8

“It’s the thought that counts”

Our departure was an awesome month long celebration, and while sometimes exhausting (169 bar, I’m looking at you!), we have felt so much love. Our friends took vacation days off of work just to go watch Batman together. Others rearranged client dinners to have drinks with us, came in from out of town to take trapeze lessons, took half days to go on boat rides around the city, and stayed out late on a Tuesday just because it wouldn’t happen again for awhile. And while I am a staunch believer in ditching work to have fun, I understand that this is also a very big deal.

We also received some really awesome gifts. As if our departure was Christmas or something! But, the best part of that was that every one was incredibly thoughtful. Often when people say, “It’s the thought that counts,” it is like a consolation. Like you missed the mark with your effort, but at least you sort of tried. Even if that card was a week late. Not with this crowd. Whether it was a gift card that takes up no space in a backpack, or a tiny leather man tool, or a text message on the day of our departure, it really is the thought that counts. It is that someone is thinking about you, thinking about how to express something, and then picks the best way. So many people did that and it feels awesome.

We have arrived safe and sound and couldn’t have asked for a better send off. Thanks guys!

 

0

Liftoff!

After several days of moving, cleaning, purging, and celebrating our life in New York, our journey has finally begun. I’m writing this from gate C126 at Newark International Airport, waiting for our 3pm flight to Los Angeles. From there, we’ll connect on Air New Zealand flight number 1 (how presendential!) to Auckland. Hooray!

For weeks I’ve been both anxious and calm; ready to go but with a series of hurdles left to jump.  People said that I didn’t seem excited. Perhaps I wasn’t – or I was just bad at expressing it, but reality has finally and definitively set in. At dinner with friends on Monday night, I was smiling ear-to-ear.  With all the worry over moving and packing finished, the excitement of our adventure finally has room in my crowded walnut. It’s a nice feeling.

We touch down in NZ Friday morning local time. Thursday, August 2nd just doesn’t exist for us, so this means I can add Time Traveler to my resume, right? We’re couch surfing for the weekend to briefly check out Auckland, and we’ll hit our first farm just outside town on Sunday or Monday.  They focus on raising cattle for beef, so it should be dirty and hopefully interesting.  We’ll be there for about two weeks, and then we’ll move to Uma Rapiti on Waiheke Island for a short stay. There’s not much farm work there right now, because it’s still firmly winter, so we’ll be bouncing around a fair amount at the get-go.

We’ve learned a lot from this experience, so expect more to come very soon about what went right (spoiler: almost everything) and the things that we would have done differently (a few small significant things).  Hmm, I wonder what we forgot?  Stay tuned!

0

New York: I Love You, but…

Via Longform, I recently discovered this article, by Cord Jefferson, about living in and leaving New York.  It begins as a somewhat haughty journal of dreams about moving to our fair city, early career struggles and cliched complaints (rent! winter!), but evolves into a touching and lovely examination of place and identity.  Oo la laa! How apropos!  Yeah, I know, but humor me for a bit.  I liked this part:

Getting out of New York helped me rediscover the outside world, while living in LA has reminded me to ignore the world if you’re happy with where you are and what you’re doing.

It sounds trite, but the thesis of the article really hit home for me.  I’ll offer you my own haughty journal and cliched complaints in explanation.

In my youth, we often took family trips to New York.  Both my parents went to college here, so they knew their way around and I was toted around from subway to cab, restaurant to show, never knowing which way was up and constantly feeling lost. This is probably a very common childhood experience, but it didn’t jive with my adolescent neuroses/know-it-all nature.  I liked knowing where the hell I was, and how to get out of this concrete jungle in case of zombie apocalypse.  Plus I think I got dog poop in my Tevas once. Oh, hell no.  So New York intimidated me, and it was dirty, and I’d made up my mind – I didn’t like it.

Then, when I was wrapping up my last year at Syracuse (G’Orange!), all my friends decided that they were moving to New York.  By this point I was a bit more comfortable with myself and new places, so gave it a go.  My dad was living in a nice place in Bay Ridge, so I spent my first three months here slingin’ burgers and beer uptown and riding the R train into the wee hours of the morning back to Shore Road and a futon couch.  This was a fun way to spend a summer, but certainly didn’t feel like the glamor and glitz that I’d heard about.

Once Dad and I had worn each others’ nerves sufficiently I started looking for cheap places to live.  Ah, there’s nothing that will wake a starry-eyed young boy faster than dealing with NYC real estate brokers during the height of the rental bubble: 2007.  I don’t think I ever even saw a single apartment – they were either non-existant bait-and-switch attempts or were snatched before I even made it to the open houses. But as is often the case in life and real estate: its all about being lucky and knowing the right people.  A friend needed a roommate in her $3k/month Upper East Side shoebox.

“Welp,” I said, “I can’t afford that, but how about if I move in with Stina! We..uh..don’t take up much space!”

Luckily, said friend was kind enough to let that slide and we had our first real grown-up place.  Or at least, tiny room with dark living room and one-person kitchen.  But it was OURS, dammit.  I commuted every day to work on the packed 6 train, pleased with myself for rubbing elbows with the elites and not the slightest bit annoyed when one of them farted nearby.  “My air is your air, friend! We are all in this together.”  I had made it, or so I thought.

Of course, we grew tired with that tired of living flanked by fratty bars and lunching ladies, and soon the search was on again.  “The perfect place is out there.  I know it.”  We wanted a one-bedroom and the only things in our price range were in less desirable ‘hoods.  There were some nice blocks of central and western Harlem that attracted us, but we ultimately settled on another friend-of-a-friend’s place: a massive converted loft in the South Bronx.  Yes, SoBro (as realtors kept calling it) was a bit avant garde for two young white kids, but Christina taught nearby and I could commute the entire way to work on the 5 train (interminably, it seemed at times), so it made some sense.  Anyway, the apartment was awesome.  It was a warehouse that had been home to a variety of industries – we could pry discarded sewing needles from between the floorboards – but had been bought decades ago by an artist and occupied by a variety of her peers in some attempt to create a pocket of utopia amid the drugs and violence of “SoBro” in the eighties and nineties.  She’d since converted it to condos and was selling it off, floor by floor.  We lived on the fourth floor in a unit recently bought by a parent’s friend.  The rest of the building was occupied by some remaining artists, academics, and others with similar ideals.  At times it still felt a bit utopian.  At others, we felt trapped.

So, through another stroke of luck and timing, we ended up in what we once thought was the perfect apartment in the perfect neighborhood.  And it still may be.

New York has been my only adult “home.” I know I’ll miss it desperately, but I know there’s also a lot more out there to see. It’s hard to picture living anywhere else, but as soon as the time comes I’ll remember Jefferson’s words from above: “ignore the world if you’re happy with where you are and what you’re doing.”  The grass will always be greener somewhere else; find your spot and make it the greenest it can be.

4

Moving

Moving sucks. It is expensive and exactly how I don’t want to be spending my time. But, in one week the move will be over and we will be cleaning our empty apartment. As of right now though, nothing is packed and we still do not know how we are going to move. The kicker in our situation is that it is not just a move.  Everything is going into storage for two years (translation: moving = $, storage = $$$). At this point, I think I have looked into just about every option for moving and storage that is out there. And there are lots of them.

Here are some options we have explored and thoughts we have thought:

PODS: $175/month plus $500 for pick up, $500 for drop off, $500 for this, $500 for that, and $500 for the other thing. Oh yeah, and they may not be able to actually drop the pod anywhere close to the door of the building, depending on the street regulations. Clearly, this option isn’t going to work.

Store our stuff in the basement of a friends office that may or may not flood. Where we may or may not get a bunch of moldy stuff back. I mean, if we used tarps and pallets…. so cheap, so tempting… But, no.

Use a moving company to move and store our stuff. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Here, take it away. We got a reference from a friend, who knows a guy, who knows a guy, who came over for an estimate. After tallying our belongings and tapping away on his iPad for an hour, he came up with an estimated $10,000 to move and store the contents of our one bedroom apartment.  Hold on, let me go see how much is on my money tree. Nope, not that much. Thanks anyway, asshole.

The good old fashioned way looks like the most realistic and cost effective.  Rent a UHaul, get some dudes to help us load the truck and schlep it to a self storage facility, where Mom and Dad will help us unload it. In Brooklyn, a 5×15 ft self storage unit is $250. In PA and northern Jersey they are around $100. In Atlantic City however, we found one for $50. Guess where we are headed? AC, baby!

We have one final estimate this week. It is being done by a guy who suggested that we use his moving company to help us move into a self storage unit instead of using a UHaul. This would be ideal. Keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t break the bank.

And thus, the packing begins tomorrow. All of my makeup is going in the garbage. So is my strapless bra that claws at my ribcage. And the pilly sweaters and dingy camisoles. It is time to PURGE! Gal pals come on Sunday to help empty the liquor cabinet and pack up the kitchen :)

10

Preparing for the Slow Life

Don’t get me wrong — I’m beyond excited to GTFO of New York City and start adventurin’ (patent pending), but as the date of our departure approaches (August 1) I’ve come to dread the inevitable shock of not being able to drop $50 on dinner if we don’t feel like firing up the stove on a particularly sweltering evening (like today in NYC).  We’ve been fortunate; with no kids and steady gigs, we’ve rarely had to sacrifice a fun time for the sake of saving a sawbuck here and there.  But soon, when the paychecks stop coming in, we’ll have to make some tough choices about what we can and can’t spend our money on.

At least initially, the plan is to live frugally and find free and fun things to do.  Our expenses should be pretty minimal, considering we’ll be WWOOFing in exchange for room and board.  Fixed monthly costs should be limited to cell phones and student loans (student bailout, anyone?). At least, I think so.  It’ll be interesting to revisit this after a few months in NZ, to see what our real monthly costs are. No doubt I’ve forgotten something already.

Transportation is obviously another consideration, but that’s closely tied to entertainment.  My grand vision is that we’ll be within a stone’s throw of awesome beaches and hikes and just hang out, write, talk, read, and enjoy the slow life for a while. Sounds…perfect! Right? RIGHT?!

6

Am I going to need a thong?

I’ve lived out of my (and by my, I mean my sister’s) H frame backpack twice and learned valuable lessons about packing with each trip. In 2010 it was for a one month trip to Hawaii. During my Hawaii trip, I learned that make up is unnecessary. To most people, this seems obvious. But, to a citified gal, this may seem unnerving. Turns out I got citified, but didn’t realize it until I was sitting on a farm on the Big Island, embarrassed by the fact that bronzer and mascara were in my toiletry bag. Yes, I brought bronzer to Hawaii. I am now stretching the last of my mascara through the last of our summer weddings and parties and can’t wait to dump it in the garbage before we ship out. In 2011, Zach and I took a week long backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. While schelping the contents of my backpack up and down the mountains, I learned that you don’t need to carry 4 shirts when you can get away with just taking 2 and washing them as needed. I’m catching on.

Initially, I wrote that I’d be packing for two years, but that isn’t the case as the contents of the pack will surely change over time. I’ll be packing for four seasons. Today was my first packing trial run. We need clothes (obviously) and have decided to bring camping equipment as well, since camping and backpacking is one of our top priorities. I want to bring the slackline, too. I know it is heavy and takes up space, but I want to bring it. Check this out to see why. 
So, here is the plan:

A. Hiking Boots

B. Flip Flops

C. Bunch of underwear

D. Bandana, bathing suit

E. Sports bras

F. 2 Tshirts, 1 tank top

G. 1 long sleeve, 1 sweatshirt, 1 denim button down that I can’t live without

H. Sneakers

I. Socks

J. A dress

K. Mesh shorts, Jean shorts, Jeans

L. Tent

M. Thermarest

N. Sleeping bag

O. Fleece and Rain Shell

P. Kindle, Journal

Q. Spork, Leatherman, headlamp

R. Pack towel, camp stove

*Not pictured: first aid kit, toiletries, slackline, computer, guide book, camera, chargers

 

The good news is that it all fit in my backpack. Okay, well I didn’t feel like taking the tent out, but Zach and I are going to split it up and I’m pretty sure it will fit. We will also be bringing day packs for shorter jaunts, to be worn front ways like a marsupial baby while we travel to and from the airport.

 

The bad news is that we have a ton of stuff to put in storage and to ditch. Ebay and Goodwill, prepare thy selves! Friends, come drink the contents of our liquor cabinet!

9

NZ Todoodle

“Ohmigod you’ll LOVE it there,” a friend on my recent climbing trip said when I mentioned that I was heading to New Zealand in a few short weeks.  This is not entirely uncommon.  It seems as though every third person I meet and talk to long enough for this to come up (or maybe I’m so excited I just launch right in and bash them over the head with it?) has some strong connection to NZ.  Either their sister is WWOOFing now, their college buddy spent a summer surfing on the south island, or as was the case this recent evening, they lived there in the flesh for nearly a decade. I’ll take all suggestions, but this was someone whose arm I’d happily twist for the inside info.

Here’s what I ended up with on the to-do list, roughly from South to North:

  • Mueller Hut Trek on Mt. Oliver
  • Stewart Island
  • Abel Tasman waterway by kayak
  • The Remarkables
  • Milford Sound
  • Climbing at (the?) Darrens
  • Milford Trek (7 days)
  • Heafy Trek
  • Fox Glacier
  • Bouldering at Castle Hill and Flock (?) Hill
  • Cave Stream (bring headlamp and thermals)
  • Climbing at Takaka and Pains Ford (near Nelson)
  • Mt. Aspiring National Park
  • Fairwell Spit
  • Te Papa (in Wellington)
  • Eat the brioche at Fidel’s in Wellington
  • Surfing at Pomston, New Plymouth, Gisborne, Napier
  • Lake Taupo
  • Rorotua
  • Great Barrier Island
  • Waitomo Caves (glow worms)
  • Pancake Rocks
  • Kirikiri

Let’s see how many of these things (or more!) that we do.

13

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!

7

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.

0

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.

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