Finding Joy in Small Spaces

My epiphany came on a winter day when I was feeling sorry for myself. I call those kind of days “fat slug days” because during the cold weather I slowly slither along in my sun deprived paleness lugging around extra pounds from eating too much comfort food. On that particular day, I focused on getting old and how the elderly diminish and wither as they sit home or in nursing homes with their TVs and blurring memories. Sorrow is small, I concluded. And then I thought a little more. So, if sadness is a state of contracting, then joy is expansive. Joy is the outdoors and music and art and dancing and belly laughs. Joy is big! And that is why I travel, to experience the elation of the big wide world.

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, road, outdoor and nature

Today I’m 71 and in my twenty-fifth day of “social isolation”. The media makes it clear, over and over again, I’m in the risk category. I just spent a year saving money for an 80 day solo road trip through the American South. It isn’t going to happen. I can’t go now.

The first few days alone were a bit exciting as I prepared my nest, getting organized and doing some problem solving. I busied myself, alternating meanful chores with watching news about the virus. I thought about topics for my blog and all the projects I would do now that I had extra time.

Day three came in with a shock as President Trump stated he thought things would be up in the air until July or August. What? I knew I could do 6 weeks because I had done that while my broken ankle was mending. But anything beyond that I just couldn’t imagine. I contracted, stayed in my pajamas, and watched the terrible news all day. I knew things were bad when I gobbled down double my daily allowance of my homemade muffins. I was sad and I felt small. Writing always makes me feel better but I shrank in doubt. My nagging inner critique suddenly appeared and it shouted me down.

The next day I went immediately to my chair and the TV but luckily there was a bit of light mixed in among all the doom and gloom. An author talked about his experience with social distancing, how he lost his retirement funds in the evaporating stock market, how he couldn’t sleep with his wife anymore because she was a health worker on constant call, and how his college age son was now back home in a state of aimless depression. Then he added more gloom. He pointed out that because of the pandemic and the tremendous effect it is having on the world economy, there is a strong probability that we may never be able to go back to the way we lived before. We have to face that because of circumstances beyond our control, we needed to prepare to cross over to something entirely new. As I listened to him, I knew what he was saying was true. I held my breath hoping he would say something positive. I waited for some sort of “it is bad but” redemption.

It came in his simple words, “We have to step up!” He stated that we will all be faced with a new way of living and will be called upon to make things better by the quality of our individual ways of adapting. We can’t just sit in front of our screens, we must act. I need to act. I have so many things I can do in my isolation. I have a house to organize and drawers and closets to weed out. I can write on my blog, paint, read, learn new skills (youtube can be my school), connect with people on facebook, research local history, etc., etc., etc.

The world situation pulls on me. It wants me to become small. I can feel it as the hours pass. I don’t want to be diminished.

I’m making lists. How crafty my brain is as it makes me forget about the possibilities that excite me.

I’m working on my immune system. ( Youtube, Dr. Eric Berg-“Coronavirus Resistance-Beyond Healthy Eating”) Dr. Berg states that stress is immunosuppressive. Like the author I previously mentioned, he advises us to stay in action, to be productive. He recommends limiting news consumption, taking walks and working constantly to create our own health.

I’m going to devise a daily schedule for myself. I fluctuate between being productive and wasting a lot of time. I knew, when I taught 7 and 8 year olds, that structure and having a plan were essential. I also knew that varying activities kept attention and engagement alive. I guess this retired teacher will be using proven educational tricks on herself.

I’m back to writing. For some reason, I have to write, it keeps me smiling. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the connection I have with those of you who read my stuff. Thank you so very much.

Joy is big, it is expansive. It has nothing to do with time and space. It is about taking action, moving forward and never becoming small. Everyday in our minds, hearts, and souls it can grow bigger and bigger. We all need to keep joy alive.

70/7000 Reflections in My Cabana

Days 61 and 62  August 25&26, 2001


Put on some miles today, stopped at a campground, and put up my “cabana” (an open sided tent). I love my cabana.  In storms I cover it with a very large sheet of blue plastic and it becomes a waterproof shelter, dark and cozy like a cave.  I lit a candle,  made coffee on my gas stove, and sat in its opening just beyond the raindrops with a book. It’s a rainy day today but a good day. “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.”

The journal and the journey are not done yet. I’m taking a step back on this page and recording some thoughts about just how incredible this odessey has been. This trip has been an outstanding feat and I do have a lot of courage. Maybe there is nothing to be afraid of.  Can I take this courage and apply it to my life back home? Can I take my faith and have it be an all encompassing power that will come to my assistance 24-7? I hope so because I believe that when I’m in this state of balance, I’m filled with joy and light. I  feel it when I’m teaching my students or when I make a connection with people. I want to expand this  feeling to my dream of being a writer.  I know I will have to be even stronger because I will be criticized. I read somewhere that if we listen to our intuition and our hearts  they will reveal to us what needs to done next.  I’m ready to take the risks. I am ready to take more steps and, as I do, my  faith in the process can only become more intense. The words and the wisdom will come.

I took this journey not knowing if it would turn out okay. (Or maybe  in my heart, I did). Something tells me that the journey ahead will be okay, too. I have known adversity and I understand its function because it propels me forward. “Be not afraid”, I now whisper to myself.  The promise has been made. Even in the “shadow of the valley of death”, I will be protected and even when I fall I will get up, bounce up. And as I do, I will learn the lessons. Everything is going to be okay.  Be a survivor, I will tell myself,  and, for heaven’s sake, don’t be afraid to thrive.

Copyright 2018@The Autonomous Traveler






70 days, 7000 Miles-Days 33 and 34

July 27 & 28, 2001


I’m no longer worried about how I look. Gave that up about two weeks ago. I’m good enough just the way I am…… acceptance.  I feel strong.  I have been brave all my life. Yes, I have done cowardly things  but I have had enough courage to never give up hope.  There is a Buddhist quote, “fall down seven times, get up eight”.  I have fallen a lot put I always get up and go forward.

It rained so I am staying another day in Butte, Montana in a motel. It’s nice to be in a regular bed and the room phone gives me a chance to call my family and to be in contact with the places that handle my bills so I can send out checks in the right amount.

Staying put. Flowing, not hurrying. A bookstore appears. And then another and then one more. Heaven on a rainy day.

I see that Julia Cameron the author of The Artist’s Way, has another book, Heart Steps. I find a chair and sit down with this  book of “Prayers and Declarations for the Creative Life”. Praying has been on my mind.  Prayers for my smoking tires. Prayers of gratitude for being able to take this trip. Prayers to become a writer because writing has been a part of me since I was a little girl.

Julia Cameron wrote,'”I surrender my anxiety and my sense of urgency………I open my heart to God’s timing. I release my deadlines, agendas, and stridency to the gentle yet often swift pacing of God……..As I relax into God’s timing, my heart contains comfort. As I allow God to set the tone and schedule of my days, I find myself in the right time and place, open and available to God’s opportunities.”

Wow! I buy this book!

I moved on to the next book store, find a book about growing old and another comfy chair. The author wrote about having value in one’s later years by finding purpose.

“Those who have found some purpose in life do have one conviction in common; they all have faith in their intuitive sense of direction……..Great healers have always understood that intuition is the conscious voice of a deeper wisdom within us and our ability to live a satisfying existence depends on our willingness to surrender to that voice, wherever it might lead us.”

What a great few days of insight.  I have always believed in the saying, “when we are ready, a teacher will appear”.

And there is one last thing today.  I pray for peace because there has been  a lot of conflict in my life.  I’m hoping for the skills to express my needs and feelings more effectively so people don’t hurt me and I don’t hurt them. I was never taught how to do that.  Now I’m confident that knowledge will come.

Thank you, God, for this journey and all my blessings.


A Menopausal Odyssey, Day 12

July 4, 2001

The Suck Factor!   It’s those moments when the descriptive word for everything is “yuck”!  It happens to me when I tired, hungry, in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation, or discouraged. I guess it’s part of life and can even happen during  my dream-come-true trip.

I woke up this morning fully controlled by the negativity of the suck factor. I think it was because of the fudge I had bought at one of the many, many fudge shops on Mackinac island.  I ate a big chunk  before I went to sleep.

I decided to walk the beach and do some writing.  I wondered if this rather long trip would really be worth it. Just when I thought this whole thing was a bust I turned the corner and saw two sailboarders on the water.  They were speeding along on the sun jeweled water.  They weaved and bounced and I could almost see the smiles on their faces. They were free and joyous.  I smiled.


Every year I read the book, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen to my second graders.  It is about a boy who was stranded in the Canadian wilderness by himself.  Brian, the main character learns to accept his bad luck.   He  pushes himself to keep going until bad luck turns into good.  I have a favorite quote from Hatchet. “He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work. It wasn’t just that it was wrong to do, or that it was considered incorrect. It was more than that—it didn’t work.”

My traveling days will ebb and flows just like my life. Sometimes things will be mediocre and other times they will be absolutely exhilarating. I need to keep on going, to ride the high moments and ride out of the low.  I am not going to get stuck.  My life is not going to suck!

I got asked out on a date today.  Jim, the young man in the next campsite, asked me to go with him to see Fourth of July fireworks. He said he would drive me there. First of all, my daughter made me promise not to get in a car or boat with anyone on this trip.  Second, Jim was all by himself and appeared be a little overwhelmed by life. My instincts broadcasted a warning , an “uh oh” feeling I had taught my students to always listen to.

The man was a poor soul.  I wish, as human beings, we could love everyone and give out help and assistance to all who are in need. But I have learned that I can’t because  sometimes it just doesn’t work out.  Rescuing isn’t always beneficial.  I feel guilty but  I couldn’t get over the feeling that if I had gone with Jim there would have been trouble.  That night I didn’t sleep in my tent. I slept in my van.



70 Days, 7000 Miles-A Midlife Odyssey


In 2001, I took a solo 70 day, 7000 mile camping trip across the US and Canada. I was 52 years old and an elementary teacher at the time.  I left my home the Saturday  right after school let out and returned the Saturday before school started up again. Having taken many camping trips that seemed to end so quickly, I wanted to find out what an almost infinite vacation would be like. I kept a journal, 88 pages of observations, insights, and some whining.  Being middle aged and newly menopausal, I needed to find out what this part of life meant to be me and others, where I fit in, and what the future might hold.   I hoped a completely different context and a little adventure would bring some answers.

All school year I saved money for the trip.   My daughter didn’t want me go and she made me promise not to get in a car or boat with anyone. I swore I would  follow her instructions and told her I would call my friend every three days to check in and report my location.  I didn’t have a computer at the time and I used pay phones for communication.  I think I had a bag phone which was only good for 911 calls.

I asked my dad to search for a minivan for me.  He loved to wheel and deal and found me a used Dodge Caravan in great condition.  I gratefully reimbursed him.  My plan was to tent and use the van if I couldn’t find a place to stay (this actually happened one night) or if I didn’t want to take the time to set up camp or if the weather was really stormy.

I left on June 23, 2001.  Many friends have told me I should write about this adventure. Well, starting this Saturday, June 23, 2018,  I will be including my daily writings from my journal and some insights from the present.

Come along me!  I promise to get us all home by September.  Please consider clicking the word “follow” on the right hand side of my site. If you do, you will be notified by email when I post something new.  It would be great to have you with me on this odessey and hear your comments.  Thanks for your interest and support.



2018-03-25 06.57.49.jpg
On a whim I took an adult education class at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. About eight weeks ago, I started this blog.
I am a snowbird. When my world up north turns grey, black, and brown I head south. But now that I hear that the snow is melting and spring in North Country is ready to burst forward, I am ready to go home.
I have been busy for a few weeks getting ready for the transition. The list is long.
(1) Packing
(2) Making sure my taxes are done and bills are paid.
(3 ) Cleaning my rental condo.
(4 ) Getting the oil changed in my van.
(5)  Making reservations for next year.
(6)  Buying Florida souvenirs for my family.
(7)  Saying ‘good bye” to short term winter acquaintances who have become just as valued as lifelong friends.
(8)  Wandering around St. Augustine one more time, wishing there was a way to put it in a box and take it out during the cold, rainy days up north.
(9)  Noticing birds. A scarlet tangier in a tree near my condo. A hawk perched on a fence downtown and wondering if he, too, will be leaving this ancient city to go north. Watching, for over a hour, a morning dove seeking shelter from the ocean winds on my balcony.
(10)  Wondering if the dose of culture and learning infused into me during this one quarter of a year has made me a different person.
(11)  Worrying about losing what I have become. I have wanted to be writer since I was a little girl. I would sit in front of the family typewriter eager to tap the keys and create wonderful stories. But I hadn’t lived enough, hadn’t seen enough. Now I have. I am no longer afraid of a blank page. I just jump in, and rely on my instincts to know what works and what doesn’t. And then I revise, revise, revise. I am going to write. I am going to continue this blog. I have to. I think I now have the courage.
(12)  Stop worrying!!!!!
I need to be out of my condo at 10:00 am on Saturday. Home is 1300 miles away. I am a traveler once again. A stranger with no titles, no name. No expectations, no  plan. Just a woman finding peace in being.