Bridge Out on Memory Lane

In the movies, when the long-lost father/mother/brother/sister/whatever crosses paths with their kin, directors show us the visceral connection. Look in their eyes; they know something just happened. Nice for story lines, but no connection to reality.

Scary Suspension Bridge Over Vancouver’s Lynn Canyon

Catching up on some more video from our Vancouver trip. Someone told us about this swinging scary bridge 150 above the floor of Lynn Canyon, so of course, we had to go see.

Fiona was very brave. I don’t know what Sue was, but she seemed to like it.

Here’s proof that I crossed it. Twice. Will I cross it again? Ever? Dunno.

It’s Not Just Physical

In the space of two weeks we have reduced the contents of our 4,000 square foot rental to what will fit in our van for traveling, and 20 boxes and a filing cabinet to go to storage. That square footage includes a full attic and basement; unusual for California, but we used them. I had a server room in the basement for my three servers and other network equipment. A full weight set, bicycles, and other exercise equipment; we used the basement. The attic wasn’t completely full. Not completely. But it wasn’t completely empty until yesterday.

There have been solid days of work; sorting, moving, selling, cleaning.

That first one, the sorting—that’s the tricky part; the hard part.

Much of what’s left are things I should probably have sorted out of my life years ago; some of it, decades ago. Instead, I’ve lugged boxes of stuff, some of it for 35 years, from house to house, from old life to new. One particular item, while I’ve only been conscious of carrying it for more than 30 years has been mine for 50: the center panel from the baby blanket my mom made when I was born.

It’s that old life/new life nexxus that’s been the challenge.

Much of what’s happening right now is the culmination of a process which started either 8 years ago, or 15 years ago, depending on which event you count from. The last major pruning of possessions occurred at the end of my first marriage. I ended up with virtually none of the books from my library of about a thousand, and about half my vinyl albums from a collection of about that size as well.

I also kept zero out of four children. Since they are all adults, I’ve accepted that it was their choice.

Boxing up my records for storage in a friend’s closet (they have to be kept in a space suitable for humans; no hot dusty garage or potentially damp basement) I had a stress attack as painful as the two which sent me to the emergency room twice, long ago before I knew what that pain meant.

It wasn’t the records; not entirely. I still have a collection even I find impressive; stuff you can’t find on CD or MP3; stuff I still put on the turntable I bought after my divorce just so I could continue listening to them. But mostly it was the aggregation of stress over the decisions, and over the realisation that no one values the things I love the way I do.

We had a very productive yard sale; over a period of a week, between Craig’s List ads and the yard we made enough to buy Sue an excellent laptop for our new life—and as much again beyond that.

But, my books? Sold 6, gave away a dozen more, and the other hundreds will go to the library’s bin for their used sale.

Computers? The one I recorded over 100 songs on, recorded my podcasts and online radio shows, a little workhorse that saw use by someone in the family every single day—I can’t give it away. Nor can I get rid of five or six more computers, including an IBM server which originally cost the company I worked for at the time something like $4,000. Nobody buys used computers. Nobody even takes them for free.

I have a thing about cups and glasses. When I find one that feels right in my hand and against my lips it’s like making a new friend. Over the decades, I’ve gathered a lotta friends.

How many cups, pub glasses, and favorite bowls can one put in storage? Not many, not if one intends to be a nomad, and not a financial supporter of the National Association of Storage Units.

Palm trees. Not real ones, but embroidered or painted on everything. Our home’s theme was always going to be Scheherezade’s Oasis. Palm trees and oriental patterns on lamps. Palm trees on the quilt on the only bed we’ve ever shared. Palm trees on clocks (plural) and paintings and who knows what all.

Gone. All but a single framed print.

Cassette tapes I’ve lugged around for far too long. Since the only cassette player we own is, hopefully, still going to be sold (another difficult sell: small stereo systems with multi-CD player, dual cassette deck, decent speakers . . . ah, well.) Where was I? Cassettes. Large box will most likely end up in the trash; small small handful, I just don’t know. I don’t even know what’s on them. I have 10 days to find out because we’re not storing them. I’m scared rigid one of them will be the only remaining recordings of my father singing, or have some record of my 4 older children.

Down at the far end of the library/music room, I found a handful of books by Booth Tarkington. They’re not mine; they belong to my second son, my third child. When his mother and I divorced, he boxed them up and mailed them to me. I’d bought them for him when he took an interest in the adventures of Penrod.

I’ve decided the only thing I can do is mail them back. I can’t store them forever. I cannot possibly sell them, or give them away, or throw them away. So, he’ll have to decide.

Golf clubs. Clubs I haven’t pulled out of the bag in over a decade. SImple decision, right? Hah! I might just be able to give them away, despite the fact that the woods, at least, are a matched set of Bobby Jones Jr. persimmons which crack like a whip and have a sweet spot the size of Milwaukee. Nice leather bag, and some easy-to-hit irons and a wooden shafted putter which is a nightmare to hit but pure joy to look at and hold.

When my older brother moved to Texas where I lived, he spent some of the very little money he had on those clubs to bring to me as a gift, so he could teach me the game and have someone to share it with. He did, and we did, and I’ll probably part with my beloved vinyl albums before I let the clubs go. Besides, if we end up in Ireland, there’s a glorious world-class course not far from where we’ll be living.

My father’s tool box; the one he carried in the trunk of our car from my earliest memory. The hasp has been broken since somewhere around 1985, I think. It contains some greasy rust and a torque wrench. The likelihood that I will ever again use a torque wrench is right up there with my chances of winning American Idol. It sits on a shelf, with a few other oddments from the basement, hah; basement oddments; mocking me, daring me to email my sister and older brother Yet Once More asking, since you’re taking Dad’s 1951 Webster’s Dictionary, and the cuckoo clock he found somewhere and fixed, would you like his broken toolbox, too? And then I have to store it until our travels take us to San Diego in a few months.

We haven’t lived in our old home for almost a week. We own exactly one piece of furniture, a glorious mahogany table with a carved top and sensuously curved legs which I’m not ready to part with just yet. Oh yes; we own a table and four chairs, being used by Sue’s two adult children in their new apartment until we need them, or abandon the belief that we ever will.

On the 29th, our hosts return from Italy. We’re invited to stay over that night, then we’re leaving at the crack of dawn to make the 13-hour drive to Phoenix. If we don’t, our options are pretty severely limited. We don’t have a home, we don’t have furniture.

And yet, the naysayers continue to wriggle out from behind the paneling, suggesting that I’ve taken leave of my senses, that I need guidance and direction to set me back on the right path, that my family, my business, my spirituality, my life are all at stake if I don’t wake up and smell the good advice.

What, at this point, would a naysayer like me to do? Just because you’ve only thought about this for a week doesn’t mean I’ve only thought about it for a week. I’ve thought about it off and on for years. Sue and I have actively thought about it for months. We even included a 5-week experimental international trip.

After much thought and consultation with many trusted advisors, we made the best decision we can with the information currently on hand. Your opinion does not constitute ‘more information’ and isn’t going to cause us to reverse course, find a tiny apartment where we can sleep on the floor under the single blanket we own, eating off paper plates on the storage boxes we’d have to use as table and chairs.

I think that, just maybe, now that I’ve reached the age of 50 (that’s, y’know, half a century) I’m capable of making a decision without your second-guessing it. In fact, I have, and it’s done.

Thursday morning, September 30th, my life turns an abrupt corner which has been a long time coming.

Fasten your seatbelts and hang on. It’s gonna be a wild ride.

The Real Challenge

I wrote a few days ago that the real challenges are inside us; the journey simply exposes them.

Here’s my challenge: guilt.

And I don’t even know, for certain, why.

I feel like I’m cheating the system. Living without the cost of a house and its utilities is less expensive. I know a lot of people who’d travel if only their significant other wanted to, or the kids were older or not born yet or whatever; if only they had a job that blah blah blah.

Everyone I talk to says, how nice for you. Some of them seem to mean, that’s great; how can I make it better? But I feel, sometimes, like there’s a subtext of, sure, you get to go driving all over creation, dragging your wife and little girl along, while the rest of us have to have a real job and be mature and keep civilisation from collapsing.

Yeah, maybe that’s it; that’s where the guilt comes from, in part. What nonsense.

It is not wrong to live an unconventional lifestyle. I’ve lived conventional. For years, I had work (which I loved) which was in an office. I had other responsibilities in life which made a location-specific life make the most sense.

Now, that’s changed. We’ve built businesses which are location independent. Certain spiritual responsibilities are no longer mine, at least for the time being. Fiona’s school allows her to go where and when we go. My friendships are worldwide, many of them virtual (which I’d like to change, which is another reason to travel.)

The only value in guilt is when we’ve done something wrong and need to correct our path.

Nothing doing. There’s no reason for guilt here. I am making good choices with my family’s best interests at heart.

Still, it lingers, that angry voice in the back of my head, whining about responsibility, what I owe.

Ah well. I’ll keep listening to the voices that make sense.

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 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,, 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.

Why We’re Not Crazy

Amidst all the excitement and enthusiasm, some very real consternation has surfaced among some who know us. Since its source is their genuine concern for us, and since others may well be thinking the same things, I thought it was time to clarify things so y’all know you don’t have to worry about us.

First and foremost, I will never knowingly endanger my family’s well-being or happiness. My primary job is to care for my wife and daughter, in part, by caring for myself.

And the first of the first is our spiritual well-being. Whether or not you share a specific religious bent, you certainly realise that there is more to life than what we eat and what we wear. I know that there are things more important than me, that the Greater Good outweighs my personal benefit, and, by extension, my family’s. We plan to continue, and, if possible, increase our volunteer work, and have plans in place to reinforce ourselves to offset the potential instability traveling can introduce.

Which brings up the second point: stability. Don’t we need a home, a car, a fixed place, to provide our daughter the life a 6-year-old needs?

No, we don’t. What she needs is not things, but people. The love of her family, undivided attention, counsel and guidance, correction and discipline, play and adventure—those, she needs. She does not need to live in the same house for five years, or know that the store is only five minutes by car. Those are luxuries which the bulk of the world lives without every single day. I want her to know that.

As far as luxuries, here’s a sneaky little tidbit: I firmly believe our standard of living is about to experience a serious upgrade. Now, we’re pretty frugal. We live a simple life. But not a life of deprivation. We love good food. We love sitting in front of a great movie on TV. We love good music (and my room full of musical instruments and recording equipment.) We like sturdy fun clothing, and maybe more than anything else, we like sleeping in a nice soft bed.

I’m not giving that stuff up. We’re not planning on using our backpacks for pillows as we collapse exhausted under the hedgerows. That’s no kind of life, and not what we’re seeking.

But we’re not materialistic. We have far more stuff than we could possibly need or will ever use. If we got rid of 90% of it, we’d barely miss it. Even if we decide to call this whole adventure off, that’s still gonna happen because we’re just plain tired of being responsible for all this stuff.

How can we possibly make a living if we’re traveling? Well, my short answer to that is, I sure haven’t been wildly successful making a living by not traveling. My last two jobs disappeared overnight when the companies shut down. Our own companies have started growing, finally, and that’s the very reason travel has become essential. There is plenty of work for us, but for now, we need to go to the work, since it’s not coming to us.

Aren’t we biting off more than we can chew? Not yet. Sure, there’s a banquet on the table. Right now, we’ve simply put a nice salad on our plate. The only thing we’ve committed to at this point is that we’ll be in Vancouver for most of the month of August. After that, we could come home and announce that the experiment is over and we’re done. It’s not likely, but for now, we’re not committing to anything without knowing what we’re getting ourselves into. This is an experiment, and each step is a gentle testing of the ground to ensure that we don’t lose our footing.

Sure; I’ve shared some wild goals here, talking about living without most of our possessions, a home and car, all that. It’s still the plan.

But plans change. We can’t foretell the future any better than anyone else. But we’d rather choose a future and try to make it happen than to simply sit here and let life be something which happens to us.

We’re seeking a simpler life, not a more complicated one. We’re trying to need less stuff and have more time.

We’ve settled on some tentative goals; I’ll share those later. But even those are subject to review and adjustment every step of the way.

Like I said: we know we can swim, but we’re still gonna make sure there’s water in the pool before we jump in.

The Reasons Haven’t Changed

It’s going like gangbusters. We have sponsors. We have prospects for work above and beyond what we’d normally be doing in August. We have what we’d normally be doing in August, still happening. Support. Cheers from the crowd. Enthusiasm and excitement.

And I found myself thinking, boy, now we have to go.

No we don’t. Not if we’re doing it because of someone else, we don’t. That’s what this is all about, doing what we expect from ourselves instead of what others expect.

So hear this: if we change our minds, we can give the sponsorship funds back. If we make one trip and decide we’re not nomads after all, we can stay home.

Sorry; no, I’m not talking to you.

I’m talking to me.