And for Our Next Trick…

Finding time to write is very difficult when you work yourself to exhaustion every single day. In my last post I resorted to the last thing a writer wants to resort to: a bulleted list. Yet so much happens every single day that it’s hard to conceive of a better way to communicate that we are, in fact, still here and so busy with setting up the homestead that writing is a very rare luxury.

So again I think in terms of the bulleted list in explaining the dearth of my goal-in-life: writing.

  • We sourced, purchased and received yards of rotted wood fiber for our compost cover material.
  • Built and filled a companion cover material bin next to the compost bin out of pallets – and have done two subsequent rounds of “critter defense” modifications to it to keep the interlopers out of our compost – success!!
  • Moved the trailer that we hauled across the country to our new home and unpacked it.
  • We need to sell that trailer as $7000 of our homesteading budget is tied up in it and we no longer need it. This means copious pictures and documentation and a tremendous amount of time dedicated to creating, maintaining and following up on ads for selling.  Also I had to come up with a tarp cover system to keep the weather and critters out, yet it needs to be modular and easily removable so it can be show to prospective buyers. Done.
  • Bought a chainsaw and safety equipment. Continue online education about tree felling, bucking and chainsaw maintenance.
  • Installed a new deer fence around the elderberry bush
  • Mowed the entire yard with the riding mower that I had never used (and I had never even used one before).
  • Found the last remaining furniture needs to unpack the last room in the house.
  • Finally unpacked ALL the clothing and moved it into the closet. After almost one year we are no longer living out of a suitcase! One of the most amazing feelings…
  • Set up our “office” so we can print, scan and shred. Only remaining items in the “move in” process are shelving our books and finding a home for the musical instruments…
  • Still don’t have a working phone – we researched and did tests; we have ordered a cell signal booster that SHOULD at least let Dani’s phone work reliably. All in the effort to avoid being locked in to an expensive two year contract on a house phone that we really won’t use as our satellite internet costs have already blown our telecommunications budget.
  • Researched, planned, and sourced (most) materials to renovate the kitchen and bathroom faucets, sinks and drains. Actual work always seems to involve one or two more trips to the hardware store than you plan.
  • Replaced the bathroom faucet and drain successfully! But still have the kitchen sink and faucet to replace though…
  • Researched and acquired a portable clothes washer – then did an intensive and successful clothes washing marathon.
  • Installed a new outdoor laundry line.
  • Successfully applied for our Maine drivers licenses, they should arrive in the next week!
  • Registered to vote at our local town office and figured out most of the ins and outs of the waste removal/recycling programs (it’s not your usual municipal curb side thing).
  • Continue to battle with Japanese beetles, Asiatic garden beetles, cucumber beetles and grasshoppers – many young plants in the garden are barely hanging on, we’re R&Ding screen solutions and are planning an Hb nematode treatment soon…

And even though we’re a few (big) steps shy of “Phase 1 complete”,  finally the rewards are showing.

We have our first baby tomatoes and summer squash growing! We’ve harvested basil, kale, mulberries and two strawberries already, too!

We are being frequented by adorable wildlife like frogs, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, flycatchers and wild turkeys. Even a skunk (who I think was the compost raider) and a bat! I don’t resent the compost raider; it’s simply part of finding a new equilibrium. The wildlife was here before we were. We are staking our claim in their territory. It’s quite an experience trying to walk that line with some semblance of equanimity. I could probably write a book about it…

The house’s living conditions are mostly in good order. There is work to be done on the plumbing and mechanical side of things. But we are very comfortable. Finally in a home of our own.

Today I was fatigued to the point where my hands couldn’t grip the PVC pipe I was trying to cut with a pipe cutter. I improvised a solution with wood working clamps. When I finished the task, I packed up the project and declared an afternoon off.

We set up the deck furniture and umbrella, fixed some nice drinks and relaxed by simply doing digital work outside in the bright, breezy summer day. Sometimes we used our bodies as ballast to keep the wind from convincing the umbrella to take the table (and our drinks) for a walk down the road. This was our first time relaxing outdoors in our beloved “deck setup” since we left our Village Lane home in Boise almost one year ago. It’s not that the furniture is amazing – it’s not in the least – but it represents our intent to enjoy time outside in the sun and the air with nothing to do but what we choose to do. Countless cribbage games, talks of dreams and philosophical discourses have happened around that deck setup. It is beyond gratifying to do it again, but on the soil of our new home.

Advertisements

Friends at Forty(ish)?

Welp, here we are. Right smack between Mid-Coast and Down East Maine. Milestones have been made. Progress is happening on schedule. Questions have been answered. Ceremonial whoopie pies have been consumed. The journey, nay, the Amble, we started on 13 August 2015 has reached it’s conclusion. We’re just waiting for the final piece of the farmstead puzzle to fall into place. It’s basically all over but the paperwork. So, what, oh Worrying One, is there to worry about?

Friends. Where we couldn’t find land and ultimately live in either Oregon or California, we seemed to make friends and find like-minded folks with whom to network effortlessly. But here, where we do have wonderful network of family with longtime ties to the area, we do not yet have, nor exactly know how to go about making, friends.

One might think this is related to our notorious status as introverts. But no. You see, we’ve become fairly good at functioning in polite society in spite of our natural tendency to prefer only each other’s company. Inherent social awkwardness notwithstanding. Lucky for us, our existing friends don’t seem to mind that so much.

The issue here is distance. This region of Maine has several small, vibrant towns that can all be gotten to by any number of circuitous or slightly less so routes, depending on your mood and maybe the weather. But rolling hills and trees and numerous water features tend to make everyone a bit spread out in the areas where most folks live. And this is exactly what we want ultimately. But being new to the area and neophyte builders, farmers, and homesteaders in general, it would be nice to know precisely where in those areas of commerce and connection, we could find some folks to befriend and exchange ideas with as we undertake our new life.

Edit: I wrote the preceding about a month ago after we had just arrived. Saturday, while we waited for the well to get tested at our prospective property, we met a couple of our very nice neighbors. This was a good place to start. 🙂

 

I Feel Like a Broken Record…

The relative quiet on our blog is due to lack of enthusiasm to share the unending stream of disappointments and seeming setbacks in our search for land. All along our hopes have seemed tenuous at best and that fosters a reluctance to share as we don’t want to get others excited or ourselves to get emotionally invested in something that may not come to pass. After all, everything we’ve placed our hope in so far has fallen through for one reason or another…

We’re closing in on one month in Maine. The time hasn’t been spent recuperating or related to my brother’s wedding in Florida has been spent on the search for land. We have visited a dozen or more places that didn’t pass the initial assessment. There have been a couple perfect sounding places that we were too late to get offers in on (including one that was a turn-key, permaculture farm). There have also been a couple places that seemed likely to be worth an offer until we performed detailed visits. Then there was one place left that seemed good on the initial checks so we made an offer. The due diligence then revealed nothing important relating to the property (septic, well, construction) had been documented or run through the proper administrative channels – even the subdivision of the parcel by the owner was off the books! That listing agent should be tarred and feathered…

We ended up canceling our offer and attempted to place a new offer on another parcel. I say “attempted” because the holiday weekend has slowed things down. If this offer gets accepted then we start our due diligence process once again. This will be the fourth property we’ve put an offer in on. I hate to be optimistic; as I’ve mentioned before, the search for land must be, with one single exception, a string of failures. But in about two weeks we will have spent six months in our search for our future farm. We’ve painstakingly reviewed many hundreds if not a thousand listings. We’ve visited dozens of properties across Oregon, California and Maine… We’re very tired of this process; we are very much desiring to find our piece of dirt and get on with the business of homesteading!

What does the future hold? When will the threads of fate merge and leave us with a place to call home? When that happens, where will that be? Who can say. We will simply acknowledge that all “failures” to date are because none of those properties were the right place for us. We’re sure there is a place for us here somewhere. We just have to keep following the signs.

It Is All Fun and Games!

The upcoming cross-country move is not going to be easy, but the hardest part will be only having walkie-talkies to keep in touch as we both drive much larger vehicles than we’re used to. We had a plethora of navigational mishaps on our Ambling Full Tilt journey and that was with one of us always as a full time navigator armed with an atlas and Google Maps.

We won’t have that luxury so it’s even harder that we can’t see or touch each other as we cover those many, many miles. And to add insult to injury Dani will be piloting the U-Haul truck, which have never been accused of being aesthetically pleasing.

At least Charley has calming blue velour and inspiring oak accents, to say nothing of this:

Prayer beads from the middle east, worry beads from Greece, and happy traveller Buddha.

A post shared by Favorite Day Living (@favoritedayliving) on

 

Or this:

 

So when we were bestowed with a cornucopia of wonderful parting gifts from our friends Will and Terese (and Yvonne!), Dani was ecstatic to see this:

20160422_142833

One week in to the Ambling Full Tilt journey Dani commented on Facebook:

Road games Volume 1: sing HUUULAAA BUUDHAAAA to the tune of “Wooly Bully”. We’re thinking of attaching a spring to the bottom of Hotei. (Thanks to Kurt for the song inspiration. It’s officially an incurable ear worm.)

1.2: Charley’s latest theme song: Lawd, I was born a rambling vaaaaan…

Never quite able to forget the image of a hula-dancing Buddha – how could it not make a person smile? And magically before we start our next cross-country trip, here we go: a Buddha on a spring! It’ll turn the drab U-Haul into a cockpit of awesomeness!

As I was writing Will a thank you note I included this story with a link to the Wikipedia article on Budai (whom we call Hotei and rub his belly the first time we get in Charley each day). I was familiar with a fair bit of the Budai folklore (why else would he inhabit Charley’s dashboard?), but I had never read this article before.

Lest anyone think we are being flippant or crass having fun with Buddhist traditions, let me share the following. As I read through the Budai/Hotei article thoroughly the remaining traces of sadness at leaving things behind, which had informed my last post, vanished.

Budai/Hotei is usually seen as the Maitreya or the Buddha that will appear in the future of this world; the successor of the current Gautama Buddha, if you will. He is always smiling or laughing. He is always poor, carrying what little possessions he has in a cloth sack. In fact his name means “cloth sack.” This combination has resulted in him being regarded as the embodiment of contentment. Tradition often has him entertaining children and giving them gifts from his cloth sack; what little he has he is happy to share. Being fat, others have obviously been happy to share with him in kind.

Wise and content he wanders with little material wealth, enriching and being enriched by the lives he encounters.

It is said the historical Budai was an eccentric Chan monk. Chan is the Chinese Buddhist tradition that led to the rise to Japanese Zen. There is a koan that discusses him directly:

Budai was travelling, giving candy to poor children, and only asking a penny from the monks or lay practitioners he would meet. One day a monk walked up to him and asked: “What is the meaning of Chan?” Budai dropped his bag. The monk continued: “How does one realize Chan?” Budai then took up his bag and continued on his way.

From where we are in life this makes me think: You can’t pick up the bag if it’s too heavy. If you can’t pick up the bag, you can’t move. If you can’t move, you can’t live. I am living. I am content. I am, in fact, happy. Even if there are some moments where I am not smiling or laughing. Those are mere moments. The general course is replete with smiles and laughter.

Life is all fun and games! Even if it’s not sometimes. As I conversed with my dear friend Tyler last night we talked about this extensively. How can I say life is all fun and games? Because to argue it isn’t is to argue that it has a “point.” But be careful asking what the point of life is because you can very quickly get trapped in a maze of illusions.

I’m reminded of Alan Watts’ words (to paraphrase): to ask “what is the point of life?” is like asking what is the point of dancing? Or what is the point of a symphony? Do you aim for a particular point on the floor? Do you rush through a performance just so you can play the final note? Of course not. Dancing is the point; playing or listening is the point.

Life is an art, not a project. If you can take 15 minutes to listen to Alan Watts articulate this art, I would highly encourage you to do so. Even if you don’t agree with some of what he says it is very much good food for thought.

On what it’s all about:

On the nature of life – and death:

What can be said about the “point” of it all?

 

It’s Not All Fun and Games

The Adventure Versa went bye-bye today, like so many other significant things that have vanished. I sold my first guitar, a ’77 Ibanez “lawsuit era” Les Paul. My first acoustic guitar, and Alvarez “Midnight Special” is also gone. I bought the first when I was 16, the second a few months later when I was 17. Also gone: my beloved 1970 Fender Twin Reverb and my bass-amp-to-end-all-bass-amps; a hand picked rig featuring a BBE preamp, and an Eden cabinet that could break windows. Likewise my beloved home theater, built and rebuilt over 15 years probably to the tune of $30k-$40k, also gone for $1100. Hundreds of DVDs containing movies that have marked my heart and soul for my entire life… many special collector items that almost no one besides me even seems to care about, sold for pennies on the dollar…

My lifelong dream to surf lead me to other boards in this landlocked state of Idaho: a great skateboard from my brother I renovated, a Bongo board for indoor training and the crown jewel of them all: My 44″ Arbor Genesis longboard… wait? Why would an Idahoan be into surfing what what does that have to do with skateboards?

I have always wanted to surf since I was a teenager; my heart aches for it. It took until my early 30s for me to get to Waikiki. Once there, my instructor pushed me into my first wave (a mellow 3-4′  rolling wave) on my the first board I ever touched (probably justifiably considered a “kiddie” board – a SofTech foam board)… it was rapture! On my first try I got up and I rode that wave on my n00b foam board and absolutely loved every nanosecond of it! On my best ride that day I covered over a quarter of a mile a la’ Bruce Brown’s Endless Summer. The girl surfing next to me (it was her first time, too) was right with me; the wave broke smooth and flat and just rolled forever… we must have been only 15 feet apart for 15-20 seconds. We gawked at each other unable to believe that such a thing was possible! Real surfers may balk at such romanticism for an unremarkable wave and unremarkable “performance.” But this was our first time ever and we were doing it and it just kept going. We whooped and hollered at each other and, eventually, the wave petered out and we sank in.

That bug bit me. Once I was back in Idaho I got into skating. And the resulting boards (including a river surf board for the Boise River) have all gone away; evaporated in the downsizing. Each of these items goes to some random Craigslist person, never to be seen again. Each a little chunk of me; each a little chunk of my hopes and dreams.

After all the purges I’ve done where I got rid of stuff I didn’t really care about (the three before the Ambling Full Tilt journey), now I’m at the last purge: where I really care about the things that are going away. Yet I’m the one insisting they go away. It’s an odd tension. I can’t have all this stuff with me as we move forward. But now I must purge elements attached to my former hopes and dreams. I currently live in the land where dreams compete against dreams!

It’s tough chasing you dreams. I would love to surf and skate and play music all day long. And to be a race car driver on the weekends (a long story). So what am I doing? Selling everything. The relics of my former dreams are being liquidated to finance this dream: to build a farm with Dani.

Why? I want to write! I can’t not write, even though I’m not even particularly good at it. But if Dani and I can raise veggies, care for chickens (maybe goats), AND get our finances in a row, we won’t have the bills that require being slaves to money that hamper people from doing what they love. We will write! Maybe it will amount to nothing. But maybe it will amount to more than nothing?

Writing is dream one. Music is dream two. Surfing is dream three and racing is dream four. We must make choices that further the pursuit of our dreams. There are no rules. It’s a little heart-rending to sacrifice elements of the lesser dreams for the greater. But we have to move forward somehow.

And now we’re looking to move to Maine to start a farm.

How do you eat an elephant?

The Vagaries of the Search

As I mentioned in my last post, perhaps the reason the tales of finding land are rarely told is because they are so fraught with disappointments along the way. Spending time dwelling on them seems counterproductive. We have been rather silent over the past couple of weeks for a few reasons. Not the least of which was, after advertising our first trip to California in the hopes of finding land, things didn’t end up working out. It’s never very comforting advertising that sort of thing. There were other things too, like the saga of Babs the chicken, but that is a tale for another time.

After returning to Boise from our first trip to California, we had seemingly hit a brick wall. Nothing was happening. After over a week of very hard work, it seemed we never made one iota of progress. Dani finally wrote her “Universe’s Waiting Room” post when it seemed there was simply nothing else to do. That afternoon the tiny house trailer deal gelled, a new land parcel was listed, our agent mobilized and things began to move very quickly.

The tiny house trailer was uncanny for several reasons:

  • It was designed to accommodate the Morrisons’ hOMe design, the very house we were intending to build.
  • The owners had already installed flashing, insulation, wooden anchor beams and subflooring.
  • They had purchased all the windows they had intended from the build.
  • Work was forcing them to move so they decided to sell the project at a huge discount and…
  • They were two hours away from where we wanted to search for land anyway.

In a whirlwind of activity we made arrangements to go and were on the road in just over two days.

We hit the road knowing we were travelling on the only day when snow was likely on Donner Pass. We couldn’t go sooner, and we were not going to delay, so we bit the bullet. It was harrowing. We tried to hurry over the pass and miss the incoming storm (and the guaranteed, subsequent chain restrictions), but didn’t quite make it. The snow began falling heavily and visibility dropped. We neared the summit, having passed a couple of wrecks already, and thought we might make it over altogether when all traffic ground to a halt.

What followed was a most torturous wait as emergency services very, very slowly cleared vehicles and began to open the lanes of traffic. Each passing moment brought more snow, more potential ice build up under the warm traffic jam (the outside temperature was 27 degrees) and decreasing probability that we would make it over the pass smoothly.

As we chewed our fingernails wondering how long opening the road would take, snow accumulated. What you see on the mirror is what gathered just in the 30 or so minutes we waited while they cleared the wrecked cars:

20160328_130922_s

It may not look like it, but that is about two inches of snow.

You would assume the folks clearing the road were pros, but it was a maddeningly long time before we got to move again. As we pulled through we found no fewer than four vehicles smashed up from driving too fast in the snowy conditions. And the lack of skillful driving continued as traffic tried to move forward; some people were so paranoid at sliding that they seemed unaware that it takes a certain, small amount of momentum to drive uphill on a slick, snowy mountain highway. I carefully tried to filter through the slowpokes and stay out of the way of the dangerous speed demons. Sure enough, some vehicles came to a stop while the wheels still TRIED to roll forward and began to move backwards creating new blockages for the several miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic behind them. Being near the head of the queue, we slipped through. Thankfully none of the speed demons caused wrecks or went off the highway.

It was a longer climb to the top than I had hoped and many traffic jams were caused with people pulling over and a applying chains, then getting back on the road. We white-knuckled it through the slow downs praying to the weather gods that we would not get stuck. Somehow we made it to the summit, then began the real danger: getting up was hard, getting down safely was much more challenging.

Regardless, we did succeed and breathed huge sighs of relief as we transitioned from the snow zone and below-freezing temperatures to merely rainy conditions. After nine hours on the road we picked our way to the plot of land. We made it without incident and, apart from being a little torn up from some septic testing, it was actually almost exactly what we were looking for. By far the best parcel we’ve seen to date, the back end of the lot was actually a serene, year-round creek. It had electricity across an easement in the property line and a well already drilled. We decided to make an offer!

From there we headed to the home of some of our new friends (met on the previous trip), who had graciously offered to host us during our stay. We got settled and even finished up the offer paperwork that night. The following morning the offer was submitted to the buyer’s agent and we thought we were possibly well on the way to actually having the land for our future home! So naturally the first thing we did was head out first thing in the morning to drive almost three hours to pick up the tiny house trailer.

The trailer was actually everything we could hope for, so we bought it.

After all these months and all the deliberation, we finally had committed to the tiny house path!

Because the trailer also came with a large amount of lumber, thirteen windows and no sides (truly flat-bed!) packing it was quite a challenge. Also the last time I hauled a trailer was 20 years ago and it was a little pop-up camper. This was over 30 feet long and weighed almost a ton. I was somewhat apprehensive.

Loaded up, we pulled out and began the second afternoon in a row of harrowing driving. Long story short (too late!) we got back to our friends’ place but missed the turn to their driveway. We checked Google maps which said there was no way around, I would have to reverse. I hyperventilated a bit, shoved the truck into reverse and began to back that large trailer uphill on a very narrow and not perfectly straight street. If you’ve never reversed with a trailer, I do not recommend starting under these conditions. I was doing okay when our friend heard the noisy diesel working away and came out to offer help. He assured me Google was wrong and there was a route “around the block” and he suggested I try it.

“It’s very narrow.” he said. “A very tight turn, especially for a  trailer this long. But you can probably make it.” he reassured me in his personable, Dutch manner. He did, however, fail to mention it was narrow and tight and vertical. The 3/4 ton, turbo diesel made a good clip up the hill at about 0.5 mph.

“That’s your turn there.” he said indicating where there couldn’t possibly be a turn. I was thinking maybe Google actually was right.

“Wait, where that green sign is?” I ask incredulously. I didn’t think my Versa could easily make the turn, let alone this ridiculous convoy I was piloting. He assured me that was where I needed to go. After a few blinks, I decided it was at least possible and going forward was certainly easier than going back. He comforted me further by adding “If you get stuck, then we’re going to have a real problem.” I didn’t respond.

As we got closer to the turn I stopped the truck and hopped out to toss a small woodpile off the shoulder of the road down into a neighbor’s yard. I needed to be driving there, dammit! With some careful shoulder driving and liberal use of driveways as roadways I set up the rig for the acute-angle turn. I barely sat in the seat as I checked every mirror while moving slightly faster than a snail’s pace. Swing left! Cut right! Dodge the tree! Check the mirror THEN QUICKLY SWING IT IN SO IT DOESN’T GET CARVED OFF BY THAT TREE! OH! And make sure the trailer doesn’t run over that three foot tall stump! Then dodge that OTHER tree!!

“Ha! You made that with three inches to spare! No problem…” he offered.

Sphincters unclenched, we moved forward. I’ve wasted too many words already but parking the trailer on their 20% grade driveway safely and detaching it (we weren’t going to drive with it all over town after all) was yet another challenge. But one accomplished successfully.

The victories were to be short-lived, unfortunately. What followed next was three solid days of delays and miscommunication regarding our offer on the prospective property. [Aside: However we were very fortunate on the social front to meet with all the new friends from our previous trip; and we met even more wonderful people through them! But on the property side of things it was a nightmare.]

Not only did we not get the information we needed, the information we were given was consistently miscommunicated. Having made the offer on Tuesday morning we had assumed we would have a counter offer that day and the back-and-forth would be wrapped up in one or two days and then we would be back to Boise to start wrapping up things there. We thought this because we had been told this was a motivated seller. Not so. It took until Friday night to receive what we were sure was a legitimate counter offer. We countered-the-counter Saturday morning. Another two-plus days were needed before we finally received the formal rejection of our offer (this afternoon).

All of this was made even more challenging because the entire transaction was obfuscated by issues with the existing septic system, the tests and directions the current owner pushed things in requiring a new system, and the unreflective, overly-complicated nature of the septic design culture in the area. Additionally our friends were probably not expecting us to be guests as long as we were. As gracious as they are, we didn’t enjoy finding excuses to occupy our time as we inhabited their space primarily waiting for the buyer/agent and consultants to get their collective acts together.

And so this chapter of our journey is brought to a close: the “Closest-but-no-cigar” yet. We have learned so much through each and every false start, that we try not to get disheartened at the setbacks. But this being the closest one yet – the first plot of land where we could actually visualize it as “home” – makes it even harder to take.

Having received the rejection this afternoon, we will drive back to Boise tomorrow morning leaving the trailer behind, in storage under the care of some other, very gracious, new friends. We will have to travel to my brother’s wedding back East in mid-May, so we booked tickets to fly out of SFO. This will force us to pass back through the area. Either we will find land in California before then and can move the trailer to it during that trip, or we won’t and will will bring it back to Boise to begin the build at that time.

The Sierras feel like home. But is this home? “All signs point to ‘Yes'” says the Magic 8-Ball. But the Magic 8-Ball didn’t have to put up with this shit. Tonight we nursed our wounds by searching for land in Maine just “for funsies.” What we found was shocking: more fantastic sounding land than you can shake a yard stick at (har har). But there is a price to live in Maine: the weather. Yet a price of simply overcoming environmental hardships (even if it is six months of winter) seems far easier and more enjoyable than the hardships of dealing with petty landowners/agents and a deluge of bureaucracy.

Yet it seems we’ve met all these wonderful people in California for a reason. And we love it here. It’s not very satisfying to think “home” lies somewhere between Maine and California. …somewhere…

Again: is this why the tales of the search for land are never told? It seems they are usually summarized simply in a smile, a knowing shake of the head and the utterance: “…we looked so hard for six months before we found this place…”

We are wrapping up three months in the search and it’s taking a toll in so many ways. We will keep moving forward, though. What else can we do?

Waiting For Asparagus and Living “As If”

This past Friday, I was lamenting the fickle, seemingly  mean-spirited nature of some people as I stepped along the top of a narrow concrete curb conversing with our realtor about the latest development in our land quest. We were discussing possible outcomes and the sellers’ motives when I spotted some peculiar looking stalks in between the curb and an old garage. As soon as it registered what those alien-looking plants were, I was instantly feeling more optimistic about the whole debacle. The asparagus I had been waiting for many long years had arrived.

Eight or nine years ago, I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and family, for the first time. Without having any idea all that I would go through in the intervening years to arrive at this moment, I made myself some lifestyle pledges upon reading and rereading that book. One of the more symbolic pledges was that I would one day have a place to grow my own food and live there long enough to see asparagus come to fruition, a process that notoriously takes 2-3 seasons.

Barbara is so dedicated to growing this vacillating veggie that in the chapter she called “Waiting for Asparagus”, she recounted having planted it outside apartments and college dorm rooms before she ever owned a home. Its season, both in and out of the supermarket, normally so good at passing off zombie, passport-carrying produce as edible way past its prime, is short. It takes a long time to grow to a harvest-worthy crop. But when it is good, it is a pure delight. And, like my astounding partner and this massive lifestyle change I unwittingly set in motion all those years ago, it is worth both the work and the wait.

That wild asparagus told me to keep working and waiting. It told me to not lose hope in spite of some seemingly unfavorable circumstances. And as our new friend Carmen told us the day before, it told me to act as if the life we are aspiring to is already happening because it is happening.

And I can see it now. Maybe finding a trailer already set up for the exact tiny house we had been planning to build helped me to visualize the potential in a piece of land I couldn’t see in any of the others we had previously visited. Or maybe this is the “right” piece of land. Maybe it isn’t. But being here with these gracious, sweet people in this magnificent place has certainly helped solidify the feeling of home we’ve been longing for since we closed the door on our old place for the last time.

So, as we await the word on our counter-to-the-counter-offer on our second potential parcel of land, we will continue to live as if it is already ours. Not that we’re going to set up camp there and start lobbying for squatters’ rights, but we are going to keep the wheels in motion everywhere we can. We’re going to transplant our little seedlings into easily moved containers to keep them growing. We’ll keep liquidating our remaining superfluous stuff and readying our tiny house plans with the intent of being back here to start the build within about a month. Perhaps it is foolhardy hubris to bank on something that might not happen, but doing nothing will get us exactly that. Odds are that laying the groundwork, planting the seeds, will eventually yield something. We just might have to wait a bit longer for our own asparagus to manifest. 😉

Greetings From the Universe’s Waiting Room

There’s a scene in Under the Tuscan Sun where Frances Mayes, in a moment of despair, laments having bought a house for a life she wants, but doesn’t see on her horizon. Her Italian friend/realtor consoles her by telling her an  anecdote about a railway over the Alps that was built before there was a train in existence that could make the trip. Eventually, of course, her ideal life situation comes to fruition in ways she didn’t realize or expect and they all lived happily ever after. The end.

Right now, I am in despair as I think about the seedlings I started, so sure that we had finally found THE plan, and not knowing whether, in about a month, they will go into the ground at my parents’ place, go into containers to be transported to our new home if land suddenly materializes and the stars align, or die as a result of our indecision and displacement. Crippling though indecision and displacement may be, I don’t think they will actually kill us or thwart our plans to grow into self-sustaining farmers. But they do make it very difficult to maintain ourselves and our plants, as we both require consistent care, feeding, and a stable environment to thrive.  And although I willingly agreed to leave the relative stability of our former home in search of a life that more resembled what we both dreamed life could and should be, sometimes I can’t help but wonder if it might be easier to surrender to the status quo. Get the job, pay the bills, and have the things so it will all look good on paper and no one will question or deny us the right to live as we please.

Right now, we’re freer than we’ve ever been. Ironically, we’re not free to live as we wish simply by virtue of having enough cash to buy land and build a dwelling.  We’re trying to do things unconventionally (without a loan) and build an alternative to the standard house structure. Unconventional or alternative are words fraught with eyebrow-raising suspicions when dealing with the folks who deal in real estate transactions and building practices. Even in places that are ostensibly friendly to homesteading types. Try to do things inexpensively and in an environmentally friendly way, and there are myriad rules and codes (some of which are contradictory) waiting to tell you why you can’t. The system is rigged, whether you’re in it or trying to fight your way out.

And I can’t for the life of me figure out what all of this means. Research and constant communication have become both of our full-time job these days. We are putting it all out there and entertaining what feels like a million different options just trying to get ourselves set up somewhere so we can move on with building our life. And we keep seeing what seem like positive signs only to have the rug yanked out from under us, contacts who at first seemed enthusiastic and helpful go MIA, someone else get there first, etc.

And it all feels a bit personal in a “pride goeth before the fall” kind of way. Like every time we dare to think it’s happening and share that with someone or many people, the Universe says “NOPE. Sit back down. It’s not your turn.” This is why I have come to think of our current state of limbo as the Universe’s Waiting Room.

We’ve read all the magazines twice and the water cooler is broken. Can it be our turn next, please?

Hiatus

During the ten days of my Vipassana retreat, nine of which were spent in Noble Silence, the words Ambling Full Tilt did not occur to me until sometime during the last full day, when we had ended our silence and were sharing our stories among cabin mates and other attendees. It was strange and also kind of a relief to be able to hit the “pause” button on this adventure and take an equally arduous, yet rewarding and life affirming journey of my own.

Naturally, I missed my partner. But the rigorous nature of the retreat, and the mere fact of not being able to communicate in any way with anyone other than brief whispers to teachers, managers, or servers when necessary, required me to become my own partner in a way I never had before.

I was happy to discover than I very much enjoy my own company. I’m kind of hilarious in my own head. But coming up with witty titles for fake books on how much flatulence a spartan vegetarian diet creates in the average omnivore, and how one should stealthily deal with it so as not to disturb fellow meditators, only carried me so far in maintaining my ability to smile during such a visceral examination of my psyche.

And smile I did, beatifically and uncontrollably as I strolled about the women’s side of the camp. A respite of joyousness and lightening, in all senses, in between sessions of wrestling with profound physical and emotional discomfort, and the “monkey mind” (a term I have since learned from a dear friend) I have been plagued with since birth. During these strolls, I marveled at the fact that I used to protest that I wasn’t going to walk around smiling “like some kind of idiot” whenever my natural facial expressions (colloquially known as Resting Bitch Face) caused some obnoxious coworker or random stranger to exhort me to “SMILE”. Smiling, naturally and from deep within, felt surprisingly liberating. Though that’s not to say that there weren’t times I felt very much imprisoned.

At least once during the first afternoon and intermittently for three full days thereafter, I wanted to bail. Allowing the mind to begin examining deep-seated hurts while trying to maintain an impassive awareness of them is difficult enough. Add to this difficulty a near constant agitation created by the aforementioned roiling intestinal distress, the magnitude of NOISE inevitably created by 300 humans and their various discomforts occupying a “quiet” meditation hall, and the unbelievable incivility that arises in people when they are only given so long to get their meals and aren’t allowed to give someone the courtesy of saying, “Excuse me”, and it’s easy to see why some people never make it past the second day. But sometime during Day 4, even before we learned actual Vipassana (body awareness) technique and the Anapana (breath awareness) was starting to get tedious, it clicked for me that all of these distractions were actually a boon to my mastery of the practice. After all, I was there to learn to be unfazed by the things that were plaguing me in the outside world by first learning not to react to, but simply to observe, whatever external sensations (manifestations of my internal cross-examination) arose from plumbing the depths of my own mind.

Once I figured out that self-sabotage was once again attempting to take the reins by dominating my mind, I began to push through the discomforts and win the internal struggles more frequently. I started replacing the ugly words that popped in my mind with the names of flowers when dealing, silently, mind you, with less-than-ideal situations and less-than-courteous people. Bitches became begonias. Hate became hyacinth. My mind began inventing perfectly logical stories behind people behaving badly. I contemplated valid reasons why I might do the same things. This tactic proved especially useful in calming me down or, better still, subduing any kind of reaction in situations that might otherwise aggravate me. I saw that there was no sense whatsoever in angrily questioning the things people often do obliviously.

This isn’t to say that the remaining six days of my retreat experience were all placidity and platitudes. Vipassana is a technique that takes a lifetime, or many, to master. Every single day I was in the sanctity of that environment, something shook me out of my reverie long enough to let me know that this new found self awareness and stewardship will be a full time job for the entirety of my existence. But I was making a career out of misdirected hypervigilance anyway. Now my attention is a tool, not a torture device.

Stream of Unconsciousness

The following is the entirety of my incredibly disjointed writing since Tulsa. Yesterday, after starting to cry somewhere in the middle of the Nevada desert, overwrought from the manic experience of less than 24 hours in Vegas and an emotional discussion of current affairs in America devolving into being overwhelmed with despair for the state of the world, I came to a simple realization. After I collected myself and happily exclaimed to Lance that I had seen a single bighorn sheep standing on top of an escarpment we passed, I remembered a recent quote from the Dalai Lama in which he asserted that fear, and not hatred, is the enemy of a civilized society and the real cause of our growing unrest. My mind was so clouded with my own fears at the time I read it, that I couldn’t really relate. In spite of the fact that a tattoo on my foot quotes the words of the late Bill Hicks, reminding us to see the world through eyes of love versus eyes of fear, I couldn’t see a concept I already knew and loved enough to tattoo on my body. And my inability to see that made me realize that I had let myself fall victim to the fear-mongering media machine. I saw clearly that the recent acts of gun violence, that any such atrocities, were committed by people who were overcome by their own fear of change and who lashed out in a cowardly way with what they perceive as their only real source of power.

Fear produces a fight or flight response. Some of us, like me, choose to leave the situation that is causing us anxiety. We choose not to engage. We choose peace. And for this we are branded cowards. But what is more cowardly? Choosing not to participate in fruitless fighting, not to force opinions or beliefs on others? Or choosing to destroy lives with instruments of death in an effort to prove a point?

How can anyone say that they are right when the only thing we know is that we do not know? And why do we need to know? Why is mystery and difference of opinion on possible answers not something to be celebrated and enjoyed in an ongoing quest of learning? What else is life but the pursuit of individual truth and joy, and shared experiences of what that looks like?

I’m going to a Vipasana retreat in about two weeks to learn how to turn my focus inward and therefore be better able to focus my attentions where they need to be outward. My greatest wish for humanity is that we could all slow down and do a little introspection. Stop reacting and start acting with civility and compassion. What I have learned on this trip is that there is far more graciousness and generosity in strangers than I would have expected. Because of this, I don’t think we’re a lost cause. But we have to become aware that we aren’t lost before we become a self-fulfilling prophecy and lose it all.

 

And without further ado, (more from) the meandering mind of an incurable empath…

 


 

 

My compass is spinning. My signals are jammed. And so I am unfocused and my messages are muddled. I knew this was coming. My reticence to leave Maine told me that the next several hundred, if not thousand, miles would leave me feeling out of my element and like there is no longer, at least temporarily, a real point to this trip.

I can’t tell if we or the unseasonable season are out of place at this point. We’ve jumped ahead of where we were supposed to be and yet there is the constant nagging feeling that we should rush through a significant portion of the remaining trip we have planned to get back. But back to what?

I miss us in our own space and right now Charley represents the entirety of the space we own. Which is adequate, but hardly sustainable long term. Home is still a figment. Not to say that I don’t miss Boise and our people there, but it’s hard to look forward to going back when all that means is that we will still be in a state of flux, but without a long journey to distract us from having to make long-term decisions.

No, it’s not the place I miss. But my own routine and the comfort of familiar surroundings and myriad ways to get someplace without starting an ignition. I need exercise and the ability to make my own food exactly the way I want, without getting into a debate about why it’s weird, arrogant or somehow pointless to be desirous of food that lacks harmful chemicals and processing, and a bunch of bullshit ingredients that aren’t recognizable to my body as nourishment.

My point is, I encounter at least a hundred things that annoy me on any given day on the road, Facebook, or helplessly glancing at the increasingly ubiquitous TVs (Yep, disliking those makes me arrogant and suspect, too) plastering the walls of many establishments. Things that make me want to cry out “WHY???”, and condemn people for their ignorance/hatred/gun lust/greed/hypocrisy… But I don’t engage. I don’t call anyone out. And I try hard to maintain as positive of an outlook as I can about peoples’ intentions and the state of things generally.

Maybe those people feel, as I do about the things I am passionate about, that what they are doing that incites my irritation, suspicion, and disgust isn’t hurting anyone. Just as any of us doing what we do on a normal, day-to-day, non-criminal basis probably doesn’t hurt anyone and shouldn’t be subject to the ridicule and/or condemnation of others.

If your commentary isn’t helpful and constructive, why bother? And if you are a “friend” who chooses apathy over engaging with and supporting your friends, again, why bother? The fact that we have to hide things from our news feeds, unfollow, and turn off notifications is pretty telling when it comes to “social” media. And there’s a fine line between debating current events and slinging our egos all over the place with the need to be “right”, whatever that means. We’re not finding answers, we’re reveling in discord. We’re addicted to discontent and dissatisfaction with everything not going our way.

Lance and I are both fond of a movie that was panned by critics called Hector and the Search for Happiness. The critical malcontents, predictably, say it is predictable and platitudinous and full of wisdom a four-year-old could dispense. I say, what the hell is so wrong with the wisdom of young children? Clearly, those of us who are of a more advanced and supposedly responsible age aren’t getting it right.

Have you noticed that the capacity for joy has been all but beaten out of many adults? And pleasure, for many, has become a game of escalation and excess bordering on, if not firmly rooted in, depravity. If that kind of mindset has us where we are today, perhaps a return to simplicity isn’t so weird or arrogant. If children know so little about happiness and simple pleasures are so passe, why have Adult coloring books have become an increasingly popular tool for stress management? What if doctors started handing out those instead of prescriptions to keep us docile and complacent? What if simple, childish pleasures could remind us of our humanity and help us see the futility in fighting?