A Year of Driving; A Driving Year

One year ago today, perhaps one year ago this moment, I looked up from my tea and said, “It sure would be cheaper to live if we didn’t have a house to take care of.” And the other responsible mature adult in the family, rather than laughing at my insanity or rolling her eyes at my immaturity, looked down at her tea and said, “We can’t leave today, but we could go for a nice long drive and talk about it.”

sunny nomad familyOne year later we’ve realized that we’re barely getting started. There’s so much to see and do. We’ve certainly seen and done a lot already. But just counting the predominantly English-speaking portions of North America we have passed through only 21/63 of the states, provinces and territories (which you mathematicians know can be reduced to 1/3; hey, we’re homeschoolers, we’re always teaching.) And that doesn’t even acknowledge the original goal of sharing a meal in each state, province and territory. That probably requires a complete recount which may reduce the number significantly.

Canadian waterfallAnother Year—At Least

One year from now we hope to be 63 for 63.

That’s going to take planning and occasionally pushing just a little. So far we’ve let our travels take us wherever there was a place to go. During the coming year we might make choices instead of drifting on the wind.

It does not yet feel like work. We don’t feel unstable. As the bumper sticker in Taos New Mexico said, ‘all who wander are not lost.’ We wander, but not lost.

Settling In,
Not Settling Down

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We’ve talked about moving our World HQ from Northern California to the frigid wasteland of Wisconsin in order to be close to my mom as much as possible. We’ve taken a few preliminary steps but it’s nothing like settling down.

That process though raised thoughts of settling down. We realized as we drove and talked that we no longer need to travel. Now we want to travel. We’re not sure we’ve seen any change in our finances. What we have seen is a great long list of changes in us.

Canfield familyLessons. Friends. Wealth.

After knowing each other nearly four decades we’ve managed to learn new things about each other during the past year, even during the past month. Sue has developed greater faith that things will work out, that we will sleep indoors, eat regularly and have the things we need for our simple life. I’ve developed greater faith that I can advance confidently in the direction of my dreams. Our little one has learned that not all heights are dangerous and that outside is better than inside.

A caravan of angry camelsWe’ve made dozens of connections and half a dozen lifelong friends. We’ve realized the power of asking and the nearly universal presence of generosity and kindness.

There are still challenges almost every day. Being a nomad doesn’t mean leaving challenges behind. It means doing battle with the challenges on our own terms. We have learned to measure our wealth not in dollars but in time spent doing what we choose.

We are rich beyond belief.

Nomads Adapt

I seriously underestimated the disorienting effect of being surrounded by a language I don’t speak, don’t understand.

Because the friends we’re staying with speak perfect English (despite conducting much of their life in French) I assumed this part of Quebec would by like my experience in Ireland: everyone could speak Irish, but everyone also spoke English, often as their first language.

Nah.

Brush up on your French before you visit Quebec. You can find English; there are, I’m told, towns nearby where everything is in English. Just not here. Road signs, labels in the grocery store, even the ‘Open’ sign on the door (if Ouvert means ‘Open’, as I assumed) is in French, with English added almost as an afterthought.

From the age of 8 I lived in California, nearly always in San Diego. Everything was bilingual there, too. English first, then Spanish, often spelled wrong or using bad grammar. (For years, decades, perhaps, the signs in the bathrooms said Lave Sus Manos which would be like seeing a sign tell an English speaker to Wash You Hands; it should, as an Spanish-speaker knows, read Lavese Las Manos; there was a parody adventure show on one of the radio stations where the bad guy was the notorious Lave Sus Manos, so dangerous his name was posted in every bathroom in the state.)

At least here, the English is correct. It’s just smaller. Underneath the French. Not where I expect it.

And that’s what’s wrong. Clearly it’s not wrong for folks in what is legally a bilingual country to speak two languages. (Yet another aside: what do you call someone who speaks many languages? A polyglot. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks only one language? An American.)

What’s wrong is, as is often the case, my expectations. Had I kept my eyes and ears open; had I allowed for the possibility that reality might not perfectly mirror the image in my head, I might have spent a little time learning a few phrases of conversational French; I might have planned for an experience I’ve already had before when we moved to San Diego and thereafter spent lots of time in Mexico where my father worked, surrounded by a language I knew even less than I know French today.

My Spanish is okay; as a kid, we spoke Spanish at home quite a bit ’cause Dad was too tired to switch over after a long day of conducting business in Spanish. I’ve lost and remembered it twice over the decades. It helps with reading French. It also helps that I used to read the etymologies in my Dad’s giant Webster’s as a kid so I’m familiar with the Latin origins of much of the English and Spanish and French languages.

But I still feel like a fish out of water; un poisson sortie de l’eau. Which is literal; even Cristina doesn’t know French colloquialisms. I’ll have to ask Fred what the locals say.

About a hundred times a day, I’ll have to ask what the locals say.

Vancouver Review: Dates & Duration

We crossed the 49th parallel heading north at 9:15 am Monday the 2nd of August.

We crossed the 49th parallel heading south at 3:30 pm Wednesday the 25th of August after spending 3 weeks, 2 days, 6 hours & 15 minutes in Canada

Still to come: statistics (miles, dollars, etc.), impressions, achievements, and more.

Home—For Now

We pulled into the carport at 9:50pm, after 31 days on the road and in Canada. Unloaded and ready for a shower and bed by 10:30.

Much to share about the trip and the future. But not tonight. Tonight, I sleep in my own bed for the first time in over a month.

And that doesn’t feel like the big deal I thought it would.

Desire for a Flood

We are not ascetics. We love good food and wine (well, Sue’s pancreas has decided she can’t have alcohol any more, but she loves the smell) and we prefer nice furniture to garage sale stuff. We like a comfortable life and nice things.

Clearly, though, folks who are doing their best to divest themselves of stuff aren’t focused on said stuff too much.

Our goal is a simple lifestyle. This doesn’t mean living on crummy food or in dingy basements. (Consider that some of our best alcoholic beverages originated in monasteries.) It’s about choosing which stuff needs to be nice, and which stuff doesn’t matter.

I read this sentence this morning:

“This world’s advertising elements try to build in us a desire for a flood of consumer goods that we do not need. (Italics mine.)

Need. That can be a tough word to define, and we’re in the process of redefining it for ourselves.

Most of us can agree that the average family does not need six cars, or a house with more bathrooms than people.

But how many computers does our family ‘need’ ? Does Fiona need a computer? Do I need all my musical instruments?

Drawing the line between ‘need’ and ‘want’ is a difficult and, in the end, subjective and personal challenge. Resisting the media’s crushing push to make me want more more more, though, is an imperative.

Guest Post: Ken Grossman on Brilliance and Absurdity

Ken has been a good friend to our family for many years. He’s a deep thinker with a sense of humour skewed in directions we like. He sent this as an email, and at Sue’s request is allowing us to post it here.

The nomadic lifestyle took awhile to sink in with me but I’m on-board now. I cannot say whether it is an absurd idea or brilliant but I suspect it is a bit of both. Here is what I like about it:

  • It serves that inner voice in many of us to live life with gusto
  • It also serves the inner voice that speaks to our wanderlust (But we may need to be aware of too many inner voices as we may end up on medication:)
  • A chance to meet people and REALLY get to know them
  • I think you and Sue have the brainpower and personality to pull this off
  • The world has become very virtualized and there are not many things you cannot do over the Internet
  • Freedom, not total freedom, but freedom to a degree that most industrialized people will not voluntarily seek
  • Exposing Fiona to an unconventional and rich array of experiences, I suspect she will grow up to be a different sort of person and I can’t wait to see
  • I would hope there is a potential through your website to catch an audience that may fuel you both spiritually and financially
  • If you can be successful, I would think you would achieve a comfort with living your life in a predatory world and not fear the future. (See Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

There are probably more things I can think of I like but on to the things I am fearful of:

  • You WILL be very dependent on the Internet; stay tuned into potential changes there
  • I don’t know what kind of safety nets you have in place but I suspect that it is not many. Your level of vulnerability concerns me
  • A big safety Net issue is Health care…
  • Traveling the roads makes you very dependent on your vehicle
  • There are bad people out there. Some of them really really seem like good people. Be careful
  • Fiona is blessed to have you both but I would be concerned about her none the less. I don’t wish to verbalize all the reasons…
  • It is a truly crappy economy out there and this might be the perfect way to face it, but, we relentlessly move towards the future and preparing for that should be somewhere on your radar.

OK, a couple of thoughts.

  • The My-Fi from Verizon is very good for browsing the Internet but it sucks for file upload/download especially outside the 3G range. I’ve read about new technology for cars but I don’t know anything about it. You will need to find hot spots.
  • You may want to put a Android phone near the top of your list. If you can try one for 15 days before returning it (Verizon included a $35 restocking fee for my Droid X) then that might be worth it. If you cut loose on this project, I think a Droid phone would be like a Swiss Army Knife for you.

What do you think about Ken’s lists? Are the pluses enough? What about the concerns? We’d love to hear your comments below.

Guest Post by Caitlyn James: Who Are These Canfields?

Caitlyn 'Smokie' James
Caitlyn 'Smokie' James
I’ve busted in here to ask you something. It’s Caitlyn … the Canfields will be staying at our place in August.

Joel & Sue agreed to give me some space to do a fun little post pre-launch of their nomad’s adventure. I’ll hit send before they can do a full proof-read. You’ll see why.

Seriously, folks, who are these Canfields? Have any of you met them in person? Would you let them stay in your house?

I don’t have time to be cautious and subtle so I apologize in advance for being a bit crass….

First, I get they’ll be living in the house so opening up the medicine cabinet is reasonable. We’ll take most of the anti-psychotic drugs with us; the Warfarin can be moved into the shed – we rarely use it for people, but we have friends with a tendency to forget to go home and at the right dose, the Warfarin just makes them feel a little woozy and they decide it’s time to go. Nothing serious. Of course, we use it on the pests, too, but it smells so nasty when they die in the walls. Anyway, my question is, are Joel and Sue the kind of people who will use up your Tylenol if you leave half a bottle sitting there?

Second, Fiona seems like a cute kid, but is she really 6? Apparently, she reads chapter books, flies at the sight of dogs, and has her own website. Makes me wonder if this is one of those sting operations the cops do when they pose as teenagers online to lure pedophiles. In this case, someone may have mentioned all the 6 foot deep holes we’ve been digging in the yard. The cops may have set up this kind-of-quirky family to infiltrate our home and networks. Fiona may very well be a donut eating 35-year-old with his own kid in kindergarten.

You see where I’m going with this. The Canfields might not be normal.

There’s this other thing. We LOVE our dog. Not in that nutty way that people can be with dog nail polish and bows in the hair; it’s just that we don’t see why people make their dogs eat on the floor. RK (Racoon Killer) has his dog dish on the table when we eat our dinner. I’m afraid Joel might try to change this. I dunno, I’m thinking he might be worried when RK takes an innocent little lick off Fiona’s plate. Problem is, RK has never taken direction all that well. Without a whole long story, let’s just point out that I only have 3 fingers on one hand. That’s 3 fingers total, out of 2 hands total. My question to you? Do you think I should tell them in advance about this?

As long as they don’t deviate from the regular routines nothing will go wrong.

In fact, I’m writing up some stuff for them (you can read about that at http://ImaginingBetter.com on July 7th) so they will know what the routines are and a few helpful hints. Don’t look Bruce, the neighbour, in the eye, that kind of thing. It’s a nice neighbourhood, but Bruce is a little touchy. Most of the rest of them just leave us alone. Walk on the other side of the street, skip us when collecting for charities – really respectful. Not too many nosey parkers.

Other than feeding the dog, we aren’t expecting much. Lock the doors when you leave, water the crop on schedule. Harvest time should coincide nicely with the Visa bill arrival, if the watering is done right. That’s it.

If there’s anything you believe is important for us to know before we turn our house and our dog and the crop over to Joel, Sue, and Fiona (if that’s even who they really are) can you leave some comments here… or send me an email, easy2remember@caitlynjames.com, you know, so they don’t intercept the communication?

Yikes, gotta go. Send.

Where We’re Going, Metaphorically Speaking

I’m feeling fairly squished and tentative today, but I’m going to soldier on and share the goals Sue and I talked about Tuesday night when we couldn’t sleep.

We realized that what was important to us was not what we had or did, but what this gave Fiona, so our goals are based on that.

Subject to change upon discovery, and all the other usual disclaimers apply:

We want to be living without a house or car before Fiona turns 7 in March of 2011, and before she turns 10, she will have slept and eaten in a private home on all six of the accessible continents.

I’m leaving out Antarctica, partly because it’s dangerous and spectacularly difficult to get there, but primarily because there is no culture for her to absorb, no new human understanding for a small child there.

We thought the criteria of eating and sleeping in a private home would be a simple thing to measure, and the right thing to measure. Did she experience a slice of real life with everyday people? That’s all we’re hoping for right now.