Monday, 15 March 2010

Declaring Victory and Going Home

Any good political organizer knows the importance of finding campaigns that are doable and winnable. And then there are times when you just look around for an easy win in order to give some credibility to the cause and to galvanize the troops to boost their confidence. And then there were times when you just throw in the towel, declare it a win, and go out for a beer.

After 7 months and 27,000 miles, 37 states and 2,854 gallons of gas we have decided it is time to put the Big Pig out to pasture and start planning the Victory Party. What a long, strange, wonderful, introspective, eye opening trip it has been. In these past 7 months we have slept in 33 RV Parks, 5 Wal-Mart parking lots, 22 friend’s and family’s homes, 17 hotels and 2 trains…but never at the wheel.

Back in June we were thinking we would get through the entire school year but the kids were longing to be with other kids, I was longing to be with a larger community that talks more, and Evan was longing to be with people who weren’t whining. Although Evan would much prefer to be attending Spring training in Florida and teaching math through baseball statistics than digging through our storage facility looking for computer cables so he can connect up the technology to start the job search, even he is appreciating the normalcy of living in a house that doesn’t move.

Last week we signed a 6 month lease on a 3 bedroom flat in Brookline, MA. Brookline is known throughout the state for its excellent public schools. Given our long history in Boston and numerous friends on the ground with open arms, it has been a soft landing. The kids have completed a day and a half of school and initial indications are that Headmasters Penelope Snodgrass and Reginald Higgenbothem from RV Elementary have kept them up to speed!

In the words of Simon, “Mom, our 3 bedroom apartment feels like a mansion. Our old house in London must have been a palace.” It is all about perspective. Spend 7 months in an RV and anyplace is a step up.

I have been amazed at how quickly you can put a life back together. Kind of like a blow up bed. Pull it out of the box, add some hot air and next thing you know you are sleeping comfortably. It is wild to think a mere month ago we were flying back from Hawaii and here we are getting ready for the 6th grade dance and looking at the merits of gerbils vs. hamsters for a pet.

Where is the Big Pig? Comfortably parked on our friend’s horse farm in Carlisle, MA. The same horse farm where we were married 14 years ago. We will be cleaning it up to sell in the next couple of weeks. Needless to say, if anyone is interested in having their own adventure – please be in touch for a test drive!

Over the next couple of months we are both hoping to land meaningful employment in the Boston area, and then buying a house and staying put…for awhile. As our fellow travelers can attest - once a traveler, always a traveler.

We will keep the web site up and posting blogs about our reentry, stream of consciousness writing, poems, jokes, and who knows – information about our next adventure.

Thank you all for your interest in our family’s odyssey and support along the way!

Yours in Everlasting Adventure,


Friday, 26 February 2010

Our Own Personal Billgramage

Arkansas is a place you can forget about for months (or even years) and then a whole bunch of references to Arkansas can pop up in an afternoon. For example, in discussing weird laws you might note that it is illegal to keep an alligator in your bath tub in Arkansas, but it is perfectly legal to gather road kill and eat it. As most Southerners note when you receive an invitation with an RSVP it stands for – Roasted Squirrel Very Possible. There are also a bundle of musical references when it comes to Arkansas. Just think about the great fiddle song Arkansas Traveler or, more relevantly, Kris Allen, the American Idol’s 8th season winner who is from Conway. Then, of course, there is Johnny “The Man in Black” Cash who was born in Kingsland, and Billy Bob Thornton from Hot Springs. Who knew?

Our Arkansas adventure began when we woke up in Sulphur Springs, Texas in the Highcrest RV Park. Our only agenda item was to make it to Hot Springs, Arkansas that day before the National Park closed at 4 PM. Not a far drive. We had some time. We were cruising along Route 30, crossed over the boarder into Arkansas and then there was the exit marked “Hope”. Say it with me, “I still believe in a place called Hope.” (WJC, 1992 Democratic National Convention, NYC)

We were just passing through Arkansas. We didn’t mean to have a religious experience. But I suppose most people who have religious experience never really plan them. “Hello God? I would like to book a transformative experience next Tuesday at 2:30 pm.” But since The Holy Bible is the Official State Book of Arkansas, should I be surprised?

William Jefferson Clinton put the state on the map and, as we told our kids, if Clinton hadn’t won the election, Evan and I might never have been married. And if we had never married, well…they just might want to put down their books and iPods and pay attention as we made our own personal Billgrimage.

Similar to Bill Clinton, Evan and I have our own assorted past. We first met courtesy of the Dukakis/Bentsen Presidential Campaign in 1988 (we came in second) but it was the Clinton Inaugural that cinched the deal. Don’t most couples think of their relationships in terms of Presidential Administrations and campaign cycles? Try it. Every four years take a look at your relationship, give things a shake down, re-elect the good parts, re-place the ugly and re-build on a stronger foundation. Getting married in 1995, our marriage has been our own personal bridge to the 21st Century.

I had nothing to do with the Clinton/Gore1992 winning campaign. November of 1992 I listened to the election results on a radio in a tea shop on Freak Street in Kathmandu, Nepal. Evan, however, was there. Evan had been volunteer extraordinaire for the campaign spending weekends doing wild things organizing rallies and parts of the famous bus trips and spending the final week in Little Rock helping coordinate election day operations for their boiler room.

Given his fabulous organizational and tactical skills once the campaign was over, he was asked by the Presidential Inaugural Committee to head up the Opening Ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial. Evan took a 3 month sabbatical from his job at McKinsey and Company in NYC to move to DC for the wild ride. In January 1993 Evan hired me, freshly back from Nepal, to head up the 3000 volunteers. Talk about having Hope.

Fast forward to 2010, on I-30 in the Big Pig. We get off in Hope, AR. We find Clinton’s boyhood home. I am behind the wheel and I over-shoot the house. I slam on the breaks, Divine intervention. The traffic stops. I pull a U Turn in the midst of traffic -- hopeful I could do a three point turn in the midst of honking cars. I held up traffic for a good 5 minutes as I slowly drive by the boyhood home of the 42nd President of the United States while Evan snaps pictures. We sigh. It is a fine house -- compared to our RV it is a mansion!

We continue down the street and stop at the Super1Foods in Hope for milk and fresh produce. A bit of Manna from Hope. Evan does the shopping and the boys and I take a walk. Wow. Not a lot of hope in Hope. This is a sad town and the boys and I inadvertently found the saddest part. Walking behind the grocery store we cross over the train tracks, past the abandoned houses and into a neighborhood that looks so forgotten even the residents don’t know where they are. After 20 minutes we make our way back to the RV feeling more hopeless then hopeful.

Back on the road, we make it to Hot Springs for the night and on the next day (Sunday) we head over to Little Rock to the William J Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. Over the past 7 months we have been to Abraham Lincoln’s home and museum in Springfield, IL, Dwight Eisenhower’s boyhood home and museum in Abilene Kansas, and Lyndon Johnson’s home in Johnson City, Texas. All those places were about history. The Clinton Library was about our own memories, some shared, some separate.

There were photos of the fireworks display that Evan signed the contract with the Gucci Brothers for, video clips from the concert Evan organized, the daily schedule from July 12, 1994 when Evan and I were part of the advance team at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, T-shirts just like the three I have in our storage facility from AmeriCorps.

Our own Billgrimage reminded me of the incredible Hope we had in 1992 and the excitement I felt for our country. It helped to reenergize me and remind me how one person can make a difference. Yes, the 1990’s was full of naïveté and decadence but there was energy and tingles too. I think about tomorrow (I still don’t want to stop) and where our shared nation is headed and I want to be a part of it and to help raise the standard of expectations – starting with myself. I am hearing Michael Jackson singing Man in the Mirror. I am pledging myself anew.

I am an FOB, and I am proud. That is why I yell, so very loud. Alright.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Small Pleasures

When you don’t have much space, everything is small. Even your pleasures.

This adventure has taught me to notice things again. When you live your life fast and have too much, you forget to see. Or maybe you don’t have the time to see.

I still remember the very first pedicure I got when I was 34 years old and very pregnant and couldn’t see my feet, let alone touch them. That pedicure was heaven. Every pedicure since has been a let down because it wasn’t as needed.

Some of the small pleasures I have let myself indulge in on the trip are:

Enjoying the lavender shampoo I bought in Hawaii. I bought the conditioner too. It felt decadent. It reminds me of Corringham Road in London and teaching Simon how to pull off the flowers, rub then between your hands and smell. Heaven. Finding the lavender farm where I bought the shampoo was unexpected and beautiful on the hills of Haleakula on the island of Maui.

Taking an extra couple of minutes in the shower at the Elvis Presley Boulevard RV Park shower room to sit in the plastic green chair and use a pumice stone.

Not waking the kids for 5 minutes so I can sit at the table and write a little bit with a cup of coffee. Coffee – it is all about the ritual. Even on the road. We have a fancy espresso maker. It feels decadent to live in an RV with a $300 coffee maker.

Closing the door to the bathroom.

Walking slowly.

Looking at myself in the bathroom mirror – really looking.

Tucking in my 8 year old baby even though he doesn’t need it. Singing him songs even though he doesn’t ask for them anymore.

Sorting through my small jewelry zipper bag of earrings and necklaces I brought with us and remembering the stories of where they all came from.

Making phone calls to friends.

Lying in the back of the RV and being joined by Josh and having him comment on my aging face, Evan, the world, what he wants to be and how exciting it is to be 12 years old and to have the whole world in front of you.

Sorting emails by name and thinking about my friends and how lucky I am.

Re-reading emails I wrote ten years ago. Laughing at my problems that today are barely memories.


Pieces of the Puzzle

Simon had a dream the other night about a puzzle. Each of us was a different piece of the puzzle. 5 pieces in total. The RV had a piece as well. In his dream the puzzle was breaking apart. Simon’s interpretation was that we are all together now but when we finally land in a proper house we will all break apart because we will get too busy in our own individual lives to be together.

Josh thought it meant that it was the RV trip itself that is breaking us apart because we are together too much, don’t have our own lives, and are driving each other nuts.

When Evan and I discussed it later – out of ear shot of Simon - Evan saw the dream as a fear Simon has of reintegrating into society and that Simon sees we have become closer as a family and likes us all be near him and available.

I thought it meant he had eaten too close to bedtime.

The dream was a catalyst for a bigger conversation about the trip and if it has brought us closer together or further apart.

The trip has taught us how to play together, trust each other and how to disagree.

It has taught us that families are made up of individuals and individuals will disagree. But we are a family and we aren’t going any where so we need to learn how to disagree in a way that isn’t hurtful or disrespectful.

It has taught us that we are a family that loves to play board games, have parties, read books, watch the Walton’s, swim at water parks, likes stupid jokes, love and respect our national parks, support our public libraries, visit friends and family, turn the water off when we brush your teeth, and play Farkle.

We are a family that doesn’t like puzzles.

Friday, 5 February 2010

RV'ers in Paradise

We made it to Hawaii. I know the locals spell it Hawai’i but I find it a bit embarrassing spelling it that way, let alone pronouncing it with a V for the W and a hiccup at the end. Like Americans who speak with fake British accents in London, do they think they are getting away with it? Here is a secret: Brits find Dick Van Dyke’s British accent in Mary Poppins a complete laugh. Posers.

Back in September, when I was freaking out about the ominous trip in front of us, I never really thought we would make it to Hawaii. I thought I would be committed long before then. But here we are, RV’ers in paradise. (Please sing this to the tune of Jimmy Buffet’s, “Cheese Burger in Paradise/Heaven on earth with an onion slice…” but substitute “heaven on earth with a room that’s nice” for the onion bit since I neither like onions nor the size of our RV bedroom)

The Big Pig is taking a vacation in Tempe, AZ parked in the lot of the Days Inn. While I thought there might be a magic button (a la Ms. Frizzle of The Magic School Bus fame) that would transform the Winnebago Itasca Impulse into a flying contraption – or at least a 29 foot raft – the secret button turned out to be a cross-over switch you push in case you run down the engine battery and need to jump it off the house battery. (Note: I actually know what that means)

So here we are in Punalu’u – actually Nehelu’u - on the Big Island of Hawaii. this truly is a paradise. And as if it needs underlining - Simon found a coconut and we spent a good four hours as a family figuring out how to open it up. Kudos to Josh who finally smashed the bugger with a well placed lava rock. A lava rock. Doesn't everyone have one hanging around on their lanai?

What I am wearing: My favorite Laura Ashley summer nightgown with the blue and green flowers my Mom got me a few years ago. 100% soft brushed cotton. Modestly (but not particularly stylishly) covered up with a light weight pink bathrobe I picked up in Holland this past spring. I have worn the bathrobe only three times in the past seven months. I finally feel justified that I brought it because I am wearing it. And my Wal*Mart (God forbid I don’t mention Wal*Mart in a blog) reading glasses.

Where I am sitting: On our lanai. You know you are in an exotic locale when people use the word lanai like it was a normal word. If you call your patio a lanai I think you get a better resale value, or the moniker of pretentious. But it is ok to call a lanai a lanai when you are close to the equator.

We have a 1 bedroom condo on a golf course right next to the only black sand beach on the island of Hawaii. There is a little framed tile hanging on the outside of the lanai next to the sliding glass door that reads, “Mahalo for removing your slippers”. Mahalo is the Hawaiian word for thank you. Slippers are the accepted word for flip flops. Flip flops are the Shoe Wear Formerly Known as Thongs. But now Thongs have an entirely new meaning.

People say the word “Mahalo” a lot to tourists in Waikiki on the Island of Oahu where 80% of the population lives, and most of the tourists visit. I think they are trying to make you feel like you are in the know because you are using a non-English word. They are letting you in on a secret.

But I have noticed now that we are on the Island of Hawaii that nobody but white people use the word.

What I am drinking: Vanilla macadamia nut coffee out of a coffee cup with the picture of a hibiscus on it.

What I am looking at: Coconut trees, palm trees, bougainvilleas shaped into bushes that separate our little yard from the gold course. The Pacific Ocean is beyond that and the sun keeps popping out from behind the clouds as I type.

What I hear: So many trilling birds that I don’t know the name of. Red capped sparrows, bright yellow/green parakeets, small mourning doves. And the crashing of the waves.

Where are the boys: Asleep.

What I am thinking: Why the hell can’t I relax? Why can’t I be one of those people who smiles when they talk and is content to savor the smell of the coffee and the warmth of the sun on her face. Sun on my face! Oh God! I haven’t put on sunscreen yet. Skin cancer here I come.

Simon has a cold. Should we really go snorkeling when he has a cold? Kayak out to Captain Cook’s Monument – a mile long kayak? Sun stroke. Sharks. Mean waves. We will flip over and be trapped underneath and drown.

I stayed up until 1 AM finishing the book Day after Night by Anita Diamant, the author of The Red Tent. Yes, another WWII historical fiction book about women and their plights that I tend to be drawn towards. Then I tossed and turned for another hour wondering why is it I am so drawn to books about WWII. Is it because I married a Jew and I want to feel closer to the tribe? Because I have had such an incredible life and I feel guilty that anyone should have such luck and this is the least I can do?

Now I am back to the Do It Yourself Lobotomy Kit idea. If I just had a small lobotomy I could turn off the constant chatter…oh never mind. I am in Hawai’i. Embrace it already. It is a beautiful day. The four of us are together and we are healthy and our biggest decision is do we teach school for a couple of hours before or after we go kayaking.

If I ever have a tile made to hang up on my lanai I want it to read: “It is better to have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”

Mahalo for reading this.

Here I am blogging from the lanai:

Saturday, 30 January 2010

The Wal*Mart Beauty Salon: A Hairy Experience or Just a Good Deal?

I love oxy morons. Jumbo shrimp. Plastic silverware. Just wars. Butthead. Clogged drain. And who would have thought I would have another to add before we started the RV trip – let alone an oxy moron I could actually walk in to. Yes ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about the Wal*Mart Beauty Salon.

But first, we need to talk about hair. Let’s be real. Does anyone like their hair? Too thin, too thick, too straight, too curly, wrong color. Very few people I have met will honestly say, “Yes, I like my hair.” Certainly not me. While other girls would brush their hair for hours, I never had enough mass to keep me busy for more than a minute or two. While other girls would take a hair band and wrap it around their pony tails twice, mine would go around my thin little strands 4 times and then still fall out. Every hairdresser since I was 12 (when I first started going to hair dressers – prior to that it was a bangs cut and trim in the kitchen) acts like they are giving me new, vital, secret information by letting me know in a hushed voice, “honey, you have thin hair.” Well, at least there is one thing thin on my body.

I remember my father making a comment to me somewhere in my early teens about my hair and then making the jump to his mother…old cue ball. More fodder for future nightmares: Bald by the age of 20. Luckily, I really don’t care. And as a person who is not particularly fussy about her outward appearance and has trouble passing up a swimming opportunity, having my thin hair is, in some ways, a blessing. My hair dries really fast.

Every once in a while Evan and I have little conversations about how lucky the other one is because they married someone who comes with some obscure special skill that they didn’t realize before the vows were taken. Evan, for example, is The Coupon Guru. When ever we arrive in a new place, which is quite often in the past 7 months, he is going through the free newspapers and circulars that are at the front of the local grocery stores that everyone else walks right by. He finds all sorts of 2 for 1 restaurant deals, internet deals, and special deals for families living in RVs with red headed boys, bald husbands and thin haired wives. My added bonus that I brought to the marriage is that I don’t spend money on my looks. “Just think how much money we have saved over the past 14 years because I am low maintenance in the beauty department!”

Since we have been homeless I have had my hair cut twice. Once in Dillon, Montana in late October for $24 by a nice chatty hairdresser named Cheryl who told me way too much information about her relationship with her husband and a second time last week in Scottsdale, AZ.

We were visiting my Mom who is a new arrival to the area and has yet to find a hairdresser she likes. Mom and I had a couple of hours to kill and Mom, as only a mother can, let it be known in her most gentlest of ways, that it was time for me to get my hair cut. Yes, my 76 year old mother still mothers her 47 year old baby. I guess it never ends.

So there we were. Driving the strip malls of the Happy Valley – just north of North Scottsdale and coming up empty on the Beauty Salon front. I spy a Sally’s Beauty Supply shop which I figure might be a good place to do some reconnaissance / information gathering -- get some reliable information from people in the know. I pull up and leave the car running and jump out. There is a long line at the cash register of relatively coiffed women who I figure are locals. I decide to treat the long line of women as if they have gathered there just for me and put out the general question: “Excuse me women, I am new to the Scottsdale and looking for a place to get my hair cut, does anyone have any suggestions in the area?” A woman with jet black hair and many boxes of hair products in her basket takes the bait and says, “There is Roxy’s across at the mall or Wal*Mart next door. Roxy’s is pretty pricey and you need an appointment.”

Back in the car I lay out the options to Mom. No choice. We pull into Wal*Mart. Now, I have used Wal*Mart on and off for a lot of things over the past 7 months on the road trip. I have slept in their parking lots in Kansas, Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota. I have eaten their food, worn their clothes, decorated the interior of the RV for Christmas all with Wal*Mart products. And now I am about to go under the Wal*Mart knife…um, scissors. A new form of Wal*Mart Baptism. Is the next step to go to the Wal*Mart Tattoo Parlor and have their logo put upon my inner arm? Or perhaps go to City Hall and change my name to Wendy Wal*Mart? When does it end? I am thinking of the red and white barber pole in front of the barber shop at the Golder’s Green Tube station where the boys and Evan would make their pilgrimage every 6 weeks or so and how the red and white stripes represents the bloodletting that was the primary function of past barbers – the local surgeons. The white stripe was the white bandage used before the bloodletting and the red stripe for the bandage used after the bloodletting.

We enter the beauty salon portion of Wal*Mart. Yes, there are two beauticians available right now. Right next to each other. We are lucky, the woman at the front lets us know. On Saturday at 12 noon there is usually a line out the door. Mom’s beautician is male, has a wild black Mohawk and stinks of cigarettes. My beautician is a chatty Korean woman and our conversation is mostly about kimchi and how you either love it or hate it.

We emerge 30 minutes later with matching hair do’s for $17.95 a piece for a wash, cut and blow dry. The experience, like my thin hair, is less hairier then expected.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Tornados, RV parks and the City of New Orleans

We are in Scottsdale, Arizona visiting my Mom who has recently moved here after 30 years in San Diego. She moved here because San Diego wasn’t hot enough for her and when you have arthritis, deep penetrating desert warmth is what you would sell your best milking cow - or your condo in San Diego - for.

(“Your best milking cow…” Where did that farm analogy come from? Clearly I have been spending a little too much time in rural areas and watching re-runs of The Walton’s.)

It has been uncharacteristically cold and rainy since we arrived in Scottsdale and tonight there is a severe weather warning with the chance of tornados. I have a new relationship with tornados now that we don’t have a root cellar to climb down into from the RV. And - let’s call it like it is – tornados have homing devices for RV’s and trailer parks. Growing up in Minnesota I am all too familiar with the sirens that ring out signaling a tornado warning and the importance of getting into the basement ASAP. When I was a kid I would consol myself knowing that we would be safe because we were in the basement and besides, the tornados would go for the trailer parks and who cared about those people anyway? I didn’t even know anyone who lived in a trailer park. Needless to say, I have a different view of the situation now.

At 10 pm tonight the tornado warning was down graded to mere Flash Floods so we felt comfortable hitting the road and packed up the three bags of clean laundry we had done at Mom’s place, along with the 14 new books we checked out from her local public library called, exotically, The Arabian Branch. We bundled Simon up in his spaceman pajamas, loaded Josh down with bags, and headed out in Mom’s car to the cheap hotel we are staying at a 20 minute drive down the freeway. We aren’t staying at an RV park because, according to Steve at the OK Corral RV Park, “We booked up months ago cause of the car show.” I was kind of waiting for him to add, “Asshole” to the end of that sentence or at least, “duh.” Like I was supposed to know about The Car Show? My question is, “What are RV drivers doing at a CAR show? Traitors.”

So here we are – 10:30 pm on a Thursday night at the Bell Motel located next to the Self Storage facility along side Highway 17 in a torrential rain storm. Mom's car is parked alongs side the Big Pig. As we walked in our room the carpet was all squishy from the rain seeping in under the door.

Simon is having trouble falling asleep because he is scared of tornados, Josh is hiding under the covers playing on his I Touch, Evan just disappeared to the hotel office in search of the free popcorn. We have been moving around so much these past 3 weeks since we left Santa Monica (Anaheim, Big Bear, Joshua Tree, Kingman, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon) I am feeling like a micro waved bag of popcorn after about two and a half minutes on high – we have been bopping around so much.

Simon has just crawled into bed with me bringing with him his three stuffed animals. A bear, a panda and a turtle. These are the mainstays. The beds change, the cities change but he still has his spaceman pajamas, his stuffed animals, and the song I sing. His song. City of New Orleans by Steve Goodman. I have sung this song to him - yes, all three verses - most every night since he was 2. He is now 8. 6 years x 365 days = 2190 times singing City of New Orleans.

I normally don’t hear the words I sing anymore. Tonight I did. Appropriately, a song about travel. 926 miles worth of travel from Chicago to New Orleans. “Mama’s with their babes asleep rocking to the gentle beat…and the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.” I suppose after 7 months on the road we do have a rhythm. Sometimes it is the tapping of the keys on the computer, sometimes it is the packing and repacking, but mostly it is the constant movement. Simon is now asleep lying against me as I type. His steady breathing is a comfort to me just as my singing the same song to him each night nomatter where we are is to him.

“Goodnight America, how are ya? Don’t ya know me; I’m your native son. I’m a train they call The City of New Orleans. I’ll have gone five hundred miles before the days done. ”