Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Big Wheel, Keep on Turnin'

View from Cindy and Jim's penthouse condo
My final leg of the massaging insole journey was the Volusia County Fair in Deland, Florida.  After having spent the past month in trailer parks, sleeping in a tent, on the fairgrounds usually far outside of the nearby towns along the highway, and close to the livestock, it was a very welcome change to be staying with my Dad and Lorraine's friends in a two bedroom condo, directly on the beach in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. 

NSB sunset
We arrived in Deland at the fair on November 3rd, after a hurried two days at home in Leesburg.  After we set up at the fair, we landed at the condo in New Smyrna Beach to the sound of waves crashing and the smell of ocean in the air.  That's basically all I needed to feel immediately relaxed after a long day of errands, travel, and set-up.  That evening we all relaxed, knowing it was the final stretch before we went home for the rest of the year.  I sat on the balcony, staring at the faint outline of the white tips of the breaking surf, sipping on a hot chocolate.

The next ten days were a far cry from the past 30.  New Smyrna is basically Daytona for seniors - you can drive on the beach, there are lots of little beach-side bars and attractions, and the people are happy and generally in great shape, only everyone (for the most part)  is 50-plus.  


Honestly, as much as I was aching to have someone my age to hang out with, the age-gap between myself and the residents of New Smyrna didn't bother me at all.  Our first full-day in NSB was spent getting settled and grocery shopping.  To give you an idea of the personalities I consistently came across in NSB, I'll tell you a nice little anecdotal tale.

So, we're getting groceries.  As per usual, my hair is air-dried, I'm not wearing makeup, and I'm wearing shorts and a tank-top.  Now, as we're casually strolling down one of the aisles, I hear an elderly woman yelling (yes, yelling), "Excuse me, miss! Miss! Excuse me! Miss!!".  Knowing full-well that I know no one in town, having never been here before, and also knowing that all of my belongings were securely located in my purse, so they hadn't fallen or been dropped, I assumed that this "miss" who was being called after surely couldn't be me.  I was wrong.  Finally, at the end of the aisle, after running after me, this kind little 70-something old lady caught up with me and tapped me on the shoulder. "Excuse me, miss," she said once more, "but you've got my body from 40 years ago, and I'd like you to give it back!" I, of course, laughed hysterically, blushed approximately 10 shades of red, and agreed kindly with her that I did indeed miss out on poodle skirts and saddle shoes (although the latter is making a comeback!).

This interaction boded well for the rest of my time spend in NSB: cheeky, fun, relaxed and well-aged (or aged well perhaps).  

Most days in NSB began with a run down the beach where I was greeted happily by residents, walking, running, or biking past.  This was one of my favorite times of day to be on the beach.  The pre-nine-in-the-morning folks reminded me of the all-day-folks in Nova Scotia.  So happy.  So friendly.  So unafraid of seeming like they're enjoying life - because they are.  I would usually get a comment or two from older couples passing by, from "well, you sure do make that look easy!" or, "whatever you're doing, it's working!"  Starting the day with a run in NSB was definitely one of the highlights.

The condo where we stayed also had two pools, one heated and one unheated.  I went for the odd swim, but spent most of my time near the pools, laying on a lounger, soaking up the sun.  It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it.

The remainder of my time, for the most part, was spent in one of my new-found favorite places: on the back of my Dad's Honda Goldwing motorcycle, the travel bike, of travel bikes.  We cruised to Daytona Beach, stopped at the Last Resort Bar (from the movie "Monster" where Aileen Wuornos seduces her victims), got harassed (half-jokingly) by Harley owners whom we parked next to near the beach,  walked the boardwalk, grabbed some pizza and Greek salad at Stavros (for which they're famous), chatted about this and that, then headed back to NSB for the night.  

On the Ormond Loop
Another day we drove the scenic Ormond Loop (or, as known by the biker community, just "the Loop") where we drove past lots of nature, drove through canopies of trees, palms, and Spanish moss, and stopped in Flagler beach for some beach-front snacks (I had the homemade crab dip, if you're wondering).  

On the last ride we took in the area we went to the Merrit Island Nature Reserve, got as close as we could to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, and went to Dixie Crossroads in Titusville where we proceeded to eat four dozen rock shrimp, french fries, and chicken flavored rice.  It's a good thing I went on those runs, let me tell you that much.

Outside Dixie Crossroads in Titusville

Part way through the week, Dad and Lorraine's friends, Cindy and Jim came and stayed at the condo, too.  They're a very hip couple of 50-somethings that are the perfect example of NSB: they're both fit, Cindy is a "sun bunny" and Jim is a surfer, they have a Harley and great spunky senses of humor.  They also brought with them their two malteses!  Simba is eight years old and is the larger of the two fluffy little white guys.  Rocky is the older boy, he is eleven, still a runt, and has a solid 3/4 inch fat roll around his mid-section and his tongue is always hanging out of his mouth.  Needless to say, I kind of liked Rocky the best.  They were great company and Rocky's little face brought me a great number of smiles and laughs.

Rocky <3
Although most of the "action" in NSB took place, for us, during the day, one night stands out in my mind.  I decided one evening to take advantage of the warm breeze, and heated pool.  I changed into my bathing suit, put on my gym clothes on top, grabbed my yoga mat and towel and headed for the pool deck.  

After completing 12 sun salutations and twisting every which way in the hopes of releasing any built-up toxins held in my spine, I peeled down to my swimsuit and hopped into the pool.  I splashed around for a while, breast-stroking and back-stroking my way around the pool. Then, I heard a noise.  I looked around, then up, to see a couple standing on their penthouse balcony, about 5 doors down from the condo where we were staying.  They were both waving frantically and yelling, though over the sound of the waves I couldn't make out a word that was said.  

Their franticness made me nervous.

Immediately I thought there was a viscous axe-murderer nearby, patiently waiting for the right moment to slash me up and turn the pool red with my blood.  

I believe I mentioned before that my imagination sometimes carries me away.

After surveying the area and confirming that there indeed was not a murderer nearby I considered the thought that they feared I had drowned, since just previous to acknowledging their cries I was floating on my back, relaxed as can be, entertaining myself with my change in buoyancy by breathing extra deeply and exhaling fully.

The woman eventually went scuttering inside, while the man continued to mind my business.  Eventually I was so troubled by the whole ordeal that I cut my swim short and headed upstairs for another hot chocolate on the balcony.  

I still can't figure out what they wanted my attention for.

On Remembrance Day (Veteran's Day), I got up, went for a run as usual, and headed up to the condo.  I was waiting until late afternoon to call my Grandmother to thank her for her service in WWII and for being a generally stand-up and awesome human being and passed the time by laying on a lounger next to the pool.  I had my phone with me, as I almost always do, and took it out from under my towel randomly to check for messages even though I had it on vibrate.  There was a message on Facebook from my mom.  My grandmother had a stroke and was on her way to the hospital by ambulance.  It's times like this that often remind us how fleeting life is and force us to possibly regret decisions we've made (usually about not having done something).  I thought, "I shouldn't have waited to call Nanny. I should have called before the ceremonies instead of after."  These situations, whether you're close by or far away, make you feel helpless.  Thankfully, after several hours of waiting for an update, I found out Nanny was doing well, eating when she could, and carrying on with family.  Phew!

That Sunday we put in our last Sunday at the booth in Deland, packed up (mostly), and headed back to the condo for our last sleep in NSB.  The next day, we got up bright and early, helped Jim and Cindy clean the condo, then headed to Deland to pick up the rest of the stuff.  I drove back to Leesburg on the bike with Dad, blaring the 70's and 80's station and singing along to my hearts' content, hoping I didn't catch a bug in my mouth on a long note.

So now we're back in Leesburg for possibly the rest of the year. The house has been brought up to speed, the laundry is done and the Suburban is unpacked.  We're still catching up, mostly Dad and Lorraine, with errands, mail, appointments, check-ups, and bookkeeping.  We should be into a normal routine by the weekend.

On Sunday I get to cash in on my foreign acquisition.  CHA-CHING!  (For those of you who know what I'm referring to).

Up next, more state-wide travels including, but not limited to: Disney World, Orlando Metro Area, Fort Lauderdale and the Keys!  Details to come.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What do you need?

No.  Not what do you want, or what would you like to have.  What do you need?

I've been learning a lot on this little adventure of mine.  One thing that's come back to me time and time again is how little we really need in life.  Aside from two boxes of seasonal (winter coat and boots and wellies) and household stuff (prints from an amazing Edmonton artist Aynsley Nisbet and my degree and some photos), everything I own fits in a 60L backpack and a laptop bag.  I lived in a tent for a full month on a twin size air mattress.

Want to know the two things I miss the most?

Friends my age and percolated coffee.

There is this phenomenon right now around hoarding - A&E and TLC, as far as I know, both have shows displaying this disastrous compulsion to collect.  Don't we all hoard, to an extent, though?

It's so easy to just hold on to things - clothes that don't quite fit, shoes that will come in handy "some day", purses, jackets, photos, broken frames, this, that, the other thing.  We keep them because all of us deep down have a desire to hoard.

When we were animals and primitive peoples, we needed to hoard materials and food for survival.  Well, it seems we still think we need to hold onto things "just in case".  But we won't die if we give up that sweater, or those shoes, or that $20 even, when it could go to good will or a charity and help someone who might actually be at risk of illness or death.

Recently, many of you may have already heard, a couple from Truro, Nova Scotia, won the lottery.  They are seniors and the wife of the couple is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.  They won $11 million. And they gave it all away (except for a small amount which they are keeping for medical and other emergencies).  They first took care of family and friends.  Then they went to regional churches, fire departments, hospitals and charities and continued to cut checks until it was all gone.

How much better would the world be if we all kept only what we needed and helped others with the rest?

I know that's an idealistic concept, but think about it.

One of the most cleansing experiences I've had took place the night I left Edmonton.  I had huge boxes and bags waiting to go into storage.  It was 6:30 pm and my flight left at midnight.  At the last minute, rather than keep all my stuff in those boxes and bags, I went through it and kept only the essentials in two small boxes (about two cubic feet each) and everything else went into a huge garbage bag to be delivered to goodwill.

The thought crossed my mind: "If I'm not going to need these things in the next 6 months, will I ever need them?"

The next thought was: "If I'm not going to get any use out of this stuff in the next 6 months, someone should."

Walking away from Edmonton, knowing I could carry everything I would need, on my own, was one of the most liberating thoughts I've ever had.  Now, that's not to say I won't need to accumulate new things in the future, or that what you own is more than what you need.  It very well could be exactly what you need.  But if you can look around your house or apartment and find things that you haven't used in 6 months, you probably don't need them.

So consider why you're holding on.  If you can't think of a good reason (not "because I like it" because obviously you don't "like it" enough to "use it"), then donate it. 

A morbidly depressing, but valid, way to look at it is this: if you were to suddenly and unexpectedly pass away, would you want your next of kin to have to go through those things and decide what to do with it all?

I lived in a tent for a full month.  Everything I need fits in a 60L backpack and a laptop bag. What would you keep if you could only own enough "stuff" to fit in a large suitcase and a backpack or briefcase?  And could you bring yourself to part with the rest?

Friday, November 5, 2010


It's easy to tell happy stories.  It's easy to make jokes and laugh and talk about the good times.  It feels good to share and motivate and inspire.

I consider myself to be a optimistic, confident, happy, strong-minded individual - but everyone falls every now and then.  Sometimes we don't know right away what's caused our recent low.  Other times it's just one thing.  More often than not, it's a build-up of things.
  1. A different country (with a surprisingly different culture). 
  2. New living conditions (mainly living beside a trailer in a tent, with parents I'm only just getting to know as an adult). 
  3. A wrench in my plans (I guess I don't qualify for dual-citizenship after all). 
  4. Putting my "No Plans" Plan on hold long enough to figure out some options or next moves (I can only stay in the US without papers for 180 days).
  5. Not having any way to blow off steam with people my age (I haven't seen a friend in four weeks and we've been too far out of town for me to experience any nightlife).
  6. Too much time to think (or maybe just enough).
I guess that's enough to drive a sane young woman a little bonkers.  So, I had a little melt-down?  So what.  It's understandable.  And just because you realize maybe you have a few issues with yourself that you didn't know were there, or maybe you're a little lonelier than let on (even to yourself), or maybe things might not be going exactly the way you had hoped... that doesn't mean that you're weak, or worthless, or that things can't still go your way.

That does, however, mean that a call to Mom might be a good idea.

One by one, talking my way through, I came to pinpoint each of my feelings and where they were coming from: insecurity, unworthiness, frustration, powerlessness, sadness.

Based on what I hear from friends, most people wouldn't associate these words with me.  But they are all spawns of fear.  Fear of so many things.  Fear of being hurt (again).  Fear of trust (if I trust, I let down the wall and open myself up to hurt).  Fear of inadequacy (when the only person I'm competing with is myself).  Fear of the unknown (what is next?).  Fear of rejection (it's not as easy to make friends now as it was in the sandbox).  Fear of being deported (ha! just kidding - I can't be entirely serious about this).

All joking aside, fear can ruin our lives - if we let it.  It can freeze us in our tracks, keep us from meeting amazing people, stop us from allowing a relationship to reach its potential, it can force us to settle for "known mediocrity" rather than "unknown anything" (we have no way of knowing how good or bad the unknown can be), and it can drive us damn near crazy!

I consider myself to be a pretty self-aware individual.  I guess that's why I was so overwhelmed when I started having these feelings.  I mean, I am only 24.  I guess I might not know myself as well and I thought.  And there it is again: fear. 

I'm reluctant to admit that I can't always be taken at face value.  I am who I am and anyone who knows me will vouch for that.  But I can put up a great front for all the right reasons - for family who worry, for friends who I think need me more than I think I need myself, for people who I don't want to get to know the "vulnerable me" quite yet.

Sometimes the realization can be just as overwhelming as the things that made you come to your realization in the first place.  It brings us back to fear.  Fear of admitting we don't have it all figured out - not even when it comes to ourselves.  Fear of shedding a few tears - because we fear that it makes us weak.  Even fear of overcoming our fears.

But, it's revelations like these that allow us to get to know ourselves better at a deeper level.  It's these moments of so-called "weakness" that make us strong.

So, I've decided I'm not going to call them "moments of weakness," but rather, "momentary lapses in judgement."  Strength is strength, and just because once in a while we crack under pressure, melt-down, breakdown, cry, sob or scream, that doesn't mean we are not still strong.  In fact, we're strong enough to realize when we should take issue with our situation, with ourselves, with others.  Tears are just our souls way of speaking to us, telling us that things aren't OK (or on the other end of the spectrum, that things are way better than OK - they're remarkably perfect). 

A quote comes to mind:

"There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are messengers of overwhelming grief... and unspeakable love."
Washington Irving

So cry, scream, call your mom or dad or bestfriend.  Take a walk, meditate, write.  Do what ever it is that's going to help you understand yourself and your situation better.

It's true what they say in the 12-step program - that admitting you have a problem is the first step in overcoming it.  We all fall down.  It's your choice, however, to lay there paralyzed, or get up, brush yourself off and make your next move.

So, what'll it be?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

This is the kinda wave that I'm on

So, my next pin on the map was to be Pensacola, Florida. Technically, the Pensacola Interstate Fair, in Belleville, Florida. Just a hop, skip and a jump away from the beautiful Gulf coast. The great thing about my Dad and Lorraine working this fair was that, during the week, it was only open from 4 pm to 10 pm and on weekends they split the 10 am to 10 pm shift, so there was lots of down-time to do running around and adventuring and beaching.

Hangin' ten, obviously.
Thursday and most of Friday were spent getting set up: the booth, the trailer, my tent, groceries, gas, propane, etc., but once the weekend rolled around, I started giving considerable attention to figuring out how to get to the beach sans vehicle (since Lorraine and Dad would be pre-occupied with the booth). 

I had two options. The first was looking for a folding bike on Craigslist (because without anywhere to put a bike rack, it's kinda hard to transport a full-sized bike). The second was public transit - a slightly more likely option that turned out to be just as impossible as finding a used folding bike.

Unfortunately, because it's "off-season" this time of year, the public transit from the Fairgrounds to the beach only ran twice a day. In the morning the bus came around 7:00 am and would get me to the beach by about 8:30 am. The next bus that came wasn't until 4:30 pm. I can honestly say, I love the beach, but not enough to be there for 8 hour straight with no company. Plus, the last bus of the day would get me back to the transit terminal, where I would need to catch my connection back to the trailer, a solid half an hour after the last bus of the day. And that put an end to that.

But I wasn't about to give up on enjoying the warm Florida sun, so instead I propped up a lawn chair and caught a few rays by the trailer, for all those who were riding "The Cat" to see! I have no shame.

I also have no shame in admitting that I have a new love: frozen, chocolate covered cheesecake. Fair food at its finest.

Luckily, the Pensacola Interstate Fair had a few more attractions for those who aren't into livestock, unlike the Arkansas State Fair. There were two art galleries, one for photos and one for paintings, drawings, sculptures and other pleasures. There was an antique car exhibit, a motorcycle exhibit, a model train exhibit and a rocks and minerals exhibit.

Art Exhibit
The next week was hot and humid. Inland at the fair it was almost unbearable. I couldn't even sleep in my tent at night because the cloud cover didn't allow the temperature to drop below 25 Celsius (about 80 Fahrenheit) and humidity was at 95% or above. So, I slept in the trailer. No biggie. 

I tried going for a run, since I was planning on, and almost succeeded in, going for a run every second day. I managed to only run off-and-on Tuesday, but for the last half a mile I couldn't help but walk. The humidity was suffocating. Although I hadn't over-exerted myself, and even though the sun was hidden behind clouds, when I arrived back at the trailer I was slick with humidity, my hair was dripping wet, and I'm pretty sure my earphones short-circuited. Luckily, I managed to fit in a run every other day, and I've gotta admit: I sure wouldn't have a difficult time staying in shape here. Running outside, past palm trees and plants, was motivation enough, despite the odd dead possum on the shoulder of the road.

Oddly enough though, as soon as you drove toward the coast, the humidity cleared up considerably, the cloud cover all but disappeared, and the sun was shining on down. So that's just what we did.

Giant Pensacola Beachball
It was about a half hour drive from our site to the beach. Down the freeway, across a bridge, and through a toll booth. One American dollar is a small price to pay to enjoy the beauty that is Pensacola Beach. White sand, turquoise water, sun, surfers and seashells!

The water was some of the best I've been in - even compared to Cancun! The surf was just high enough (about 6 to 10 foot waves) with almost no undertow. Both days we spent at the beach I maxed out my enjoyment playing in the waves and body surfing, strolling up and down the beach, watching the surfers, and rotating front to back, soaking up the glorious Gulf Coast rays. 

On both of my walks, I even saw a couple different jellyfish, including a Portuguese Man-of-War. I saw this other quasi-jelly looking thing. It was as if a jellyfish and a piece of coral had a love child. If anyone has any idea what it might be, I'd really appreciate the insight!

So, anyway as I was saying. We spent Tuesday and Wednesday at the beach until around 2:30 or 3 pm everyday, then we headed back to the Fair for the night shift. Dad and I ran some errands while Lorraine went into the booth for the first parts of the night. Then, Thursday it rained and Friday it got "cold" (read: 20 degrees Celsius or below, plus "windchill".. ha!).

Saturday Dad and I decided to go do a little sight seeing. There is an area in Pensacola called the Historic Seville District. It was designated a historic area in 1970 under the U.S. historic district legislation, but restoration and preservation began in the early 1960's by a group of local preservationists. The area is quaint (Pensacola is only a city of 50,000) and speckled with lots of patriotism, churches and local cafe's and restaurants. Although I wasn't there at night, it seems that the area is chock-full of music venues, theaters, art galleries and studios, and even boasts the areas only opera house. It's a great little stroll with lots of beautiful architecture, landscaping, and some shops as well - though, sadly, there were a lot of empty storefronts which were no doubt an indication of the current economic state of Florida overall.

By Sunday, since the fair wasn't that great business-wise, we were all ready to hit the road. I spent the afternoon in my new-found sanctuary: cuddled up on a blanket with my iPod on top of the trailer, feeling the sun and the breeze. Dad and Lorraine split up the shift throughout the day and at 9 pm we all met up at the booth to tear down and hit the road. Unfortunately, after having torn down and taken the Suburban over to pack up, someone backed into our spot by the trailer so we couldn't hitch up to leave. By the time they moved their vehicle, it was too late, my tent hadn't been taken down, and we were all too tired and frustrated to bother with it. We'd just have to wait until the morning. 

View from atop the trailer
After packing up, we realized we were a little behind schedule, so we nixed the coastal drive and hit the I-10. And we drove for the next 8 hours. Past Tallahassee. Past Gainesville. Finally into Leesburg.

A shower, a queen-sized bed, central air, and some blogging later and I was ready for dreamland. 

But wait. What was that noise? 

You'd think that after having slept in a tent for the past month, sleeping in a house would make me feel safe and secure, and maybe it does, from the things outside. But that's when my imagination and too many episodes of the Outer Limits comes into play.