First Major Trip Report: The Mitten State and Beyond

  1. Ohiopyle State Park – Ohiopyle, PA (2 nights)
  2. “Ohio Green Acres” (Harvest Hosts) – Helena, OH (1 night)
  3. Family Visit (Andy’s side) – Tipton, MI (2 nights)
  4. Family Visit (my side) – Grayling, MI (5 nights)
  5. Log Lake Campground to visit more family (my side) – Kalkaska, MI (4 nights)
  6. Silver Lake State Park – Mears, MI (1 night)
  7. Family Visit (Andy’s side) – Eau Claire, MI
  8. Shamrock Park (visiting Andy’s childhood friends) – Berrien Springs, MI (1 night)
  9. Family Visit (Andy’s side) – Elkhart, IN (1 night)
  10. Dynamax Factory Tour – Elkhart, IN
  11. Johnny Appleseed Campground – Fort Wayne, IN (1 night)
  12. Salt Fork State Park – Cambridge, OH (1 night)
  13. 1812 Brewery (Harvest Hosts) – Cumberland, MD (1 night) >>> HOME!

Planning

It takes an incredible amount of planning to prepare an RV for a long trip. We both spent a lot of time making lists and checking them off. We also did a lot of meal prep in the days before we left. By the time we hit the road, we were both in need of a break. Thankfully we anticipated that while planning, and we decided to kick-off the trip with two nights at our first stop, Ohiopyle State Park, so that we could rest up.

Due to local road congestion and the aggressive nature of Maryland drivers, we decided to leave in the late morning hours on a Tuesday. We knew that driving the RV in our home state would likely be the most stressful part of our time on the road, but once we passed Frederick, we could relax a bit. We chose to cap all of our drives at around 4-hours and planned to drive only during daylight hours. We didn’t want to have to set-up camp in the dark or worry about visibility on the roads.

On the road… Here we go!

On our first RV trip to in June, we noticed an interference issue between the RV camera feed and the on-board Garmin GPS. We read up on it a bit in the Dynamax forum but hadn’t gotten around to attempting to fix it prior to leaving. The benefit of using the Garmin is that it has our rig’s information loaded into it (size, height, weight). Due to the interference issue, we used Google maps to locate the park. Technically it did get us to the park, though it just directed us to a densely wooded area on the side of the road, rather than the actual campground entrance. Google maps also had us traversing incredibly twisty, steep roads. There was a much easier way for RVs and travel trailers that the Garmin would have probably taken us instead.

We had to backtrack back a bit after I loaded up the GPS coordinates we found via a camping app. Lesson learned there, and Andy has since fixed the interference issue by relocating the GPS antenna to the furthest point on our dash. It wasn’t evident at the time, but quite a bit of extra cord for the antenna was tucked into the dash, so now we can run the cameras and GPS simultaneously.

We set up camp around 4 pm, only to learn another valuable lesson. When freshwater hookups aren’t available at your site, fill up before setting up camp. We chose our site based on the location of the fresh water access, only to find out after we had parked and leveled the rig, that the spigot had been turned off. It did cross my mind while parking that we should add the water first, but we were both tired and ready to be on vacation. We had to tuck everything away so Andy could drive up to the water and dumping station, add the water, and then return to park and re-level. It wasn’t terribly inconvenient, but it just wasn’t something we felt like doing after being on the road for a half day.

Highlights:

  • We hiked along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP rail trail) and walked over the GAP Bridge; between two separate outings, we hiked about 7.5 miles.
  • Before we hiked the GAP, Andy explored a bit on his gravel bike. In all, he rode about 15 miles.

On our third day, I took the wheel and drove for a couple hours on the Ohio turnpike and some country roads. The rig drives like a van, but then you scan the mirrors and cameras and realize just how large you are. It’s weird to be almost level with truckers, and to be driving at 70 mph, hanging with the big boys, in the equivalent of a small bus. I actually really enjoyed it.

We stayed at our first Harvest Host (HH) location in Ohio. We got a bit spoiled because water and power hookups were available for us to use. Most HH locations are dry-camping sites. We enjoyed some walks on nicely paved, quiet country roads. We met a daring farm kitty that puffed itself up to walk past Stevie and up to Andy to be petted. Stevie was not interested in the cat in the least. Since we were surrounded by corn fields and near silence, I suggested we watch Signs that night. I’ll admit I was not keen on walking Stevie in the pitch dark afterwards, and I definitely got up and locked the door mid-movie.

After breakfast and a walk, the next morning we pressed on to Tipton, MI, where we camped at Andy’s cousin Sandy and her husband Bob’s home. They are currently rebuilding a 1960 Airstream and have a 2005 Airstream that they’d been using for road trips. I love looking at vintage trailers, so this was a real treat. Late in the evening on the first night, with a massive thunderstorm brewing, we retired to Homie Roam-o to take showers and go to bed. Andy went in first, and immediately I noticed a large amount of water pooling on the floor. He thought I was just complaining about over-spray, but once he saw it, he turned everything off and jumped out. We believe that during the de-winterization process, the dealer likely discovered a small leak. In trying to fix it, they seemingly over cranked the nut that attached two pieces of PVC pipe together, which resulted in it cracking. All of the shower water spilled onto the floor under the basin and then pooled in the bathroom. Thankfully we were with family and had access to their guest bathroom and laundry. It was also nice that Andy had Bob, who is also very handy, to troubleshoot the issue with.

Side note: Up until this point, the two state parks we had camped at (Rocky Gap and Ohiopyle) were relatively empty and had very clean showers, so we didn’t bother showering in the RV. That way our water use and grey water holding tank were non issues. I did turn the shower on briefly at some point when I was cleaning the RV, and I know I also poured water down the drain another time. It’s possible that hitting bumps while driving down the road exacerbated the crack in the connection further. We’ll never know for sure, but at least it’s fixed now.

We had a wonderful visit with Bob and Sandy. Their property is serene and quiet. We were also thrilled to be able to visit with a half dozen of Andy’s first and second cousins, as well as Andy’s Aunt Betty that came by to see us.

Highlights:

  • We got to sample the first batch of wine from the family’s vineyard in Oregon
  • We also learned how to play a new game called Jokers and Pegs (similar to Trouble); we have since purchased our own board.
  • The sunsets here are some of the best!
  • Touring the 2005 Airstream

From Tipton, we headed to Grayling, MI, where my parents live. We first stopped off at a state park to empty our black and grey tanks. It was the first time dumping our black tank, and all went smoothly until we hooked up the fresh water to the ‘black tank flush’ connection. Next thing we knew, water was coming out of the bottom of our rig onto the pavement. I jumped inside in time to see fresh water pooling all over the bathroom floor, and headed into the kitchen. I grabbed towels and mopped it up. After a bit of reading, it seems likely that the valve on our ‘black tank flush’ is installed backwards. It’s not a critical feature, as you can simply flush out the “stinky slinky” manually, but it would be nice if it operated correctly. Thank goodness it was only fresh water that flowed into the rig though. We were also lucky to be headed to my parents where I was able to re-wash all of the towels and do our regular laundry as well.

Side note: Andy made a post-trip mod on the grey, black, and fresh water tanks. We were always guessing exactly how full each tank was because the display inside Homie Roam-o only depicts 1/3, 2/3, and FULL. Andy took a couple days this week to install digital sensors that will precisely read the levels, which will be increasingly important when we dry camp. We’ve been fortunate to make friends with a fellow an RVer at our storage unit that used to be an electrician and has driven Class A’s for over 20 years. Next week, he’s going to help Andy check everything even more thoroughly than we already have. They plan to go over all of the electrical systems, and check the rig’s undercarriage to make sure everything is tucked away sufficiently.

The road leading to my parents driveway was sporty. The gravel had ridges in it, so we were quite shaken up and dusty. Andy later said it was even difficult to ride his gravel bike on it. However, once we arrived, it was wonderful to be back along the Au Sable River again. As always, the water was pristine and cool. We enjoyed catching up and spending quality time with my parents, playing in the river, and kayaking. My brother, sister in-law, and their 4 kids joined us on our last night there.

A couple days later, we all re-grouped at Log Lake in Kalkaska, MI, where my brother and sister in-law always rent a little lake front cottage. We reserved a site at Log Lake Campground. My parents joined us two campsites away a couple nights later in their new 27-foot travel trailer, which is really roomy. It puts the travel trailer of my childhood to shame. The campground itself was not our favorite, but it was great to be able to walk to the cottage. We were extremely happy to have access to own bathroom while there.

Andy was able to fit in some nice bike rides near Log Lake and also in Grayling. I organized a virtual book club meeting on our first night at Log Lake; I was actually surprised that my cell service was so good. We also visited my Granny at her assisted living facility on the way to Log Lake. I was sad that we were unable to hug, and that we had to see her outside while sitting 6-feet apart. The staff were very kind though; they brought us water while we sat under a tent with her. An elderly resident even brought Stevie a bowl of water.

Highlights:

  • Kayaking on the river and on the lake (even Stevie kayaked, swam, and floated on floaties)
  • Swimming in the lake with the kids
  • Independence Day fireworks over the lake
  • Spending quality time with my family
  • Chatting with my sister in-law lake side and laughing at the kids
  • Shopping trip in Traverse City
  • Camping in tandem with my parents, who just got a new travel trailer as well

From Log Lake, we drove to Silver Lake State Park in Mears, MI. I could have stayed here for weeks. I was disappointed that we only booked one night. The campsites were nicely shaded, and the views were gorgeous. I was itching to play on the dunes. We plan to go back at some point and rent a dune buggy and enjoy the water.

Highlights:

  • Walking along the Silver Lake and the campsites

The following morning, we headed to Berrien Springs, MI, by way of Eau Claire, MI. We made a brief stop in Eau Claire to visit Andy’s Aunt and Uncle. It was wonderful to see that they’re both doing well and still very active. After some catching up, iced tea and cookies, we left to check into Shamrock Park in Berrien Springs. The campground was well-maintained and even had some permanent residents. Andy’s childhood best friend and former neighbor, Marty, picked us up, and we surprised Marty’s mom, sister, and another old neighbor at dinner. It was a fun evening full of laughter and listening to them rehash old stories.

Before we left Berrien, we made sure to stop by Marty’s mom’s house. When Andy’s second mom orders you to pick up some strawberry jam before you leave town, you do it. Of course, “some” means that your freezer will close be to full, and that you’re not getting out of there without also taking some homemade noodles with detailed instructions.

Highlights:

  • Sunset off Marty’s back deck overlooking the St Joseph River
  • Seeing a young red fox up close
  • Catching up with old friends and family

After Berrien we jetted to Elkhart, IN to see two of Andy’s Aunts. We had a really nice afternoon catching up both of them. We ordered pizza, played dominoes, and ate ice cream. The next morning, Andy made us all ‘Rolex’ for breakfast, we chatted some more, said our goodbyes, and headed off for a Dynamax factory tour.

Highlights:

  • Sitting around a table playing games evokes a lot of childhood nostalgia for me. I really enjoyed just sitting around, playing a game with loved ones. It was the perfect evening in.
  • It was pretty incredible to see RVs being built from start to finish without any real automation. Most of the coaches were much, much larger than ours. I was amazed that some had two bathrooms and full kitchens. I can’t picture myself driving something the size of a tour bus, but they were incredible. The most amazing part was that the exterior of each coach is a piece of art designed by local Elkhart artist Dean Loucks. If you’re curious about the process involved in painting each one, check out this video.

Leaving Elkhart marked the end of our family visits. Since we couldn’t find a HH location we wanted to stop at that wasn’t too far of a drive, and we needed to make a grocery store run, we decided to book one night at Johnny Appleseed Park in Fort Wayne, IN. This park was also a well-maintained park and very quiet considering it was near a pretty urban area. We walked across the campground to a spillway for the St Joseph River.

Side note: This blog was temporarily derailed by ice cream, several Google searches, and a lengthy discussion about whether the Fort Wayne and Berrien Springs St Joseph Rivers are one and the same. In case you are wondering, the headwaters of the rivers are only separated by 5 miles, but they are different rivers.

While walking along the river, we discovered a really beautiful dog park. Stevie Mix was being shy about going into the park. She feigned complete indifference and sat, looking away, about 4 feet from the fence line while Andy and I greeted the other dogs. It’s safe to say that by day 18 of our trip, we had forced Stevie into complete submission by eliminating most of her daytime naps and forcing her to supervise our driving and movements. Though, if I’m being honest, she seemed pretty mellow about three days into the trip.

The following day we set our sights on Salt Fork State Park in Cambridge, OH. We drove along some beautiful country roads. By the time we arrived, we were both ready to be outside. We quickly setup camp, Andy took off on his bike to explore, and I started walking Stevie. Without thinking, I set off in flip-flops and hiked about a mile into the woods on some beautiful trails before deciding I was being dumb and turning around. I hadn’t told Andy exactly where I was going. I know, I know. In my defense, I did snap a blurry photo of the trail sign and I uploaded it to a shared photo album (leave clues, ya’ll!). Every cold case show and unsolved mysteries episode I’ve ever seen flashed before my eyes, and I turned around and all but ran back to the paved roads. Andy rode for 10 miles, and I walked 4 to 5 miles. The next day we got up somewhat early and hiked the path I was on the previous day—approximately 3.5 miles. There was a major discrepancy between my Fitbit and the trailhead map.

Highlights:

  • Much cooler weather
  • A cloudless, starry night
  • Getting outside and enjoying the woods

Our last overnight stay was another HH location, 1812 Brewery in Cumberland, MD. We arrived around 4 pm and had just enough time to select a table, get two brews, and get Stevie settled with her food and water before the sky opened up and dumped some serious rain. The brewery often has live music and food trucks, but on that evening they had neither. I ended up ordering some food from a local pizza place via the Slice app, and they delivered mid-rainstorm. When everything cleared up, we headed to our RV in the parking lot for our first dry-camping experience. I had to put my earplugs in because the frogs were so incredibly loud! I was able to take a hot shower in the morning, but our water kettle didn’t work since we weren’t hooked up to shore power. We could have started the generator, but we just boiled water on the stove. We had enough solar power for lights and everything else though.

Highlights:

  • Discovering a new somewhat local brewery–the ‘Basecamp’ brew was amazing! It smelled like a cup of coffee.
  • Enjoying a rainstorm with good beer and even better company
  • Being outside among other people, though social distanced, gave the semblance of normalcy for a little while

Surprisingly we had very little traffic on the 3 hours or so from Cumberland to home. Once we did a once over on the house and plants and saw that all was okay, I was ready to be back on the road again. We’re currently in the stages of planning our next trip.

One major thing I learned about myself in taking a long road trip is that I really need a mental and physical outlet. Our meditation and workouts slid to the wayside. We really need to make time for those things next time. I was a bit jealous that Andy had his own personal escape hatch in the form of a bike. When we returned home, Andy researched e-bikes and ordered one for me. He plans to outfit one of his bikes with a kit to convert it. Since we aren’t towing a vehicle, this will enable us to bike to different places and cover more ground. Andy is an avid biker, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep pace with him, or probably bike as long–not without a lot of training. Our campsite neighbors at Ohiopyle let us test theirs out, and I was sold (though a little scared–those things can fly!). We have a carrier for Stevie that we can attach to a bike as well. I just need to recall how to flatten it down so we can stow it away easily.

Speaking of the chupaterra, you might be wondering how Stevie Mix fared during this adventure. We think she had a blast. She was definitely dog-tired during and after the trip because she didn’t get her usual daytime naps. She also refused to miss any action and had to supervise all activities.

After the first leg of the trip, she wasn’t as phased by things things rattling or bumps on the road. She mostly curled up in her bed and slept with one eye open. Sometimes when we slowed, or when she could see the forest through the windshield, she would jump onto the sofa and gaze out the window. She was tethered with a harness and seat belt clip so she couldn’t roam the cabin, for her safety and ours. If she had her way, she would sit at Andy’s feet, which would be dangerous.

It’s a weird time, but I hope you’re able to get out, have fun, and make some new memories this summer. Until next time…

xo

Happy Camper

We’re currently planning a long trip in our RV, and I figured it was probably time that I wrote about the first trip. I’ll backtrack just a bit first. Just over 6 months after my retirement, we brought our new RV, dubbed Homie Roam-o, home. The buying process and having minor things addressed by the dealer, prior to and after the purchase, has been daunting and frustrating. That could probably be a post on its own, but that’s not why I’m here.

The amount of information available for the purpose of just deciding on whether a trailer, sprinter van, or RV would suit your needs best can be overwhelming. Once you’ve decided on the manufacturer and chassis (if it’s an RV), you still have to outfit it with additional equipment for safety, comfort, and maintenance. Thankfully, we have friends and family who have been great resources. We also semi began this process a year ago. We asked ourselves a lot of questions about our travel and living style, and also our comfort in towing verses driving various rigs.

We chose a small C class size to start because it’s something I can drive comfortably, the living space is comfortable large enough for the two of us and Stevie Mix, and it came equipped with a lot of features that are considered upgrades. There are some great online articles that can help you think through what kind of rig will fit your lifestyle:

Andy did a huge amount of reading prior to the purchase; he made sure we had everything on the safety and maintenance side that we needed to get started. I was busy making lists and ordering things for the living quarters, and also figuring out how we would live, sleep, and eat while on the road. It definitely takes teamwork. I set aside some time today to make sure I have a good understanding of how all of the systems work, how to setup camp, and how to empty the grey and black tanks. I also watched some videos on our onboard power sources, and how to make sure you’re using those correctly.

Our first trip was to Rocky Gap State Park in Flintstone, Maryland. I cannot say enough positive things about this park. I think during normal times, this park is probably pretty busy. However, we arrived on a Tuesday (2 June) and left on a Friday (5 June), and it appeared that only camp loop A was occupied. We got a nice site near a water access point, which we didn’t end up needing except to hose off our rug when we were cleaning up (the pine trees were coating the area with pollen). The site had power, and was close to the restrooms and shower, which were very clean. I wasn’t once concerned about the cleanliness of this park. The lakefront beach and hiking trails were pristine and empty. We hiked 6 miles on Wednesday, and 5.5 miles on Thursday, and we only encountered people a couple times near the edge of the lake. Stevie was in heaven on the trails and exploring everything. At some point I faked her into thinking I was running into the lake, and she seemed to think this was a good idea, so she plunged right in and then sort of panicked. Andy and I were rolling laughing on the bank, but I don’t think she thought it was so funny. I wish I had gotten it all on camera.

We had a few hiccups on the ride up, which are now amusing in hindsight. The fridge door handle was broken, which we knew about on delivery of the RV, but the part was on order. I swear I asked at least three times if the fridge would pop open once loaded and we were on the move, and they assured me each time that it would not. Welp. They lied! I should have trusted my gut. As we were headed down the highway, Stevie started panicking and crying because it was loud and unfamiliar to her. This presented a problem because she was screeching into the back of Andy’s head, and driving a large vehicle down the road when it’s still new is stressful enough. So, I unbuckled myself (please don’t do this!) to untether her and hold her in the front passenger seat. Naturally, she scratched me up in her panic, which stressed me out. I was basically holding Scrat from the movie Ice Age on my lap. Once I got buckled in, she stopped vocalizing her displeasure, though she was shaking terribly. Then, the fridge door flew open! I looked back and food containers, eggs, beer, water, veggies, etc. were strewn all over the aisle. A can of shandy rolled down to me, and I considered popping the top. We had driven a mere 27 miles from home at this point, and we had to pull over. Thankfully, I used to live near where we were, and I knew a safe place we could stop. We got to a safe location off the highway, put everything back, and bungeed the door closed. Thankfully nothing exploded or broke. I think ONE egg slightly cracked—shout out to those old school egg storage containers meant for camping. Other than the fridge incident, I had thankfully done a good job securing everything else minus one tiny decorative sign I forgot to affix with a command strip.

About halfway to the park, we stopped at a fueling station that had diesel. We were able to park out of the way and sit at our dinette and enjoy the lunch I packed. After lunch, we looped back around to the pumps, and Andy topped off the gas tank for the first time. We were on our way! We were much more relaxed at this point, and the rig was doing well on performance at the increased elevation.

Checking into the state park, finding out site, parking and leveling the rig, and hooking up the power all went well. However, well had a bit of a SNAFU trying to hook up our gas grill to the LP quick connect on the back of the RV. We looked everywhere for a lever to turn on the gas when we couldn’t get it to ignite. Our camp host even tried. I actually pulled out the soft close drawer under the stove inside to see if there was something hidden in there, and then I couldn’t get the drawer back in. I was losing my patience. We had forgotten to meditate that day, and I was definitely turning into the Hulk from being hungry. After we ate and I headed off to the shower, Andy fixed the drawer before I got back.

Regarding the LP quick connect, we didn’t learn until we took Homie back to the dealer, that we were looking in the right place under the rig, but the lever is incredibly small, and we simply overlooked it. We ended up using our seasoned grilled (like a hibachi grill top) over an open fire. The camp host provided us with a bundle of wood for free, which was incredibly nice. We definitely didn’t starve, but we got a bit smoky, which is not my favorite thing. I know, I know… camping and fire rings. It’s whole thing. There will be smoke.

I’m still getting used to sleeping in the bed because it’s much firmer than I’m used to. By and large though, we had everything we needed, and it was nice to get away. Stevie made herself at home and was quite content once we were no longer moving. I think her only gripe is that there are no windows down at the floor level. I caught her standing on the dinette table a couple times, and she was swiftly reprimanded. She ended up making herself at home on the back of the couch. We started a little logbook. Andy journals about the trip, and then records information about gas mileage, on-board water, issues, things to remember or bring next time, and lessons learned. We’re looking forward to the next trip!

I hope you’re well and finding ways to get out and about! Until next time…

xo

Onward

As we near 70 days of quarantine, things have slowed down for us considerably. During the first 30 days, we were hopeful about being able to go to Montana, so were hustling to ready the house and Jeep. We were really bummed about cancelling. I was having a difficult time adjusting life after mid-March. Being retired had already been a major adjustment for me. By the time March rolled around, I was just starting to feel like we had gotten into a good daily routine, and that I was in a good place with balancing my time. I had to start reminding myself daily that I’m working on becoming more flexible and adaptable to change. I’m a work in progress, folks!

So, now what?

One of the most frequently asked questions we get is, “what are you going to do now that travel is severely restricted and you cancelled your big trip?” Around day 50, we decided to revisit purchasing a B or C class RV or travel trailer. This was something we talked about a year or so before retiring. At the time, we concluded that we wanted to do more international travel and didn’t necessarily want to live long-term in an RV/trailer, nor drive everywhere we went.

Things have certainly changed. With safety being a biggest factor to consider in our current climate, an RV/trailer seems to make the most sense since you can take your own living quarters and restroom everywhere you go. Even with many parks reopening across the country, bathrooms are often still closed. After a lot of waffling between tow behind trailers verses RVs, we settled on a small C class RV, the 2020 Dynamax Isata 3 24RB. I’ll spare you the ridiculous amount of research that has gone into this decision, but please ping me if you have specific questions. We have a short trip planned for soon after Homie Roam-o comes home. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post a little tour video on Instagram once we take possession of the RV.

Homie Roam-o

We are actively working to gather things for our maiden voyage (does that phrase only apply to boats?). Andy is doing reading up on all of the onboard systems and technology. He’s also reading forums, and installation and user manuals like it’s his job. Most days, I’m very thankful to have married an engineer. I’m looking at the organization and supply side of things, and also relying on Andy to explain how everything in the RV works. I want to make sure I am just as efficient and knowledgeable at operating everything.

We foresee doing a bunch of fairly local trips in the near future to see what it’s like to stay in places with amenities (water and power), and we will also be dry camping (aka boondocking) since the RV is equipped with solar panels, LP gas, and batteries. Once we assess how comfortable we are living in a small space, we’ll start planning longer getaways. Stay tuned on that front.

We subscribed to a service called Harvest Hosts, a network of free one-night stays at farms, wineries, breweries, museums, and golf courses. Hopefully it will be a great way to get to know and support local communities as we travel. I’m really looking forward to those kinds of stays. Here’s a snapshot of all of the current locations:

The second most asked question I have been getting is whether I would have retired in late November had I known what was to come in 2020, and I have to say yes. Yes, a million times over. In fact, we probably would have retired sooner so that we could have traveled more prior to being locked down.

In other news, here’s a rundown of some of what we’ve been up to since my last post.

  • We’ve been playing virtual trivia weekly. If you’re local to Maryland, and are interested in playing, let me know.
  • We discovered an amazing trail near our home, and have had fun exploring it with Stevie Mix.
  • I colored my hair for the first time ever, and I let Andy cut it. He has been cutting his own since college, but it was his first time cutting long hair and my first time letting anyone other than my mom or stylist touch mine. I’m happy to report that he did a great job, and I have a photo to prove it!
  • I finished reading 10% Happier by Dan Harris, which frames the importance of meditation in a much more relatable way. It’s in part a memoir as Harris explains how he entered into life as a newscaster, had an on-screen panic attack, followed by a downward spiral. He sought a way to put his life back together, and also manage stress and anxiety. During his journey, he researches benefits to meditation and presents compelling results of many studies. He also attempts to make sense of the teachings and advice of some of, what he refers to as, the “woo-woo“ hippie-dippy experts. He highlights the techniques that work to make himself at least 10% happier. I promise you that it’s witty, humorous, entertaining, and helpful.
  • We haven’t embarked on any major house projects other than some painting.

Recipes:

  • I made the ricotta cheese I mentioned last month, and it did not disappoint. I’m obsessed with it.
  • I jumped on the sourdough starter bandwagon, and spent a long time obsessing over my mother (aka Mother Teresa). In the past few weeks, I have baked a couple loaves of bread. We also made some amazing sourdough and ricotta cheese pancakes (the key is to zest some lemon into the batter).
  • My mom sent me a peanut butter cookie recipe that was pretty yummy. I used peanut butter powder, and had good luck freezing the batter to use when we want to make cookies. I think next time I will use chunky peanut butter. I added chocolate chips in the last batch I made, which was a hit in our house… among the two people that live here, and one of them (me) is biased.
  • Coming up next: soda bread from Nadiya’s Time to Eat (now on Netflix)

Until next time. I hope you’re all staying busy, sane, and safe.

xo

Stranded

I’m stranded at the edge of the world
It’s a world I don’t know
Got no where to go
Feels like I’m stranded

It seems fitting that Van Morrison was playing as I gathered my thoughts to write. The line, “and nobody’s gonna tell me, tell me what, what time it is,” had me laughing out loud. Seriously. What day is it?

I believe we’re on quarantine day number 35 since returning from Colorado. I don’t really have much to update. Just like everyone else, our plans are on hold. We should have been headed for Montana no later than this weekend. Thankfully the rental property owners are flexible with us delaying or cancelling. To buy some time, we did alert them that we would push back our arrival by at least a couple of weeks. However, as we approach May, we’re coming to grips with having to cancel entirely. There are so many factors to weigh, and we have to assess conditions in each state we’ll be passing through.

The purpose of driving 2,300+ miles and staying near Glacier National Park for 2-months during a touristy time of year was to determine whether we really want to move there. We didn’t want to fall in love with a place, only later to find out that we couldn’t handle its summer crowd, which was sadly our experience with Asheville, NC. Asheville seems to have experienced a huge influx of people relocating there between our first visit (July 2014) and our most recent visit (June 2019). Increased infrastructure appeared to be underway, but it didn’t seem sufficient enough to handle the number of people.

Anyhow, I digress, if National Parks are closed and most people aren’t traveling, we won’t get a good sense of what we’d be dealing with in the Flathead/Glacier region of Montana during the summertime. We have a somewhat short window to re-work plans, as the property owners are expecting other guests almost immediately after our departure. We also have to account for other trips and two weddings on our calendar.

It’s certainly stressful and frustrating to have plans change unexpectedly, but such is life. Some things are beyond our control. My retirement journey has largely amounted to learning how to be more adaptable to change and figuring out how to balance and prioritize time. In a way, I have been preparing for this quarantine since November. The three biggest things that helped me adjust are: structure, meditation, and physical fitness. I know I’ve stressed it before, but it’s important to strike a good balance between personal time, house chores/projects, and time spent connecting with friends and family. Also, cut yourself (and others) some slack, laugh often, spend as much time outside as possible, challenge yourself in some way, find ways to connect with people, and ask for help if you need it. We’re going to get through these uncertain times by leaning on one other and by being kind – not only to others, but to ourselves.

If you’ve been wondering what we’ve been up to, you can visit my Instagram account for photos of recent adventures. I also created lists (below) of house projects completed and some recipes we’ve made over the past 35 days. If you don’t see a link for a recipe, it’s because it’s handwritten in one of my cookbooks. Send me a note, and I’ll pass it along to you. I’ve also been sending letters back and forth to my nieces and nephews. Andy bikes as often as possible, and practices acoustic guitar daily. We work on puzzles, read often, walk Stevie Mix 3-5 miles daily, hike when weather permits, and workout 5 days a week. We also play trivia virtually every Saturday night. Our local, weekly trivia host started a virtual game, and we actually won a picnic table last week!

House Projects:

  • Re-painting baseboards and doors in high traffic areas of the house (still actively working on this),
  • Cleaned up flower beds (weeded, raked, bagged dead leaves, preened, and mulched),
  • Andy’s been working on fertilizing and ridding the lawn of weeds,
  • Cleaned the screened in porch,
  • Removed caulk from screened in porch; about to re-caulk and pressure wash,
  • Caulked the master shower and sinks; caulked the guest tubs,
  • Replaced rotted wood around the outside of the screened-in-porch with new wood that we had to cut and paint first,
  • Pressure washed and re-painted the back-stairwell,
  • Scraped the back-stairwell railing and repainted it,
  • Deep cleaned stove top,
  • Cleaned the double ovens,
  • Checked and adjusted sprinklers,
  • Dismantled raised flowerbed,
  • Filled in a low spot in the yard with sand and dirt,
  • Organized the pantry,
  • Stacked wood,
  • Washed the outdoor cushions,
  • Planted new shrubs, and
  • Flushed the sump pump to ensure good working order.

*All de-cluttering efforts have halted since donation pick-ups were suspended.

Recipes:

xo

It’s a Mad World

Welp.
It has been an interesting couple of weeks. Our travel plans are ever-evolving, but that’s okay. We’re remaining flexible and optimistic.

Flexibility.
That’s the key and benefit to retirement.

Last week we flew to Colorado. Initially Vail resorts intended to remain open, and they put a number of safety precautions into place. We were getting daily updates from the resort and Colorado’s health department. Things seemed okay, so we went. However, the situation quickly degraded. We were able to get a single day of skiing in, and decided to just hang out for one more day while everyone else made a mass exodus. It gave us some time to pack, re-arrange travel plans, return skis, try to make a dent in some of the food we bought, drink the beer we picked up from Tommy Knocker Brewery (Idaho Springs, CO), and relax. We were able to pack much of the food we bought that we couldn’t finish. The rest, we left unopened for the Airbnb. If you want to be amused, check out TSA’s rules for acceptable food items that can brought onto the plane. Live lobster? Maybe.

Regarding skiing, Breckenridge handled it well. The ski resort sanitized the bathrooms and inside dining tables constantly. People spread out, but most remained outside. They also shuttered all hot food service (we always pack our own anyway). They didn’t allow anyone to access the water fountains; instead, they handed out cups of water to folks with gloved hands. You could only ride the lifts and gondolas with your party. It felt like the safest place to be—gloved and masked up; enjoying the outdoors. The town’s grocery store, City Market, was fully stocked aside from the empty shelves that housed Clorox wipes. People were generally relaxed.

It was a huge bummer to come home 8-days early after literally dreaming of skiing since last March, but here we are. Things change, and we have to adapt. We are home, and self-quarantined for 2-weeks. In addition, we cancelled plans to go to California in early April. The memorial service we were going to attend has been postponed. Right now, we’re reassessing whether we’re still going to Montana in the summer. It’s still early, and we’re keeping an eye on the situation. We’re lucky to have friends that live in the Big Fork area; one of which is a pulmonologist. The main purpose of staying in Montana for two months in the summer was to gauge how busy Glacier National Park and the surrounding area gets during that time. If, after our summer experience, it’s still a place we may potentially want to move, we’ll likely visit during the winter as well.

Side Note: Because people often seem stunned that we would choose a cooler climate to a warm one, I have to say that winters don’t concern us at all though. When you don’t have to get to work in inclement weather, it’s not as big of a hassle. We also prefer cold to heat, and are much more at home in wide open spaces with wilderness and mountains, than at the beach. Where we’re looking to move is actually fairly mild, as it’s in a valley and the snow tends to dump on the east side of Glacier National Park. Big Fork gets approximately 55 inches of snow annually (the US average is 28 inches), and about 23 inches of rain (the US average is 38 inches). In contrast, where we live now averages about 14 inches of snow and 43 inches of rain. It’s also bloody humid and pollen-y (it seems that my allergies get worse every spring) in Maryland. I’m looking forward to leaving that behind.

Now that our schedule has opened up a bit, we have more time for house projects and long-term planning. There’s always a silver lining, if you look for it. My feeling is that you can stress out about things out of your control, or you can roll with it. Take this time to connect with loved ones (either virtually, or those who are in the same household), read, relax, spend time outdoors, play games, laugh, catch up on shows, or work on projects you’ve put off. Of course, you’re going to worry and feel overwhelmed at times. We all do. On that same thread, there’s also going to be significant financial hardship for a lot of people during this time. However, we’re still here on this Earth. There’s no reason to squander the time that we’re given.

xo

3-Month Milestone

I can’t believe I’ve been retired for nearly 3-months now. I have to admit the first month was a whirlwind of travel and the holidays, the second was largely spent adjusting to change and prioritizing to-do lists, and the third has been focused on self-improvement and looking toward the future.

Some people are more sensitive to big changes in their personal routine and lifestyle. I’d like to think that I’m spontaneous and flexible, but I found that adjusting to retirement hasn’t actually been that easy. I am still learning how to slow down and balance all of the things that I need to do with the items that I want to do. I’m getting better at slowing down and taking time for myself, but I’m probably still a bit more heavily skewed on the chore/errand side of things. It’s a work in progress for sure.

We’re nearly 3 months into meditating on a daily basis, and I’m beginning to feel some of the benefits. Meditation, in addition to reading The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, is probably one of the best things I could have ever done for myself. I feel like I have gained incredible clarity, objectivity, and perspective. For the first time, I can really examine the internal defense mechanisms I’ve put into place. I’ve started to pull some of those walls down and am beginning to let go of things that I really shouldn’t have held onto for so long—past pain, trauma, worries, self-doubt, etc. I view this whole process as cleaning house and de-cluttering, but for the mind.

Even though I did quite a bit of research on the benefits of meditation before actually starting, I was very much a skeptic. Sitting quietly for 5, 10, and now 15 minutes at a time seemed incredibly silly at first. I tried to meditate on some stressful days last year, but I wasn’t consistent in making it a daily habit. I couldn’t seem to find a good time of day or comfortable place to sit. It helped that mindfulness and meditation was also on Andy’s radar. We decided that we would do it together and agreed start after our Germany trip last December. I figured that at the minimum, a few minutes of quiet time certainly wouldn’t hurt either of us.

If you’re interested in trying meditation, there are a couple apps I can recommend for guided sessions. We initially used the free offering of Headspace until we got up to the 10-minute benchmark. We have since programed Alexa to play ‘meditation radio’ via Pandora for 15 minutes. If Headspace doesn’t do it for you, I’ve also heard great things from a good friend about Ten Percent Happier’s app and podcast. Give the process some time though. This isn’t an immediate results kind of thing.

So, what else have we been up to? It’s difficult to catalog everything, but I’ve compiled a list of going-ons since I last posted.

Activities

  • We saw Second City perform at Rams Head on Stage in Annapolis. This was the second time we attended one of their improv shows, and we weren’t disappointed. Second City has been around for over 50 years, and has produced legends like Bill Murray, John Candy, Tina Fey, Dan Aykroyd, Alan Arkin, and Amy Poehler.
  • We walked 3 miles on the BWI trail, and 4.5 miles on the B&A Trail. Though we didn’t complete any long walks or hikes in February due to rainy weather and travel, we did workout nearly every day in January.
  • Ventured to Fort McHenry to pick up our National Park pass. It was nice to wander the grounds on a quiet weekday. It was sunny, and chilly, but since it was a clear day we could see for miles in all directions. It was a nice history refresh. Side note, if you’re a disabled veteran (recognized by the VA), you can receive a Lifetime Access Pass through the NPS. See the VA’s blog, VAntage Point for more information.
  • We dined with a group of friends at the The Helmand, which never disappoints. It was fun to share one of our favorite restaurants with friends. If you go with a group, order family style. You will not regret it.
  • We visited Andy’s sister and husband in the panhandle of Florida. It seems that we brought the rain from home with us, as we only had one sunny day. We still enjoyed visiting with them and walking along the beach at St. George Island. I even discovered an amazing beer called Death by Coconut that’s brewed by Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado. I’m obsessed with anything coconut.
  • We flew to lunch one afternoon on the Eastern Shore.
  • We toured the Holocaust Memorial Museum on DC on a warm and sunny Sunday. Afterwards, we grabbed lunch at a food truck, strolled the National Mall, and enjoyed some soft serve ice cream. The perspective difference between the DC memorial museum and the German Documentation Center and Nazi Rally Grounds that I blogged about in December was interesting. The DC museum presented everything through the eyes of those who endured and suffered the horrifying events of the Holocaust. The museum layout, artifacts, and video interviews of survivors paint a mosaic of personal accounts that really place the museum-goer in that time period. In contrast, the German museum detailed the Nazi rise to power, political circumstances, military prowess and reach, the building of the Nazi empire, and the Nuremburg trials in excruciating detail that was almost clinical. Needless to say, both visits, along with my childhood tour of Dachau, won’t be something I will ever forget.

* For pictures of some of these highlights, see my Instagram account.

Housekeeping

  • The Jeep is ready for it’s first cross country journey thanks to Andy.
  • I did some annoying household things, such as: organizing our pantry, going through holiday decorations, twice preparing donations to be picked up by GreenDrop, and cleaning and painting the baseboards in the main level bathroom and mudroom.
  • Andy began lawn treatments. Since we have been having an incredibly mild winter, weeds are already beginning to pop up. We’re trying to get ahead of those.
  • Andy reconfigured our internal network and has been finishing up the installation of some additional home security measures.
  • Stevie Mix had her teeth cleaned for the first time! No more doggy breath, and I’ve been continuing to brush her teeth regularly. I also visited the dentist for a check-up and cleaning, had an annual wellness exam and metabolic panels.
  • I purchased hiking shoes and a new ID tag for Stevie in preparation for our Montana trip.

Upcoming trips

  • March – Breckenridge, Colorado to ski and visit with dear friends, who have much to celebrate this year. I can’t even tell you how excited we both are for this trip.
  • April – Northern California for a memorial service to remember a friend’s wonderful mother, who left us far too soon. We plan to visit some of Andy’s longtime friends while we’re back in the bay area. I’m hoping we can squeeze in a hike at Muir Woods (one of my favorite places on Earth!) during this quick trip.
  • Late April – We will make our way to Montana with some stops and visits on the way. I plan to keep a running list of fuel expenses, pit-stops, and interesting things that we’re bound to see on the road, but I also want to keep a fun list too. If you have any suggestions for things we can count/note on our drive across country, let me know. For example, a tally of the number Airstreams (silver twinkies!), the number of dogs in cars, or a list of all the out-of-state license plates encountered.

xo

Gearing Up

This year promises to be a busy one for sure.

We finalized the 2-month rental in Montana last week, and Andy is nearly finished prepping the Jeep. We ordered and installed a weatherproof mat for the cargo area, and Andy swapped out half of the spark plugs on his own. The firewall and some other engine components prohibited him from replacing the ones on the driver’s side, so we ended up taking it in for service to finish the job. The shop was also able to complete a recall at the same time. The tires were just rotated in January, so the final to-dos include flushing and replacing the fluids and replacing the brake pads and rotors.

Mail Update

After a quite a bit of research regarding how to handle our mail when we’re gone, we settled on temporarily changing our address to a trusted friends’ residence. Even though there are several reputable virtual mailbox services out there, there were a number of reasons we decided to do it this way. I could probably write a book on the different services and our reasoning, but it simmers down to peace of mind and simplicity.

I wasn’t sure I could put complete trust in strangers opening, forwarding, destroying, and scanning our mail. I felt it was safer and easier to just forward our mail to friends for safekeeping. In the event that we need something forwarded to us, it can either be scanned and emailed to us, or mailed to our rental address. I plan to provide our friends with a stack of addressed envelopes and stamps. I set up the USPS mail forward online, which was super easy to do. I also have ‘Informed Delivery’ through USPS, which makes it easy for us to keep track of daily mail. Each morning, subscribers receive exterior envelope image scans of daily mail. You also get a list of tracking codes for any packages due. If you haven’t signed up for Informed Delivery yet, it’s worthwhile (and free!); you can do it here.

Just for curiosity’s sake, I started tracking how much first-class mail we actually receive in a given month. I wanted a number for future knowledge because monthly rates for some virtual mailboxes is dependent on volume. I’ve only been tallying first class, express, and priority mail though because junk, bulk, second class, and standard mail are not forwarded. We also reviewed all of our bank, investment, and service provider accounts to ensure that everything is paperless. By the way, when Andy called our ISP because he couldn’t find the option to go paperless on their site, they offered us a pretty great discounted rate on our service plan. Annual calls to providers, while annoying, may save you some money.

More on Montana

I began doing research on the Kalispell and Big Fork area last night. Specifically, I looked up nearby veterinarian hospitals, dog-friendly recreation areas, hiking spots, restaurants (I’ll be honest that food was the first thing I looked up), and shopping. I still need to make note of nearby hospitals and urgent care facilities. Our hostess must be on the same wavelength because she emailed me this morning with detailed check-in instructions and a list of favorite restaurants and scenic areas. I removed the recreation areas that were specified as only really known to locals, however, if you’re planning to visit Montana, send me a note.

Recreation Areas:

Serenity Falls/little Bitterroot Falls: 3-tiered waterfall you can walk behind; you can park at the dropped pin and you will see a gate that you can walk through, follow the trail downhill less than half a mile. 

Ashley Lake: the pin will take you to the public boat launch. If you keep driving past the launch, there is a campground. This is one of the most beautiful lakes with Caribbean blue water.

Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir: the pin will take you to the Dam, which at 564 feet high. Hungry Horse is one of the largest concrete arch dams in the US; its morning-glory spillway, with water cascading over the rim and dropping 490 feet, is the highest in the world. There are many beautiful spots along the reservoir to stop and check out the lake (about 50 miles of a dirt road that follows the lake).

Kootenai Falls: one of the most beautiful spots in Northwest Montana. There is a cable suspended swinging bridge, and the waterfalls are breathtaking (same waterfalls as seen in the movies The Revenant and The River Wild).

Everything Else

Trips

We still need to finalize dates for our annual trip to visit family in northern Michigan, but I’m thinking we’ll go in August or September. August is normally pretty hot in humid at home, so it may be a nice reprieve to go to then. We also have weddings to attend during the first two weekends of October, and I am so excited for both! Shout-out to the almost newlyweds!

Staying Active

This month we switched up our workout routine to improve conditioning with skiing in mind. We also continue to walk Stevie Mix in our neighborhood about 2 miles total each day, but over the past month or so we started to take her on weekly adventures, exploring different trails and parks. Depending on the weather and our plans for the day, we walk anywhere from 3 to 5 miles. So far we’ve visited: South Shore Trail, Patapsco State Park, Bacon Ridge Natural Area, Downs Park, and Fort Smallwood Park. I have a list of other state and local parks to check out, but suggestions are welcome!

Other Activities

Aside from that, we’ve been going through and shredding stacks of old documents, boxing up, and donating household goods and clothing. We’re getting medical appointments taken care of and on the books; Stevie Mix’s vet appointments have been scheduled. We’ve also been trying out new food spots and visiting old ones. Early in the month, we visited the Baltimore Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which had been on my list of places to see in Maryland for quite some time. We also got to spend a little bit of time with our Montana friends, who were in town for a quick visit. Last week, I was also able to meet with a friend for brunch that spilled over to a long conversation at a nearby Starbucks. Now that weather has cleared, we have plans to fly later this week. All and all, it has been productive month, but also filled with much appreciated downtime.

I hope you’re having a wonderful first month of 2020!

xo

Baltimore Conservatory:
*Additional photos here and here
Stevie Mix at Downs Park

Happy New Year!

This will be my last blog post.

Just kidding!

A few people have asked whether I plan to continue posting, and the answer is yes. I just haven’t had much to say until now.

Since my last post, Andy contracted my head cold (he recovered quickly and is fine now). In addition to that, the wet weather kept us inside. I have to admit, I was getting stir crazy and became quite grumpy (understatement). I started to feel like my days were consumed by endless chores and house projects. It was like being stuck in the movie Groundhog Day, but instead the time-loop being funny and entertaining, it was exhausting.

Prior to retirement, our Saturdays were largely filled with cleaning, chores, and house projects. We would often work from about 9 am until mid-afternoon. The rest of the weekend was reserved for fun and relaxation. My Groundhog Day time-loop became those pre-retirement Saturdays, and in addition to that, I was coming out of a post-holiday and travel fog. Around this time, it also finally started to sink in that I retired.

At first, retirement felt like a job that wouldn’t end because I over scheduled myself with tasks. I had to press pause and re-focus. What’s the point of retiring early, if you don’t slow down on the work front? I was on a fast-paced trajectory to burn myself out. Learning how to slow down is definitely going to take me some time.

Side note: In the midst of realizing I was overdoing it on the chores, I stumbled on an article: Three Theories for Why You Have No Time. The article mentions Parkinson’s Law, which essentially says that work expands to fill the available time. Such a simple concept, and it really resonated with me. I was so used to staying busy, that I filled my newfound time with work.

Okay, so now what?

Well, it’s 2020 for starters. I love the prospect of new beginnings. As the new year approached, I re-visited my list of retirement goals. I also took an honest look at my 2019 goals and evaluated my progress on those. I like to make changes to my goals lists as I go along. I try to check my progress quarterly, and I modify, add, or strike items as needed throughout the year. I also attempt to focus on small changes first. When I list out my goals, I often add an indented list with easier to obtain milestones. I find that I’m more likely to succeed, if I have a rough plan. For example, if your goal is to improve your overall health and fitness level, some of your subset goals might be to exercise a certain number of times a week, eat out less, meal plan, join an intramural sports league, walk more, etc.

Anyhow, I made a new list of 2020 goals, incorporating some of the 2019 items that I wanted to continue pursuing. With a better understanding of what I need to personally be happy, I started to make more time for myself. I also refocused a lot of my energy on health and fitness. We changed our workouts to include more conditioning exercises, started meditating daily, and hiking more often.

On the travel front, we planned out some of our trips for 2020. So far, we’re scheduled to visit family in Florida, spend time with friends in Colorado and ski in Breckenridge, and we found a long-term rental between Kalispell and Big Fork, Montana.

With regard to the rental, we figured full immersion for a longer period of time would be the best way get a sense of what a place is like. Since we’ve both been fixated on Montana being a place we might like to move to permanently, we decided to go there first. If we find that we don’t like it, we haven’t really risked anything but our time. Even then, it will be quite an adventure together. We didn’t want to go through the hassle of liquidating our belongings, selling our house, and spending a small fortune to move across the country simply based on only having spent maybe a week, or a few weekends, in a given place.

As we await the rental agreement and finalize dates, we’re already working on getting ready. Andy is going to make sure our vehicle is in good working order before we drive across country. He ordered new brake pads and spark-plugs yesterday. This morning I went through Stevie Mix’s vet records to check on any vaccinations and preventative meds that she’ll need before we go. We also need to start thinking about home upkeep and maintenance stuff, choosing a mail scanning or forwarding service, packing lists, researching the area we’ll be staying, and mapping out our travel route. There’s much more to do, but those are just the pieces on my mind at the moment. I have never driven across country, so this is going to be a new adventure for me.

I hope you’re all settling into 2020 well and planning some adventures of your own! Wishing you a healthy and happy new year!

xo

Gemütlichkeit

What a whirlwind! My final day at work was followed-up by a lovely Thanksgiving with good friends, the kind that blur the lines between friends and family.  A few days later, we were off to Germany! I don’t know if it was fatigue from a long day of traveling, but I felt a wave of emotion and nostalgia landing in Germany. Returning had been on my list for quite a while, and Germany has always held a special place in my heart.

For a bit of a backstory, I have so many childhood memories of being in Germany with my parents, brother, and paternal grandparents (Oma and Opa). My father was in the Army and was stationed in Germany twice. My brother was born in Augsburg, and some of my earliest memories are from our little Ansbach apartment. At a mere 18 months old, Germany was the first stamp in my passport. Later, during the 4 years we lived in Italy, we would often drive north to visit friends and see historical sites. I also always knew that my family had some German heritage, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that I was able to confirm that through DNA testing. In case you’re wondering, I’m apparently 21% German. Needless to say, I have been longing to return for decades, and I was not disappointed at all.

Germany in December is lovely and magical with all of the Christkindlmarkts, glühwein, twinkling lights, holiday decorations, seasonal baked goods, and visitors from around the world. It takes quite a bit to get me in the Christmas spirit, and this trip definitely got me pumped for the holidays. A week prior to leaving, I was actually shouting and skipping while walking Stevie Mix. It sounded something like, “CHRISTKINDLMARKTS! Cinnamon! Glühwein! Spiced nuts!” If that doesn’t say Christmas spirit, and perhaps slight insanity, I don’t know what does.

Since it would be too much to catalog what we did each day, I’ve outlined some of the highlights and things that I found surprising. Photos are posted on my Instagram account, and you don’t need a personal account to view them. I plan to add more there in the coming days.

Highlights

  • All of the food! Schnitzel, spätzle, bier, pulled doughnuts, apfelstrudel, glühwein, venison, bratwurst, spiced nuts, curry, and amazing Turkish food. I could go on and on about the food. One evening Andy and I ventured out to RamenCado, and shared a table with a nice German couple, Miro and Suzie, along with their 7-month old puppy, Lucy. Andy ordered the chicken curry on Miro’s suggestion, and we were not disappointed. It was some of the best curry we’ve ever had. It’s also really nice to share a meal with locals when traveling. It’s a great way to learn about the culture and sights in an unfamiliar place.
  • Inner City Express (ICE) high speed rail from Nuremburg to Munich – Incredibly quiet and cozy inside. These trains can travel at 300 kmh or 186.4 mph. We clocked ours at about 155 mph. We were in Munich before we knew it!
  • The Siegestor or Victory Gate – Built in 1852, and damaged during WWII, the arch was to be demolished in 1945. However, it was partially restored. This was one of my must-see items, and our group obliged me. We took a lovely 2-mile walk from our Airbnb, over water, and through a nice park, to reach it.

Surprising Things

  • Mostly everyone speaks English. At least, we learned from Miro that everyone under the age of 50 usually speaks English because it became part of the curriculum in German schools. We were prepared to rely on Google translate, and we even learned some basic German before going, but most people voluntarily spoke to us in English. I was actually a bit disappointed. I looked forward to learning more German, and I also was looking toward the challenge of trying to communicate. Funny enough, I was commonly mistaken for Italian. Quite often a vendor or shopkeeper would send me off with a hearty, “ciao!” I often would respond to them in German just to throw them off.
  • The post WWII building restorations were astounding. I was particularly struck by the photograph hanging in Nuremburg’s Frauenkirche (“Church of Our Lady”) that showed a completely gutted structure post bombings. Today, it stands restored in all of its Gothic glory.
  • I visited Dachau concentration camp when I was about 9 years old, so I expected an emotionally taxing day when we decided to go to the Documentation Center and Nazi Rally Grounds. What I didn’t anticipate was how large the grounds themselves were, even though only a small portion of the buildings had actually been completed before the war began. It is difficult to imagine what it would have taken to finish building, as many materials were sourced from forced labor in camps. The self-guided tour was incredibly detailed, explaining the perfect storm that led to Hitler’s rise. By the time we reached the Nuremburg Trials portion of the museum, I was exhausted. It was still worth a visit, and I learned a great deal. We plan to follow-up with a visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC sometime soon.
  • Public transport in Munich runs like a well-oiled machine, and there are many options to get around without using a car. There were also more bikes than I expected. Dedicated bike lanes were typically on sidewalks. You have to be very careful about not stepping into the lanes since only a painted line separates pedestrian and cycling traffic. We even saw a very large two-tiered bike rack to park bikes in Munich. I wish I had taken a picture.
  • We didn’t see any accidents or disabled motorists on the Autobahn, or anywhere actually.
  • Dogs! Dogs! And more dogs! We saw well-behaved dogs everywhere in Munich, and they were often just trotting around, sans leash, behind their owner(s). I did remember dogs in restaurants from my childhood in Germany, but I didn’t recall seeing them without leashes on the streets. We got strange looks if we stopped to fawn over a particular dog. In fact, the dogs themselves seemed indifferent to attention. Of course, it still didn’t break my habit of exclaiming, “puppy!” each time I saw a new dog.
  • I’ve never visited an Olympic park. While I expected it would be quite large, I really couldn’t believe the scale. I felt really small standing in Munich’s Olympic Park, which was constructed for the 1972 summer games. We got some great photos from a high vantage point that overlooked the grounds, and we also had a nice, brisk walk.
  • The greenery was amazing. Even with overnight freezing temperatures, we saw blooming and vibrant plants all around the city and on the tables in restaurants.
  • The Munich Krampus run is extremely popular. I could only catch a glimpse perched on Andy’s shoulders. If you ever plan to see this, arrive early.

Accommodations

Both of our hosts were incredibly helpful. They met us on the day of our arrival, walked us through the unit, and provided us with a wealth of information about things to do and the surrounding area. We were also within walking distance of public transportation, food, and a grocery store for both stays.

Side Note on Customs

Leading up to the trip, we both paid for Global Entry. I think Andy’s application fell through the cracks because he’s still waiting. However, he downloaded the free Mobile Passport app on his phone to get through customs, and he beat me by 3-5 minutes.

Returning Home

The fact that I resigned from my job 19 days ago still hasn’t sunk in yet. I expect that realization to fully hit me in January when everyone goes back to work. The day or two before we flew home, I was mentally running down all of the things I would need to tackle at the office when I went back to work, and then I realized I wasn’t going back. Talk about a very strange feeling.

I had grand plans of taking the time before the holidays as personal time. I wanted to get back to my work outs, start yoga again, bake Christmas treats, and visit friends. However, I woke up on the last day of vacation with a sore throat, and I knew what would come next. Add in a return flight that lasted over 8 hours due to a strong headwind the entire way, and the end result was as expected–a lovely head cold. What a nice parting gift! I’m still recovering. In fact, a week later, my ears are just now beginning to pop and I’m finally regaining my energy.

That said, I’ve been somewhat immobile over the last week. We did make some headway in downsizing things around the house, and we also did the typical things one does when returning home from a long trip: laundry, tending to plants, grocery shopping, catching up on email, and cleaning. We also finished our holiday cards, decorating, and shopping. In addition, we celebrated Andy’s birthday soon after coming back. I presented him with a bier stein that I had successfully purchased at the Munich Residences and transported without his knowledge. We had a low-key day, celebrating by having lunch at the best Cuban restaurant around and then browsing books at Barnes and Nobel. A few days later, we continued celebrations with a group dinner at delicious Turkish restaurant that also features belly dancing. You can see why it has been a whirlwind. I know that once things settle, normalizing our schedules will be key to getting things done and staying sane.

While spending more time together was a big driver for me to stop working now, we both agreed that personal development was also very important to both of us. We acknowledged that setting personal goals and having personal time would be critical to our own well-being and happiness. We also knew that planning and structure would be helpful in achieving our personal and joint goals. To assist in that endeavor, we’re both still keeping day timers. Mine is a simplified bullet journal where I write down thoughts, plans, and to-do items in; Andy’s is a plain Moleskine Cahier journal. Right now, we are keeping a relatively structured day to just get our bearings back after this trip. We’ve been starting the days off with coffee and reading in the morning, breakfast, a long walk for Stevie, and then we tackle projects (personal and household) for the day. We break for lunch, and then we’re back to our projects, another long walk for Stevie, a late afternoon workout, dinner, and then tv/reading/games. I expect that our days will change depending on what projects we’re working on. Also, our time is meant to be flexible. It would be no fun to retire early, if we still kept schedules like we’re going to the office daily. I also expect that our days will change seasonally, as our outdoor activities change with the weather.

Stay tuned for future plans and updates on how we’re adjusting (mainly me—it seems Andy has this whole retirement thing nailed down already). I don’t expect to post again before the holidays, so I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus! I hope that it’s full of laughter, tasty treats, and new memories with loved ones.

xo

It’s Official

I’m retired.

I can’t quite believe it myself. I know it’s going to be a huge adjustment, and I’m looking forward to the adventures and challenges that this next chapter will most certainly bring. It’s not lost on me that this opportunity is a gift. A dear colleague’s wife said, “she is the luckiest of them all.” That definitely resonates, and I hope that I never take it for granted.

So, how did this happen?

A few milestones led us here. In 2015, Andy sold his company and considered retiring then. He was ready, but I felt like I had much more to do at work, and, quite frankly, I was scared of such a drastic change. So, Andy took on another position, I continued down my own career path, and we temporarily shelved our idea of packing up and moving somewhere quieter.

We were ambling along, saving, keeping an eye on our finances, dreaming of finding our forever home one day, and having some adventures along the way. And then, something shifted. I’m not quite sure exactly when it was, but we mutually agreed that Andy would retire by the end of this year (2019). We tossed around a lot of ideas, and brainstormed about what our next chapter might look like. Our long-term goals really came into focus this past summer. Andy’s official retirement date was set for 1 October, and I planned to continue working into mid-2020.

It all seemed surreal to me. It still does. My inner voice was shouting at me, “you can’t retire! You’re not even 40!” However, as Andy’s retirement date approached, I found myself at an impasse. I started to wonder why I had set an arbitrary date for the summer of 2020 to leave my job. I felt I was wasting time in not spending it with him. I knew that we could afford for me to leave my job. In fact, working into the next tax year didn’t actually benefit us–especially when we considered our time.

Time…

I think about time a lot. Time is actually what led me to start this blog. I want to remember this process, and update loved ones, but I also want to hear from folks about what they would do with their time in my position. Or, from those already retired, to hear how they spend their days.

Time is our most precious commodity in life, and no one knows how much of it they have. Andy and I are 18 years apart. I didn’t want to look back and regret not taking the opportunity to spend more time with him while we are both young, asked to live together without the constraints of a 9-5 job. I also want to be more present and involved in the lives of those we love and cherish, to explore the world, and to hopefully still make a meaningful impact in this world.

I also resolved that I didn’t want to be paralyzed by fear of the unknown once again. I was afraid to pull up chocks in 2015, and I nearly did it again. I was not going to regret missing this opportunity for a second time. So, yesterday was my last day of work. I chose Thanksgiving because it has always been a time of reflection for me. Coincidentally, when I did the math, I found that 38 was also the amount of days between my 38th birthday and what would’ve been my next work day after Thanksgiving break. Neat!

Now what?

I’m really looking forward to refocusing my life purpose, and hopefully making a positive impact on the world – no matter how small. I’d like to volunteer, read and write more, improve my overall fitness level through yoga and continuing to lift, and spend more time with those I care about. Simply stated, our immediate goal is to LIVE! Andy has already been enjoying his time by taking long bike rides and in learning how to play acoustic guitar. Together we intend to travel, complete house projects, and significantly downsize the things we have.

Our long term goal over the next year and some change is to figure out where our Narnia is, and to make plans to relocate there. We expect to rent a small place for a couple months and do full immersion in a place before we make a decision. Right now, we’re looking out west to Montana, Oregon, or Wyoming. There’s also the possibility of Asheville, NC or Shenandoah, VA. At some point within the past two years, our mantra became John Muir’s famous quote, “the mountains are calling and I must go.” I imagine we’ll move somewhere with changing seasons, and mountain views. Stay tuned on that front; it’s going to be an adventure!

xo