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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.

Filtering by Category: leaving

No Fixed Address

bethany

I'm sitting in the shade of a live oak tree, looking out over a sunbaked and drought-goldened valley of grass. A hot wind blows, dead leaves dance at my feet, and a very dusty Edmund just sauntered off after lying on my foot for a few minutes. There are crows calling, the occasional squeak of dusty wheels on Fynn's latest lego creation, and the faint sound of an engine passing somewhere over the hill.

When I booked this campsite, the site photo included a lapping lake at the foot of what would be our domain. A lake that started shrinking 10 years ago, and hasn't really stopped. The horizontal lines undulating across the hills in front of me mark the shrinking of the years, and young trees mix with the rotting stark remains of the ones that were lost when this area was flooded in the late 70's, creating the 5th largest reservoir in California. It's astonishingly low now, having lost something like 60' of depth, emptying many fingers of it, and pretty much puddling others. The boats still come though, the houseboats huddle where they can, and the rangers smile wide.

I'm looking for those smiles, while struggling with my own. We've covered a lot of ground in the last few weeks, and a lot of emotional territory in the last few months. Time that's filled many corners, and thinned out others. Some wells good, other wells dry. I miss my Mom. I miss my family, my community, my friends. I miss the knowing, the depending, the sense of regularity and solidity that comes from a semi-ordered life. It comes from the approaching 2-year anniversary of this venture, and from spending 3 weeks with my sister and 5 with my Mom. From falling into communities, and then pulling out of them again. From not communicating enough, and not carving out enough family-based routines for ourselves and our kids. Things we Do as a family, no matter where we are. Exercises, end-of-day highs/lows, reading together, schooling together … the bits of routine that mostly fall by the wayside when we're in someone else's territory.

It also comes from being this far in, and feeling no closer to our end goal. No cob classes taken yet, no leads on location or property or final anything … I'm an awful lot closer to the buzzard who is currently circling above me than I am to the ground squirrel whose burrow I can see four entrances to from where I'm sitting. I love both. Crave both. And the two are rather at odds.

I had a long conversation with my sis this morning (sitting on the floor of the bathroom, so my phone could be plugged into the only outlet in this hookup-less campground) and she was talking about hesitating to take on another weekly commitment when I suddenly realized how this trip has basically made me commitment-free, and how utterly delicious that is. It's the golden flip side of no fixed address or community. My own little conundrum. The grass is always greener, blah blah blah …

So what Did happen in the last 7 weeks or however long it's been, and how did we get from Chicago to the foothills of the Sierra Madre?

We spent one – two – three! Weeks at my sister's place, having all kinds of fun and doing all sorts of projects. And playing with piles of perfect kittens, watching with deep amusement as our two cats fled from them in terror. The City Museum was devoured (a must for anyone who can walk or crawl), a dumpster filled, painting and sorting and organizing and roofing done, as well as some very fun demolition of a furnace and some ductwork. Interspersed with tea and conversation and delicious meals and nephew wrangling. All good, every bit of it. More, please.

Then a week of time with my fam at the same house we had last year in Indiana, swimming and gaming and talking and puzzling. Mom participated often, with her eyes, sometimes her voice, and sometimes her hands. She chopped and diced and set tables and put together puzzle pieces, watched her grandkids avidly, and watched Dad when she wasn't doing any of the above. That love runs so deep and strong you could calm a storm with it. I think they do, actually. It's what's there, what they've built, and it's carrying them through a constantly changing landscape that looks like it's heading into ever deeper canyons, but the ride is still smooth. Some ripples, but no rapids. It's a braid of love, acceptance, and God, and it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

After our time together we hopped on up to Ken and Tina's (retracing last year's steps again) and followed up on all the progress they'd made on what we started last year, and it was awesome to see. I did a bit more compulsive garage tidying (I truly can't help myself, the list of ones I've ravaged continues to grow) and in the process unearthed a dress that Tina's Mom wore in the 60's, promptly borrowing it for the wedding in CA that was on our radar for August.

Then we hiked up to Chicago and parked at first in Tina's folks' driveway, having missed them entirely in last year's visit there. We did a wee bit of work removing old solar panels and putting up a new mail post, but mostly hung out with my folks, celebrated a 10-year-old, and caught up with friends. I did a few days of Mom-care, filling in most of one week while her regular caregiver was away, and a few days the following week. Coming in off an unpredictable life, it was a remarkably serene and ordered change. We went through photo albums, took walks in the park, shopped and cooked, and once or twice lapsed into uncontrolled and mutual giggling that was a chunk of pure gold that's still warming my heart. Balm, that was. She watched, I worked ... she followed, I directed. She enjoyed, I looked for ways to connect, and worried a wee bit on the side. Not all that different from the mothering she gave me, I don't think.

We moved to my folk's driveway for the next 4 weeks, and spent half of it working on restoring an old playset/treehouse at the Kaisers to working order again. Growth and storms had rendered it unsafe, skewed and bashed in by falling branches, and rotting in places. It was a great learning experience, and one with a very satisfying result. I hear there's been a tent pitched on the upper deck since then, so it's solid enough I guess!

 Before ...

Before ...

 After ...

After ...

Winding down our time there included visiting lots of friends, painting some skylights, putting in a new radiator and building a fan shroud for Matilda (thanks Tim and Rebecca!) and getting to see That's Weird Grandma (thanks Su!), which was a hoot ... Michael wanted to join the cast on the spot, I think. There were many meals out, picnics on the back porch, and even a day at the lake going kayaking with Dad, while Mom watched on shore and was reassured constantly that he was coming back. Sometimes hard to be fully present and enjoying, with the flutter of the flag that reads Last? shadowing your back. Onward. Is there any other option?

Extricating ourselves was unbelievably hard, and if it weren't for Michael's “Let's Go Now!” I'd still be sniveling at the end of the driveway.

We pushed off for the dunes of IN for a few days of R&R, starting to sort out feelings and trajectories and plans. We were down to 3 weeks till the wedding in San Fran, but needed to catch our breath first. We also had a couple visitors who made the trek there to see us, enjoying 3 lovely days with Marie and Carpenter and Auzlo, whose visit we managed to keep a secret from Fynn until he ran into them in front of the campground office. Truly speechless for once :). Mike also came down and kept us lovely company for a few days, bringing music and musings and injections of confidence into wedding outfit choices (platform heels, yes, lovely ones indeed.).

The day after Mike left, we headed out … Westward Ho!

(to be continued ...)

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Keren & Bobby

bethany

When we first arrived at Keren and Bobby’s, I expected to only be in their home for a few weeks, and thought I knew them both pretty well.  My relationship to Keren goes waaaay back, and Bobby’s as easygoing as they come, so that despite the fact that I only met him about 6 years ago, it feels Iike I’ve known him forever.   As our visit progressed, I was proved very wrong on all counts.

When you move into someone’s home for something longer than a week, it takes a tremendous amount of graciousness on their part, and a lot of compromise on both sides.  When you have two active boys, (and your hosts are not parents themselves) it adds a whole other level of compromise and blending of ways.  Looking back, I can’t imagine a better testing ground for what it’s like to invade someone’s space for a period of time, and coming out the other side actually loving each other more, rather than less.  I think we got spoiled this time around.

Keren’s an idea factory, amongst other things.  She’s creative, energetic, organized, and a tireless worker.  She has big ideas, and knows how to nudge/inspire/motivate/corral a group into participating in an event, having a marvelous time in the process.  She’s got chutzpa, heart, a very very underrated opinion of herself, and determination in spades.  She’s gold, through and through.  I knew her persona as larger than life, and had a good glimpse of her heart before this, but living in her home for 5+ months showed me sides of her personality that I’d never really understood well before.  We talked over many trips to Starbucks, and many late night porch sessions, and I got to know the woman underneath the red-headed yellow swallowtail butterfly that most of the world gets to meet.  It was an honor.

Bobby, gracious, fun-loving, heart-of-gold Bobby … would give you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it … and basically did just that for us.  When we arrived, we slid into the driveway with our camper, a small fridge full of half-empty condiment jars, some warm leftovers, and a couple hundred bucks in our bank account.  Not exactly the means to support ourselves, provide our share of food, and contribute to household expenses in general.  Bobby wasn’t fazed at all, at least on the surface.  He opened his home, his heart, and his own strained-to-the-max bank account, because this is what you do for family.  For someone in need.  You take care of folks.

I know it was really hard on him because we arrived at a time when the new house was under gradual as-money-allows renovation, and we brought a tornado of projects and paper and mess otherwise known as Fynn.  For someone formerly known as a gracious host-with-the-most, bare floors and patched walls were really hard for him to ignore.  He felt like he couldn’t give us what he wanted to, treating us to local events and restaurants and a richly-stocked fridge.   Their situation just wasn’t there at that point in time.  So we wallowed a bit, together.  Took stock of what we had, and what we could do with it.  Made cool dining room floors out of porch paint and stencils and leftover primer.  Threw parties with what we had.   Held contests using makeup and fabric scraps.  Built woodboxes out of scavenged lumber.  Talked a lot.  Played a lot of board games.  Made family dinner an event, every single night, even when 5 nights of the week were some form of chicken.  Evolved the may-I-please-be-excused thing into a whole ritual of trivia questions and answers and eventually, sign language conversations. 

We also railed a bit, bemoaned, struggled, and fought the circumstances we were in.  Felt oppressed.  Wondered why the jobs weren’t paying much (for any of us), and why we were in this leaky boat, together.  We learned to talk through it.  Pray about it.  Confront it head-on, rather than sideways.  We all got a rather forced look at what it was like to live together, work together, communicate effectively together, and, yes, parent a bit together.  My boys learned more manners at the hand of Keren and Bobby than I thought possible.  Lovingly, firmly, and consistently.  We grew into a functional unit that knew when and how to work together, and when to separate for a time when we needed space.   We learned how much our emotions affected each other, and it gave me some new tools for labeling and confronting those pesky elephants. 

So back to Bobby … for someone way out of his usual comfort zone, and in a rather distressingly difficulty phase of his life … he came through amazingly well.   With a few realizations of his own, I think.  He learned to turn a blind eye to chaos, to take space when he needed, and to give till it truly hurt.  And never ever once begrudged it.   No measuring stick was hauled out, to determine what they might have been able to afford were we not living there.   No calculations or regrets.   Just love, piles of love, and a flood of it following us down the street when we pulled away.  From both of them.  Tears, big hearts, and big dreams … intertwined in a way I never thought possible.  Knowing what I know now, I have every expectation that the next time we spend time together, the roots will go deeper, and the hearts even tighter.  It’s a friendship that’s not found its limits, nor do I ever expect it to.  It’s just a very beautiful thing, which keeps growing the more it’s worked on. 

(xoxoxo you two)

B

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loosening the Knox

bethany

the days are getting bittersweet, and my stomach is spending most of its time in slight turmoil.  yup, it’s the leaving thing.  happens every time, and every single time i’m caught by surprise.  the roots are deeper, the connections are stronger than i ever planned on.  as if relationships can be planned, hah!  they're a treat, a gift, a lovely beautiful messy thing that makes every day richer and every leaving harder.  i wouldn't have it any other way.  

we've been on this trip for 154 days, and 152 of them have been spent here in knoxville.  never ever thought it would be this long, but my initial thought of 2-3 weeks looks utterly laughable from my current vantage point.  expectations ... the death of me, of many relationships, of mindfulness, of joy in the moment.  (i know there's a flip side to all that, just not going there right now)  

i think it's fair to expect joy and love and happiness on this trip, as long as i also expect pain and growth and delays and arguments and meltdowns and detours, and the occasional real drama.  they come intertwined, sometimes within the same split second.  that deep breath where you're steadying your mind because your heart just exploded and you're not sure where the pieces are.  epiphanies, he-just-died calls, births, i do's, breakups, you name it ... any single moment in which you know everything just shifted, irrevocably, in one direction or another.  

i love those moments.  yes, all of them.  the moments (days, months, even years) that follow?  often they're the worst.  but in those single fleeting bits of time, every single one of them, i feel incredibly painfully amazingly alive.  my heart just took a hit, good or bad, and i KNOW it's there and working and oh so very present.  

this doesn't mean i look for those things, or revel in them if they're sad, but i do measure time by them.  measure life, measure it's depth and breadth and reality and meaning, and find that no matter what the experience, it leaves its mark, its touchstone, and i value every one of them.  they're part of who i am.  my collection, whether harvested deliberately, or tossed in without my choice.  mine.

i had no idea before knoxville that my heart had holes shaped like Marie, Sam, Carpenter, and Auzlo.  like Starbucks every week.  like loving Keren even more like a sister than i already did. like watching for Timmo and Natalie walking Piper and Rider every night (and hoping they'd stop).  like Mikey passing away in Bobby's arms and my arms not being long enough to hug them both at once, or ease the pain of losing his crazy furry companion of 15 years.  of a comfortable answer to the unnammed question "could you live near and work side-by-side with Keren and Bobby at some point in the future?" (that's a yes ...)

there are tracks worn in my heart also, from endless circlings and wanderings and designings and communicatings back and forth and back and forth ... how exactly do we hope to fund this trip?  (and how are we going to pay the debts we accidentally dragged along with us?)  assuming that the work wherever/however/for-whomever-we-can thing was the heart of it all (whether they could pay or or not), but likely too limiting if we expected it to fund the whole shebang.  wanting a bit of steady income, enough to cover our fixed expenses at least, to make it possible to take on jobs wherever, rather than feeling like we had to stick to paying ones.  

so the merry-go-round began ... newsletter subscriptions!  family-drawing-based art lessons, by e-book and youtube!  youtube-only "artLOOSE" videos, documenting all kinds of creative projects and asking for patronage/donations from viewers!

the tracks became messy, convoluted, and daunting.  and very very distracting.  every single idea fun on some level, or even many levels, but very time consuming on a monthly basis, even once we got them up and running.  things that would pull our hearts in so many directions, at least for now, that we couldn't see our way clear to do what was right in front of us.  floors that need painting here, decks that need shored up, stuff that needs organized and trimmed and chopped down.  FUN things!  

and michael and i were holed up writing business plans, trying to learn video editing, struggling with words and assumptions and guesses as to who and how to ask for what, and then guiltily emerging from the think-tank to involve the boys by trying to create logos as a family, or something equally strained or awkward.  trying too hard, all of it.  not to be confused with working, or the willingness to work, but trying too hard to figure out exactly who our audience is, and what we'll have time to do on the road, and how it will all fit in and around the projects that we're doing for other folks.  

the other morning those tracks all became very visible to me, in one big ugly pile, and i felt the weight of them all at once.  this was all just backwards.  GO.  DO.  STUFF.  NOW.  and the way will become a bit clearer.  we'll get vaguely in the swing of things, we'll find out how much we can really work creativity in and around what we do, and discover how much time we can spend working before we need to go away and look at nature and monuments and sunsets for a bit.  take time alone, to recharge.  i strongly suspect that somewhere down the road, a spinoff project or idea that we can sell on the side will surface, and we'll jump on it then.  not try to imagine (from keren and bobby's porch) what IT is, and what folks want, and promise to serve it up on a fancy platter once a month.  from a dicey laptop, via public wifi, using video and audio from an android phone.  not impossible at all, but not smooth sailing either.  

i felt a big sigh of relief in my heart after that realization, and the healing of something that had been dividing me.  and also a renewed level of queasiness in the "trust and faith" department, as to how the finances will work out.  as to the likelihood that we'll be asking directly for help sometimes, from humanity at large.  for donations for our living expenses, or for supplies for projects ... which i should have done already because we're leaving several things undone here, because the money isn't available right now for deck lumber and flooring and stuff like that.  

that said, there's great fun to be had in doing things with free/minimal supplies (cool dining room floor, yes?!)  but it often requires a lot more time, thought, and planning than it would if the materials were available.  it does inspire creativity though!  i'd dearly love to get to a point where we had a separate Supplies Fund that could be tapped into when we find a need, and have the time and resources, but no money for the materials.  we've talked a lot about putting out a call for sponsorship when we find a project that needs it, but the timing is an issue.  not wanting to run a kickstarter campaign for something that needs to start tomorrow, or preferably today.  (the wheels are turning fast, and you might be hearing more on that in the next day or two ... and thoughts welcome!)

i might as well say too that we're currently about 700 short on what we need to get out of here next week, to cover tax and registration on the trailer and a couple smaller bills.  hoping this weekend's jaunt to Market Square will net Michael more than last weekend's portrait drawing session, which should help somewhat. (he's working on a blog post all about drawing in the square, btw)

as i wrap this up, Fynn is off spending his last hour or two with his new BFF, who leaves tomorrow early, and won't be back until after we pull out next week.  he is going to need some tlc for the next few days i think, as well as access to my phone more often than in the past.  i have some goodbyes to say too, which i don't want to.  i never expected the richness of the connections we've made here, and have to say it's a very awesome pile of gifts to come from our very first stop, and truly worth every minute we've spent here.  it helps give me courage to step out and move on again, and to hope that we're leaving behind a bit of ourselves in return for what we've gained.  

onward. 

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getting out

bethany

when you get an idea in your head, like ditching fixed life for the romantic notion of a camper and the open road and working your way around the country ... the preview that plays in your mind's eye includes sunsets, porch-building alongside your family, simple meals in country kitchens, and great conversations with dusty old-timers in front of some local barber shop.  it's the ultimate road trip!  the glow of the vision is tinged with a bit of sweat and grit, and some knowledge that it's likely to pretzel your mind into new shapes, your hands into mud, and your heart into scary new corners. 

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still here, still packing, still ... getting closer!

bethany

this packing up process is slow.  doesn't matter that we've lived here only two years, there are still boxes surfacing in the studio that have sawdust on them from the pre-nyc days in central PA.  storage space is at such a premium that we can't just toss it into storage without a thought.  old work projects, portfolio samples for packaging design that i'll never need again, oh, wait, that's a doll my grambie sewed for me that I'd forgotten about! ... you get the idea.  every box and corner is fraught with memories and decisions and more decisions.  will i ever use it again?  does it mean enough to pay to keep it?  will it fit in the camper?!  it's mentally and physically demanding. 

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