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Photo Essay from the Big Island

People on the Lost Coast were posting photos of the snow and rain on Facebook. I got cold just looking at ’em. The thought of going back right now with our one little propane heater, the un-insulated yurt, outhouse (in pouring rain, it’s beyond my sense of adventure), and well, the 700 round feet of being contained during bad weather in the yurt itself doesn’t fill me with as much unabashed glee as say, this does:

Lovely, warm water.

Soft sand.

Sun.

Happy, device-free children.

I get so sick of devices; they drive me crazy and yet I don’t know what to do without them when we have sucktastic weather at home.

I love the kids just playing in the water.

I’ve gotta say: I don’t think there is anything besides the ocean/swimming/the beach in which EVERYONE in my family is happy and content just hanging out, being together, not whining or complaining or wanting to do something else.

You know?

I love the crisp, cold air of the Lost Coast (in any season except summer) and I love the humidity that I was raised in, growing up in Fiji, Hawaii, Japan and to a lesser extent, Taiwan. I love moist, hot air. I know, I know, that probably makes me a freak, but I really do.

My skin always feels better, my hair definitely looks better. And somehow I always feel this sense of excitement with humidity, like something awesome is about to happen.

like some shave ice!

living the good life.

My mom has rented a place in Waimea, and let us crash her pad. We’re so grateful!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Big Island, Waimea is the colder part. It’s super green and lush, with cows, horses, cowboys and ranches.

From this playground in Waimea, we could see snow on the tips of Mauna Loa in the back. It’s the quintessential Big Island ad – ‘the island where you can go skiing and surfing in the same day!

Mikey couldn’t get over the enormous changes in the weather on the island, within just 20 minutes or so of driving.

I found myself getting all proud of my island, in that way that you get proud of the cool features of anywhere you’ve lived before. ‘Yeah, the Big Island has everything except tundra!

I appreciate this place now in a way that I never did when I was a teenager, coming here from Fiji.

I hated it. I loathed it. I was pissed off about living in Hawaii and I couldn’t wait to leave.

Oh yeah. I mean, it’s sort of understandable. I had friends in Fiji, I went to a really good school. My brother Dana and I had a great little business baking pumpkin bread and we made money, had autonomy to do things and bikes to get around (as well as a great bus system in Suva). In Fiji, I was still white (definitely a minority), but I had been there so long, it wasn’t a big deal.

In Hawaii, I was also a minority, WHITE and it was huge. Groups of kids felt segregated by race in school.

Dana and I couldn’t make money the way we did in Fiji (until Dana turned 15, the legal age to work, and he got a regular job for himself and also a newspaper job, which he gave to me – I did the work, but in his name, and he gave me the money).

Everything was way too far away to bike everywhere (it seemed), it seemed like everyone was at the mall (ugh) and there wasn’t a public transportation system.

I HATED IT.

But now… I’m 43. Things in my life have changed.

I look at things differently and appreciate things that didn’t matter so much to me before. Like beaches.

Big Island Photo Essay

and great weather in early March!

Heck, it’s great weather here most of the time.

I appreciate being able to spend time with my mom

And watch Micah drink in tropical gorgeousness and have fun with photos

I’m a mom now. It’s different. I’m a wife and a daughter. I’ll always also be a sister, to my brother who has moved on.

My world is different than it was when I was a teenager, and in that, Hawaii is a wonderful place to be.

All y’all know I live off the grid, right? “Off the grid” only means that we live off of the power grid. Someone could ostensibly be living “off the grid” in New York City if they were living off of the main power grid there. What I REALLY mean to say when I say that we live “off the grid” is that besides providing for all of our own power needs, besides getting our internet via a satellite dish and besides having no telephone reception whatsoever, we live WAAAAAAAAAAY the hell out there! I mean, UPS and FedEx won’t deliver to us, and neither will USPS. Our closest neighbors are two miles away. We live waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay the hell out there by LOST COAST standards, and the Lost Coast is in itself waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay the hell out there.

We live in a yurt that is like slightly glorified camping. Our sink is balanced on some plywood supports, every item we use in the “house” is on it’s last legs (- we don’t want to really invest in anything until the inside drywall and flooring is done, but that’s another post). Cutlery? What my mom gave us! Dishes? Whatever’s unbreakable from Costco! Sofa? Um… carpet! Toilet? Outhouse! We *do* have running water (and it’s amazing water, coming straight from our own water springs). And we’ve got hot water too!

But it’s pretty basic up here in a lot of ways. It’s life off the grid.

So, yeah… CAMPING!

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-1-2It’s weird for us.

The whole concept is sort of hilarious, really, when you think about it, right?!

I mean, you drive for hours and hours.

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Meriah Nichols San Simeon-6You see some cool towns that time forgot if you are lucky!

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-5You get to the campground and wait in line with everyone else who wants to rent a small piece of earth and erect temporary shelters right next to one another.

And you get to use porta-potties! Sometimes pay showers! Little grill things to make a fire in – and lets not forget the asphalt spaces for car parking!

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-4It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?!

We were going to hang out with one of my besties, Katie, and meet her friend, Corinne.

We were all bringing a kid or three, coming from various parts of California, and hadn’t seen each other for a long time.

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Meriah Nichols San Simeon-12I forgot to bring the hot dogs. And the plates. And the bowls.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-3If Katie hadn’t brought these, we would all have been eating directly out of the pot!

Good thing for Katie.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-38I met Katie in my late 20’s. I was in Taiwan to see my brother Dana, and I had stopped over in Taipei to visit my friend Liz. Who was friends with Katie. It turned out that both Katie and I were getting ready to move to the San Francisco Bay Area (she from Taipei, and me, from Tokyo).

She and I connected when we both actually moved, and then became good friends. Which was what, a whole life time ago. Back when her job singing and waitressing at Max’s in SF was super sweet, I was an elder caregiver and we both loved partying wherever, whenever we could.

Pre-husbands. Pre-kids. Pre-adulting.

It’s amazing how much can change in 1o years, isn’t it? I mean, think of it. 1o years ago, Obama wasn’t even known, Donna Summer was still alive and iPhones didn’t exist. But some things never change and one thing that hasn’t changed about Katie is her adorable Midwestern sensibility and charming customs. Like this:

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-33“Banana Boat”

Take a fresh banana. Slice it open, and gently place a smattering of chocolate chips inside.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-34Then mini-marshmallows.

Wrap tight in tin foil and roast it over the fire.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-32Open and ooooooooh!

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-31I really liked her friend Corinne too. She was super chill, with good vibes and knows how to build some solid fires.

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Meriah Nichols San Simeon-40We had a blast. And tuned Zootopia on for when us moms really wanted to hang out with each other.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-6-3Right when the kids were in the tent quietly watching the show, a guy from the camp next door came over and apologized for being loud, told Katie and Corinne to holla if it got to be too much, and Katie said something like, “see all those little shoes outside that tent?!!”

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-36Camping with Kids

The Junior Ranger program is one of the best things about camping with kids. Or just going to a campground in general. It’s really pretty awesome. My two little ones weren’t all that into it after half an hour – they are still just too young – but Micah was, and so were Katie and Corinne’s boys.

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Meriah Nichols San Simeon-8-3I swear, if I was an animal, I’d be an elephant seal. Lie on the beach all day and kind of blub.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-2Meriah Nichols San Simeon-1S’mores.

S’mores. Because Katie Makes Things Happen. After a lifetime of, “sure! we can make s’mores!” then “oh no, it’s too late, I don’t want you going to bed with all that sugar in you…maybe tomorrow…“coming from me, my kids were THRILLED. Like, thrilled in the incredulous way – “is this really happening? Are we REALLY going to get ’em?”

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-30Meriah Nichols San Simeon-29Meriah Nichols Camping with Kids in San Simeon-26And hot chocolate with mini marshmallows.

Micah set up the camp stove for me, and then urged me to make coffee for myself, “I think you need your coffee more than I need my hot chocolate, mommy.” I’m sure it was true, but what made him say that??? Was I shaking?? Frothing at the mouth? Snappy and wild-eyed?!

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-25He was mad about something. What was it? I dunno. Hard to keep track. Maybe I didn’t roll his sleeve up precisely one and a half times?

Meriah Nichols Camping with KidsI did, however, give him the blueberry bar that he wanted! Look at his reaction.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-3-2They were trying to cheer him up. Three year olds… man, they are worse than menopausal ladies in the throes of a hotflash and hormone swing.

Meriah Nichols San Simeon-4-2We wrapped up our awesome trip and headed north on Highway 1.

Hopefully next year Katie and Corinne will come camping in my back yard – where I am, there isn’t a line to get in (because most people don’t even know where the entrance is!). Where I am, people tell me that it’s completely quiet at night (once the kids are asleep). Where I am, the star-filled night sky begins at your feet when you are in an open space, and people lift their hands off of their steering wheel in greeting as they drive past you.

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Meriah Nichols San Simeon-1-5 .

 

I don’t even know where to start! I guess I’ll just jump on in.

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9 more ducks arrived before we left! NINE! That brings our count to 14. Which is kind of funny when you consider that we never planned on having ducks, at all. I hope they are going to be okay.

Meriah Nichols -1We headed on down to the Bay Area, a total breeze. I kept wanting to take notes in my head for a post on how much easier it is to travel with a partner – what a piece of cake potty breaks are, how peachy absolutely everything is. I had it all written in my head, but of course I forgot it after we arrived.

Meriah Nichols -5This is Mack and Moxie at Mikey’s grandma’s house – they are drawn to everything they can break. We didn’t stay too long. But long enough to spend some time with his grandma, auntie and uncle. We really love them.

Meriah Nichols -2Meriah Nichols -3 Meriah Nichols -4Mikey’s grandma is 92 years old, the same age as my Grandpa Jack:

Meriah Nichols -10My family got together (- meaning, my brother Dana drove down with 3 of his kids, his daughter in law and his grandson) to celebrate his birthday

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my nieces and one of my nephews
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my mom and her great-grandson!
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my adorable nephew, his lovely lady and their baby of pure deliciousness

Meriah Nichols -8 Meriah Nichols -9 Meriah Nichols -6It was laid back, but awesome because we never have enough time together.

Here are more photos!

my brother, Dana. And me
my brother, Dana. And me
my eldest niece, Yu Han
my eldest niece, Yu Han

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New York made so much sense to me.

I mean, what better place can you imagine to take a vacation to, when you live off the grid in a yurt, have an outhouse, an outdoor shower, your nearest neighbors are in the vicinity of the next mountain away… and in which you actually eat bear and wild boar?

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Right, exactly.

And no small piece of that was my friend Helena living there, and really wanting to spend time with her, her husband and get to know her daughter. So New York it was.

_DSC5686 _DSC5693 _DSC5695 _DSC5714Choicest vacation spot, ever.

We drove on down to the Bay Area to take off, and spent time with my good friend, Stefanie and her family.

Her son has been friends with Micah since they were babies.

_DSC5727_DSC5736 _DSC5739 _DSC5748Or at least we think they were friends. Stefanie and I would sort of prop them up and they’d look at one another in that interested way that babies have, but that’s really as much as we know (for a fact). But I like saying they have been friends since they were babies, so is it okay if we stick to that?

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Stefanie and I had a total blast at the Mac store.
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Moxie did, too.

I can never get enough of that place. In my next life, I want to be a makeup artist!

We also went swimming and got to see Sarah, another good friend, and my Grandpa Jack and my mom. And we got ready-set prepared for NYC

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Which would be me, the double stroller, the kids and a couple of hella long flights

 

This post has been a long time coming. I think one thing I want to be clear about is that we are not rig people, per se. We don’t exclusively stay in campgrounds or boondock, never have. We enjoy staying in hostels, hotels and motels, we like the break from driving and getting to know an area by foot.

I was a backpacker traveler for most of my life; both Mikey and I are third culture kids, and all of it shapes how we travel as a family. We like going local. We avoid expat stuff. We think the point of traveling is to learn about and enjoy experiences that are completely different, so we try to go there, and do not gravitate towards what is most like home.

A little history so you can see how we’ve evolved?

 Our Rigs:

 1. ’94 F150 4×4 Supercab with Campershell and Truck Tent

This is what we first used to travel and camp around Baja. Mikey built a bed/storage area in the camper shell and we attached a truck tent to the truck.

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The set up worked well.

r2Except for when it was windy or rainy, then it just miserably sucked. The last time that happened, around Cabo Pulmo, was when we were looking at the people camping next to us in their hard-sided something-or-other, all warm and snug and eating hot food (while we shivered and scarfed down cold tortilla with peanut butter and jam) and we were all…. Oh yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah. That’s what we are getting!

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  1. ’89 F350 4×4 with 4 Doors, custom side boxes and ’85 Alaskan PopUp Camper and SOLAR PANELS

This was a good set up. We were broke when we assembled it all, but we had time on our side, so slowly, surely we got it all done for a pittance. Flatbed for the truck was $150, Alaskan PopUp was a steal at $600. Truck was $800. Time that Mikey spent fixing it all up and wiring the solar panels while I went crazy watching 3 kids solo = priceless.

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This was a great for going places – we could get anywhere with it. But we had too much stuff on us, since we were carrying everything we owned.

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With setting up that took over an hour, it got old.

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  1. ’95 F350 4×4 with 4 Doors. ’85 Alaskan PopUp camper with solar panels. ’56 Benroy Teardrop.

For this particular assemblage, we had more money than we had in the past, but no time to pull things together.

We bought the teardrop at the last minute because we realized we were going to be SQUASHED, and since we didn’t have the time to transfer the flatbed or the custom boxes to this truck, we didn’t have an outdoor kitchen anymore (this is crucial for us since we like to wake up before the kids and drink coffee in the dark together). The teardrop provides the outdoor kitchen, some extra play space and another small room.

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This configuration… was the best we could do given the time we had to get ready, but it’s WAY too small for us. I mean, we like traveling small and light but this is honestly too small. The Alaskan is perfect for 2 adults, not 2 adults, 3 small kids and 1 labrador retriever.

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We have fun and make do with it because we love traveling more than we love being comfortable. But I wouldn’t recommend this set up for a family of our same size or larger.

  1. Future Plan:

We have our eye on the  Scamp 5th Wheel – with a queen sized bed, bunks and a shower, it should have it all, but still be small and light enough to go places. If we go that route, we’ll probably also get a 5th wheel truck bed with side boxes.

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  1. Questions?

If you have any questions about any of this or the truck engines or work that he’s done or how any of this handles on Mexican roads, please ask here. Mikey will answer.

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I don’t even know.

I was just in cranky mood for pretty much the whole time we were there. I am generally a pretty cheerful person, so that’s just not normal and I blame it on.. what… I blame it on the freezing cold weather there, on the greyness that seemed to perpetuate everything, on the RV park we stayed at that I didn’t like because the owner let her rabid asshole dogs loose and they BIT Kianna, can you believe it?? (thank God Kianna’s current with her shots). And those asshole dogs were always digging around in our trash, and our trash invariably contains stuff like POOPY DIAPERS and you know what that results in. I was so pissed off.

I even got pissed off visiting Teotihuacan because we brought Kianna and they wouldn’t let us bring her in. So we had to take a taxi ALLLLLLLLLLLL the way back to the RV park, leave Kianna kenneled in the camper and return. And then we ran into wild dogs at the pyramids. For crying out loud.

But it was cool to see the pyramids. Way hella cool.

Cooler though to see Moxie – who adores climbing stairs with the passion that Cookie Monster reserves for cookies – to see her little face LIGHT UP with the shining happiness of ten million megawatt bulbs at ALL THE STAIRS to climb!

And Mikey, because visiting that site was a dream come true for him.

Here are the photos:

pyramid of the sun

pyramid of the sun

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pyramid of the moon
pyramid of the moon

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they loved their 'slide'
they loved their ‘slide’

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wild dogs
wild dogs

 

Janitzio is an island off of Patzcuaro that was on Globe Trekker. I’m think I may have seen it in the blur of one of my three post-partum periods (which one, I don’t recall), but I remember absolutely nothing about it. Mikey assures me it was a good show.

Anyway.

So we piled into a cab from Patzcuaro, piled onto the boat, piled up the stairs and it was fun. The boat part was especially fun. Once there, it’s like this weird vertical mall, chock full of indigenous crafts, Peruvian ponchos and… dashikis. The top sported a big statue of Jose Maria Morelos, play spaces, more stores (more shopping! more dashikis!) and some kid-run-around-space.

There were also some gorgeous butterflies.

Then back down.

If you are the type that loves shopping whilst climbing up and down hundreds of stairs, this is your spot!

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I was tense, very tense as we were crossing the border. Oh, nothing about Mexico or it being dangerous or anything like that; it was just the nature of border crossings and US; last time, we had to do it twice, remember? Both ways to boot. We are just slightly scatter-brained, we start singing along to Elmo and what do you know – we miss signs (if they were there at all).

So I was tense. I didn’t want to go through all of it, twice, and I saw those miles-long lines to get into the US…oh no, mama. Noooooooo.

Nogales

It was fine though. Crossing at Nogales is a whole ‘nother ballgame from Tijana, Tecate and Mexicali. The main thing I think, is that the Banjercito is quite a way from the actual crossing. 21 kilometres, to be exact. If you mess up, you can easily turn around and NOT have to actually go through the border again. It’s really easy – just cross, drive the 21 kilometers. There are signs all over the place for it, pull over and park. Mikey went in with all 5 of our passports and the truck information. The kids napped. I read. Mikey came back with it all done. And that was IT, finito, for real.

For those of you who are planning a trip to Mexico or overlanding it and are reading this post to get more information, the deal with the Banjercito is this: you are depositing money (with the army) for a temporary vehicle import permit. It’s also where you pay the fee for your tourist cards. When you leave Mexico, you’ll get your deposit back for your vehicle. The vehicle permit is NOT required for all of Baja, nor for Sonora. It’s only if you are planning to travel beyond those states.  The reason behind the deposit? It’s to make sure you don’t sell your vehicle in Mexico.

It’s a little thing like a mosquito is a little thing: a total pain in the ass if you are trying to find it in the dark; not a big deal if it’s broad daylight and you can find it easily.

And that’s all I have to say about it. Nogales is so much easier to do this that I think in the future if we ever want to go to just Baja, I’ll still want to cross through Nogales and just ditch the California crossings.

Sonora

Lots of farms, trees, both unhappy cow feed lots and happy wandering cows.  Chicken farms. They’ve got a lot going on here.

We are really interested in the farming of course, but so far we’ve been surprised at how much nicer northern Sonora is than northern Baja. Also surprised at super-nice everyone is to us- I mean, NICE – warm, friendly, funny and engaging. Sure, we have all the trappings for some nice-ness (- 3 cute kids, a cute dog), but we think it boils down to not so many tourists in this region. People are just more laid back and less likely to see us as walking dollar signs. Or something. I don’t know. But it’s pretty great.

We spent the first couple of nights in a small town called Magdelena. It’s not far from either the border or from Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora, but it felt like a world apart in terms of how cute, walkable and enjoyable it was. It’s the home of the bones of Father Kino and a beautiful little church and plaza that was just happening to have folk dancing performances as we stumbled upon it.

Nothing quite like standing there, the only obvious gringos around, with a tiny Mexican town enjoying itself through its dance performances. Sunlight streaming with the setting sun, kids playing, dogs meandering, shop stalls selling any size Jesus you could possibly ever want.

Later, we had dinner at a small taco stand and dissolved into puddles of delight over the absolutely (and literally) melt-in-your mouth succulent morsels of adobada, perfectly accompanied with hand-tossed tortillas, fresh salsa, delightful chiles (both roasted and raw), cucumbers, pickles and radishes.

We may not have looked very refined as we scarfed it all down, but we sure were happy campers.

Here are some photos.

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Arizona kicked us out.

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It was just too cold for us wimps, we can’t handle seeing our breath freeze and crack in front of us, chipping the ice off of our tailgate and wearing woolen long underwear so we have some feeling in our limbs. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, but NOT MUCH. Arizona is frickin’ COLD, y’all, like BITTER COLD.

We couldn’t take it. One day at the Grand Canyon, two nights in Williams and we were frozen. Two out of three of the kids were sick and I was right behind them. Snot, coughing and misery abounded so we headed for Flagstaff to see my friend Jalalieh.

Flagstaff and Jalalieh

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She and I were friends in Hawaii, she came to Taiwan to live and work with me. We used to climb the mountain together, we had a small pet water turtle and she introduced me to Elf Quest and Lord of the Rings.

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She grew up in Samoa, I grew up in Fiji. We are both third culture kids of a missionary bent. All of these things, our shared culture, the travel we did together, the bike riding and long talks, Taiwanese candy shops, Mr. Brown ice coffee, big dreams and big stories. We had it all. And we had each other – friends like this are few and far between. You know.

And so, 20 years after last seeing this person that I love and have this shared history with, I got to see her again, this time with kids!

that's Grace's arm!
that’s Grace’s arm!

meriah nichols arizona-10We were only with Jalalieh for a day, then left for Tucson.

Tucson

I moved to Tucson from Macau about twenty years ago, largely on the basis of the book, Generation X. In the book, they had a picnic in the desert, complete with red-checked cloth and I thought a picnic in the desert with a red-checked cloth was so achingly cool, I had to do it. And I wanted to go to grad school.

It was a toss between moving to Tucson (and U of A), or Flagstaff (NAU). My mom said I’d “love Flagstaff; it’s so small and cute”; so of course I moved to Tucson. The desert town where I could have my picnic and go to grad school. (I had my picnic, but I ended up going to grad school in Vermont.)

Tucson and my year and a half there is a story in an of itself. I struggled so hard to figure things out – work, friendships, love. I’m sure part of it was normal in being just 21 and a part of life, but it was also so much to do with being a third culture kid and being deaf.

I loved my friends that I made in that time more than I knew.

Where was I. Right, I was telling you about how Arizona kicked us out.

In between the Grand Canyon and Jalalieh and Tucson, we made spur of the moment side trips to Native American ghost towns – that is, ruins of places that people once lived.

We fell in love with them. The beauty of the desert, the light, the red rocks, the feeling in the air that this place was special, had magic to it.

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It was a lot of fun.

And FREE fun, thanks to the Access Pass.

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Things unfolded differently than I expected them to in Arizona. I thought I’d be able to connect with the disability community and the deaf schools fairly easily: I wasn’t. That was disappointing.

I wasn’t expecting to be bitten by the cold. Nor was I expecting to get sick, along with Mac-Q and Moxie. Wasn’t expecting to like the National and State parks so much. Wasn’t expecting to have a picnic in the desert for Thanksgiving, like my original reason for moving there twenty years ago from Asia.

Arizona will always have a place in my heart and it was good to share places that I’ve been to and loved with my family, discover new ones together.

We’d like to go back when it’s a little warmer.

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More of the real-time adventures are on Instagram – I’m @meriahnichols there if you care to follow my feed – and of course Facebook – at A Little Moxie 

You can also add your email address below to subscribe and receive these posts via email 🙂

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Access Pass:

The Access Pass is a card that you can get from the National Park Service in the United States that allows a person with a permanent disability to access National Parks for free. Only one member of the family needs to have a disability for the whole family to enter on the card. Disabilities that ‘count’? Any permanent disability – my deafness and Moxie’s Down syndrome both easily qualify. For more information, see the NPS website. You can apply at the Visitor Center or gate of almost any National Park for free; it’s $10 through the mail.

Access in the Parks:

Physical Access was great in most of the ruins that we visited. I wouldn’t want to be a braille reader though, because they had some wonky places where they placed the signs (why do they place the “bathroom” sign around 6ft up?).

Deaf access is just nonexistent. I think I’m so used to this that I’d be shocked if something was actually captioned or in ASL. I was honestly bummed about this when we were at one of the parks and I wanted to hear the interpretive ranger’s talk on the ancient civilization at Montezuma Castle and had to leave because the lipreading was too exhausting.

 

Stories form in my head as we travel but somehow in the dark of the morning when I sit down to write, they are gone.

Maybe they ran away with my sleeping dreams, maybe they are just hiding, but I have an empty space where they once were.

I think for this post I’ll simply keep it to the photos and let them tell the story of driving into Arizona, taking the train to the Grand Canyon (complete with gunfight show and robbery), the Grand Canyon and the Junior Ranger Program.

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Access:

Grand Canyon Railroad:

Deaf access: F. Nothing was captioned, nothing provided in print to accompany pieces like the gunfight or train show. I didn’t hear any part of the story.

Physical access: it looked like a solid C. I saw a wheelchair user being lifted into the train, but his family was apologizing for it and the train staff had that vibe of, “oh really, it’s not a problem to be out in the freezing cold and using this chair lift….but…..I’m freezing cold and *have* to operate this chair lift”. Actual access was there BUT the vibe wasn’t right. I would have been mortified if I was that guy being lifted.

Grand Canyon and Williams:

They were about the same. Printed signs for the deaf to read, nothing captioned or in sign.

Physical access around the Grand Canyon as far as I could see was great – lots of ramps and different ways to move around the visitors areas.

Williams also seemed to be easy to physically access.

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More of the real-time adventures are on Instagram – I’m @meriahnichols there if you care to follow my feed – and of course Facebook – at A Little Moxie 

You can also add your email address below to subscribe and receive these posts via email 🙂


We have a thing for ghost towns.

We love the ‘POW!’ that goes on with our imaginations when we go to one, the reminder of impermanence in life, that everything can change in an instant with the drop of a literal dime.

I’m talking about both Mikey and I; I don’t think Moxie and Mac-Q are walking around thinking deep thoughts. In fact, I know Moxie wasn’t since she was asking me for popcorn in Calico.

Micah, on the other hand, is well on his way to being a little hybrid of Mikey and myself, really getting into the nuts and bolts of reading up on ghost towns, asking lots of questions, fact finding and analyzing. Living on the Lost Coast also gives him lots of fodder to say stuff like, “hey! an OUTHOUSE! We have an outhouse!”, or laugh at signs that talk about how “a long time ago, people washed clothes by hand” ; “comforts of home” and things of that nature.

Calico Ghost Town

I hear that Calico was purchased by the guy that did Knotts Berry Farm – he bought it, renovated it, then donated it to the county – and it certainly has that feel to it. You pay an entrance fee when you drive in, it’s all very organized, very staged. The original vibe of the town feels like it has been white-washed and museum gift-wrapped.Everyone seems to be part of the schtick, the workers are all dressed up in old-time garb and so forth.

It’s hokey fun and we went for the ride.

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Calico Camping details:

Accessible. The fee for camping appeared to be included in the entrance ticket for the ghost town, but we weren’t sure. Water, bathrooms, lots of space, it’s an easy place to camp.

Murphy’s Law. That’s the bit that says that if something can go wrong, it will.

We experienced a smidgen of that when we discovered that the hydrolic pistons on our Alaskan Camper – you know, the pistons that I *only just* got installed in Washington?!! – were leaking piston juice all over the place. Having paid a pretty penny for it all less than a month ago and having used it only once, we were not thrilled.

Luckily, Mikey figured out it was something to do with the clamp and so long as he held it in a certain way and I pushed the lever, it would work all right.  But that was after we were trying to set up in a Barstow campground at night, then gave up to stay in a motel, with pretty much a whole day of running around to various auto supply stores and waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiting for Mikey to work his magic.

But it worked, that’s the main thing, and we can sleep in the camper again.

Definitely a plus.

It’s really squished in there, but I find it to be more comfortable overall than trying to wrangle the kids in a motel room (and keep all the cords and lines and electronics and toilet paper and plugs and Kianna’s food out of their reach).

Barstow itself feels to me like one of those Really Useful places. Lots of chain shops, enough local and Route 66 flavor to keep it from being completely bland. We were glad to have it as a place to fix the clamps but glad to get out and carry on.

Here are the photos – the drive there from Fresno and the rad KOA playground that we were in before the clamps broke and the piston fluid spewed

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fresnoWe left the Bay Area and headed for Fresno, where my friend Katie had recently moved. Like, really recently, still-not-totally-unpacked, recently.

Katie and her family were attracted to the idea of moving to Fresno primarily to watch people’s reactions when they told them they were leaving Oakland…for Fresno!

Nah, just joking. Really, it was a whole bunch of reasons, but Fresno’s co-housing scene was high up there. We got to check it out and we were really impressed. Beautiful homes, clean and welcoming communal space, lots of kids, great community garden, pool, kids room… the list goes on. No drawbacks. It’s even really affordable. Oh wait, the only drawback for most people would be that it’s in… Fresno!

We had a fun day with them, ate waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much (and enjoyed every bite), my kids loved playing with hers.

It was good. And by the way, we now think that Fresno is a Texan city that migrated somehow to the crotch of California. Super-churches and huge avenues, lengthy sprawling burbs, pancake places with pancakes the size of select island nations.

Here are some photos

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PS
Maybe another way Fresno’s like Texas?

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We packed our place as tightly as we could.

There was something very satisfying about seeing all of our belongings neatly tucked into sturdy black and yellow Costco construction-grade totes. All in all, we don’t have much. Everything we can call ours fits in about 6 totes and that pleases me. You know what else pleases me? That our camper doesn’t have that much in it either. It’s 8 ft and feels fairly spacious on account of the few possessions. Like, like.

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So, we left our yurt on the grey Tuesday of Veteran’s Day. Pointed our truck, Moby south and gave her some gas.

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Drove through the Redwood forest that is the gateway to the Lost Coast. Felt sad to be leaving. Happy to be going.

I have Micah working on a daily journal now. It’s part of his Roadschool. Well, his entry for that day was, “today we packed up and left. I had mixed feelings.”

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We talked about that, about how mixed up feelings can be, how you can be happy and sad at the same exact time. I wanted him to come away from the conversation with a sense that it’s okay for things to be like peanut butter and jelly sandwich: salty and sweet and crunchy and moving, that it can all end up in your mouth tasting GREAT

meriah nichols_-8We’ll see how it all unfolds.

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In the meantime, we drove south, south, ever south, through Willits, through the wine country (where I am originally from) and into the San Francisco Bay Area, where Nana had all the toys out and ready!

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Here’s a few iPhone photos – some of these were posted on Instagram (- I’m @meriahnichols there, if you’d like to follow my feed) and Facebook (the link to the Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/withalittlemoxie

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PS

Kianna’s Cone of Shame:

She was apparently bit by something on our walk in Willits (???) and exploded in an allergic reaction. We took her to the ER and have her full of Benadryl now. She’s doing a lot better but is still healing. Poor thing:(

 

Katherine laughed her head off at us when she came to visit this summer, saying we were like the “Red Dawn People” and that just about me die of laughing because, yeeaaaaaaah!

Aside from the whole WW3 and bad-80’s-movie thing, she was totally onto it. Almost all of us on the Lost Coast are up that alley; most of us live completely off the grid, most of us are also nearly completely self-sufficient. If something really dramatic happened. we wouldn’t feel it even a fraction of the extent that people in the urban areas would.

I saw that in living action when we were driving home and stopped in Crescent City. A big storm had hit and the next morning, the power went out all over the city.

People. Freaked. Out.

All the stores closed, people had no way to get anything, the lights and electricity were off, no generators working and people were Freaking. Out.

The people freaking out kind of freaked me out, and I wanted to get home. Nice, safe home on the hill, where we live completely off the grid and the power going out doesn’t mean all that much. Certainly not anything to go into a panic over.

Besides, I saw the way that ocean was creeping onto the highway and as much as I like water and all, I didn’t want to drive through it.

Here are the photos, starting from Oregon. Lovely park-state, Oregon, so unbelievably picturesque. Oregon, with it’s fun star of Portland, adorable Eugene. With Grants Pass and our dear friends living there, I was so happy to see them. Oregon with the cheap gas and millions of drive-thru coffee shops, Oregon, with lots and lots of Jesus in the south. Oregon, where it seems like every young guy has a beard, the” hot girls where glasses and the tattoo ink never runs dry”.

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mesa in Oregon?!!!
mesa in Oregon?!!!

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Crescent City and the coast

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Back on the Lost Coast

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I don’t think I can live in cities anymore.

But Portland is the sweetest little city that I adore right now. It makes me wish I could live in a city, especially because beyond the lovely structure of the city itself, it’s graceful bridges, beautiful landscaping and almost Canadian-like sensibility, I have friends in Portland. Old friends, new friends.

I always feel awkward writing about friends on this blog. I want to, but I’m worried I’m going to say the wrong thing and someone is going to get mad at me – or worse, feelings hurt. And then if I just say something like, “oh this person is so great”, it’s as bland as WonderBread and that’s no fun. It’s also not who the person is.

So I’m going to try something different – I’ll introduce you but then tell a story about the person.

Geneva: she was among my best friends when I was around 14 in Hilo, Hawaii. She’s a third culture kid too – raised by Oregon hippie artists in Tasmania, Australia, and moved to Hilo around the same time as we did. In fact, we met because they were moving into the house we were moving out of.

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Geneva has inspired me through the years because she was always doing something different than what I knew. She’d be making her money at craft fairs as a kid, and I had been raised with the ‘art is nice and all but HOW WILL IT SAVE THE WORLD?!’

So I loved being around her and just relaxing into a different way of looking at things. And seeing proof that art can, in fact, be a livelihood.

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A story with Geneva: right before I left for Japan, I went to hang out with her at her house. We took a cassette tape I had (“Barbie’s Birthday Album” – my grandma had given it to me) and she taught me how to put scotch tape on the top and record over it.

So we layered our voices onto that Barbie Birthday Album – Ken raps and Barbie squeals and it was kind of hilarious.

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I really wish I had more – and clear!* – pictures. There’s this thing though that when I see friends, I’m so happy that I don’t think about taking pictures. It’s only towards the end of a visit that I remember then of course I can’t focus the camera. It’s Murphy’s Law.

We met my friend Jason the next day.

Jason and I cooked together in Tucson, Arizona – and have been friends with some pauses falling outs – for the past 20 years. We’ve got a long friendship – millions of hours worth of smoke break talks, small road trips, long food orders. I swear, cooking through a rush hour in a busy kitchen with someone can feel like a joint emergence from a war zone.

Jason left Tucson for Taiwan – he taught English there for a while, then I think his appendix burst and he had surgery and had to leave. Something like that. It was a long time ago and I have a terrible memory.

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He’s the guy who can make “assimilation” jokes with Micah, after Micah got his toy robot into a cube.

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And Jason just got married! We were really happy to be able to meet his lady. Lovely she is; I’m really happy for him.

I’m trying to think of one specific Jason-story and I”m having a hard time. What comes to mind is that time when he and Maggie and I went on a roadtrip from Tucson to the White Mountains of Arizona. It was a blast – we all got along so well. We’d stop at ‘fairy spaces’ and let magic hit us (- I swear, we weren’t on drugs). I remember this one spot where we stopped and Jason and Maggie got on tree stumps and assumed superhero ‘proud and busty’ stances and let me take sepia pictures of them.

I missed being around people like Jason later – I didn’t realize how hard it is to find friends you can talk to as you get older, what a treasure a friend who thinks in off-white ways is.

Then we met Leah

A lot of you reading know Leah because she writes Our Cora Bean. I always enjoy reading what she has to say, but one of my favorite posts from her is, “Why I’m Not a Good Hero“. I was excited to meet her and Cora (who is a little younger than Moxie) and her new baby, Ruby.

You know what’s wonderfully weird about meeting someone in real life that you have known for some time online? Seeing the details. Like, how Leah has all these freckles all over her face and how light and clear her eyes are. And she has a dimple!

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Leah was incredibly kind – she got us into OMSI – the Oregon Museum of Science and Innovation – and I swear, that place is another reason in and of itself to want to live in Portland. It’s like everything I liked in the Bay Area (- Habitot, Bay Area Discovery Museum, Totland, Tumble and Tea,

The next day we met again, this time with Cora and to actually spend some time together at a music show

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IF I had been able to get my shutter speed* right and keep the photos sharp, you would have a better sense of how lovely Cora is. Such a delicate-looking flower, but I think as far as flowers go, she’s a sturdy one. She was so active – into everything, running around, dancing, enjoying the music. Moxie was right there, but not with her and it was fun to try and get them together to hang out, or hey, at least take a picture?!

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My kids ate all of her snacks.

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Of course I was embarrassed. I’m always embarrassed by how my kids act like I haven’t fed them in a week, when they are around another kid’s snack.

Portland was so much fun

We love living on the Lost Coast, it’s where we belong. But it’s good to have a favorite city to have fun in sometimes. I know we’re going to be back

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* About the “clear” pictures: turns out I was setting my shutter speed all wrong. Like, really, really wrong: 1/40 – and I want to thank another friend of mine, Meredith, for teaching that to me

 

Portland is the sweetest little city that I adore right now.

It makes me wish I could live in a city and after having spent a decade in the Bay Area, it kind of makes me kick myself for not having spent my city-dwelling years there, instead of San Francisco/Oakland/Alameda. Or Tokyo. God, why did I ever live in Tokyo when I could’ve been in Portland?!!

Bay Area people! Check out Portland!

Here’s why:

1.Portlandia

“It’s like an alternative universe where Gore won..where you can put a bird on it and call it art!” – How can you not want to live in a city that inspired a show that’s mostly about Gen X’ers, grown up? Where every sincere thing we do is poked fun of and – hey! no hard feelings, we can laugh along, because our husband’s have beards, we pickle it, we grow it, we’ve done the pasta thing, we ride bikes, have chickens, taken the urban farming classes and made our own cheese. We’ve BOUGHT BOOKS at the Feminist Bookstore, because we felt guilty when Candace looked at us.

Portlandia? We know this town already –

it’s like coming home!

2. Portland is hella gorgeous

Graceful and varied bridges, beautiful landscaping, cool buildings, waterfronts everywhere. Brick. Trees, trees, trees – Portland loves trees!

Cool shops, music, vintage this and that and an almost Canadian-like sensibility.

3. Public transport

It’s been a while since I actually felt like riding public transport, but the options in Portland made me want to park the truck and hop on.

Trams, buses, train things, it has it all. And really sweet bike lanes, big ones! I mean, why drive when you can ride?

4. OMSI: The Oregon Museum of Science and Innovation

If you have a kid, this is reason enough to move. Or visit. It’s like everything I loved in the Bay Area – Habitot, Tot Land, Discovery Museum, Exploratorium and Chabot Space and Science Center, all rolled into ONE, handy and affordable package with easy parking. And lines that have only one or two people ahead of you. Places to eat inside, lots of restrooms, easy access,

5. Food Carts

They have everything. EVERYTHING! International, intergalactic, subterranean. You name it, they are cookin’ it. In Portland.

6, No Sales Tax

’nuff said.

7. Playgrounds that roll

Rolling grassy hills, lush trees, play spaces that don’t include needles and homeless people that you want to help but are also nervous about (especially when it s clear there are some drugs being used). Playgrounds that feel safe, and all the little black-clad kids with glasses are adorable.

8. Navigable

It’s kind of sprawled, with a lot of areas and a very distinct “downtown” and funky grin-inducing districts. I liked that I could get around to it all, even with Moby (our whale of an F350). It’s all do-able. Maybe I just hit light traffic? But even after everyone telling me how horrible traffic there was, I didn’t think it had anything to compare with Bay Area traffic.

9. Friends

Friends are always a reason to move anywhere, but I really love my friends in Portland and I loved the vibe that I got from people there. Part of it was just straight-up friendliness and part of it was that Northern sensibility that I find so endearingly attractive.

Those are my reasons for the awesomeness of Portland. I was only there for about a week – I’m sure that list would be longer if we were there longer too.

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PS

Some photos of the kids at OMSI –

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I wish there was a TV channel dedicated exclusively to Dora the Explorer. Whenever I arrived in a motel, I could just turn this channel on and tether Moxie to it and thus the motel microwave ovens, the fridge, the door, the toilet, the toilet paper, the alarm clocks, MY ESSENTIAL OILS and all items packed would be safe….for the time she was watching, anyway.

I wish motels had shelves that Moxie couldn’t reach.

I wish they laid out more than 2 towels.

I wish motel bathtubs weren’t so irresistible to Mac-Q for pooping in. Especially when bathing with his siblings.

I wish I thought to check how the beds were made so that I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night, freezing, wondering where the covers were, only to discover that the blanket was tucked WAY DOWN THERE

I wish I was better at pulling up the blanket without waking up the kids sprawled around me.

I wish when a motel has a neon sign outside boasting the presence of a jacuzzi or a pool… they mean it.

You know those flimsy plastic cups motels leave by the sink, all wrapped in plastic? I hope they aren’t toxic.

And those dime-a-dozen bars of soap? What are they made out of?

I wish there was a way to enter a motel wifi code automatically, so I didn’t have to type in a 10 digit string of nonsense into each device, only to have the device have trouble connecting with it, and try re-entering the dang string and there is NO DORA on the TV which means that Moxie is pulling down every.single.thing her adorable little fingers can reach – it’s like a race to get the code in and get the device online so that DORA will be present and Moxie tethered so I can get things organized, before Moxie’s precious digits destroy everything.

There should be a video game on that: get the code in before your kid destroys the motel room!

I wish motels had dedicated parking spaces outside of the room door, so I wouldn’t need to park half a hotel away. In the rain. With the kids. And the luggage. And the food.

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I wish I thought to disconnect the motel phone as soon as we came into the room.

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Definitely something else to add to the video game: how fast can the parent locate and disable all power sources that may potentially cost said parent LOTS OF MONEY?!

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I pulled the truck to a stop to adjust Garmin after coming out of the Starbucks drive-thru. It was a narrow little road, no other cars around, and I stopped where I was, basically. Entered the address of where we were going. Looked up and saw this guy in a van evidently cussing me out (I couldn’t hear him but I could lip read just fine).

His face was contorted with rage.

I was surprised and concerned – I moved the truck up and rolled down my window, looked at him directly and sincerely said, “I’m sorry” because it looked like his rage was about my being there.

He flipped me off, his face twisted and zoomed off.

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To be honest, I was left feeling really sad for him because to be so… absolutely angry, so consumed with rage because he waited for me for all of 1 minute? That the exigencies of his life boil down to an inability to have a moment to spare? To be so angry that his face contorts?

And then I thought how people can get that way here – or there, where you are perhaps – because communities have grown so large. That guy knows he’s not likely to ever see me again. His kids won’t be going to school with mine and my husband won’t likely be the guy he’s going to need to call to repair his solar panels.

On the Lost Coast, people tend to be much more careful with one another because the community is so small. For every single person that you have an interaction with, there will usually be some ripple down the line. They are going to be someone to you or yours, they will mean something and they are definitely someone.

That man who cussed me out and was so livid because I took up a minute of his time would never, ever, not in a million years do so something like that in a community like the Lost Coast. Not only from the self-preservation aspect (- it would come back and bite him in the ass at some point), but simply from the time aspect: it’s just inconceivable to flip out over a minute waiting. A MINUTE, people; 60 whole seconds, how can you not have this?

This is why I can’t live in the city anymore.

I just can’t live in a world anymore where people have that kind of disregard for one another. Or, I might be able to actually live, but I won’t thrive. I won’t be happy, I won’t grow, I can’t – I need to be around people that care about each other, I need people to greet one another, even if it’s by their hand lifting in a gesture of salute from their steering wheel.

I need to have a friend or two, rather than 5 million acquaintances. I need to know and be known. I need people to see me and my family as belonging, as being a part of the thread of their own lives, as theirs is a part of ours.

I was driving Moby (our new-to-us white F350) with the camper on it, all 3 kids comfortably secured in their car seats in the back seat. It’s huge. I mean, the truck is just enormous and I feel like a redneck-y hippie slice of pie driving it.

So anyway.

I was driving it and my thoughts wandered as I drove north, remembering the last time I drove this route. I was 25, I had finished grad school in Vermont and had my heart set on a cross-country trip. Only… I didn’t have a car and I was pretty broke. Little things, right?!

I found out about some program called “Drive Away” where you transport other people’s cars for them – I signed up and that’s how I ended up going to Seattle.

At that time in my life, I was in love with a boy from Japan, whom I actually followed back to Japan for (after dropping off the car in Seattle of course). I was unceremoniously dumped upon arrival. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

But you know, on that first drive up north, I would have been psyched to have known that I’d be making this trip again, 16 years later with my 3 kids. And that I’d have a farmer-husband busting his cute farmer-man butt with harvest while I made a road trip with the kids and galivanted around Portland!

meriah nichols_ meriah nichols_-2 meriah nichols_-3 meriah nichols_-4 meriah nichols_-5

So far, it’s been easy and sweet. I guess there’s nothing like the Lost Coast for really prepping anyone – it dips you in this stuff of steel that makes your hide like krypton or something. “Explosive blowout right when we are about to get in the truck, Mack… and Moxie?! glad your bowels work so well” – and yeah, I cracked my knuckles and changed them both on the tailgate.

It’s cool. It’s good. It’s all good.

****

PS

Wondering how I got the photos of Moby? – I apologize for it all being iphone, by the way – Mikey followed us to Eureka to make sure the camper was bolted on tightly.

 

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