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This is the Life We Choose II

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S: This is the Life We Chose

FC: This is the Life We Chose Volume II

1: The meaning behind the phrase "This is the life we chose." We were just a few weeks into a trip and we were in the doldrums. We were still in Tahoe but there was no skiing on this day. In fact, it was raining--the worst thing that can happen in a ski town. We drove to McDonald's for breakfast and were heading back to the cabin with no idea of what to do with the day, and no money. Clark turned to Monica and said in a sort of depressed tone, "This is the life we chose." Now fast forward a few days. A fresh snow storm has dumped plenty of powder on the mountains and we are skiing on a glorious afternoon. The setting is just absolutely perfect. Before heading down the mountain Clark turns to Monica and says in a rather happy tone, "This is the life we chose." What a difference intonation can make. And so "This is the life we chose" became the phrase of the trip. It fit every setting--just adjust the intonation. Whether enjoying a mountain top experience or struggling through the valley, "This is the life we chose."

3: Back on the road again! It took us a few months to get from the West Coast to the Midwest and once we got there we criss-crossed the country and world! In Louisville we caught our breath, but upon leaving we were really onto the second phase of our trip. We were on the road again! Soon we would hit the East Coast and then begin the journey Westward again!

4: Our travels go in phases. We started our six month adventure thinking about there being three waves: Tahoe to Indiana with the dividing line being Ireland. Then Indiana to Texas where we are now. And then the final phase which is yet to be entered into. While there were places we were long enough to call home--Tahoe, Indiana, Ireland, and now Texas, we also knew there were two sort of crazy spurts of travel. The first was leaving Tahoe and getting to Indiana, which never had us in one city for more than 3 nights. The second we just completed. After a week in Louisville, we spent two nights in DC, two in Myrtle Beach, three in Savannah, and then four in New Orleans (New Orleans will get an update all to itself later on). First, we loved Louisville. It was actually hard to leave, but the time had come. We had a great time in Washington. I had really productive meetings and a great lunch with Tim Goeglein, vice president at Focus on the Family Action and former senior advisor to President Bush. Tim went through a personal crisis which forced his resignation from the White House staff which he brought on himself. After our lunch, I texted him, "Tim, if I can say this without it sounding like flattery, I'd like to think talking with you is something like what it would be to have a conversation with the me of 15 years from now."

5: In addition to good things on the professional side, Monica, Jackson and I had a great time in Washington. We rode our bikes all around the mall and the monuments on two separate evenings and then spent a morning in Alexandria as well. We were also able to get together one evening with our friend Michelle Healey. So great to see her again! We have a fly by the seat of our pants approach to much of the trip, and when we woke up our last morning in DC we did not plan to be in Myrtle Beach, but there we were. We had two nights right on the water. Great time on the beach and swimming in the ocean with Jack. Had a really great day there followed by a great dinner at Tommy Bahama. Some people have since asked me what Myrtle Beach is like. First, I'll say we had a great time. We got a really great deal on our hotel, and it's hard to complain when you are sitting on a beautiful beach. But the song that kept playing in my head once we left the beach was "Gangsta Paradise." You know all those typical beachside shops with flip-flops, t-shirts, and sunscreen? Well, Myrtle Beach has plenty of those but those same stores also sell silencers, scopes, knives, brass knuckles, etc. Quite the scene. | Washington here we come! | Washington D.C.

6: Two hour drive to Myrtle Beach to Charleston. Lovely little town. Walked around the city and just took it all in. Short time there--just one night--but a great stop along the trail. Two hour drive from Myrtle Beach to Savannah, where we had rented a house for three nights. House is always great because it gives me a chance to set up a bit of an office and really get things done and out the door. We were in the historic district, which meant that once we arrived we really did not need our car, but we weren't sure about our neighborhood at first. But we left Savannah unscathed. The only time we did get in the car in Savannah was to drive out to see an old plantation, which was beautiful and a great experience. Took us a while to sort of figure out Savannah itself but once we did we loved it. Lots of southern charm.

7: East Coast Swing

8: D.C. | Working on this book back home in Santa Barbara and thinking back to DC... it feels like so long ago. Almost like it didn't happen. Clark had meetings with a few people, most of which proved unproductive. One bright spot was a lunch with Tim Goeglein.!

9: We did D.C. like never before...on bikes>> Great way to see the Mall and Monuments. Jack loved the ducks and the wide open spaces. | Had hot dogs and sandwiches at the Mall for dinner two seperate nights. Our hotel was just across the Patomic and was great for Jack!!

10: MonumentMall Bikes

12: Myrtle Beach | An unexpected stop that was more than we hoped for! | Beach, Bikers, Pools, Cheap Hotel, Eclectic Mix, FUN!

13: There are two sides to Myrtle Beach : Tommy Bahamma and the beach/biker side. We enjoyed them both. Great time at the restraunt and mall. Jackson was so good at dinner. Beach was wide and water clear. | Our hotel had these great pools. Jackson was a bit afraid of the water. We sat on the beach snd had a great time. Also had a good breakfast on the pier at Big Daddy's. We were surprised to find brass knuckles and silencers sold along side sunscreen and beach toys.

14: Clark booked us into a great B&B. It was so charming, Down a little alley and right on the main street for shopping. It rained the day we were there, but that did't stop us from seeing the city and enjoying our time.

15: Charleston | We didn't have much money so we skipped the aquarium and opted for good bbq lunch and a walk to the waterfront.

16: Georgia on my mind | Savannah, GA | We rented a house in Savannah--and are now realizing we took no photos!

17: On this stop we discovered a wonderful place: Bass Pro Shop! WOW! We also rode bikes around town | S | A | V

20: This was an odd time in our travels. We were back in total road warrior mode. We were also broke. But life was good. We were a family on an adventure and living life together.

21: Quick stop in Jacksonville | Jackson's Namesake | PB&J for lunch Picture at St. John's River | Some time out of the car and at the. | The world is my playground.

23: New Orleans was fantastic! One measure of a city is if it is great when you are broke. In the Big Easy we were broke but loving life!

24: What a great city. And to top it off a fabulouso hotel. What a breakfast-- which could have never been more important! We took turns walking the city. Clark spotted a piece of art that we got a great deal on. Can't get a better souvenier!

25: We also drove out to Lake Pontchartrain. What an "experience."

27: New Orleans was a great stop in our journey. It was an odd feeling to be on our way back west. Looking back, New Orleans was a place where we just really became content with what we had. Mostly, we had each other. But when you really get down to it, life ie best enjoyed when you are not longing for the next thing. In New Orleans we were happy with what we had. Happy to walk around the city. Happy to walk along the Mississippi and think about Jimmy Buffett being there. Happy to just take it in. Happy to hace a nice place to stay where Jackson could sleep on his own. Haoppy to share a dinner at the Central Grocery. Just happy.

28: Texas was a much needed stop. It was one of the few places we had set dates for when we left Santa Barbara because of the arrival of Baby Jake. We were also flat broke. Texas was marked by time out at Green Acres, shooting guns, and watching Lonesome Dove. It was a time to be with family and a time for Clark to sit out in the driveway with Cody watching cars go by.

29: Jackson and Gage had plenty of time to play together and fight over grandma. Jackson loved Gage's toy room and loved jumping on the trampolines. And there's nothing like sitting in the driveway with nothing on but a t-shirt and licking a popsicle. We arrived in Texas as tired people. Happy people, but tired. Life had a slower pace, yet a week went by before we knew it because it felt so good to do nothing after having gone a million miles an hour for so long.

31: Jake Cody Potter, as they would say in Ireland, arrived in good form. Happy and healthy, everyone took their turns holding him and catering to him. Born at 8:25 a.m. on May 29, 2009, he was 9 pounds 3 ounces and 21 inches long at birth. Melissa handled the surgery great and mother and baby were home as scheduled.

32: Carlsbad Caverns

33: Thank God for the Headlees, and thank God for the Discovery Channel. Had it not been for both, we'd have never known of these caverns, which were one of the most amazing things we've ever seen. A long day trip for Levelland, this diversion was well worth it. We even got a great Mexican lunch at Rosie's.

34: Back home again in Indiana | It's funny because we did not expect Indiana to become the hub that it became on our journey. In June we were back in Indiana, this time to celebrate with Clay and Kate.

35: Our wedding gift to Clay and Kate was an experience. We spent the Thursday night before the wedding at Victory Field with the wedding party at an Indianapolis Indiana Game.

36: Clay & Kate

38: Just a few months before we watched that tiny little island appear in the window of that right out of a movie prop-plane, we'd never heard of the Corn Islands. While we were in Louisville, we booked the flights to be there for our anniversary, but in the days and even weeks leading up to our departure date, with our dwindling bank accounts, we were not even sure we'd make the trip. But once we arrived everything would change. We were in a different world. We'd escaped to the islands and for a few weeks would live an alternate life.

39: When we landed at the airport on Big Corn Island the taxi drivers were practically fighting over us. Monica compared them to the sea gulls in "Finding Nemo".... "mine, mine, mine.... We arrived at our hotel, Casa Canada, and it was a true oasis. Over the next few weeks we would find the staff there to be some of the nicest people in the world. They treated us--especially Jackson--like family. It was amazing to sit on our front porch and look out over our infinity pool and out into the Caribbean Sea.. It does not take long to get used to that!

46: A little over a month ago, we’d never even heard of this place. So, how’d we end up here? Well, each year, rather than focusing on a gift for each other for our anniversary, we’ve decided to share an experience. Often, that experience has included a bit of travel, but living in a state of constant travel, it was hard to know what to do. Our house in rented through mid-July and our car is in West Texas. And the Southwest is not a pleasant place to be in June and July.But none of this answers the question of how we ended up on the Great Corn Island. We were back in California the last few days of April and first few days of May. I had to go down to Newport Beach for some business, and got into town early to hit the spa at the Fashion Island Marriott, where for just $20 you can sit all day in their sauna and steam in between laps in the salt water pool or reading Cigar Aficionado in the “Relaxation Room.” But as I sat poolside I sat aside the Aficionado and picked up a travel magazine. There was an article on Nicaragua and the author had spent a few days on the Corn Islands. It sounded like paradise. And with Managua just a 3 hour flight from Houston (and pretty inexpensive) and because the islands themselves are so cheap to stay and live on, here we are. With that introduction, we left Houston on Monday morning and arrived in Managua around 11:30 a.m. local time. Got outside and the air resembled the air in that Marriott steam room: hot and humid. We walked about 100 yards down to the end of the terminal where there was an old building that served as our terminal for our flight to the Corn Islands. We got checked in and got our boarding passes--laminated cards with a map of Nicaragua with “Corn Islands” in bold text. While hanging out on the curb waiting to board our flight we hung out with a great couple from Richmond, VA who are popping around Central America for a month. They had flown into San Jose, Costa Rica about a week ago and were coming to the Corn Islands until they decided to leave. That was their plan, and I loved it. Flight from Managua to the Corn Islands was interesting but uneventful. No pressurized cabin and little air circulation. I don’t think we ever got about 10,000 feet. It was a beautiful ride. When we got to the Caribbean Coast there was a storm brewing and the pilots opted to fly below the storm. The last few miles as we flew over the ocean and approached the island we could not have been more than 1,000 feet above the water. As we approached the island I thought to myself, “this is just how I pictured it.... paradise.”

47: The landing strip was quite the scene. Little shacks and people’s houses right along the way with clothes out on the line. We got our bags and left to get a cab. And were there cabbies. If you’ve seen the movie Finding Nemo and the way seagulls say, “mine,” cabbies looking for passengers at the Corn Island airport resembles this scene. Quick ride and $2 fare and we’re at our place, Casa Canada, and we’re thinking wow. Quite the place to spend our time on the Corn Islands. Sitting on the porch of our little cabana we have the infinity pool right in front of us that looks our to the Caribbean. When the tide is out, the sea could not be more than 50 yards away from our front door. We’re surrounded by palm trees, wake up to birds chirping, and the only sudden noises I hear are falling coconuts. Casa Canada has about 20 guest rooms and there are two very sweet ladies that are in charge of the place. All of the staff loves Jackson (of course). Speaking of Jackson, he is becoming a serious pool junkie. If he sees the pool, he wants in. First two days here I think he has easily spent about 4 hours in the pool. He’s doing a very good job in the water. He knows to kick his arms and legs, and is getting to where he wants to push me away and swim on his own, even though I know he’s not ready for that yet! Occasionally he swallows some water, but I was really proud of him yesterday when he fell off a step he was climbing on and into the water. He had to be under for at least a few seconds before I could get him up, and when he came up, he was not coughing, which means he’d held his breath when he went under. There is much to see, do, and explore here. This is my first time in an area that is truly third world. We rented a golf cart today and drove around the island, which takes about an hour to do without stopping. In America we’re so accustomed to having what we want and when we want it. But so much of what we think are daily necessities these people live without. There is no Costco on the Great Corn Island. But there is margin time. There’s time to sit on the beach, drink a cerveza, and read a few more chapters of my Jimmy Buffett book while Jackson naps.

49: While the weather in these pics looks amazing, we were awakened one particular morning by rain. Serious rain. We were both laying in bed and sort of wondering to ourselves if there was a hurricane coming in. We had to spend the whole day inside and began to develop a real case of island fever!

50: Life on Big Corn Island....a Facebook Note from Paradise... How do you know you are living on an island that is inhabited by only around 5,000 people? Your life--just one evening--looks something like this. We arrive at Paraiso Hotel for dinner. We're told their restaurant, The Bucanneer, is one of the best on the island. Our first impression is holding up to expectations. Very cool spot. Island, and yes, I would say even a pirate feel. Large sand pit just off the restaurant is great for Jackson. We look through the palm trees to the beach about 50 yards away. Start with drinks, mine, a Coco Loco, is literally just a coconut opened up with rum added. We get talking with the guy at the table next to us, who we learn, is the owner. Believe it our not, this little hotel with 12 guest rooms on this little island shows up on Wikipedia. Wiki tells us the owner will do anything for his patrons. We will find this to be true later on. Jackson plays with Benson, the owners son throughout dinner. Our conversation continues and before we know it we're touring the facilities. Rooms are cool little huts with thatch roofs. He is in the process of renovating. Rooms now are quite nice and perfect for the island, but the future looks even brighter. Now, much to my surprise with the great cigars that come out of Nicaragua, there are none to be found on the island. We've asked everywhere and there are none to be found. I mention this to the owner who is now on his cell phone. As it rings he tells me he is working on getting his own cigars for the hotel, but he now has arranged for a taxi to take me to see his friend after dinner on our way back to the hotel. We do, and we don't go to a local shop but literally to a house. Friend gives me cigars and now I have a new friend. I try to pay and he won't let me. "You are in Nicaragua. The cigars are yours as long as you let me call you friend." Arrive back at hotel to smiling staff here, all happy to see Jackson. It's a Big Corn Night.

51: Rainy Paradise...Another Facebook Update... It is raining. I mean raining. In the course of our travels over the past 5 months, this is only our second rain day. That’s a pretty good record. There was a day in Tahoe when it rained and we felt sort of trapped. I turned to Monica and said in a sluggish tone, “this is the life we chose.” (The next day, at a higher altitude, as we skied perfect powder, I turned to Monica and in a very happy tone said, “this is the life we chose.”) But it is really raining. I’ve never seen anything like this. All my years growing up in Indiana I never saw rain like this. Not in Santa Barbara. Not in all of my travels. In Texas it would rain extremely hard for 20 minutes. I can see how these flash floods develop. So much water in so little time. But as hard as I have ever seen it rain, it is raining like that now, only this is sustained. It began at around 11 p.m. last night and went straight through until 8 a.m. this morning. I mean really torrential downpour. Around 7 this morning, laying in bed, I thought, “what if this is a hurricane coming in?” We got a break and now it is raining--really raining, yet again. This is unbelievable. In the States I know I could log onto the local affiliate and they’d tell me how many inches had fallen in the past hour. They don’t do that here, but if they did, I know the number would be very high. So we are, in a sense, trapped. There is a beautiful island out there, but we are in our hotel room. We’ve been longing to be home, and at moments like this you really long to be home. Not to complain. This is, indeed, the life we chose. We took the road less traveled, and that has made a great deal of difference. Rumor is this weather is settling in. Thankfully, changing your flights in these here parts is much easier than in the States. We were planning to head back to the mainland on Monday to explore other parts of Nicaragua but may do that now tomorrow--if we can get a plane out of here in this weather!

52: the beaches were just incredible. totally picturesque. We started many a days at Seva's, a typical Corn Island place that is not only a restaurant but also a family's home and farm. The beach across from Seva's was one of our most favorite places. We went snorkeling with Dorsey, a world class snorkel guide who showed us around some world class waters. In the water you could see as far as you could see--like you were looking in the sky. We saw so much--it was like the first scenes of Finding Nemo! It was amazing!

54: One of the more popular and established hotels on the island is the Pariso Hotel. We had drinks and dinner there two separate nights and got to know the owners and their son who was just a little older than Jackson. It was a very cool place and the owner Mike who was from Holland originally had that Brad Pitt, nothing could ever phase me feel about him.

55: The Picnic Center was another picturesque spot. But beware the sand flies! The water here was extremely calm--like a lake. There was a cool thatch roof restaurant on this beach and it was also on this beach were we met the incredibly nice family from Managua who provided us with their driver when we flew back to the mainland. This island also afforded us with many new experiences that perhaps initially out us out of our comfort zone. And that is a good thing.

58: as our time on Corn Island began to run thin, we also sensed our time on the road was too. Jimmy B was helping Clark keep perspective. We have traveled many miles over the past year--mentally, emotionally, and certainly geographically. But all along the way I've had a friend who has been ready to meet me anywhere there's a sandy beach and a boat drink. I've been thankful for his companionship and the insights on living a full life he's shared with me. His name is Jimmy Buffett. Just over a year ago a dream that we had dreamed died. Life takes many twists and turns and there we were on the brink of going broke and the invitation came for an island getaway. We spent the next two weeks on Kauai with Monica's family and it was a trip that I'll never forget. I had taken with me, for that trip, “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens. I know they say you cannot judge a book by its cover, but neither the title nor the dark and dreary picture on the cover seemed to make any sense to me in that island paradise. So I perused the bookshelf of the condo we were renting and found a fat paperback that seemed just right. “A Pirate Looks at Fifty” was the title, and there was Jimmy B on the cover, sitting on the beach with his flying boat sitting in the water behind him. The book kept me company on the beaches of Kauai and it was never returned to the condo bookshelf (only recently did I notice the inscription written in it to the previous owner when it was given to him as a gift!). My life over the past year has had very few rules, and those that I do have are often broken. But there was one rule that I never broke, and that was that I only read Buffett when I was sitting on the beach or poolside and under the hot sun. Tropical locations made this book so much more fun. And, if I had a coconut and some rum, all the better. I became a Parrothead in a way that I think is different than most. I knew a few Jimmy Buffett songs but had never bought an album. A few years ago my wife and I scored free tickets to see Buffett at the Santa Barbara Bowl. That was maybe the beginning for me. I've seen great, I mean really tremendous live shows, but I've never seen any performer have more fun on stage than Jimmy Buffett and I've never seen fans have more fun.

59: I first became a Parrothead by reading Jimmy Buffett. Over the past year I've bought plenty of his music on iTunes. I have Margaritaville stickers on the back of our Hummer. My son even has a t-shirt that says, "I'm a little Parrothead." Jimmy Buffett has become sort of a hero to me because he figured out how to make a living just having fun, or, quite simply, just being himself--being Jimmy Buffett. Reading the book was, I think, something like what it would be like to sit in a bar listening to Jimmy weave a few stories. And can he tell a story. There were parties and there was dope, but there's also a man who has come of age, who loves his wife, and is a devoted father. I'll never forget the part where he is reflecting on his friends in New York who agonize over making sure their kids go to the right pre-school so they'll be prepared for kindergarten so they'll.... and meanwhile his kids are swimming neckie in Costa Rica. Experience, Buffett contends, is the best teacher. I couldn't agree more. Like me, Buffett is a man who wants to see and do it all. As he described the towns and ports he lived and visited along the way I dreamed of being in each of those places. Yes, someday I will make it to Tierra del Fuego. Just days before we arrived in New Orleans a month ago I was reading about Jimmy B getting his first big break--and thinking he had "made it" when he was playing a regular gig on Bourbon Street. One of the great gifts that God gave me was a sense at a very young age that life is short. Maybe falling off a cliff will do that to you, but I think I had this even before that experience. He's also put many mentors in my life that have a few decades on me. I'm glad I read "A Pirate Looks at 50" before I even turned 30. It has provided me much insight for the road ahead. And now that Jimmy is past 60, I'll hope that someday in my travels I'll be sitting on a barstool next to him to capture the wisdom of another decade.

61: It was an incredible few weeks on what must be one of the most beautiful and relaxed settings in the world. Adios Corn Islands!

62: After a great few weeks on the island the time finally came to journey back to the mainland. With life figured out on the island and Jackson having such a good sleeping situation, it was sort of hard to leave. But there is a world to see. In fact, we would have loved to visit Leon as well, but life is full of choices and some things have to win out. We arrived at Managua Airport and our driver picked us up for the hour drive to Granada. It was early evening as we were pulling into the town and just by the look of the place we felt immediately that we would love it. Our hotel was very old world yet very Central American, quite appropriate for the oldest Colonial City in the Americas. We loved our hotel. It fit into the neighborhood but was also a bit of a respite from the craziness of the streets. The first night there with Jackson was rough, but he would soon settle in and we would be off and running on our Granada Adventure.

66: One of the highlights of Granada was dinner at El Zaguan. It was recommended to us by our friends we met on Corn Island and it more than lived up to the hype. We actually dined there two separate nights and lived it up--tequila shots, sangria, and really great food. We loved it.

67: The first day we were in Granada we took a carriage ride to get to know the city. Our guide was our concierge for all things Granada over the next few days. In retrospect, we were probably far too trusting of him, but alas, it all worked out in the end. He arranged for a boat ride of Lake Granada, the 12th largest freshwater lake in the world, and for a tour of an active volcano--Masayi Volcano. He would even arrange for our ride back to Granada.

69: Our time in Nicaragua was coming to a close. We were ready to head back to the States, and indeed, were sensing that our time on the road was coming to an end. For the first time, we were longing for the comforts of home. While we were in Nicaragua, Clark wrote a list of 51 things we looked forward to about home. 1. Having our own kitchen again~~2. Mixing a martini in home bar~~3. Tri-Tip~~4. Fresh vegetables from the Farmers Market~~5. C’est Cheese~~6. Santa Barbara Wines~~7. Friends~~8. Costco~~9. Camino Real (in general)~~10. Unpacking~~11. Santa Barbara Zoo~~12. Beachside Cafe and Goleta Beach~~13. Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara~~14. Back patio and BBQ~~15. Some form of routine~~16. Checking our own mail~~17. Walking down State Street~~18. The Sunday Beachfront art walk~~19. Popping over to Monica’s parents unannounced for dinner~~20. Tennis matches with friends~~21. Nortons Pastrami~~22. Santa Barbara Tobacco~~23. Dinner parties with friends~~24. La Cumbre Deli (actually “Plaza Deli” but I’ve always called in La Cumbre Deli) ~~25. Madden~~26. Catching up on “The Office” ~~27. Having friends and family we know who can watch Jackson while we go out ~~28. Having space for Jackson to spread out and make a mess with his toys~~29. Letting Jackson have more toys than we can carry with us at any one time~~30. Hollister Brewing Co.~~31. Winchester Gun Club~~32. Santa Ynez Valley~~33. Futzing around in the garage~~34. Home improvement projects~~35. Our own bed~~36. Our bedroom~~37. Having a DVR and all the Mickey Mouse Club House Jackson wants to watch ~~38. Not watching Jimmy Neutron and Jungle Book CONSTANTLY!~~39. Cigars with the guys~~40. The Biltmore~~41. Los Arroyos~~42. Nordstom Cafe~~43. Manicures and pedicures with mom and sisters (this is Monica’s!)~~44. Grocery shopping~~45. Walking around OSH and/or Home Depot on Saturday afternoon~~46. Checking out the local nurseries and thinking about our landscaping~~47. Elwood Preserve~~48. Our own washer and dryer~~49. “Settling in” ~~50. Jackson having his own room (until baby arrives that is)~~51. Family

70: Closing in on the end... We spent nearly two glorious weeks on Corn Island. Highlights included a great afternoon of snorkeling with Dorsey. Dorsey lives in a little place right on the beach and knows the waters surrounding the island very well. He's spent his whole life there. Having snorkeled in both Costa Rica and Hawaii, this was by far the best snorkeling we've ever done. There were several lobster dinners, which cost about $9 a plate (WOW!). Paraiso Beach Club also became a highlight as we got to know the owners and Jackson had fun playing with their 3 year old son. There were many hours in our infinity pool overlooking the Caribbean.~~A day of torrential rains, and rumors that the rain was setting in, and we had island fever. We hopped a plane back to the mainland and spent the next 5 days in Granada, Nicaragua, which is the oldest colonial city in the Americas. Unlike the island, there were a lot of street begging going on, and lots and lots of people trying to sell you things. "No neccessito" and "no gracias" and "no dinero" become important phrases to know. But we stayed at a very cool place, I drank many mojitos, and we did a lot of exploring. Granada is right on Lake Nicaragua, the 10th largest fresh water lake in the world. There are over 300 islands on the lake (several of them larger than Corn Islands!). We got a guide who tool us out in a boat on the lake. We also toured the Masaya Volcano.

71: The city itself is very cool, and in many ways just what you would expect of an old colonial city. We went around a few times in a carriage and did buy some items from local artists and artisans. Our last day there we visited a very cool spa with a sort of organic feel. Think up-scale 3rd world. It was very nice. Monica got a manicure and pedicure ($16 for both) and I got a one hour massage ($20). But we were ready to leave. Not just Nicaragua, but we were running out of steam.~~Loved the freedom and adventure of Nicaragua, but it feels good to be back in the states. Landed in Houston and back to Levelland, where we were staying at Monica's sisters and brother in laws house. Her sister is in Santa Barbara, so it was just Cody there. I actually had to fly to San Francisco for an event, and flew there and back in the same day. Crashed for a few days in L-Land--so great to be in a home--and in Sedona now.~~In Levelland we picked up two little puppies--Tex and Belle. They are black mouth curs (think Old Yeller or Fox and the Hound). They did great on the 12 hour trip from Levelland to Sedona.~~Sedona is beautiful. It reminds us of several places from our travels along the way. It's part Tahoe, part Jackson Hole, part Colorado Springs. We love it. Will stay here at least one more night and will make our way home. May drive straight through, may stop along the way. We shall see. Will definitely see the Hoover Dam though on our trip out of here. The Grand Canyon will have to wait.~~What a wonderful adventure this has been. Hardly believe we are this close to the end. There has been a great deal of reflecting these past few days, and there is more reflection to be done. Many lessons have been learned. This has been a journey not just of geography but of the heart and soul.

72: Back in the USA

73: We arrived back in the States and the first thing we learned was that Michael Jackson was dead. Actually did not believe the guy at the baggage counter at first, but it was true. The endless MJ music playing on the radio when Cody picked us up all but proved it. The transfer at Houston to the regional flight to Lubbock was a nightmare, but we made it. Clark had to fly to San Francisco the next day but was back in no time. A few days to recoup, relax, and drink Norther Light with Cody and we were back on the road.

74: The Journey Across the West

75: One last stop before the final push into Sedona

76: We checked into our hotel in Sedona knowing that this would be our last bed until we were back in Santa Barbara. Traveling had become a bit more complicated as we now had two puppies with us. We had a good--not great--hotel right on the main drag of Sedona and over the next few days would explore this amazing place. Sedona is Tahoe, Colorado Springs, Jackson Hole, and Carmel all wrapped up into one. | Sedona, Arizona

77: Tex & Belle join us for the final leg of the journey.

78: By the time we were in Sedona Monica was beginning to be a little more tired and worn out carrying around Emery. That being the case and with the beautiful scenery around us, it was time to go off-roading! We were able to check out some beautiful vistas thanks to the Hummer!

80: We spent a good deal of time in Sedona at L'Auberge, a place Monica and I had hoped to stay at a few years earlier. One evening we sat and had a few glasses of wine and took turns chasing Jackson. It was a tranquil, Biltmore-esque setting. Which is to say perfect.

82: THE HOOVER DAM (and yes, I ate a dam dog)

83: The Hoover Dam is BIG. Just as big as our dreams. And it took an American can-do spirit to built it--a spirit that matched our tenacity to suck all the marrow out of life. for weeks we talked about the Hoover Dam as our last stop. When we were there, we knew we were almost home.

84: Back in California!

85: Ocean washed, mountain guarded, island-girded. Sunny, sun-kissed Santa Barbara; enjoys the most equitable year-round climate of any place in the world.

86: We did it! | We drove over 9,000 miles, from one side of the continent to the other and back, while hitting 24 states Our address was Hummer H3. Home was wherever we happened to be.

87: When we left, Ireland was on our agenda, but Nicaragua was an unexpected and great adventure!

89: How very simple life would be If only there were two of me A restless me to drift and roam A quiet me to stay at home. A searching one to find his fill Of varied skies and newfound thrill While sane and homely thing are done By the domestic other one. And that's just where the trouble lies; There is a restless me that cries For chancy risks and changing scene, For arctic blue and tropic green, For deserts with their mystic spell, For lusty fun and raising hell But shackled to that restless me My other self rebelliously Resists the frantic urge to move. It seeks that old familiar groove That habits make. It finds content With hearth and home--dear prisonment, With candlelight and well-loved books And treasured loot in dusty nooks, With puttering and garden things And dreaming while a cricket sings And all the while the restless one Insists on more exciting fun, No matter where... just for the ride. Like yowling cats the two selves brawl Until I have no peace at all. One eye turns to the forward track, The other eye looks sadly back, I'm getting wall-eyed from the strain, (It's tough to have an idle brain_ But one says "Stay" and one says "Go" And one says "Yes" and one says "No." And one self wants a wife and home And one self craves the drifters life. The restless fellow always wins I wish my folks had made me twins. | We were so ready to be home... After months of travel and thousands of miles behind us we were ready to be home. And yet we were already planning future adventures. We were already ready to get out again. That desire to do it all and see ti all. Jimmy Buffett ended his book with this poem called The Double Life by Don Blanding. It says it all perfectly.

90: Home and reflecting... | We drove 9,000 miles and traveled to two foreign counties. With our Hummer packed to capacity, as we carried our one year old son across the Atlantic and into the jungles of Central America, I’d often say, “Jackson, your parents are crazy.” Today, we are back home in Santa Barbara. A six month journey has come to a close. The past days have been full of reflection, and perhaps it is more than a coincidence that our first day back in Santa Barbara marks exactly one year since our hearts were completely broken. It was a year ago today that we learned the baby Monica was carrying had already gone on to be with the Lord. The next day, after labor was induced, we held his little body in our hands. We named him Elijah William.

91: We are people of adventure and excitement, but looking back I think the journey that we embarked on was as much therapy as anything else. We know that what we did over the past six months very few people will ever have an opportunity to do, and even among those who do have the opportunity even fewer will do it. How did we pull this off? We’ve decided that for some reason, God just chose to bless us. It’s as simple as that. I suppose it will be years before I can truly grasp why God gave us this time. I’m amazed at how it all came together. Looking forward, it’s hard for me to imagine things aligning as they did over this past six month period where a trip like this was possible.

92: It was not always easy. While we shared reports of perfect ski conditions in Tahoe, the glorious beauty of Wyoming, tranquil walks along the sea in Ireland, and amazing snorkeling in the Caribbean, there was also another side to this trip. There were times we pulled into the driveway of family or friends just flat broke. We arrived at our pre-paid hotel in New Orleans and were relieved the next morning to find that our hotel had a to die for free continental breakfast. That free breakfast would also be our free lunch on our drive to Texas at the end of our stay in the Big Easy. We left New Orleans for West Texas where we were staying with Monica’s sister. We counted our money and did the math to see if we would have enough money to get the gas we needed to make the drive. About 300 miles away, I realized we were going to be a little short. I’ve never been so thankful for the $10 I found tucked away in a small side compartment of our backpack.

93: Moments like that bind you together. The past year has not always been easy, but it’s been fun, and we did it together. Two years ago, at the age of 27, my wife drove me to the ER because she thought I was having a heart attack. Over the next weeks and months, doctors continued to monitor my blood pressure, which was alarmingly high and spiking at astronomical levels. They prescribed medicine, which I filled but never really took. And so I was surprised a few weeks ago when a doctor took my blood pressure and looked at me and said, “great, 125/80.” The stress levels are down, but I think there’s more to the change than just a change of pace. For me, there was more than a change in latitude. There was a change in attitude. Removing ourselves from our normal routine for an extended time, and living by faith and not by sight, helped loosen us up and taught us to embrace each moment as they come to you. When we left Santa Barbara we took with us our wounded hearts that had not healed since we lost our baby. Finally, a dear friend suggested that I write a letter to Elijah to say some of the things I’d hoped to someday be able to share with him. The toughest part was that he told me I was not to quit writing until I felt like I was ready to give Elijah to the Lord. I began writing the letter late one night in a hotel room in Florida and did not end until the wee hours of the morning. Upon finishing, I walked out onto the beach where the wind was blowing forcefully. That night was the first time that my joy Elijah was with the Lord surpassed my sadness that he was not with us. I held my hands up high singing hymns and felt like I was finally on my way.

94: This six month journey was about much more than geography. It was a journey of the heart and soul. It was a family journey. I know many people go on vagabond travel expeditions immediately after college, and I say go for it. I wish that I had done the same. But I am so very thankful that I was able to make this journey with my wife and son. I’m thankful that I shared such a definitive life experience with the two people who are most important to me in my life and will be with me all the days of my life. This trip was not a stand alone moment, but rather, I think the final scene of an act. I am home and I feel ready to move on. Whatever I move on to, I know that I will never be the same.

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Monica Vandeventer
  • By: Monica V.
  • Joined: almost 10 years ago
  • Published Mixbooks: 2
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About This Mixbook

  • Title: This is the Life We Choose II
  • The documentation of our 6 month cross country road trip.
  • Tags: travel, road trip, family, kids, toddlers, driving, facebook
  • Published: over 7 years ago