Interrupting the big picture…happily!

One of the best perks of life on the road is the ability to stop at any time and lend a hand/be available to someone in need.  Whether it is your own family or an old friend or a complete stranger, there is nothing quite like the great feeling of being “in the right place at the right time” to make a difference for someone.

This month I began my four-month road trip as planned. Stayed a couple of days longer at one place to facilitate get-togethers with more family, added an extra night the next week to meet up with a niece I hadn’t seen in ma-a-a-a-a-a-ny years, and ended up arriving at my son’s house just as my daughter-in-law received a diagnosis of possible pre-eclampsia with the 7-month-in-utero twins.

What a great blessing to be able to extend a quick visit for over a week to help during the crisis. Fortunately, although the crisis quickly escalated, the twin boys were born naturally in the OR within days, and are doing fantastic in the NICU.  Carrie is able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House next door so she can focus on the twins.  The other five siblings are at home, being cared for by family and friends.  It was a privilege to be a part of the “village” that cared for my family.

I say this because many times when I was working the 9-5 from a sticks-and-bricks stationary home, I would hear of something happening and be unable to physically help. I am rethinking part of my future planning – to always allow for helping others. Now that I no longer need to keep to a rigid schedule, like so many who live on the road, should we not stop and help whenever possible? Isn’t this one of the best perks of our “go with the flow” schedule!?!?!

Also during the month of July, I was privileged to visit the beautiful land and people of Prince Edward Island, Canada. I thoroughly enjoyed all the Anne of Green Gables attractions, including a musical theatre production in Charlottetown one evening. As I happened to arrive on July 1, the birthday of Canada, I was able to walk into a harbor festival in Summerside for a wonderful evening of music, good food, and fireworks with some lovely people.  My little van parked in the public harbor parking gave me instant access, and I was able to stay there for the night – sleeping with a wonderful sea breeze coming in my windows.

The coast of Prince Edward Island has 37 lighthouses, 9 of which are open to climb and enjoy a magnificent view.  The red cliffs along the coast were my afternoon delights – a different beach/park each day as I wound my way around the island.  For any bikers, this is a biking paradise as bike trails wind around the entire coast – I enjoyed walking many of these trails.  Each hill I crested provided yet another spectacular view of waves, cliffs, beaches, lighthouses, and so much more.  The pink, purple and white lupin that grow along the roads are so pretty. Yet the entire island is sparsely touristed and never felt crowded.

When I arrived back in Maine, I was able to spend more time with my oldest brother than I have spent with him in years. It was a great time to reconnect and feel more like part of his family again! Another few days with another brother and his family, and I was so happy to help celebrate a favorite nephew’s 40th birthday.  Spending more time just chilling and visiting – instead of rushing to see each person on a quick visit – this is what is different with my current travels.  I spent some time with a friend from Long Island who summers at Point Sebago and met her family – the last time I saw her was when her first daughter was born and now the three girls are all adults!

An evening with two older cousins in Portland, Maine, made me very happy, and I learned more about my extended family than ever before. How sad that our previous generations allowed animosity and resentment to separate the family so that we did not get to know each other and spend time together while growing up.  Happily, we are changing that as adults!

The next day I went to visit one of my cousins at her camp on Sebago Lake, which I vaguely remember from the past, and it was my great pleasure to have an afternoon to visit with her and one of her sons. My “first cousin once removed” is an amazing inner city high school teacher and I am so proud of the work he is doing and the relationships he is investing himself in with young people. What a glowing example of a teacher who cares, really cares, about his students as individuals! It was wonderful to hear about what they are accomplishing in Nashville, and I loved connecting with him over the picnic table lakeside.

  My favorite cousin and her family was next on the list for a visit. While I have often stopped by for visits “on the way” somewhere, this was the first time in decades that I spent several days with her. Despite this, we have always maintained a connection that is more sister than cousin. I enjoyed spending time getting to know her family members a bit more. As I was leaving, she remarked how much more she would miss me now that we had actually spent some days together – exactly how I feel!  Slowing down to spend more time with a person makes such a stronger connection, and I am so glad I have these opportunities. Pulling my little camper van into a driveway for a few days means we spend so much more time together yet I can sleep in my van and not inconvenience anyone – although my wonderful “first cousin once removed”, Sam, was willing to give up his bed to make me more comfortable!!  Pretty cool for a 16-year-old young man to be willing to sacrifice his bed for me! His big sister, Deanna, was also wonderful to visit – they sure have grown up and are terrific adults.

By the way, Google informs me that the child of my cousin is NOT my second cousin, but is my first cousin once removed.  Google also says they should be addressed as niece and nephew – yay!  We usually just say “cousin” and leave it at that, but whatever the name, they are some pretty awesome people.  I was able to meet my “first cousin once removed” Stuart’s wife, and their four kids I have only known through Facebook.  Much as I love Facebook and social media to keep in touch with people, FACE TIME is so much better!!!

Now I am back in New York, spending time with my son Sean and his family, and making some smaller trips to visit friends and places in the area.  I am looking forward to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, next week.  Two months of my four month trip are done, and it has been wonderful!  I have reconnected and met so many family/friends – I feel so blessed.

How have the finances been?  Here are the stats for the first two months:

JUNE (5 weeks, including last week of May):

Gas $470 – for 2786 miles; Food $130; Other $270 – TOTAL $870

JULY (includes trip to Canada)

Gas $433 – for 2638 miles; Food $183; Other $381 – TOTAL $997

August will be less expensive as I am based mainly in New York at my son’s home and just taking small trips.  Lots of time chillin’ with the fam! I am also working more online classes to replenish the funds as I did spend more on food and entertainment/touristy stuff than I had planned. I am fortunate to have a job that allows me to travel and plan my work around the more important things of life! In June I earned just about $525 and a little less in July as I did not work at all while in Canada, and much of the time in Maine.  When I leave New York, I will reduce my teaching schedule again to fit my travel schedule.  Since my phone/insurance bills are only $300 a month, I am in good shape.  With no other debts, I can enjoy this lifestyle by keeping it simple and doing a LOT of boondocking!

Where have I boondocked on this trip?  Besides the driveways of family and friends, I have overnighted in:  a harbor parking lot, a hospital visitor parking lot, on a town street beside a park, at Walmarts and Cracker Barrel restaurants, truck stops and secure 24-hour highway convenience/rest stops.  I have only paid $24 in campground fees, for 3 nights, and have otherwise boondocked for free.

Hope your summer is going well, and you are happily connecting with family and friends, too!  Life is too short to waste, and too beautiful to miss! While not everyone has the ability to travel like I am doing, have FUN and ENJOY each day!

Scout — out!!

From my bookshelf:

“It was not nature that moved me…it was the feeling of smallness, of isolation, that I craved. How I wish I felt at home in the crowds of Salem, the salons of Boston. Still, when I am in society, I feel their need and hopes on me like an actual physical presence….Company is a burden to those at home in the solitude of their souls.”

The House of Hawthorne, by Erica Robuck, 2015

POP that filter bubble!

 

As we all know, or SHOULD know, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter filter what we see on our sites…according to what we LIKE and FOLLOW.   So if you are a liberal or a conservative, a Republican or a Democrat, a monogamous heterosexual or any other sexuality/identity, a Christian, Muslim, pagan, …and any other demographic (even sexual offenders, rapists, and pedophiles), your news feed reflects your opinion.

Our social media is turning into bubble wrap, each person is enclosed in their own bubble with like-minded individuals and organizations.  Facebook and other social media will send to your news feed other articles and posts that are similar to your opinion.  The underlying thought was good – this is what this person likes to read.  However, what has happened is that we have normalized whatever our opinion is and we feel that most of the world agrees with “us” because that is pretty much all we read.

The New Yorker had a great article recently about “myside bias”- see February 20, 2017 issue, Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds By Elizabeth Kolbert. “Humans, they point out, aren’t randomly credulous. Presented with someone else’s argument, we’re quite adept at spotting the weaknesses. Almost invariably, the positions we’re blind about are our own.”  Research has shown that when people read an opinion different from their own, they will dismiss evidence or facts and continue (or dig in deeper) in their own side/bias.

We block friends and family and acquaintances who have a differing opinion because we just don’t want to hear/read/acknowledge the opposing side as valid. We want to stick with our own beliefs, faith, truth, way of life.  Often we post “attacks” based on our opinion. I have to say I am deeply ashamed when I (often) see Christian friends/family posting hateful or nasty things about others, whether political or otherwise. How often do we think about how our words can hurt those who think differently?

Critical thinking is SO important to develop, improving how you interpret opinions and rationalizations, problem-solving, and developing empathy for others. (It was one of my highest goals in raising children.) Critical thinking is the mental process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion. (Dictionary.com’s 21st Century Lexicon
Copyright © 2003-2014 Dictionary.com, LLC)

How can critical thinking develop where there is no discussion, argument, debate, conversation?  If we do not listen to other viewpoints, we are uninformed, and unable to:

1. validate/express our own viewpoint honestly

2. appreciate other people in their value system

3. grow and develop as a well-rounded person

4. adequately make good life decisions/choices

Personally I was raised in a conservative Christian home where everything in life was to be based on the Bible as our primary guide, or to be more accurate, the current preachers’ interpretation of that Bible. We were discouraged from even attending other churches, much less get involved with “sinners” (except to convert them, of course), and especially not those regarded as sexual deviants, or pro-choice, democrats, alcohol or drug users, card-players, dancers of any kind, theater/movie goers, pagan, agnostic, Catholic, or atheistic…we were even discouraged from attending secular higher education for concern that we would be corrupted.

Fortunately, as I have grown up, I have learned to appreciate other people and their viewpoints. My faith and values are not threatened by others who view life differently. I am not going to hell because I associate with Muslims or lesbians or alcohol drinkers. I can read or discuss with someone their pagan beliefs and still care about that person and validate their life choices – as they are free to choose what they believe, just as I am free to choose what I believe.

So how do we break out of our filter bubble, whether imposed by Facebook or Twitter, or by our parents or faith or political party?

1.READ, read, read, and read some more – find books and articles that are well-written and expose you to other viewpoints. Read your own viewpoints as critically as you read theirs.

2.LIKE and FOLLOW other people and organizations with a differing viewpoint so those are added to your newsfeed – expose your mind to their arguments and discussions. Find reputable sites that represent the best thinking of that argument.

3.Get out in your community and MEET NEW PEOPLE from different walks of life – different socioeconomic group, different sexuality or gender identification, different religion, different country, different political party. Involve yourself in community that is not limited to faith.

4. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN.  Stop thinking about how you will reply or how they are wrong based on your opinion, just LISTEN. Take it home and think about it.  At least, stop talking until you have a solid foundation of trust.

5.ASK QUESTIONS.  Thoughtful questions that show you respect their opinion and truly want to hear their viewpoint. Drop your conversion agenda. Don’t stop at what you think you know, keep learning. Don’t just interrogate with the intention of proving them wrong.

6.DEVELOP a foundation of friendship and mutual respect with others. I am not talking to you because I want to convert you to my way of thinking; you are a valid person worthy of respect, and I want to just get to know you and appreciate who you are, and listen to your story…and I want you to respond in kind.

Critical thinking requires a person to dismiss the shallow, knee-jerk, easy pat answers…and dig deeper. Just because a person refers to God in a press release does not make them a Christian…anyone can say words that others want to hear.  Anyone can recite the Lord’s prayer or the Declaration of Independence or that latest buzzword – we need to be responsible adult critical thinkers no matter who we are talking to or about.

I have lately been reading a great deal about pre-Nazi days, and the parallels to today are scary.  Journalists/Press as “the enemy” is one of the scariest! “Alternative facts” is another scary development. Divisive posturing on any level is also horrific, with horrible consequences.  Government leaders who are not critical thinkers or serious readers or surrounding themselves with a variety of wise voices are a nightmare.

We need to be active individually to balance the divisiveness and help bring open, inclusive rhetoric to our social media platforms.

Don’t accept the bubble wrap mindset – we are all humans worthy of respect and we are all important to this nation, and the world!

I would love comments on this blog post, and although I will remove any disrespectful comment, I welcome all to join in.

Scout…out!

From my bookshelf —

“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about these things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant…I am haunted by humans.”

From The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, 2005