We stayed in Indiana as Andrew commuted about an hour every day to Chicago. Woodland Village was one of the closer places to park with full hookups and was a great price. This trailer park had a few open spaces where RVs pulled in, stayed a night or two and were on their way. We were one of the few that stayed longer. The trailers in the park were mostly old, many repainted over the years with colorful trims, and had established grass/lawns and flowerbeds. The people here were SO nice and friendly. We really enjoyed getting to know our neighbors and the employees at the park.We had a little excitement with a fire one windy day. I was home, mid afternoon, chatting with a friend on Skype. There was a bright flash and “BANG!” we lost power. I didn’t really think much of it. We have lost power before, and I knew it would be handled by the people that handle such things. I continued my conversation… until I saw men that live from all over the neighborhood running from all directions toward my RV. Oh @#$%!!! I got off Skype and ran outside to the chorus of my girls’ barking. There was a large branch, in the shape of a V, caught on the power line. It was on fire, shooting flames a couple feet! Oh my! I could already hear the firetruck sirens and even before they arrived the branch had burned through and was on the ground only a few feet from the bike rack on the back of the RV. The electric company came a bit later and all was fine. It was a great way for me to say hello and meet many of the residents. Ha-ha!
Within a 6 minute drive of our home was the Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore on Lake Michigan and about 25 minutes away was the state park. Both were awesome and I enjoyed hiking the dunes and strolling the beaches. The National Park had several trails and before it got too warm on many days Gigi and I would go for long hikes. Often, by the time we got back to the car after a dunes hike my shoes were so full of sand I could hardly move my toes! When I wanted to wander the beaches I drove over to the state park where dogs are allowed on the beach and we would stroll in and out of the cold water and end up with wet, sandy, tired dogs (and human) on the ride home. Beautiful and fun!
Andrew did have a little excitement one evening on his motorcycle… he ran out of gas. Yep, anyone who knows him knows he does this on occasion. As he tells it, he was riding along and without warning it was out of gas! He was sure he had enough to get to the gas station or home. After pulling to the side of the highway he decided to push the bike off the highway to a station. He pushed for a while when a VERY nice man pulled over and offered to help. Andrew thought the station was like a half mile away. The guy informed him it was much further than that. He offered him a ride and Andrew took it! The guy told Andrew it’s happened to him too and that he now keeps a Gatorade container with gas on his bike at all times; just enough to get to a station if he runs out. Currently Andrew is keeping a log so he will actually know what is what and hopefully won’t need the Gatorade gas container in the future… but I think it might be a good idea anyway!
On the weekends we relaxed around the RV, tasted spirits at Journeyman Distillery, enjoyed sour beer at 18th Street Brewery, ate awesome pies from Marilyn’s Bakery (made with the fresh fruits from the adjoining farmers market) and hung out at the beach. It was a really fun place to live… not that I’d want to be there in the winter!
Short Stories, by Lara
I want to share some experiences in the form of short stories. Previously, all too often, I didn’t take the opportunity to see the beauty around me and the connections I made everyday. I neglected to notice how I felt when I interacted with a pleasant employee at the grocery store. I forgot to notice the colors of the houses I passed (maybe because I was judging the broken window pane or the toys strewn around the yard), and the smiles of strangers in a passing car. I ignored the “goodness,” pleasant interactions, or maybe forgot to notice as I was in my own thoughts and focused on what happened earlier or what was going to occur tomorrow. I am actively looking for a different point of view. I’m picking out moments of what most would consider trivial daily activity and focusing on my thoughts, actions, and emotions in the moment and then recording the moment as I reflect on it. This is a tiny taste of looking for the good.
Your Dogs Are Pretty
I walk on this not too hot, but rather muggy mid-week summer afternoon. My girls, Gigi and Kona, wander right and left to sniff every part of the oil stained blacktop road and every small dead branch that lay in the recently cut grass. There are very large old maple trees about 10 yards apart along one side of each narrow road in the trailer park. I’m grateful for the shade. We wander past so many trailers; old, rusted, dirt stained and yet kitchy and neatly kept. Most with only a chair or two sitting on the top stoop or in the small adjacent yard.
As we wander I notice an older woman, with a long side braid of silver hair, exit the door of her trailer to the small landing out front. I quickly shift the leashes in my hand, Gigi can whine, almost like singing or screaming, when she becomes excited. She is not aggressive, ever, as best as I can tell. She is really just exploding with energy, excitement and wants to tell the world every chance she gets. I try not to bother people with her noise so I move her leash to my right hand and move my body so that I am between her and the trailer porch. The woman has an old cigarette pouch in her hand and is gently closing the door behind her. I intentionally make eye contact and say with a smile, “Hello.”
She responds in kind with a smile and adds, “Your dogs are pretty. They walk nicely together.”
“Thank you; they are pretty well behaved.” I say as I look back toward her, smile, and unexpectedly chuckle to myself. “Hope you have a nice day.” The lots are narrow and at this point we are already past the trailer. We walk on, weaving back and forth to sniff all the smells my girls seem to love. I lessen the grip on Gigi’s leash and notice the slight breeze. I think about how unexpected this comment was and how much I appreciate it. Not too many people comment that my 50 pound brindle and black dogs are pretty. A truck approaches and we scoot to get out of the road. The older man nods and smiles as he passes. I feel full, connected, a sense of peacefulness.
Kona and Gigi both do their “outside” as we call it. I praise them; we wander back toward our home. We are parked between a fifth-wheel on the left of us that looks rather new and a stationary trailer on the right. I think the woman that lives in the fifth-wheel is new to this trailer park. I remember on the day we arrived that she was edging the grass, planting flowers in newly made garden beds behind her cement patio, and situating her large tan and white outdoor rug and outdoor furniture. She had smiled and waved as we lowered and unhooked the motorcycle before backing into our space. I assume she plans to stay a while; most of the residents here are living in trailers with insulation wrapped along the bottom and traditional window air conditioners hanging from metal framed windows. They are not travelers passing through.
I unlock the door and the girls bound up the stairs into our home. I follow more carefully and remove their leashes. My short afternoon walk was not extraordinary… it was an opportunity to be present, I was, and the consequence was connection!
Hello, Good-Bye KissI sit, sipping my already cool coffee, on our love seat with the special cover my mom made for it. It is a quilted fabric I picked out at a Jo-Ann Fabric Store over a year ago. My mom, being as creative and giving as she is, “whipped up” the custom slip covers so I don’t have to sit on the sticky feeling pleather. I am listening to NPR One, an app on my phone. This morning I’m only half listening to the short clips of local news from WAMU 88.5 in DC. I guess I am not yet ready to switch my “home station,” yet. I look out the window at the large maple tree across the way. It has a gaping hole where a large branch was probably removed long ago so it wouldn’t stick into the street. The bark patterns on the tree swirls and the bark is really thick. Beautiful.
Our neighbors’ small red Chevrolet pulls up to the curb with handicap license plates. I notice it is only 7:23 AM and notice the man next door coming down the stairs of his trailer leaving their little white dog on hind legs looking out from behind the screen door.
The couple live with their small white-furred dog in a light-blue trailer with white gutters and downspouts (which is pretty unusual on a trailer in this neighborhood). The siding is newer, and there is a birdhouse wind-chime hung from the gutter. The neighbors’ door is on the side facing our RV and opens directly onto narrow wooden stairs with black anti-slip strips on the edge of each step. The single wooden railing has a long nail, half hammered in, near the top. From it hangs the plastic covered dog leash for the small, quiet dog to be able to do his business and have some “yard time.”
The man slowly, gripping the handrail, makes it off the bottom stair and walks to the passenger door of the Chevrolet. As he opens the car door, the woman exits the driver side. She is wearing a work-shirt, the kind with a couple buttons, collar and a name tag. She moves around toward the front of the car, she looks tired, or maybe I’m just imagining how tired I’d feel if I just returned from work so early in the morning. The man puts his plastic bags, containing a large plastic bottle and a square container (I’m thinking it is his lunch), onto the passenger seat and shuts the door.
He crosses to the front of the car. Both stop, make eye contact, and gently give each other a kiss on the lips. They don’t say a word. Their hands briefly touch, “hello, good-bye,” they say without saying anything. Then he’s climbing into the drivers seat. She slowly, carefully, climbs the stairs and opens the screen door. She waits a beat; I can’t see but I think she is petting their dog. She goes in and disappears behind the closed doors. He turns the small red car around, completing the three point turn, he drives away.
No super models; no actors; real life; real love.
Starbucks, Jeepers and Educators
I wander toward the small seating area in Starbucks. There is only one other customer here and he is sitting in one of the comfortable leather chairs by the window. The other leather chair is piled with an umbrella and bag. Obviously he doesn’t want company, or maybe he is waiting for a friend. I take my coffee, breakfast (sausage, egg and cheese breakfast muffin without the sausage), and Digesting the Universe, by Grandmaster Lu to the table next to the man so I can look out the window. It is a bright day and the temperatures are already rising to nearly 90. The man shifts uncomfortably in his chair when I sit down; he doesn’t make eye contact. Oh, I think I misread the situation. I think he set himself up to have this no eye contact, no touching space… and I just invaded it.
With that thought I unwrap my breakfast. I glance up and notice a heavy set man and an elderly woman looking in my Jeep windows. They are shielding their eyes from the sun with both hands and have their noses nearly on the glass. As they come through the door I smile, “Do you want me to open it up so you can see inside?” I say.
The guy immediately says, “No,” and dives in with questions about the package we have, if we go off road, and telling me Sahara’s aren’t known to be great off road. I assure him our Sahara did quite well the couple times we went off road and inquired about his yellow Jeep in the lot. We chatted for a few minutes and he sat at the table on the opposite side of the man in the leather chair. “I like to get up early in the morning,” he shares. ” My wife has things to do and I go off in one direction or another in my Jeep. I wish it got better gas mileage.”” He shares that he lives in Utah, near loads of Public Lands, and he off roads all the time.
The older woman comes over and sits at the high top table with the man and now there is a third woman, about the same age as the man. She has salt and pepper hair and is quite attractive. She sits with her back to me. The elderly lady says hello to the man in the leather chair, calling him by name. He says hello in response and she jokes with him, ” I know, you probably don’t appreciate my interruption.” He seems to miss the sarcasm in her voice and responds, defensively, that he doesn’t think of her as an interruption. She tells him she’s just kidding. This reassurance makes him smile.
Our Jeep discussion turns to how he is visiting here from Utah. “I’m from here,” he states.
The elderly lady chimes in, “I have five children, this is my oldest,” she says gesturing to the middle aged woman, “and this is my oldest son. My husband died a year and a half ago and I don’t like to be home so I mostly just sleep there and go out during the day.”She shares about her favorite places to spend her days and how she sees so many friends. I like her.
We chat a bit about Texas, the middle aged woman’s kids and grand kids live there. I’m told about the recent family trip to North Carolina and about a cool motorcycle museum in the mountain area. I learn about Chicago and the shore area and that we should rent bikes and ride the shore. The man in the leather chair shares photos of Chicago at night that he took on his iPhone. The photos are of buildings lit up in the dark.
The conversation turns.
The middle aged man inquires why I’m here from Texas. I give the short version of moving into the RV, quitting my job in VA and traveling so my husband can still work full time as we experience the country. “Are you looking for a new job?” he asks.
“Not right now.” I explain that I don’t need to at the moment and I have no idea what the new job would even be. He asks what job I quit. “Teaching, second graders, ” I say. I don’t like where this is going. I’m not in the mood to discuss schools with people who likely think second grade teaching is so fun and easy… as people normally comment to me.
The man in the leather chair suddenly jumps up, he is very excited as he just found a video clip from a 1950s movie, that I am not familiar with, and shows each of us on his iPhone. I’m relieved for the break from our conversation. Suddenly he realizes he interrupted and apologizes. The man tells him this particular performer could never be considered an interruption. I smile and tune out the conversation. I’m reminded of my hometown, of how everyone knew everyone else. I remember a special, older man (he was actually a classmate of my dad’s, I think) that came to the grocery store, where I worked at 16, everyday. He lived in a group home nearby and was in love with one of my classmates from school who also worked at the store. He professed his love for her each time he saw her. If she wasn’t working when he came in he’d ask about her and tell the rest of us how much he loved her. He was so sweet. I tune back into the lecture about this movie and the actors, from the man that clearly has a photographic type of memory. The middle aged woman comes to the table where I am sitting after throwing away her napkins and other breakfast items, “What are you reading?”
I show her and ask, “This is written by Grandmaster Lu; are you familiar with Chinese qigong?” I expect one answer and receive the opposite. “Oh, yes! My uncle, my mom’s brother, teaches qigong 12 times a day in Utah. He doesn’t do the spiritual aspects, he discusses more Christianity and teaches qigong and tai chi.” I ask his name, curious to look him up at some point. I tell her I’ve done this practice for a couple years and how it has opened me up to change my life. She shares that her uncle is in his 80s and is quite healthy. She walks back to the table where she had been sitting.
I listen to the end of the history lesson about the movie clip and all the details offered and watch the man settled back in the leather chair and stop engaging with us.
“My sister rolled her eyes when you said you were a teacher because she represents the local school board.” the middle aged man says. The conversation is shifting to public schools. I don’t want to discuss my old work. I am tired of justifying why I was unhappy, I don’t want to try and make another person see my perspective of schools and how we are all squandering the only opportunity for so many kids to get what they need to have a life where they can find happiness. I don’t know how to help people see that children develop differently, that they are not numbers, not widgets that should be treated the same, with such disrespect for their emotional, physical, and educational needs. I prepare myself for an exit. Maybe I just take my book and coffee and say good-bye. I do have to go to Costco…
The middle aged woman shifts in her chair to face me again, “I work at the state level to try and change some of the policies around schools. I work here, and represent this district. Where did you teach?” she asks.
I tell her. I briefly describe our Title 1 school and that I loved the school, my coworkers, my students and principals. I tell her after 16 years things changed so much with testing that I was jaded, I needed to leave. She nods her head as I speak in understanding and shares about her local schools. They are Title 1. She tells about the burden of paperwork, testing, the school system operating in the red. She tells about not being able to compensate her teachers; how here their pay is tied to test scores. “Last year we tried starting kindergarten with play. Let the kids get to know the teachers and play for the first week. Do we really need to test them on the first day of school? The year started off less stressed, but, by the time November rolled around you could see the stress and anxiety building in the teachers.”
I realize all my “fears” about this conversation are the opposite. My assumptions today are all backwards. I bet I do this all the time.
We go on to talk about her family. Her grandson has a 504 as a ninth grader and he is worried about it. He also decided he wanted to take welding as a class this year because, at 14, he knows he wants to put bars and other “cool stuff” on the truck he plans to get in a couple years. He knows his dad is too busy to help him so he wants to learn for himself. His mother was originally set against him “wasting time” in that class but after a family meeting she was finally convinced he should do it. What a great example of how to set a goal and have a plan to make it possible. Her grandson has interests, priorities, and it is too bad that a 504 is making him feel stress, because the point is to help alleviate stress.
“I’m feeling cold. Do you want to sit on the patio?” asks the elderly woman of her children and me.
“I actually have to go… I do need to go to Costco or my dogs won’t be eating later today!” I respond. What awesome connection and a pleasant way to spend the morning. I’ve been here for well over an hour. I toss out my breakfast trash. We wander out the double glass doors. It is very humid out. I say good-bye to all three and they wish me safe travels. The middle aged woman walks me to the car.
As I open the Jeep door she confides in me, “I am not sure I want to do this job anymore either.”
I understand her situation. I know how hard it is to decide. I tell her I understand and wish her all the best. She hugs me. I hug her back. As I drive away I wave good-bye as they wave, and wonder at the way we are all connected… when I let myself be.