Spirit of Christmas, through a child’s eyes

Yesterday, we were headed to the Seattle airport to fly to Denver. Christmas in Colorado is always a good thing, and Christmas with our son is even better.

This was a year to celebrate early with the Littles to accommodate shared family time.

I was riding in the back seat with Riley, watching her draw a holiday scene with six-year-old skill, the faces of her stick figures showing that charming combination of cartoon, and child-view of what humans really look like. (Hint, they have very big eyes.)

She was absorbed in her drawing, the others in the car were caught up in their conversations.

Something caught her eye, and looking out the window, she said, “I see homeless!” We were driving past the over-passes in the downtown of Seattle, and you can often spot tents and temporary shelters that homeless folk have set up. Riley has seen those tents before, has a child’s concept of what “homeless” means.

She looked at me with troubled eyes. “Are some children homeless?”

Yes, I was honest with her. There are many homeless children.

She grew quiet, looked thoughtful.

“I want to have homeless children come to my house for Christmas.”

I didn’t try to tell her that’s not really practical, or even possible. I saw it, in a flash of her six-year-old eyes. I saw awareness that she had more than some, and that awareness triggered a generous impulse. It was the impulse of a child, who doesn’t understand the complexities of social issues, or logistics, or the cost of anything.

She just wanted to help children who are less fortunate.

Like many Americans of my station in life, I worry a bit. Especially this time of year. I can’t help but wonder if Riley and Jack will be spoiled, the product of well-intentioned family and parents, who want to give them a good life.

It’s easy to give to the point of doing damage, and while my daughter and her husband are thoughtful about the gifts they give the Littles, they can’t control everyone around them. The reality is that many American children have too much stuff, but not enough of the right stuff.

Seeing Riley’s face, looking out the window, thinking about homeless children who will not wake up to a warm and merry Christmas, I felt reassured for her. She’s getting it, the real meaning of the holiday, which is all about giving…the ultimate gift.

And it made me think…what if adults could be more focused on just doing what needs doing, less caught up in the political / social / financial aspects of reaching out? Yes, I understand that it’s easy to talk about doing for others, but the moment you begin to think about how, you’re confronted with difficult realities. Which is probably why most people, myself included, are usually contented with giving money to charities, and tell ourselves we’ve done our part.

Riley made me think about that in a different way. This year, I want to be more hands-on. I don’t know what that could look like. But I think it could be good.

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You never know what seemingly insignificant moments will impact life. I couldn’t guess, sitting beside Riley yesterday, if that moment will stay with her, shape her in years to come. Maybe. Maybe not.

But I think it was a moment that will stay with me. It was a moment when a child reminded me, in the midst of Christmas travel and gifting and busy-ness, what we should really be about…not out of guilt or pressure, but because sharing with those who have less is the right thing to do. I know that, and I practice that. But Riley reminded me that at least some component of giving should be done in person. That’s when we know the real meaning of sharing…when we connect face to face.

I shared this story to encourage, not to guilt, and to promise myself that I want to give differently. So much of my giving is convenient, sanitary, impersonal. There is value to giving money, I don’t want to minimize that. But I want to acknowledge, it’s not really personal.

Thank you, Riley, for the Christmas lesson, though you weren’t aware it meant anything to me.

And I thought she was the one learning the lessons of life!

Blessings, peace, and Merry Christmas!

~ Sheila

 

 

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Sometimes you need to be still…

For two years I’ve lived out of a suitcase. Two years.

I never saw that coming.

The past two years, since we sold the house in Ketchikan, we’ve worked in small communities in SE Alaska, lived in temporary duty clinic housing, and traveled.

We’ve traveled a lot.

And that’s been good. We’ve traveled for work and traveled for fun, spent time with family and friends, and seen some amazing places. We sorted through a lot of stresses, a lot of questions, as individuals, and as a couple.

We didn’t really have a plan when this chapter began. We just sort of fell into this life. Mostly we couldn’t decide what we wanted, where we wanted to make a home again. We still haven’t decided. And the thing about Alaska is, there’s always plenty of work. It’s easy to ride the circuit of clinics, spending a few weeks or a month at a time, take a break, then make the rounds again. It’s easy to stay busy when you can’t make a decision.

But as of this month, we’re creating a hub again.

We didn’t buy a house, or settle on our “happily ever after” place. We haven’t retired, and we’re not working full-time either.

One of the locations where we’ve worked on a regular basis has individual clinic housing available that we can use with a limited commitment, so we’re taking the offer of housing, more stability, and a space to unpack, for the first time in a long time.

My personal commitment to Alaska is on the horizon. I have roughly four years to go to my next decade, and that’s the timeline I’m working with.

While I’m slightly giddy about seeing my Kitchen Aid again, spreading out, and having access to all my wardrobe in one place, this decision also serves other needs.

There’s no doubt we’ll be here more regularly, even though I expect we’ll still be working in other locations on occasion. It will be good to have a part in adding stability to this clinic. We’re not indispensable…no one is…but we have a contribution to make.

The other thing I’ve realized is: I need some stillness in my life.

In the past year I wrote a book, launched a site, I’m creating an online course, and I’m developing webinars and videos. All of it was done between working in three different locations, traveling back and forth cross-country, and trying to make sure I had the right clothes for the right season and occasion in my trusty roller bags.

Some days I’m disheartened because I have so much I want to do, and I feel so slow at accomplishing.

I finally recognized I’m never going to progress unless I slow down and carve out some space, and time. I’ve been telling myself if I’m focused, if I want to take my online work to the next level, I just have to try harder, be more determined.

What I really need is to slow down a bit. I need to be in the same place for more than two weeks at a stretch. I need to spend more time writing, and less time packing.

I need to set up my little home studio and leave it in place, rather than trying to cart it around with me. I need to use the timeline I set for Alaska as the timeline for my personal work goals as well.

Even as I write this, we’ve got more travel lined up for the fall. But I think the difference is in my mindset. There’s a place in this home that’s just right for a little creative nook, and I’m excited to have more time to invest in the work I’ve committed to.

So much about the last decade has been unexpected. To be honest, that pretty much sums up my experience of Alaska. Unexpected. Some good, some not-so-good. But this is a twist I hope will be in the first category.

And maybe my roller bags will get a well-earned break. 🙂

~ Sheila

 

 

Cross-pollination

Hawaii

We’re spending the month far away from Alaska, in Hawaii. Time away from our “norm” opens doors to thought and helps me take stock of our current life model. This is where I spell out the way it works for us, and can work for others.

Some of my life’s work is to be a cautionary tale, and I’ve written about that. Hopefully, another role is to be a light house, to share thoughtfully, and to encourage readers to think outside the box…to see opportunity and find flexibility.

There’s nothing wrong with having a “traditional” life with all the trimmings, and we had that for many years…kids, jobs, house, cars, pets…all good. In fact, all wonderful.

But empty nesting is a new chapter, and brings new opportunity. For some, it may not be about empty-nesting. Maybe your opportunity to live outside the box is pre-children, or roaming the globe as a single. Maybe you’re in retirement years and looking for new adventure.

Whatever your path, your choices, likely there are more options that you’re aware of. I find new ideas all the time…unique ways folks are living, working, traveling, and paying for life on the go.

What about you? Have you found new ways to integrate life and work, vacation and the every-day? I’d love to hear about it! And check out the link above for details on how we’re doing it!

~ Sheila

Homeless by design

We’ve entered a new era, a new adventure. We’re officially homeless, with no new address in sight.

The transition began in the fall of 2014 when we sold our last house and moved our remaining belongings to storage. We’ve lived since then out of a combination of roller bags, back packs, temporary work housing, camping, visiting with family, and the occasional VRBO (vacation rental by owner).

Now we’ve removed the camping element, turning the travel trailer over for consignment sale. We sold my car in December, and Rob’s truck last weekend. They were mostly living in storage.

Between us we have keys for our mailbox, and keys to temporary duty housing in Alaska.

We have no idea how long this will last, or where our next permanent landing place will be. For now, it’s enough that we know the schedule for the next few months. We’ll connect with family, work a bit, travel, experience, and manage the routines of life. All without a home, or vehicles.

You wouldn’t know, to look at me, that this would be a choice I would make. I remind myself that life is about seasons, and this is just a different season than I’ve experienced before. If much of my life has been about nesting and the pleasures of making a home, this chapter is about living, literally, outside the box, stretching myself in ways I could only imagine before, improvising, serendipity, the pleasures of the moment.

Some of this we’ve chosen, other pieces have just evolved.

In many ways the living is easy.

The benefits?

I don’t have to schedule maintenance on anything or keep up with a yard. I don’t have to do much cleaning these days. We have no house payment, no car payment. (To be honest, we were done with those payments before we sold the cars or the house, but it’s still good to know.) We keep an non-owner auto policy that gives us insurance coverage for rental cars, and we maintain a mailing address so we can receive the few pieces of actual mail that come our way. We have a monthly storage fee on a one-car garage size unit, which we occasionally access to switch out clothes or seasonal items.

When we travel, we’re not locked into a specific destination…no returning to an RV or one location. We plan to use this time to explore and check off places on our must-see lists.

We get to try a variety of vehicles on for size. We did the math. We can rent a car for about three months of the year before we cross the line of spending more than we would spend annually on insurance and vehicle maintenance and storage fees. When we work, transportation is provided, so we don’t need to rent during that time. Depending on where we’re staying when we’re not working, we may or may not need a vehicle. And even if we end up spending more in rental / shuttle / cab fees than we would typically spend to own, there’s still tremendous flexibility.

Making these choices helped us purge, clean out, and really consider which possessions are important, necessary, and worth keeping. In particular, I, lover of my stuff, have done a lot of soul searching as I think about what I need to hold, and what I need to release.

It’s not always easy, but the freedom is amazing.

The drawbacks?

I sometimes miss a sense of home that is familiar and inviting. Clinic housing tends to be functional and comfortable, but it isn’t homey. It isn’t beautiful. And it isn’t mine. Hotel or vacation rentals are generally comfortable and even inviting, but of course they don’t feel like “home.” Family spaces are certainly familiar and homey, but that’s a different experience as well.

None of this is bad, as much as it is different.

Our littles won’t know what it’s like to visit our home, at least for a while. It’s already been too long since we were settled for them to remember visiting us in the last house we had. We see them at their house, or when we connect elsewhere. That’s fun, but different too.

I miss my things, sometimes. I mostly miss my kitchen. I know everything is safely stored away, awaiting the next nest. But I don’t know the date of “next.” There’s no move-in date on my calendar to plan toward, yet.

The cautions?

You must be good at planning ahead to live like this. We can be spontaneous with our time off, but when we’re working, (we work about half the year) we have to commit to that schedule far enough in advance to arrange travel. Usually we’re planning two to three months out. There are a lot of logistics issues to keep up with.

We’re thoughtful about how much and how often we land on family. We don’t want anyone to get tired of seeing us, and we don’t want to be a burden or take advantage of family because we’re choosing to live like this. This is our choice, not our family’s. That means when we visit, we pay for a lot of things…meals, or gas, or help with whatever we can, and we don’t stay too long. A few days is usually about right.

There are some oddities about living this way. It’s hard to give a short answer when someone asks where we live. It’s challenging to schedule some things…dental cleanings and haircuts, health care, tax prep…sometimes we’re in the right place when one of these services is due, and sometimes not. Just another area of life that makes careful planning essential.

So far I’ve been able to keep up with the right clothes for the right season / climate, haven’t found myself in a summer location with winter clothes in my suitcase. But it’s only a matter of time, I’m sure. So far, our luggage has kept up with us, every step of the way, every flight. Nothing lost or damaged. But it’s only a matter of time, I’m sure.

Of course we’re not the only people on the planet living an unconventional lifestyle. A lot of people are nomads, my husband’s term of choice. I sometimes think about trying to chronicle all the stories, the lessons I’ve learned from living like this. Maybe I’ll do it. Right now I’m busy juggling work and new site, new book in final pre-print phase, personal travel, work travel, the occasional blog post, staying connected to family and friends.

One of these days we’ll land again, unpack, get into a routine. One of these days..

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost