La Mezquita

By J.T.

The Mezquita in Córdoba, Spain is one of those amalgamations of time and tradition. Originally a Mosque, after the reconquista of Andalusia it was preserved, more or less, and turned into a cathedral.

In its original form and function, it contained 900 columns, meant to evoke a forest. Walking through the columns, I felt an openness and containment all at once.

 The columns of La Mezquita

The columns of La Mezquita

In its heart now lies a (rather gaudy) Baroque dome. The two architectural styles couldn't be more dissimilar. Jason found them rather jarring, but from a semiotic standpoint, I enjoyed it.

Taking the original symbolism of the forest of columns, I interpreted entering the cathedral as descending into the mind. And, after wandering through there, like an errant knight of Camelot or a mad explorer, I came to the heart of the cathedral. God.

 The Baroque center of the cathedral.

The Baroque center of the cathedral.

Symbolism is a difficult thing, because you can never be certain if this was what the creator intended. On the other hand, it doesn't matter because individual interpretation is important, too.

The blend of styles also brings up another important point. On a visit to a local museum, we learned about Averroes, a 12th century Muslim philosopher from Andalusia. I don't know the exact quote, but he said that the only reason you would ever think that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism were fundamentally different religions was if you took a literal view of their texts, which is a silly thing to do. Keeping the columns of La Mezquita intact thus serves more than a practical purpose. It reuses the Islamic symbolism for a holy Catholic place of worship, perhaps driving home Averroes's point.

 Jason's favorite picture from La Mezquita

Jason's favorite picture from La Mezquita

A Tough Log to Split

By J.T. 

In Norway, we spent most of our working time splitting wood. Our hosts, Silje and Øyvind, own a wood-splitting machine, so this was not back-breaking work. It was, however, mentally frustrating at times. Jason and I became well-versed in the idiosyncrasies of different types of wood. Ash is by far the easiest to split. The pale white wood pops apart.

Other types, though, are more challenging. I found that you have to look for the spot where the log wants to split apart. Sometimes that’s a slight discoloration, or a spot where the bark has already separated a bit. But some logs just don’t want to split apart. Big knots deep inside seemingly innocuous logs will skewer the direction of the cut, sometimes only removing the tiniest sliver of bark. In larger logs, the axe blade of the machine will become stuck inside the flesh of the log, and requires a hammer to release it.

 

 Splitting logs with the machine.

Splitting logs with the machine.

Over dinner one night, Øyvind told us that Norwegians refer to such logs as vriompeis. This means “a tough log to split.” But a vriompeis can also refer to a person. This is someone who demands his or her own way and is unwilling to compromise. This is not unlike our phrase in English “a tough row to hoe,” though that refers to a situation, not a person.

I have to wonder if the trick to working with a vriompeis is to do one of the things we did: try to find where it wants to split; bludgeon it with a hand axe until splits into manageable pieces, or toss it in the discard pile.

 

 This isn't even all of the wood we split. 

This isn't even all of the wood we split. 

What a year this month has been!

By Jason

 

Traveling does a funny thing with time. Weeks can feel like months, months like years, and yet you can still let it slip by so fast that it turns out you haven't updated folks nearly at all. Sorry about that, my dear friends. Give me a second, and I'll catch you up on where we've been and where we're going.

First off, where we've been:

Bergen, Norway

You guys kinda know the deal here, but we had the unparalleled opportunity to spend two weeks in Bergen, where we were matched up to our wonderful hosts Silje and Øyvind. We worked with them on their farm, splitting wood and sharing stories. We found them through HelpX, and I cannot recommend this program enough. 

The deal is essentially this: in exchange for about 4 hours work a day, we were provided living quarters and all of our food needs at home. Additionally, we had amazing experiences with their family, including taking boat rides out of the fjords, fishing and crabbing, meeting local folks, working in a farmers market, and more. 

But the best thing to me were the evenings after dinner, when Silje would make coffee for the four of us and we'd talk, sometimes for hours. You see our hosts are veteran travelers, and to tell you some of their tales here would be to risk incredulity. Suffice to say, they've been around the world a lot, and they also brought their boys in tow, showing them new experiences and homeschooling them all while educating them in the world. Their example has dealt a HUGE blow to the assumption that you can't travel with kids.  

I'm so happy to know that that doesn't have to be true. 

Lessons!

  • HelpX is incredible. Helping with work is an amazing way to immediately thaw the ice between guests and hosts, especially when you don't know one another. Additionally, it feels nice to put in some good work, and it vastly reduces the potential awkwardness inherent in a guest/host relationship. Also while we weren't paid for our work, the experiences we received from this we literally could not buy. If you were to try and put together the same trip from paid tours you A.) wouldn't come close and B.) would spend an arm and a leg to do it. 
  • Adventure can be had with kids, you just have to spend a little more time planning it out and have the will to succeed at it.  
  • We learned how to eat a whole crab. It was delicious. 

Takeaways

  • After this trip, if we can, we're going to raise chickens. There's just something incredible about being that in contact with animals, particularly food animals. 
  • We spent a fair amount of time talking with one of their boy, who was learning English. He did an amazing job communicating with us, even when he didn't quite know the words or the appropriate grammar to use. His confidence in just openly using what he did know to try and speak with us was an inspiration. Both of us walked away a lot more confident in using our own second languages.
  • Eating as a family is a great experience, as is after-dinner conversation.  

Surprises

  • You can  get a burrito in Norway, but you'd better be willing to shell out around $30 for the privilege. 
  • HOWEVA, Taco Night is becoming a Norwegian institution, so finagle yourself an invite for a taste of home. 

Copenhagen, Denmark

Oh, Copenhagen.  Situated physically and culturally between mainland Europe and Scandinavia, Copenhagen is a truly unique and wonder place.

Copenhagen has been rated as the most livable city in the world. Ok, so the lowdown:

  1. Copenhagen loves its bikes. Like, LOVES them. So Copenhagen has dedicated bike lanes on every street, and dedicated laws to protect cyclists. So many people commute via bike that they literally have cyclejams. The result is a cleaner city, seemingly fewer cars, and undoubtedly better health.
  2. If you don't like to bike, don't worry! Their bus and train system is amazing. They run all day and night, and you're probably not going to wait more than 10 minutes to catch it.  
  3. Copenhagen (or maybe Denmark as a whole) loves art. Denmark is more than willing to directly subsidize art and culture projects as well as education.  

We were very fortunate to be able to spend a few days with our friends Marin and Joon and they pointed us to all the best spots. One of the highlights for me was the Free State of Christiania. You can read up on this, but the gist is that essentially a bunch of hippies decided to take over an old army base in the center of Copenhagen and establish a collective and commune there. 

Christiania is functionally autonomous, and continues to be so because of the will of the voters of Copenhagen. I have no idea  how they are able to keep it organized, but they've got great food, markets, and of course an open-air pot market (known as the Green Light district). The rules there appear to be pretty simple: no hard drugs, no pictures, and no running.

Somehow it appears to work.  There was a very nice, even family-friendly vibe there. People there said it was much different from the Amsterdam cafe scene because this was truly a community. 

One of the other great opportunities we had there was to go to a board game awards event held in a school for acrobats after hours. So what's going on in this picture? Joon had set up one of his installation art/experimental games at the front and was gathering people around. It's a very interesting game that doesn't convey well to photographs, but essentially you are blindfolded and have to shoot at zombies as they come after you. The crowd is watching a screen and is yelling out which way you have to move. 

It's pure chaos, but so much fun.  

Lessons

  • You can live for art, but you have to work for it. Some places and communities are more suited for this than others. I found myself thinking while I was there that it is so important to surround yourself with others that share your goals and dreams, so that you can support and guide one another to your excellence.
  • Denmark (as well as many other European countries) is amazingly generous when it comes to education. This seems to produce a lot of well-educated, interesting people, forming a society that is more multi-layered and vibrant. Additionally, if you wanted to move to a country like this the best route is through the educational system there.
  • It's important to do what you love. 

Takeaways

  • Once again, staying with friends (new or old) is amazing way to experience a place. I'm so glad for our great community of friends.
  • I'd like to live abroad at some point. Both Joon and Marin are away from their home countries (Belgium and Iceland, respectively), and I think it's a hugely rewarding thing to do. Also English is largely spoken wherever you go, and non-native speakers use it as an international language to function in foreign lands. It kind of kills the embarrassment of not speaking the local language when you realize that all the other tourists from all the other nations are also trying to communicate in English. 

Surprises

    • "I'm not afraid of small spaces, and I'm not afraid of heights. I'm afraid of small spaces up high." - Judy, in describing what it felt like to be at the top of an endless stairway to the heavens (pictured above) 

     

    Belgium (Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges, all over really)

     Ok, so I have a lot of great pictures of Belgian architecture and countryside, all of which you can see on our Flickr. But I felt like I should showcase food here for one simple reason:

    I have to believe that the Belgians are the happiest people on earth, and this is because of their food. My GOD  the food.

    Here's the rundown: 

    • Waffles. Every town has their own style, and you're going to be tempted to try every one. Do not do this, because you also have to visit the...
    • Frituurs. Belgians own  fast food. Get here and get you some. The Frituur is an institution here, and it's a pretty simple thing. Essentially each one has their own proprietary mix of duck and horse fat oil. They display a large collection of meats. You pick a meat (or several) and they fry it on the spot. Its glory is its simplicity.
    • Beer. Belgians have made a religion out of beer, and beer out of religion. The Trappist monks have devoted their life to God, but they've devoted their productivity to beer and it's incredible. The monks function as non-profits, and sell the beer in order to fund their religious endeavors. We had the singular opportunity to visit the Westvleteren monastery to pick up some of the "Best Beer in the World." The whole experience was probably worthy of its own post.
    • Chocolate. I'm no sweets guy, but Judy is writing a whole article for Saveur about it, so you'll have to read that when it comes out. If you like chocolate, you like Belgium.

    We met Jim in Cologne, Germany, and from their proceeded on a week long road trip around Belgium. Highlights of that trip include the Mozart Hotel (styled in a combination that can only be described as Baroque Hamam), all the food I've already described, a day at Bastogne, and a brief stopover in the Netherlands. We also visited several gigantic antique markets and the British cemetary at Dunkirk. 

    Lessons

    • Eat local food, you will enjoy it. Or at least learn something about your own tastes.
    • Traveling for a month is a lot of work - it's amazing to have some time to relax. From this leg and from the road trip we've discovered that we have about three weeks of hard traveling in us before we need to lay low for a day or two.  
    • Go to historic battle sites. Others paid a very high price so that you can have what you have today. It's good to remember that.

    Takeaways

    • Do not be afraid of horse as a food.
    • Gotta bring Belgian beers into my rotation.  

     

    Now

    So now we're in Germany, and we've had the last week to get our bearings and get setup for the next couple of months. So many thanks to Jim and Kait for having us!

    Here's some highlights of what is to come: 

    • Oktoberfest! Next weekend in Munich.
    • Alpine snowboarding in Austria!
    • Spain and Morocco!

    Hit us up on the interwebs! We've got Facetime and Skype as well, so let us know if you want to talk. 

    Where are we (Norway edition)

    The farmhouse at Solthun.

    More specifically, we're staying in the camper on the side of the property. Here's a good look at it: 

     

     Our home.

    Our home.

    On a map! 

    Life has been really nice here. Things have slowed down quite a bit while we take in a bit of Norwegian life.

    Things we've done so far include: 

    • Splitting wood
    • Feeding chickens and quails
    • Pulling weeds
    • Petting Sheep
    • Helping with English homework
    • Helping to set up, run, and take down a stall at the Farmers Market at Hanevik. We were selling both chicken and quail eggs as well as prepared canapes and hard-boiled quail eggs.  
    • Going fishing in the sea for mackerel 
    • Hiking on Ulrichen, a large mountain outside of Bergen.

    Our hosts have been excellent, and we've had great food and conversation. Will share more later, but we've had a great experience learning from some experienced travelers (they traveled FIVE MONTHS with two young children!). We've also had the opportunity to really learn about how people are living in another country; something that you don't really get staying around other travelers. It's also nice to work for your bed and food; I think it alleviates some of the awkwardness of the host/guest relationship and allows everyone to feel that they're getting something positive out of the deal.

    Lastly, staying here has been extremely healthy on our budget. Still have to do the numbers, but I think we've gotten a lot closer to the average we're trying to hit, but in no way do I feel like we're cheapening our experience. If anything we've really expanded the value of our time here.

    All in all a very positive experience! We're here until the 10th, so we'll have more to report later on.  

    You can see more pictures here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/93082022@N06/sets/72157635293074373/ 

    h, and because y'all have been asking for it here's a picture of Judy working on a farm: 

     

     

    Rotted Shark Is Only Half as Bad as You Might Think

    By Judy

    Hákarl, or rotted shark, our Icelandic host told us, is best eaten in the dark of winter with copious amounts of vodka. I imagine that the vodka is to kill ones taste buds (and/or senses) and the December setting in the dark of daytime is because what else do you have to do?

    This is August, when the sun sets at around 9 PM and all of our vodka was back at the apartment we were staying in. So all I had was water, and strangely enough, hot dogs. 

    Hákarl is made of Greenland sharks, which by themselves are poisonous. In order to make them edible (which really, is only technically true), they are buried in their own urine for months, and then salted and hung to dry for several more months. This results in a chewy texture with a taste mostly of, well, shark urine.

    Why go through this for a fish that is first of all, poisonous, and second of all foul-tasting? I suppose it is because there aren't a lot of other things to eat in Iceland. Not many vegetables grow naturally and the lack of forests mean a lack of much wildlife. Maybe the bigger question is, why would the Vikings have settled there in the first place?

     

    When I first took a bite, I thought, hey, this really is not as bad as I thought it would be. But in the video you can see that I go from considering it "not great" to "pretty bad" as I chew. I think that if it were easier to chew and therefore didn't have to be in your mouth so long, it would be easier to swallow. 

    On the road again

    By Jason

    Hey guys, 

    Sorry for the long silence. We've been reconnecting with family in Michigan, and our long relaxed stay there was a bit busier than we would have thought. 

    We were in Michigan for five weeks. In that time we:

    1. Visited my dad a dozen times or more and celebrated his 66th birthday with family
    2. Went to Cedar Point
    3. Went to a Lions game
    4. Went to a Tigers game
    5. Ran our own personal 5k
    6. Visited Canada's beautiful Point Pelee
    7. MELP'd on Lake Michigan
    8. Learned what a Clown Shark was, and how terrifying it could be
    9. Made a lot of delicious food, a lot of which did not match the Midwest palate. 
    10. Attended Judy's cousin's wedding
    11. Taught Judy how to be comfortable riding a bike
    12. Have wonderful dinner in Mexicantown, and were keyed into one of the best and most economical pastry bakeries there.
    13. Found my current #2 favorite Pho (in Windsor, ON no less!)
    14. Went fishing (but not catching)
    15. Played dress up and puppet show and learned to braid hair and all sorts of other fun girly things
    16. Googly-eyed a good part of mom's house (Keep looking, you haven't yet found them all!)
    17. Learned why you might wish to Crush a Candy.
    18. Attended a Unitarian Universalist church service and rediscovered some of the benefits of having religious observance in our lives.
    19. Taught a whole group of people Liar's Dice and Ticket to Ride
    20. Packed up and put a bow on the last preparations for the next steps of our journey.

    In the midst of all of this we had a great time visiting our families (a lot) and our friends (somewhat less so). We surrounded ourselves with five- to twelve-year-olds and fell in love, out of love, and then back to neutral on the idea of having some of our own. We learned that people with dementia can be some of the most genuine and loving folks you'll ever encounter. We became immensely frustrated with the feeling of being stuck in the "youngest child" role, then strangely and pleasantly surprised to see that role diminish and change over time. We learned that influence doesn't always look like what you think it would, and that lessons taught through action and example are often the most effective.

    And now we're off again. If you're scoring at home, our trip currently looks as follows:

     

    We leave for Iceland on Friday! We'll be staying in Reykjavik for three days, then on to Bergen, Norway.  

    Where the heck are you guys?

    By Jason 

    Hey Guys! 

    Sorry it's been so long. We've made it to Michigan about two weeks ago, and have been rocking and rolling here with little time to blog and little to blog about that y'all would find as interesting as I do. 

    In short, after spending a few days in Dallas we spent 3 days driving to Michigan. In this time, we: 

    • Toured Mammoth Cave
    • Ate at Waffle House and Cracker Barrel (Both huge disappointments from my teenage recollections!)
    • Stayed in a cheap motel
    • Saw beautiful Lexington, KY

    Since being in Michigan we've been able to pick up our exercise routine, cook meals again, and spend a TON of time with family. We've really enjoyed being able to reconnect with everyone without the looming threat of a return flight hanging over my head.  

    We also had the opportunity to make it to Cedar Point (Best park in America!) and spend a couple days having a great adventure there with our nieces. Posts to follow.

    What's up next

    Some important dates and information: 

    • ~August 18th-20th we'll be making our way to the East Coast, spending some time in Philadelphia and in New York
    • August 23rd - We fly to Iceland, spend three days in Reykjavik. We've already got a host lined up (Thank you, Couchsurfing!)
    • August 27th - Fly to Bergen Norway, where we will be spending 10 days working on a farm.
    • September 6th-9th - Make our way to Copenhagen
    • September 9th and on - meander down to Germany, meet up with Jim, road trip to Belgium, then back down to Germany.

    Posts may be more or less frequent during the next two weeks, as we're really trying to maximize our time spent with family. Posts upcoming include: 

    • Pictures! (Though not as many as I'd hoped... we lost our camera at Cedar Point. Boo.)
    • Full budget recap of our road trip. 
    • Reflections on the whole thing now that we're over a month into it. This trip has already been life-changing in many ways, and we haven't even left US soil. 

    Desert Picture Mega Post

     So happy to find a campsite! 

    So happy to find a campsite! 

    Bunches of shots from our desert crossing!

    Wendover, NV and Salt Flats

    For a city guy, all deserts are inherently bizarre. Imagine vast tracks of nearly useless space blanketed in a deeply oppressive heat. The familiarity of the road provides a feeling of safety, but it's hard to believe that this is a safe place. I didn't take a whole lot of pictures in Nevada, because most of the terrain looks pretty similar. 

    Wendover we've already discussed...  

    The Bonneville Salt Flats are unique. I wish I could convey how silent and vast the space is, how it feels like you are standing still while driving at high speeds. It's so bright there that you can't take your sunglasses off, and the wind is hot, though we got there in the morning. There is no life.

    The salt flats are over 50 miles wide at the crossing. 

    Salt Lake City

    There aren't a whole lot of pictures of SLC, but we did walk around the Temple grounds of the Mormon church, as well as go through their pioneer museum. Crazy stuff. 

    Thoughts: 

    • The Temple isn't opulent in the style of other religion's holy sites, but we were blown away by the size and lushness of the gardens in the middle of desert.
    • I had NO idea how much the Mormon church sought to build a colony out in Utah, and what steps they took to ensure their collective success. Brigham Young set up church based corporations and really stressed the pioneer ideology of building a paradise out in the waste. I guess that explains the gardens.
    • Mormons are REALLY into America.
    • There are Mormon settlements all up and down the Western slope of the Rockies.

     

    Southern Utah, Moab, Arches National Park

    The thing about the desert is that it is an inherently dangerous place. Take away the roads and small towns and ranger stations in Moab, and you have a terrain that will kill the unwary through heat and dehydration. 

    I'm almost  sad that this area has become so tame, because it seems to detract from its majesty. Still, it doesn't take much to stand in the heat, sweating, and looking over the great distances to realize that this place doesn't need you, it doesn't want you, and it will be perfectly fine without you.

    Seeing the mesas and the arches gives you a real sense of geological time. These rocks are fluid and changing, albeit at a rate nearly incomprehensible to us. Likewise, we are so short-lived that this place seems eternal.

    Surprises in the Desert

    By Judy

    Between the two of us, I am the trip planner. I keep whole spreadsheets on things to do at our potential destinations around the world. I find the best travel deals, and sign us up for websites. It's a great mix, actually, because Jason is the one who wants to wander down streets and find surprises.  

    When I left the desert-crossing in his hands, boy, did we ever find a surprise. "That's it, I should never plan anything!" he said when we rolled into Wendover, Utah, our stop on Wednesday night. On the map, it looked like this: 

    To us, that green patch marked "West Wendover Recreation District" meant a state park of some sort. We made reservations to stay at a KOA campground nearby, assuming that while we may share the space with large RVs and loud families, we would be able to go for a little hike in the morning before seeing the Salt Flats down the road.

    In reality, "West Wendover Recreation District" is a town chock full of casinos. We arrived after dark to a blaze of neon signs lighting our way to the campground. Our site boarded someone's backyard and we ate dinner by the bluish glow of the Red Garter Casino.  

    I will say that pitching a tent in the dark has never been so easy. And the Red Garter did turn out to have a $2.99 breakfast special.  

     

     Photo courtesy of sangres.com. 

    Photo courtesy of sangres.com. 

    How could we have saved ourselves from this farce? Perhaps we should have looked up reviews of the campground. Or maybe we should have researched things to do in "West Wendover Recreational District." Or we should have looked at satellite photos of the area. 

    But in the end, we were only really looking for a spot to sleep for cheap, and we did, spending only $29. While there was no morning hiking, we were close to the salt flats, which were blindingly bright even at 9 AM. 

    The Salt Flats are a strange thing. Eons ago the Great Salt Lake stretched hundreds of miles more than it does now. When it dried, salt deposits were left behind. The salt sits in a thin crust atop the earth. The sun bounced off the crystals of salt like it does off of snow, but with greater intensity. How people crossed these flats in the days before UV protection I don't know.

     Jason on the Salt Flats.

    Jason on the Salt Flats.

    After leaving the Salt Flats, we stopped in Salt Lake City, where we parked and walked around for an hour. Then it was on to the Moab Desert and Arches National Park.

    All of the campsites at Arches were full, as we suspected they would be. We asked at the visitors' center which nearby campsites they would suggest. They gave us a map and pointed out two areas, one along a river with several small campsites and one southwest of the park. They advised we try the latter site, because it was crowded that day and getting late so we would be more likely to find a spot there. That was a valid point and we weighed our options, but we really wanted a spot by the river. It was hot and capping off our day with a swim in the river sounded awesome. So though it would potentially mean an extra hour until we pitched our tent if we struck out and had to seek out a site in the other area. The worst-case scenario would have been that we had to stay at a motel in town, paying more money and not experiencing a night in the desert. 

    We were glad we took the risk. We found a great campsite by the river: 

     

     Our home for the night.

    Our home for the night.

    We did indeed swim in the river and slept under the star-filled sky, where we could faintly make out the milky way. 

    In the morning we drove through Arches National Park and did a little hiking, which was hot and tiring but well worth it.  After that, it was on to Denver. 

     One of the eponymous arches.

    One of the eponymous arches.

    So here you can see the difference in planning versus not planning. We planned the first night carefully, making a reservation in advance and it turned out to not be the kind of place we wanted to stay. The second night we took a risk and found just what we wanted.  

    Comments

    Turns out that running a blog and changing your lifestyle completely and traveling the country in a tiny and packed Honda Civic are all challenges that need to be addressed head on. My apologies for not getting the blog comments approved and up, and sorry if we've been less than prompt in getting back to folks.

    Setting aside some dedicated blogging time each day is going to be critical, so we're going to move towards doing that. Thanks for your patience as we get everything figured out! 

    We've got some great stuff coming up, including lots of pictures of the desert, Colorado, and some good tips and observations from the road. Stay tuned! 

    Day 15 - Desert crossing plans

    Bonneville Salt Flats, AKA the largest Margarita glass rimmer on earth.

    After a day in San Francisco with our friends JP, Aaron, and Matteo, we're headed on a three day trek to Denver. 

    I want to keep you up to date with our plans, so please see below.

     

     

     

    Highlights from the trip to come:

    • Long first day drive to Wendover, UT, but we'll wake up Thursday morning and get to see the Bonneville Salt Flats, a piece of terrain I doubt we'll see the like of again.
    • 5 hours drive away will put us at Moab, UT, where we will explore the Arches National Park.  Apparently there are a ton of first-come, first-served campsites that we can use there, with apparently beautiful views. We will camp there Thursday night.
    • After that, our drive takes us right through the mountains and on to Denver.  

    Any suggestions for must-sees along the way?

    Day 14 - Lake Tahoe

    Sorry for the relative lack of posts lately. Moving is hard! 

    We had the chance today to take a trip to Lake Tahoe and do a day hike on the Rubicon Trail. Check it out. 

    Day 7 - Gratitude

    By Jason
     

    No, thanks.

    Instant coffee is terrible.  As I drink my bitter, bitter coffee and write this post, I'm forced to wonder if I might not be happier with a little bit of something to turn the flavor around.  Maybe I should go to the kitchen, see what I can find. I'm pretty certain Judy's got some agave nectar stashed away somewhere and that could be just the thing... 

    I'm not going to do that.

    I'm not going to do that because at age 20 I started working construction and I drank nuclear sludge with no sugar or cream. I did it and it was terrible, but somehow I figured it was impressive to these men that I was tough enough to take it without. I'm not sure it did any good, but I do know I built a little tradition for myself. On the list of trivial yet definitive factors of who I am, somewhere you'd find:

     ...
    47. Really good at parallel parking
    48. Drinks only strong, black drip coffee
    49. Unflappable sense of direction
    ...

    At some point in life certain behaviors just become part of who you are, to the extent that changing that behavior would mean having to reevaluate a central part of yourself. It's at this point that you find yourself doing things just to validate your identify.

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and say, at least for our American readers, that if someone offers to help you out in any way your instinctive reaction is to say "No, thanks."  

    I don't have a good idea of when self-reliance became an integral part of my identity. If you look at the facts, the reason I'm where I am today is because others have helped me along the way. As I take a day to appreciate my father, I cannot deny all that I owe to the wonderful people that raised me.  But at some point it became extremely important that I be self-made, that I take care of all of my problems, and that I manage to meet my goals alone and primarily through my own industry.

    Independence and self-sufficiency became very ingrained in me, to the extent that accepting assistance can feel as if I am somehow diminished. 

    Help is the cream in my bitter self-identity coffee. 

    (Just go with it.) 

    No thanks

    If this doesn't apply to you, then you can go ahead and skip to the next section where I thank everyone (including you!) for all the help you've given us in the process. It's a good bit, and I'm sure it'll make you feel all warm and fuzzy, you nice person you. 

    But if any of this rings true, please do me the favor of reading the next part and letting me know if it makes sense. 

    I believe that self-reliance is central to the American character. All of our heroes, our success stories, our idols, all of them are self-made people. Facing overwhelming odds against a strong foe and overcoming them by yourself is essentially the Disney narrative of American identity. If you look at our popular stories, so many of them are power fantasies in which a perfect (or redeemable) protagonist outwits or overpowers great evil. Often that evil is collectivized, faceless, made of many against the hero as one.  

    The Platonic Form of this ideal can be observed in the works of Ayn Rand. In her "Objective" view, the world consists of powerful individuals and weak takers, who rely of their collective numbers to drain the vital essence from the few worthy heroes. At the end of the day these heroes overcome the weak by demonstrating to them that collective power, shame, and taking can be overcome by refusing to be a part of society. 

    If you aren't familiar with her work, check out the Wikipedia article for Atlas Shrugged right now and you'll get it. I'll wait.

    ... 

    ... 

    ... 

    Got the idea?

    The problem with mindset that elevates self-sufficiency as the ultimate goal is that it ultimately and necessarily undermines generosity. Follow my logic:

    • The best way to be is self-sufficient. The best people rely on no one. If I am going to be the best I can be, I will be 100% independent. THEREFORE:
    • If I need help this means I am not 100% independent. THEREFORE:
    • Receiving help lessens me. THEREFORE:
    • I am conflicted as the recipient of help. On the one hand, I may have needed it to get through a situation. On the other hand, by accepting someone else's help I have conceded that I am less than I thought I was. You've helped me but you've also diminished me at the same time. THEREFORE:
    • Conversely, if I help you, then I am diminishing you. THEREFORE:
    • If I currently carry the delusion that I'm 100% independent, then by helping you I've implicitly stated that I'm better than you. 

    Ok, so that may feel a bit extreme, but it all really does logically in place. If they're being consistent, people who feel conflicted about receiving help must also feel conflicted about giving it. 

    The rational end to this type of thought is that we all face this struggle we call life alone. If we succeed we succeed alone. If we fail, we fail alone.

    A bitter, bitter cup. 

    Know thanks

     As we begin to turn our entire life on its head, I'm starting to get confronted with certain assumptions that fit in well with my old existence but have a lot less use in this new one. The fact is that for this whole plan to work we're going to be relying on your generosity. If our kneejerk reaction is to deny help and attempt to be completely self reliant we're going to fail.  

    When our friend L (generic in case she'd prefer privacy) was here in Seattle earlier this year, she made an extraordinarily generous offer to us. She was so excited about our trip the she offered to allow us to borrow her very nice camera in order to document our trip. Cameras of the type she is offering to lend us carry a heft price tag, and it's doubtful we'd be able to buy one on our own on our budget. But having it will undoubtedly increase the value of our experience and allow us to share that experience better with all of you.

    My first instinct was to say, "No, thanks." 

    Call it luck or call it wisdom, I checked myself away from that before speaking, and instead said, "Thank you. That is very generous and we'll do it!" 

    After this Judy and I talked about this and made ourselves a little pact. If anyone offers to assist us in any way on this trip we are going to take them up on it. No polite refusals or other deferrals. If we need help and anyone is offering, we'll take it. 

    Consider yourselves warned. 

    As we've done this, we've discovered that accepting generosity from our friends has made us better friends, and better people. Rather than feeling lessened for owing you all for your help, I feel like I've become a greater and better person. Additionally, I feel that you've appreciated us to a greater degree because we were able to freely be generous to you.

    My first real lesson on this trip is that family is something that you create, and you create it by giving with no expectation of return, and asking with no obligation for reciprocity. Love is giving, yes, but it also receiving. You can't do one well without doing the other. 

    Now I'm going to try and list all the ways that you've helped us. For privacy sake I'll avoid naming names, but you know who you are. Items are in no particular order.

    Thank you so much! For:

    • Coming over and helping us prep our house and paint our front porch! Without your help, we never would have finished it. Thank you!
    • Allowing us to stay in your home the first weekend our house was on the market, giving us a place to relax after a month of grueling prep. Thank you! 
    • For working with us to sell so much of our property, by setting up appointments, meeting with buyers, and organizing our moving sale. Thank you! 
    • For talking me down after our buyer left us high and dry, claiming that they just couldn't deal psychologically with a slanted house and I had the second of my three emotional breakdowns in selling this house. Thank you!
    • For choosing to understand that this life journey is of central importance to us as humans, even if it's not something you would do and you've never heard of anyone doing it. Thank you! 
    • Providing us the material means to afford this by making me a part of your company and your family. Thank you! 
    • Making us feel so loved through throwing parties, brunches, lunches, dinners, and get-togethers to celebrate our place in your lives and this coming adventure. Thank you!
    • For providing a home to Apollo where he can feel safe and loved and have the opportunity to continue his life for the moment without us, but with a lifestyle that is similar to what he has had so far. Thank you!
    • For giving us your phone so that Judy and I can communicate. Thank you! 
    • For opening your homes and your personal networks to us, so that we can connect and meet friends-to-be on our travels. Thank you!
    • For providing us the opening by letting us stay with you on the first leg of this adventure, and giving us the beachhead we needed to begin to believe that this is possible. We're finally going to be roommates, can you believe it? Thank you! 
    • For giving us encouragement to follow our dreams every step of the way. Thank you! 
    • For raising us to be the man and woman that we are, and never discouraging us from realizing our true selves. Even if you're not with us physically, you live on in our spirits and we will take you out into this world so that we can try and teach others what you taught us. Thank you!

    For all the things big and small that I haven't mentioned but that mean so much to me, Thank you. 

    Happy Father's Day!

     

    Day 7 - Update

    By Jason

    I have a little niggling anxiety about this trip and that is this: I'm concerned that in all of our travels we will fail to find anything as beautiful and peace-bringing as a Spring day in Seattle.  

    Today marks the 7th day since this whole thing began and I'm happy to report that we've made a good amount of progress on a number of things. Bullets of information! 

    • The leasing listing is live (and alliterative!). 
    • We've already had a good number of visitors through the house, and we're looking to review applications tomorrow. Hopefully we'll have some.  
    • We've been given the go ahead from our leasing company to build a room of sorts in the basement for the storage of our stuff. This is awesome as it allows us to not have to rent a storage unit or a truck to take things to that storage unit. 
    • Apollo moved into his new home on Saturday. I think he'll be happy there while we are gone, but I'm not going to say it wasn't difficult. He's a good friend, and once we settle back down I'll be very glad to have him back in our lives. Many thanks to our friend who was so generous to provide him a home in our absence.

    Our list this week:

    • Build a room in the basement
    • Get the chimney cleaned
    • Get the front door fixed
    • Get some inspections done
    • Move everything out of the house and in to the basement. 

    I'll be posting some more thoughts later, but so far things are back on track. Assuming we get everything done it's looking like this thing starts in earnest by Friday at the latest, and possible Thursday. 

    (PS - We've received requests to put more pictures up. I'm totally down to do that, but first I have to find my camera. Moving is a great way to lose track of your stuff!)

     

    Day 3 - News

    By Jason

    I'll keep this one short - got a couple of news items to report:

    • I'm meeting with the rental agent today to discuss getting the house on the rental market. After our buyer dropped out, traffic has been extremely light to the house, and it looks like we've missed our window to sell. On the bright side, the rental agent is very bullish on getting this out at an appropriate price. May not be the grand slam we were looking for, but a single will be good enough here to get us on the road.
    • Speaking of baseball, we'll be going to the M's game tonight. Anyone who wants to meet at Fuel beforehand will be welcomed indeed. I'll probably be there around 4/5, with Judy arriving a bit later due to work.
    • We still have great stuff that we are selling! Items include:  a 46" TV, a wood and leather sleeper sofa, a desk, and our dining room table. Contact me if you or someone you know is interested.
    • Our plan is to get a punch list from our rental agent, then work through the next week to get that done and move all of our stuff out. That puts our departure at about 7-10 days from now, assuming all works out. Ideally we'll have someone ready to rent by that time, but we've decided not to wait.  

    That's it!  

     

    The Dallas Arboretum & the Importance of Talking Science with Kids

    By Judy

    When I visit my sister in Dallas, I don’t see much of the city. It’s city with a serious sprawl problem, and besides making sure I eat some good Tex-Mex and hitting up the outlet mall, I don’t usually do much touristy stuff. I really go there to see my sister and her three kids.

    When I went down there this past April, I decided to squeeze in one attraction. Since my Mom would also be there, I thought going to the arboretum would be ideal. We let my youngest nice, Hailey (4 years old) skip preschool for the day and come with us.

    More botanical garden than arboretum, Hailey and I spent a significant amount of time seeking out “princess gardens”—the type of garden we could imagine a princess having all to her own. Hailey also couldn’t resist showing off her cartwheel technique on some of the wider expanses of grass.

     A princess would definitely live here.

    A princess would definitely live here.

    While that sort of play—imagination play and physical play—are important, we also spent time really talking about the plants we saw. The needles of a weeping pine were surprisingly soft; sod is so tough you can build houses out if it; Japanese maples can come in green or purple.

    The Dallas Arboretum includes an exhibit on pioneer living, complete with model homes and a covered wagon. Hailey was able to play house and pretend to drive the wagon, combining both that imaginative part of her brain while learning that before cars this was how people got around. The beds in the houses were small and hard, and it was difficult to believe that people could ever sleep on them. One house was modeled on a real-life doctor who collected insect specimens and medicinal plants, which were presented in glass cases. Gross yet fascinating!

     The needles of this weeping pine were surprisingly soft. 

    The needles of this weeping pine were surprisingly soft. 

    None of this was particularly in-depth science or history, but it did facilitate conversation and increase her general awareness of her surroundings. No child is ever too young to learn something about the universe. Building critical thinking skills is just as important as growing imaginations, and can even be as fun!

    There’s a whole wide world out there that’s ripe for exploring. But it’s making sure that you have those conversations, and engage with your travel companions (no matter how small) that really make the world an interesting place.

    J.D. told me a story not long ago about searching for fairies with his grandmother on his grandparents’ farm as a kid. He wondered, when he told me this, if it would have been better to have looked for plant specimens, because, eventually, we all have to grow up and realize that there are no fairies. I think that we can strike a balance though. Creativity is essential for developing brains. But so are critical thinking skills. I don’t think that searching for fairies is wrong; I just think that imaginative play shouldn’t be the only way we engage with children.

    Eventually, Hailey will grow up. She’ll stop pretending to be a princess and maybe even stop doing cartwheels. Hopefully her curiosity about the world will never leave her. My wish for her is to keep both her imagination and ability to look closely at the world and ask questions.

    And that’s why we spent the morning at the arboretum.

     My mom watches Hailey demonstrate her cartwheel technique.

    My mom watches Hailey demonstrate her cartwheel technique.