12 October 2010

Finding Home

“When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.”

“For The Traveller” from the book To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue

Has it really been two months since my last update? Or for that matter 18 months since this adventure began? June 2009 was an uncertain and exciting time. We had no idea where we would end up. We were filled with anticipation for travel and new experiences. The highs of salty sunsets and blue bird powder were balanced by the physically demanding realities of travel with children. We found a certain balance but realized that extended travel was a bit too taxing with small children. Seedlings need stable soil, and thus began our real adventure of finding our new home.

Now that we are settled in Park City, I have a desk, a computer and some head space to get caught up on photos, the blog and my other “secret” project (more to come on that later). Here is a video I made to capture our 18 months in photos. More detail below if you have more time:

Finding Home

Our summer move was unremarkable once I figured out what to pack. That consumed most of July and August. 15 years of our edited artifacts carefully positioned around the house and stuffed in storage.

Amazing how quickly you forget what you have in storage. How important could it be? There is a storage company in Hood River with a sign that says “Your car called and wants the garage back.” Okay, so have a garage sale. Why are Americans spending more than $20 billion a year for large vaults to store stuff they can’t remember they have? Self storage is the fastest growing industry in the commercial property sector for the last three decades. No wonder there are reality shows on hoarding.

I am embarrassed to admit that when we emptied our storage units (yes, plural) in San Francisco, one was filled with empty boxes. Yep. I hang my head in shame.

My second summer of boxes proved an interesting summer meditation. How will we live in Park City and what should I leave behind? We are keeping our Pacific Northwest summer retreat in the family. I wasn’t sure what our Utah house would look like. When I saw it in the spring, it was gutted. Can I let go of my desire for perfection, harmony and symmetry? So much of our "style" has matured along with us. How comfortable will I really be with this reshuffling of pieces? Will I resist the urge to fill the empty walls?

Furniture is like a large memory album. Every piece has history, emotions and of course it’s own personality.

The white pine bed frames, dressers and nightstands with iron work that were a wedding gift from P. Daddy’s parents. I guess somewhere in our lives we expected to live in a mountain home. The reupholstered chair and half from Pottery Barn that I propped my four month old Coco in to learn how to take photos. Or the dented table my children danced on in the city.

There was dissonance, too. Hadn’t I just packed the white and blue Micasa dinnerware away in a box for Goodwill? Unpacking it from storage now, it seems just right. Again. How much energy is wasted moving stuff around? Planning on moving stuff around? Why does our stuff seem to get more attention than our family and friends?

I noticed that more than half of the furniture in our lives was designer spending sprees on crack. My last designer loved to shop and fill up a space. His gift is in staging and creating ambience. I should have had a thick red pen and ruthlessly sent back the goofy dried flower pots he had lined up in the kids playroom, the caseloads of coffee table books and butterfly taxidermy but I was mesmerized by the illusion of chic.

All I want to see on my empty walls now are the rippling shadows of the trees outside our windows.

Visit for Winter, Stay for Summer

There has been a real shift for us since we arrived in Utah. Anxious planning has given way to pinch me gratitude and daily blissful discoveries. We did not know what our home would look like because we rented it in a gutted state from a friend of mine. We had no clue what the neighborhood would be like having never lived in the area. I had slight apprehension about the weather and climate since we had only ever visited in the winter. And yes, I was wondering about the Mormons. Would we have trouble fitting in if all the families around us were in THE church?

In many ways, moving to Park City felt a bit like an arranged marriage. Perfect on paper but what don’t we know?

Park City has evolved from a mining town in the late 1800s to an international ski destination today. Silver to ski lifts, Park City is home to three world class ski resorts. The Wasatch mountain range has the best snow and over 300 days of sun each year. For the last fifty years the local population has remained fairly small while the tourist and second home owner influx has grown swiftly. In the past few years, more of those second home owners are choosing to make Park City their full time residence. The steady influence of residents from all around the world gives Park City a lively, somewhat diverse population of educated, travelled and active families.

A frequent colloquialism visit for winter, stay for summer seemed cheeky to me until I saw it for myself. We were already sold on Park City without summer because we intend to continue spending summers in the Pacific Northwest. Despite unpacking, stepping over contractors at home, coordinating two new school communities and counseling anxious children about making friends and back to school shopping, the lush, hot and green summer in the mountains was breathtaking.

Family Fun

Park City is alive and full of incredible community in a way I never imagined in the 10 years we’ve been vacationing here. The Park Silly Sunday Market with local farmers, restaurateurs, vendors and activities for families is on par with any street fair we’ve ever experienced. In fact, it’s better because it’s large enough to tire out an active three year old but not lose him. Park City Jane’s list for moms is out every day with more activities than I can keep up with.

Most everyone knows Park City was home to the winter 2002 Olympics. The remaining infrastructure provides endless fun and opportunity to athletes and enthusiasts. Olympic Park has demonstrations, events and activities all throughout the year. Park City Mountain Resort has alpine slides, zip lines, horse back riding, miniature golf. And the entire area is full of mountain and road biking options. We watched the Park City Point to Point, an endurance bike race, from our back yard.

Earth Stewards

Sustainable living is serious business in Park City. Park City Local is an economic initiative to encourage local consumers to choose local businesses with enticing discounts and goodwill. Park City Green is a local organization dedicated to helping the community become more sustainable! They sponsor “My Sustainable Year” on the local national public radio station KPCW 91.1 fm and an upcoming green film competition to encourage locals to adopt more sustainable habits. I was thrilled to attend the Earthwell Festival with dozens of local sustainable building contractors, permaculture experts and alternative health practitioners in attendance. All the people I really want to know were all in one place! Talk about a welcoming committee!

I just started exploring the many organic community supported farms (CSA) and grass-fed ranchers. Utah supports a large network of CSAs, with Jacob’s Cove using geothermal springs to grow year round! If you want to be touched deeply, read Jacob’s Cove “About - Jacob.” No dry eyes here.

I just spent an afternoon at High Star Ranch in Kamas, Utah, about 10 minutes from us. They provide organic produce to the restaurant business but are working hard to expand their reach. I met representatives from Summit County Beef who are networking local ranchers to provide fully grass fed beef to local residents. In case you hadn’t heard, grass-fed beef is low in both overall fat and saturated fat. It lowers LDL and has lower calories. It has higher omega-3 fatty acids and higher vitamin E and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), a nutrient associated with lower cancer risk. Grain and corn fed beef has up to five times more levels than found in grain-fed beef. Plus cows are not designed to eat grain. Going grass-fed is healthy for you and the planet. You can learn more about that on Food, Inc.

I am scouting land to install a geodesic dome. I am excited about green roof technology. Did you know that Chicago and Germany are leading the world in green roof conversion? And of course I plan to install solar powered ____ (fill in the blank because the innovation means anything I type will be outdated in about 30 seconds) instead of dirty coal and oil driven electricity. My dad installed solar panels on our home in the late 70s. I thought he was just weird. Now I think he was a pioneer. Knowing there are many passionate farmers and sustainable contractors in my new neighborhood gives me giddy satisfaction.

Can’t leave out the obvious film connections here. Sundance Film Festival draws a huge international crowd every January. But year round Park City Film Series hosts wonderful new and classic releases of films of interest to the local community. We just saw “The Way I See It.” We are ready for the snow!

Did I mention the population of Park City is around 8,000? There is a diverse population of faiths and traditions: many denominations of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, agnostic, you name it or not. So far, the most notable characteristic of the permanent residents is that they are incredibly nice. Good old fashioned polite and friendly.

A total stranger approached me shortly after we arrived, introduced herself and told me that if I had any questions about anything she would be happy to help. I didn't have any kids with me. I wasn't carrying heavy bags. I was just wandering around, reading a bulletin board. I must have looked new. That has never happened to me before. Not even in Hood River.

School Rules

So, homeschooling was not as easy as anticipated. We made our decision to move to Park City, in part, because the schools are considered the best in Utah. They also have a decent selection of private schools and a large homeschooling network. We wanted options.

Imagine my DELIGHT when we learned that a new charter school was opening that focused on nature, science and art! The Weilenmann School of Discovery has as it’s mission to “create a public charter school where students discover the power of their own potential -- to learn, innovate, and change the world.” Coco won the lottery a week before we arrived in Utah and thankfully, there were spots for Em and KK, too.

I have a history of getting emotional about schools (when they inspire me), so on “Back To School Night” I could barely contain my joy listening to every teacher talk about their passion for their subjects and how each and every one of them is empowered to toss the curriculum in the trash if it’s not working for their class! The girls love their teachers and so do I!

Homeschool Results?

I was wondering how the older girls would settle in after a year of homeschooling. Em managed to finish 5th grade by March but I wondered if she really retained anything. Should I have given her extra work? Coco did not finish her 3rd grade course even after an attempt at summer school. I tried every strategy to support her but she just flat out refused to try. (Evidence #1 for why we are not homeschooling this year.)

When the first day of school came around, Coco broke down and shared her fears that she would be soooooo far behind, every one would think she was dumb. Now suddenly motivated I set her up to do math practice on IXL and she has done very well. I also had her watch videos on Khan Academy to learn concepts she refused to do with me (division). After a couple of weeks I met with her teacher who said she was doing just fine and not lagging behind, but somewhere right in the middle. Whew! And after all the struggle to keep a journal, her first assignment to write a newspaper about her life was full of detail and decoration! Just like Coco.

Em was a little less anxious about her entree to 6th grade when a couple of other girls in her class shared that they had also homeschooled last year. Em just handed me her latest math test. She got 95%. Not bragging. Just relieved. A few days ago Em asked me to read a story she's writing for English. It was nearly 8 pages long. I almost fell over. Getting her to write even a sentence in her journal last year was like trying to bathe a cat...

Any anxiety or insecurity I had about our year “off” has now vanished. I think homeschooling is as empowering as it is challenging for both student and teacher. The flexibility and freedom to travel and go deeper in areas the child is truly interested in are priceless benefits. The challenge is setting up a healthy home dynamic with a program everyone is committed to. It is a team effort.

Home At Last

What an amazing feeling we all have here. Sailing for 18 months, dropping anchor a few places and realizing we could not or should not stay was not as easy or as effortless as it appears. I would not trade a single second of our trip so far but I am happy to have found a place, a corner of the earth, that feels like home.

Park City is the territory where our spirits will discover our hidden lives and the urgencies that deserve to claim us.

In case you missed it, we were featured on Yo Ladies this summer. Check it out!

With big MOOSE kisses,

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