Imagine stepping out of your apartment and across the street to hop on the city train that runs by regularly. A few minutes later you transfer at the main station to a regional train that quietly whisks you away from the urban center. Soon you're in countryside, and within an hour you see the largest waterfall in Europe churning and misting over the next hill.
You follow the well-marked paths from your station to the falls, where you can get close up via various observation points, let your young traveling companion swing around on a playground, or explore a neighboring castle. Then you hop on a boat that takes you down a cool clear river, one full of history and poetry as it defines the border with another country. Swimmers float by, laughing and splashing.
You get off the boat at a shady clearing nestled in the trees and see a beautiful swimming pool complex and cafe on the river. You spend a couple of hours playing and sunning. When you're tired you take the boat and trains home, and get ready for the next day's adventure.
This was just one of the days that came to pass during three weeks living in Switzerland this summer, and it's a good example of the kinds of adventures that my wife, daughter and I (along with a friend who visited us for part of the trip) had in that time. With a centrally located apartment in Zürich and our travel passes in hand, we were fortunate to explore a lot of different corners of this awesome country. From snow-capped mountains to rushing rivers, lush woods to bustling lakefronts, beautiful cities with amazing architecture, innovative museums and interesting festivals, we saw a lot.
I recently returned from my first trip to Croatia, where I spent a week hiking, biking, kayaking, rafting, exploring and eating throughout the country. Between grieving my mom's death, working through her stuff, the busy-ness of work and trying to stay caught up on the rest of life, I hadn't had much time recently to do something purely for fun and purely for me. When my sabbatical was coming up this was one of the first things I planned, and I'm so glad I did it. (My mom also loved to travel and explore new places, so I think she would have encouraged it, too.)
I coordinated the trip through REI's Adventures program, which offers adventure/active travel and vacations around the world. I really appreciate that they focus on using local guides to facilitate small group trips full of context, history and authenticity in a true spirit of exploration, instead of just shuffling hoards of people through a standard tourist experience in all the standard locations. In Croatia this meant constant conversation with our two guides about the political and cultural history of the areas we visited, delicious home-cooked meals at the houses of everyday Croatian people, adapting our plans to the moods and weather of the day, and being able to linger in beautiful locations we had biked or paddled to, before and after the tour buses or cruise ships had come and gone.
This is my second trip with REI (the first being a week in the Galapagos Islands), and I felt fortunate that both times we had excellent guides (thanks Marin and Valentin!) and a group that was easy-going and enjoyable to spend time with. Celebrating our milestones and accomplishments over meals together each day was a real treat.
Croatia itself is just beautiful. The landscapes are so varied: lush national parks with waterfalls everywhere, open plains, islands dotting an amazing coastline, bustling cities. It has modern infrastructure and a high standard of living, but reminders everywhere of the not-so-distant periods of war and conflict.
Tourism is on the rise and is perhaps the country's main "export," and so they are wrestling with how to balance the many benefits that brings with the concerns of congestion and environmental degradation.
In addition to the joy of learning about a new place and getting outside my cultural comfort zone, the trip also served as a challenge to myself around physical fitness. The trip activities were rated as "moderately difficult" and I knew that I would need to do some preparation to go from my relatively sedentary lifestyle to being fully ready to take on a week of day-long physical exertion. Apparently I do pretty well with goal-oriented training; adjusting my diet, doing bike rides around town with a loaded-up trailer in tow and working out at the gym three to four times per week in the months leading up to the trip was a lot easier when I could do it in the name of not totally embarrassing myself in Croatia.
And it paid off! Each day I was more than able to keep up, sometimes even being the one who was pushing for a bit more speed or distance. Biking felt especially good and I think I was smiling for most of a 22-mile ride through the rolling countryside.
I know, I know. It's the end of March and it feels a little late to be reflecting on a calendar year that has been retired for three months now. But I've gotten in the habit of doing this - see 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2011 - and there is part of me that needs any small bit of closure that writing this post might bring.
If you had told me a few years ago that 2018 would be the year I lost my mom, I wouldn't have believed it. But the year was indeed consumed by continuing to accompany her through cancer treatment, worrying about her health a lot when I wasn't with her, and then finally saying goodbye to her in December.
I've written some about what that loss and grief has been like and so I won't repeat that all here. But there was little I did, planned, thought about or worked on that wasn't somehow affected by the constant low-level stress and anxiety of knowing a loved one was facing tougher and tougher odds for survival. I wrestled with finding the right balance of dropping everything to have meaningful and special experiences with mom while I could, and living my own life as fully as I could knowing that she found comfort and pride in hearing about our adventures and accomplishments as a family.
Those struggles and that grief brought out some of the best moments, too, when it comes to the love and support shown by friends, family and community. I still can't fully believe or begin to recount the incredible ways that people have reached out and, through gestures big and small, helped make life easier for us during the hardest times. I am so grateful for this and yet I've felt woefully incapable of expressing that gratitude while the fog of grief still swirls around me.
Parenting a preschooler continued to be an almost all-consuming experience. The year started with me entertaining her with puppet shows and craft activities and now she entertains us by breaking into song, dancing on her homemade stage, telling us the latest scuttlebutt from school and amusing us with endless creative scenarios and ideas for play. Helping a human develop, figure out the world, absorb language and deepen her emotions has been incredibly moving and wonderful. Exhausting! But wonderful.
I was thrilled to have a couple pieces of my writing included in publications beyond my own websites, and I still want to get back to doing more of that.
Happy New Year. As arbitrary Gregorian boundary conditions go, I've been really looking forward to the end of 2017. And as I've done in the past I'm posting a few thoughts from the year. (Previously: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2011.)
Though I know the machinations of U.S. politics and culture are not a primary concern for many people in the world, it felt like a year where I could not get out from under the dark cloud of the current presidential administration and the things we are naming and learning about ourselves as a society. I'm someone who usually follows news and politics closely, so it was tough to balance awareness, engagement, activism and appropriate amounts of anger with self-care, long-term thinking and finding any kind of focus or calm. I don't think I did very well with that process, and I've watched it take a toll on me, people I love and communities that I care about.
On top of that I spent a lot of time and energy this year accompanying my mom through her cancer treatment and related medical adventures; it was a source of always-present, low-level (and sometimes high-level) stress that was never too far in the background. I was of course always honored to bring care and support where it was needed, but it was hard watching her be consistently miserable while wondering when or how things could get better.
It was a year of incredible growth for our daughter, going from a barely walking toddler with a relatively small vocabulary to a whirlwind of a kid who runs through the house asking us hard questions, telling stories and expressing strong opinions. A day doesn't go by that I don't look at her in amazement, or that my wife and I aren't asking to each other, "did you know that she can do that??" Witnessing and participating in literal child-like wonder has been a special bit of grace in these times.
With another year gone by, I'm again sharing a few reflections on how 2016 went. (Previously: 2015, 2014, 2011.)
New house, staying in Indiana
With a big shift in my wife's professional life and an intentional wrapping up of most of my local commitments that required regular attendance at in-person meetings, this year found me as physically untethered to the city of Richmond, Indiana as I've been since I first came here in 1995. We spent much of the year asking whether we should stay, or take the opportunity to explore living in new places outside of the U.S. midwest. (Someone even started a rumor that we'd already moved away.) I reflected a lot on why I've stayed in Richmond this long, what we'd be giving up if we did go, and what we'd gain by living somewhere else.
There are changes happening locally and regionally that concern us, and there are times we want our daughter to have more diverse experiences than we can find in Richmond, so we know we'll keep considering these questions. But we decided that our wonderful community of friends and family, the difference we feel like we can make locally, and the opportunities we still have to see and live in other parts of the world all added up to staying in Richmond right now.
It's just long enough to transition away from full-on tourist mode and get to know a place a little bit more from a local point of view. Immersing ourselves in a new landscape is also a great way to get perspective on the world and the rest of our lives - what we value, what we miss, what we want more or less of and how we might make that happen.
This year's trip was different in a few ways. Our last three have all been in the U.S. so we were excited to again be overseas and where we didn't know the language. It was also very new to do this kind of trip with our 11-month-old daughter. We wanted to challenge ourselves in these ways and while it was hard at times, overall it was a really fun and amazing experience.
I've been spending more time with people who do most their work remotely. Since writing about the advantages of distributed/remote teams versus working in person, I've been paying attention to all of the time remote workers spend figuring out how to be around other people in just the right doses. They're looking to be in the same place with some fellow humans who have a common sense of purpose, or who at least share an understanding of the remote work lifestyle, even if just for a little while.
This leads me to wonder if the future of remote work isn't just a bunch of people on their own, working from home offices or coffeeshops, but instead an arrangement of remote workers coming together in person for a sense of shared experience. Ironically, it might even end up looking a lot like traditional notions of where and how people work, but probably with a lot more freedom, flexibility and fun along the way.
Friends, there is a miniature human being living in my house now.
There are many things about that experience I could go on about -- the adoption process, being in the delivery room for her birth, the incredible support and help we received from our friends and family, figuring out how to care for a new person and getting some sleep along the way, watching my wife become a wonderful mom and navigating a huge change in our life together, implications for our home automation setup, and much more -- and I'll try to blog about all of that as I can. For now I can say that being a father has been magnificent.
Kelly and I are fortunate to have enough flexibility in our schedules and employment that we've continued the trend of trying to live in another place (e.g. Portland, OR, Washington, D.C.) for 3-4 weeks per year. It's just long enough to transition away from full-on tourist mode and get to know a place a little bit more from a local point of view. Immersing ourselves in a new landscape is also a great way to get perspective on the world and the rest of our lives - what we value, what we miss, what we want more or less of and how we might make that happen.
This year we spent that time in Asheville, North Carolina.
It's a place that I've spent a fair amount of time already - visiting my dad's parents there when I was younger, attending Camp Rockmont for several summers in a row, going on various whitewater rafting/canoeing trips nearby and visiting college friends there more recently - but it was great to experience the city in this new way as it lives into its emerging culinary/artistic/outdoorsy identity. The mountain air, lush woods and trails, flourishing food scene, accessible size, eclectic neighborhoods and friendly people made for a really memorable time.
We stayed at a beautiful Airbnb house near the downtown area, which meant we could walk into town and experience a restaurant, bar, market, sidewalk performance or drum circle whenever we felt like it: