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.


“I just needed to hear your voice,” said our ex-pat daughter in Europe. 










Italy sings!

How the Pandemic has influenced our thinking

Wow, what a week!  We spent way too much time watching the news (even watching news sources we usually eschew, in order to see how  outlets vary in their reporting), we stocked up on groceries a little without going nuts (no toilet paper shelves were emptied by us), and at the last minute we decided to skip our community’s monthly wine share event.

My company started the week by leaving meeting and travel decisions to our discretion, only to later ban all non-essential travel and in-person meetings.  So far I’ve cancelled three trips and had some conferences postponed.  The silver lining for me is getting more time at home, but I’m quite frankly gobsmacked at the changes this pandemic is making in everyone’s lives.

When the Europe-to-USA travel ban was announced, my daughter in Europe called because “I just needed to hear your voice.” And I needed to hear the voice of my constantly-traveling son, who at the time was in Kansas City on business, and to check in with friends in Seattle, Westchester County, and Detroit.  

Like so many others, we have overseas vacation plans that may be impacted.  That led us to ponder how we’ll handle situations like this now, in our small Texas town, and especially later, if they occur when we’re roamers.

We are fortunate to have the means to get home if we need to, and we do generally purchase travel insurance for airfare and sometimes lodging.  But the more personal impacts, such as having to self-quarantine in a foreign country where we don’t have a network of friends and family, or not being familiar with medical resources, transportation options, and other necessities, gave us pause. 

One scenario we discussed was similar to the current situation in Italy.  “What if we were in Italy now, stuck in a short-term rental apartment, with everything closed and nowhere to go?” If we couldn’t fly home, we’d have to stay indefinitely.  How would we handle it?

And then I saw videos of Italians joining in song from their balconies. I read about NBA players pledging financial support for arena workers. And I was reminded that the best part of the human spirit can come forward in times of crisis.

In the end, we agreed that neither of us feared being stuck together in a small apartment.  As long as we’re together, we are confident that we can weather the storms. And if by roaming, and sharing our experience by writing about it, we can help make the world just a little smaller, for just a few people, it will all be worth it.

The Planning Begins

Our conversations get interesting!

By early February 2020, Phil was almost fully on board; his only stipulation was that we not immediately sell the house.  We love our little house in the Texas Hill Country, with its art studio in the backyard and my beautiful garden.  And being only a half hour away from our Texas kids, we were well settled.  I had to agree with Phil that renting our house for the first year would give us a soft landing if we found that the roaming life didn’t suit us.  That decision tentatively made, we began seriously exploring options and planning for real.

I was still reading Lynne Martin’sbook aloud, and Phil was enthusiastic.  Our reading led to many interesting conversations, such as:


  • I’m the planner in the family, arranging most of our trips, social engagements, budget, etc.  Phil is the one who forces me to slow down and consider more options, really think things through, and be more thorough.  He also is passionate about art and history, and he has dragged enticed me to museums and galleries I wouldn’t have seen on my own.  We agreed that we’d rely on each other’s strengths to make this work.
  • We agreed to start with places where we’re comfortable, then gradually become more adventurous.  So perhaps we’ll start with France, Italy, and the UK (our daughter and son-in-law live in Europe), and as we sharpen our roaming skills we’ll travel to places where less English is spoken and the cultures are more diverse.
  • Phil is an artist, primarily focused on landscapes.  We’ll have to figure out how he can adapt his painting style to life on the road, without the sophisticated equipment he relies on to transform photos into ready-to-paint sketches on canvas.  For me, aside from this blog, my “career” will be organizing our adventures as the family travel agent.


Phil’s painting of a creek near where we live


  • We have moved 16 times in our 38 years of marriage, including going from 3600 square feet down to 1600, so we know how to downsize.  We have given our kids (ok, persuaded them to take) furniture, dishes, décor, art, and memorabilia, and I’m frankly surprised the IRS hasn’t investigated us because we’ve donated so many things to charity over the years.  But still we have a LOT of stuff.  I’m ruthless about getting rid of stuff that we no longer need or love, especially after being inspired by Marie Kondo.  But this is different.  We’re looking at getting rid of everything we can and moving all the rest into a storage unit.  Over the past couple of weeks one of us will say, “I could never part with our dining table,” or “Could you live without your Wustoff knives?” or “What would I do with all the stuff in my studio?”  And let’s not even talk about the books.  I have over 300 cookbooks and even more fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.
  • How will we know whether we have enough money?  We had already decided to spend 2020 living at or below the amount we expect to have in retirement, as a test.  In January we spent about half what we spent in December, and we’re on a similar track for February, so it’s looking good so far.  And now we have even more motivation to save.  One recent Saturday after seeing a movie complete with adult beverages and snacks, we nixed our dining out plans to eat at home, and every time I think of buying something I think, “We’d just have to get rid of it in two years, so why buy it?” 


Regardless whether we end up as roaming retirees, this exercise is changing us, making our conversations more impactful and weightier—and more fun.  When I worked at a community mental health center many years ago, one of our consultants told us “Every couple needs a baby.  Not necessarily a human child, but some creative project they can share.”  Have we found our next baby?