To be heard, and still loved. To see, and speak truth. To hear, and understand. To learn, and change heart. It's all as vital as putting food on the table and fuel in the truck. We need to love, and be loved, and it happens best in person.

9. I love working together with my family. I know I'm repeating myself but it's true that it's one of the most personally delightful parts of this trip for me. Not to mention, I'm learning a LOT and reveling in that too … I do love adding new things to my skill set. It feels healthy, and good for all of us. We're not harnessed together, but we do dance, and it's deeply satisfying. We haven't yet gotten the boys to feel the same about it all, and while they never may, it's my wish that they at least learn how to work through all this, and then they'll be equipped to do anything they choose to apply themselves to in the future. They're not there yet though, and I'm hoping to find a better way to teach that, soon.

I just re-read the list so far, wondering what 10 should be, and it jumped out at me from number six …

10. I'm loving being unmoored … living the wandering life. I was not at all convinced that would be the case, and thought that being rootless would be a huge strain on my routine- and home-loving heart. So far, that fear is completely unfounded. I don't crave schedules, or a fixed address, or steady income. I do miss having a regular community, but I'm finding ways around that. I have no idea how long this will last, but I trust it to take me at least as far as the end of the trip, wherever and whenever that is. It's a bit like I've come over to the dark side (no plans! disorder! irresponsible freedoms! unconventional freaks!) and feel way more at home than I ever thought I would. My Type A tendencies (except when it comes to the boys' Lego habits and haphazard cat care) are in remission, and may stay there indefinitely.

It's been an exceptionally interesting year. One that has defied expectations, and slithered away from too much definition. It's been, simply ... rich, remarkable, gut-wrenching, savory, and full. Thank you God, thank you friends, hosts, family, and followers. Yours is the love on which we feast, the hope which we carry, and the work which we do.

Onward.

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Liberté, égalité, fraternité

bethany

I had a dream last night in which I was in some kind of school/college setting, and everyone else was wearing blue plastic watches given to them by the school, but I didn't have one as I'd just arrived somehow. I took my place at the end of a long conference-type table with all the other students, and tried to figure out what was going on and how to catch up.

 

At 5am the sounds of the highway next to us started to pick up, and I woke for the first time, the dream nearly drifting away from me completely. Daylight? Why was there warm light seeping through the mini blinds? I rolled over and pried two slats apart with barely functional fingers, and then remembered … we're camped in the WalMart parking lot … the lights never do go off, do they? The lights themselves weren't actually visible as the window was covered in beaded moisture, some of it drifting in rivulets down the pane. A night's worth of breath, condensed and pooling in the window frame. I felt hungry, slightly stirred up, and a bit adrift. Should I get up? Go back to sleep? How cold is it out there now anyway? I picked up my phone and wasted some of the last of its battery life checking the weather. Summersville WV, 21 degrees, but feels like 17.

I chose to haul myself out from under the two wool blankets, cotton quilt, and sheet that keep us toasty on most nights, flipped the covers back down so both Michael and my side of the bed would stay warm and Sparrow wouldn't be covered, and padded to the bathroom, past the green-wrapped bodies of my gangly boys half falling out of their bunks. A pretend flush (you hope you've peed enough to send the toilet paper down without any added water), and I scuttled back to bed, the camper swaying slightly with each step as we hadn't bothered to put down the stabilizers for one night and were still hitched to the truck.

Back to sleep? Why that dream? And the other really bizarre one about part of my toe falling off? Really? I want to write. I need to write. I wish I could write in my head while I half-sleep in that delicious skid towards the deep trenches of rest where you're too far under to dream, and then have it magically transfer itself into a word .doc the next morning. I need to tell the stories, and need to have them read. I don't know where I fit anymore. I haven't a community. Not one I can see, or one that sees me regularly at least, and worries if I don't show up. I feel utterly invisible, except when I blog. Or Instagram. Or post on Face Book. I have incredibly great conversations at every house we stop at, and love every minute of it. Then we move on.

I bring bits of each person along with me … snippets of conversation, memories, recipes, advice, new books to read, things to pray for, and the feeling that I was truly part of their household for awhile. Let in both the heart door and the back door. All in … briefly a very real part of their daily lives, and not just walking past the warm window casting its glow into the dusk, wondering how that family lived and what went on in their house. I can't tell you how many windows I've wondered over in my almost 45 years, it's tens of thousands by now I think. And now I'm actually getting into some of those living rooms, and it's the most fascinating thing ever. A growing trail of places that I know, and people that I love, from the inside.

So why am I dreaming about nondescript school life and feeling behind? Perhaps I have an inkling that living sans-watch, as we do now, is going to make it hard to integrate again into a more fixed life. So be it, but the watch was only part of it. They'd all been together for some period of time, doing life together, and I was just arrived. It's the community that I miss I think. The knowledge that I'm a part of some greater collection than just us four, and that I have a meaningful part in it. I have no doubt that I DO have that, I just can't see it at the moment. Can't feel it a lot of the time, either. It's a new kind of lonely. It always happens, and I just now realized that's part of the process going on in my heart. The more the love, the more the potential for feeling alone. It's happened at with marriage, kids, and how this. I'm stealing from one campfire to the next, taking treasures with me, and my heart now knows exactly what it feels like to stand in Jane's kitchen and chop carrots next to the sink while she stirs the stew and I watch her neighbors run their dogs in the twilight. It knows that Erica's probably planning her outing for Wednesday, and putting Kayla to bed in the next 20 minutes. That John's puttering around his basement getting tools for some project, and Marcie's taking the dogs out for the last time before bed, shivering in the cold but not quite ready to put on a winter jacket. The list is endless, the heart is stretching yet again.

I can't see the whole picture. I feel it being stitched together though, with heart strings and prayer bits and smashed fingers and new understandings and shared lives … I just have to get my bearings a bit every time the scene changes. Figure out how to assimilate what I gained, process what it all means, and check that my heart is intact and my mind still my own. I'm a fitter-inner, and historically have played the chameleon a bit if I'm not sure how my opinions will be received. This no longer works, and in some ways the constant scene-changes are facilitating the growing tendency to speak my mind. I'm just not sure what it's doing to the whole story. The one I'm writing without words, but with my life. I like to KNOW, and this I can't. I like to feel SURE, and that's now reserved for the fewest of the few things. I like to BELONG, but am leery of being boxed in or judged. So I'm gathering up the warmest stones and most interesting bits of fireside chat and relationship gold, and praying that when they're no longer wet from the current (and tears) of this journey, that I'll find them even more worthy of carrying onward.

 

I did go back to sleep, woke once more to eat a banana in the half dark, and then slept again till just before 8, when a brilliant sunrise started drying up the condensation on Michael's window and warming the room up a bit.

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Mainly Maine

bethany

 Matilda + rig, as seen thru the periscope at the Naval Submarine Force Museum in Groton CT

Matilda + rig, as seen thru the periscope at the Naval Submarine Force Museum in Groton CT

Speeding east from Michigan, which I last blogged about, we made two quick and lovely stops in PA with friends and neighbors, spent a month at a family-style campground in CT while Michael did a Sol LeWitt job at Yale, and then wandered up into Vermont for a week of family downtime.  We badly needed it after spending 4 weeks cozied up to mostly cliquish neighbors who were "seasonals" and all knew each other, and whose kitchen sinks and flickering TVs we could easily see.  We're slowly learning how to choose campgrounds, and going with the smaller family-run ones that have few seasonal spots seems to be the way to go. 

We reluctantly packed up our VT hideaway, which was the nicest campground to date, and started towards friends and work in Bangor Maine on the back roads.  We've come to realize that small towns aren't as scary as we thought in a 55' long rig, that Matilda really can pull us over the mountains (Eastern ones at least), and that there are ways of finding places to park that open up more meal possibilities.  I've come to hate the travel plazas on the highway, aside from the fact that parking is easy.  The food just sucks, and it didn't help that at the last one we stopped at, I came into the dining area after Michael and the boys were already seated and eating on the far side of the room, and Michael chose to holler at the top of his lungs "BETHANY! WE'RE OVER HERE!" and then smirk as every single eye in the place watched me waltz/slink across the room to where they sat.  Yup.

So we took two days on the back roads to get from SW Vermont to Bangor, including truly boondocking for the first time at a trailhead parking lot right on the NH/ME border.  We finally got a second battery hooked up, and now have enough power for a night or two.  After poking around roadside stands, playing on the banks of the Kennebec River, and watching Fynn for signs of concussion as he landed hard after falling 8 feet out of a pine tree (thank God for Arnica!) ... we arrived at the Drown's place on a Saturday afternoon, their open arms a very welcome sight.  

We know Tim and Karen from waaay back, before they were married, and though we hadn't seen each other for about a dozen years, it was like nothing had changed.  We immediately felt right at home.  It's really a funny thing though, this staying in people's driveways business.  We're guests, but we don't sleep in the house.  We're working on projects a lot of the time, so we tend to stay a bit longer than the typical guest anyhow and are in/out of the house constantly, while our hosts are going about their work and usual commitments.  It doesn't take too many days for the "company face", if there is one, to fade.  We seem to become a part of the landscape, learning how much socializing is desired, and when to stay in the camper and do our own stuff.  The balance is different at every stop.  

It takes a certain vulnerability to let us in, trust that we'll all get along, work out the best boundaries for each family, and leave before we start to get too tiresome.  It's been a huge learning curve but it's getting a bit easier I think to read the signs.  We're finding that we can't really commit in advance to arrival dates, as it puts way too big of a crimp in the feeling that we need to stay as long as it takes to be done, whatever Done is.  Whether it's finishing a project, a conversation, an outing, or simply the feeling crystalizing that it's time to Go.  It's a product of being wayfarers, but something that I didn't really understand before we started out.  

I'm struggling to find the words to describe it, but this life feels a lot like boating to me.  Nothing is ever fixed, there's always a bit of a rocking motion even if you're anchored, and progress is hard to see but there's no doubt that we're moving towards something.  I'm finding my sea legs, perhaps?  I'm seeing though that the more at home I feel somewhere, the more I get a bit antsy/wistful and feel like I need to move on before I lose my nerve.  I'm a homebody.  Yes, the camper itself is completely and entirely home, and I love it.  It's just big enough, cozy enough, and nicely portable ... and I always have my own bed!  But there is a goal at the end of all this, which involves community of some sort, and when I find a particularly delicious bit of fellowship somewhere, or a super homey home, it makes me a bit hungry to have more consistent access to things like that.  To build our own stuff, not just things for other people.

That time is coming, but it can't come until this trip is done.  And when that will be is just as vague as how long we're staying at our current stop.  (We're in Shadyside MD, by the way, in case you're wondering).  We'll know it's over when it feels like time to stop, and I trust God to make it clear to both of us.  In the meantime, we're learning more than I ever thought possible, in both heart-knowledge and building/fixing/creating skills.  People keep letting us do all kinds of fun projects, trusting us to get it done even when we don't have a portfolio that shows any real experience in that particular arena.  It kinda surprises me every time, but it's a lovely trust to have.  

Have I mentioned lately how much we truly love working together?  It's keeps getting sweeter, and just plain feels really really good when we get to.   I don't know if it has anything to do with people trusting us to get stuff done, but there's something about combining our skills and thought processes that gives us a joint confidence that's almost started to erode our ability to work separately.  Feels like a somewhat dangerous comment, but it's true.  When you get in the habit of trading responsibilities back and forth, trusting the other person to fill in your gaps, it becomes a lot more like swing dancing, and a lot less like YMCA.  The possibilities increase, as do the risks.  I wouldn't have it any other way.    

So ... back to Tim and Karen's driveway, where we ended up parked for 2 weeks.  They're both teachers now, having made a career switch nearly a decade ago when Tim was diagnosed with MS.  They have a big rambling old house that's full of charm and character and love.  Their 5th (and last) child left for college right before we arrived, but the house isn't empty as they have 3 high school exchange students living with them, two from China and one from Vietnam.  The dinner table was lively and lingering, the flow of the house harmonious, and we all completely relaxed.  

We painted a couple of rooms, landscaped, roofed, organized, porch fixed, went to church, walked Fritz, and went sight seeing.  Acadia National Park wasn't too far away, so we visited Sand Beach, Schoodic point, and Bar Harbor (once frustratingly as Google doesn't know how to get to Sand Beach), and once deliberately so we could go whale watching.  We stuffed ourselves with lobster, played ping pong, saw sperm whales, climbed rocks, played with dead jellyfish, watched piles of Star Wars, made new friends, ate real chinese food, and were loved on in countless visible and invisible ways.  

We seriously toyed with the idea of heading to NS/NFLD from Maine, but weather and finances dictated a turn south, so after we reluctantly left Tim and Karen waving in their driveway, we wandered southwest to Turner where we'd booked a week at Martin's Creek Campground for down time.  It jumped into the "best campground so far" slot on the first morning (after parking in the dark, never fun!) when Fynn and the cats and I skidded down the bank behind our site and perched on a fallen tree that spanned the creek ... only to have a great blue heron land 10' away on the end of the branch we were sitting on, stare at an utterly oblivious Edmund for a minute or two, and then launch himself off again in search of a more likely breakfast!  It was truly idyllic ... Michael managed to get a painting done, we found a local cider brewery (yum!), watched a mink plonk it's way up and down the creek bank while we were out canoeing, and soaked up sun and solitude.  It felt like we'd finished the unwinding we started in VT, and was truly healthy for us all.

Next up was Mike and Ruth Anne's place, in Brunswick Maine.  Ruth Anne and I are birds of a feather for sure, and though we'd only met in person the week before (when she came up to our campground for an afternoon) it was a delight to spend a whole week together, catching up on thoughts and experiences and life ... it felt like picking up right we we left off, even though most of our communicating had been via the web and phone up until then.  We share a past in that we both grew up in the same church group, and that gave us a tremendous amount in common.  Adding to the delight was the fact that our husbands spoke the same language, and got along famously.  

While we didn't do too much to their rental house other than a bit of winterizing, we did do a lot of hiking ... and Ruth Anne is a champion hiker!  Their son Bradley was only 7 months old, but no stranger to taking a 5 mile tromp through woods or salt marshes or over boulders, strapped to his mama.  While there was a wee bit of initial grumbling by my two boys, they were soon won over by the views, the trees, the remote beaches, and the rocks to run over or build with, depending on the size.  Fynn especially caught the bug, and asked to go again and again.  It made me wonder why we don't voluntarily hike, but we never really have, at least as a family.  Ruth Anne's enthusiasm kindled a real spark though, and the exercise was great for us all.  Maine really wormed it's way into our hearts. 

It came time to move on however, and we pulled out of our (front yard this time!) spot and got back on the road.  Temps had dropped yet again, and we were really feeling the pressure to get further south. We were heading to Massachusetts and family and friends in the vicinity of Boston next, but wanted a night to ourselves in between.  I'd reserved a spot at a nearly-deserted campground that was open for a couple more weeks, and just before we got there Matilda started making funny noises.  Increasingly funny noises.  We hit a rest area, pried her hood open, and started poking around.  Dressed up more than usual from going to church with Ruth Anne that morning, and both too short to see much in the engine without climbing half into it, we provided some amusement to the truckers we were parked next to.  Eventually suspecting the vacuum pump, we called a mechanic friend for confirmation (thanks Tim!) and limped on to the campground and a late supper.

Our one night turned into I think four, as we found a very taciturn man in a local shop who agreed to put it in, but said the part was over $400 and would take 3 days to get there.  After Amazon Prime came to the rescue with a $90 part, he agreed to put it in.  I'm not sure more than 50 words were exchanged in the entire process, including bringing the part for inspection, dropping the truck off, and picking it up.  Ayuh.  

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Michael suggested a hike on the day we were waiting for the part to show up, and plotted a 2.5 mile course to a local beach.  (We didn't dare drive the truck any more than absolutely necessary.)  I packed apples and nuts and some water in a backpack, and we took off.  The sun was intermittent, and once we got off the main highway the roads were pretty.  Michael ducked off the road into an unmarked side path to go pee at one point, and came back with "You guys better come take a look at this!"

"This" was the stuff of fairy tales.  Mossy carpet for a path, ferns, dappled sunlight, and leprechauns lurking in the trees.  We took it, despite not knowing where it ended up or how much it would add to the hike.  We wound through a forest of huge old trees, a salt marsh, an apple orchard gone wild, and ended up on a crashing rock-lined beach, the same one we'd intended to get to via the road.  We left before we wanted to, as the snacks were running out, the path home was long, and the sun was setting and temps dropping.  We stopped long enough to fill the backpack with wild apples, got entirely fed up with eating said apples, and managed to get home just before dark.  An awesome day.  

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The next day we had to pick up the truck, but it also happened to be our 15th anniversary.  We left the boys in the camper for a couple hours while we wandered through a huge old/rare book store that was in a converted home and super well organized, and then sat at the counter at a local restaurant for a cup of excellent chowdah.  Short but perfect.  

This trip is so full of delight and growth and pain and humor and connection and overwhelm that I have no real way to describe it.  There's a faint rhythm to it, but no real marking of days.  There are needs, there are jobs, there are realizations, there are breakdowns.  Pain seen, but not fixed.  Hearts hurting, bandaids shared.  Conversations that rip me open, others that pour in the oil and wine.   Days of physical labor and exhaustion that feel like the best workout ever, and I can't wait to wake up and do it again.  It feels like I'm truly living in a way I never have, choosing every morning what Can We Do today, and then reaching for it, together.  Sometimes actually getting it, often not.  There IS joy in the journey.  I'll take it, messy bits and all.  

Onward. 

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MY FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT LIFE ON THE ROAD

douglas

I like the ability to just stop on the side of the road and go sleep in the camper when we all get too tired of driving. My bed is the 3’ x 2.5’ x 6’ top bunk at the back of the camper, and I still managed to fit all of my things (books, Lego, and toys) on one tiny shelf at the end of my bed!

 My window

My window

 My light

My light

Sometimes Edmund sleeps under the left side of the shelf at night. One time, we while we were driving he sat there at the window the whole time. What really surprised me is that they didn’t barf while we were driving even after they got out of the bathroom! We’ve also started training them to be let out wherever we are, and to come back to where they were let out from, such as Keren and Bobby’s house.

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where is home?

bethany

for me, home has always been an anchor.  a haven, a place so delicious to come home to that it makes the trips all the more savory.  i remember many trips to El Salvador and Peru when I was younger, in which the layers of grime built up, slowly, to a point where you could pretty much scrape the crust off your skin with a fingernail.  layers of sweat and dirt and pollution and grime that almost took on a life of their own.  the badge of "i went waaay off the beaten path" to the trip-collecting-junkie that i was becoming.  (showers not being exactly plentiful, or even possible in most cases). 

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what we leave behind

bethany

i never expected to fall in love with this corner of the globe, but i have.  i knew living right on the river would be gorgeous, the woods embracing, and the peace healing.  got all that right.  but i had no idea i'd fall into a community that felt like home.  a perfect mix of kids and parents rollicking up and down the block on nearly every summer weekend, and then some quiet days in between.  the best of both worlds. 

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