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Adios muchacho!

IMG_4328

This morning was a traumatic one. Harriet, our cat, moved out. She went to Baltimore, to stay with our friend Allie, while we explore the other side of the world. Harriet is a great pet, but a terrible traveler. She yowls at the top of her cat lungs, foams at the mouth, poops all over the cage and tries to break free. This time around, I got kitty drugs from the vet. The plan was to crush them up and mix them into wet food, which is gourmet treat for the Hairball. If she ate the food at 9:00 am, the drugs would kick in my 9:30, and we would slide the comatose kitty into her cage for a 4 hour nap to Baltimore. No drama. Yeah right. 

When I opened the can, she was ecstatic, all happy meows and leg rubs, but she knew something was up as soon as she sniffed her supposed treat. Maybe it was the hot pink powder, or the smell of meeds. She didn’t eat it. We cleared the kitchen, pretended nothing was up, and hoped she would eat. But, she didn’t.

Tricks for treats

It is now 9:15 and my parents were planning on leaving at 9:30. My sister had a flight to catch. Mom tells me this is where it gets tricky and unpleasant and I can tell by the tone of her voice that she knows way more than I do. She tells me to wad up the food, open Harriet’s mouth, put the food in, past her tongue and hold her mouth closed. Then to massage the food down her throat. Sounds unpleasant? The reality was horrendous. I held her body and paws with one arm and tried to get the food into her mouth with the other. Harriet’s agenda was quite the opposite of mine: squirm free and don’t eat the poison food. The result? Wet cat food all over my arms and legs, the kitchen floor, flung on the walls, and mashed in her pretty white fur. My kitchen looks as if someone turned a blender full of cat food on without the lid. The worst part though, is that she still hadn’t ingested the meds. And it was time to go.

My legs were shaking and the cat was miserable, but I could not send her without these meds. Right when I was getting frustrated  that I couldn’t get food in the cat (though quite successful in getting it on the cat), Mom came through to the rescue. I held the cat as Mom opened Harriet’s mouth and wedged a pill in. She held her mouth shut and massaged her throat with the other hand, coaxing the pill down, whispering nice things to Harriet as we all sat in a mess of 9 Lives Chicken and Gravy. “Mom is the Cat Whisperer,” Clare said quietly as I held her and mom worked her magic. Thanks, mom. REALLY, couldn’t have done it without you.

Dazed and confused

Despite being freaked out, Harriet didn’t scratch or bite the whole time. The meds kicked in and Clare reported that she nodded off while they got on I-95 and headed south. Twas a rough morning, but necessary. Big things lie ahead, and with the cat taken care of, we can go get ‘em.

See ya later, Hairball. I’m going to miss you, but I shall see your little, squishy self  on the other side!

1,317

A Million Little Reasons

When I tell people I’m leaving the grand ole USofA to hang with some sheep and kiwis across the world, I usually get one of two responses:

  1. Wow! That’s awesome.  I’m totally jelly.
  2. Why?

The first one is more common, but the second pops up enough that I’ve developed a mental list of responses I draw on at random based on who I’m talking to.  There are a million reasons, some are simple, others are complex, some are trivial, others are important.  In no particular order, I’m traveling to get away from:

  • sitting inside an office at a desk all freakin’ day
  • car horns and ambulance sirens
  • drivers trying to kill me on my bicycle
  • a government that doesn’t treat all of its citizens equally
  • the inevitable zombie apocalypse
  • clocks
  • a broken agricultural system
  • taxes funding wars I don’t believe in
  • neighbors that don’t hold the door for me

A note on the last point: New Yorkers are very nice to outsiders.  I think this comes from years of people portrayed as assholes in the media.  However, they continue to embrace the stereotype of brash, apathetic, and rude behavior to their fellow New Yorkers.  The city instills an extreme tendency to be competitive, whether its in a race up the corporate ladder or the escalator from the subway.  Mostly, I want to get away from the constant rush to the top.  We all have our own definition of happiness, and that isn’t mine.

 

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The To Do List

Somewhere during the doldrums of February, our trip went from being this thing that we are doing next year to this thing we are doing next season. We have entered into our last months here in New York for quite awhile. Let’s not confuse “quite awhile” with ever. The plan is to return to NYC. But as of right now, these are the last NYC daffodils that I’ll be seeing for quite awhile.

We have kept a running to do list in preparation for our departure. The list is kind of an organic thing with a life cycle of it’s own. For months it was growing. As we had conversations with each other, with our parents, traveling friends, and read up on travel blogs, we just kept adding items to the list to take care of later. In February, we started pruning away some of the easy stuff on the list, like renewing passports, getting work Visas, replacing outdoor gear and getting new cameras. The fun stuff was the first to address. Kind of like when I put “eat breakfast” on the daily to do list. Easy. Done. Next!

But as the weeks fly by, we are getting to a point where we have to address everything on the list. Even the stuff I was saving for later. Later is now. And as we delve deeper into some topics, new little to do buds have formed and our list has grown again.

The Easy Stuff:

Conversations with employers. As Zach mentioned before, we are both leaving our jobs. I spilled the beans in December and could barely contain my smile when I told my principal. Both of our employers have said that they would be happy to have us back when return. While this is no guarantee, and I’m not even sure that I want to go back to teaching in NYC Public Scools, it is comforting to know that we are leaving on good terms and with open doors.

Passports and visas. We got Working Holiday Visas for New Zealand. This allows us to work in New Zealand for up to one year. I applied on a Friday and was approved by the following Tuesday. And it didn’t cost me anything. Thank you friendly people in NZ!

Get a WWOOF handbook. This has listings of all of the organic farms on both the north and south islands. This will serve as one of our guide books while traveling through NZ.

New cameras. My point and shoot had a hard, fast life. It lived without a case in back pockets and purse bottoms and died while I was in Arizona earlier this year. I recently purchased a Cannon G12. It feels super durable, takes gorgeous pictures and video and has manual settings that will allow me to learn more about the photography, but without being as bulky as an SLR. Zach just purchased a Cannon Rebel, which he wrote about in a previous post.

Replace outdoor gear. Black pea coats and rain trench coats aren’t going to cut it. We’ve bargain shopped the internet inside and out for new shells and fleeces (Okay, Zach bargain shopped, I splurged on an orange Patagonia fleece.)

Finding a home for our cat, Harriet. She is staying with my sister’s friend, Allie, in Baltimore. Allie is a cat lady without a cat, to whom I am SO grateful. She will make a wonderful cat foster mom.

Mail for next year. Routed home. Thanks Mom & Dad. I’ve already started unsubscribing from J.Crew, Pottery Barn, and am attempting to thwart Syracuse’s fundraising mailings, though every time I contact them, they seem to know nothing of my previous attempts to get off their list. Interesting, ‘Cuse. Interesting.

 

What’s left on the list:

Repaint the bathroom.

Rent the apartment. 

Storage and moving. Turns out storage is super expensive, eh? The cheapest unit I have found is in Allentown, PA. Might have to schlep it.

Research and purchase travel health insurance. This is one of the most significant perk of going with one of those Volunteer Sending Organizations to do a structured trip to teach English or build houses, but that’s not what we are doing. We want to call the shots, be flexible, and travel for an extended period of time. As of right now we are looking at World Nomad Travel Insurance. While it wouldn’t cover us for annual doctor’s appointments, it would allow us to get medical attention if one of us falls off a cliff.  (Knock on wood.)

Cell phones. What to do about them? Keep them? New SIM cards? Get a cheap local one? Will probably turn to Backpacking Matt for this one.

Packing. This should be interesting. Life is going into a backpack. More to come as we do test runs.

 

While I wouldn’t say I am a natural at planning and logistics, taking care of them does give me some peace of mind. And having a partner in crime to divvy up the research and bounce ideas off of also helps to turn a To Do List into an ongoing brainstorming session, the latter being far more exciting.

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Why?

I often ask myself why we’re doing this.  Why leave solid jobs and great friends?  Why dump the contents of our life out of this carefully constructed reality, with no guarantee that things will fall into better places? I have a great life, why change anything?

There are many answers, but the one that I keep falling back on is: if you don’t try something new, you’ll never accomplish anything great.  Fear of failure is a healthy and normal reaction, but totally counterproductive.  Do you think that Edison and Einstein got it right the first time, every time?

I don’t expect to change the world with our adventure, but I do expect to change myself — and I’m certain it’ll be for the better.

1,563

Beginning Photography

I’ve never been much of a shutterbug. I think I feel awkward taking pictures, which is probably a normal and healthy reaction. People are awkward when they take pictures. You look stupid and hold up traffic at the entrance to Tomorrowland. I don’t like looking stupid and inconveniencing others, so I never liked taking pictures. Welp, its time to get over that stuff.  I think this is me making the first step toward full I’m-an-old-man-and-I-don’t-care-what-you-think mode. Fanny packs and Hawaiian shirts, here I come!

Honestly, there’s no way I could travel around the world and not take as many good photos as possible. It just wouldn’t make sense.  So, after not nearly enough research and very little budgeting, I’ve purchased a Canon EOS Rebel T2i.  It’s easy to use, takes awesome photos, and didn’t cost me a kidney; in other words, totally sweet.  I got it with the kit 18-135mm zoom lens, which basically means I know the neighbors across the street a lot better now. Since my initial purchase, I’ve complemented it with a 50mm f/1.8, which I like because it lets me take photos with a narrow depth of field.  This means that the foreground and background will be blurred, making the subject stand out. In other words, very artsy.

So I’m still pretty new to the technical mumbo-jumbo and kind of intimidated by all the possible settings, but slowly and surely I’m picking it up and getting the pictures I want. I’ll pass on the best and really only useful piece of advice I’ve gotten to date: just shoot.  Take lots of pictures in different scenarios and lighting conditions to get a feel for the camera, lenses, and the effects of say, changing the shutter speed or adjusting the exposure compensation.  Take it slow with the gear you have and look at other people’s pictures.  Browse flickr and look at the EXIF (camera setting) data associated with pictures you like. But, just shoot.

Here are a few pictures that I’ve taken that I think are not terrible:

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Perspective is Everything

sheep

In a few short months we’ll pack our life up and begin a traveling adventure. First stop: New Zealand and a simple life on small organic farms.  We’re leaving some people’s idea of adventure – living and working in New York City – for our idea of adventure.  Perspective is everything.

This feels like a big deal.  I think most people would agree that it’s a big deal.  But when you break it down into little pieces it’s nothing special at all.  This big adventure is just another set of small tasks that add up to something big.  I like to think of them individually.

For example: we’re moving our things into storage.  This is not exciting at all.  We’re quitting our jobs.  This takes planning, but not a tremendous amount.  We’re taking a long flight.  Thousands (millions?) of people do this every day.  We’re living out of backpacks.  We’ll still have so many more luxuries than the majority of the global population.  So we’re just doing a lot of these little things in rapid succession.  What’s the big deal?  We’re assuming a very normal, everyday lifestyle that many millions of people practice.

I find it odd that we’re drawn to a simpler life – one that society has stigmatized as less useful or less exciting. For many people, farm life is a burden they try to shake for years.  We’re choosing it voluntarily.  Our ancestors took great pains to get as far from the field as possible.  We’re gravitating back to it.  Is the grass truly greener on the other side?  I worry that it may not be, but I’ll never find out unless I try.

Anyway, more to come.

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