America the Beautiful

Lee:

After (15) months of living the gypsy life style, I sat down to reflect on what I have learned on this journey? In August of 2014 we began our adventure by visiting Redwood and Lassen National Parks and Mt. Shasta, California for the entire month. This was our first practice trip to determine the most effective ways to travel with two young boys then ages (1) and (3) respectively.

  We returned home for September and then off again in October for a month on the road, this time we traveled to Glacier, Mt. Ranier, Cascade, Olympic, and Crater Lake National Parks. We returned home for November and spent much of the month of December checking out progressive schools in Grass Valley, California and Eugene, Oregon.

We spent January home with friends and family and returned to the road almost the entire month of February to Ojai, California. After visiting Ojai, we returned home to Modesto and prepared for our longer trip around America and Canada which began March 26, 2015.

We have traveled over 26,000 miles visiting (39) states, (28) National Parks, and (4) Canadian provinces. During this adventure what struck me the most were the people. They were friendly and warm, helpful and gracious to our small children, and curious about our journey. Most Americans and Canadians are terrific human beings. This is exactly how I remembered it when I traveled with my parents over 50 years ago.

Another thing that stood out to me is the overwhelming beauty of America. To see the majesty of a California Redwood grove, or witness the  red rock canyons of Arizona and Utah or view the deep blue waters of Crater Lake in Oregon, the pointed mountains of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, the mystical vistas of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, and the list goes on… This too is exactly as I remembered it over 50 years ago.

Because so many places in America today look the same with strip malls, fast food joints, high density housing and soulless villages, it was very refreshing to visit many of the cities and towns that did not fall victim to this commercial trap. My favorite city was Sedona, Arizona for the sheer beauty of the red rock walls surrounding the town, the clean well- appointed buildings shaded in natural colors to blend into the landscape and the southwest architecture.

I absolutely loved Savannah, Georgia for its grittiness and downtown squares of old growth oaks and Spanish moss everywhere. Charleston, South Carolina had the cleanest harbor and waterfront and a deep sense of history including cobblestone streets and fine culinary dining. Lisa and I both loved Taos, New Mexico for the stark beauty of the mountains and high desert landscape, Pueblo architecture, long living native American community and the well established arts scene.

The truth is there is no such thing as a perfect place to live. You can make your list of what you want and don’t want but as of this writing, we were unable to find a PERFECT fit for our family. For example, maybe there would  be pretty landscapes but no Waldorf schools, or a lovely town but far away from everyone we know. The one thing I learned about myself is that BEAUTY in land, architecture and the people’s spirit is the MOST important thing above all.

   

 

 

The trip ends: Looking back at the adventure

Lisa:

Looking back on this year, I’m so grateful for the opportunity we all had to take a break from the ordinary routine and spend months traveling the United States and Canada. This was definitely one of the best years of my life. I leave this experience amazed at what a beautiful continent this is and how much is open to all of us if we just know where to look.

A few of the highlights for me were:

  • Sheer raw beauty– Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. Breathtaking vistas of mountains and ocean. I definitely want to go back!
  • Glamorous city – Charleston, South Carolina. Somehow I never realized how truly gorgeous this city is with the beautiful old buildings right by the ocean.
  • Old world charm – Quebec City, Quebec. Visiting here is like visiting Europe without the long, expensive plane flight. I also loved the amazing street performers everywhere you looked- from fiddle players to jugglers and more.
  • Native culture – Taos, N.M. It was great to see a living American Indian culture at Taos Pueblo and the environs. It seems that most places you visit, you just hear about how the Indians used to live in a place.
  • Interfaith community– Crestone, Colo. It was inspiring to see so many different faiths all having their centers together under the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
  • Lovely mountain town- Asheville, North Carolina. Hills everywhere you look, wild turkeys plus a granola culture made this a family favorite. 

 

I’m so grateful for how kind so many people were to us along the way. Out of the dozens of Airbnb and Vrbo rentals we stayed in, we only had two bad experiences- once in Toronto, when we had to put up with a filthy carpet smelling of mildew and another time in Nashville, when the apartment manager forgot when we were supposed to check out and entered our place at 9:30pm with three of his friends carrying beer. Several other times, our hosts provided toys for our children or gave us free food and drinks. More than once, we stayed in showplaces that were immaculately clean and stylishly decorated.

I was surprised that we actually saved money by traveling. With our vacation home rentals, we didn’t have to pay utilities, Internet or cable. We didn’t pay any babysitting costs or classes for our children. We spent the most during July when all the accommodation costs went up during the height of summer but other than that, we kept our costs low and were able to add to our savings account.

One of our main activities was visiting national parks and as Lee is a senior, we didn’t have to pay anything to visit them. Anyone in America who is over 62 can purchase a lifetime pass to national parks for only $10. If you know someone who is a senior, make sure you tell them to do it. It’s a fabulous benefit and you even get discounts on camping too. Our other main source of free entertainment was libraries. We visited tons of them and were especially appreciative of those that had toys for children. The boys enjoyed playing with something new and Lee and I got a rest from keeping them entertained. We also appreciated storytimes, craft times and the access to WiFi and printers. Many a time, I did my freelance writing work from a library.

I learned from this experience how possessions can weigh you down and make your life more difficult. We traveled in a Honda Odyssey minivan and couldn’t bring or get anything that didn’t fit inside. We couldn’t give into the temptation of buying stuff and shipping it home because our home was being rented. When we left, we told ourselves we wouldn’t buy anything but of course we couldn’t keep to that. We constantly bought the children small toys and books, which means along the way we had to give some up. Several times, we stopped at thrift stores to give away excess belongings. We did keep to a strict rule that all the toys had to fit into a tub.

We traveled with one suitcase each plus a big suitcase for extra clothes for the kids. It was hard to anticipate what they were going to wear over a year but I think we did pretty well. Still the kids outgrew what we had. Theo grew two shoe sizes in this trip! I felt like the worst mother when I spent some time in denial trying to shove too-small shoes on his feet before I broke down and actually got him some that fit. We also brought their bikes- a great decision because they used them all the time, a bag of bathroom supplies, a bag of books ( my weakness- I couldn’t help but buy more from time to time), extra blankets, a dry food box, a cooler and coats. Lee and I looked it all over and thought we definitely needed it all but it was still tiring hauling it in and out of the car all the time. This experience definitely made me think critically of what we need. I now think it’s OK to let go of things even if you think you’ll need them later. You can get it again when you do by visiting a thrift store.

Some of the stuff we did carry around got lost or broken. My iPhone got cracked, repaired and cracked again and I bought another one. Lee lost some pants, the kids lost various sweatshirts and stuffed animals.

But we never did really miss a permanent home. I think the gypsy life really agrees with us. Home became the four of us in our family rather than a physical place. We were so fortunate in that we got to spend basically all of our time together.

When we started this trip, we said we were looking for ways to live a better, more conscious life. I saw that there were many communities all over the continent that had clean streets, beautiful parks and lovely landscapes. I was heartened that I did not see much of the homeless, drug problem that is so rampant where we had lived in Modesto and the more urban areas of California.

  We have decided not to return and instead have settled for the time being in Grass Valley, CA, which is two hours north of Modesto and is in the Sierra foothills. We like the pine trees, the rural setting and access to Waldorf education, which Modesto does not have. We miss our friends and family a lot but are glad we are not too far away and can go back to visit often.

We are only renting here so we are free to pick up again and travel if wanderlust strikes again. Knowing us, I’m sure it will even if it’s only for shorter trips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in Cali: Joshua Tree

Lisa:

After eight months away traveling North America, we’re back in our home state of California! 

This is a pretty big state so we’re still pretty far from where we started in Modesto in the northern Central Valley.  We’re in Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert a couple hours east of LA.

The national park in Joshua Tree is an otherworldly landscape full of the strange Joshua trees which look to me like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

   We took a short walk in the Cottonwood spring area. The boys liked identifying plants in their junior ranger book and playing in the sand.

  It was very pleasant then but it soon got very windy and we headed to our Airbnb apartment to get warm.
  The next day I checked off a bucket list item by visiting the nearby  Integatron, a strange facility built in the 1950s by UFO contactee George Van Tassel on instructions he said he received from someone from Venus. The purpose was for rejuvenation and time travel. It was never completely finished. 

Today it’s open by appointments only for “sound baths.” I paid $26 for one. I and about 20 other people climbed up a ladder to the second floor, lay down on mats and listened to someone play tones on quartz bowls. I didn’t time travel or get any younger but it was relaxing.

Finally Theo and I visited the Institute of Mental Physics, aka the Joshua Tree Retreat Center. It was founded by a British guy in the 1940s who had spent time in Tibet and learned special breathing techniques. The signs are faded or falling apart but the facilities look fine. Theo liked running on the trails near the cactuses. I had fun looking in the metaphysical bookstore. 

  
  
 
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. We’re looking forward to spending today with family in LA. 

Arizona: Mountain town Jerome

Lee:

We recently traveled to the city of Jerome Arizona located above the town of Cottonwood where we are staying. Jerome is a town in the Black Hills of Yavapai County in the State of Arizona. Founded in the late 19th century on Cleopatra Hill overlooking the Verde Valley, it is more than 5,000 feet above sea level. Supported in its heyday by rich copper mines and is now known as the largest ghost town in America.

  During the heyday over 15,000 people lived there, now the town supports approximately 500 people relying on mostly tourism. We ordered a pizza to go from a local establishment and walked up some steep steps to a small little park nestled on the side of a mountain between two switchbacks on the highway. The kids had a great time going down the large slide between bites of pizza and swinging on the swings.

Some local residents were putting up Christmas decorations and invited us to come back on Saturday evening for the official lighting of the Christmas tree. From the park the kids heard some live music from a local saloon so we decided to check it out. As we approached the bar the band was playing a song about bad whiskey but after they saw Theo and Arthur peeking through the saloon doors they started playing My Favorite Things from Sound of Music and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.

  The boys kept putting money in their tip jar and the tourists thought it was adorable how they danced to the beat of every song. All and all we had a great time and plan to return on Saturday for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

 

 

 

Arizona: Sedona Waldorf-Inspired School

Lee:

My wife Lisa and I have been traveling around America and Canada visiting various intentional communities and progressive elementary schools for the past eight months. As many of you already know, our family is really attracted to the Waldorf approach to education. Today we had the pleasure of visiting the Red Earth Waldorf Preschool and Kindergarten in Sedona.

We were warmly greeted by Miss Charity who is director and teacher of the school. She gave us a tour of her facility, which is in her home, and we sat down to chat about her program and educational philosophy. After searching all over the US and Canada it was wonderful to discover a Waldorf community that provides us with a meaningful alternative to the Yuba River Charter School in Nevada City, California.Because we have family and friends in California, we will apply to Yuba River School this winter and go through the lottery process knowing if we do not get selected we can seriously consider moving to Sedona and putting down roots.

Miss Charity has created the most beautiful living and learning space for children that we have seen throughout our extensive travels. She is one of those special people who is peaceful, kind, intelligent, and spiritually centered. I would be honored to have my children attend her school.

You might wonder where would our children go to school in Sedona after leaving kindergarten with Miss Charity? We would enroll them in the Running River Private School. Running River is a relatively new private school which offers a Waldorf-inspired curriculum. The parents are very active and involved and the teachers are extremely talented and devoted to their students. The school setting is perfect with views of red rock canyons including a large grassy play area and room for a garden and recreational activities.

I received a warm welcome today by one of the parents named Lupita Pollock. She gave me a tour and answered all of my many questions. I told her that this school would definitely be at the top of my list for schools we will consider for our family.

What struck me was how polite and well behaved the children were both inside and outside the classroom. I was extremely impressed with the beauty of both classroom settings and how engaged the students were in their lessons. If you are able to come to the Sedona area,  I encourage you to visit this really unique and special school – this place is magical! The staff and faculty have a reverence for children and a dedication for student success and life-long learning.

Arizona: Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest

Lisa:

As I write this, the snow is coming down hard in Flagstaff. It’s so strange that just a few days ago we were wearing short-sleeved shirts.

 Yesterday, I finally saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. It was definitely worth all the hype and beyond. My feeling on looking out on that vastness from Mather Point was just awe. It is amazing to look out on that endless expanse. Just before I got to the lookout, snow flurries began to fall. The wind was quite cold so Lee and I took turns looking at the canyon and we left the boys in the car. They didn’t seem to mind much and Lee thought it was better to reduce chances of them getting hurt.

 The day before we had balmy temperatures at the Petrified Forest National Park, less than 3 hours away to the south. This was a completely different landscape. There were no evergreen trees. Instead, we saw dry grass mixed in with petrified wood. The wood is so strange to see- inside are colorful crystals. I’ve never seen anything like that.  We took the whole family on a walk around Crystal Forest. The kids enjoyed running more than looking at the logs.

 We also saw Meteor Crater, which was one of Lee’s favorite sites. This was a giant crater which went down some 500 feet. What was impressive was it was by a very high tech, well constructed museum which gave the history of meteors. It was privately owned, not by the government. It was developed for something so remote. It was definitely worth seeing.

Today we have our first experience of driving through the snow on this trip. Off to the Sedona area!

New Mexico: Otherworldly Taos

Lisa:

Located at the foot of the mystical Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos, New Mexico is definitely one of the places our family could consider making our home. I could never get tired of looking at those peaks and the way they change in the different lighting. It’s nice that this is our second look at those mountains on this trip. We had our first look in May when we stayed in Crestone, Colo.

  Rather than jumping right into seeing the official tourist sights, we eased into our week’s stay here by starting out with visiting Baca Park. This spacious site had a great playground for the kids, a peaceful boardwalk trail through wetlands and hardly any visitors.

  We were delighted with Taos Waldorf School, a private K-8 campus which has been going 20 years. There was obviously so much love put into that site- from the wooden treehouse and play structures to the carefully Lazure-painted walls in pastel colors. The tuition was only around $7,500 – lower than most other Waldorf schools we have seen. I attended an anthroposophy study group advertised in the local paper there and appreciated meeting kindergarten teacher Claudia Pfiffner, a native of Switzerland, as well as another couple. Claudia told me the school has struggled and has low attendance but continues to survive thanks to generous donations from the community. I am impressed with what they have pulled off considering the community only has a population of less than 6,000.

  One factor that appeals to Lee and me is the spiritual tone of the town. A look at the paper reveals several meditation groups. Not far away is the Lama Foundation, a spiritual intentional community “dedicated to the awakening of consciousness, spiritual practice with respect for all traditions, service and stewardship of the land.” Unfortunately it is closed to visitors in the fall and winter but I would like to return one day.

  We were able to make a short visit to San Francisco de Asis Mission Church, which dates back to the 18th century and was painted by Georgia O’Keefe and photographed by Ansel Adams. It’s interesting because it’s this relic of the past completely surrounded by the modern town.

  The whole family enjoyed exploring Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage site that has been continually inhabited by native people for more than 1,000 years. These are adobe residences that people still live in and that have no running water or electricity. The people get there water from a stream that runs nearby. While you are not allowed to go into the homes, you can go into a few shops that are scattered around. Lee bought some sage and is using it to freshen our car.

I was a little skeptical about whether it would be worth it to check out the Rio Grande Gorge bridge about 20 minutes outside of town. It was definitely worth it- the bridge runs over a deep gorge 600 feet down and the area gives breathtaking views of the mountains. It’s amazing to think how the bridge was ever constructed.

  Theo and I checked out Earthship world headquarters just beyond the bridge. Earthships are funky homes with few right angles that are completely self-sustaining and off the grid. They are solar powered and get water from rainwater. I first heard of an earthship when I saw one at a Hindu ashram in Crestone, Colo. but I thought it was unique to that site. Now I learned that there is a community of 70 earthships near Taos plus two other earthship communities in New Mexico. At the headquarters, Theo and I were allowed to tour a visitor center, watch a short informational movie and look at everything from a distance. It was inspiring seeing alternative ways of living.