East of Texas

Dear Family,

Fuck simplicity. Or more specifically, whatever it was I said a short time ago concerning how I thought getting rid of most of our stuff, selling our house, and moving into a camper was going to bring us closer to it.

I was obviously just trying to soothe my fears. Or Jeff's. Or I was in total denial.

But I'm guessing you probably already knew that: there is absolutely nothing simple about traveling with four children in a tent trailer and van with two fridges and a Special Diet and seven bicycles in tow. Nothing. At all. Simple.

I really don't want to complain a lot - it's just that you asked. Or at least, someone did. Fairly recently, I'm pretty sure. And there's always something to complain about, so it gets to be a habit, and it's easier than constantly mentioning the Enjoyable Stuff, you know? That's what I tell Ben, a lot, when he complains about things (a lot). I remind him that he has to shift his focus.

Right. So, I'll mention how I feel so exceptionally lucky to be getting this chance to travel - I didn't know if it would come, and now it's here! This is basically the most crazy-challenging and super-stressful Very Awesomely Fantastic trip ever.

And that lack of simplicity...is actually okay, I guess. Because things weren't simple back when we lived in a house, either, so it's not like we decided to throw away Known Perfection or something. And now we get to live outside! Hopefully, someday soon, we find that this brings bright blooming health and wellness to our family, most specifically Jeff. And even if bountiful health remains elusive, we at least tried this crazy thing, instead of wishing we had.

And who needs simplicity when you get to eat nearly every meal outdoors? Plus, once you get past the driving eating pooping laundry eating pooping grocery shopping showering eating setting up breaking down baby care baby feeding baby washing baby chasing baby redirecting baby pooping baby cleaning baby feeding baby pooping plus making a shit ton of Decisions concerning route campsites Things Breaking schedule stopping going mail Responsibilities health issues mealtimes recreation dealing with rain Should We Do Things This Way or That Way the baby is SHITTING over there the mosquitoes are horrendous I feel So Shitty Myself is that zipper totally broken why do you want to do it THAT way oh my god they are hungry AGAIN...

...once you tear yourself away for a moment or two...

...Here We Are. At all these freaking PLACES! Full of bustle and activity, and weirdness and fascination, and quiet and solitude, and everything in between. This trip is actually quite short, all things considered, and sometimes we're driving through entire states without getting off the interstate highways, so we're not exactly getting an immersive tour. When we spend a day somewhere, we're mostly occupied with Domestic Chores, or choosing a single, kid-friendly destination. Jeff says that after the slow pace of our cross-country trip by bike, this trip feels like The Mad Rush Across America.

The trip itself wasn't the focus of the original plan of spending-the-winter-in-a-warm-and-dry-climate, but turned out to be the (sort of) logical way to get from where we were...to Somewhere Entirely Else.

And so...

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...Here we go!

After two weeks at Wellesley Island State Park, on August 15, we began heading west and south, usually spending two nights in each location to rest up from the exertion of Travel and loading All Those Bicycles. Here's where we've gone (links to photos will be forthcoming - hopefully this week! Watch your inbox):

-- Holley, NY (Red Rock Ponds RV Park). We still felt very close to home! We camped alongside RV mansions that were jaw-droopingly enormous, and the bathrooms were so clean that even the kids were impressed. We paddled around the pond in a paddle boat; we enjoyed the showers; and we took a half-mile bike ride on the Erie Canal towpath to check out the brightly painted but not-at-that-moment-operating lift bridge.

-- Erie, PA (Westhaven RV Park). This was an interesting campground with a large number of semi-permanent residents, out on the northernmost tip of the state. The main reason we stayed three nights in Erie was to visit Waldomeer's amusement park, where four members of the family had a fantastic time on rides of all types. (I have discovered that these days, for me, riding on amusement park rides is kind of like being a phobic passenger in a car, but with vertigo.) (I am real fun at parties!) Jeff and I spent one extremely stressful afternoon figuring out how to figure out how to pick out a campsite for the next day. I kept reminding us that We Are Learning All The Time, and no time is wasted time. It is unclear whether I am entirely full of bullshit, but we did figure out where to stay.

-- Butler, OH (River Trail Crossing RV Park). This was at the intersection of a pretty little river and a multi-use rail trail. The kids spent all day panning for gold, hunting for crayfish, playing in the river, and tubing. We thought about going for a bike ride, but Jeff and I instead spent most of the day freaking out quietly while trying madly to plan our route west (oh yeah, did I forget to mention how we didn't really have that planned in advance? Well, anyway, we got pretty far into the planning process that day, after a large amount of stressful conversation and being interrupted ten billion times (approximately). Have I mentioned how super challenging and humbling (or is that humiliating?) it is to learn how to plan and collaborate and execute a Tremendous Journey when you have four children in tow?). A really nice woman came over to our site and brought us a huge watermelon and 11 ears of corn that she and her husband had just harvested from their garden!

-- Newcastle, IN (Cornerstone Campground and Retreat Center). Despite its location directly next to the interstate, this was one of the kids' favorite spots to date. The campground had an enormous "tube set," which was basically a McDonald's playground - only giant, and outside. The second night, Ben and Jem played dark tag with another little girl for hours, and I think Jem would be playing there still if we hadn't insisted he come to bed. Eliza had a fantastic time with the big kids, too. Also, Jeff's coworker and his lovely family joined us for dinner, since they happen to live in Indianapolis! (One of the perks of working for a "distributed" company is that almost everyone lives somewhere else.) Jeff and I managed to spend approximately half of one day quietly freaking out and stressfully planning (progress! Only half a day this time!), since we discovered that the original route we mapped out had to change immediately, due to our needing to visit our new domicile hometown in Texas to complete paperwork. This route change would require another two days of driving, and also campground cancellations and new reservations and lots and LOTS of freaking decisions. Which are really stressful and complicated to make when there are really a lot of them, even when any of the decisions taken individually would appear to be ridiculously simple. (Just remember: Life Is Not Simple.)

-- Kinmundy, IL (Stephen Forbes State Park). After four days of camping near loud highways, this was a total switch. We got off the highway, the heat and humidity skyrocketed, and...we were Not On The East Coast Anymore. It was corn, corn, corn, corncorncorn. After many miles of straight, backcountry roads, we followed the GPS onto some windy, backcountry roads. And then the cornfields gave way to deep forest, and we entered the Stephen Forbes dammed-up-river territory. You know how when you're in a place for the first time, you can only base your perceptions on that one visit? And so you think, "Wow, Death Valley is so nice and cool!" (when it just turns out to be an unseasonable cold snap), or "Times Square is so calm and peaceful!" (well, that never happens, but the point is that if it did, that's what you'd remember). Anyway, Stephen Forbes may have been a really swell guy, and his park may be teeming with visitors at some parts of the year, but during the two days we were there, it felt slightly like we were some of the only humans who'd survived the apocalypse. The first night, we had dinner at the swimming beach. And while turkey vultures circled and landed (possibly annoyed by our presence), and herons caught fish, and Ben identified all sorts of beautiful butterflies, we played and ate and swam and played and built sandcastles with NOBODY else there. The next day, the parking lot was deserted, but - mysteriously - there was another family at the beach: some Amish folks from Maryland (who'd been dropped off by a cab, which is why there were no cars in the lot). (I incidentally spent some time trying to figure out exactly how the bathrooms could have possibly gotten as incredibly disgusting as these were, but then I gave up trying since we really enjoyed all the fine features of the park.) Our "layover day" at this place was probably the most relaxing day I've had in 2016 to date.

-- West Memphis, AR (Tom Sawyer's Mississippi River RV Park). Despite the odor of the adjacent river (or possibly the neighboring asphalt refinery) (or maybe the nearby moldering mobile home park) (or maybe the railroad tracks or the auto racetrack or the large riverboats), and the terrible horrible no good very bad mosquitoes, and the insanely humid heat, everyone here was so very friendly! There were free, clean washing machines, awesome showers, an elaborate treehouse (Jeff and Jem were given a tour by the owner), and The River of my many Mark-Twain-Inspired-Imaginings. The laundry room, plus all other buildings and the electrical stuff, were up on very tall stilts to survive periodic river floods. I tried to get all creative on the way there, and set up a Spottify playlist including "Graceland," the score from "Showboat" (yes, I do have a very patient and supportive husband), and some kids' blues songs from Led Belly and Keb Mo...but mostly I couldn't get Spottify to work very well, the navigation kept interrupting Paul Simon, "Show Boat" wasn't nearly as good as the recordings I used to listen to, and I fell short of imparting my own nostalgia to my children - which maybe is more because of nostalgia being a personal thing, rather than because of technical difficulties. We spent the crazy hot next day at the Memphis Children's Museum (which had a splash park), because it was so freaking hot (and according to us and the weather app it "feels like 110f"). Our campground neighbors - musicians who live in a bus with their young son, plus another few residents whose names we barely learned - invited us for an impromptu barbecue potluck afterward. Which was really super fun and convivial, and I'm glad we went, although I will never again plan to spend a humid evening in such close proximity to Memphis mosquitoes: Jem and Eliza and Ivy and I got bitten to shreds, and spent the next day itching like crazy. (Jeff and Ben, in that annoying impervious way that some folks have, barely noticed their bites...but I can assure you that the level of itching that even now exists on my and Eliza's ankles alone was enough to make me just ever so slightly question the wisdom of living outside. :( Luckily, we got the heck out of Memphis.) (And please note: we didn't _really_ want Jeff and Ben to itch like crazy, we just wanted sympathy.) Living outside is a lot more fun with a lot fewer bugs.

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So far, our grocery shopping trips have taken place in a handful of regular old supermarkets, but mostly co-ops:

Honest Weight (Albany, NY)
Clayton (NY) Food Co-op
Whole Foods Co-op (Erie, PA)
Pogue's Run Food Co-op (Indianapolis)
plus the Memphis Whole Foods

We get a crazy amount of food every time we shop. It seems as though the boys have doubled their appetites since we moved into our camper, and on August 21 (and many times since then) Eliza has actually asked for seconds! The main upshot is that when we go grocery shopping for six days' worth of food, we spend enough to make Jeff (and me) have heart palpitations.

Heart events aside, the absolute best thing about grocery shopping is that...we have a fridge in our van. No coolers/ice to dick around with!! The greatness of this cannot be overstated, and this fridge was worth its weight in organic, grass-fed, pastured meat.

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Quick Update On Us:

After last winter (the crazy details of which I have only explicated to those patient enough to listen, plus her pediatrician), I was developing a bit of PTSD plus a large amount of sorrow concerning Eliza. While she's been doing a ton better in the past few months, it would be fair to say that she and I have had a Complicated Relationship for the past year and a half or so. By this spring, she was no longer bursting into tears and tantrumming every time she saw me, but she wasn't exactly cuddly with me, either. And of course I want her to have close ties with others, but it kinda stings a little when everyone besides me gets the hugs and I Love Yous and cuddles and such, while my presence only serves to make her a little LESS likely to fall asleep easily, chat happily, or smile.

Anyway - the point is that on a day very recently, at the beginning of August, Eliza actually ASKED to lie down next to ME when she was falling asleep. Which is possibly the first time she's done so in...well, I honestly don't think she's asked to cuddle me at bedtime at all in the past year or even more. And she did that night! And several nights since. And she's been more cuddly toward me than since she was a baby, which is actually startling because I've gotten so used to trying to pretend I didn't care, but it's also awesome, and I'm trying not to get too attached to outcomes but I sure do super hope it continues!! It's really great for my mama hormones to get snuggles from my child, and it makes me feel like this traveling thing is a good idea.

Even Ben can get into the Newness when he has along his trusty field guides, which he pores over and identifies new butterflies and birds and trees...plus his atlases, at which he can stare for hours, apparently memorizing the mileage-between-two-points charts, or possibly the populations of major cities - but hey, it's soothing for him! And while he bellyaches a bit about traveling, and he has plenty of Stuck Times and Challenging Issues, I'd say he's a bit more settled now than he was at home. I'm not saying we're at perfection, but at least he doesn't feel worse. Plus, he's exceptionally great at doing the camp dishes, he is fantastic with taking care of his sisters, he's been cracking a lot of jokes, and he's being challenged in such great ways that I sometimes refer to this trip as Ben's unschooling occupational therapy.

Ben recently commented: "Before this, I didn't think we were the kind of people who did stuff like traveling!"

Meanwhile, Jem _loves_ traveling. I suspected, and am now fairly certain, that his ADD-type issues are very well served by physical challenges, outdoor adventures, and having actual reasons to focus and pay attention to Those Chores Which Are Not (ahem) His Favorites. He is also fantastic with Ivy, and after about two years of being A Little Bit Less Than Super Copacetic with his other sister, he has lately been known to play a game or two with Eliza, who is thrilled for the attention.

Ivy is...so busy and affectionate and adorable and energetic that I can barely take stock of how cute she is and how quickly she's growing. She's just too time-consuming to dwell on that! She signs up a storm (especially "shoes" and "bird" and "eat" and "bye!"), makes elaborately expressive sounds such as "Ooof!" every time she gets up, "yay!" (spoken really quietly and proudly after she pees and poops (often in Useful Receptacles, these days, and also often in places such as On Papa's Shoes), and, adorably, "Dah!!" (as in tada!!), when she finds something she's looking for.

How are Jeff and I? Why, thanks for asking! We are both really glad we're taking this awesomely fantastic super-stressful travel event.

What? You'd like actual details? That is so nice of you to ask! I wouldn't want to just babble on, but now that you're wondering...

Well. Jeff and I met on our bikes, and we both know a thing or two about traveling, so in a way, this is just sort of The Right Thing To Be Doing Right Now. But this is also completely different from our cross country bike trips: We have these four kids to take care of, and a new rig to learn about and setup/breakdown/maintain, and so many responsibilities, and such a laundry list of Worry And Fear: are we doing okay by our kids? Are we going to be able to make it financially now that we don't have a home base? Is it possible to find enough nutrient-dense gluten-free food to keep us all satiated for three meals per day, indefinitely? Will Jeff be able to work enough from the road? Is it sustainable to live sans house with four children? And what about these Health Issues? Lots of things are hard to overstate, and another one is the challenge of Constant Decision Making.

Oh, so you're specifically wondering how my car passenger phobia is going? Well, there have been some Very Tense Hours of Driving, that is for sure. And I am waiting for some spare time in order to implement what appears to be the standard treatment for people like me: a self hypnosis protocol. Just what I need: something else to do with my copious free time!! Meanwhile, I'm trying to get really clear about A. how much this phobia has impacted my life for the past 20 years, and B. which little things can make it better. I have gotten so used to saying, "I don't want to do that," when what I really mean is, "I really would love to do that, except that I would have to be a passenger in a car and therefore there is no way in hell that I will plan to go!" I keep trying to catch myself, and be honest: "I'm feeling a little overwhelmed right now, and my phobia won't let me both hand out lunches AND look out the window, so sorry, I didn't see what you were pointing out..." I am trying various tactics for panic-diffusing: Jeff is driving more toward the beginning of each day, since that way I can continually remind myself that the Passenger part is only for a finite period. I have been moving to the back seat when I start feeling anxious. And, I've been having some success with pushing myself in an orderly way: on a straight stretch of road, I'll make myself take some nice even breaths...and look out the window. And then I'll make myself keep looking out the window even when the road curves. And when I start to panic that the car is about to go off the road, I tell myself three reasons why that probably isn't what's happening...etc.

What's that? You wonder how Jeff is feeling? Well...I can't speak for him, of course, but it is my observation that he may be temporarily offsetting any health gains from moving Outside, by adding a tremendous amount of physical stress and emotional exhaustion to his plate. It's hard to say, really! But we sure hope this will be good for him in the long run!

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I recently read this nice, succinct article concerning immunizations, and found it well worth a look:
Much more succinct than the book: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/05/4-questions-that-may-change-your-...

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Elizaisms:

At Waldomeers Amusement Park: "It was too much fun!"

"Can we watch 'Frozen' again? You wouldn't like the snow monster: I don't either, but sometimes I watch it anyway. You can close your eyes if it gets too scary."

Listening to the part of the "Frozen" soundtrack where Elsa and Anna's parents die: "My eyes are getting tearing, like they want to cry at that part of the song."

Eliza's report:

8/15
We aren't in Wellesley Island anymore. We're in a different campground. We're right next to the bathrooms! The trees are lovely, and it's fun riding around our loop and there's a camper-house - it looks like a house! The flowers are pretty in gardens next to our campsite. The sky's nice in the night. It's a beautiful summer. I just dunked my head in the shower!

The ground has rocks on it, and on the sidewalk there's rocks.

8/16
The trees are pretty camping. The Erie Canal is a canal where the water is where the boats park.

8/20
We're in Ohio! I got Elsa and Anna flip flops, and I took off the straps from the bottom where my feet flopped.

8/22
We're in Indiana! There's a big slide here. There's like hundreds of slides on it and the yellow slide is super fast. And when I went down the two I wanted to go down, they were swoopy and I would go down one hill and another and another!

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Next: stay tuned to hear about our visit to Texas, our new home state! (Teaser: our visit involves a tremendous number of ants, plus more rain than we experienced during our entire Ithaca summer, plus a whole lot of driving...)

Photos forthcoming!!

And thanks for all the awesome notes and texts and news from YOUR homes - it's super nice to hear from you, as we miss our friends and family way more than any of our old possessions and the House we used to have...

Love,
Sarabeth