A Day in Madrid, New Mexico

I first learned of the town called Madrid, New Mexico from the homeowners of the house where I’m staying. From there the name kept coming up. Combine this with having driven through on my way to Santa Fe the week before, and I knew I had to visit. The Saturday before Christmas seemed the perfect time. After-all, there were a few more presents I wanted to secure, AND I figured some holiday cheer would be in the air.

I woke up early to feed the horses, and about mid-morning I made my way to the town. It was only a 45 minute drive, and, as I mentioned in previous posts, the landscape along the way was stunning.

Madrid is a small town, so parking wasn’t an issue. I found a spot in front of one of the shops, then began my walking adventure. For my first stop I, for some reason, walked into one of the local art galleries. I wasn’t in the market for anything there, but something drew me inside. It wasn’t long before I found out what.

As I was looking around the gallery, the man behind the counter began speaking to me. It turned out he was from Albany, NY. He and his wife (and now his adult children) are artists, and they decided to move to New Mexico to explore their art some 31 years ago. We exchanged war stories of winters back East. I asked him, and he told me, about his adventures in the West. Needless to say when I left the shop I not only felt full of good vibes, but I was reminded that I’m never really alone.

My next stop was at a place I had read about online, the Gypsy Gem. I was looking for some earrings for my mom, and this seemed the place to find them. When I entered the shop I was greeted by a young man in his 20s. He let me know to ask him for help should I need any, after which I began making my way around the shop.

Several moments later I found myself engaged in another full on conversation. This time I learned the young man had just moved to Madrid last month from Miami. He was having a hard time finding a job in sales there due to the tattoos on his arms and face, but a friend to him that his parents owned a shop here and would certainly hire him. They did, and here he was.

I also learned he was getting used to the colder weather. In fact, he was very excited to have purchased his first wood stove after learning just how expensive propane heat was. This young man’s stories touched me. Not because they were particularly endearing, but because I could very much relate to them.

I remembered having a hard time grappling with heating costs at my first post college apartment in Connecticut. I also remembered moving across the country to San Antonio, Texas due to a friend’s suggestion. It was like peering through a looking glass into the past. I shared with him my current journey which we bonded over, and, although I left the shop without a gift for my mother, my step was a bit lighter the rest of the day.

My step was not too light for an afternoon coffee however, so my next stop was the Java Junction. Note that I had to walk past this before arriving:

Photo park
Who knew there was such a thing as a Photo Park? Not I!
Front of coffee shop
I finally found a coffee roaster in New Mexico!

I was delighted to find they served and sold beans which were locally roasted in Santa Fe. I had yet to try any local roasts, and thankfully I was not disappointed. I stocked up on coffee for the house, then made my way to a local chocolate shop.

This stop was like the chocolate equivalent of Cheers. A local man sat on a stool chatting. A worker made chocolate in the back. The owner gave me tastes of her amazing chocolate masterpieces while chatting about friends and family. It was a really great environment. I bought some of the wares to have around the house when the family came back for the holiday, and was on my way.

After chocolate I made my way to a final jewelry shop. Within the first few minutes I saw a pair of earrings I liked. I was going to keep looking, but realized that energy would be wasted. These were the prize of the day!

I secured the turquoise beauties then left the shop and the town. When I arrived home, I put away my wares and enjoyed the quiet afternoon. Towards the end of the day, this view greeted me on my walk down to feed the horses.

Pink rimmed sky
Loved this view North as the Sun set.

When I was done, I made the trek back to the house and reflected on the beauty of a day well spent. To have strangers share their lives and art with me is something I’m truly grateful for. Not only does it expand my understanding of others, but it helps me reflect on myself, what I’ve been through, and who I want to be.

Not too bad for a day in small town New Mexico, right?

Characters Old and New: A Reflection

I’m writing this post on the Friday after American Thanksgiving. (NOTE: I refuse to call this day “Black Friday” in my protest against worshiping materialism. Hey… I’m trying here.) I sit reflecting on the events of yesterday which involved me driving across a city I’m not from to have Thanksgiving dinner with a high school friend and her family. The day was humbling, but it was also very comforting.

My biggest take away from the day, at least so far, is how un-alone and taken care of I feel even as I travel the country alone. As I think about yesterday I consider how far I am from the girl I was in upstate New York those 20 years ago, and yet, how I had Thanksgiving dinner with people I know and love from that time in my life. Strange how that happened, right?

So many steps have been taken in-between, and still they led me right back to where I was. I’m changed, yes. Those around me changed as well, of course. But, there’s something that binds us; some sort of deep experience which chiseled its way into our roots and changed us forever.

During these reflections, I also think about, and am grateful for, how much more comfortable I feel in my life. Besides these moments where I’m reinstated into my comfort zone from old, I’m finding goodness and comfort when outside that zone as well.

For example, my travel from Albuquerque to Charlotte involved me flying standby. For those of you who haven’t experienced it, standby is an adventure I recommend going through at least once. It’s a trip… pun intended.

In this case I was flying as a guest of an employee (NOTE: This is called a “non-rev” ticket which I’m gathering stands for Non-Revenue ticket) and this status put me at the bottom of the standby totem pole (NOTE: Employees and their family members get a higher status than my ‘guest’ status). Being at the bottom of said totem pole meant I would be the first to get bumped from a flight if it filled up. The plan was for me to get to the airport early to increase my chances. (NOTE: by early we are talking 4 AM. Yeah, that early.)

When I got to the gate, I told the agent I was flying standby. She took my name then asked me to sit it out and wait. Several moments later my friend in Charlotte said my chances of getting there were slim to none if I followed our original path. She suggested I go speak to the gate agent and ask her advice. I began panicking. I didn’t want to spend the whole day trying to get on a flight only to get stranded in a random city.

So, as the agents began boarding guests on the plane, I went up to the desk afraid to be interrupting their most important task. I explained my situation to one of the agents, apologized for the inconvenience, and hoped. She immediately put me at ease. “No worries. I’ll take care of you like I take care of my kids in these situations.”

Sure enough, she re-rerouted me completely and I made it to Charlotte several hours later. I have no idea why she bestowed her kindness on me, but she was sure to add, “Don’t you worry, girl. I’ll be watching over you all day.” Wow!

Shortly after this interaction, I was seated waiting for the next flight when I man sat down next to me. We began talking and very soon got to the topic of my location independent life. Instead of asking me the usual questions, he said, “Do you get bored”?

You know it, Mister.

Come to find out he was once a nomad himself. We carried on an in-depth conversation where he shared his experiences, reaffirmed my lifestyle, and provided me the ever needed comfort and confidence.

So you see, between yesterday, and moments like those I’ve shared here, it’s hard to feel alone in the world even when I spend SO much time alone. These moments, though not new, have also become so much more meaningful and impactful as I’ve stripped away the noise which once distracted me from them.

I like to think there are always characters like these coming on and off the stage in this play we call life. My goal is to be the best version of myself during those scenes, and the ones in-between too.

Get Personal

In this my third post on Tolkien’s Keys to Happiness as discussed in the text The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy, I’d like to take a few moments to add some commentary to the author’s third key to happiness:

Get Personal

Throughout the chapter, the author continuously refers back to the hobbits as exemplars for living this happy life. He starts section number 3 with

“Hobbits are a clannish and highly sociable people.”

He then goes on to further describe the extents of their loyalty to and interactions between friends. He points out how deeply friendship is valued in the hobbit community, how this contributes to their happy go lucky hobbit life, then compares Tolkien’s description of these values to those of real life philosophers. He states,

“The importance of belonging to other people–of forming close, supportive attachments–is something many philosophers have noted as well.“

Friendship is important, we all know this. Further, many of us define our quality of life based off the friendships we have. Being on the road has been a journey not just through time and space, but through reflections on my own relationships.

I have had countless friends, both old and new, extend their encouragement and support. Several have reached out to schedule regular catch up chats with me, and many continuously reach out via email or even, *gasp*, real mail to stay in touch.

I’m lucky.

I’ve also met many wonderful people on the road. I was saying just the other day that I’ve yet to meet someone who has been genuinely unkind to me. Kinda crazy given how the world is portrayed to us nowadays, but I assure you it’s true.

Getting personal to me means exploring and deepening both types of interactions; friend and stranger. I’ve allowed myself to do so by being more vulnerable, open, and honest with both sets of individuals. In return I have not only gained new knowledge and perspectives, but have also increased my ability to get to know myself.

As this process unfolds, I find I have more confidence and increased feelings of self worth. I’m also able to extend more love and compassion to both myself and others.

I believe all of these characteristics are what contribute to happier and more fulfilling moments. And, as we all know, more happy and fulfilling moments make for a more happy and fulfilling life.

Score another for Tolkien and his happy hobbits!

Experiencing Oneness

Being in New Mexico has brought a new thread to my reflections. After leaving the magic of the Gila National Forest, I drove North for El Morro.

I should mention that before I actually LEFT the forest, I took some time to explore the nearby Catwalk Trail. A friend came through this area not too long ago and told me it was worth a stop. After driving through several small brooks on the way up (NOTE: the heavy rains cause a lot of runoff apparently. I thought I was in the desert, but I was way wrong.) I pulled in to the area about mid-morning.

Gila National Forest Sign
Entering the Catwalk Trail.

I noticed three motorcycles parked in the lot, the only vehicles around. As I walked to the trailhead I saw their owners, 3 older gentlemen reading about the history of the area. I asked them, “What’s the word on the road?”

“Which road?” one of the men responded.

The three of us chuckled and I told them of my travel plans for the day. They were taking a similar route North, but were planning on splitting off back into Arizona instead of heading East like me. I bid them safe travels as I began walking the 2 mile trail.

Brook
I enjoyed walking along this brook a bit.
Gila National Forest Mountains
I couldn’t stop looking up at these mountains as I walked.

About .5 miles in a deep fear gripped me. What the hell was I doing walking this trail alone while leaving my car unattended in the parking lot and filled with all my important belongings? I practically ran back to find Liam safe and sound just as I had left him.

I got in the car, then continued the trip north, stopping for lunch at a cafe about 45 minutes away. (NOTE: this was the only “local” restaurant open.) When I walked in, who did I see but the motorcyclists. “Well, you made it this far”, one of them said to me. “And, so did you!” I replied.

This was my last interaction with them, but I still felt connected to them in a way I can’t yet describe. I left the cafe with this sensation.

Several hours later, after passing maybe a total of 10 other vehicles along the way, I arrived in the El Morro area. Here I would be staying at another amazing AirBnB rental. This time I would be in an RV parked on a property with some amazing views.

RV
Where I stayed during my time in El Morro.
View of mesa
View of the mesa from the RV.
Sunset over the mesa
Sunset view from the RV.

The owner, Jeff, met me and showed me the RV. He was concerned with me staying warm given that the temps were supposed to get down to 27 degrees Fahrenheit that night. I assured him I’d be fine. We talked for several moments there after, and the feeling I had earlier that day when I was around the bikers returned.

I had a sound night’s sleep, then woke up for a morning of meetings. When these were finished, I set out to hike the El Morro National Monument. I arrived at the site, and, since I hadn’t done much research beforehand, went up to the visitors’ center to figure out a game plan. The park ranger greeted me, gave me a map, AND provided me a guide to the inscriptions left on the famous Inscription Rock.

NOTE about the rock from Wikipedia: Travelers left signatures, names, dates, and stories of their treks. While some of the inscriptions are fading, there are still many that can be seen today, some dating to the 17th century. Among the Anglo-American emigrants who left their names there in 1858 were several members of the Rose-Baley Party, including Leonard Rose and John Udell.[3] Some petroglyphs and carvings were made by the Ancestral Puebloan centuries before Europeans started making their mark. In 1906, U.S. federal law prohibited further carving.

Front of the visitors center.
Approaching the visitors’ center.

I took a few moments to peruse the small museum attached, and upon entering saw this sign:

Pueblo prayer
This quote got me.

Immediately tears flooded my face. I have no idea where from or why they appeared, but I accepted them and kept walking.

I decided on the longer of the two hikes available at the park. I would see both the Inscription Rock trail, as well as hike up to the pueblo town dating back to 1275 A.D. It would be a longer hike than I anticipated, but I had time so why not? Here are some images from the day.

Inscription Rock
The side of inscription rock. I was in awe!
Top of the rocks
The top of the rocks I would eventually hike too.
Looking up at the monument. NOTE: the black bits are from water that runs down the sides.
High rock wall.
A view looking up from the side of the rocks.
petroglyphs
Check out the ancient petroglyphs!
inscriptions in rock.
See how there is an inscription from 1801. Pretty amazing.
petroglyphs
More petroglyphs and inscriptions.
cactus bushes
The fauna of the high desert.
Stone path
Notice the lines which mark the path. Apparently they brought a jack hammer up to create a trail. Crazy right?
Mesa in the distance.
More views of the surrounding area. Hell yeah I hiked up this high!
Canyon views
A view down into the canyon.
Brick ruins
This is only a fraction of the city they uncovered. People lived there from 1275 – 1400 AD.
Stone ruins
Looking at the ruins from another angle.
Circular stone ruins.
Another part of the city.
Stone ruins
I loved looking at the mesa in the background and imagining life here all those years ago.

As I arrived at the ruins of the town, I noted my isolation. I thought about how I had just climbed alone up the backside of this mountain, then somehow navigated my way across the rocks to this very spot where about 1500 people lived some 750 years ago.

The feeling from the interactions with the bikers and the AirBnB host appeared here again in this sacred feeling place. I took a look at the feeling more closely. I asked myself what it was. A whisper of an answer appeared in the back of my consciousness:

Oneness

At that moment I saw flashes of human life fly across mind. The people who lived here, the bikers on the road, my housing host, me; no matter how different our lives seem, we are all made from the same atomic elements, the same biological tissues, and the same sacred spirit. Our perceptions and beliefs may differ, but we all need to eat, drink, and sleep to stay alive. Those who lived hundreds of years before us needed the same things. How amazing. How humbling.

I stood alone with this clarity for several moments before hiking my way down, then heading back home. When back at the RV I witnessed one last sunset as I reflected on the day.

Sunset over the mesa.
One last sunset to amaze me.

As I thought about it I asked myself; If we’re all one, was I really standing up at that site all alone?

My answer? No, I don’t think I was.

What’s in a Moment?

On my last night in Tucson I was lucky enough to have dinner at the house of some new friends. (NOTE: These are also friends of my RVA friends.) My time with them was (too) short, but it was impactful. As we sat outside discussing just about everything, I felt the need to get my anxieties off my chest.

I described to the two of them the doubts I’ve been having. Most specifically, Are the short relationships I’m making while on the road a reflection of me only wanting to have “good” moments as opposed to hard ones with friends? Am I missing out on that other side of the person to person experience? Will I ever be happy somewhere and with someone?

You get the drift.

The one friend stopped me dead in my tracks. She described to me how she had a recent conversation with their daughter, the topic of which touched heavily on my current existential woes. Her response to both her daughter, and now me, was simple. And, as many simple responses are, it was quite profound.

She described a story in which her and a friend were discussing memories and moments in life. They determined that even though they may not remember every story of their life exactly as it happened, the moments still impacted them for the remainder of their days. She encouraged me to consider this simple wisdom for myself:

All we have is a moment. Enjoy it.

Of course I am paraphrasing this friend’s wisdom which I’m sure was much more eloquent and detailed, but this sentiment is what I carried with me. As soon as she said this all the Buddhist lessons I encountered over the years came flooding back. This was the fact I have been overlooking. I felt it stir me.

When I left town the next day, I left knowing I had the support of others to encourage me onward. The road took me into the mountains to the beautiful state of New Mexico. Being from the East Coast I had no idea what to expect from this state, but to say I’m stunned by all it has to offer would be an understatement.

This emotion was underscored by the AirbBnB rental I stayed in on my first night. Unfortunately, I only had one night here, but even that was enough to fill me with comfort and inspiration. And, most importantly, it granted me the best night’s sleep I think I’ve ever had.

I pulled up to the property to find the owner, Beth, working on one of her many art projects. Here, let me share it with you:

artwork
I was mesmerized by this piece.

She welcomed me and stated I would be the first AirBnB guest to walk across this new installation. Woohoo! We began chatting and I found myself quickly recapping my anxieties from the night before. You all know how she responded:

A moment is all we have. Live it up!

I guess that was all the universe had to tell me on the topic, and I figured I may as well start listening.

I started by taking a tour around this beautiful property; my jaw dropping at every turn. This woman had the ability to make anything and everything look beautiful. Her attention to detail was simply amazing, and the feeling her work gave me was greatly needed. Here let me share the pictures already:

Mountain view
A view of the property including the mountains in the distance.
Mountain views
More mountain views.
Tree view
Views of the trees surrounding the property.
horse
There were even horses onsite.
outdoor kitchen and living room
The outdoor kitchen and living space.
Tea set
I loved this tea set.
Metal peacock.
Some art marks the path.
Cabin door
The front door of the cabin.
Desk and chairs
The workspace in the cabin.
Spiral staircase
This is a staircase the owner and an artist friend built. Enchanting!
Front of small building
The front of one of the galleries on site.
Gallery
A gallery interior. Pretty amazing, right?
outdoor living space
The outdoor kitchen and living area at night.

As I sat outside enjoying the cool mountain air, I took in Beth’s life. In this small town of maybe 150 people, tucked away in the Gila National Forest, she had people stopping by to help her with art projects or help her fix something or other pretty much all afternoon. She had galleries onsite with incredible local art which people knew to come see. I noted the dream like quality of my experience there, and also noted how much I loved the quaintness of it all.

I reminded myself there are probably just as many downsides to her life than any other life, but since I’m living moment by moment at this point, I pushed those thoughts aside and simply enjoyed the good vibes.

The next day I woke up refreshed and ready to start a new day. It was the best I’ve ever felt waking up in the morning… I have to be honest. I packed up my gear and got on the road for another 4 hours of driving up to the El Morro area. Along the way, the sentiments of the past few days rang loudly for me, and I finally connected with what my friend was expressing on that Tucson night.

These moments I experienced over the past few days were short indeed. Further, I may never experience the people or places again, but the fabric of them has shifted my perspective. Since perspective is everything, they have shifted my life.

So, what’s in a moment? Seems like everything is, no?

Making Friends with Strangers

I had such a wonderful day this past Sunday, I find myself anxious sitting to write about it. I fear I won’t be able to write a piece which expresses the immense amount of gratitude I feel. I’ll try to explore my reactions and reflections along the way, but to start perhaps I’ll just tell you about the day.

I started it as I do any Sunday, or, rather, any day here in Tucson. I took care of Sunny, did yoga, and had a lovely coffee-filled breakfast. I then left the house and headed towards Old Tucson where I was meeting a friend of a friend who lives here in town. (NOTE: This is a friend of the friends I stayed with while in Richmond, VA this Summer.)

I was excited for the excursion because I knew I’d not only meet someone new, but I’d also get to experience something new; always a win-win for me. While I was driving the 20 minutes west the friend texted saying she was going to be a few minutes late. Instead of arriving at the park early, I decided to pull over at a scenic point to finish my coffee. Here was the scene I got to sip to:

Desert view
What a view.

I got back in the car and drove the rest of the way to Old Tucson. I should tell you, I didn’t research the place at all. Thus, it was quite the surprise to find out most of the western movies my dad spends hours on end watching were filmed at the location! Unfortunately, I’ve had to sit through many of these movies in my day, but fortunately this provided a pretty awesome experience as I walked around the park. Here let me share some of them with you:

Gift shop front.
The Last Outpost gift shop.
Movie camera
One of the cameras set out front.
Old Tucson entrance
The entrance to Old Tucson.
Movie list
Just a small subset of the movies that were filmed at Old Tucson.
Movie set
The sheriff office set.
Movie set
Set for “The Hanging Man” reenactment.
Old west store fronts.
The Barber and Dentist here in “town”.
Old west hotel building
The hotel in Old Tucson
Old west store.
The mercantile store set.
Fake grave marker
These grave markers in the cemetery cracked me up.
Actors on set.
The actors play out the last show of the day.

The friend arrived shortly after I did and brought with her her boyfriend and his sister. The four of us thought we’d only spend a few short hours at the park, but we found we were having such a great time talking, exploring the park, and hearing about the stories filmed there and life in the Wild West in general that we ended up staying until closing!

In talking with my new friends I learned so much about them and their life experiences. I felt my knowledge of the world grow tremendously in only a few hours. Plus, being at the park with them was great!

We saw live reenactments of scenes from films, we road rides, we experienced mines… it was awesome to be around great people again! We also talked about how much we loved the experience of the park. What it came down to was the people who worked there CARED about the park and the patrons. Even though it was an act everyone was putting on, it genuinely felt GOOD to experience it. Yeah, it was a place of commerce, but it didn’t feel overly commercialized. It was an endearing place.

Before we left the park the boyfriend and I were sitting on the bench outside of a gift shop chatting while we waited for the others to purchase their wares. He turned to me and said, “You know, I’m surprised by how great today was. I really enjoyed the time here at the park and meeting and talking with you. I didn’t expect that.”

“I didn’t either, but when good folks get together, good times are bound to happen”, I replied.

We sat in the quiet of the next moment simply appreciating the time the four of us had together that day.

Eventually we four bid adieu and I headed back to the house to take care of Sunny before heading to another event full of people I didn’t know; the Halloween block party thrown by the neighbors next door.

It was another welcoming place where I had the opportunity to talk to so many new people about their lives. One person was the father of the neighbor. I sat and talked with the 86 year old man for quite awhile.

He told me about his life; how he left Mexico in the 60s then came here to make a new life for himself. He worked several jobs before landing one with the state of Arizona where he earned the pension he now lives off of. When I asked him what he did and still does during his 23 years of retirement, he didn’t flinch in sharing with me the simple things in life that make him happy. These included cooking, working around the house, and making crosses for those he loves and for his church. Here is a picture of the ones he made for the homeowner whose house I’m staying in:

Wooden crosses
Crosses made by José.

I walked back home after the event and sat down in silence. I reflected on how strange it was to live out entire relationships with new friends, the beginning and ending, all in one day. I suppose this is life on the road. I WAS still saddened by having to leave the loving energy of the day, but I reminded myself that I’ll be taking the energy with me wherever I go. This continues to help me work through the sadness.

Another thought that helps me is in thinking of all of the strangers I’d miss out on making friends with if I chose to stay in one place. Now THAT’s something to be sad about indeed.

Feels Like Coming Home

I arrived in Tucson last Thursday prepared for another arrival in which I’d share a night with the homeowner. When I drove through the city limits I immediately felt something utterly strange.

I felt comfortable.

It was the first time in my adult life I remember feeling so at ease in my own skin.

When I drove into the neighborhood I saw it was deeply contrasted from the pomp and circumstance of my Orange County, CA arrival. This Tucson hood was a more simple place, and it felt way more welcoming.

mountains against a blue sky.
Mountain views from the neighborhood.

I parked in front of the house and walked up to the door. I was surprised to see a woman of 70+ years opening it. This is the homeowner?, I thought to myself as I calculated the size of the dog, her living alone, and her being on a house sitter website at all. I caught myself going into an act to try to charm her, and I immediately stopped myself.

When I stepped into the kitchen and looked about the modest home, I initially felt disappointment. Shortly thereafter, after dropping the act for a moment, the disappointment started to morph into another sensation I hadn’t felt in my adult life.

I felt at home.

We walked to the backyard of the house, and I noticed a sense of recognition. Tucson reminded me a great deal of San Antonio, and the backyard brought back memories of my time there. I wouldn’t say I necessarily had visual memories flood me, but more I remembered the energy I felt while living in San Antonio. I also saw how very far away from myself I was at that time in my life, and I extended gratitude for the opportunity to find my way back.

Tree
Tree in the backyard.

As I walked with the homeowner about the house I watched her feed the dog, water the plants, and maintain the home, all the while taking my usual mental notes. I also cracked my usual jokes, and once again put on my usual charms; none of which she responded to. Not a single one. Instead she stayed in her own energy and went about her chores, explaining everything to me as she went.

I watched her with her dog. Her energy was completely calm, and the dog incredibly loving and responsive. There were no worries about his behavior or concerns about his habits. Instead it was just two beings who cared for each other living together; a deeply beautiful sight to witness.

Dog on a couch smiling
Sunny welcomes me.
Dog laying on the ground by the door.
Sunny waits at the door.

When we went to the front of her house her neighbor was putting out more Halloween decorations. He greeted me amicably from his yard, then walked over. The three of us chatted for a bit, and the neighbor invited me to the Halloween block party he and his wife throw every year. It was more than a warm welcome. It truly felt like a homecoming event.

There was no grand dinner or cocktail event that night. It was simply me and the homeowner sitting in the living room with her dog talking and watching the news. I asked her about herself; where she was from, where she was going, what she was doing here in Tucson, and I learned so many interesting facts I fear I can’t share them all.

For example, I learned she once taught on a Navajo reservation where she lived for 11 years. I learned she lived in this current house for 36 years (NOTE: my age), and that she used to teach business at the community college nearby. I also learned that this time each year she goes with a surveying team to a state park in the desert where they record Native American petroglyphs for the park record books; something she has been doing since the 70s.

I sat and listened in awe and reverence. For what I saw before me was a self-actualized individual living her best life. Yes, I was in the presence of someone who had architected their best life, and when I realized this, I saw in her a potential future Self.

I immediately realized why the universe had brought me here to Tucson; to take in her energy, her life, her example, and to drop the act. I know I’m meant to keep from my observations what works for me and discard what doesn’t. Her example is the clear next one needed to help me architect my own best life.

I’m grateful.

It’s safe to say her energy has stayed with me over the past week, and I continue to examine all aspects of it.

Despite these profound interactions, I have made some time for adventuring and sightseeing. Not only was I able to find some coffee:

Coffee shop
Coffee!

… BUT the homeowner also left me her membership card to the Sonora Desert Museum! Here are a few shots from my walk around there:

cacti
Cactus love.
cacti and views.
Desert love.
Trees hanging down.
I thought these trees were pretty cool.
lizard
I made a friend at the museum.
desert mountains
A view out yonder.
cacti
These cacti are huge!
Blue Rock
A cool rock I saw while exploring.
Cactus and Desert trails
Views from the Sonora Desert Museum.
Cactus and Desert trails
More views.
Mountains,
The view from a scenic point on my way back from the Museum.
Another shot from the scenic point.

I also made my way down to the famous San Xavier Mission:

Approaching the Mission
Approaching the mission.
San Xavier mission in Tucson.
A closer view of the mission.
Chapel bells
Chapel bells.
Mountains and desert
A view from the mission hills.
Rock with clouds in the background.
A rock against the clouds.
Lion heads at gate.
Lions mark the path.
Quote plaque at mission
Lest we forget… I enjoyed this quote.

So, it hasn’t been all work and no play. Though, one thing is for sure. Whatever it is I’m doing out here on the road is working. How do I know? Well, to feel a comfort within myself that I haven’t felt in over 30 years, that’s something to me.

In fact, that’s what this whole adventure is about.

A Slow Day in Bakersfield

I arrived in Bakersfield, CA last night after a 4 hour drive up from Orange County, CA. The drive was supposed to be about 2.5 hours, but Los Angeles traffic is real. There’s no doubt about that!

I didn’t know what to expect from Bakersfield, really. Not only have I never been here, but I’ve never even really heard about it. I did get some not so great reactions this week as I was telling people I was stopping here for a few days, and it’s safe to say those reactions were confirmed when I entered town. The area, though it contains some cute homes and some pretty scenery, is pretty depressed. I’ll admit I didn’t feel all that safe when I arrived. Though I told myself to keep an open mind because 4 hours in a car will strain anyone’s judgement.

I got to the AirBnB I rented (One that I HIGHLY recommend if you’re ever in town. The space is quiet, clean, and relaxing. The homeowners are lovely to boot!), and was pretty frazzled from the drive. I did muster up the energy to head to the grocery store to get some food and wine, and it was on this trip where my suspicions of Bakersfield were confirmed.

When I woke up this morning I decided I would not make any sort of schedule for the day. I was tired of living by a schedule. I did some yoga, then got myself cleaned up and dressed. I then decided I would take some of the things I had set aside to donate to a local donation center. I got in the car and drove towards the donation center noticing the town along the way. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s a bad place, just very different from Orange County.

I arrived at the donation center and a local woman greeted me as I got my bags out of the car. “Excuse me, miss” she said to me. “Can you help a girl out? Do you have shoes in those bags?” I felt myself cringe, saw myself going to ignore or deny her, then caught myself and said, “I’m sorry, but no. I do have clothes though. Do you need some of those?” I handed my bags over to the woman than said something I rarely say to her, “Bless you”. “God bless you too, miss.” Despite my atheist ways, the exchange warmed my heart.

Back in the car, I made my way over to a local coffee roaster I was excited to try. Blue Oak Coffee did NOT disappoint (I did note how the name was the same name of the cafe I worked at in college. Coincidence?). Quite the opposite, actually.

sign in blue oak coffee roasters
One of the signs inside Blue Oak Coffee Roasters

When I walked in the owner and another shop worker greeted me kindly. When I asked what they had brewed I was offered tastes of several in-house roasted coffees. I settled on one of them (they were all awesome), then also ordered what sounded like an amazing Chilaquiles breakfast plate. The women confirmed that their town was a bit rough, but I also noted how both seemed content living here.

As my breakfast was being made, the three of us talked further. I told them of my journey and they told me about opening the cafe. One of the women was originally from New York. She grew up in a town not too far from where I grew up. In fact, one of her dear friends went to the same school as an ex-boyfriend of mine. Coincidence?

When my breakfast came out, I was greeted with this sight:

Breakfast at Blue Oak
Breakfast at Blue Oak.

The cook came out behind it asking if I wanted lime to add to the dish. “I do what the chef recommends,” I responded. Several minutes into my enjoying the plate immensely, the cook came back out to check on me. I told her how her creation was perfectly spiced. Hot, but not so much so my mouth was on fire. How did she do it? Smoked cayenne and chili flakes. Brilliant!

I made my way back to the house and as I was parking my car saw the best sight. My AirBnB hosts and their daughter were setting up a lemonade stand just like people used to do back in the day. Again, my heart warmed.

I came inside and worked for a few hours. Then, I decided to walk over to the Metaphysical Store I had read about. (NOTE: The woman at the Blue Oak confirmed this was a great spot.)

The enchanted cottage sign out front.
The Meta-physical Store.

When I got inside I inquired about getting a reading. Sure enough, one of their readers was available! For the next hour, Marcia (whom I also highly recommend!) guided me through answers to some of my questions. Namely, “I have no idea what I’m doing traveling around to random towns alone. Can you give me a hint?”

Our discussion left me in a reflective mode. One of her main points was how I need to write about and share my experiences on the road more. And so, dear reader, here we are.

The rest of the day I worked and hung out at the AirBnB. I learned the lemonade stand was a success and Bakersfield really does get super hot in the afternoons. Tonight I’ll be continuing to follow Marcia’s advice (which included: meditate, read more, trust you’re being led, and have fun), and tomorrow I’ll be back on the road again.

My next stop? Seaside, CA. But, for tonight I’m here soaking up the Bakersfield love and remembering that what’s on the surface isn’t always what lies beneath.

Letting Go of an Old Story

I spent yesterday afternoon catching up with a dear friend who drove all the way up to Dana Point from San Diego (dear friend and podcast co-host) just to see me. How special I felt!

As we were talking about our respective lives my friend made the comment, “It’s hard to be creative on the road”. Her statement stopped me because I realized how right she was. I was hoping that along this journey I’d make the time to sit and write beautiful pieces about a life well considered. Instead I find myself barely able to scrape together an hour or two to write random ramblings which, when I’m finished with them, I feel unable to share to a wider audience for fear of my terrible writing ability being exposed.

*Sigh.*

I suppose this means my dreams of being a wandering writer are not to be… or maybe they are just on hold. Whatever the case, fear not! I ramble on… which is exactly what I wanted to do today.

Today I write to you from a house sit I’m doing in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. Or for you “visual people” out there, this place:

Morning view
My coffee ladened view this morning.

I arrived here last Sunday (I’m writing to you on the following Sunday), and the homeowners left for Alaska on Wednesday. This meant I had about 2 and a half days where our time in the house overlapped. (By the way, for those of you considering house or pet sitting I highly recommend having time where you overlap with the homeowners. It really helps everyone get more comfortable with each other.)

For some this situation can be a very uncomfortable one. I’ll admit it is still somewhat uncomfortable for me. There were many times I caught myself thinking things like “These people must think I’m a weirdo. What kind of person just comes to a stranger’s house and lives there for a few days when they haven’t even left on vacation yet? What kind of adult does this?!” I also felt a heavy burden of shame for doing something so “weird”.

It wasn’t until yesterday when I had a discussion with another dear friend (who is also a wanderer) where I realized all those feelings and thoughts were part of an old story I’ve been holding on to. A story I no longer need. (NOTE: This realization would not have been possible without my sharing this shame. A lesson I learned from this book.)

In reality, getting to know these homeowners better was an amazing experience! They showed me kindness. They showed me a healthy relationship between each other. We talked about life, love, family, and everything! We had happy hour and dinner together. We were human together.

Had I defaulted only to my old story line, I would have missed all of this.

In fact, there are so many wonderful things I would missed out on had I chosen to stay with the old story and not started this adventure. One specific example is the amazing amount of kindness which gets extended to me when I bring big bags on trains. I’m always concerned about how I’ll get on and off the train in time when I have heavy luggage with me, but without fail someone offers to help me. I have never once had to ask for help!

On my last train trip a few weeks ago, a man asked if I needed help when getting off the train. I said I did to which he responded, “I’ve been through it when traveling with my 4 year old daughter. I’m happy to help!”. From there he went on to share with me his tales of travel with children. It was another moment where I was able to just be human with someone.

It’s these moments I’ve come to treasure. I want more of them, and I want to be fully present in them without the shame and doubt. To get there, I’m sharing the shame further with you here. From this, I hope to let the old story go even more.

Although my travel has slowed from road tripping, it will still involve running into new people and seeing random beauty which is something I’ve realized I thrive on AND something I’m incredibly excited about. I love not knowing who I’ll meet in the upcoming months, but I also love being sure I will meet someone who will treat me with kindness. It helps me remember we are all the same, which helps me extend kindness back out into the world as well.

Weird or not, I just can’t see that as a bad thing.