Nevada Skies

We left Kippetje (did I tell you guys that we finally settled on a true name for our sweet little camper home? Kippetje- or Kippee for short- means “little chicken” in Dutch and it just feels right…now if we could just come up with the right name for our truck…) parked rather forlornly in the sandy side lot of a friend’s home in the desert east of Reno. We tried not to look back at the rearview mirror as we pulled away, Kippee’s light blue sides peeking out beyond the fence accusingly. It just felt so wrong to abandon her like this, to leave her in the hands of near strangers for months under the desert sun. 

I thought momentarily of the scene in the book Love With A Chance Of Drowning where they return to their stored sailboat to find that their canned goods had exploded at some point over the months and that their home was covered in unlivable filth. It was with that scene in mind that I’d scoured the camper for anything that might freeze or attract critters or otherwise not survive storage well, but as we drove away from Kippee, I worried again that I’d missed something, that we would return to her in February to irreparable damage. And the truth is, we just might. Things happen…the temperature variations in the desert and the intermittent sandstorms, the small creatures adept at squeezing through tiny gaps to find shelter, the simple neglect of sitting unused for nearly 5 months…it seems more likely than not that something will be in need of repair when we resume camper life. I have to fight the urge to worry, to call the friends storing her and ask for updates, to attempt to control all outcomes from my perch 3,000 miles away.

But this has been part of my work since we made the choice to sell our home in Maine, possibly my most important work. Learning to let go. Understanding on a visceral level the realities of impermanence and non-attachment. On some level, that understanding resides deep in my gut- one simply cannot survive cancer without having come face-to-face with the unavoidable truth of one’s own intrinsic impermanence. My nature, however, inclines me to hold on tightly-often too tightly- to people, to things, to ideas. It is my lifelong struggle to know when to pry my fingers, one white-knuckled digit at a time, from gripping the people and things I love with all of my might. There is some beauty in that grip, the fierceness with which I love my people often pulls the best parts of me to the surface, allows me to rise to be the friend, partner, sister, daughter that I aspire to be, to truly show up even when it’s hard, to support them even in the face of my own pain or grief. However, I would be lying not to admit that a big part of that grip stems directly out of a place of fear, the innate and primal terror of inevitable loss, and we all know that that sort of grip is stifling and unhealthy and tends not to serve anyone well.

Our choice to sell our home or relinquish most of our possessions is, by no means, the same letting go that is required when we lose a loved one. But I think of it as a step toward learning to make peace with change and the inevitable losses that balance the gains. The minimalism movement talks ad nauseum about the freedom that comes with ridding yourself of possessions. And sure, to some extent that’s obviously true (our journey would certainly be more complicated if we were trying to do this while also dealing with the expense and responsibility of storing our possessions or renting out our home). But I wish more of the folks leading that movement would talk a bit more about how damn hard that can be, how if you’ve already done the work of paring down the clear excesses in your life, letting go of more is truly heart-wrenching. I remember a conversation I had with a “hard-core” minimalist as we were beginning to set aside the minuscule percentage of our belongings to store while we journeyed. I commented that I obviously was going to keep and store my family photos and papers, things like my great-great-grandparents’ marriage certificate and the sepia toned images of my grandmother as a wide-eyed girl. My acquaintance made the dismissive remark that I’d get over that, to just scan them in and send the hard copies to the dump. I just stared at her in disbelief for a good long minute before likely saying something snarky about us clearly operating very differently. Some “things” are not really “things” at all. The brittle paper of that marriage certificate is hardly the point. It’s the faded ink of the signatures, the record of how their hands moved across the paper when they were so very young and strong, how the story of these humans I’ve never met leads directly to my own. That little rectangle of paper connects me to them with all of my senses- the feel of that fragile paper and its creases where it was stored in an envelope, the musty scent, the variation in the fountain pen ink, the small water stain in one corner, the ornate typeface that echoes of how things were done before computers or typewriters, the simple ability to touch and smell the very same piece of paper that they did so very many years ago. A scanned version simply wouldn’t do, wouldn’t affect me in the same way. I’m pragmatic, of course, and have scanned them all in, but that is for back-up, for safekeeping, not license to destroy my history. I’m digressing here (it’s hard to resist a tangent about minimalism or history…subjects on whose discourse I could spend days at a time), but the point is that with each step of this journey I have been faced with letting go of things I cherished, everything from furniture that Justin and I built together to my favorite teapot to my plants to the home and community that I just loved. Each time I bargained and tried to work around the letting go, gave the list of reasons that this one thing got to stay. And almost each time, I would eventually circle around to the truth that while I could justify hanging on and that there were good, valid reasons for doing just that, the cost would be too great- either directly interfering with the choice we’d made to journey or edging out other items that were more important to me.

And that has been at the heart of this learning to let go. It’s rarely a choice between a thing/experience/person that I want and one that I don’t. It’s learning to choose between the many things that are wonderful, the many things that I want with all my heart, of choosing what takes priority. I chose to let go of our home entirely and experience the uncertainty and fear and “all in” mentality of traveling without that safety net to return to. I miss it often, and the loss strikes me unexpectedly sometimes in such a punch-in-the-gut sort of way. But we would not have had the year that we’ve had nor the future we’re planning if we hadn’t let go and I can’t bring myself to regret the choice. We could have rented a large storage unit to hold all of our belongings while we traveled and I know that when we next make a more permanent home, I will be cursing having let go of some of what we will buy again. But even beyond the freedom from the financial burden that storage would have entailed, I grew tremendously from prying that death grip from my belongings and fully grasping the space it allowed for us to have this time be a true new beginning, to embark on a new era in our lives unencumbered by the trappings of the last one. 

As we drove away from Kippetje and left her well-being in hands not our own, my inherent resistance both amused and bemused me. How many times and how many ways must I learn the same lessons? We do what we can, we prepare and we do our work and we control the controllables. And at some point, things change or the unexpected happens or some factor that we hadn’t considered comes into play, and we get outcomes different from what we’d hoped or planned for. There is simply no escaping. Nothing is permanent. Why is it so impossible to fully grasp this? Not people, not belongings, not situations, not who we are or what is important to us. If we arrive at our friends’ house in February to find some kind of major issue with Kippee, well...we’ll figure it out. The me of just a few short years ago would never have been able to say that and really mean it. But after a year and a half of practice at letting go of all kinds of things I thought I couldn’t live without (my own shower, clear daily structure, workspace, etc), I recognize that this is just the truth of life in general. Prepare as best we can, make the best choices we can with the information we have, and then figure it out when things go awry. I will still worry for our little home here and there, but I can see ever more clearly how worry often creates a barrier that prevents me from fully engaging where I actually am. If I’m worrying about Kippee, then I’m mentally somewhere in Nevada expending energy to deal with things that haven’t actually come to pass, existing in some bizarre fantasyland, rather than being right here where I am dealing with what is actually happening around me, expending energy on the goals and projects and people that are real.

I suspect this won’t be the last time I dive into this work of letting go. Hell, it’s likely not the last time today that I work on it. And that’s okay, really. This is the work of life, after all, this learning how to love and be loved, how to stretch ourselves, how to set aside our egos and still make good use of our gifts, how to balance our lives in relationship to others, how to fight when a fight is what’s called for, how to release when it’s time to let go. It’s work that we must come back to over and over, circle around it to see all of the angles, crack ourselves open as we search for honesty and truth under layers of story and fear and vulnerability. It’s real work, true work. 

And so we turned away from Kippetje, from the rearview mirror for a bit, and looked out at the road before us, at the two lanes winding east under broad blue skies. Nevada isn’t a good place to hide. There’s no cover on those golden hills, nowhere to tuck away behind self-deception or doubt. As we aimed the truck toward Idaho and set the cruise control too fast, the cotton clouds rolled up into formation and we rolled the windows down, allowing that desert wind to set our hair flying as our outstretched hands rode the currents.

Forward, friends, under these Nevada skies.

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A Wrench

Tomorrow marks the end of Justin’s 13 week travel nurse contract here in Reno. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been spending a lot of time looking at maps with eager anticipation  and Justin has applied to nearly every opening that’s come up in Washington in hopes that we could call the PNW home for the fall months.

However. There was a wrench thrown into our plans.

At the recommendation of some other travel nurses, we reached out to Travel Tax, a tax firm that specializes in taxes for travel nurses (well, actually for anyone who travels in their job, but they really know their way around travel nursing- if you are thinking of traveling, reach out to them asap- they are seriously awesome). We simply wanted to make sure that we were doing everything right with plenty of time to course correct if necessary. We’re really glad we did as it turns out that there are some steps we need to take before the year’s end to be all squared away. Without diving into the tax code with you, suffice it to say that the most notable of the steps we need to take is that we must establish New Hampshire as our “tax home” by having Justin take a full 13-week travel nurse assignment there while we live at our permanent address there (i.e. at his parents’ house).

So. New Hampshire it is.

As you might guess, we were initially quite disappointed by this news. Not because we have a problem with New Hampshire or Justin’s folks- on the contrary, we adore them both! But heading home for three months before we were even a full year into our road life wasn’t exactly how we’d planned things, you know? So we let the “womp womp” of the news settle in for a few minutes and then we regrouped and started looking at our options for how to go about things. And here’s our rough plan…

The hospital here in Reno offered Justin an extension, so we will be here through September 30, another six weeks. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of all that we want to do here, so we thought we’d continue to enjoy this backyard access to the Sierras and Lake Tahoe for another few weeks. We also have a 10-day trip up to Washington planned so we can get at least a quick PNW fix! Once this contract finishes, we’ll winterize our sweet little camper and store it at a facility here in Nevada and begin to make our way east. While we haven’t decided on a route yet, we are thinking an epic month-long road trip is in order for the month of October! We’ve got our sights set on western Montana (maybe via Idaho?), Grand Teton, and Yellowstone just at first glance and I’ll be sure to update you as we firm up what plans we’re willing to commit to. So that leaves November-January in New Hampshire to fulfill our requirements and we are excited at the prospect of having plenty of time to catch up with our community of family and friends in New England and to get ourselves a little fix of winter before heading back west to grab our home on wheels and head to wherever will be next.

This is what adventure looks like sometimes. Plans that go awry and the necessity to adapt and be flexible and search out ways to create new and wonderful experiences that weren’t even on the radar until a wrench got thrown into what was planned. We didn’t exactly embark on this lifestyle looking for certainty or guarantees and we find ourselves once again confronted by the many reasons we have to be grateful, not the least of which is a welcoming place to call home (thanks, Ma & Pa Gio!) and a lifestyle that allows us the flexibility to course correct when necessary.

So friends in New England and along the route there, be ready- we are coming at you and we should warn you: we hug like we mean it!

Crunch Time

It’s overcast and drizzly this morning and I am taking a break from organizing my massive to-do list to pause. Justin’s last shift here in Texas is a week from tomorrow and we will drive away from this little temporary home a few days later. Our departure has come upon me suddenly despite our extra month here, and I seem to be in “crunch time” for all sorts of things I’ve meant to figure out and finish over these last weeks. We’ve had plenty of time, really, but here we are, once again scrambling and likely to leave a few loose ends untied.

Maybe this is simply how all things work. Perhaps this is the story of our lives, this putting off because we feel like there will be more time “later.” And when the end arrives, it always takes us by surprise, leaves us with unfinished business we’d intended to get to “one of these days.” I can live with that…to an extent. If we don’t finish sorting through a few items that got randomly tossed into the camper, or nail down our plans to add solar to our camper before next week, or even fail to figure out a route out of Texas before we begin driving, I’m not too worried. 

It’s the putting off of the big things: the dreams we are timidly waiting to begin, the damaged relationships we intend to repair when it’s not quite so complicated, the attention we’ll give to our spouse/child/pet/self-care “just as soon as ____ gets done” that worries me. The big endings that might catch me unaware. They hide around corners and jump out just when we get complacent, you know.

And isn’t this the whole point of why we’re doing this whole live-out-of-a-tiny-camper-and-move-every-three-months thing? Isn’t this putting off of the things that matter the precise habit we are attempting to break? Isn’t this one big ol’ attempt not to delay the dream we share of seeking place and experience and breathtaking beauty while we attend to the minutia of daily life, allowing it to eat our days, weeks, years…lives?

Isn’t life always in “crunch time”? 

I suspect so. The power there is that when we operate in that way, it becomes just a little easier to separate the important from the urgent, doesn’t it? When I only have a week to finish everything, the “it would be nice” items start getting chucked off the end of my to-do list unapologetically and I’m left with only what is most important to me. For me in this moment, it is gleaning every last minute of time with my Mom and brother here in this place they call home. I will let the solar panels and website updates and camper-sorting wait so that I don’t miss these last days with them in a flurry of to-dos that won’t really matter so much in the long run. The power of “crunch time” is that, if we choose to pause in our momentary panic, our “oh shit…how am I going to get it all done?” frenzy, it can be a place for real clarity. 

I’m grateful for that clarity right now. And for the flexibility that I’ve been learning over these last 9 months or so. We don’t know where our next assignment is yet, so we don’t know where exactly we’ll be pointing this little camper of ours in a week or so. But that’s okay. I’m learning that it will be just fine, crunch time and all.

Homebody

Every day now I am redefining my idea of home, of what grounds me in this life and where I hide from the bigger world when I need quiet and solace and solitude. Is it this rolling tin can of a “house” with its four aluminum walls and painted fiberboard interior? Is it my little family of husband and dog and the choices we make together for our days? Is it something I carry within me, separate from structure and routine and external validation?

I don’t really know yet. I suppose that’s part of what we’re doing out here, part of why we shook things up in the first place. And this not knowing is both thrilling and liberating and deeply uncomfortable. I swing from feeling wholly rooted one moment to entirely rootless in the very next. 

I am a homebody in the truest sense of the word. I love to be at home, to tinker in the kitchen and fiddle in the garden and rearrange the furniture so that “cozy” is always the most applicable adjective to describe the space. But I am also very much at home snuggled deep into my own inner life, under the soft knit blankets of my ideas and plans and imagination, thinking and wondering and allowing my curiosity to roam freely. And when I’m strong and running through the woods, when I’m connected to every muscle and sinew, I inhabit each millimeter of my body and know that it is home as well. 

So I’m finding that as we alternatively move and stay, I must take time each day to think about “home” with real attention, to consider where I will find my sense of home in this moment. It’s no longer a static place on a map, but a fluid idea that must take the shape of whatever container I have on hand at any given time. I am learning how to do this. I am learning how to be a homebody with no fixed address, to relinquish all of my old ideas about how that must look. And as I do this rather uncomfortable learning, I’m reminded yet again that cultivating meaning and purpose in my life is about honest, no-getting-around-it hard work, the work of growing, the work of deepening my understanding of myself and my world and where I fit into it.

Where do you find home?