It’s been nearly two years since my last post. Within that time away, a lot has happened, including our return to the U.S. and a lot of subsequent moving and settling, moving and settling. (Little adventures filled with the mundane chaos of life.)
Here’s an overview of what we’ve been up to:
After Cannes, we took a train a couple of cities eastward to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, which borders Monaco. The gig there involved live-in pet-sitting for a British woman named Jan, who had soon-to-be-three pets: a half-wild bengal (pronounced bane-gal) cat named Piccolo; an old, obese, and highly repressed Dalmatian named Bailey (Baw-ee-lee); and a Weimaraner puppy, Ruby, arriving in December. Needless to say, we quickly learned that the gig was not as marketed, and although we stuck it out for a month and a half, things didn’t really end on a high note. We decided it was time to return to our country (somewhat with our tails between our legs).
Before our return to the U.S., Jan’s friends, empathizing with our situation, graciously offered a couple of nights in an ultra-chic vacation home in Antibes (next-door to Cannes) in exchange for pet-sitting their two dogs. Deal! The house in Antibes was gorgeous, but honestly, the best and most memorable parts were trying and failing to get the central heat to work (the house was freezing!) and the stove to turn on (never happened!). Stupid Americans? Maybe. We were impressively creative in our attempt to cook without heat–but not nearly impressive enough. We ultimately ended up at a very FRENCH Mexican restaurant up the street. We also finally purchased Ryan a coat in Cannes (a sweet end to trip-long searching). And my favorite: discussing life while huddled next to a wall heater in one room of the house.
On our way out of Europe, we flew to Cologne, Germany, where we spent an evening exploring the Christmas markets. I highly recommend seeing these at least once. (A little incentive: some of the best hot chocolate of my life came out of this experience.) From there, we took a train to Dusseldorf, where we boarded our ride back to the U.S. We met up with my family in New York City for a whirlwind vacation and then flew to Portland, OR, to be with Ryan’s family for the actual holidays.
In early January, we returned to Utah to live with my parents while Ryan looked for a job and I got back into my freelance business. After living in France for several months, I was continually surprised to discover that people were speaking English around me. It also took some time to figure out where I was, geographically, in a given moment. I would have mind-blanks in the morning and even during the day when I would genuinely ask myself, “Wait, what country am I in right now?”
My parents really are the best. It was wonderful to have so much support and family time–and be available for random chats and movies with my mom and sister. (I had two siblings still living at home at the time.) Ryan and I like being independent–it’s a need of ours, really–but I feel fortunate to have had this time with my family.
Thanks to a few awesome clients, Ryan and I had enough funds to move to Park City for the summer. (Utah Valley summers are too hot for me; this was a real treat.) We watched the autumn come and go in the Rocky Mountains. I ran on the trails there. We took drives along mountainsides filled with jewel-toned leaves. It was love, I tell you. Thus began our plot to own a summer home in Park City one day.
At the first sign of snow, we packed our car with all our stuff (literally, with the exception of a few boxes) and moved to Portland, OR, to be with Ryan’s family. (We figured, we’d spent eight years with my family in Utah. It was time to be closer to his side.)
Oh my, the Pacific Northwest is my paradise. So breathtakingly beautiful–even in the gray of winter. And being with his family was a treasure. Ryan and I were very busy trying to survive–he was still looking for a job at this point–but we stuck our heads out of our apartment every now and again to take part in activities. I still feel so lucky to have experienced this time, even for a fleeting few months.
Our time in Oregon was cut short–I still try not to think about that–but the reason for the move was a happy and exciting occasion. Mid-April, Ryan landed an awesome job in the Bay Area, and we moved there in May.
Fast forward to the present, and here we are! There are rumors of another move, so we’ll see what happens. I’m kind of getting sick of moving, if you can imagine, but I’m always excited at the prospect of a new location, a new experience. For now, we are here; we are loving it; we are happy. The next adventure is always just around the bend.
Here are a few photos of our time in Cannes (courtesy of Ryan). I’m adding these in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, which is a real shame because I realize now that we didn’t get any pics of Ryan. Only a few of me and a few of the area. Oh well. We’ve been here!
We hiked up a really steep alleyway to a castle that overlooks the city and saw a panoramic view of the whole coastline. Very beautiful. We hung up there for a few hours: Ryan wrote a few blog posts while I was slowly consumed by The Paris Wife. The castle itself wasn’t really worth capturing.
This is the beach down the street from our apartment. We spent a lot of time here, sunbathing, people watching, and otherwise goofing around.
The area we stayed in is the ritziest part of town (little did we know that when we reserved it). There were shops for blocks and blocks, and we had a great time checking them all out and testing the bakeries on every corner. We spent a few hours looking for a coat for Ryan (this has been a regular task in every city we’ve visited thus far), but without success. (He’s a bit picky. lol)
There really were restaurants lining every street. It kind of added to the character, though things got a bit crazy on weekend nights. We didn’t really frequent any restaurants here, though (and we preferred it that way). We had a small kitchenette in our apartment that we used regularly.
Case in point. Ryan had the idea to wrap our sauteed veggies in ham, and it was a hit!
Yay, a pic of me. (Ha. Don’t pay too much attention to my [wrinkled] shirt. I guess I care less about certain things after 3 months living out of a suitcase–particularly on exploration days.)
One night, the sun went down and the temperature outside was perfect. We grabbed a wool blanket in our room and headed out to a beach chair, where we listened to the waves hit the beach and watched the lights twinkling on the water. It was perfect.
I have the best husband in the whole world! He gave me a sexy Audi R8, just out of the blue!
…Of course that’s a lie, but we did have fun admiring the many (MANY) expensive cars in the area. Ryan took lots of pics, but I only wanted to show my fav. (In matte black! I hadn’t seen that before.)Read More
It has been well over a year since I started my business, and I find myself reflecting on how I’m doing. Have I accomplished all that I set out to do in the first year? Have I learned enough lessons and made enough progress?
I think I’ve done a good job. I’ve brought in several corporate clients and made a fair amount of money (enough to support us, at least). I’ve learned a ton about the types of companies I like to work for and those that I don’t. I’m more confident in my skin as a freelancer. I’m not as ready to take those penny projects–I know they aren’t worth my time.
Sacrificing for the Future
I started this journey with a ton of grand goals in mind, and I’ve gotten to where I am now with only a few of those goals realized, but that’s okay. The goals were too lofty to be comfortable, and that’s another lesson in itself.
There came a time at the start of my business when I had to choose where to focus my attention and energy. I couldn’t do it all, particularly when I was so new to the freelancing lifestyle. I ultimately felt compelled to focus the past year on corporate projects rather than art-based projects (e.g., blogging, magazines, fiction).
It makes sense that I would do this: I had to support myself first and foremost, and the easiest way to do that was to lean on the foundation I’d created during my in-house life. Many of my clients have come–directly or indirectly–from the connections I had when I worked in the corporate world, so that just shows how important your network can be over time.
Over the year, I often resented focusing on copywriting and was easily distracted by the appeal of my other goals. But honestly, I wasn’t yet ready to tackle creative projects, and I must have known that on a certain level.
Writing a novel, becoming a magazine writer–those are pretty demanding projects that require risk, patience, and self-direction. I needed time to adjust to the idea of jumping into something so big and scary. I also needed experience: in life and in my craft.
I may not have been ready to tackle them last year, but I’m much more ready now, and that says something to me: I’ve spent time focusing on the right things in order to prepare myself for the things I truly want, and the sacrifice has paid off.
Defining Your Own Success
If I didn’t have so many goals for myself, do I think I’d be further along in my business than I am now? Probably. If I enjoyed copywriting more, I know I would have collected clients like fireflies in a jar and reaped the monetary rewards.
I tend to go after things that I want with my whole heart, but copywriting isn’t and never was what I want. It isn’t my love. I quit my job for freedom AND for the chance to work on projects that more closely resemble art.
The transition from corporate to true creative was bound to be a tough, time-consuming one, but I’m headed down the right road. Money isn’t really important to me (within reason, of course), but I hope as I work toward the projects I really care about, success (in whatever form) will find me. What I really want is fulfillment, and I already get that on a daily basis.
I’m a naturally impatient person, but my business has taught me patience. It has also taught me to look at time from all angles and understand that the present won’t last long, the future will be here before I know it. The most important thing I can do on any given day is SOMETHING. If I can make even the smallest part of my projects happen regularly, I will progress.
I’m pleased to see that I’ve worked at a pace that is fitting for me. I had to learn to focus my attention on stability first, and I’ve done that. Now I can feel a bit more comfortable taking on new experiences and tackling those less certain but ultimately more meaningful projects.
I can feel myself taking the leap.Read More
This story hit me on an emotional level that I was not prepared for.
Yes, in technical terms, many of the right things were there: The writing was eloquent. The story was interesting and well-paced. The characters were developed into believable persons. (According to the author’s “Note on Sources,” she did a great deal of research–using Hemingway’s memoir and other writings–to capture the characters and circumstances as accurately as possible.)
But the most important thing is what this story left with me after I turned the last page: It brought me closer to a very famous writer and helped me care about him and understand why he is important.
I started this novel feeling about Hemingway the way I’ve felt about most classic authors: there was a cold distance between us. His world was not like my world, his writing was not like the writing I’m used to, and as such, he felt like a fictional character that I could never really know or understand.
It took a fictional story to bridge the emotional gap between me and a once-living person.
At some point in my reading of The Paris Wife, the distance between generations fell away, Hemingway became real, and I found myself wanting to know more about him: his world, his story, his struggles, the way he approached writing, the reasons behind his fame.
Even though (or, perhaps, because) the story is written from the perspective of Hadley (Hemingway’s first wife), the spark to know Hemingway was still ignited in me. And that interest continued to expand, until I felt a similar interest in other classic writers–many of whom were Hemingway’s friends.
When I put the book down for the last time, I felt feverish. For days, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It was a distraction; it had sent my mind into a flurry on all sorts of topics and emotions: from compassion for Hadley to questions about what makes a person a writer and what a writer must do to influence his or her craft.
To know where to take your craft, it helps if you know where your craft has been. I’d been missing this important piece of the puzzle because my heart couldn’t relate. Until now.
This is a powerful place to be. I continue to feel a desire to connect to the past–to other very successful writers–and I imagine this perspective can only increase my effectiveness as a writer in the months and years to come.
Should you read this story?
Yes, definitely. I think it is worth your time. You may not have as powerful a connection with the story as I had, but even without that, I think the story is entertaining and fascinating. The writing draws you in; the relationships between the characters are complex, beautiful, and heartbreaking.
And of course, if you’ve already read The Paris Wife, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Ryan and I both have the Osprey Porter 46 Travel Pack in black. The pack opens the same way as any rollerboard suitcase, which makes it easy to pack and live out of, but the exterior is designed like a backpacking pack, with all the same padding, belts, and straps for the shoulders and (almost) for the waist.
We purchased the pack specifically for this trip, for $99 per bag. Kind of a hefty expense, but we knew we needed a pack that would work for us. Overall, we’ve been pleased.
Wheels or No Wheels?
We flipflopped back and forth for awhile about whether we wanted a bag with wheels or not. We almost got the Osprey Meridian or Rick Steves’ wheeled backpack (each of my family members have one of these), but we ultimately decided against the wheels. We were flying to Europe via Iceland Express, which has a 20-lb weight limit for carry-ons. We needed to save all the weight we could. (We ended up checking one bag anyway, but that’s a different story…)
Ryan has told me there have been times when he’s wished we had wheels, but honestly, I can’t think of a time wheels have crossed my mind. I know I have total control over my bag: if it is too heavy, I can toss out more stuff.
If the wheels didn’t add so much weight, I would go for them in heartbeat, but as it stands right now, no wheeled backpack is light enough to justify the feature on a trip like this.
Our One Major Complaint
The one complaint we’ve both had about our backpacks is the waist belt–a pretty serious complaint, in my eyes.
Our packs do have a waist-belt feature, but it is nothing more than a strip of fabric–no padding whatsoever. This means that even with the waist belt cinched tight around your hips, there is still weight pushing on your shoulders. It’s an ineffective system, make no mistake. (We’ve been trying to figure out who in their right mind would fashion such a great pack and then put a faulty waist belt on it. Someone wasn’t thinking.)
If you keep your pack at a reasonable weight, however, the waist belt works well enough to make everything okay. After a travel day, I can usually feel tension in my back and neck for a day or two afterward, but this is mainly because I need to lighten my pack by at least 5 pounds.
Other than that one complaint, the packs are fantastic:
If I were to do it again, I’d buy this pack in a heartbeat. It’s true that the waist belt limits its usefulness–for future US backpacking/hiking trips, I’ll definitely choose my traditional pack over this one–but it has served us well for our current circumstances.Read More
Our backpacks are the standard size for international carry-on luggage: 22 x 13 x 9 inches. This is exactly as much room as it suggests (i.e., not much).
With such limited space, I continually find myself making value judgments about my possessions. Some things fall out of my favor after awhile and get left behind. I can even name them: 2 frumpy button-up sweaters in Ascot; my travel pillow in London; a too-short shirt and a large bottle of sunscreen in Bristol; my Cetaphil lotion (I miss you!) in Marham.
I’ve also picked up new things along the way: two dress shirts and a pair of stilettos in Ascot (so I could work with my Dad in London), nail polish and a yoga mat in Bristol, hair cream in Marham.
Whether I abandon it or adopt it, the same concept holds true: every item becomes a part of my memory of that location.
Living with such tight constraints can get tedious if you let it. The trick is to think long and hard about the value of something in your life before you give it up or buy it. I’ve found myself missing my expensive sunscreen and lotion (didn’t think those through well enough, I guess), but the clothes I tossed hardly ever cross my mind. I should have thrown them away long ago.
Traveling provides great lessons about the amount of energy things take to keep. We sold most of our possessions to get here, and that took a change in habits and perspective. We’ve then been living out of a suitcase for 3 months, which also takes certain habits and perspective. I no longer have a closet full of clothes to wear, so I’ve had to be really careful/creative about the clothes I keep. I have a long way to go to reach my perfect traveling wardrobe ($$$ is the main factor there), but I’m slowly getting there.
No matter what your lifestyle, possessions always demand some level of your emotional attention (even if you don’t notice you’re giving it). And it is 10 times worse on the road. If I am stubborn enough to keep something pointless (and I have many things like this at the moment), then I am forced to carry that weight on my back until I can no longer justify keeping it. If I see something I really want to buy, the same is true–will I be able to carry it feasibly? Okay then.
Sometimes I’m amazed at how long I keep black-listed items around before I chuck them. I’m on another continent, living a completely different lifestyle, and I’m STILL fending off ridiculous attachments to illogical or unnecessary possessions?! Ugh. When will I learn?
I guess it shows that old habits die hard, but the good news is, I am progressing. I can now recognize which items are worthless to me, what these silly items are taking from me, and then relinquish their control over me at any time.
We humans really don’t need that much stuff to live happily. (Our travels are evidence of this; we don’t have much and yet it usually seems like enough.) It just pays to be smarter about the things we buy and the things we keep.Read More
I swear every time I pack my backpack in preparation for another move, it’s internally 5 square inches smaller and yet 10 pounds heavier when I put it on. I still haven’t weighed the thing yet, but it has got to be at least 40 pounds. Most people who pick it up for me–man or woman–groan with the effort and look at me with astonishment.
“Do I surprise you?” I think.
I should get a picture of me with my backpack on a some point; it really is half as big as I am.
The nice thing about carting that kind of luggage around is that my legs are stronger–which makes running easier–and my arms are slowly getting back their definition from my gymnastics days.
I guess it’s all that lugging, lifting, and shoving into tight places in trains, planes, and automobiles.Read More