Winter Exile

Skyline

It’s been 8 months at my new job, and I’ve been feeling the need to have an adventure.  I was planning a 3 week snowboarding extravaganza through Colorado, Utah, and up to Canada, until the death of my sewage ejection pump in my rental property suddenly nixed that glorious idea.  After its demise, I didn’t really want to spend money on an adventure, but the Minneapolis winter and burn-out from work prompted me to impose a winter exile on myself.  So, I settled on 6 days in Colorado, attempting to hit as many slopes as my body and time would allow.

I was excited because this trip would allow me to try out airbnb for the first time in my life.  Being an avid couchsurfer in the past, I felt it would be a similar experience.  Also, a week before leaving, a friend of mine informed me that he and another person I knew from Minneapolis would be up before the weekend to hopefully do some snowboarding and skiing with me.

IMG_7842After renting a car and having lunch with my friend in Denver, I drove up to Silver Plume, where I met my hosts for the week.  Geoff and Lauren are two extremely laid back and friendly people that have a lifestyle which allows them to work from home.  A modest and beautiful home at the base of the mountains.  Ten minutes from Loveland Ski resort, the location was perfect.  They greeted me at the door along with their two hyperactive but loveable dogs, Jake and Dexter.  After dropping my gear and settling in, I headed out to Lucha Cantina in Georgetown where I ate nachos with their “Ghost Salsa”, the hottest salsa I’d ever had in my life.

IMG_7852The next morning, I awoke early and headed up to Arapahoe Basin ski area.  It was lightly snowing, but not cold.  It has been two years since my last snowboarding adventure in Whistler, BC, so I spent the morning getting my snowboard legs back.  At lunch, I stopped by the pub for a quick bite when I suddenly lost my favorite beanie from Patagonia, which I had bought it in the fall at Midwest Mountaineering and had worn all winter.  I was surprised how quickly my mood had changed.  As I’ve traveled, I’ve gotten used to losing things or having them stolen.  I usually don’t worry about it too much.  But the beanie…. well, it made me start to question the attachments that I have in life.  “It’s just a hat.  You’ll find another”.  Or maybe not – I’m pretty particular about the things I own now.

Welcome flames after a busy day of snowboarding.

Welcome flames after a busy day of snowboarding.

I did a couple more runs for the day, and after being satisfied that I was now carving up the blue diamond runs well, decided to head back.  I was exhausted and ready to bed down for the night.  It’s funny to think about, but after waking from my slumber in the middle of the night, I headed to bathroom, groggily to take care of some business.  While all seem quiet for about 5 seconds, I could suddenly hear a flurry of activity outside the bathroom door.  Both dogs locked in a hurricane of play-fighting which dissipated after 2 or 3 seconds.  As if the dogs awake from their sleep ready to battle at a moments notice.  There can be only one!  Luckily, I could make it back to my bed at this point without getting attacked.

Denver Botanical Gardens

Denver Botanical Gardens

Tuesday, I woke up tired and sore and realized that any attempt at snowboarding would be a waste of my energies that day.  I spent my time getting up and then headed to Denver for the day.  After checking out the botanical gardens and the 16th ave mall, I located a Patagonia store hoping to replace my lost beanie.  By this time of year, they’re rolling out their spring clothing line, which means no beanies were in sight.  I headed back a little dejected to Silver Plume.  My neck was feeling better and I was ready for another day of snowboarding.

Wednesday, I decided to head to Keystone.  I had heard that it was a fun place to go and it definitely didn’t disappoint.  The weather was beautiful, if a bit cold in the morning.  I put on my gear, inhaled an egg sandwich and then wiped away the orange juice dripping from my chin, ready to attack the mountain for what would be my most glorious day of riding snow.

Denver Botanical Gardens

Denver Botanical Gardens

Snowboarding requires all your concentration.  Like other sports, surfing, rock-climbing, etc, you quickly concentrate on your movements.  For me, it’s much like meditation.  Rocking back and forth, applying force to your back foot to steer, it’s like concentrating on your breathing during meditation.  It is meditation, and helps me to clear my mind.  Many times throughout the day, I’d stop on some slope and peer out at the vastness of some of earths glorious mountains and remind myself how fortunate I am to be in this place and have these experiences.  A sunbeam would dance across my face illuminating a smile that didn’t leave until long after I had left for the day.

Ready to go.

Ready to go.

It had only been 3 days, but I was starting to feel the need for some companionship.  I consider myself a pretty solitary figure and enjoy traveling alone, yet, there are times…. when being alone is not exactly welcome and the alone-ness turns to loneliness.  I read so many travel articles on how great it is to travel alone and for the most part I agree.  You can make friends everywhere, but it’s just not possible to create the type of connection that you may really want at any given opportunity.  At least not for me…..

So, I reached out and tracked down my friends who informed me they had made it to Colorado and were in the process of heading up to the mountain.  We agreed to meet in Frisco for some dinner and laughs.  It would be a nice change from the solo trip I had taken thus far.

Denver Botanical Gardens

Denver Botanical Gardens

I burned up the afternoon, grabbing some Starbucks in Dumont and then napping the remainder of the afternoon away.  I arrived in Frisco ahead of my friends by an hour, so I located the bar we had agreed to meet at, ordered up a drink, and sat back while I enjoyed reading Drive by Daniel Pink.  After 45 minutes, my friends showed up and we headed to the sushi place next door where we caught up over jokes and stories about the dumb things we’ve done in the past.  Later, I opted to leave early so that I could ensure to get some time snowboarding the next day.  They informed me that there was a storm forecast-ed for the next afternoon, so I wasn’t sure I’d even get a full day of snowboarding in.  We still agreed to meet up at Copper Mountain the next day for my last day of snowboarding before heading home.

Memories and Laughs

Memories and Laughs

I woke up the next day fairly early to cloudy skies and slight flurries.  I headed out to the mountain, strapped on my gear and sent messages to my friends.  No response.  Being a solitary traveler, It didn’t really bug me.  I’m not much for waiting on friends, which is one of the reasons I choose to travel alone.  It wasn’t going to change the fact that I was going to hit a couple runs.  By 11am, I finally received a text that my friends were hung over and not going to do the mountain that day.  I felt a bit disappointed, until I received a message from one of my other friends unexpectedly.  I hadn’t seen Andrew in a couple years, but he saw my pictures on facebook and wondered where I was at.  Interestingly enough, he had just moved to Silverthorne, just 10 miles east of Copper, 3 weeks prior.  We agreed to meet up later in the afternoon at Dillon Dam Brewery to catch up.  It was as if the universe was letting me know that only by asking, it would provide me with some company for the day.

Old and new Friends

Old and new Friends

Andrew, his girlfriend, Hannah, and I met up at Dillon Dam Brewery in Silverthorne for lunch and caught up.  After getting sick of the Minneapolis winters, Andrew decided to make a change for better weather and country.  He seemed happy and I was happy to catch up with them.  As for Hannah, I knew I liked her after she made a reference to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  The snow was blanketing the town of Silverthorne, and I was already informed that I70 westbound had been closed.  If I had any chance of getting back, I had to leave sooner than later.  We exchanged hugs and I was off.

A bit of advice to all you travelers out there: Before heading into a snow storm where you might potentially be in bumper-to-bumper traffic, it is ill-advised to have a caffeinated drink before leaving.  After an hour in my vehicle, natures forces were telling me that the possibility of returning to Silver Plume to relieve myself was likely impossible.  After a failed attempt using the Starbucks cup left in my car from the day before, I finally came upon an exit where two old men had also stopped to take care of the same mistake I had made.  We gave each other the universal sign of “gentlemen in the same predicament” of solidarity and then went upon our business.

Hell of a storm

Hell of a storm

The trip was over and I was happy to know that I had successfully left everything I needed to let go of on my mountain exile.  My stresses and insecurities white-washed from the edge of my snowboard carving back-and-forth along a powder of opportunity and adventure.  I had played in the snow for 3 full days (some men never grow up) and I felt much better for it.  After returning to Minneapolis, I quietly acknowledged to myself that I was so done with winter.  Spring was on the horizon and I was ready for whatever challenges and adventures lied ahead for the year.

Epilogue

It was two days after arriving home from my trip.  I had returned to work, the stresses of my job already returning.  It was evening, and I decided to take in my favorite deli for dinner, the Afro Deli.  Their Afro Asian Chicken Suqaar, Gyro’s, and Sambusa’s are my personal recommendations.  This night, however, I would get some of their Somalian Tea and Chicken Fantastic.  But before getting dinner, I decided to hit my favorite outdoor sports gear store, Midwest Mountaineering.

Upon entering the store, I quickly moved to the clearance section, and sitting right in front of me was the exact same Patagonia beanie that I had lost in A-Basin.  Things had come full circle and the twin of my stolen beanie had presented itself to me as if to say “From this day forward, I will protect your head and ears from the winter elements, my master”.  I was overjoyed at stumbling upon this beanie for the second time.  Maybe I have an unhealthy relationship with certain items I possess, but I wouldn’t criticize until you’ve experienced the wonder of Merino Wool over your ears during the cold winter months.

And all is right in my universe once again…..

Cooking with Van Keszler: Professional Approach to Basics

It was time to get off my ass and start doing something for myself.  I had been living a somewhat hermit-like lifestyle now for the past 10 months wondering where all my drive to do things had gone.  I was dumbfounded with my lack of motivation in trying anything new. Hadn’t I, while walking a beach in Mancora, Peru, decided that once home, I would do things better and actually pursue the things that gave me happiness. While perusing the Cooks of Crocus Hill website late one evening, I stumbled upon a class titled “Professional Approach to Basics” taught by Master Chef and Instructor from Cordon Bleu, Van Keszler.  A class that teaches many of the foundations for making stocks, sauces, soups, and yummy foods was just what I was looking for.  And just a couple of days after Christmas, I wouldn’t have to worry about sneaking in one last gluttonous moment before my news years resolutions would rear their ugly head.

IMG_7748Arriving early on Saturday morning, I found my place right in front of the chef just as he was starting to cook down two huge blocks of all-natural butter.  Yeah – I knew the food was going to be good.  Van Keszler started to address the class by detailing what we could expect from the next two days.  His dry wit and sarcasm quickly put the class at ease.  I felt like the class was mostly full of people similar to me – people that love to cook, but not necessarily comfortable with all the details.  People looking to bring more to their own personal cooking. After about 45 minutes of cooking basics, methods, and a bit of science behind the cooking, we started creating teams for cooking projects.  “Who wants to do fish?”.  IMG_7750I slowly raised my hand and then 3 followed suit.  After picking teams, we got started.  Everyone, I think myself included, shot up and started gathering supplies, asking each other what we should do, and then realizing that no one really knew how to start.  Our initial mild freak-out sessions quickly abated as the chef moved from team to team offering encouragement and insight.  There were times he’d snarkily respond to something that you were trying to do.  While helping me out, I joked “I hope you don’t go Gordon Ramsey on me.”  He smiled and responded “I don’t get mean, I just get sarcastic.”  I can handle that.

IMG_7752The first day saw all of the teams creating various stocks (Brown, Chicken, Fish), Chicken Marsala, Pommes Parisienne, Sole Meuniere, Cream of Mushroom Soup, French Onion Soup, Various Viniagrettes, Shrimp Bisque, and some sauces / veloutes.  Everyone involved sat down for dinner twice, and by the time all of us left for the day, we vowed that we wouldn’t be eating dinner that night.  Instead, I decided to celebrate my day of cooking instruction by meeting up with some friends for some drinks.  But really, do you ever need a reason to go out with friends for drinks?

IMG_7755The next day, I arrived early so that I could claim a spot in their small parking lot.  I had a half hour to kill, so I went next door to Bread and Chocolate for a Chai and some Cardomon Cake.  I’m not sure why I ordered the cake considering in 2 more hours, I would be stuffing myself with more comfort foods. Class started similar to the day before where the chef talked about Braising techniques, sauces (derived from the stocks that we created the day before), and the various recipes we would be tackling that morning.  The morning session ran longer due to the length of time needed to cook the Balsamic-Braised Short Ribs, Coq au Vin, the Pork Blanquette, and all the IMG_7759accompaniments to go along with it. Cooking in that setting goes pretty well overall, until it doesn’t.  My class members looked over with amusement as I called out “Chef, may I confer with you about my peas?”  Dear god, please, I don’t want to be the guy that screws up cooking peas.  In the end, I hadn’t really screwed up the peas.  The lettuce we had used for that recipe wasn’t the highest quality and tended to bunch up in the mixture.  Our makeshift family for the weekend finally sat down around 1pm for our first dinner.  It was incredible – If I was impressed from the day before, I really was impressed now with the food we were preparing. The menu for the second half consisted of Fish en Papillote (white fish cooked in parchment paper), Roasted Chicken, Stuffed Pork Loin, Glazed Carrots, Steamed Brocolli, Green Beans Armandine, and Rice Pilaf.  To accompany all these dishes, all of the teams were responsible for making a sauce or two.  My team ended up making beurre blanc and sauce supreme (a mushroom sauce).  And, just before sitting down to eat second dinner, the instructor demonstrated the art of making hollandaise sauce.

IMG_7763When we finally sat down for our last meal, everyone, including myself, admitted that none of us were really hungry at all.  Do you think that kept us from eating the food we just prepared?  Not at all.  Like the day prior, we vowed that we wouldn’t eat dinner that night.  I stuffed myself as much as I could, fearing that if I went any further, my liver would turn to Foie Gras.  But, I finally had to admit defeat and lay down my fork.  The food had won, and I had gained a great deal of knowledge to improve my cooking that weekend.  Before leaving, I and several others tried to lend a helping hand to the dishwasher’s that had made our jobs so much easier that weekend, but we were shooed-away.  As we filtered out of the kitchen, we passed by our teacher and mentor and said thanks.  I added that I appreciated his patience and asked for a recommendation on a bread baking class.  I already had my sights set on my next challenge.

Forget the house, travel instead

Saving-for-a-HomeAbout 14 years ago, after I had moved to Minneapolis, my friend Jo had invited me to a presentation at REI.  A young woman in her 30’s had just traveled for 6 months to India and Nepal.  I remember her telling the audience that she had just saved enough money for a down payment on a house, but instead of buying a house, something had prompted her to travel instead.  This was years before I had acquired the travel bug, and honestly I was there because my friend Jo, a fellow traveler, was looking for ways to satisfy his own wanderlust.  I hadn’t thought about it much as I plodded along, working in corporate america, and eventually saving enough money myself where I was comfortable to buy my own home.  And in 2005, I finally did buy my first home.  And now, upon reflection, I wish I would have payed more attention to the possibilities being created in my life and refrained from buying a house.

People acquire houses for many different reasons.  For starters, as young adults, we’re often told that a house is a good investment because a) we’re not throwing our money away on rent every month and b) the house can appreciate over time.  Secondly, owning a house is seen as a sign of success in our society.  It is considered a major life achievement to own a home.  And of course, as a home owner, you can eventually make the leap towards renting out your home if you have those entrepreneurial ambitions.  Property is a symbol of your ever-expanding empire, in a sense.  Let’s also not forget that it is nice to have our own space, something that you can enhance to your liking and have your own creative space.

Upon entering my 30’s, I too, took the red pill and purchased a home.  In trying to be frugal, I finally decided on one half of a small twin home.  At 1200 square feet, it was modest, but perfect for my tastes.  And while I was extremely happy living in this home for the 8 years after I purchased it, I wish that there were some things that I understood before purchasing a home.

Homes are money pits

If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Money Pit” you’ll understand my reference.  While obviously over-the-top in humor and absurdity, the movie does have a good point.  All houses require maintenance and upkeep, and it is usually not cheap to maintain a functioning house.  Even a house in good condition can easily require a couple thousand dollars a year in maintenance fees.  If you’re somewhat savvy as a handyman, you can reduce this cost, but it doesn’t completely disappear.  As a first time homeowner, there’s many things that you’ll likely not pay attention to.  My home has a sewage ejection system that pumps everything from my house out into the street and up a hill to get to a sewage mainline.  When it is functioning, then everything is great.  But when it breaks it’s anywhere’s from $700 to $2500 to repair.  The pumps usually stay in good condition for 2 to 5 years.  Go ahead and do the math and factor that into your monthly costs.  On top of those costs, you need to think about big appliances (washers, dryers, etc) breaking, plumbing problems, exterior maintenance (painting, roof, lawn care, etc).

Your mortgage can make or break the situation

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I was one of those individuals that got caught up in the purchasing boom around 2005.  Being not sure of how long I wanted to stay in the house, I went with a 3 year Adjustable Rate Mortgage, with no down payment.  Anything below 20% down is also subject to mortgage insurance.  There are ways to avoid this, but keep in mind a tax will be added to your mortgage which won’t automatically come off after the loan is paid down to 78% of its original value.  After 2008 when the value of my home fell almost $70,000 in value, I was unable to refinance due to many different factors.  Thankfully, the Adjustable Rate Mortgage (which resets every 6 months) has remained fairly steady and has not increased any.  However, I’m always a bit worried about what happens when interest rates start rising again.  I’ve ridden out the storm surprisingly well, but the issues surrounding my home are a small annoyance and fear, always in the background.

Buying and Selling homes is expensive (and not easy)

Typically, you can expect to pay between $3000 and $5000 for broker and real-estate fees when purchasing or selling a home.  You can get that cost added to your mortgage so that you may pay it off over time, but it’s still something you have to pay.  Also, keep in mind that selling a home doesn’t always go as smoothly as you may have it built up in your mind.  After you decide to sell, there are appraisal costs and inspections that you have to undergo before you can sell the home.  And if the market is soft, depending on how badly you want to rid yourself of your property, you may end up accepting a far lower cost and still owe money on it after you’ve sold it.

Renting your house is not easy, either

If you do decide to travel, you may convince yourself that you’ll just rent out your house. While definitely a viable option (it’s what I did), keep in mind that it’s not as simple as just putting and ad on craigslist or padmapper.  You’ll most likely have to acquire a rental license from the city which requires money, inspections, and in my case, a required renter’s orientation class provided by the city.  If you’re smart, you’ll also hire someone that will manage the place for you while your gone.  Remember, that while you’re hiking the trail to Macchu Piccu, you’ll sometimes have worries about your property in the back of your head.  And let us not forget that unless you sell everything you own, you’ll need to find a place to store all your stuff after moving out of your place.

All the stuff that you’ll acquire

Like goldfish expanding to the size of our environments, owning a home (bigger space) can prompt us to acquire more things.  This is partly what anchor’s us.  All of those possessions that we rarely glimpse and get stowed away somewhere far from regular use.  I spent a full year to year and a half emotionally-parting from all of my things, selling them off or giving them away so that I could travel more easily.  The process was long and cumbersome.  I’ll never go back and am much happier now having gone through that process, but it is painful nonetheless.

Houses are not that great for investment purposes

While houses are known to appreciate over time, there’s ample evidence that suggests that the value of homes increases due to inflation only, and the actual value of the home only increases a mere 0.2%.  And let’s not forget the money you’ll be investing in your home for repairs and enhancements.  Unless you have the mindset where you like to put in a lot of your own manual labor and turn the houses yourself, I think you’ll be spending far more money and having more frustration hiring professional contractors to repair / upgrade your property. If you’re not sure if you’re ready to settle down, you should instead invest your money in an interest-bearing account that conservatively generates 5%.  That’s much better than the 0.2% you’ll see over the long term.

People Change (of course), as does everything else

As much as you’re committed to your vision of settling down, and creating a life for yourself, you don’t really know how your life is going to unfold.  At 35, I realized that I wanted to travel the world.  You may not have ambitions to travel, but you may lose your job, or cease to enjoy living in the neighborhood where you live, or receive a kick-ass job opportunity out in Portland or Vancouver.  Your life is going to change in so many, unexpected ways, and when you’re young(ish), a house is going to make it that much more difficult to flow with the amazing opportunities that are on your horizon.

After my foray into home ownership, I’ve developed a fairly jaded view towards this enterprise.  However, I do not believe that one should never own property.  In fact, while I’m still a bit raw from my experience with the current property I own, I’m sure that I will buy another property in the future.  It’s just that I plan on being much smarter about it the next time around.  I will not buy a home unless I have the full 20% to put down.  I personally think it’s better to buy a home outright, if you can, as a 30 year mortgage can leave you paying 250% of your home’s value after you have made all payments and paid off the interest and insurance.  And, if I was to do a mortgage again, I’d be sure to opt for a 15 year loan, instead.  Or better yet, for someone who is single, I’d recommend buying a tiny home for $30,000, save your money and then retire early.

Now, many people reading this may think I’m advocating a nomadic lifestyle of never settling down or making any kind of commitment.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I’m only advocating taking a moment (or ten) and rethinking your desires to own a home.  While the market might look good and you might feel the pressure of getting a good deal, step back and really look at whether you’re ready for a home and whether it will really benefit your lifestyle.  I advocate that people be smarter in saving their money.  And if your dreams are in owning a home, go for it.  Otherwise, hold off and travel the world (or follow whatever other dream you may have).

The year in review: The year of living uncomfortably

Just the other day, I realized that it’s been over a year since I left on my first extended travel experience.  It was November 2013 when I flew out of Minneapolis and started my journey in Quito, Ecuador.  From there, I experienced 4 incredible months of travel followed by 10 more months of personal exploration, re-adapting to Minneapolis, and adjusting my life to new wants and new needs.  So, below is a slight recap that looks forward with hope and excitement.

The Big Slowdown

I can’t run around anymore.  For many years, I would drive everywhere and try to fit too many things into my life with the hope that I could experience it all.  I’ve given up on that and have become very particular about what events I attend.  I’ve found that I push back more on events when I’m not feeling even 80% excited about them.  I’ve also thrown out my schedules to some extent.  I don’t try that hard to be anywhere at a specific time anymore.  I’ve also come to hate traffic, especially close to rush hours, and have chucked driving for riding the Green Line Transit into work.  Sure, it’s an hour total to get to work and another hour to get home, but I can read during that time.  I’ve found I’m much less stressed and in a better mood on those days.  Now, if only the Afro Deli wasn’t on my way back to my apartment…..

Frugality

It is partially a product of my uncertainty of where my future endeavors may lie, but I’m extremely conservative and deliberate in anything new that I acquire now.  I continue to sleep on a small $70 IKEA mattress in my apartment.  I have my table and chairs from before I left, but no couch.  I’m not entirely happy with the return to apartment-living, but being that I’m uncertain about where I’ll be in the near future, it’s acceptable for the time being.  I also go out for drinks or dinner less than before and when I do, I often stay in my neighborhood where I can easily walk to my destination.

Travel

There’s no turning back.  Since I’ve made this commitment towards traveling, I’m experiencing an even stronger pull to get out there again and see the world.  I’m prompted to head back to South America to see the countries that I missed such as Columbia, Bolivia, and Brazil.  However, I also have a strong pull towards heading east and visiting Iceland, Greenland, Europe, etc.  I’m currently targeting summer or fall of 2015.  And yet…..

Growth

…. there’s a major nagging sensation that I need to figure out my own personal happiness and growth in this world.  I love travel and respect all the people I’ve read that have made traveling a permanent lifestyle choice.  However, I’m feeling the need to contribute more and to get involved more in the causes that matter to me the most.  And while I recognize that the two options (traveling vs. work / professional growth) are not necessarily mutually exclusive, I’ve found that I need to put focus towards that aspect of my life.  It’s very foggy at this point.  I may have to figure out a way to include more growth experiences or entrepreneurial activities within my travels or potentially spend an extended period of time somewhere working to create something of value.  I realize now that expecting to fall into something through wandering the world is unrealistic for me.  I need to start trying some things out and seeing what sticks.  I’ve recently signed up for some cooking classes to expand my knowledge in something that I love.  I’m also continuing to look for volunteer opportunities with organizations I care about to provide me with experience in different areas of service.  I’m starting to recognize my desire to create my own work rather than contribute to someone else’s.

Letting Go

If there’s one concept that I’m trying to embrace fully, it is that I need to let go of bad feelings, judgments, assumptions, jealousy, insecurity for myself or towards other people.  I want to move forward with more acceptance and less stress in my life.  I’m also much better at embracing the uncomfortable experiences and uncertain times that present themselves.  It truly has been a year of discomfort on many levels, but I think I’ve adjusted quite well to the life that is awaiting me.

Resolutions

Yeah, we all make them and often times break them, but t’is the season, and I’ve always been one to set some goals for the future (even if they’re really small so that I’m sure to achieve them).  I want to write more.  I want to create more and put it out there for other people to experience.  This can include cooking, music, writing, software.  If I can be less timid in my approach to life, I think I may open up some new and incredible doors for myself this coming year.  I also want to work more towards my own personal calmness and tranquility.  I’ve always thought passion is a wonderful thing to have, but I want, for myself, to be more calm when challenges present themselves.  And maybe even a bit more excited to take those challenges on.

It’s a new year (in 7 days) and the sky is the limit.

Travel and the eureka moment

Over the last two weeks, my friend Lisa, also a fellow traveler, sent me a couple of links to articles about returning home after a long trip and the adjustment that one usually undergoes.  I was especially struck by this article where the author expresses dismay at not having experienced a “Eureka” moment where he suddenly feels like his life makes sense, or that he knows what his calling is.  Before I left on my trip, I too had hoped that the answers would come to me and that I would find something that might propel me forward in life.  And while I experienced some moments where I stumbled upon some nuggets of understanding, I unfortunately didn’t experience any kind of “Eureka” moment.

After being back and having time to process my time away, I’ve come to see that the expectation or hope that you’ll have some profound experience that will elicit the answers to your questions is unrealistic.  It’s also unfortunate that one would make long term travel plans with that expectation in mind.  Don’t get me wrong – I do believe that people can experience a moment of clarity while traveling that answers what they should pursue as a vocation in life, but I don’t think someone should expect that same outcome.

For me, traveling is no longer about finding THE answer.  Instead, it is an exercise in learning to let go.  To travel for any length of time, you’re required to let go of many things including your home, comfort, belongings, friends and family (for a time), security, etc.  And any notions of who you think you are will likely drift away as you undertake new adventures, meet new people and enjoy new experiences with the people and places that surround you.  You’ll likely let go of old grudges and regrets.  You’ll forgive yourself and the world around you for any misdeeds and misunderstandings.

And through letting go, you’ll free yourself from all the baggage that you had before and open yourself up to the possibilities of this world.  And through your new-found lightness, you’ll shed some of your fears and push yourself to try things that originally frightened you and held you back from living in the moment.  You will develop greater confidence in yourself and better understand how far and fast you can push yourself.  In the end, a clarity will settle upon you and notions will develop within you of what is possible.

And this is where I think the magic starts to happen.  You learn to embrace uncertainty and discomfort, for those are the things that help to propel us forward or to make big changes in our lives.  But it’s not a change that happens overnight, and it’s definitely not a “Eureka” moment.  Nor is it a destination where you finally know all that will make you happy or land you your dream job.  Instead is the realization that you’re living your best life now and that instead of having all the answers to life, the universe, and everything, you’ve learned to enjoy the positive moments in your life to their absolute fullest.  You’ll no longer try to rush those moments or keep yourself on a schedule, but instead you’ll start operating from your heart and making decisions based on what you feel you want.

It’s a commonly held belief that when traveling to the Galapagos Islands, that Charles Darwin was so influenced by the wildlife that he encountered there that he ultimately had a “Eureka” moment where he then developed his theories on evolution.  However, upon further research, it has been proven false and has been shown that he had actually been working on his theories for a substantial amount of time prior to his time in the Galapagos..

So being that answers typically materialize over a lengthy period of time, I’ve come to the realization that it’s more about appreciating and enjoying our lives to their fullest in-between the times where life may elicit those answers.  So, if you haven’t had a “Eureka” moment in your life, fear not – you’re living it right now.  The act of challenging yourself, having some adventures, and stepping out of your comfort zone will ultimately provide the answers that you seek and contribute to the life that you want.

 

Creative Space

StatueIn the 3 months since my last post, I’ve basically struggled with finding a comfortable place to do the creative things that I love (cooking, writing, playing guitar, etc).  Hence the hiatus from contributing ideas to my blog.  Yet the need to create persists, and I’ve come to realize that this is something that I need to make time for.  Recently, I came across the article on Chris Guillebeau’s Art of Non-Conformity site aptly titled Why You should Write and realized how fulfilling it is for me to get my ideas out there.

In May of this year, I joined a co-collaborative, co-networking group called CoCo.  I basically took a risk and joined with the hope that I’d network with new people in different industries and would soon be well on my way towards establishing my own career identity.  I’ve scrambled to fill the gaps in how I effectively network and am still hoping to see the fruits of my labors.  Networking is a full-time endeavor, one which I have a lot more respect for.

Along with the challenges of networking, I’ve come to realize the importance of creative space.  When I was younger, I used to think that musicians paying rent on a place that they could store their instruments and practice, a jam-space if you will, was quite foolish and unnecessary.  But now I get it.  The space to create is an extremely important component of the creative individual.  A place where musicians can leave their gear as well as define the type of work that is created is very important to the overall mental health in moving their artwork forward.

A couple years ago, a friend of mine who’s director of a small IT company embarked on what I consider a really amazing project.  He decided to build a tiny house.  Initially, he found a warehouse 30 minutes south of St. Paul, Minnesota to begin the construction of his house.  For about a year and a half, development went well, before construction got to a point where the house could weather the elements on it’s own.  Soon after, he terminated his lease with the garage and moved the tiny house into his backyard.  Financially it was a very wise decision.  At the same rate, after the move, new construction on his house almost completely ceased and he found difficulty in working on it.  Priorities had obviously shifted, but he readily admits to me that without the garage he used to work in, he finds that he’s not as excited to work on his project anymore.

After moving into my current apartment a couple of months ago, I’ve struggled to work on anything creatively.  I don’t own much at this time, and am reluctant to go out and purchase anything new due to my uncertainty of what I want out of life next.  Do I want to get a new home, or do I want to leave next year on another grand adventure?  Unfortunately, the complacency and inability to commit to any direction has forestalled any progress in making my apartment into any kind of creative space to work on my ideas.  It wasn’t until recently when I finally moved my table out of my friends storage unit that I felt like I had some kind of work-bench again.

Recently, I heard about a friend that moved into an apartment complex that was designed to cater only to artists.  They have an intense and thorough interview process where you have to prove that you’re the type of person that would benefit from living there.  With the emergence of co-working spaces, living spaces catered towards artistry, or places where one can go create, learn, and collaborate, like The Hack Factory in Minneapolis, it makes me wonder if we’ll see more and more creative spaces pop-up in an effort to provide needed work areas for people looking to be creative and explore.

My eyes have been opened to the importance of creative spaces.  People cannot confine themselves to any 4 walls and expect to be creative.  In many companies, there’s an expectation that one can be seated in a cubicle and expected to produce stellar work.  However, that’s not the case.  I’ve found that by exposing myself to other creative individuals, at least once a week, at least helps me to keep my creative juices flowing.  Creative output is a difficult thing to measure and often takes a period of time to manifest, but I do believe that the environment that we place ourselves directly impacts our ability to be creative.

Of Native Masks and Khaki Pants

Native MaskMy muse is getting the better of me tonight.  It’s Friday and I feel tired and ready to sleep.  Yet, when I attempted sleep, a curious memory crept into my head.  A memory that I feel compelled to write about.

It starts with an exercise that my life coach, Gracie had given me the year before.  We were discussing my fear of leaving Minneapolis for an extended trip, and the opposing arguments that were battling for control over that decision.  Her instructions were to first assign an object that represented each of these opposing arguments.  For the first argument, I chose a native mask, similar to the one that my friend Jo had bought for me when he traveled to Bali.  The native mask represented the side of me that wanted an adventure.  It was the voice of risk and adventure.  For the opposing argument, I chose a pair of Khaki pants.  These pants represented my comfortable life where I was gainfully employed and living a stable life.  It was the voice of reason.  Or at least I thought.

Next in the exercise was to visualize a confrontation between the two objects.  Each object has the opportunity to present their truth and convince me why I should listen and side with their reasoning.  The pair of Khaki pants obviously cited the risks of giving up my stable life and regular income.  Compounded with leaving my friends behind and adopting a life that resembles something akin to homelessness, really put some fear in me.  The native mask counteracted these assumptions by reminding me that 1) I could re-acquire all of my belongings when I was ready, 2) It was unlikely that I’d stay homeless and due to my intelligent nature would likely find a job when I returned, and 3) that I had proven to myself time and time again that with traveling, there’s really nothing to worry about.

Lastly in the exercise, the two objects were to “size each other up” and consider establishing some type of common ground between their philosophies.  In the end, we agreed that while both sides looked a little weird and odd to each other but they could both live harmoniously and be non-judgmental towards each other.  And of course, the native mask won out and I skipped town for four months on my grand adventure.

Flash forward 4 months after I return.  I’ve finally landed some work with a small company that I think will offer me some flexibility with my time.  I’m making less than I was before, but I’m also much more relaxed with the people that I’m working with.  Up to accepting this opportunity, I really struggled with interviewing for work. None of the opportunities felt like they were that perfect or interesting to me.  In fact the current opportunity I’ve taken is not perfect either.  I know I shouldn’t expect so much.  But it’s Friday night and I’m lying in bed thinking about the native mask and the khaki pants and realize that the khaki pants don’t even resemble khaki pants anymore.  I’m not even sure they exist.  If they do exist, they’re probably brightly colored with Polynesian hieroglyphs painted all over them.  It’s an indicator.  I don’t feel comfortable dressing up in a business suit that doesn’t represent who I am as a person.  And then trying to create the best impression knowing that I must be careful in how I represent myself.  Talking about taking off for 4 months will only be met with curious looks, glazed over eyes, and worry by the corporate establishment.  It could very well look like someone in khaki pants looking down at me dressed in a native mask and a loin cloth.

It’s interesting when you finally realize that no company is ever going to give you the life that you want.  You need to create that for yourself.  In the interim, I’m trying to surround myself with other people that have scaled back their life and exited the corporate world to work for themselves.  I have projects and passions that I hope to dedicate more time to.  And of course, there’s travel.

There will be other adventures.  With each step on my journey, I hope to do things better and to open myself up more to what this life has in store for me.  It’s an odd feeling returning home.  When you initially return home, nothing feels different.  Everyone and everything around you feels the same.  In fact, you’re so happy to be home, that even you feel very much the same.  And then it hits you, 4 months after you’ve returned home, you realize that nothing is the same.  Like those khaki pants, you’re now unrecognizable.  Your personality and feelings are now brightly colored and painted with the hieroglyphs of the experiences that you’ve experienced along the way.

Acceptance, Nebraska

“It’s better to have an amazing relationship with your house plant than a horrible relationship with another human being” — My sister

The weekend after Memorial Day, I decided to go on a little trip and visit my sister and nieces in Gering, Nebraska.  Wanting to make time for myself and have a little adventure along the way, I opted for renting a car and driving to Gering, Nebraska, rather than take one of the puddle-jumpers from Denver.  Also, I wasn’t keen on the possibility of getting sick flying in a small, unstable plane like I had the year before.

IMG_7657Upon arriving in Denver, I picked up my car and headed out on Interstate 76 and up County Rd 71 to Nebraska.  I happened upon a farm of windmills unlike any I had seen before. It was amazing considering I’ve always been fascinated by renewable energy, and had never seen more than one or two windmills in a particular area.  I took a quick break, stretched my legs a bit, and finally took some pictures.  I continued onward towards Nebraska.

I arrived at my sister’s house in Gering around 1pm and after dropping off my luggage, gave my sister and nieces a hug.  Next, I gave my nieces some handmade necklaces my friend from Minneapolis had made for them at my request.  With family reunited, I settled in for a long weekend of accomplishing absolutely nothing while enjoying the company of my family.  The afternoon was spent catching up. My sister quickly gave me the ground rules of conversation topics.  No politics or religion – this was obviously due to my left-ish leanings.  But I respect my sister for working to maintain the peace.  Early in the evening, my brother in law arrived back at the house and we all congregated for a pizza dinner and watching Napoleon Dynamite.  My nieces and I couldn’t even get through the opening credits before starting to quote the movie.  Channeling my best Napoleon, I offered “IDIOT!”.  My nieces responded in their best Kip voice “Napoleon, you know I’m training to be a cage fighter.”  Giggling, my sister shouted “No quoting the movie while it’s playing!”

IMG_7677I should mention that my sister does not have WiFi in her house.  Actually, this isn’t that weird, but for someone that spends a lot of time on their laptop, it would be a challenge for me to get through the weekend without checking my email.  So, I headed out to the nearby coffee shop, The Daily Grind for some work.  I was surprised to see they offered Chai tea latte’s on the menu.  I set down my laptop and began to do some work.  I like staying in places where the pace of life is slower, however, because the pace is slower, you can expect the businesses to close early, even on a Saturday.  So, I wasn’t surprised to find out the coffee shop closed at noon, which was fine considering my sister was planning on taking my nieces and I for a walk along the river in the afternoon after I returned.  So I returned to the house and we all piled in the car for an afternoon of skipping rocks in the river and catching glimpses of Nebraska wildlife, namely some frogs and even a small turtle.  Once we finished, we headed back for afternoon naps.  Later that evening, we had barbecue pulled-pork sandwiches and some potato salad.  While looking through my bag, I discovered that I had forgotten my mouse at the coffee shop.  I could only hope to retrieve it on Monday as I was heading out of town.

Sunday was spent chauffeuring my sister around to do some errands.  After returning, I took a long nap and then continued reading my book A Guide to the Good Life {the ancient art of stoic joy}.  Later, my youngest niece and I finally went head-to-head playing some Mario Kart.  It wasn’t much of a competition as she beat me what seemed like 95 percent of the time.  I wish I could say that I let her win, but alas, I am no match against my niece on a turbo-powered scooter that shoots turtle shells.

IMG_7681My sister and I closed out the night catching up and talking over a glass of wine.  We talked about our family, the state of our lives, etc.  Among all the topics we discussed, I found my sister discussing the topic of Acceptance to be one of the most interesting.  We talked about some of the frustrations in our lives and the need to be accepting of the things that we cannot change.  I’ll be honest and say I’ve always had a difficult time accepting things.  Being someone that is passionate about many things, I’ve often picked battles that were completely unnecessary.  I found the conversation interesting considering the book I was reading had a chapter on not expending energy on the things that you’re powerless to affect.  We wrapped-up the conversation around 11 and bid each other a good night.  I pulled a blanket over myself on their incredibly comfortable couch and after feeling a cold breeze reach through the window to kiss me goodnight, I fell fast asleep.

IMG_7682The next morning, I awoke, showered, and hung out with my nieces one last time before shoving off.  I wasn’t sure which way I was going to take to go back to Denver.  I hugged my nieces goodbye.  I left my brother-in-law with a firm handshake and my sister with a kiss on the cheek before driving off.  I stopped at the coffee shop before leaving town and happily discovered that they remembered me and had held onto my mouse. After ordering a celebratory Chai, I left the coffee shop and Headed south on Highway 71.  After seeing the sign for the turn onto Highway 88, I thought “what the hell”, and decided to turn west to head towards Cheyenne, Wyoming.  I had 8 hours before my flight took off and I felt like squeezing in some sight-seeing before jetting off.

It’s interesting – I don’t really care for driving anymore, especially in the cities.  But, driving long distances through beautiful country is still very enjoyable and meditative for me (as long as the traffic is light).  I arrived in Cheyenne, poked around for some lunch, and after deciding I wasn’t that hungry, decided on Starbucks instead.  I ate a fruit bowl while I quickly checked my email.  I wasn’t feeling Cheyenne too much.  Thinking that maybe I could find something that would strike my fancy for a late lunch in Fort Collins, I decided to continue my adventure elsewhere.

IMG_7685I stopped at the Colorado Visitors Center outside Fort Collins and received some restaurant recommendations.  I finally decided upon the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant for lunch.  Driving through Fort Collins, I made a note to myself to return someday as it seems like a fun town to experience.  I was running out of time, so, I quickly inhaled my crab and shrimp enchiladas and left the restaurant to make my way to Denver.  I returned my car and headed to my terminal.  With my adventure over, it was time to return home.

This, I believe is why I love travel.  No matter now long your trip or how exotic the location, it gives you time to reflect and meditate.  Travel opens up your senses and helps you welcome the world with open arms.  That’s a difficult thing to do when you’re inundated with work and daily chores or distracted by people and things.  It reminds you of your role in this world and prompts you to perform to the best of your strengths and abilities while reminding you to accept the things that you cannot change.  I need to accept that everyone has a different perspective than I do and that perspective is borne from that person’s personal history.  I am starting to accept that despite my many offerings, there will always be people that don’t want anything from me.  Yet, it reminds me to focus and run towards those people that do want my talents.  I accept that no matter how hard I try, I cannot be happy and content all the time, so maybe it’s better if I don’t try so hard or at least try with less intensity.  And lastly, I accept that given this life, I am obligated to try and make this life the best and most interesting life that I possibly can.  Next stop: Home, where I’ll need to accept that to my next big adventure will not be attainable without at least another year or more of work and strict savings.  I’m looking forward to whatever life has in store for me.

Coffee, Tea, or Beer?

In the month that I’ve joined CoCo, the Collaborative and Co-Networking space in downtown Minneapolis, I’ve come to realize that I know next to nothing about networking and selling myself for the kinds of opportunities that I’m interested in.  When I started my career, I would send out resumes for full-time opportunities with a cover letter detailing why I thought I was a match for the company, hoping that I said the correct things to get noticed.  Later, after I became a contractor, I’d rely on recruiters for both contracts and later full-time roles.  After 17 years, I’ve found myself disillusioned at the effort I feel I need to make to “fit-in” and be accepted.  My pool of effective recruiters continues to implode on itself as I discover less that provide me with any kind of relevant feedback.  And as my intent has changed from finding a job to finding something I enjoy doing, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I can network properly, I’m more likely to find success in that.

Kelly is a freelance developer for the Agriculture industry that Matt, a fellow confidant working at CoCo, has connected me to.  Kelly’s about my age and has been working in IT for a little longer than I have.  He has found himself in roles, mainly as a Software Developer and at times as Project Manager.  Kelly has been successfully freelancing for over a year now.  After stopping by his solo desk near the back, we both grab our cup of tea and head off to the lounge area to chat.  I’m looking forward to picking Kelly’s brain about how I can better market myself as a freelancer, or contractor for that matter.

We spend the next hour talking about everything ranging from our own personal work histories to networking oneself and finally finishing on a more philosophical note of where Technology is going and where we may find ourselves functioning in that technology space in the next 10 years.

Kelly confirms some of the information that I’ve been given by other individuals.  I need to be more assertive about what I want, and start working with my network more effectively.  To my surprise, he’s found LinkedIn to be much more helpful than I have, although I don’t find myself networking as much as he has on there.  He reaffirms for me that creating a set of business cards that market my skills as an individual will probably be beneficial.  I’m also under the perspective that scrambling to create a portfolio website at this time will not help me much.  Kelly also talked to me about why recruiters post consistently with links to articles on LinkedIn all the time.  While not extremely relevant all the time, the effect it creates is to keep that person “at the top” of the list.  He didn’t suggest that I employ the same mechanism, but that posting on my linked in on a semi-regular basis could help me stay relevant and generate more interest in my skills and needs.

What I found even more helpful is when we talked about when Kelly was just starting to go freelance.  At one point, he says, he rented out a small, shared office space in downtown Minneapolis hoping to be among a more entrepreneurial crowd that he could network with.  Instead, he found himself among divorce lawyers and insurance salesman.  The only positive thing from that experience, he states, is that he could call the aide at the front desk and have copies of documents made.  It’s lonely striking out on your own, and we both agreed that you need people to interact with.  We also agreed that some of the best networking that we’ve encountered came out of the beer networking events hosted by CoCo every week.  I’ve come to realize that I really enjoy the socialization and networking that comes from either having a coffee, tea, or beer with someone.

Of course, the best part of our networking came when Kelly validated everything that I’ve gone through thus far.  Having experienced all the same uneasiness in marketing himself and having so many questions surrounding how to do it correctly, he reassured me that everyone striking out on their own experiences the same fear.  I’ve come to realize the most important thing derived from networking – not feeling alone and stupid.  In the end, Kelly recommended two books for me.

Influence:  The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port

It’s a good thing that I’m a sponge for books, because I WILL read these books and hopefully be the better for it as far as networking goes.  I’ve also come to realize that networking for me is becoming so much more than finding my next opportunity, but for getting ideas.  With each person I talk to, I get more ideas to play with, or books to read, or a better perspective about things I’ve originally thought were useless or didn’t apply to me.  And while it seems, for the moment, that all I’m following is a trail of breadcrumbs, I am moving in some direction.  I feel positive about that.

Homework

Dreams Banner

Weeks before my friend Lynn left to travel for 6 1/2 weeks, she posed the following question for me as “homework”: “What would you do if you had no fear and money was no object?”  When she first said those words to me, I immediately thought of that Tragedy and Hope video of Alan Watts where he questions “What makes you tick?…”  Five weeks later, having brushed this assignment aside, I believe it’s time to finish this assignment.  Partly because I love dreaming and scheming, but mainly because my posts as of late have been somewhat dark and serious.  And I need to focus on more positive things.

I think for many people, questions like this may be interpreted as having infinite amounts of money.  But, money being no object isn’t about having all the money in the world, it’s about having your basic necessities taken care of.  And after you make that realization, you understand what the question is really about.  It’s really about overcoming fear.  Since many of our hangups are about having insufficient funds to support ourselves, we tend to eliminate dreams before we examine them fully for feasibility.  But once we eliminate that particular fear, we can fully concentrate on dreaming big.  We can fully consider the dreams that cause us the most fear.  And as I’ve always said – “It’s the opportunities that scare you the most that you should pursue.”

So, “what would I do if you had no fear and money was no object?”  Here’s an incomplete list of things that currently come to mind.

  • I would do another prolonged trip.  In fact, I already have ideas swirling in my head.  I’m certain that I’m going to go travel again and for a longer amount of time.  I spent only 4 months traveling on this last trip, mainly, to test the waters.  I didn’t know if I’d be able to adapt to being away from home for so long, but I’ve come to realize that long-term travel is really enjoyable and fits me quite nicely.
  • I would have many more adventures which include, but are not limited to, the following:  I would go skydiving, learn to fly a plane, go into the depths of Africa on an safari, spend 4 months diving with Wicked Diving out in Southeast Asia, do some Wwoofing on farms throughout the world while practicing my language skills, dive the Great Barrier Reef, take sailing lessons and sail around the Caribbean, learn to play the violin, spend time in the rainforest, take cooking lessons from great chefs around the world, learn Arabic, and do humanitarian work in Africa or Haiti.
  • I would be an entrepreneur, focusing on my gifts and ability to create my own art to serve the world somehow.  To create something without focusing on the income is the most pure form of creation that I can imagine.
  • To have a small vineyard and create wine.  I’m a bit of a romantic.
  • To organize a charity running event.  I’m not interested in races or winners.  I’m only interested in gathering people that enjoy running and would like to donate their time and money towards a good cause while networking with other active runners.
  • It’s been a dream of mine for sometime to run a Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast.  I don’t see this as something that I’ll want to pursue until my wanderlust has waned a bit.  I see this as more of an early-retirement venture.
  • I would be an influence in a child’s life.  This may take the form of being an active participant in a Big Brothers, Big Sister program, possibly an educational opportunity, or potentially even adopting a child.
  • To be a mentor and/or coach other people towards following their dreams, or in the very least to construct a life based on fulfillment, rather than monetary wealth.

So there you have it – my bucket list, not in it’s entirety, of course, but some of the things I dream about on a regular basis.  What would you do if you had no fear and money was not an object?