Friday, August 10, 2018

Wide Sky

wide sky

It's about 1,000 miles from the border to the tip of Baja. In May, we again took the drive south from California. We followed a different route, crossing at Mexicali to explore other parts of this beautiful peninsula. 

Right before we left, I happened to mention to a client that we'd be driving through San Felipe.

"That's where my sister has a house," she said. Soon she emailed me to tell me her sister would love for us to spend a night for free. While I'm grateful, I'm not surprised anymore by such generosity and serendipity--something about a traveling life seems to invite magic.

Bahia Concepcion, one of our stops on the drive down.
It had been two years since we'd been to Casita Once, our little place near Todos Santos. The minute we hit Baja Sur, I rolled down the window and breathed in the unique mix of salt air, heat, dust, warm breeze. I was reminded how I love this place where desert-meets-ocean-meets-cerritos (hills). 

sunset at playa de Cerritos
More than ever before, we have felt embraced by the community here. We spend many days improvisationally. Someone will rap on our gate and say, "Wanna play backgammon at the pool?" At the pool, someone will say, "Come over for dinner. We have fresh fish." And then we will say, "We have cole slaw." And someone else will say, "We'll bring dessert."

In between, Dave has been doing a lot of home and garden projects. I have been editing books and teaching yoga twice a week.
evidence of Dave's green thumb at Casita Once's entrance
We've been re-connecting with old friends and meeting new ones. Some are on vacation here. Some own places or are building them. There's lots of construction around and lots of new restaurants going in.

with new friends Mike and Marla at the site of their home-in-progress
We've also had visitors. Craig, one of Dave's college buddies, came for a week. At the same time another of his old friends, Paul, was here, checking on his new property in Todos Santos where he is building a home. We are happy to have another friend-as-neighbor.
Jimmy, Craig & Paul, and me on Manny (short for Mantequilla).
Our three nephews also visited. My sister Ann lives down here--and her sons, Beau and Brock, have been coming to this area since they were kids. It was the first time for my other sister's son, Evan, to visit. Can you tell he loved it?
with Evan (19), Brock (25) & Beau (27)

Dave got this great shot of Beau 
One Sunday I went with a few friends to the local church. It was sweet to hear the congregation sing in Spanish and to watch two children who, upon being baptized, were lifted up and applauded. Witnessing this community and family love, my heart broke again for the children separated from their parents at the border.

proud father and priest
We continue to be amazed at what a great place this is, rustic and embracing and, in the ways of the desert, beautiful and harsh. There are cacti and snakes and bugs. There are so many birds and palms and papayas and crashing waves and abundant fresh food.

locally grown

papaya in our orchard
Punta Lobos, where every afternoon you can buy just-caught fish.
gila woodpecker
caracaras (iconic birds of Mexico) at their nest
We had forays out of our area. Lee-Ann, who attended my writing retreat in Thailand, just happened to be in San Jose del Cabo! So we drove down there (a bit over an hour on a nice highway) to spend an evening of live music, food and conversation in the downtown.

San Jose del Cabo
For Dave's and my sixth wedding anniversary, we drove five hours to Loreto, on the Sea of Cortez. (Again, we were generously offered a free place for few nights, by friends we'd housesat for earlier in the year.) In Loreto, Dave reconnected with Juve and Sarah. He'd not seen them in more than ten years, when they'd done a kayak trip.
Salud! Juve and Sarah now own a dive shop in downtown Loreto.
Another day, we arranged to have a ponga pick us up for some time on the water. The captain showed us two geologically fascinating islands--Carmen and Danzante--and stopped for some beautiful snorkeling.
isla Danzante
My favorite moment was on the drive back when we spotted a huge pod of dolfinas. They surrounded the boat, squealing and jumping. I asked the captain how many there were. I thought he said, cincuenta (fifty).

"De verdad?" I said. "¿No mas?" (Really? No more?... It had looked like hundreds to me.)

That's when he explained he'd said sin cuenta...literally, "without counting." Too many to count. Yay, I learned a new idiom!

dofinas...sin cuenta
Another of our adventures was a day-long (dusty, exhilarating, exhausting) group quad ride into the Sierra de Laguna mountains. At one point, one of the vehicles got stuck in the mud and needed to be pulled out with our wench; Dave got a down-and-dirty lesson on how to use it.

stuck--but still posing for a shot!

lunch in the shade
Sierra de Laguna from the quad
In our short three months here there have been lots of gatherings. At one, we celebrated my sister Ann's birthday with a great group of people at the amazing and delicious Free Souls.

Another favorite moment was experiencing a Mexican family band: the parents and their five children. They played the most unique arrangements of rock classics, from La Bamba to Stairway to Heaven.

Monster Band
It seems that the theme of our time here has been community. We have been hiking together...
San Pedrito hike
...playing music together...
Todos Santos ukulele group meets every Monday.
 ... and just hanging out together.
with new amiga Susanna
Not many of our friends live here year-round. Even the permanentes tend to spend months away. There have been a lot of hellos and see-ya-laters. 

And we are following suit. In a few weeks, we fly away. For the first time, we are not driving back up Baja. We are storing our car with plans to return in March.

Dare I say it? This place is starting to feel like "home." I use quotes because I'm still not quite sure what that word means for my wandering soul. Dave says home is wherever his toothbrush is.

Maybe my home is Baja. Or maybe it's the world. Or maybe it's the wide sky inside.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

5 Year Anniversary of Our Nomadic Life

Housesit at dusk (taken by our friend Roger).
Five years ago this month we left home to alternative life.

We're kind of nomads (although we've spent long periods in many places).

We're kind of house-free (although after living for a year without a house, we bought a place in Mexico).

We're kind of travelers (although traveling suggests a trip outside of your normal life...and travel is our normal life).

We're kind of retired from academia and the corporate world (although I do online editing and writing coaching, and I taught in China and Thailand; and Dave is currently involved in a tech startup).

We're certainly housesitters (we have done 19 housesits in 5 years).

It's a free-form life that has blossomed in ways we hadn't anticipated when we left Santa Cruz in 2013.
Hiking on the housesit property with Marilen, Roger & Gracie.
One of the biggest surprises is that we spend so much quality time with friends and family. I'd thought by leaving California we were, in essence, saying goodbye. But as it turns out, we come through California a lot.

And when we do, no one takes it for granted that we will see each other in the hallway at work or will gather for Christmas dinner. So we make sure to connect. We luxuriate in spending time together in a way that the rushed let's-do-lunch-next-week lifestyle doesn't accommodate.

Beautiful brunch with friends in San Jose
We keep our car and some extra gear at our friend Mark's house in San Jose. "Our room" is his spare room. His neighbors Todd and Jackie have become good friends. Recently, we were hanging out in Mark's back yard when Jackie came by, panicked. Their dog sitter had fallen ill, and in two days they were scheduled to go on a cruise.

Because our plans were in flux, it was perfect timing. We offered to care for Sammy for 2 weeks. So housesit #19 happened spontaneously. As did another Golden Retriever; we had just taken care of one for 2 1/2 months on a housesit in Forest Ranch, California.

The sunset spot.
In Forest Ranch, we had five waves of visitors. With our friends, we walked the trails, played music, made food, played Cards Against Humanity, and conversed into the night serenaded by frogs in the backyard pond.

One of Dave's amazing shots.
Forest Ranch may be a small community, but it's filled with people who love live music. While there, we attended two private house concerts. They were cozy potlucks and incredible shows.
At a house party featuring a musician who used to play with Jerry Garcia.
We were also able to meet up with a woman who was a friend of my parents. I hadn't seen Barbara in many years. Turns out, she plays in a uke group. It doesn't get much better than people of all ages (some in their 80s and 90s) playing music and singing together. Like church without dogma.

This trip through California meant connecting with my parents in another way. When they died, upon their request, we mixed their ashes and buried 1/3 in the local cemetery and released 1/3 into the San Francisco Bay. The last portion has been in my sister Crystal's house for years. It was time to cast them into the vast, ancient beauty that is Yosemite National Park, the place they met.

With Evan and Crystal in Yosemite
The symbolism ran deep: Their grandson Evan (Crystal's son) carried the ashes on his back as we hiked on a crystalline-sky day. Into the rushing waters, we released the final flecks of our beloved parents' bodies.

In two days, Dave turns 60. The next day, we will be back in our car, carried along the length of California and beyond. Everything is movement, everything is change. I deeply experience this truth as a traveling soul.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Time to Write

Starting tomorrow, this is where I am writing my next book: In the "She Shed" on the property where we are housesitting in Northern California.

We've been on a kind of housesitting binge lately: end of the year in the Pacific Northwest, Tahoe, and Palm Springs--punctuated by visits to friends and family all over.

Palm Springs hike
And then for the 40th reunion shows of Dave's favorite band (The Radiators), we flew to New Orleans. God I love that town: the food, the music, the colorful houses, the life-is-right-here-right-now vibe.

Krazy krewe in NOLA.
When we came back to California, I had the sorrowful honor of officiating at a memorial. Thi Aracelli, daughter of my friends Daisy and Tung, didn't make it into the world. The anguish goes deep. I was grateful to be in the Bay Area to offer my love and support.
With Stephanie and Daisy, and Daisy's son Luc
In the midst of all of this, my new book of poems, Target, was released. Like my memoir, it explores heartbreak and healing--while performing the time-and-space magic of poetry.

There's even a poem about housesitting in here.
The evocative art on the cover is by my longtime friend Nancy. I was lucky to spend time with her in LA. on our recent swing through and fell in love with her new Art You Can Color book.

Coloring like the kids we were when we met.
It's been six months since we left China. And during that time we have not been in one place longer than three weeks. That's a lot, even for us nomads. Now we have two-and-a-half months in a house nestled in 41 acres. We are treating it like a retreat: time for yoga, meditation, healthy eating, hiking, studying languages (me, Spanish; Dave, German), and music (me, playing the ukulele; Dave singing along). And giving lots of love to Gracie, our golden companion.

Gracie in the house.
As I write this, I hear frogs singing in the pond, in chorus with the crickets. A mass of stars is emerging. Savory smells are drifting over from the kitchen where my love is cooking us dinner. I feel the rhythms of life shifting. I feel a book coming on.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Travel as a Family Ritual

With my dad and sisters, 1972. We are wearing sweatshirts bought when we traveled
to Long Beach, Washington,where we went clamming. This picture was taken in Yosemite.
My parents loved travel. They started traveling with us, their three daughters, from the time we were small. We did a lot of camping, first in a tent and eventually in our Prowler trailer. Dad taught us how to fish. We went crabbing in the cold Northern California waters, clamming in Washington. We took a car trip from California to North Carolina. From Southern California, we crossed the border into Mexico, wandering the markets of Tijuana, buying hand-painted marionettes and stenciled leather purses.

When my dad took a group of high school students on a "round the world" six-week tour one summer, Mom was jealous but didn't sit around moping. Instead, she took my sisters and me on our own adventure: a tour of the Gold Country, where we stayed in haunted hotels and went gold panning.

I loved spending time outside of the structured life of home and school. Traveling helped me experience a fresh spontaneity and freedom with my family--and to see that the world had so much to offer beyond the scope of suburban life. 

As life would have it, I never had kids. Would I be as well-traveled if I did? Hard to say, although I have been inspired by others. In many places Dave and I have been, we've met traveling families with kids of all ages. Some are on vacation. Some live abroad, others nomadically.

A few years ago at a writing retreat, I met RenĂ©e Dineen--and I was blown away to learn she has traveled to 48 countries with her family of four, starting when her kids were infants. Her son Braedon is now 12, and her daughter Raegan is now 10. As the title of her blog—Travel Moments with Kids—proclaims, traveling as a family is not only doable but immensely rewarding. As a fellow travelling writer, I wanted to feature her on my blog so I asked her a few questions. 

Renee and her family in the redwoods of Northern California
When did your love of travel first blossom?

My husband Sean and I started traveling early in our relationship. Before kids, and for a short while after our son was born, we did what we called Mystery Weekends, short holidays planned by one of us. The location was kept secret until we arrived at the airport or headed out on our drive. After our son was born, we continued to travel but slightly less spontaneously, though by the time he was two, he had clocked over twenty airplane trips across the US, a week in Paris and a five-week holiday in Italy.

In 2010 we moved to Switzerland for work, providing a whole new level access and exciting places to explore. Our time in Europe deepened our bonds as a family. Travel was no longer a hobby but a unifying custom—an established practice we knew would accompany our lives as a family forever.
Halong Bay, Viet Nam

What inspired your travel blog Travel Moments with Kids?

People often ask me how I became such an evangelist for traveling with my family, and how those experiences landed me in the blogging world.

Returning from the US in the summer of 2014, I didnt want to forget a moment, more importantly the possible meaning of those moments.  Most of these moments, imaginably all of them, were unplanned. In this way, traveling as a family has not been a means to an end but a series of spontaneous and meaningful moments that has shaped my family. It has shaped us as individuals, spouses, siblings and parents. 

So in December 2014, I began to capture what I’ve come to refer to as moments. Each moment is explored in one blog entry. A moment is not just the description of an experience but an exploration of what makes it a time of deep knowing and discovery.

The inspiration to put these writings into the world is about shedding light on the topic of family travel, a decision that undeniably opens up different doors to the world—a world that even those who don’t travel have a deep desire to understand. 

To write the blog has been a personal practice of mindfulness, a way to remember the awareness I held during each precious moment.  I also applaud myself and my family—and forgive us for our mistakes. 

Paros, Greece
You make it look easy. Is it?

Parenting is hard no matter what. Many people hold beliefs that traveling with kids makes it that much more difficult, exhausting, and not worth the time or effort—validated further by our own bad experiences with our parents or a failed first attempt with our own kids.  These reasons are often focused on concerns about safety, unpredictability and personal discomfort—all presumably resulting in more work.

For me, the "work" of parenting is not much different at home than it is elsewhere. The topics and content of the day may be, but not the heart of parenting—the harder work.

What also continues to be a motivation to travel is that while traveling, we are more focused on each other and on us as a family. Because of this we actually find that we need this time together. And so the next trip planning begins!

Athens, Greece
What is your biggest discovery about family travel so far?

Obviously there are a lot of travel specific tips and advice we have learned: like how to research new locations, pack more efficiently, and the best websites for travel deals.  However, these are not the most important things I wish to share.

If we choose to expose our kids to a bigger world—one full of cultures, traditions and practices that differ from our own—we loosen, we expand. We see that there is not just one way to parent. There is not one best way to travel the unpredictable, ambiguous new worlds we enter. And we can’t figure out any of this alone! We learn it on the journey of connecting to people and cultures. Travel reminds me of this every time. The world has become a teacher for all of us.
Lake Lugano, Italy
What do you hope happens as a result of traveling with your kids?

I cant predict the specific impact our travels will have on my kids, and Ive come to realize that I dont need to. What I do know is that who they are, how they see the world, what they understand about Sean and me and us as a family unit will be greatly affected by each place they visit. Travel changes lives.

What else do you want your followers to know?

I hope that Travel Moments with Kids might somehow inspire  parents to expand the borders of their lives as a family and as individuals in this world—a world in which we are all ultimately striving to be happy, healthy, developing people who leave this life having lived on purpose. 

If you’d like to contact Renee, you can email her at renee@travelmomentswithkids.comHer travel moments and more about her story can be found at: