In the Middle

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The license plates on the cars in the car park of the Oklahoma City Holiday Inn this morning said it all. There were cars from New York, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas and more. The road is open to all. The last few days we have awakened to news of more violence around the world. Deplorable acts on innocent people have left hearts aching on all continents. Discrimination is unacceptable. The road does not discriminate, the road says otherwise. The open roads around the world call to travelers of all ages and stages in search of that ever elusive ‘something’ that only the road provides. These last few days we’ve had the privilege of being part of that wonderful diversity on the open road.

After leaving Arkansas, we headed north through the winding roads and mountain towns of the Ozarks before crossing the border into Missouri. We picked Joplin as a lunch stop in order to contribute to a community that went through a disaster and came through the other side. And then we went to Kansas. Without watching for the state lines on our iPhones or catching a glimpse of the ‘Welcome to…’ sign there are times when one state blurs directly into the next. Although the landscapes do change, it’s not at the very instance where one state ends and the other begins. Just another lesson the road teaches; blurred lines are important and what unites us all is much more important than that that divides us. Being thrilled to finally have reached the land of Dorothy, Toto and Auntie Em, I was fixated on how the light hit the horizon and the ever-changing hues of the scenery before me. Sadly, I didn’t notice the state trooper behind me with his flashing lights. First ticket on the road trip received…welcome to the open road!

Sunlit skies of Kansas

Aside from the ticket and the tumultuous rainstorm that followed, the drive through the picturesque landscape of Kansas was beautiful. Getting to see where so much of our grains grow and are kept was eye opening. Pasture after pasture of green covered flat lands floated alongside the two-lane highway as we drove. Cattle and horses grazed happily unaffected by the cars and trucks flying past. Day turned into night and by the next light we were on our way to the land of the waving wheat where surreys with fringes on top rang clear as day through my head. Again, the landscape changed shortly after crossing state lines but never at the exact moment. Whether we picked the Loves Travel Stop on one side in Kansas or the other in Oklahoma, we would never have known the difference from the views on either side-more lessons from the road.

As the luscious green of Kansas faded to the oranges and browns of Oklahoma, we were now further south yet still in the middle. Again, I could completely see the appeal and once again recalled the story of the two men (one from the center and one from the coast of the country). There truly was land for as far as the eye could see. The horizon was a sea of blue sky and green grass in Kansas and only changing color slightly in Oklahoma. This is so different to that of the one I see in Long Beach where blue sky meets blue ocean and the breaking point is that of white caps of waves far off in the distance. Whichever one makes you feel comforted, trapped or concerned about falling into oblivion is for only you to decide. Daily life in the middle may be different than that of the coast, but the big picture is once again, the same. Life is both happening and being lived in both locations teaching us once again that there’s beauty in both the land and the water.

Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum

Cattle and horses turned to oil-rigs, bales of hay and wind farms as we drove through Oklahoma. We shared the road with cars and trucks of all sizes and from all states (so far we’ve counted thirty-two). Many of these trucks carried raw materials created right here, in the middle and such a heartland for the entire country. In Oklahoma City we paid our respects at the city’s memorial. Nine rows of empty chairs (signifying the nine floors of the building) lay beside a reflecting pool. The survivor tree stands tall watching over all while the gates on either side display two times, one just prior to the attack and the other after. Somber, quiet, reflection, reverence, thanks, courage and bravery are not only displayed beautifully throughout the memorial but felt by the many who enter daily to pay respects and perhaps find peace after the fact.

Getting our kicks at the National Route 66 Museum

Leaving Oklahoma City found us jumping again onto 40 West which turns into part of the historical Route 66. Here, once again we rode over tire tracks of countless before us who set out on a similar journey. I’m sure the road shared much of her knowledge and wisdom with them as she has with us; without that, Route 66 wouldn’t be as special as it is, right? So many told us to be sure to find roadside attractions and take in the ‘kitsch’ provided along the way. Riding Route 66 has been a special part of the journey. In some ways although we’re driving forward (following the route on these tiny computers we can hold in our hands) it’s as if we’re heading back in time riding along with those heading west for the first time. And if you have time along the way people said, why not visit the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City…so we did! Showcasing the allure of Route 66, the museum walks you from Chicago to California through the ever-changing landscapes, decades, and technology that go along with this journey. From convertible driving travelers, to native settlers to rural agricultural life, walking through the museum is like jumping into time travel and feeling as if you’re joining the ranks of those who came before you. There’s the farm museum with tractor parts galore, the old town museum showcasing rodeo fame and the Route 66 museum where you literally walk from one end of the road to the other within minutes. We certainly ‘got our kicks’ in this kitsch heaven!

Cadillac Ranch, Route 66, Amarillo, Texas

Continuing west, the browns and oranges of Oklahoma become the deep mustards, maroons and tans of Texas. Although not the likes of the metropolis of Austin, Houston or Dallas, the northern panhandle of Texas gets it’s fair share of travelers headed west on Route 66. Amarillo shares the kitsch of history and helps visitors interact with travelers from decades past on similar journeys. Cadillac Ranch is one of the most visited sites on the famed route headed through Amarillo. Cars that appear as if they plummeted to earth and wedged themselves into the land are in the middle of ranch land surrounded by absolutely nothing. This roadside attraction pops up out of nowhere as cars lurch to an abrupt halt. We came prepared, picking up some spray paint at a Home Depot in Oklahoma this morning. When the world tells you it’s actually legal to ‘tag’ a car, why not participate? Covered in graffiti of all colours, giant cars greet visitors welcoming new artwork at every turn. We were not alone. As we shared our spray paint with onlookers, we joined in yet another experience with travelers of Route 66.

scenery in the northern panhandle of Texas

Headed further west, we’ll continue on Route 66 to New Mexico. It’s been a true privilege to share the journey and continue to learn the lessons of the mother road. Road trips are teachers providing lessons where one never thought to look. Driving through this stretch of Americana as the country music blared through the radio we were the every man. Nothing mattered-not race, religion, wealth, status, gender, ethnicity nor anything else. We were welcomed at truck stops the same locals, travelers and truckers. We were welcomed at rest stops the same as anyone else. And when we waved to the truckers and RV drivers as they passed by…they too waved right back. When Australians took to twitter after the siege in Sydney they tried to show the world that discrimination has no place and that an individual does not speak for an entire community. The road shares that sentiment. No matter where you come from or where you’re going, the road welcomes you with open arms. Safe and happy travels…see you out there!

Protests, presidents and a positive attitude

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Welcome to Arkansas

From Memphis, Tennessee to Little Rock, Arkansas is a straight shot on route 40 West. Within minutes of heading out of Memphis the ‘Welcome to Arkansas’ sign greets travelers in the middle of a bridge welcoming visitors to The Natural State! It was on this road (so far in the trip) that I felt we were reliving a scene out of Thelma and Louise. Driving on the open road amidst the endless plains alongside trucks and travelers alike, we were in middle America. We’ve passed silos and farms, grains, tractors and trailers, country towns and suburban sprawls and made our way down the two-lane highway as so many have done before and millions more will after us. It could have been a scene out of any movie or a page out of history and we remembered again just how lucky we are to be able to traverse these lane ways.

at Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas

After passing license plates from Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee and many more, we entered Little Rock, Arkansas. Home to all things Clinton and the Little Rock Nine, Arkansas has been on the front page of history for many years. Central High School is today an active high school as well as participating in the National Parks System as an historic site. Standing on the street in front and walking up the steep staircase to the massive doors was exciting, eerie and interesting. The teacher in me stood remembering the movie clips and countless times that my students and I discussed the civil rights movement and what happened in 1957. The citizen in me felt honoured to be standing in the same spot that others courageously stood their ground fighting for a right that many others too often take for granted. And the traveler in me was proud to be able to stand there and have the experience at this very special place. And oddly enough, in our visit to Subway for lunch, the girl behind the counter told us she is a student at Central High School and often feels extremely proud be one.

Clinton Library

Another powerhouse of Arkansas, is one who became president of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton. Having never been to a presidential library before, I was unsure of what to expect. What we found were very kind guides, a beautiful building set on a backdrop of natural riverfront, thousands of documents and artifacts, a replica of the Cabinet room and the Oval Office, and a twelve-minute video that chronicled the political career of Bill Clinton from a humble upbringing in Hope, Arkansas. Whether a fan of the red state or the blue it didn’t really matter here. Here visitors get to walk back in history and learn about the time of the Clinton presidency both in and outside of the United States. This impressive building holds memories, clippings and hundreds of photographs of this Arkansas native who changed the lives of many.

Michelle and me

From two sites of history we went to one where history is being carved as we speak. From standing on the spot where teenagers oozed courage, to a building that housed eight years of information we went to one where courageous people are fighting yet another battle. A colleague of mine (from Farmingdale High School) is fighting her own battle with cancer. As a music teacher, her voice stopped you in your tracks and you had no choice but to listen. As a theater director, there are countless actors making their way in the world today who have her to thank for their high school beginnings. And as a mentor, colleague and friend, she is fierce in her loyalty, determination and heart. She is presently at the University of Arkansas Medical Center in the care of fabulous doctors helping her battle a disease and fight for her health. She has always been a force to be reckoned with and today, in our visit filled with chats, memories, smiles and laughter, I was once again reminded of her fierce determination, heart and courage.

Margaret Mead quote

A few months ago, in the Maldives, I met a girl from Arkansas. I do have to say, in forty years, she is the first person from Arkansas I had ever met. She works for the Center for Disease control and has lived and worked in many countries trying desperately to rid the world of infectious and deadly diseases. I knew from history that those from Arkansas were filled with strength, grit and fortitude beyond that of many others and she continued to prove it. Although we’ve been here for only a short time, that’s what I’ll take with me from our visit to Little Rock. Nine high school students displayed courage beyond their years when they fought for their right to go to school. As a citizen and political figure, Bill fought for the rights of others at home and abroad. And just as they all fought and succeeded, I know that Michelle’s courage will win…it seems that in Arkansas, there is just no other possible answer.

Tales from Tennessee

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the Grand Ole Opry

I’ve wanted to go to Nashville since I met my friend, Naomi, my first week at Brandeis University. Since that first meeting, I’ve visited her four times and have seen a new part of this city and its surroundings each time. This was Mat’s first time in the home of country music and we had a blast! Getting to take in a show where the Grand Ole Opry got its start (at the Ryman Auditorium) was incredible. It was as if we were living a scene out of a movie. The radio announcer for WSM Radio had a podium in the corner of the stage and not only introduced each act, but in between, did the commercials for places such as Cracker Barrel and Dollar General. As he spoke, his voice sounded perfectly built for radio and although it took a minute to realize that we were all now on the radio, it felt as time stood still and the world of television did not yet exist. There was something pretty special about sitting in those pews where so many have sat before us. In this place where newcomers share the same stage with country royalty and fans get up close interactions with their favourite stars or those who will soon become favourites, magic happens. This was an experience in itself.

Country Music Hall of Fame

We checked out the new Country Music Hall of Fame and marveled at the nostalgia and history of this music genre. As we wandered through the exhibits of Kenny Rogers and icons of the industry like Barbara Mandrel, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and so many others, memories floated off the glass for the both of us. We reminisced as we walked (as both of our childhoods had bits of country thrown in). There were platinum records to look at, Elvis’ favourite cars to see, heaps of music to take in and snip-its of history displayed everywhere. We’ve felt pretty lucky to be able to see the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame both in the same year-talk about Americana, right?

at the Country Music Hall of Fame

As with so many other gifts of travel, time to wander is one of my favourites. Taking in the scenery, enjoying your surroundings, sharing memories of travels past and just being-that’s what we did this afternoon. We had lunch with Naomi at Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant for true southern comfort fare. Beer in a mason jar, fried pickles, sweet tea, fried green tomatoes and of course barbecue, corn cakes and mac and cheese for all appeared on the table. Not sure that my system will ever fully get used to it, but, when in Rome, right? And, since an evening in Nashville is best spent ‘honoring thy music’, that’s just what we did. Country hopefuls belted their best at Tootsies and we stayed to watch, listen and support the dream.

at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis

Music is the main focus of our journey through Tennessee. As we ventured from country to blues with a bit of a hip swiveling Elvis thrown in, we made our way from Nashville to Memphis by way of a stop at another fabulous Diners, Drive Ins and Dives establishment. Arriving in Memphis (my first time and the hub’s second), we were ready for beer, blues, barbecue and a bit of history. First stop was the Civil Right’s Museum held at the Lorraine Motel. Built on the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. the well-done museum recounts the history of the Civil Rights Movement from slavery to today. As a former US history teacher who spent much time focusing on the rights, movements and injustices of others, I enjoyed seeing how the museum brought history to life. There were three-dimensional reenactments, movies with sights and sound bites of history, and even a replica of the bus that started the boycott in Montgomery. You could be a part of the sit-ins at a Greensboro lunch counter, take a seat in the school with those who fought so hard for their rights to attend and march with activists throughout history. And as eerie as it was to see Nelson Mandela’s cell at Robben Island in South Africa, I felt the same while staring into room 306 at the Lorraine Motel and the space across the street from where the assassination took place.

on Beale Street, Memphis

Like many other museums that focus on a dark time in history, we left discussing periods of injustice and thinking of so many who worked so hard for the rights of others. Pensive, we left pondering the exhibits and continued our discussions over barbecue at Central BBQ, home to some of Memphis’ best. Sustenance filled with fried goodness covered in sauce filled our bellies and we walked off the delicious caloric intake on Beale Street. As music soared out of the clubs onto the streets, we listened, taking in the scats, sax and vocals that have made Memphis legendary. An evening in this city is best spent listening to blues and that we did. BB Kings was filled with locals and travelers alike all doing the same thing. As we sat, surveying the scene of young and old, we smiled. Travel provides so very many things, and so much of it falls into the category of perspective. In front of us was a family of four. The littlest one was asleep on the edge of the stage and the two grandmothers had to have been close to eighty years old. Next to us was a man in his fifties and behind us a bachelorette party of twenty-somethings all doing exactly the same thing. For those that are able and those who want to, there’s such life to be led. And on a Thursday night in the middle of December……that’s just what it felt like we were doing…..living!

Graceland

There’s so much to see and do in Memphis. Where the worlds of barbecue and blues are infused into the culture, our ears perked up and mouths watered the entire time. After a short side trip to the University of Mississippi (because, why not?) we spent the afternoon participating in all things Memphis. Home to Heartbreak Hotel and hip swiveling fame, we took in a tour of Elvis’ home, Graceland. After placing our iPads around our necks and headphone on our ears, John Stamos’ soulful voice guided us through the compound belonging to the king of rock and roll. The pool room, the jungle room, the pasture and even the trophy room-stop after stop we were treated to the glitz and gifts of Elvis. His number one records hung on the wall, famous outfits adorned the cases and clips of historic proportion played throughout the entire tour. His cars filled an entire building and two airplanes are available for touring. People were everywhere clicking pictures of the wall signed by thousands (which we of course added to), the original Christmas decorations and the meditation area at the end of the tour where the king of rock and roll is laid to rest.

Elvis' gravesite-Graceland

On to the ducks and their duckmaster! For fans of children’s books everywhere, The Peabody Hotel is like living out the dreams of Eloise at the Plaza and helps the images of Make Way for Ducklings jump off the pages. The duckmaster adorned in a bright red uniform unfurls the red carpet and tells the story of how the ducks came to be at the Peabody. According to the story, a trainer for the circus had been a guest at the hotel and after the general manager had left a few ducks in the fountain one night, said guest told him he could train the ducks to walk from the fountain to the elevators and back to their rooftop accommodation. The general manager told the man that if he could do that, the ducks would stay…and so they have for well over fifty years. With onlookers propped on the edges of their seats and children lining the red carpet, at promptly five o’clock, the ducks waddled their little webbed feet up the short staircase, onto the carpet, down the aisle and made their way safely to the elevators as flashbulbs went off as if the royal family were in town for an engagement. Talk about a Memphis tradition!

the ducks at The Peabody Hotel

With a quick stop at Huey’s (winner of the best burger in town for the past thirty years), and a meander down Beale street we ended our evening at the FedExForum for a Grizzlies game. Memphis has treated us to over two wonderful days filled with legendary music, mouthwatering food, history and heaps of smiles. Each person we encountered embraced us with a ‘Welcome to Memphis’ phrase. It’s as if the city could literally wrap its collective arms around visitors so they would know how happy they are to have you here. Clad in blue jackets, information providers stand on street corners every night to ensure that you find your way to your next destination. As I lay awake in our hotel room, I couldn’t help thinking about the cashier in the Mississippi Loves truck stop where we ate lunch today. After all of the people she sees and interacts with in a day, she never missed a beat. Although she was in the midst of a queue of customers, she smiled at us as we left. In two short sentences she captured the sentiment we’ve felt along our travels. ‘Ya’ll come back now’ she said as we went to push the door and just as it was about to close behind us she followed with, ‘have a blessed day’. How would it be possible not to smile after that? We’ll be back…thanks, Tennessee.

Mat at Graceland

The Two Yutes

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Channeling My Cousin Vinny

Years ago I read a story in the local paper about two men, where they live and how they felt about their spot in the country. One man lived on the East coast and looked out at the ocean from his property. In his view he felt as if he could see forever and couldn’t imagine not living by the sea. Another man lived in the middle of the country and looked out on open fields of green that went for miles and he too felt as if he could see forever. The two decided to switch places for two weeks to see how the other lived and to, at least for a while, see how they felt in differing habitats. The experiment ended in five days. Both men could see the appeal of how the other lived but felt trapped in their surroundings. The ocean man who was now viewing endless land felt suffocated while the landlocked man felt as if he was about to fall off the end of the earth with the ocean at his fingertips instead of his calming land. Both knew that they were lucky to live in these wonderful places and now began to fully understand that although both had its merits, they felt more comfortable in the one better suited for them. These days I can’t stop thinking about this story.

Chattanooga's Choo Choo

Today, I saw America. As we channeled the two yutes of My Cousin Vinny fame and tried desperately not to get stuck in the mud in Alabama or have to deal with positraction (‘you know, when one wheel spins and the other does nothin’) we had a truly interesting day. We awoke in Chattanooga, had lunch in Alabama and dinner in Nashville all the while enjoying the wiles of the open road. Road trips are a different animal and allow for a lot of reflection and thought.

Roll Tide!

As we drove through the open roads of Alabama, in the heart of Dixie, it was peaceful. Although, we couldn’t make it to some of the larger cities known for Civil Rights fame, we were no less in Alabama – Roll Tide! Tractors, open roads and life were all happening as we drove. Stopping to take a photo in Alabama mud and photograph the land, we made our way to the US Space and Rocket Center (in Huntsville) to see bits of NASA up close. There were world-class rockets and lunar modules to see along with stealth CIA aircraft and other NASA technology…unless something changes in life, it’s as close to space as I’m going to get at the moment. After noticing a bit of a flat tire and popping some air in we headed to the Walmart tire and lube center and the fabulous folks patched up the leaking tire for 10$ and a smile. Real people, real kindness, real life! Okay, so we didn’t get stuck in the mud, but we did have some sort of car debacle-movie much?

US Space and Rocket Center-Huntsville, Alabama

As we crossed back into Tennessee and grabbed tickets to the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium, we felt comfortable in our car and with our new fascination with the open road. After a quick change of clothes we were on our way to the Ryman but first took a wander down the streets of Nashville at night. Sometimes it’s fun to be a tourist! Photos with guitars, Elvis’s and anything country that was on display took place regularly. Dinner at the Rock Bottom Brewery and a saunter down Broadway led us to the Ryman, home to country music legends, royalty and Grand Ole Opry fame.

Space and Rocket Center-Huntsville, Alabama

Buses upon buses unloaded as people took their seats in the wooden pews designed for the evangelical church tabernacle that is today the home to voices upon voices and known as the church of country music. Looking around, I again felt, this is America-different than where I’m from yet much the same-this is what I love! In this arena, diversity was limited and the average age slightly older than 60 in the audience on this Tuesday night in December. This road trip is so very different to others we’ve taken. Although I’ve driven countless times throughout the Northeast and many times down the coast of California, this is the first time spending so much time away from salty sea air. It’s truly amazing that although we all live in the same country, some of life as we know it is completely different-yet so much of the big picture the same. Living life to the fullest and enjoying family, friends and fun were on for the evening. The crowd at the Opry is different than a crowd at Broadway on a weeknight. The difference was palpable but the feeling of enjoyment, community, togetherness and pride mutual. No matter where we are in the world we notice that similarities are far greater than differences – travel brings so much perspective to the mind.

Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium

As is with all things travel, there are experiences and learning that takes place when one least expects it. In the few short days we’ve been on the road, we both already feel like we’ve gained insights. The world is smaller than most people think, life is lived no matter where you are, all spaces have merits, people are mostly good and we are so very lucky to have this opportunity are topics that have popped up daily in our journey on the road. No matter what, I’m thrilled to be in this situation and to have the chance to experience this road trip. Informal learning is some of my favourite and it’s happening at every turn. Here’s to life on the great open road…see you out there!

Wandering Nashville's Broadway

Fresh Air, Family and Firearms

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The husband's chicken and waffles at Miss Shirley's in Baltimore

The road trip has begun! It’s amazing that with such little direction we feel so very grounded. As always, travel has treated us to a metaphor for life. Having set off with a car filled with belongings to cover over 3000 miles across the country, our first two stops have been with family. Baltimore was first for a quick 24 hours, which of course, included a brekkie of utter deliciousness at Miss Shirley’s Cafe in the Inner Harbour. After a rejiggering of car possessions, a space bag mishap, endless rain, a three-hour trek to touch the inside of the West Virginia border and countless country roads we entered North Carolina and the weekend began!

We made it!

First stop – the North Chatham Fire House Christmas party! My uncle works EMS with the North Chatham firefighters who were having their annual Christmas party where Santa makes an appearance! We finally made it out of the car and into the huge firehouse filled with a few trucks but mostly empty space for revelers, tables, holiday cheer and all sorts of good comfort food! We hung with locals, waved at Santa, chowed down on mashed potatoes, mac and cheese and more and chatted to family and fire fighters alike. Since the hurricane in Long Beach, we have met so many of those who rush in first, firefighters and first responders have an even greater piece of our hearts.  This was a low-key evening with every bit of charm, class and comfort of North Carolina-it was perfect.

Hanging with the firefighters of North Chatham Fire Dept.

My aunt and uncle have now lived here for about five years or so. They sold their Long Island home, packed up their belongings and relocated to a life south of the Mason Dixon line to embrace all things North Carolina. They live in a community of those displaced from everywhere who came for all things warmer, slower, more relaxed, friendlier and are filled with a zest for life. Many of the gifts we have found through travel, they have found in relocation. They’ve searched and discovered supermarkets, shops, fun, entertainment, volunteer experiences and many new friendships. We now share some of the things we love in travel like the ability to truly be yourself, meeting new people who live in a world bigger than that of what you once knew, ditching the expectations of others who knew you at a certain point in life and welcoming new goals, challenges and choices. They seem happy, calm, content and at ease in this life and for that I am truly happy. I am so glad that they found their happy, just as we have found ours through travel and this journey together.

Fun at the firehouse Christmas party in North Carolina

As for their North Carolina, they live just outside of Chapel Hill – well, it’s beautiful. We spent a morning brunch treat at the famous Mama Dips. The yummy pancakes, grits and biscuits oozed with all the flavour and heart that make it well known and loved by so many. We drove through the brightly coloured, fun-filled college town of Chapel Hill and the gorgeous thriving campus of University of North Carolina before returning to their development for a beautifully sunny walk on a gorgeous non-freezing day in December.

The husband's brekkie at Mama Dips...Chicken & gravy, eggs, grits and biscuits

After a fabulous dinner with family, we had a lesson from a friend of the family (and member of the special operations military community) in a North Carolinian culture…guns and the 2nd amendment. With a passion for a hobby far greater than any I have ever seen or heard, he gave us a lesson and show beyond anything we could have imagined. This was different and definitely special. Agreeing, disagreeing or sharing in his choice didn’t matter – what did was witnessing a passion of someone sharing what they love with others. His expertise and delivery of information was impeccable, easy to grasp and one that exuded immense love of country, constitution and reverence for rights. As a girl who has never seen a weapon up close EVER, and an Aussie who comes from a country with extremely strict gun laws – we were nevertheless…impressed! We’ve seen police shows and movies with talk of rifles and pistols, but never up close and personal – that’s for certain. There were a variety of pistols and rifles along with holsters and bullets to boot. Craftsmanship, understanding, and perspective were underlying lessons that came alongside the presentation of this incredible collection. Never did I imagine that this is a place in which I’d be standing and this is a lesson in which I’d take part-but it was an experience I’m certain I will not forget.

The crew at Mama Dips

The air has been clear, the sky has been sunny, the company warm and the community welcoming. Although the nearest beach is three hours away, I can without question see the appeal and bliss to be found in North Carolina lifestyle. And as for some of the gifts we find in travel, they too moved by choice and found a contentedness many never do and even more are often too afraid to seek. Wooded areas, large swaths of untouched land, wilderness hikes, mild seasons, cows, horses, and life in breathable air without having to keep up with anything but your own dreams are here. I’m so glad they all found their happiness. Can’t wait to return. Next up….headed south!

Wheels Up!

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I can’t believe it! The day has finally arrived! We’re heading off on a grand adventure driving across the United States to spend a North American winter in San Diego. There’s been so very much travel dreaming and planning that the day just kind of snuck up on me.

There’s still stuff on the floor of the apartment waiting to be thrown in a box or a bag or shoved somewhere deep into the car abyss, but as the lights from the boats in the ocean sparkled and the stars danced in the dark night sky last night, it’s as if the ocean and its inhabitants were saying so long, enjoy and we won’t forget. Mother nature certainly creates amazing gifts.

When we’ve gone on other trips that involve airplanes, I typically get excited as we finally go through passport control and security – knowing that there’s nothing more to do but to go and explore. This one is different since there’s no airplane and we are the pilots of the journey. It’s invigorating to know that we can head to wherever the wind takes us, yet a bit daunting to be fully in charge. Who knew that big road trips were metaphors for life?

Either way, I think I’m a bundle of nerves, excitement, interest, joy, curiosity and wonder all rolled into one at the moment. Things will get packed (or they won’t), the apartment will get cleaned (or it won’t) and after a brekkie at our favourite bagel cafe, we’ll be on our way into the wide world of adventure that seems to be one of life’s unknowns in which I am truly comfortable.

Travel, like the beach, is my happy place. The curiosity, whimsy, spontaneity, people, stories, magic, sights, sounds, smells and all things in between tickle me in all the right spots and fill me with a wonder that is otherwise tempered by the mundane. There’s life to be lived in these years and we don’t want to be filled with ‘what if’s’ or ‘should haves’…so we’re taking the risk and just going.

Who knows where the winding roads will take us but, just like life, I imagine…it’s all part of the journey. The geographic destination may be the sun-filled beaches of San Diego but the adventure begins when we pull out of our car park and head towards the unknown. Normally, that sentiment wouldn’t sit so well with me….but this time, I can truly say, ‘I can’t wait’!

Join us on our travels as we check out various cities, national parks and some of the kitschy roadside attractions of Route 66. First stop…Baltimore, Maryland!

It may be the Pacific instead of the Atlantic & California sand instead of that of Long Island’s south shore…but we’ll always have a shell in our pocket and sand in our shoes ! Happy Holidays, Long Beach..see you in the spring!

Feeling Thankful

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Two years ago, Thanksgiving took on a whole different meaning. After Hurricane Sandy hit our shores and our city was in survival mode, so many from all over gave selflessly to assist. The generosity was overwhelming and community spirit lifted. Helping to feed over 1500 people a Thanksgiving meal that many would not be able to otherwise have was heartwarming and inspiring to save the least. The people, the sense of community and memories of that day will stay with me far longer than the destruction of the hurricane.

Thanksgiving after Sandy

This year we’re in town to spend with the family and friends. When I was younger, I used to think this was ‘the only way’. When my friend, Cara, took her vacation time late in November, she convinced me that it was all right to do the same. For years I escaped and used the four/five day weekend I would get while teaching and skip town to a land where the third Thursday in November was just that…a Thursday. One year the hubs and I spent road tripping Pacific Coast Highway in California and realized once and for all that there are many ways to spend this festive weekend.

Perspective achieved!

I love knowing that there’s more than one way for just about everything and that is one of those things for which I am thankful. Whether giving back to those in need, feasting at a beautifully set table or hanging with family/friends on a beach somewhere-do it your way, be proud, be happy and BE THANKFUL.

Feeling Thankful For…

  • Health (and those in the medical profession who help others achieve theirs)
  • Family & Friends
  • Happiness
  • Kindness of others (and those in the rescue, relief & recovery organizations who give tirelessly)
  • A roof over our heads
  • Community
  • Volunteers
  • Choice
  • Fresh air
  • Clean water
  • Security and safety
  • Toes in the sand kind of days
  • Travel
  • Sunshine
  • Salty sea air
  • Love
  • Freedom

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

An extra special thank you to those who serve (and their families) spending Thanksgiving away from home.

 For what are you thankful?

Worldschooling…a traveler’s story

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I’ve always known there is more than one way to live but it’s in the last five years that I’ve actively searched for those who choose, thrive and flourish in whatever ‘their’ way is and I crave learning more. As a public school educator in New York, my school was a traditional setting. I always knew there were many who chose an alternate route, but until searching there weren’t too many people in my everyday life who did. With a minimal look, I’ve found a community of travelers who have chosen other ways to educate their children and many use the world as their classroom. While teaching, I often tried to weave my travels into the curriculum. For ninth graders, pictures of the pyramids and stories of what the Acropolis looks like up close fit perfectly and for eleventh graders, sharing information of how students in northern Vietnam view the war worked well. But, I have always felt there was so much more to learn from world travel if only we were exposed. Stories and photos travel well, but others, like the tactic of bargaining at a market, the smells and experience of talking with vendors and eating street food in well anywhere, discussing economic and social policy with locals or even how the toilets in Australia don’t really flush ‘backwards’ are better viewed and learned in person.

I met Lainie and Miro online. In conversations and posts about world and unschooling, I became interested to see how her son (the same age to many of my high school students who sat in my classroom in New York) was experiencing and learning through their travels. Here she shares her story of a shift in values, looking fear in the eye and seeing the world as a classroom.

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I am a former California business owner who worked in the advertising, marketing and branding industry for almost 20 years. In 2000 I started my own agency focusing on brand strategy, graphic design and messaging exclusively for green-eco companies, non profits and conscious businesses. One of the reasons I started my own agency was to remove myself from the destructive consumerist advertising world and focus on doing work for ‘good’.

1.When did you get started traveling? In 2008, the economy sank in California, so instead of choosing to struggle, I decided to opt for a change for both myself and my son. I closed my agency, we got rid of all of our possessions and my son and I set out to travel the world together. The economy crash was the opportunity we needed to actually live the life we were dreaming about and knew in our hearts, was the change we were looking for. The economy crash presented the opportunity to make personal changes in our lives. Today, 5 1/2 years later, we continue to choose traveling with no definite plans, no specific agenda, and allow inspiration to be our guide.

2.What made you decide make the jump to a location independent/travel-based existence? When Miro and I made the decision to leave the United States in 2008, we had no intention of permanently leaving our “normal life”. We believed we’d be traveling for the duration of one year, and then have no choice but to return to the United States and pick up our lives where we left off. Only eight months into our travels we decided to continue this lifestyle together for an indefinite time period. A location independent and travel based lifestyle felt right for us. Over five years later, we both agree this was the best decision we could have made for our lives. Together, we have experienced so many internal changes, grown as individuals, strengthened our child/parent bond, and discovered/learned so many new things based on our new found interests sparked through traveling.

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3.What benefits do you feel you get from this lifestyle? The benefits we receive as a result of this lifestyle are vast and expansive. Everyday I am grateful for the opportunity to trust the world as a safe place, deepen our global perspective, experience inspiration through the many cultures and traditions we’ve encountered and appreciate our shared humanity. The most important benefit we’ve experienced is the realization that the world is the perfect classroom to learn, reflect, interact, investigate and participate within. We have transformed our travels into a journey of discovery, focusing on leaning naturally in the world and being open to all of the subtle lessons offered. Learning through travel (“worldschooling”) has become our life path and has provided meaning to our lives. Everyday we are intentional with our learning and consider that the greatest benefit.

4. How do you handle the nay-sayers in your life? The nay-says usually object to the transient nature of our lives. I suppose one could argue living a mainstream lifestyle is not a heathy one either, nor is it the only stable way to raise a child. We feel stability is simply a man-made concept and we perceive our lifestyle as being more stable because of the life preparation my son is receiving. In my mind, raising my son with the world viewed as a classroom, real-life learning as his teacher and hands on experiences cannot compare with our conventional life back in the States.

5. How did you save money to be able to afford living ‘on the road’/traveling often? How long did it take you to make the jump to a location independent/travel-based life? When we initially decided to travel, it took us 6 months to shed all of our possessions, close the business and finalize our accounts. During that time we prepared mentally for our journey. I paid off my credit cards, and when we left, we had enough in the bank to travel frugally and live off of for one year while budgeting about $35 per person per day. We did not actually spend that much money and were able to stretch it out to last us a year and a half. Eight months into our travels, when we decided to extend our trip indefinitely, I started to work on a strategy that would support us and adapted to the lifestyle of a location independent worker.

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6.How do you choose your destinations and for how long you’ll stay? What type of accommodations do you typically choose? Are there any specific resources you recommend? We chose our destinations simply by the closest geographical location, budget and where we are inspired to next explore. We are mainly overland slow travelers. Since we’ve decided we are not in a hurry to get anywhere or live according to anyone else’s schedule, we prefer to live in a single location for as long as we are both inspired. We both have different interests and we always accommodate both of them. Since we really enjoy Latin America, we began heading south, starting first in Mexico. We both absolutely love the site and community found on couchsurfing.org. In fact, Miro and I are traveling ambassadors for the organization. We have always been grateful for the knowledge and support of our hosts and when we settle in a single location for a period of time (like we did in Cusco, Peru and Antigua, Guatemala) we always host couch-surfers. Over the past five years, weI have lived in all kinds of accommodations, both shared and private, but always local versus tourist accommodations.

7.How much money do you traditionally need annually to support this lifestyle? This is one of those impossible questions to answer about anyone else’s life other than ours. We now live frugally, on less than $1000 a month for two of us, living as visiting locals collecting experiences versus things. It took us a while to get to this point, and frugal living is not for everyone. We find that we don’t need much more than that to live a comfortable and immersive experience. That doesn’t mean we don’t splurge on trips and activities that we want to experience, but it’s not the typical consumerist lifestyle we used to live in the States.

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8.How do you make money on the road and save for retirement? We live day to day. I’ve become clear that “working” is no longer my life’s purpose. To go from earning $10,000 a month to living off of that amount per year, didn’t happen over night. We made adjustments about what we valued. If Miro and I did not adapt an attitude to “collect memories” versus “collecting things”, we would not be able to live the way we do. The first step of living within our means was changing our relationship to “stuff”. We had to relearn how to live within our means. I recognize I was privileged before, where I had the ability to buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I would put things on the credit card and have anything I desired in a fraction of a moment. Instant gratification in terms of purchasing and adjusting that relationship to money took some practice. My life before was completely different. Now, we have no credit, no savings, no safety net to fall back on. I don’t have a spouse to help. Miro’s dad doesn’t contribute at all either. My family (although I’m certain they won’t let us starve and have certainly helped us in the past) does not support us in any way. Without credit cards, we have to always be acutely aware of what we are spending and what we have in that moment. Without a savings account we cannot plan ahead. Without a permanent source of income we become grateful for each day. And because we don’t know what is going to come in each month, we have had to learn to be comfortable with what we have, no planning for the future and always living in the moment. For many, I suspect that’s the most difficult obstacle.

9. Is living on a shoe string the most difficult part? No. I think the “uncertainty” is what prevents many from taking on this lifestyle. And I’m not going to lie to you, it’s NOT stress-free. This is not intended to scare you, but we have had the experiences on three separate occasions over the past five years of completely running out of money. Are you surprised? We had under $10 in our bank account without any idea of how we were going to earn more money. Did I freak out? Maybe a little. But each time, we were able to find a solution. The biggest lesson we’ve learned from becoming self-sufficient while traveling is creating multiple streams of income. Not one is consistent and our income varies from month to month (some months, close to nothing comes in). The key is to diversify. Here’s how we’ve managed up to this point:

  • web advertising
  • freelance writing
  • freelance consulting
  • small income from our retreats
  • Miro makes a small profit from sales from his store

The funny thing is, we always seem to have exactly what we need. It was possible, because we did rethink everything including the way we participate in this world. And creating multiple streams of income seems to be the solution. Every time we thought we were stuck in the world without money, we’ve been provided for magically. Living with the knowledge that we are always going to be ok was a shift out of fear that is more valuable than any stream of income. I do know that takes time to get there.

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10. How do you handle visas, vaccinations, legal documents/passports, taxes and healthcare while living without a home base or an ever-changing one? Once during our travels we had to renew both of our passports. We were in Lima, Peru and were able to utilize the services of the US Embassy. In terms of visas, we’ve been visiting each country using a tourist visa and adhere to the immigration laws of the particular country we are visiting. Heath care is one of those things we address locally as needed, as healthcare services are relatively inexpensive in Central and South America.

11. If you decide to settle somewhere – where and when do you think it will be? We really try not to predict the future and stay open to our inspiration. That being said, we both love Latin America. Right now we currently find ourselves in Ecuador after spending the last 3 years in Peru. Guess what? We miss Peru.

12.What advice do you have for others trying to make the jump to a location independent/ travel-heavy lifestyle? Learn to breath through the fear, trust yourself and trust the world. Reach out to others who have made this journey before you and create a community of support Remember, always be where you need to be and don’t wait another moment…live your life NOW.

13.In your experience, what have been the two most significant gifts of travel? I’ve learned to trust the world as a safe place, deepen our global perspective, experience inspiration through the many cultures and traditions we’ve encountered and appreciate our shared humanity. Everyday, we are intentional with our learning. And what we value most is the realization that the world is the perfect classroom in which to learn, reflect, interact, investigate and participate.

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**If traveling with children on the road:

1.How do you manage the education of your child? As we started our trip, I had no idea such a thing called Unschooling existed. I noticed Miro was talking about geography, sociology, history, economics, mythology, language and second language, literature, math, science. I sat back and realized how brilliant the idea of having the world teach my son was! Engaging in life, children (and adults) learn! I discovered the formal name for what we were doing was ‘unschooling’. In some circles it’s called “Radically Unschooling”, “Worldschooling” or “Roadschooling”. There are similar principals to each of those ‘disciplines’ all based on child-led learning. It is a radical departure form homeschooling circles which teach a formal curriculum in a home environment. The philosophy behind unschooling is that children will learn what they need to know when they are ready and want to learn it and this flows through every other aspect of life. The whole essence of unschooling is that children, when empowered, will learn based on their individual interests. I’ve seen games spark Miro’s interest in mythology, quantum physics, history and culture. We’ve had an open platform to discuss humanity, violence, and choices through video games. I’ve also seen Miro’s research skills improve as the internet and google have become second nature to him. I didn’t like going to the library to research when I was his age because it was overwhelming. To have a library at your fingertips is a drastic change for this generation. I have discovered first-hand that by virtue of being in this world, we can’t help but to learn. Children learn naturally and retain so much more when they are engaged and leading the process. I realized this by watching an empowered Miro blossom daily. As a result of my unschooling education, I am also growing as Miro teaches me how to be a better and more effective parent.

2. How do they feel being world travelers and moving from place to place regularly? Miro and I check in often about our lives with what’s working and what’s not. We don’t move as quickly as we did the first 2 years of our travels and always manage to travel at a pace that suits us. We both really enjoy this lifestyle and aren’t being forced to live it. Together, we choose it each and every day.

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3.What do you think he gains from living life this way as opposed to a ‘traditional upbringing’? Travel keeps us connected to our natural love of learning. As I described above, we are approach education through the unschooling philosophy. But in actuality, we identify with being “worldschoolers”. What is the difference? As unschoolers, Miro’s self-directed learning has always been interest led….with one clear exception: learning from ideas we are exposed to as a result of our travel experiences. Since we’ve been living a “travel lifestyle” for over five years, those exposures tend to be daily experiences. By virtue of being in the world, we are exposed to things, ideas, cultures, environments, history and experiences that may have not been guided by either of our interests but are instead guided by travel. We see it as an opportunity to pursue greater information to place context into our experiences. It’s immersive learning driven by experience. The biggest gift I’ve given my son as a result of our travel lifestyle is the ability to connect life experiences with a life-long love of learning. Travel is fun, and so is learning from the world.

 4.How has location independent living changed your family dynamics? Living a location independent life wasn’t the sole catalyst for change within our family dynamics. I think seeing Miro growing up and growing into who he is has contributed more, as he’s naturally grown from 10 years to 15 years of age while living this lifestyle. While growing up, our dynamics have changed too. When we set out into the world, our goal was to partner on everything. As he’s grown, he’s stepped into the role of an equal partner with ease and confidence. All aspects of our adventures are decided upon equally which empowers Miro with real world decision making experience.

5.How do you feel this lifestyle will help your child in his future? I think the rewards gained from our lifestyle choices are immeasurable. Miro is learning and participating in the world and receiving a “real world” education in exchange. My son has the opportunity to experience his own humanity in so many ways such as volunteering, connecting with people young and old and stepping outside of his comfort zone daily. Miro is learning that consumerism and ownership are not that important, and has seen the supply chain from sweat shops and cheap labor in some economically challenged countries, as well as visiting farms and local markets. Miro experiences a sense that he can really do anything in his life that he desires.

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If you’re interested in learning more of Lainie and Miro’s story or travels, check out their sites and follow their journey.
Raising Miro – Experiencing Global Education Through World Travel -http://www. raisingmiro.com
Project WorldSchool- Inspiring temporary learning communities for self directed teens & young adults around the globe – http://projectworldschool.com

Road Tripping!

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Road Tripping!

So…we’re going on a road trip.

Never did I think I’d get the chance to drive across the country. It’s always been something I’ve thought about but never did I think there would be the time that would be necessary. We’ve been to more national parks outside of the US than inside. We’ve spent time in more cities around the world rather than in this part of North America. Maybe now we’ll have the chance to hit the road for a while and take in the scenery of a portion of the United States. If we can’t do it all…it just means we’ll have to do it again, right?

“Road trips aren’t measured by mile markers, but by moments” – unknown

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Interview: Nomad is Beautiful

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Whether it’s a few weeks, a few months, a few years or a lifetime…travel continues to share its gifts with friends on the open road. Stories change, jobs come and go, families grow, friendships are made, life happens and adventure awaits. The journey, no matter how great, makes an impact. Perhaps it changes your perspective, perhaps it provides lessons you wouldn’t have otherwise learned or maybe it just gives us all a chance to take a minute to embrace all life has to offer.

Meet Ivana and Gianni who are new to the digital nomad lifestyle and recently began their travels in 2013. Ivana (originally from Slovakia) and Gianni (originally from Italy) left life in Germany and bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok where they began their adventure. Here they share their story.

Celebrating Christmas in Chiang Mai

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