Things we’ll miss when we’re roamers

 

Wow, where to start?!  During this endless pandemic I’ve been trying to focus on the things that bring joy to our lives, the things for which we are endlessly grateful.  And I’ve realized that some of them are not going to be part of our lives as Roamers.

For example, family and friends.  Sure, they’ll still be in our lives, but we won’t be able to see them as often as we’d like.  And I’ll miss special gatherings, unable to come back to the U.S. without advance planning.  For example, I have a group of high school girlfriends who gather annually for a “Wild Women’s Weekend.”  I will have unbearable FOMO the first time I have to miss that.

We will miss Baxter, our rescue cat, more than I can say.  He makes us laugh every single day.  He is a cat with personality who never met a stranger.  How will we ever be able to say goodbye to him?  We’re hoping we can find him a new home with family or friends, so we can visit him when we’re Roamers.  But it breaks my heart to even think about giving him up.

Dinner parties.  I love to cook and love to entertain.  It doesn’t stress me out and it’s so much fun, especially when we can bring people together to form new friendships.  But when we’re Roamers, we probably won’t stay in one place long enough to form strong friendships, so hosting dinner parties will be a rare opportunity.  I’ll miss that.

Gardening!  I’m the opposite of an expert, but I love growing things, especially food.  Well, to be honest, what I really enjoy is harvesting.  The rest is just effort.  But if we’re somewhere that offers regular farmers’ markets, we can still get close to that joyful feeling of harvesting.

Getting in the car any time we need to go somewhere.  While we love walking and look forward to living in an urban environment, we’ll miss the ability to spontaneously jump in the car and go, often just driving aimlessly to see what we’ll discover.  We’ll have to plan ahead to rent a car when we want to drive anywhere.

Having a home.  This is a big one.  We love our little house and garden, and making it our own over the past three years has been a joy.  We’ve lived in eighteen different homes during our marriage, and this is my favorite house ever.  And we love coming home from a trip, getting back to this comfortable space that’s entirely our own.  I think as long as we’re together we’ll feel at home–but roaming will be the test!

We will miss these things, and so much more.  But one thing this pandemic has taught us is that life is short.  We truly cannot wait to discover new things on this big adventure!

 

 

My “Wild Women”

Basket Baxter

 

Gardening!

 

PLENTY.

 

Anticipating that we may be able to begin roaming sooner than originally planned, Phil and I spent our quarantined 39th anniversary weekend (!) going through our house and pulling out things we no longer need.  We’re donating them, trying to do a little good as we lighten our load.  This exercise has been very interesting in several ways:

  1. We have so, so much more than we need. We are serial downsizers, but each time we reduce, our remaining stuff seems to grow.  There is so little we truly need.  This time we pinkie swore we’ll avoid stockpiling stuff—clothing, dishes, jewelry, linens, gadgets—and make sure we acquire only useful and necessary things.  And maybe the occasional treasure.
  2. This is hard. As an English major and former teacher, I’m addicted to books.  Even now that most books I buy are digital, I still love the feeling of holding a real book.  We’ve downsized our books before, but this was the deepest cut ever.  I felt joy as I looked over beloved classics, contemporary novels, memoirs, histories, poetry, and of course my beloved cookbooks.  Phil drove to the donation center with about 600 of my books.  I felt a bit melancholy, tinged with a sense of freedom and joy. 
  3. I’m learning that I don’t need objects to remember loved ones. Parting with treasured books, gifts from family and friends, and some of my mother’s and grandmother’s jewelry at first came with some guilt.  Would my friend Gwyn be hurt if she knew I gave away the meditation figure I’ve kept in my office for over 25 years?  Would my grandma be sad seeing me part with her favorite strawberry brooch?  They both died years ago, but I like to think they’d approve of my decision to release stuff in favor of adventure, knowing that I will always hold the memories close.
  4. Deciding what to keep is becoming easier. There’s a bit of Marie Kondo magic in holding an object, feeling it spark joy, and deciding it has earned its place in the storage unit of our future.

This process is affecting us.  Roaming feels closer, more real than ever.  I wake up excited to reduce more, to plan, to get closer to the time when we can travel again, say goodbye to our house and our stuff, and embark on this adventure.  And thank heaven for technology that enables us to keep treasured images!

 

 

 

Books!

 

She’s been with me over 25 years.

 

Wartime love–from my mom to my dad

 

I found this in my daddy’s treasure box.

This post is not about roaming. 

It’s about racism.  Writing these words I wonder whether I have anything of value to say, and whether I have any right to speak on this topic. 

I’m a privileged white straight woman.  I have a good job, a wonderful family, financial stability, and safety.  I have long considered myself an “ally” but now realize I had no idea what that even meant.

Confronting the poison of racism in myself is scary, painful, and hard.  That doesn’t matter one bit.  It’s necessary, and my pain is absolutely nothing compared to the pain lived daily by BIPOC.

I’ve been reading a lot of comments on Next Door about a racist note left on the door of a vacationing Black family in my small Texas town.  The comments range from horrified and shamed to defensive and belligerent.  I think all the comments have been by white people, who comprise most of our town’s population.  Some of them deny that such a thing as systemic racism even exists. 

I’ve also been reading Glennon Doyle’s treasure of a book, Untamed, and yesterday read the chapter titled Racist.  Doyle, a white woman, has the courage to confront her own racism and acknowledge the way racism contaminates the very air we breathe.  We’ve all been contaminated, and it’s our job to find the poison in ourselves and get rid of it.  Her words are helping me work through this process.  I wish everyone in the U.S. would read her book; if that happened, I believe our country would begin to heal.  She urges us to not perform, as I’ve done for many years, but to transform.  That’s what I’m trying to do now.  Only then will I be a true ally.

I’m working to improve.

Community. serendipity.

 

Late in the afternoon, just as I’d finished my last conference call of the day, I saw someone walk up onto our front porch and ring the doorbell.  It was a neighbor I’d never formally met, one who sat on the homeowners’ association board with my husband.  And she was bringing a gift:  three giant zucchinis.

 

Her boss, she explained, decided to get into gardening—and REALLY got into it.  Not understanding that these are gourds that multiply, she planted ten of these beauties, and now the entire office was at risk of burial by zucchini.  I invited her in, and as it happened, on the kitchen counter was Vivian Howard’s cookbook, open to the squash section.  I’d been reading it and looking forward to later in the summer when zucchini would be plentiful and cheap.

 

My neighbor glanced with interest at the squash glamor shots, and out came her phone to capture several of the recipes.  She left with a promise of more zucchini and possibly tomatoes:  her boss had planted 50 tomato plants in her “garden.”

 

That evening we feasted on squash and onions (I pan-fried almond-crusted tilapia fillets to go on top).  Was it just my imagination, or did the meal taste especially good because it was a gift?  Was I more a part of the community for having accepted the gift, and given something in return?  Perhaps being part of a community where people look out for each other, something our grandparents took for granted, is a balm.

 

When Phil and I are Roamers, we look forward to making connections, even (or especially?) brief ones, wherever we go.  And we hope to spread and receive kindness, and to be good neighbors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zucchini!  Summer!

 

The recipe I made with the gift

 

Our approach to spending money has already changed since we made the big decision to roam in retirement.  For example, recently I saw a nice silk forsythia wreath on sale.  My love for forsythia as the first harbinger of spring in Oklahoma, where I grew up, was handed down by my mother, who never met a flower she didn’t like.  I have some of her silk forsythia branches in my house.  And I’ve always wanted a wreath like that.  But nope!  I saw it, wanted it, and then said, “I’d just have to get rid of it in two years, so why buy it?”

My mother’s silk forsythia.  The vase was also hers!

That got me thinking about all the things we won’t buy as roamers:  household goods, home décor, tools, lawn equipment, plants, fertilizer, light bulbs—you get the idea.  So I decided to make a list and see what our potential savings might be. 

Shopping at Target: “I’d just have to get rid of it in two years, so why buy it?”

For that, I turned to Personal Capital, which is where I track all of our financial information.  It’s free and secure, and it keeps me precisely informed of our financial situation —especially during tax season, when I simply download all our tax-related expenses.  I decided to look at the past two years and find expenses we won’t have as roamers.  Here’s what we spent in 2018-19 that we won’t spend as roamers:

  • Home improvement. We invested a lot of money in our home, including furnishings, landscaping, and renovations

A section of our garden

  • Automotive. We bought a used car in 2018, plus regular expenses for two cars.
  • Property tax. (We plan to sell our house before we start roaming).
  • Home maintenance. Every-other-week house cleaning, replacements for things that wear out, toilet paper, etc. Well, we’ll probably still need to buy toilet paper.
  • Electric, water, propane, pool chemicals for the swim spa we never use (Nope, I’m not bitter about THAT purchase).
  • Gasoline/fuel. We’ll still have some of this for times when we’re using a rental car.
  • Homeowners and appliance insurance.
  • Cable/internet.
  • Work clothes.  I won’t need two wardrobes!
  • Pet care. This one breaks our hearts, because since we can’t turn Baxter into a roamer, we’ll have to find him a new staff. More on that later; I don’t want to think about it right now.

Baxter-not a fan of roaming

So that comes to quite a bit that we won’t spend as roamers!  Granted, even without roaming we wouldn’t continue to pour money into home improvement, and we wouldn’t buy a car often.  But even without those items we still would save enough to buy a lot of travel!

 

 

What will the kids think?!

When I told our son we were considering roaming in retirement, his response was “Cool,” followed by lots of questions.  He seemed mildly concerned that we hadn’t thought this through (true), and he had some consternation about our selling a much-loved house that we’d customized to suit all our needs.

Our daughter, who lives in Europe, was excited and immediately offered to help me figure out how to start a blog.  She was not without some trepidation, though. As we discussed it more over the ensuing weeks, she struggled to make me understand her concerns.

“I’m excited for you and think this is a great idea,” she said.  I’m just concerned about you having a safe landing if you need to come home.”  I immediately reassured her about our plans to remain fiscally sound, but I’d missed the mark.  “No, I understand you’re ok financially–I just worry about you,” she explained.  “If something happened I’d want you to be able to get home safely and to have a secure place to stay.”

We went on to discuss things like travel insurance (which will likely be a major monthly expense), our ability to buy another house later if we sold ours, and other “safe landing” plans.  She seemed satisfied, but our conversation highlighted for me an interesting dynamic with our family: role reversal.

For most of their lives, our children have relied upon us–for pretty much everything when they were very young, then for education, guidance, and financial assistance as they entered adulthood. Today they are fully independent, flourishing in their careers, and happily partnered. The interesting, and for me a bit strange, part of this is that we now rely on them, perhaps more than they rely on us! Our son, who lives nearby, comes over regularly to help with household chores that Phil can’t do alone (especially those involving ladders or heavy lifting). He is also our personal help desk for all matters technological, and when we won’t do it ourselves he buys us safety- enhancing things like video doorbells.  Our daughter hosts Phil’s art website and this blog, and she has become a source of sage advice on topics ranging from travel to big decisions to interpersonal issues.

What’s weird is that this echoes our experience with our own parents.  As they aged, they increasingly depended on their children (especially our siblings who lived next door, while we were many states away).  Over the years we stopped relying on our parents for support and advice and started providing more to them.  We became sounding boards for their problems instead of the reverse.  They also gradually became more inwardly focused, showing less curiosity about our lives.  They also began to echo our grandparents– I remember my parents ranting about the expired food in Grandma’s kitchen, but as they aged we began clearing out expired food in theirs.

In some ways, this role reversal with our own children is a somber reminder that we are getting older.  I never want to be so inwardly focused that we lose interest in our children’s lives, our friends and family, and events in the larger world. And yet we are proud and thrilled to have raised these wonderful adults who now nurture us in ways we never anticipated. I hope that roaming in retirement will help us stay independent, keep us interested in things other than ourselves, and cause us to rely on ourselves and each other, delaying the time when we become increasingly dependent on our kids!

 

How we caught the travel bug

roam_in_retirement_favicon


By the summer of 1993, we were ready.  I’d saved up enough frequent flier miles for two round trip tickets to Paris, and we had spent years saving spare change to fund the rest of our trip.  I had finally overcome Phil’s objections to traveling abroad (generally) to France (specifically).  While he was still intimidated by language barriers and the rumors about the French being unfriendly to Americans, he was willing to give it a shot.  Having studied French in high school and college, I’d been a Francophile for years and was eager to have this adventure.

We would fly into Paris and spend a few days there, staying at Hotel Aviatic, a budget-friendly hotel originally serving pilots, then take the TGV high-speed train south to Dijon, where we’d booked a room in a 16th century castle complete with countess and moat!  From there we would drive our rental car to Avignon and stay in a 200-year-old farmhouse for a few nights, then back on the train to take in Bordeaux before returning to Paris for a final night.

Sandy pretending to be sophisticated on the high-speed train from Paris

For two unsophisticated travelers’ first trip abroad, it was perfect.  Sure, we got lost, had language barriers, and halfway through a late-night taxi ride to our Bordeaux hotel realized neither of us had enough francs to pay—but we were enraptured by the entire trip.  Walking the streets of Paris, seeing works my artist husband had only seen in books (I found him silently weeping in the Louvre, gazing at a Velasquez painting), having the meal of our lives at a family restaurant in a tiny Burgundy town, and making lifelong British friends at a dining table in Provence, had us hooked.

 

The Velasquez painting that induced tears

Here are three things we learned on that first trip:

  1. People are universally gracious if you approach them with respect and kindness. Best examples: we were sitting in our rental car in the Dijon train station parking lot, looking at a map and trying to figure out how to get to our B&B, when a beautiful Parisian couple I’d noticed on the train rapped on our window.  They could see we were struggling and spent the next 20 minutes explaining the route—using only my horrible French and her very limited English to communicate.  That taxi driver we stiffed in Bordeaux?  She came into the hotel with us, negotiated (bullied the desk clerk) for the hotel to loan us enough to pay her, and thanked us profusely!
  2. Traveling truly makes us better. We learn about other people, hone our EQ, become better problem solvers, and practice mindfulness (which wasn’t a thing in 1993) when we get out of our comfort zone and bring our open minds on the road.
  3. It’s all about the people. We met Diana and John at that Provencal dinner table.  The conversation was mostly in French, which left Phil out a bit, but they made sure to include him by translating and asking him questions in English.  John, a WWII hero and child psychoanalyst in his early 80s, and Diana, a Scottish mum of three grown sons who had qualified as a psychotherapist at age 60, were fascinating, especially John’s stories of being captured and sent to a German POW camp, making friends with a guard, and escaping to make his way through France back to London.  Years later, after John’s death, we took our 14-year-old daughter to London, where we stayed with Diana in her 4-story St. John’s Wood house.  It’s one of our most treasured memories.

Our friend Diana preparing a wonderful lamb dinner in her kitchen

 

Oh, and one other thing we learned that year:  travel requires courage, NOT fearlessness.

 

what’s keeping us sane. . .sort of


The news. Binge watching TV shows. Drinking. Overeating.

Just kidding (a little).

After six weeks of self-islolation, we’ve had to get creative, or at least be more thoughtful, about how to spend our socially distanced time. We acknowledge our privilege and good fortune every day, especially when we see news stories about people who are truly affected, often tragically so, by the corona virus and COVID-19. We have a safe home, Phil has a studio in our backyard where he can get away from me, I have my job when so many have lost theirs, and we have so far been able to stay comfortable and safe.

We really miss being able to get out. As aspiring Roamers, we love the adventure of travel, whether it’s a big trip to France (planned for July but almost certainly to be cancelled) or a day trip in the Texas Hill Country. Today I was struck by the fact that many of our diversions are things we won’t be able to do when we’re full-time Roamers. Phil won’t have a studio with all the latest equipment, and we won’t have a house or yard. The notion that in two years we won’t get to do things we can do even under quarantine heightens enjoyment and reminds me how precious every day is.

Baking

I love to cook and fully intend to make most of our meals when we’re roaming.  But I’m not a baker (probably because in baking you have to follow instructions, and I don’t like to do that!), and when we’re roaming, it’s unlikely I’ll have the opportunity to do much baking. So during our isolation I’ve taken up sourdough bread baking.  On the fourth try I actually got a beautiful and delicious result! This will do nicely until the day we walk to a local European bakery for the day’s bread.

My first successful whole grain sourdough bread!

Walking

We both go for lots of walks in our neighborhood. But on Saturday I really, really needed to get out of the neighborhood, so we drove to a nearby nature trail. We got to TALK to PEOPLE (only to say hi as we passed them on the trail, leaving six feet between us), look at some beautiful wildflowers, and exercise our (frankly overfed) bodies. Of course, we’ll walk all the time when we’re Roamers, but for now we get to appreciate our familiar “Little Bit of Heaven” here in the Hill Country.

The path we walked this weekend.

Gardening

I’m not a skilled or experienced gardener, but I love nothing more than serving food I grew (arugula and tomato salad, anyone?). And gardening is something I won’t be able to do when we’re roamers, so I plan to enjoy the heck out of it for the next two years. Just today I learned how to kill snails (so gross!) and started drying herbs (crafty,  fun, and frugal!). And I LOVE bringing flowers into the house and arranging them, or just smelling my favorite flowers, gardenias.

Freshly picked herbs drying in the sun!

Here’s hoping this new-found appreciation will last for the next week of confinement! What’s saving your sanity?

     INSPIRATION

Nicole and her kiddos

During this extended self-isolation experience I’ve especially enjoyed one of my favorites, Househunters International.  A fan for years, I even watch repeats of episodes filmed in places I either love or really, really want to visit.  Because the episodes are short, I often watch them during lunch, to get a true break during the workday.

So this week I was watching an episode in Scotland, a place that holds special interest because my paternal great grandfather was born in Glasgow.  The house hunter, American Nicole Ratliff, was an engaging single mom who, with her twin 9-year-olds, was moving there from Mexico to attend the University of St. Andrews.  Interesting, but I was admittedly focused on my yummy avocado toast lunch (topped with leftover grilled sweet potatoes and asparagus, and a fried egg!)—until something grabbed my attention.  I rewound to make sure I’d heard correctly. Yes, Nicole mentioned that at age seven she was diagnosed with spina bifida.  My niece has spina bifida. Hers is a more severe case that was diagnosed prenatally, and she uses a wheelchair.  Nicole walks with a cane, and the stairs in the homes she viewed were a visible challenge for her, but on her limited budget the best she could hope for was a bedroom/bathroom on the ground floor.

I was curious about this woman’s story.  Turns out she became an expat to give her children the experience of living in different places, learning different cultures, and becoming, like her, lifelong learners.  She was pursuing a second master’s degree in social anthropology. But wait, there’s more—her twins also have disabilities (autism and ADD/oppositional defiance disorder).  Nicole left her government job to travel with her kids “to show that because you have a disability, does not mean you should not be able to travel and see the world.” They have a Facebook blog, and as I read it I discovered that they are Roamers!  Currently self-isolating in St. Andrews after having lived in Columbia and Mexico, they are living roaming lives, worldschooling, exploring, and inspiring many people, especially single parents and people with disabilities.  

Phil and I don’t have disabilities.  We don’t have money problems. We’re healthy, we’re white Americans, we’re privileged. And we’re self-isolating here in central Texas, longing for the day when we can resume travel and plan in earnest for our roaming days. But in the meantime, I plan to devote some time every day to gratitude, and to celebrate people like Nicole and her kids, who inspire us all.

The new normal

Well.  It’s March 28, 2020, and today roaming seems to be a very, very distant dream.  The current unreal reality has settled in like an unwelcome guest whose plans to leave are not being mentioned.  Our county, like so many places across the planet, has issued a mandatory shelter at home order with exceptions only for necessary errands like getting food and medicine.  We are, however, allowed to exercise outdoors, as long as we maintain social distancing. 

Phil and I are so very lucky.  We have a comfortable home with a fenced-in backyard that houses Phil’s art studio.  I still have my well paid work-from-home job and have enjoyed the break from constant travel.  Our family and most of our friends are so far safe and healthy.  And we live in a sparsely populated area where we can easily go out for walks without coming close to anyone.  We’re worried, but not fearful.  I fully acknowledge my privilege and am grateful for our situation.

So while our dreams of roaming are on hold, because neither of us has an appetite for travel planning right now, we are trying to embrace this new normal.  A reluctant adopter, I’ve learned to enjoy video meetings.  On most days Phil goes for long walks with our neighbor, on opposite sides of the street.  I’ve been taking Michelle Obama on my walks this week, listening to Becoming.  The bluebonnets are in full, glorious bloom, and recent rains have made everything gloriously green.  Yesterday I rescued a tortoise from the middle of the road; today I rescued the same tortoise from a driveway about a quarter of a mile away.  On our walk together, Phil and I watched a dung beetle roll its globe of poop along, and when we got home, curious about its behavior, I googled it to learn that dung beetles were considered deities by the ancient Egyptians.  We ordered sourdough starter and have begun making artisan bread, and this morning Phil delivered a loaf to our neighbors’ porch.  And I’ve continued with my Babbel French lessons, even though our July trip to France is almost certain to be cancelled. 

Like everyone else, we’re doing our best to maintain a sense of normalcy, and so far we’re succeeding. I can’t fathom the ways this pandemic will change the world, but my hope is that people will feel more connected to one another, that kindness and compassion will overrule division and judgement, and that containment and bending the curve will prevail.  And that sometime soon, roaming will once again be possible.