Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Creating the Life You Want

When I heard about this woman who dropped everything to live on the road--then traveled all over the world and wrote a book about it--two words came to mind:

Soul Sister!

Margaret "Meps" Schulte

I knew I had to talk to her. She has a fascinating life...and great advice for living the life of your dreams.

The title of your book is Strangers Have the Best Candy. Why do strangers have the best candy?

By "candy," I mean a positive encounter, which might range from a smile to a home-cooked meal to a conversation that starts a lifelong friendship. When we encounter a person we know, we have some idea what to expect from them. The good things we get from strangers are always a surprise, and they can have life-changing consequences.

You hit the road as a young woman. How long have you been living a traveling life? How do you balance the joys of the road and a yearning for "home"?

I've left the corporate world for an open-ended adventure twice. The first time was in my twenties, when my husband and I put our stuff in storage and traveled in a Honda Civic and on bicycles for a couple of years. When it stopped being fun, we settled in Seattle, got jobs, and started saving as much money as we could.

After eight years, in 2003, we took off a second time. We moved aboard a sailboat in New Orleans for five months, then sailed across the Gulf of Mexico and up the eastern seaboard. After we left the boat, we drove 6500 miles in our van, the Squid Wagon, from Florida to Newfoundland to Seattle with our cat. That was just the first year -- I haven't stopped traveling since!

I don't yearn for "home" in a traditional sense. I have friends all over the world, and I'm on a nonstop circuit of visiting them and making new friends out of strangers. Sometimes, I wish I could settle down long enough to take a class or unpack my Christmas ornaments, but when an opportunity for adventure comes up, I forget all about that.

The hardest thing about traveling is saying goodbye too often. I have to console myself with a reminder that there is always a hello on the other side.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Live overseas. Forget Russian -- learn as many foreign languages as you can that use the Latin alphabet. Play the harmonica instead of the accordion; it's a lot easier to carry. Don't stop painting. Always wear comfortable shoes, so you can walk for miles.

What advice would you give to people about living the life you really want to live?

Examine your choices every single day. Don't take anything for granted! For example, I didn't like celery yesterday, but I might like it today. I had a friend who hated jewelry on men. He went out and bought a gold necklace and never took it off. It was a reminder to him of the power of changing his mind. Change one small thing, and see how it feels. Then change a bigger thing, and a bigger thing, until you have created the life you want.
Also, don't say no when adventure knocks on the door. Be flexible, prepared, and self-sufficient, and everything will be OK.

Quitting a well-paying job was so scary, I called it "jumping off the cliff." Today, I have absolutely no regrets about saying yes to adventure, because my parachute opened on the way down. Now my life is measured in friends and awe-inspiring moments, not dollars and possessions. My security comes from being flexible and accepting reality.

Meps' next book, The Joyful Bear, will be released this fall. Co-authored with Frank Lloyd Bear, a large white teddy bear who has been traveling with her since 1993, the book features Frankie's unique wisdom and philosophy. To follow her adventures, check out Meps' website.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Year of Living Drinklessly: Update

Alcohol has always been part of my life...

...the allure of my parents drinking Manhattans with glistening cherries

...the priest drinking "the blood of Jesus"

...high school keg parties every weekend at the home of whoever's parents were out of town binge drinking (most weekends, someone from the dorms was hauled off to the ER for a stomach pump)

...Happy Hours after work (that began on Fridays, then extended to Thursdays, and eventually leaked over to Wednesdays) (England: pubs!, Hawaii: umbrella drinks!, Napa: wine tasting!)

...champagne for any celebration, beer for any beach adventure

...pouring a glass of wine, or grabbing a beer from the fridge, as the first ahhhhhhh after a long day...

One of my boyfriends took a cooler of beer with him wherever we went. He could open a bottle on the steering wheel.

My first husband home brewed beer.

My wife (marriage number 2) and I loved pubs. We drank wine and beer at home most nights. We decided multiple times to "take a break." We'd pour the wine and beer down the drain--or give it to someone--and in just a few days it would sneak back into our house like a child into her parents' bed.

Five years ago, I started dating Dave, who rarely drinks. I had never spent as much time around another person who didn't care for booze. It made him sleepy. He'd sometimes drink a Guinness or nurse a glass of red wine at dinner with friends. But generally, it wasn't his thing. He didn't care what, how, and if I drank.

When I underwent brain surgery two years ago, I didn't drink for two months. I thought of it as temporary. I longed for my cold glasses of chardonnay and frothy IPAs and was happy when I got them back.

But then something happened when we were living in Mexico. I suddenly became less tolerant of the next-day malaise that accompanied even just a drink or two. And the headaches. I'd always thought booze gave me a lift, but when I began to really look at it, I realized the lift lasted about half an hour--and then the only way to keep it going was to have another. Otherwise, like Dave, I'd get sleepy.

I wanted to do yoga, and write, and do my writing coaching work, and take long walks, and explore Baja feeling my best. I was curious if living without booze would improve my life. I mean, just truly erasing drinking as a possibility. What would it feel like? Who would I be without it? It seemed like an adventure to try.

It's been five months since I decided to embark on the Year of Living Drinklessly. As I've written elsewhere, it's been fascinating to sit in that space between wanting a drink and not having one. Perching in that margin between, "Ah, a beer sounds good" and taking a sip of sparkling water. I've become more and more aware of all the associations I've with booze:

that it makes me happy
that it's a celebratory thing
that only boring people don't drink
that it's the lifeblood of fun
that it helps me relax.

Also, it's sophisticated! Look at those Europeans and their elegant sidewalk cafes! (A friend said recently to us that the French don't trust anyone who doesn't drink.)

Now I can see that:

* nothing external makes me happy (it's an inside job).

* the rollercoaster of using booze to bring me up always involves a coming down.

* celebrating is fun because of the new job/baby/marriage/experience/people/music/dancing...not the booze.

* the French generally drink only at meals...and, of course, there are French people who don't drink. Drinking or abstaining has nothing to with moral character.

* partying does not have to equate to "drinking"! (I still can't believe it took me 52 years to come to this one!)

* it's not booze that makes people fun, it's their spirit, their sense of humor, their willingness to dance on the table! And no, you don't need to be drunk for that.

* that initial morphine quality of a sip of wine can be lovely, but so is knowing how to calm and soothe myself without a substance (through meditation, breathing, thinking a better thought, laughing, petting a dog, taking a walk). And there is no agitation-backlash, headache, or malaise involved.

Four months into my drink-free adventure, I decided to consciously, mindfully partake in some drinking. Over the course of two weeks, I went wine tasting, drank champagne to celebrate the release of my book, and sucked down some draft IPA. Each one of these was a social occasion, with friends. Everyone else (even Dave) imbibed.

I never had what you could characterize as a hangover, but each time, I felt less "sparkly" for a few days. It was like I was wearing a long dress, and someone was stepping on the train.

That's when I realized: I prefer not drinking. I feel better. I'm happier. I'm calmer.

Who'da thunk.

Now I'm not counting the days or months. I'm just living booze-free. "Free" being a key word, because I do feel free. I don't spend time thinking about if/when/where/how I will or won't have a drink. I don't wonder if a hangover is coming tomorrow. I also don't care what anyone else does. We all have our reasons to drink or not drink. I spent 52 years one way. Now I'm living another.

Today, this eternal now (which all we really have), I'm happily a non-drinker. That may change. If it does or it doesn't, it's okay--because I am the one in charge of my life.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"Where do you live?" the question we get asked most often, along with its cousin, "Where are you from?"

"We were living in Santa Cruz before we became nomads," we sometimes say.

"Half the year in Mexico, half traveling."

In a way, wherever we are at the moment is where we live.

When we set out two years ago to live this version of life, we weren't totally sure what it would look like. That's still the case. We make some plans, the days unfold, and eventually the dark road ahead gets illuminated with our headlights.

Since we left our little casita in Mexico in April, we've spent the night in about twenty different beds, living wherever we are.

When I look at what we've been focusing on, I can see what our priorities are.

Family and friends

Meeting Miles for the first time, in L.A.

The boys help Uncle Dave blow out his birthday candles.

Visiting my 91-year-old piano playing Aunt Ruby.

Lunch with my cousins in the Bay Area, cooked by my chef cousin Clay.
Hiking in Tahoe with Candis, Rob, and Holly.
Sister Sue and bro-in-law Dan.

My niece Hailey's 8th grade graduation.
A few days with Lee in Sebastopol.

Kari, shocked by my book.

We met up with a lot of Dave's buddies, like Sango, at High Sierra Music Festival.

Music festival clan!


Watching Dave's college buddy's son playing first base, in Nor Cal.

Hiking in San Francisco's McLaren Park.

Tahoe, on a friend's boat.

Rafting on the American River with Candis and Laura as our guides.


Run, Lola, Run! Lee's pup.

A little love from Marge, our charge in Santa Cruz during a housesit.

Maya. We took care of her during a Berkeley housesit.

My cousin Jennifer's cat, Posey, named after the SF Giants' gem of a catcher.

Dave captured these pelicans in Santa Cruz.



Bonnie Raitt in Santa Cruz

Ike & Martin, Tahoe
Roseville Moose Lodge...these young women did a killer "Me & Bobby McGee"!
Hot Buttered Rum in Santa Cruz

The Nibblers at High Sierra Music Festival, Quincy, California.

Robert Randolph

String Cheese highlight.
The Waifs
California Honeydrops

And best of all: making our own music around the fire pit in So Cal.


How about not "Where do you live" but "What do you love?"


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Love, sex, spirit, and travel...

We left jobs and home to travel the world...and then I wrote about it.

Today is the book's birthday.

click here
You can order it here or at any bookstore.

The title comes from a quote by OSHO:

Don't call it uncertainty--call it wonder.
Don't call it insecurity--call it freedom.

Books may be written alone--but they aren't edited alone, published alone, or lived alone. I'm grateful to every person whose life has touched mine.

It's exciting and unnerving when something so personal and raw--something you've lived with intimately for so long--makes its way out into the world.

So I won't call it uncertainty, I'll call it wonder. I wonder what will come next?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Two Years In

Two years ago this month, Dave and I stepped off the cliff.
Santa Cruz, where we've done several house sits.
We left our house, our possessions, and our jobs to travel and live house-free. Our guiding theory was this: The void is fertile. This theory has served us well.

Baja California Sur, Mexico.
In these two years, we've:

* traveled to five countries and numerous U.S. states
* spent beautiful time with friends old and new
* had amazing animal encounters
* become housesitters
* bought a casita in Mexico

Sri Lanka

Oh, and I had brain surgery. And wrote a book that's coming out next month. The book is about all of this stuff. And about how we are transformation.

What has made this lifestyle possible?

1. Being willing to do it. We didn't have everything figured out in advance--including the financial piece. We just knew that in our lives so far, things always worked out. We had faith that they would continue to do so--and that living our dream was possible. The unknown can feel like fear, or like excitement. We choose the latter.

Great Barrier Reef
2. Friends. What a bonus to be able to spend quality time with so many of our friends--and they are so sweet, welcoming us into their lives and guest rooms. Our friend Mark in San Jose has been instrumental. He's like a home base. He lets us keep some of our stuff there, things we change over when needed (like our skis and bikes and winter clothes). When we come through, we often spend nights in his house. In his generous spirit, he has taken us to the airport several times and lets us keep our car in his garage.

Pho in San Jose with Mark
We also have a kind of home base in So Cal at the home of Andy and Nancy, my friend since high school. They, too, have let us keep stuff at their pad and have been very generous with car storage and airport transportation.

Gort, Nancy, and me in L.A.
 3. Housesitting. Simply put, free places to stay. Plus it's fun!

In Tahoe with Lola, our friend Lee's dog. We rented a house there through Airbnb.
 4. Airbnb. Cheap places to stay.

Dave took this in Cape Hillsborough.
We stayed at some Airbnb's in Australia--and also at the home of our friend.
5. The internet. When I left my job as a university teacher, I reinvented myself as a writer and writing coach--which due to the magic of the internet, I can do anywhere. Ditto for Dave, Mr. Business Development, who's involved in a few projects. And of course all travel planning is so much easier with the web.

We stayed with our friends Widi and Karen in India.
6. Working the banking. We have both a credit card and an ATM card that charge us no fees for international transactions. And we charge almost we buy on a card that gives us travel points.

Lois and me in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire.
We also stayed with her and her family in Boston and Cape Cod. 
7. Cheap real estate. Rather than plunging all of our resources into a house in California, which we'd considered, we were able to buy a house in Mexico for what many people pay for a car. We didn't have this place (or even have the concept of it) when we set out two years ago, but it's one big example of how the fertile void paid off.

Sunset from our rooftop near Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico.
When we launched on our traveling life two years ago, we didn't know all of this lay ahead of us. But of course that's how life is, no matter how you live it.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Jazz Fest!

I just experienced my first New Orleans Jazz Fest.

Dave has been many times and regaled me with stories. And so have many of his friends. Before that, it had been off my radar. Vaguely, I associated it with Dixieland Jazz. But, oh, it's so much more.

Mardi Gras Indians

Samba parade!
Jazz Fest is open a total of seven days, spread over two weekends, at the Fairgrounds. There are also a ton of other activities throughout the city going on during those two weeks, including music at various venues all night long.
You never know what you'll see walking around the neighborhoods.
We went the second weekend--which turned out to be fortunate because the weather was a perfect 70's to low 80's, with a breeze. It's more often hot and humid. Or sometimes there are torrential downpours, which had been the case the previous weekend. I noticed, though, that people rarely complain. They are there to have fun and immerse themselves in the powerful, universal language that is music and community.

Our first day, Friday, we took the trolley from our Garden District B&B. (We also took cabs and walked a lot.)

Hubbard B&B in the Garden District.
Where we had breakfast every morning.

Walking through the gates of the fairground, I was overwhelmed with gratitude to be there. As though pulled by an invisible hand, we walked right into the Gospel Tent. The music reached into me, and my eyes filled with tears.

That day we saw thirteen artists--from blues and Cajun to Honky Tonk to Brazilian jazz.

One of my favorites: Anders Osborne

Doreen's Jazz New Orleans knocked our socks off.
And over the course of the weekend, we saw much more, including (in a sea of fans) the classic rock of Steve Winwood--and Dave's all-time favorites, the Radiators.

Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Review
Both Friday and Saturday nights we went to shows, too--and had a lot of fun hanging out with friends old and new.

The guys at a night show, Fishhead Stew.
Julie, Scott and Dave happy with their pork Po'Boys.
My favorite food at the fairgrounds was a muffuletta. Staying in the Garden District, we were able to walk easily to Magazine Street restaurants. We especially enjoyed Joey K's, which featured down-home NOLA cooking.
Red beans and rice for me, veal with brown gravy for Dave.
There's so much going on, you can't see it or do it all. For instance, we didn't see Elton John and Lenny Kravitz that weekend.
But that's life, right? A big buffet of choices. I like to fully appreciate what's in front of me. The only way I'm really missing out is if I don't.