Wednesday, June 25, 2014

pond life

I found a cool route this morning around some man-made ponds in an office park. I saw water fowl (geese, two kinds of duck, and herons), several kinds of songbirds, turtles from dinner plate size all the way down to one that was the size of a quarter, a rabbit and lots of squirrels. Just a normal day in a pond.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

little nature things

Walking. It is such a simple act for our bodies, but the very act of walking is special on so many levels. Today I have been thinking on the physical, mental, social aspects of simply walking.

I usually walk in the morning, after a few stretches. It's my wake-up routine. I feel my body in motion on the ground, the earth's surface, whatever that surface may be on the route available. I try for grass or dirt, but that's not always an option. The body is good about the job of planting the feet safely, always ready to alert the mind for pain avoidance. It's the sensation of movement through the air that I love, the exhilaration of motion through the wind, the rain, the heat, or the cold, with the grounding of my feet, like the beat of my heart.

So, the body is busy, watching for rocks and holes. What does the mind do while it is along for the ride? Sometimes it's a meditation day, with just enough external focus to keep me safe while breathing in and breathing out. Sometimes it's thinking through tough problems or making plans. Sometimes it's letting the creative thoughts have full rein. 

Sometimes it's noticing things: new things, changing things, colors, plants, or even a restaurant to try later. A friend coined the phrase "little nature things" that she focuses on while she does her morning walks. She collects these things in her mind as she moves along. For example, she notes the first day the live oaks show their buds for blooming, or the birds she sees. 

The physical and mental aspects of walking are experienced by me alone, but part of walking is also engaging with everyone and everything around me. I used to walk back and forth to work and was able to greet the same neighbors every day along the way. I once asked a fellow passerby a question about a plant growing in someone's yard, then after passing the same person over and over, and seeing them in the coffee shop, a cherished friendship has developed. 

Think about sharing that walking space. You and another living thing on two different intersecting paths. Or sharing a whole walk with a friend, chatting along the way. This morning, I temporarily shared my space with this turtle.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

the apartment project

Two years ago, we gave away the last of the furniture and moved aboard our sailboat to explore the US East Coast and Bahamas. Now, we find change in the air once more and we will be taking jobs and fitting out an apartment. Suffice to say that we love sailing, we love moving around and we love the people we met along the way, but we missed the mental engagement of our high-tech jobs. There are certainly challenges to the sailing life: analyzing weather patterns, navigation and the inevitable tricky repairs, but it's not the same as the day-to-day mental exercise that is solving computer problems. Exercise is a good thing.

Moving from boat to shore will be a new experience. When we got our first apartment, in 1978, our parents gave us well-loved furniture and we filled in the gaps by frequenting garage sales.  Our parents don't have any cast-offs this time. We'll be starting from scratch.

Scratch is a good place to start. Living on the boat has made me realize how few things we really need. I haven't missed any of the possessions that once filled our three-bedroom house, acquired over years of consumerism. It makes me squirm, how much importance I once attached to things like a miniature Christmas tree with hand-blown glass ornaments. Really?! This time around, I don't want to bring in anything beyond the barest essentials. We will head back out on the water in a few years again. 

The main reason I don't want unnecessary stuff is I want to focus my life outside my living space. I've gotten spoiled by being outdoors so much. I love going out to eat with friends. I love going for a walk. I want a regular yoga class again. I don't want to surround myself with objects that need attention and dusting. If I want to see art (and I do!), I'll go to the art museum (and I will!). 

Here's my plan, keeping the principles of minimalism and reusing in mind:

We have most of the things we need for cooking and eating already on the boat. If we need any more dishes or mugs, I know where the thrift store is. We'll need bar stools, but hope to buy those used, via Craigslist or a consignment store. If we can't find any decent ones, it may be a trip to Ikea.

Living room
Bike storage? I'm not sure yet what we will put in the living room. We'll use the breakfast bar as a place to sit and write. Maybe we'll find a comfy chair or two and a TV. The bass and ukelele can lean against the wall.

We'll get a futon, preferably new in this case. Not a bed, just a futon on the floor. We slept on the floor for years before the kids were born and when they were little. It keeps one agile, hopping up from the floor. It kept the kids from falling out. There is no need for under bed storage, because I don't plan on having anything to store. Bedside tables are unnecessary, the phone (alarm clock, book and flashlight, all in one) can sit on the floor next to the bed. We keep what few clothes we have in plastic bins now, so there is no need to buy dressers. The plastic bins will go in the closet with the hanging clothes. There will be plenty of room.

I suppose we'll need a wastebasket, shower curtain and a broom. There are a few odds and ends we'll probably end up having to buy, but I don't think there are many things needed in this category. A toaster is pretty high on my list of "wants", but it can wait. I've managed quite well without one for the past two years. Maybe there will be one at the thrift store.

Initially, the thought of fitting out a shore-side living space sounded daunting and was making me depressed, but it helps me to think about it in terms of the absolute minimum that we need. I think I can do this. Now, to go exploring in our new neighborhood!

519 square feet!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

mid-career break

To be truthful, this is my second career break. I left a well-paying, interesting job in the mid-1980s to raise some kids. By switching gears from maintaining computers to taking kids to the park I was able to dedicate my energy to learning valuable lessons about humanity and guide two new humans in this journey that is life. The beautiful thing about a parental leave is that is has some pretty definite time limits. Elementary school came along just about the time my brain had turned to oatmeal porridge. I was very ready to be back in a technical role.

Fast forward through all the kid years and it was time for another break. I had been at my company 15 years and my husband had been with his for 35. We were worn out. We needed radical change. Selling up and sailing away kind of radical change.

We are lucky to have excellent health and physical fitness enough to embark on an adventurous lifestyle. When we took stock of our situation, taking time off in our mid-50s made more sense than waiting until we retired at 65. Climbing the mast of a sailboat is much easier to contemplate when your muscles are cooperative. We also factored in the unpredictability of life, waiting another 10 years might mean missing the opportunity to take this time and do this thing.

The past two years of career break and radical lifestyle change have exceeded my wildest expectations. We are healthier in all aspects: physical, emotional and spiritual. We are refreshed and rejuvenated. We are ready to turn our creativity back into the workforce and try something new. 

Having time to relax is really good for the body. Without the pressure of getting to work in the morning, I wake when my body is ready, which usually coincides with dawn light starting to work its way through my eyelids. I can practice yoga and go for a long walk or run at my own pace. I can eat a good breakfast and catch up on reading. I've used the relaxed time of our days to shop at farmer's markets and prepare simple, vegetarian food for our nourishment. We both lost around 15 pounds and some significant blood pressure points with this lifestyle change. I believe these changes will persist when we return to land/work. I might have to get up earlier, but I realize how necessary a stretch, a walk in the fresh air and healthy food have become to my well-being.

The emotional benefits of taking a career break are huge. Having this adventure has given me a confidence I never had before. I can embrace change. I am no longer as fearful. I can laugh with joy in the face of a fresh wind and a heeling boat. Panic attacks have subsided. I hope to leverage this confidence in building a new chapter in my life journey. 

By leaving my job and taking to the water, I also had the opportunity to get more in touch with my spiritual self. Long, dark nights out in the ocean give one plenty of time to ponder the deeper mysteries of life. Watching the waves change shape and feeling the wind change direction brings home the basic truth of the impermanence of the universe. We got rid of our house, stuff and cars like shedding a snakeskin. In order to grow, one needs to leave stuff behind. And in that void, life and self are exposed for discovery. I've been able to focus on some of the creative aspects of my life that had long been given a low priority.

In that discovery process, I realized how important it is to me to give back to a community. While "sailing away into the sunset" is a stock dream narrative, what does one do upon waking the next morning? Traveling around is fun, relaxing and a fantastic educational experience, but the thing that is missing for me with this lifestyle is engagement with other people. That feeling of sharing I remember from working with a team of volunteers in the summer camp kitchen cooking up a meal for a hundred plus hungry kids. Certainly we met lots of people in our two years of nomadic life and had plenty of potluck dinners and good times, but it isn't the same as doing what the current philosophers call "meaningful work". 

The other thing I miss is problem solving. We've had ample opportunity to apply creative solutions to boat repairs, logistics and storage challenges, but I need more. I want to be solving problems daily, I want to be stretching my mind around tough issues and keep those mental wheels spinning. It's not enough to read about (consume), I want to apply some brain power (produce).

I feel healthy, energetic, confident and creative. It's time for me to get back to embracing the principle of right livelihood and to use my energy and creativity for common good.

We are looking forward to the next adventure.
How Captain Steve spent his winter. Check it out here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

the rig

A friend has been writing his memoir and we've been chatting about writing. It's his theory that writing about your own life is good for your soul and mind. It's a learning experience. Understand, though, that memory is malleable. Over time, memory can add, subtract or color events so that they become more real in one's mind than what might have actually happened.

This, then, is my recollection of the adventures of my maternal grandparents, Gram and Pappy.

When I was small, they lived in Manhattan. They grew up in central PA and moved to Long Island when their three daughters were school age. Once the girls were out of the nest, my grandfather wanted to be closer to his office, so they moved to a two-bedroom apartment near Riverside Church. 

I loved visiting them in the big city. We traveled from our home in rural/suburban upstate down to this huge bustling metropolis full of things to do. They took us to restaurants. We strolled in the Central Park Zoo. We went to the Planetarium, saw dinosaurs, ate Crackerjacks. There were wide sidewalks to play on. We rode in taxis. 

I loved the apartment. It had cool tile and wooden floors and a bar in front of the little kitchen stove with two bar stools (that spun!). There was an elevator, a doorman and a woman who sat behind a big board and patched all the telephone calls up to the apartments. There was a dumbwaiter in the kitchen for the parcels and trash to move up and down. There were glass shelves over the windows with potted African violets. There was a fire escape. The whole space was so tiny, yet just big enough.

Then my grandfather retired. Manhattan wouldn't do for the size of his pension, so they made other plans. They sold the apartment and bought what they called the rig. The rig was a Ford truck, a camper on the truck, a trailer hitched behind and two bicycles strapped on the rear. I was nine. I had thought the apartment was cool, but the rig was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen.

We'd camped for our vacations when I was growing up. My parents had camped for their honeymoon trip. We were campers through and through. But this rig thing didn't have to fold down into a bag. It had real beds with sheets and blankets and a kitchen with a stove and refrigerator. Gram and Pappy had everything they needed all tucked away in tiny drawers and cubbies. Now, this was camping! And it was even better than camping, because they never had to go home. They lived in the rig, traveling the continental US for the next 20+ years.

My grandmother never drove the rig. Gram was the navigator, the logistics coordinator and the communications director. She had the passenger side of the truck lined with fabric pockets for all her letter writing, snacks, guidebooks and the ever-present hand lotion. She wrote letters every day to family and friends. 

My grandfather was the driver, mechanic and gardener. Pappy's overalls were his daily uniform. That engine had over 320,000 miles on it when they finally gave up the rig. Wherever they parked the rig for any length of time, he would tend the plants in the park or yard. He had pots of flowers that would hang on the outside of the trailer if they weren't moving. 

My grandmother liked to say they followed Spring. They didn't venture into cold territory in the winter and called themselves snowbirds. They researched and wrote an extensive family genealogy while they were on the road to give themselves a reason to visit places off the beaten track. They visited family and friends all over the country. They even got into square dancing for awhile and followed that crowd from place to place. They went to church every Sunday. They went to potluck dinners. Sometimes they stayed in a place for a day, sometimes a week or, occasionally, a whole season, but most of the time they just ambled along, exploring.

They visited their three daughters, so we did see them from time to time, but when I was old enough to travel on my own, I was fortunate enough to spend two vacations with them in the rig.

My first trip in the rig was when I was 12. They were in the Rockies in Colorado. They wanted to make sure I had a good time and I guess they were a little concerned I'd be bored, so they told me I could bring a friend along. I approached my friend L and her parents agreed to fund her. Our parents paid for our travel and probably kicked in for some of our meals, too. 

We flew out to meet them in Boulder. Their youngest daughter, Carole and her husband Jim, lived there, so we were able to visit with them. L and I stayed in the camper attached to the truck. It had a double bed above the cab, a tiny kitchen and dinette and camp toilet on the floor level. I loved sleeping up high and looking out the window over the cab.

We did all sorts of touristy things that week. Chugged up to the top of Pikes Peak. Panned for gold at some out of the way tiny town in the mountains. Toured the Air Force Academy. Hiked a piece of the Continental Divide. At the end of the day, we'd assemble in the big trailer, talking over our experiences and planning the next outing while Gram fed us, then head into the camper and talk until lights out. I loved every minute.

My next trip was when I was 15 and they were spending the winter in St. Petersburg FL where my great-grandmother lived. Again, I was able to bring a friend, this time J, and we paid part of our own way through a big garage sale and babysitting. 

We spent the week visiting with my great-grandmother and seeing the sights of the west coast of FL. We saw some of Disney World, the mermaids at Weekiwachee, a water skiing show, some gardens and I can't remember all else. 

I knew again that I loved the whole concept of living in a small, mobile space. 
So, for the time being, I do. Mine just happens to float.

I love the ability to go someplace new during the day and learn new surroundings and still eat in my own kitchen and sleep in my own bed. 
I love leaving home and never leaving home at the same time. 
I love waking up and seeing new scenery out my door.
I love carrying around only what I need and always having everything I need right where I need it.
I love cubbies and lockers and folding tables and stacking cups and tiny things and built-in furniture. 
I love having the great outdoors only inches away from my pillow at night.
I love eating lunch outside whenever I want to.
I love meeting new people.
I love potluck dinners with other people who are passing through.
I love helping out someone who needs a tool or a hand with a repair or some baking soda at 8pm and getting help from someone else when I need it.
I love visiting with old friends I might not otherwise get to see. 
I love exploring places I've always wanted to visit without needing an excuse or a schedule to go there.

But for Gram and Pappy, I never would have known what it's like to be a traveler. The rig was my dream maker.

The rig parked in our front yard the year they started out. I don't think they ever spent time in the snow after that.