Magic, the Mundane, and Manual Labor

It’s no secret that the past fourteen months of travel have been magical. And we’ve written about that. Yoga under a desert moon, whales breaching the surface on long runs along lava cliffs, canoeing as the lone person on Silver Lake, delicious food, breath-taking hikes, immeasurable hospitality…the list of magic could continue. For this, and so much more, we are infinitely grateful. So, hear us clearly. Nothing about this blog is a complaint. Our Year of Travel Discernment stems from both a tremendous amount of privilege and copious amounts of hard work; we’ve written about the privilege part several times.

Since many people espouse critiques of social media and blogs by attesting that users portray their lives as utopian and unrealistic, never posting the photos of the Pinterest fails or bad days, we find it important to dispel any kind of belief that this year has been counted by days sipping Pina Coladas on the beach while Riah fans us with palm fronds. Unfortunately, we have yet to train him to do this. In sincerity, though these social media critiques are valid and sometimes true, they also overlook the point of taking photos. Who frames a picture of their family sulking on a rainy hike, or everyone landing on a jumping photo rather than in mid-air? I assume that everyone knows—particularly everyone who has ever had a toddler—that every good photo has at least seven bad ones that weren’t frame (or post) worthy. Our sharing of our adventure is similar.

After that slight digression, allow me to talk a bit about the mundane that has accompanied the magic. You know all those things that adults typically have to do—laundry, bills, mail, printing annoying paperwork, cleaning the toilet, taxes, wiping up spills? We’ve still done all those things. Even amidst the magic. The breaching whale doesn’t pay my bills for me. The stunning views after a steep hike won’t wash my clothes. What makes the mundane, daily tasks of adulthood more challenging is being on the road. This was a choice we made and we don’t regret it. We knew parts would be hard. But we didn’t envision spending so much money on laundromats that we could have otherwise purchased a washing machine. Now, there would be no place to put said washing machine in our 180 sq/ft camper, and since we typically didn’t have power or water, the washing machine would render itself useless. But you get the idea. The simple task of printing and signing a writing contract became comically difficult on numerous occasions when I had to drive 45 minutes into town to find cell service or wifi, then track down a random place that would let me print, and send it back. In our non-traveling lives in a home, or working in an office, this mundane task would have taken about 3 minutes. On the road, it took 3 days. Banking, laundry, bathing, cleaning, grocery shopping, shipping, and receiving mail are all things we did regularly in our “normal” non-traveling life, but all of these mundane tasks took on higher degrees of difficulty on the road. There were times this tempered the magic. But it was still completely worth it.

Then there was the manual labor and the not-so-glamorous side of full-time travel…with a toddler. I’ll start by saying that parenting continues to be the most difficult thing I have ever done. Violence, poverty, addiction, divorce, mental illness, a Ph.D., marathons, death, loss, eating disorders, cracked ribs, sexual abuse. These are all things that have been challenging parts of my life in various ways, but none have challenged me as much as parenting. I love my kiddo. Riah is curious and silly, adventurous and active, filled with wonder and laughter; I am grateful to be one of his moms. But it’s also really hard. Parenting a toddler on the road is particularly difficult. First, you’re living in 180 sq/ft and your “home” changes regularly. When it rains nonstop for 2 weeks or mosquitoes eat all your flesh, you have to be particularly creative not to go bonkers. Potty training has been immensely challenging. We have no community traveling alongside of us, so date nights, time alone, or help watching our kiddo is very rare. We are together 24/7. We knew this before we left. And we chose to do this anyway. And we’d do it again in a heartbeat. But that doesn’t make it any less difficult. Or any less smelly, especially when you don’t have running water and you and your wife exercise and hike every day and your toddler pees on everything. 180 sq/ft can get stinky pretty fast, even if you’re a “clean freak.”

Nine of the fourteen months of travel encompassed some version of a work-exchange. As campground hosts, we had free electric hook-ups for four months, but no running water. We got this sweet deal in a magically beautiful location with an almost private lake for the small price of cleaning pit toilets, picking up trash, and shoveling out fire pits. The pit toilets were, by far, the most glamorous part of our travels. I recall someone saying, “Doesn’t it feel beneath you to clean out these toilets? I mean, you both have Ph.D.s! What was your degree for?” No matter my degree, the toilets need to be cleaned and that was the deal we made. So, that’s what we did. There is absolutely nothing about that that is beneath me.

While we’re on the subject of toilets, I’ll continue to some of the other latrinous parts of our adventure. While living in our pop-up camper for five months, all of our urine flushed into a very small holding tank. Unlike our current camper that can be drained into a luxurious “dump station,” the pop-up holding tank had to be taken out manually. It was like a little suitcase filled with piss. And it was my job to empty it. Several times a week I’d muscle it out of the side of the pop-up and roll it toward one of the pit toilets to empty it. As I wheeled away, Elizabeth always sang, “My baby takes the morning train.” She would do this and laugh hysterically. I’m still not quite sure why, though I imagine that I looked—and smelled—rather absurd wheeling a plastic suitcase full of piss down a bumpy trail toward a pit toilet. Once the pit toilet had a snake it in. I was pretty scared.

I’ll stop with the bathroom realities after this final example of “keeping it real” on the road. You couldn’t really poop in the pop-up camper because then I’d be responsible for wheeling that shit away in the plastic suitcase and a sister has to draw the line somewhere. So, we usually used the aforementioned pit toilets. But there were times when it was night and there were bears outside, or it was pouring rain, or you were just a little scared of the snake you saw earlier, so you had to get creative. And I don’t just mean pooping in the woods because, let’s be honest, that’s not any better when it’s raining or dark or bears are in the woods. So, you have to rig a plastic bag so that it hoovers just over the toilet. You have to poop in the bag. Then you have to tie up the poop bag, as though you might while walking your dog, and drop it just outside the door so that you could carry it to the trash the next morning. While camping later in grizzly country, we learned that human poop attracts bears. Sexy. Scary.

When doing yard work in exchange for housing for three months, someone lamented that our gifts and talents were going to waste as we pulled an infinite number of ferns out the dirt, as though we should offer a lecture or book-singing in exchange for housing when yard work is truly what needed to be done.

Because we did this adventure on the super-cheap, we refused to pay to camp most of the time when we weren’t doing work exchange for five months. So, we’d go about two weeks of “dry camping” before paying for a few nights at a fancy campground that had electricity and water. “Dry camping” is the phrase used to describe camping without power or water, often on Bureau of Land Management areas, Walmart or Casino parking lots. Our camper has a battery that keeps it charged for a few days, but none of the outlets are wired to run on the battery, so we couldn’t charge any of our cell phones or computers. I cannot tell you the number of hours I spent looking for outlets to charge my phone or battery block; I could tell you, but that would be more embarrassing than pooping in a bag. And our water holding-tank was usually enough to provide us about 5 days of washing, cooking, and drinking water. Then we had to manually refill with jugs of water and a funnel we cut out of a diet coke bottle. Or we had to get creative. Once I washed my hair in the bathroom of Ben and Jerry’s in Burlington, VT. We made deals with the owners of a B&B so that we could use their outdoor shower. We took countless Campsuds baths in the lake. We lugged around heavy water containers and filled them up anytime we found a place with potable water. And we stank a lot, too.

During our times dry camping in not-so-beautiful places like Walmart or Casino parking lots, we still wanted to exercise, so you could find us unrolling our yoga mat in the Walmart parking lot or endlessly running loops around the outside of a casino with Riah in the jogging stroller. There were stunning runs with inspiring views, to be sure, but there were also plenty of times we dodged pot holes at a truck stop while sprinting past cat-calling truckers.

Amidst the magic, the mundane, and the manual labor, there were the annual difficulties and losses of life. Family or friends struggled with addiction and we felt helpless so far away, so we wept. Beloved friends got married and we couldn’t afford to fly across the country to attend because we’d already spent the equivalent of 3 months of living expenses flying from Hawaii for another wedding. There was sickness and loss and adulting and parenting. And an endless amount of beauty and magic.

If a set of queer parents with an active toddler asked if they should take a year to do something similar, we’d tell them “yes.” But we’d also say that the beauty and magic is coupled with a lot of challenges that are often minimized by people who think you can do this because your life is perfect or you must be rich. We are neither. But we are pretty damn lucky. If our fortune and wonder may smell slightly of a plastic suitcase filled with piss, that’s fine with me.

On Hospitality and Double Overhead Cams

Much of this wild Year of Volunteer Travel Discernment could be about the kindness of our families, and we’ve written as much in the past. But today I’d like to talk a bit about the kindness of strangers. The kind that overwhelms and humbles and surprises you, ridding you of stereotypes and false assumptions. The kind that gives you hope when your heart is heavy from laughably offensive rulings in rape cases at Stanford and hate massacres of fellow queers in Orlando.

On the heels of these events, our hearts were heavy. As a woman, a queer woman, a queer woman with Mexican family, I felt vulnerable and emotionally drained. Our little family loaded up the camper—like we always do—bid farewell to my dad and brother and left the Tetons. The plan was to spend 4-5 days meandering through Wyoming before arriving at an amazing community housing in Fort Collins, CO. These plans were interrupted by a Ford recall on the Togwotee Pass. I’d never heard of the Togwotee Pass, and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t quite realize we were driving on it. It’s stunningly beautiful, with sweeping views of the Tetons, fields of wildflowers, and grizzly bear warnings every few miles. It’s also tremendously steep. Our little Explorer has the towing package of a semi (hyperbole, but you get the idea), but it still has/had the V6 engine of a standard Explorer. Recently, Ford recalled the thermostat housing unit, along with the attached sensor. We did not know this since our particular 2004 Explorer has had quite a few owners before us and our trusty little camper. As we chugged our way up the Togwotee Pass, the engine was overheating and we had no idea because the sensor wasn’t communicating this important information to us. Because the thermostat housing unit was now cracked—also unbeknownst to us—water was spewing all over the engine. This is all very bad.

togwotee

One of the many stunning views on the Togwotee Pass

The Check Gage light came on just in time for me to pull into the turn lane in front of Togwotee Lodge and Gas Station. As I completed the lane change, the car shut down and began smoking. Bad news. Good timing. We got Riah out of the car as fast as possible and looked like wild women running across the road. Once the smoke abated, I popped the hood to let it cool long enough so that I could pull it into the parking lot. Until then, the smoking car and attached camper sat in the middle of the Togwotee Pass as two frantic moms tried to remain calm enough not to startle their child.

car

Even the broken down car looked pretty in Togwotee

I called my dad, then on his way toward Utah on his motorcycle. Within moments of learning what had happened, dad and my brother changed their plans and rode their motorcycles toward the Pass. In the meantime, I explored the very soaked engine as several people from Togwotee Lodge’s maintenance department came out to help. We Googled stuff and discovered the recall. Everyone agreed that the recall also likely damaged the water pump and it needed to be replaced. Luckily, it’s a relatively easy fix, so dad picked up a pump on his way through Jackson and the people at Togwotee spread out the red carpet of welcome.

First, they invited us to stay the night in our camper on their grounds for free. Then they cleared out the shop, which was otherwise filled with snow mobiles, and shared their tools. Dad and Josh arrived. I treated them to dinner at the lodge and a room, which were well deserved after rerouting their trip to help us. The next day, several folks helped my dad replace the water pump while we hiked through stunning trails and spotted a mama deer followed by a newly born fawn. It was so tiny it looked like a puppy. We agreed this was a fortunate place to break down.

togwotee family

A beautiful morning hike through wildflowers in Togwotee

The time came for the inaugural test drive. Dad selected a beautiful spot to pull over to admire the Tetons and take photos. And then we were inundated with white smoke. Dad shook his head. “I was worried this would happen,” he sighed. Head gaskets are blown. Fixing this involves nearly gutting the entire engine. In a full shop it would take at least 3 days (in the middle of the woods without proper tools it takes 8). And in Jackson it would cost over $3,000, plus the cost of towing down the pass for 50 miles. This was not good.

Another kind stranger emerged through the smoke. He sniffed. “Head gaskets?” he asked. Dad nodded solemnly. “What can I do to tell help?” the stranger offered. A beautiful conversation ensued. Recommendations were made. And I hopped into the stranger’s car to go back to the lodge with the soy milk I had mistakenly forgotten to leave for Riah just before naptime. The stranger-now-friend dropped me off with my little family, filled 3 gallon jugs with water, and bought antifreeze on the sly so that I wouldn’t offer to pay for it. He returned to my dad, along with a couple other people from the lodge, also laden with water and antifreeze. No one had to do these things. They just did. Everyone kept saying, “We know how hard it is to be stuck.”

The maintenance and general manager of the lodge hauled the camper to an out-of-the-way spot, plugged us into power and told us to take as long as we needed. This is a nice lodge. The kind of lodge where rooms are over $250 per night. The cabins are even more. They probably don’t want people sleeping in campers and their car—which is precisely what my generous dad and brother did—for a total of 8 days. But they invited us to do this, asking nothing in return. When I slumped past the front desk to fill up my water bottle, someone handed me a chocolate bar and said, “You probably need this.” As I drown my sorrows in chocolate, the bartender left the Saloon and sat beside me. “Broken head gaskets need tequila shots,” she told me. Together, we toasted. And it was good, smooth tequila.

tequila

Glimmers of hope during a tough 10 days

For eight days, my dad and brother worked tirelessly on the car. They rode their motorcycles into town—a 5 hour round trip—to pick up parts that didn’t arrive. And then they drove back the next day. The staff at Togwotee unlocked showers for us so we could bathe, helped on the car during their breaks, gave us directions to secret hikes, drove to pick us up propane so that we could have heat at night, comped one of our meals, and extended an exorbitantly generous amount of hospitality. We kept Riah busy with stunning hikes and wifi-streamed episodes of Daniel Tiger. We saw wildflower meadows and snow-capped mountains, baby moose and elk. They celebrated with us when the engine turned for the first time, and when the car ran, and when the subsequent fuel leak was fixed. It was grace and beauty and hospitality and kindness comingling in one of the most stunning places we’ve visited this year. We agreed, once again, that this was a fortunate place to break down.

After several test drives we determined the car was safe to drive. Hitched and ready, we bid our beloved Togwotee farewell, dropped off a thick stack of Thank You cards, and whitened our knuckles as we drove the rest of the way up the Pass. Dad and Josh planned to follow on the motorcycles to our first stop…just in case. We arrived, set up camp, went to the grocery store, and they were nowhere to be found. Without cell service along the Pass, I began to worry. Finally, I heard from Josh. His motorcycle had a flat tire. Could they not get a break?! What followed was another hilarious night of Wyoming hospitality. We were fine. They were fine. After over three weeks together, our ways had parted.

The next day we broke down outside of Laramie, WY. We overheated. This was not good. With lots of water, I got us close enough to call AAA and get towed. A gracious tow truck driver and mechanic went above and beyond by towing us, dropping us off at a restaurant for dinner, and then insisting that we simply set up camp in the back lot behind the shop. He showed up with 21 gallons of water to fill the camper and a back-up generator in case we needed power. Flanked by two rusted semis, we swatted mosquitoes as bunnies hopped through old car parts.

That night we struggled to fall asleep. Elizabeth reminded me that Laramie was the town where Matthew Shephard was beaten, tortured, and strung to a fence to die. All because he was gay. I thought of the generous mechanic who had lived in Laramie his entire life. He lived there when Matthew Shephard was left to die. He extended hospitality to two queer women and their child. Did he realize that we’re gay? Did he care? Does it matter? With Orlando and Stanford and Shephard on my mind, I felt afraid and grateful at the same time. Grateful for overwhelming hospitality. Afraid that the safety we often feel as queer traveling women with a young child is an illusion. One in three women are raped or sexually assaulted at least once within a lifetime. Two live in our camper. Queer bodies are attacked, legislated, violated, killed, and still preachers and politicians purport that our lives and loves and bodies are abominations unworthy of acceptance, celebration, worth. The semis in the dusty gravel lot cast eerie shadows. Trains whistled a little too loudly. Riah crawled into our bed after a declaring that he had a bad dream. Sleep eluded me.

The next morning, I ran through the dilapidated town to clear my head. I returned to learn that the head gaskets had blown again. The lower part of the engine is now likely damaged. It’s time to bid our beloved Explorer farewell. It was June 27, 2016. Exactly one year prior, we’d left on this wild adventure with a green canoe strapped to the top of the Explorer, dragging a pop-up camper in the direction of Vermont. She had served us well. As we worked with Elizabeth’s dad to call dealerships and negotiate prices and research towing power, I thought about my privileges. I thought of my fears. I thought of the borderlands in which I exist on a daily basis as a white, cisgender, queer woman who is highly educated, but who comes from a poor, working class family who never had the privilege of higher education. I thought about how I spent over a decade privileging myself with degrees, knowledge, and the ability to navigate harrowing situations, while simultaneously examining all the existential questions affiliated with them. I thought about Orlando and Matthew Shephard and the unconscious woman raped behind a dumpster by an ivy league athlete who was simply slapped on the wrist with three months in jail. I thought of the way my own body was violated in college and how I thought nothing of it because almost every woman I know has been treated this way.

new truck

Driving toward Colorado in our safe truck

I thought of how my poor father could never give me the language to speak in the world in which I now reside as a scholar and author, but he gave me the language to speak to mechanics so that they don’t treat me like I’m “just some girl” who knows nothing about cars. These borderlands of difference accompanied me, my wife, and our child as a nice car dealership drove up from Cheyenne to tow our car and camper to their lot and sell us a shiny truck to tow our little camper off into the sunset of our Year of Volunteer Travel Discernment. With privilege dripping from our pores, existential angst seeping from our veins, and hospitality freely given, we drove away hopeful and afraid and grateful. Raging and wondering and wandering through unlikely places of hospitality and beauty. Likely always.

National Parks: Mountain West Edition

After a stunning time in Olympic National Park–trail running on the magical Hoh and soaking up the sights at Ruby Beach–we began the long journey east.

Though Elizabeth has spent some time in the Mountain West during winter, this was Angela’s first time in this part of the country and we’ve loved the beauty of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Our first stop was Glacier National Park where we had about 72 hours of non-stop rain and freezing temps, but that didn’t stop us from catching the jaw dropping views when the rain stopped.

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Lake McDonald the morning the rains stopped

We had sunny skies once we arrived on the east side of the park where the amazing views, bear-spray-laden hikes, alpine lakes, and snow-capped mountains never ceased to take our breath away.

glacier

GNP. Seriously.

Of course, we had to celebrate all this beauty by taking jumping photos. Riah is becoming quite the jumping expert.

glacier jumpsBetween Glacier and Yellowstone, we stopped to stock up on groceries in Bozeman, which had a fabulous dinosaur-themed playground for Riah. And Riah’s birthmom’s sister, brother-in-law, and nieces were passing through, so we all got to play together.

adoption family bozeman

Celebrating family in Bozeman

Yellowstone impressed us more than we thought it would. Between bison, wolves, deer, elk, bear, fumeroles, hot springs, mud pots, waterfalls, and canyons, we were constantly amazed.

 

After a day in Yellowstone, Angela’s dad and brother rode their motorcycles out from Atlanta. So, we got to enjoy some date nights and fun family hikes.

Ang even had the chance to do a big hike–8,500 feet–with her little brother. It was stunningly beautiful, which compensated for how painful it was…

bunsen peak

A steep climb through sage, rocks, and snow atop Bunsen Peak

From Yellowstone we made the short drive to Grand Teton National Park and the adorable town of Jackson, WY. The hike to Taggart Lake takes the cake in the Tetons.

But the homesteads were pretty spectacular, too.

homestead tetons

Riah scopes out the view from an old homestead

Hands down, the most spectacular view was in the Gros Ventre Forest just outside the Tetons…

tetons

Seriously. It didn’t even seem real.

We’d like to return to the Tetons when Riah is a little older so we can do hikes longer than 5 miles and enjoy the bicycle paths everywhere. Three days before the Jackson Hole Half Marathon, we almost registered to run it. Fortunately, we did not because, unfortunately, I got a stomach bug!

We continue to be overwhelmed by the beauty that surrounds us and we’re grateful for the family and friends who have joined us along the way. Next stop…Colorado!

 

 

Weddings, Wandering, and Wi-Fi

Once again we have gone far too long without posting about this wild travel adventure! It turns out that planning year-long travels while parenting a toddler and freelance writing takes up more time than we imagined. And we’re a bit embarrassed to say that not having consistent, reliable Wi-Fi has been more difficult than not have consistent, reliable water. So, at long last, here is a brief update on life since we left Hawai’i.

We traveled all the way from Hawai’i to Miami for Elizabeth’s brother’s wedding at the beginning of April. After 11 hours of flying and a 6 hour time change, we arrived at Elizabeth’s dad’s with one road weary toddler and two very tired moms. After a few days to try and get adjusted, we got to see all of Elizabeth’s family. I officiated John and Jackie’s wedding; Elizabeth was a bridesmaid; Riah was the ring bearer. Needless to say, it was an exhausting, yet beautiful few days! Fortunately, the grandparents—while also fulfilling their roles as parents of the groom—stepped up to help with some babysitting, treating us to nice lodging, and filling pockets and purses with toys and mints to help keep Riah appeased should he choose to go bonkers during the wedding ceremony. As we anticipated, he had a tough time waiting for the wedding to begin in his fancy clothes with so much open grass luring him to play, but once the ceremony began, he did a great job being calm. Elizabeth, who has worn a dress about 3 times in our nearly 9-year relationship, looked fabulous in her coral bridesmaid dress. And I was honored to craft a meaningful and personal wedding for John and Jackie.

 

After a couple days with Grammy and Papa Steve, we took another long flight back to San Francisco to pick up the camper that some fabulous friends/former congregants were storing for us. Then we traded it in for an upgrade since we’ll be living in the camper for the next 8 months and for half the year from henceforth.

 

ocean shores beach

The best photo of our new digs…and the best view!

We set up camp—including water, electric, cell service, and our beloved Wi-Fi—in the parking lot of Shell Ridge Community Church (where I was an associate pastor for 5 years). Its namesake is Shell Ridge, which was a beautiful place to hike and play between my lectures in Berkeley and Walnut Creek. Plus, it was just a short jaunt into San Francisco to hike at our beloved Land’s End!

Then Angela’s Holy Women Icons Contemplative Coloring Book came out! After preaching and closing my Holy Women Icons Art Show at Shell Ridge, we made our way north. (Note: there are only 6 unsold original paintings left in the collection of 50+ so I’m having a 30% off sale to close out the show!)

We played in Mount Shasta and then relished our propane-fed heater as we dry camped (no electric or water) in Crater Lake where there was 6 feet of snow!

crater lake

Since we spent winter in Hawaii, we figured we could handle 6 feet of snow in late April!

From Crater Lake, we continued to free camp in Eugene where we savored some delicious vegan food and enjoyed long runs along the river.

eugene

There’s no better way into our hearts than a good, vegan cupcake!

The most stunning stop has been sans electric, water, Wi-Fi, or cell service in the Clatsop State Forest outside of Portland where we enjoyed a beautiful campsite, a stunning hike along the ridge, and awe-inspiring views while doing outdoor yoga.

clatsop snails

My favorite photo from Clatsop!

We made an incredibly quick stop in Astoria where we actually paid for a full hook-up campsite and stumbled upon an abandoned ship wreck on a long run to the beach…

astoria

Astoria, OR

We finally crossed into Washington where Elizabeth found yet another free place for us to dry camp by the beach in Ocean Shores. Next stop: Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier!

ocean shores

Running along the path to the beach

These travels are beautiful and meaningful. We never forget how incredibly fortunate we are to do this. But traveling full-time has also involved some sacrifice and disappointment. It was an honor to be fully present in John and Jackie’s wedding, but it also reminds us how sad we are to miss several other weddings this season because we simply can’t afford three more cross country flights for all three of us. Two dear former congregants, Brett and Kelly, are getting married later this month in NC and I’m so disappointed that I cannot be there to officiate. One of my closest friends from seminary, the fabulous Patricia, just announced that she’s getting married at the end of May in Atlanta and it breaks my heart not to bear witness to that. And our dearest friends from NC, Page and Kristin, are getting married in July back in Seattle, which is where we are now, but by then we’ll be in the Badlands. And next week, one of our most beloved friends from Berkeley, Dr. Wendy Arce, not only celebrates the graduation from her Ph.D. program, but is also speaking at commencement. From so far away, we struggle with how to adequately show our love and support for dear friends as we miss such pivotal times in their lives.

So, dear friends, from Olympic and Glacier and Yellowstone and Badlands, we shall lift our glasses (sippy cups and water bottles) in honor of your achievements and love. Know that our absence is not indicative of any lack of support. As we gaze at the wonders that surround us wherever we roam, we hold in our hearts Wendy, Brett, Kelly, Patricia, Chris, Page, and Kristin.

Holy Week Hawai’i

(By Angela)

The Peace of the Wild Things

By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

(italics mine)

Around the time we arrived in Vermont in early July 2015, I read Wendell Berry’s poem, The Peace of the Wild Things, with intention. It was fitting that I did so at the beginning of this wild adventure as the final line has become my travel mantra of sorts: I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

The 12th anniversary of my ordination, which always falls on the Spring Equinox, also began Holy Week this year, so it seemed like the perfect time to marinate on this seeming paradox: the grace of the world. You see, as a clergywoman ordained in the Christian tradition, most of my adult life has been dedicated to preaching and teaching about the grace of God…at least that is what I’m supposed to do. From the outset of my clerical work, I’ve never quite grasped the theological concept of grace. As a professional dancer, I had a handle on grace. It’s what dancers do. Or at least what we’re supposed to do. The grace of the world was something that was taken away by a conservative church that told me, in the words of James, that one cannot love God and the world. This didn’t coincide with my overall worldview—the world is filled with beauty and grace, resurrection and redemption that existed long before Christianity baptized the terms and dubbed them theological—but for a brief period of time I decided that I simply must hate the world. Bless the soul of an undergraduate professor of religion who taught me that people of faith can, indeed, love the world, and that our duty is to love it so deeply and madly that we do everything in our power to make it more just and beautiful.

Along the way, however, I’ve opted to let go of this theological notion of grace altogether, namely because I’ve let go of the notion of a theos. Not in an antagonistic manner, nor with a tremendous amount of certainty, hence my dancing around the word “atheism.” Always dancing. It’s not so much that I’m a pantheist or even a panentheist because one can’t really be either of those things without the theist part. Not god in the world. Not that the world is god. Rather, the world itself is sacred. We are sacred. Sacredness isn’t confined by a god. Nor is holiness. Or resurrection. Or redemption. I’ve worried about how this reflects, or doesn’t reflect, the nature of my ordination. But I still feel the call to preach and work and maybe even pray on behalf of communities otherwise excluded within orthodox traditions. It’s just that my language for describing it has shifted. Elizabeth tells me I’m a strategic theist in the same way many feminists are strategic essentialists, knowing full well that using the word “woman” actually needs a lengthy footnote in the same way that any time I employ the word “god” would need a footnote much longer than this blog.

All those meandering caveats lead me to say this. The grace of this world has never ceased to astound me. I recall reading a commentary by Barbara Brown Taylor in preparation for the first time I was to preach on an Easter Sunday. She admonished preachers to be certain of their theology of resurrection before preaching a sermon that equates resurrection with the stirring of spring out of the dormant death of cold winter. It’s one of the few times that I’ve disagreed with Taylor. Otherwise I think she’s pretty damn fabulous. For me, however, the fact that the cold dark earth rebirths plants and flowers and leaves and new life every year is precisely what resurrection is. It’s the grace of the world. Every. Single. Year.

hpp

Lava Cliffs and new life

It’s no accident that I was ordained on the Spring Equinox. As we prepare to leave the Big Island of Hawai’i, our lives now turned inside out in the most beautiful way with the knowledge that we will return to call this place home, I am once again resting in the grace of the world. The grace that explodes in volcanic ash and then resurrects as green sprouts push through the black rubble. The sprouts turn to trees. Fruit grows. Our bodies are nourished. We are free. As Holy Week began, devoid of any worshipping community or church services (by choice and with gratitude), I reveled in this beautiful grace. The week began so holy.

And then North Carolina tromped into Holy Week with an early crucifixion, stringing the least among us—namely our transgender friends and neighbors—onto a cross of the legislature’s own devising and reminded me that the world also has the capacity for great violence and harm. Yes, the lava that flows destroys and new life is eventually reborn, but there’s no malice in the volcano’s intentions. What North Carolina’s legislators did in HB2 was nothing short of malice and fear. Crucifixions aren’t just a thing of the past. Neither is discrimination. Many people of faith hold this view. Many people without faith do, as well. I hold all this from a distance, on an island in the middle of the Pacific where the earth’s core bubbles to the surface with fire, redemption, and resurrection, so far away from the place I called home for five years. It is for these reasons that I want to keep my ordination, though my beliefs—or lack thereof—have shifted. Because the least among us need to know that there are ordained clergy who will not tolerate such injustice. I may even opt to strategically employ the word “God” and claim that God weeps at the sight of such injustice, as well. Can’t you hear Her?

After these 12 years I hold my ordination with an open hand. I was wary it could be revoked when I came out as gay over 8 years ago. And it didn’t happen. Sometimes I worry now that this worldly grace may come at a cost, the cost of a theological grace being withheld to the extent that I may not be able to practice my ordination. I don’t think that will happen. I hope it won’t. In the meantime, I will rest in the grace of this stunning world, offering freedom to whomever I may encounter. Life springs eternal. Daffodils push through snow. Green sprouts burst out of lava. There’s enough resurrection for us all.

HPP Cliffs

 

Yarber-Lee Family Announcement…Moving to Hawai’i

As we have traveled for the past 8 months, our future plans continue to develop and deepen in ways that are meaningful, exciting, and challenging. When we left for our Year of Volunteer Travel Discernment, we knew that our end-goal was to find land to open a small retreat/education center. We knew the undergirding philosophy: intersectional ecofeminism. We knew that we wanted to create the retreat in a way that left us debt-free. And we knew that we wanted to spend part of the year close to family, which is primarily in the southeast. Because of all these things, we assumed we’d likely find inexpensive land somewhere in the North Carolina mountains, lead retreats for about half the year, and travel for about half the year from henceforth. Amidst all the things we “knew,” we also remained open to the changes travel would bring: new inspirations, new wonders, new ideas, new connections. We don’t just want to “live differently” for a year, but for our lives!

The things we knew when we left are still realities for us: 1) undergirding ecofeminist philosophy, 2) debt-free, 3) near family for half the year. Our assumptions, however, have changed a bit. After a lot of searching in North Carolina, we’ve accepted that we’re likely priced out of creating our retreat center there if we want to remain debt-free. The only places we could even potentially afford are too conservative to accept a family like ours and a retreat like the one we want to create. A major assumption also changed when we arrived on the stunning Big Island of Hawai’i.

hilo sunset

The sunset that awaited us the evening we arrived in Hilo

The possibility of living in Hawai’i had never even entered our search simply because we assumed it would astronomically expensive. Well, we learned that this assumption was wrong. It turns out that the price of land and building on the east side of the Big Island is actually incredibly affordable and naturally lends itself to an off-grid sustainable lifestyle.

family onekahakaha

We’re pretty happy to be outside most of the day!

We have been enlivened and inspired by this island: its beauty, the diversity of people, multiculturalism, access to living off-grid, access to growing your own food, its rich culture and history, access to a vegan lifestyle, and the ability to live the majority of our life outside.

The Big Island is also much more progressive and open-minded in ways that would better suit our retreat center and our little family. So, the big news is that we’ve purchased an acre of land in the Puna District, specifically a place called “Hawaiian Paradise Park.” It is four blocks—a brief 5 minute stroll—from this whale watching spot:

Seriously. We’re not kidding. Who wouldn’t want to go on retreat here?!

It’s about 15 minutes from the town of Pahoa and 25 minutes from Hilo, beaches, tide pools, hot ponds, waterfalls, and Volcano National Park…

rainbow falls

It’s an ideal spot for walking, running, and biking. Right now the land has 2 mango trees, a guava tree, and a ton of wild orchids and tea trees growing amidst lava rock; over time we plan to plant many more fruit trees and create a nice raised bed vegetable garden.

Our plan moving forward is to build and create our retreat center on the Big Island, living and leading retreats for most of winter and spring. In most of summer and fall, we will remain in North Carolina where Angela will continue to teach at Wake Forest (as long as they’ll have her!). At first we will campground host in our camper during our time in North Carolina so that our living expenses will be minimal while still having inspiring and beautiful surroundings. While we are in North Carolina, our Hawai’i home will operate on Air BnB. We may also rent out our camper while we’re in Hawai’i, so both of our “homes” will provide income during the months we are not living in them. We hope 🙂

We are beyond excited about this plan. It was made with much intention, care, and research. And we are confident that these choices will better coincide with our values and goals even more so than our original plan of creating our retreat in North Carolina. Plus, since Hawai’i is one of the most sought after and beautiful locations in the world, we’re confident that the business side of things will be more fruitful, as well. More important than the business side of things is how this plan reflects our values and provides an endless array of opportunities for Riah’s development (and ours!).

Right now we are working on the permitting to build our family’s simple home, a 450 sq/ft house with a large lanai where our little family will live while on the island. When we’re leading retreats, this home will function as the main hub of the center. Everything will be entirely off-grid and sustainable with solar energy, water catchment, and propane gas. Once we build our small home, we plan to build multiple teeny tiny homes (think 100-150 sq/ft)—called ‘ohana homes in Hawai’i as ‘ohana means “family”—for retreatants to stay in on the land. So, we’re certainly open to hosting visitors and groups with some construction skills who want to help us build some of these ‘ohana homes! Friends, family, and fellow professors and clergy who lead service projects, check your calendars…if you want a free place to stay in Hawai’i in exchange for meaningful work, we’re your people! Seriously. We’re not joking. And if you know anyone at Tiny House Nation, for crying out loud, tell them to pick us for their show and help us build our home!

And friends, family, clergy, and professors, if you want to partner with us for retreats, workshops, and land-based intensive classes, let us know! Embodied Ecofeminist Spirituality, Queer Family Camp, Women’s Spirituality, Queer Spirituality, clergy and activist retreats, writing retreats, yoga retreats, and maybe even body-positive feminist fitness retreats…all these things will become our realities within the next few years once we finish creating our retreat center!

We know that creating and sustaining life and community in two places will have challenges. Yet we are choosing to accept these challenges with open hearts and minds. We will not be fancy or rich. What we lack in money, we flourish in love, beauty, and wonder. We made an important choice when we left our jobs and sold our home: to live simply, remain open to wonder, and explore this big, beautiful planet we call home. So, that’s what we’re doing. We hope you can join us along the way!

How to travel for a year without breaking the bank

A tale of privilege, public goods, and individual effort in 21 easy steps

When people find out that we have quit our jobs and are traveling for a year, they often wonder how we manage financially and logistically. Here’s how, in 21 easy steps!

Step 1: Have white privilege. This is a really important step because it just really makes your whole life easier. I really can’t say enough about how awesome it is to have white privilege.

Note: If you are a person of color, you technically can do what we are doing, but you may find any/all of the following steps more difficult because, you know, white supremacy.

Note: If you are white and don’t think that white privilege is a thing, read this. And this.

Step 2: Have economic and/or educational privilege. Again, I can’t recommend this enough. Choose parents who are comfortably middle-class and reasonably well-educated. Get some higher education for yourself. Choose a broad-based liberal arts curriculum (like this). This will give you the intellectual tools to question established practices, like mortgages and consumer capitalism, as well as the desire to ask probing questions about the meaning of life and the courage to confront your mortality.

Step 3: After you finish school, get a job and start saving money. Pay off your student loans. Don’t eat out so much. Don’t buy clothes unless you really have to, and then buy them used. Don’t have cable TV. Get your hair cut at Great Clips. Live in an area with a relatively low cost of living. After a few years, you will have saved a pretty significant amount of money.

Full disclosure: As a household, we were bringing in about $60k annually, so not a ton, but nothing to sneeze at.

Step 4: Buy a house at the bottom of the market. Ask your parents for help with the down payment (see Steps 1 and 2).

Note: If you think that race has nothing to do with the housing market, read this. And this. And definitely this.

Step 5: Adopt a child. This step is technically optional, but it will add some flavor to your travels. Apply for and receive a grant for most of the expenses.

Step 6: Spend several years pondering existential questions. Become an atheist. Realize the miracle of your existence. Have endless conversations about wanting to live differently.

Step 7: Make a f*&%$#@ decision! Spring into action!

Part A: Quit your job!

Part B: Sell your house once the market has rebounded and make a tidy profit!

Part C: Get rid of most of your stuff!

Part D: Buy a popup camper!

Step 8: Figure out what you are going to do. You’ve managed to save a good bit of money and have unburdened yourself from a mortgage. You no longer have a full-time job. Go exploring!

Step 9: Spend hours and hours and hours and hours researching how to travel full-time on a small budget. Decide what your budget will actually be. We decided on $12,000 for the year, which we could save up by teaching extra summer courses before we left.

Step 10: Go to volunteer.gov. Apply to become campground hosts in National Forests. Free utilities!

Step 11: When you are not campground hosting, camp in state parks. They are cheaper, and usually prettier, than private campgrounds. Or better yet, if you’re out west, stay for free on public land. The Bureau of Land Management manages 245 million acres, and you can camp out for free on a lot of it!

Step 12: Learn how to road trip with a toddler.

Part A: Listen to the global children’s music CD for hours on end. Comply immediately when “King of the Bongo” is requested.

Part B: Buy lots of stickers. Lots. Mostly doggies. No, stars. Or maybe hearts. No, robots. OK, doggies. NO, NOT DOGGIES.

Part C: Try to drive mostly at nap time.

Part D: Download two episodes of “Daniel Tiger” and “Sesame Street” to use in emergencies.

Note: Select old, pre-Elmo episodes of “Sesame Street,” largely for the reasons explained so cogently here.

Step 13: Be willing to work in exchange for lodging. Read the Caretaker Gazette and look into WWOOFing.

Step 14: Consider volunteering at a farm/commune in a remote part of Hawaii.

Part A: Learn that they eat raw meat.

Part B: Decide against it because they probably don’t vaccinate their children. And because you’re a vegetarian. And it might be a cult.

Step 15: Considering volunteering at a nudist bed and breakfast in Hawaii. Learn that volunteers must be nude at all times unless using the weed-whacker. Decide against it.

Step 16: Settle for a less exotic Hawaiian work-exchange: clearing land in exchange for a studio apartment.

Step 17: Find ways to bring in a little bit of extra income on the road. If you have chosen to have educational and economic privilege, you can probably teach online or something like that.

Step 18: Realize your family needs health insurance.

Part A: Apply for Obamacare for the adults in your household.

Part B: Apply for Medicaid for your child(ren).

Part C: Get denied Medicaid coverage.

Part D: Reapply for Obamacare for everyone.

Part E: Finally get everyone covered.

Part F: Go for a long run because that was stressful and frustrating.

Part G: If your state, like ours, did not participate in the Medicaid expansion, make enough money to qualify for Obamacare subsidies.

Part H: Whatever you do, DO NOT make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for Obamacare. You will be SOL, my friend.

Step 19: Have a spouse or partner who does not get stressed out easily and with whom you can communicate clearly and efficiently. You will find this helpful in the following kind of situations:

Part A: Fly to Hawaii, excited about the work-exchange you have been planning for over a year

Part B: Get to the location of the work-exchange.

Part C: Notice that the proprietors are most definitely currently on drugs, and likely have been pretty consistently since 1968.

Part D: Learn that there are two cases of dengue fever nearby.

Part E: Learn that your “off-grid living quarters” are a shack with no mosquito netting. You were expecting rustic, but this is squalor.

Part F: Take one look at your spouse and know that they are thinking the same thing you are: Let’s get the F out of here, dude.

Part G: Don’t let your toddler sense your stress. Cheerfully proclaim that you are going to the beach instead.

Part F: Go to the beach, have a conversation with your spouse, and try to figure out what the heck you will be doing for the next 7 weeks.

Part H: Go to a hotel for a night. Eat fries and drink beer. You’ll figure it out in the morning.

Step 20: Be flexible. Let go of your attachments to your stuff. Learn to live in 160 square feet. With a toddler. Be OK showering twice a week. Don’t be afraid to poop in a grocery bag.

Step 21: Have fun!

 

Cross Country Road Trip: Lessons in Wonder, Beauty, and Injustice

Since we last wrote, we’ve completed our epic one-month cross country road trip. The camper is stored at a generous former congregant’s home. We’ve landed in Hawai’i. And we’ve finally had a few moments to reflect on this tremendous opportunity. There was never a lack of wonder along the way: vistas, mountains, deserts, oceans, full moons, night stars, big trees. There was also never a lack of planning to do! While we most certainly do not intend to complain about this amazing cross country adventure, we did learn a couple things that will aid us in our return across the country next summer. Namely, we’d like to take more time. A month seems like plenty of time to cross the country, see some key sights, visit with friends. It’s not. At least it’s not for us. Popping up and taking down the camper—with a toddler—means we simply need more time everywhere we go. And having a toddler means we need more time, too. Since we’re both still working—teaching online for Elizabeth and freelance writing for me—the time we typically dedicate to work, relaxation, and exercise was usually consumed by driving, planning, setting up, or taking down. We drove when Riah napped, which took away important work time. This isn’t a complaint as much as it is a lesson learned. There is always more planning to do when you’re traveling every few days. And as someone prone to taking on too many projects, I learned that agreeing to multiple freelance writing gigs while finishing a book project might not be the best idea while traveling across the country. Lesson learned. I hope 🙂

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Picacho Peak on Christmas Day. Photo by the intrepid Elizabeth

There were also some times and places on the road that intersected with our values—often in conflicting ways—and may have caused us to stand on a soap box or two. Three stand out among the rest.

  1. Desert Mansplainations

You have likely heard the term “mansplain.” Mansplaining refers to when a man—many times a man with the best of intentions—over explains something in a pejorative manner to a woman, believing that he knows more about the topic (often simply because he is a man), his mansplaining manner clouded by his privilege. For example, this has happened countless times to my mother because she is a property manager dealing with a host of men who think they know more about whatever project she is managing: construction, building codes, business, etc.

Our time in the desert was full of mansplainations from well-intentioned men who just didn’t know when to stop. In West Texas we experienced some car trouble. It was something I anticipated because of battery issues prior to leaving on our adventure. So, we were prepared with a jump box. Well, we were well on our way to jumping off the car, ready to hook up the camper and hit the road when a man approached with a newer, shinier jump box. There was nothing wrong or mansplainy about his approaching. He simply noted that he saw our hood up and wanted to know if we needed help. This is a nice thing to do.

The mansplaination began when he repeatedly referred to us as “sweetie,” and “honey,” while incorrectly showing me how to jump of my own car (the car we were already properly jumping off). He proceeded to give us advice about how to purchase a better jump box. Hear me clearly: there is nothing wrong with offering to help a woman with car trouble. Also hear me clearly: there is something wrong with assuming that the woman knows nothing about cars.

Something similar happened in Las Cruces when a faulty outlet wouldn’t provide the charge needed for our jump box. When I asked our neighboring camper if we could plug into his outlet, he proceeded to berate Elizabeth regarding how to turn on the outlet, which she had already informed him—repeatedly—was broken. Instead of listening when I told him the problem, he assumed that neither of us knew what we were doing, while also calling us “honey,” and “darling.” Note: I have decided to respond to such behavior by calling any man who calls me “honey,” “sweetie,” “darling,” the same name.

And I won’t even go into how an Atlanta mechanic talked to me before we left on our adventure. Suffice it to say Fox News was blaring in the background as he informed me that women should stay at home with children because it’s naturally how we’re created and that guns are what make America great.

The West Texas man did sincerely seem to have good intentions, but he illustrated “benevolent sexism,” which is the sweet kind of sexism that assumes that women are incapable of handling any kind of “manly” situation, such as fixing a car. And the guy in Las Cruces was really just being a jerk.

A word to men: don’t be like this. Listen. Don’t assume that women are incapable of anything. For all these mansplainers knew, I’m a mechanic.

On the bright side, for the bad rap that West Texas gets, it sure is beautiful. We enjoyed stunning desert views, expansive sunsets, and wide starry nights. I’d go back with my jump box in hand, darling.

west tx sunset

Elizabeth and Riah walk toward the sunset in West Texas

  1. Critiquing Consumer Christmas

We celebrated Christmas under a full desert moon in Picacho, Arizona. As we prepared for our adventure, we got a little bit of flack—likely well intentioned—from some friends and family regarding celebrating Christmas on the road. “Do you mean Riah won’t have a Christmas tree?” someone balked. “Is Santa not going to visit?” questioned another. Hear me clearly: I’m not critiquing anyone who puts up a Christmas tree and invites Santa to visit. Most years I deck the halls and trim the tree. But a tree and Santa are not required for celebrating Christmas. In fact, Santa isn’t really something we’re doing or plan to do with Riah. As much as it is possible, we’d like to take as much of capitalism and consumerism out of Christmas. As we discuss in the “alternative economies” section of our values, this is something we’re trying to do all year long. It’s challenging because capitalism and consumerism are understood as normative; it is virtually impossible to escape them. And we participate in them. We bought Riah a book and two little cars—a kid driving red dump truck and a kid driving a pink convertible—for Christmas. We purchased all of it at a chain store and I imagine all of the products were made in factories in China where workers are paid tremendously unfair wages. As much as we try buy fair trade and locally created products, we’re oftentimes a part of the problem and we acknowledge this.

old mesilla, las cruces

We saw plenty of fabulous Christmas trees along the way, including this one in Old Mesilla, Las Cruces

But on Christmas, it was our delight to give our child one small gift. It was our delight that we didn’t tell him all about Santa bringing him tons of toys that he doesn’t need. It was our delight to go on a beautiful hike in the desert, play in the dirt, eat a simple yet special meal together, and then do yoga under a big full moon.

I hope all of our Christmases look like this. Less stuff. Less consumption. New traditions.

christmas jumps

Family jumping hikes on Christmas in Picacho, AZ

  1. Contaminated Beauty

From Arizona we made our way into California. After a fun-filled stop and visits with friends in Oceanside, we drove halfway to the bay area, setting up camp in Visalia, which is the gateway to Sequoia National Park. Forget the magic of Christmas lights and Santa…there is nothing more magical than hiking through the sequoias in the snow on New Year’s Day. Seriously. It was utterly stunning and completely worth the snow chains we had to buy for our tires in order to drive up the mountains.

sequoia

Hiking through the sequoias in the snow on New Year’s Day

But it also threw us into a state of cognitive dissonance. Juxtaposed with these stunning monoliths, with the glistening snow and fresh air and ancient redwoods, was the fact that we were camping in the San Joaquin Valley. And I’m not talking about contrasting microclimates, though there was over three feet of snow in the redwoods and a mere bite of frost in our campground. Rather, the dissonance stirred from this stunning beauty—the national treasure that is the Sequoia National Park—and the complete cesspool that is the San Joaquin Valley. And it’s a cesspool that we’ve created. Did you know that the San Joaquin Valley has the highest water contamination rate in California and one of the highest in the country? Did you also know that it’s where the vast majority of your produce comes from? Primarily due to fertilizer run-off, the water is virtually undrinkable. Yes, the water that washes all over almost all the food you eat is contaminated. Everywhere you go smells like piss or cow poo. Flanking either side of the highway are farms overflowing with cattle crammed into the tiniest of stalls awaiting slaughter. When the cattle farms end, orange groves begin. And by orange groves I mean enormous factories with cheerful signs reading “Cuties” and “Halos.” There are trees, for sure. And to be honest, they are beautiful. But the toxins sprayed over them from airplanes are not. And the factories bearing the “farm fresh” names of the produce that fills our holiday stockings chug smoke and toxins into the air.

We know the names. I assign them as research projects to my students: Driscoll, Cutie, Halo. The main producer of our strawberries plant, grow, and harvest amidst the piss, the stench, the toxins. My students debate the ethics of such companies in my classes. We rage and tweet and write about how poorly the workers are treated, how harmful the practices are for the environment. Particularly when we discuss The Sexual Politics of Meat, we rage against factory farming with its unjust treatment of workers, the environment, and animals. These are all things I talk about and teach about and write about…from afar.

And there we were, setting up camp on the contaminated soil, peeling our damn clementines, purchasing water so that we can drink and brush our teeth. As I stood on my rickety soap box I wanted to do what I do in class, and what many of my students are quick to do upon first learning about unjust food practices. I wanted to wag my finger—or raise my middle one—at the CEOs of Driscoll, Halo, Cutie, at all the corporate greed that leads to creating an entire valley where all who live smell the shit of injustice, where the virtues of farmers are so burdened by poverty that they can’t do anything about it. Instead, however, I have to hop off my soapbox and tell myself the same thing I tell my students when they simply want to blame “the man” for the unjust food system that reigns supreme: we created this.

The CEOs need critiquing. We all need to change our consumer practices so that we don’t support companies that treat workers, the environment, and animals so inhumanely. But we are also responsible for this. We—you and me—are all responsible for the stench that wafts through the San Joaquin Valley. We have created a system that forces animals into unlivable pens, factories where workers drown in vats of manure, soil so filled with toxins that it seeps into otherwise good water, thus making it harmful to people and animals who drink it. The farmers who grow the majority of the food Americans eat are unable to drink their own damn water because it is so contaminated. This is clearly a broken, wretched, unjust, sinful system. And we are all culpable. This is a world we have created. Because we want California raspberries in our North Carolina oatmeal. Because we want tropical fruit in winter climates. Because we think the only way to get enough protein is by consuming animal flesh. Because we don’t see the manure lagoons or smell the stench of the factory farms or taste the toxicity of the water. Because we don’t see it, we act like it doesn’t exist. So, we eat our Halos and dice our strawberries. The lungs of workers—most often poor persons of color—grow sick from toxins. The earth weeps contaminated water. Animals are slaughtered every twelve seconds.

Beautiful redwoods. Adorable orange groves. Sweet land of liberty. And the stench of injustice fills our bellies.

sequoia vista

Vistas in Sequoia National Park

These myriad experiences mingled with the beauty, the wonder, the exhaustion. All our senses, our minds, and our hearts burned, raged, grew, marveled. Let us not stand so righteously on our soapbox that we forget there are mirrors hinged to the lid. It is my hope that when our little family catches a glimpse of our reflection, we do everything we can to make the changes needed to create more beauty and more justice.

Happy Holidays from the Yarber-Lee Family

Yes, this is our family holiday card!

2015 was a year filled with exciting changes for the Yarber-Lee family. After much thought, we decided to spend a year doing intentional travel discernment and volunteer work in order to better prepare us to achieve our long-term goal of opening a small ecofeminist retreat and education center. So, the first half of the year was spent preparing for this endeavor. While teaching at HPU, Elizabeth also became a certified Health Coach. And while teaching at WFU, Angela became a certified Les Mills Body Flow and Body Combat Instructor. As we researched a variety of volunteer opportunities—campground hosting, Artist in Residencies, working on organic farms, leading retreats—we purchased a pop-up camper and sold our historic home in Winston-Salem. We resigned from our teaching positions, though we still keep a connection with our respective universities by teaching online. In July we took the plunge! Our home sold in less than 12 hours. We packed our belongings into storage. And we whittled down a year of clothing and supplies into a vehicle and camper!

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Following the beckoning…wherever it may lead!

The purpose of this year of travel is to help us better discern the next vocational steps for our little family. By volunteering in different beautiful places, we have learned, and hope to continue learning, valuable skills that will aid us in opening our retreat center, while also deepening our undergirding philosophy focused on sustainability, justice, peace, and beauty. We enjoyed the summer as campground hosts in the Green Mountain National Forest of Vermont. For almost three months, we splashed and canoed in Silver Lake, hiked along the backpacking trails, and celebrated as Riah’s language truly began to flourish as he discovered newts, groundhogs, and even the occasional black bear. It was beautiful and meaningful and challenging, though we learned to thrive without running water in the middle of the woods.

birthday family selfie

Having a blast this summer volunteering in Vermont!

In mid-September we began the trek to the Jefferson National Forest, where we were campground hosts for the fall. Along the way, we stopped for visits with family and in DC so that Angela could give a lecture at American University. Rain and stunning fall colors awaited us in Southern Virginia, where we hiked, played, and fulfilled our volunteer responsibilities at the campground. All the while Elizabeth began teaching an online class and Angela led several retreats and had an art show in Boone, NC. Riah’s fabulous birth parents visited as we celebrated Riah’s second birthday, complete with a decorated camper, cupcakes, and a small toy train. We enjoyed the rest of the fall visiting family in Atlanta and Florida, and we ran a half marathon on Thanksgiving. Angela celebrated the publication of her sixth book in November, which became her second book to make the “Top 25 LGBTQ Christian Books of the Year” list.

Currently, we are spending the month of December making our way across the country with the camper. In early January we fly to Hawai’i for the winter. On the Big Island, we’ll function like Scholars in Residence, leading events at Hawaiian Retreat while Elizabeth also works on an organic farm and Angela teaches yoga for two months. For our final month, Angela will be the interim preacher at First Unitarian Church in Honolulu.

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Road Trip Ready!

Riah remains silly, active, and curious. We savor this time we all have together as a family and celebrate the visits that our extended family and friends have shared with us in our various destinations. We are beyond grateful for the opportunity we have to take this year of discernment and travel. It has taught us much about wonder, gratitude, gentleness, and adventure as we have simplified and worked hard (cleaning vault toilets ain’t pretty, folks). We continue to look for properties that could become our retreat center in North Carolina and, while the future remains uncertain, we are filled with hope at what we are creating along the way.

So, thank you for the influence you have on our little family and your thoughtful contributions to the big changes we have made in our lives. As always, we are tremendously thankful for any donations to our campaign and hope you will stay connected with us through our travel blog: www.searchingforsustenance.wordpress.com. We hope that 2016 is a year filled with wonder, peace, and love for you!

With Peace and Hope during these Holy Seasons,

Angela, Elizabeth, and Riah

10 Signs You’re on a Cross-Country Road Trip with a Toddler

We’re about half way through our cross-country road trip, heading to the great chasm that is West Texas. Along the way, we’ve realized two things. First, we’re checking an item off of a lot of people’s bucket lists–a cross country road trip–as a means to get from the East Coast to Hawaii (via a flight from California, of course). How lucky are we?! Second, we’ve realized that taking a road trip with a toddler, while pulling a camper, is quite different than taking a road trip with just adults. For more, check out our 10 Signs You’re on a Cross Country Road Trip with a Toddler below…

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Road Trip Cheesin’

  1. Instead of singing classic road trip music at the top of your lungs, “Children’s Global Playground” is playing “King of the Bongo” on repeat for a minimum of three hours.
  2. There is a thin layer of snot and stickers coating the entire interior of the vehicle. Enter at your own risk.
  3. Rather than powering through long drives and stopping only for a pee emergency, you stop to change toddler’s poop diapers.
  4. Podcasts, books-on-tape, and pondering conversations are replaced by silence for fear of waking said toddler from napping. For example, I’m writing this blog while on the road. Don’t worry, I am not also driving.
  5. In the case of a pee emergency, you’d rather try to strategically urinate in a diaper than pull off the highway, thus risking waking up said toddler from napping. This may or may not have happened to both of us.
  6. Basically everything related to driving revolves around making sure toddler naps. If toddler does not nap, no one has any fun for the rest of the day.

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    For ideal toddler road trippin, NAP!

  7. Instead of googling “fun Austin nightlife” or “classic New Orleans restaurants,” in preparation for stops, you find yourself googling “Austin with toddler” or “New Orleans for kids.”
  8. Ten hour driving days are memories of the past. Toddlers don’t nap for ten hours! Our max drive time is six hours, and that includes a good picnic playground stop in the middle. The preference is three hours.
  9. You break your “very limited screen time” rule so that no-nap-toddler will zone out long enough to watch Sesame Street so that you don’t continue to pull out your back twisting around to give toddler stickers, toys, books, raisins, or the piece of your tripod he insists is a mushroom.
  10. All those beloved junk-food road trip snacks are replaced by flying raisins and half chewed apples that, despite your best cleaning efforts, you find days later between seat cushions.
new orleans

Full of beignets in New Orleans

This has been, and likely will continue to be, the trip of a lifetime. It is a gift. Adventure, wonder, laughter, and exploration have filled our travels thus far, along with beignets, visits with old friends, every city’s interpretations of holiday decor, delicious vegan restaurants, tasty Tex Mex, live music, hiking, vegan donuts, camping, yoga under the stars, and even a little napping. We love our little toddler. But parenting a toddler can be hard, too. Wanderers we remain. Just let us know if there are stickers on our butts when we get out of the car…

austin

Hiking in Austin with fabulous friends, Hillary, Ashley, and a demure Julep