How Photography Helps Me Live Better


We’re constantly told to keep things in perspective, to maintain perspective, as if there is one true way in which to view the world and our lives in it. I think that’s dangerously limiting. Holding tight to perspective can prevent happiness and, I believe, adds to continued intolerance.

I love photography because it forces me to practice looking at life from different perspectives.


Photography teaches me to shift from big picture to small and back again. A step to the left creates a completely new picture, complete with shadows and subtleties that could never be fully appreciated if that small step to the side hadn’t been taken. Hunting for the right picture teaches me flexibility and reminds me that there is always another angle from which the world can be seen.


A change in perspective, a look at life through a new lens, fosters understanding, empathy, and then compassion. It promotes conversation and compromise. It guarantees us endless options for finding happiness and beauty in every single moment of this very real and sometimes hard life.


What helps you shift perspective?

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Happiness Highlights: Running from Irene

This past week did not turn out at all as expected and included not one, but two natural disasters.

And yet it was a perfectly wonderful week. Go figure.

NYCNightSkylinefromNolitanNYCMorning I started my week still in New York City, reviewing a new hotel in Manhattan called The Nolitan. I was looking forward to a day of exploring the city on my own and two nights sleeping in a queen-sized bed all by myself. I usually sleep wonderfully in a hotel.

I loved the hotel. The location was perfect for a wannabe urbanite and the view allowed me to watch the sun rise and set over an iconic skyline. That being said, I was surprised to find that I did not sleep so well in the big plush bed alone and wandering Manhattan by myself was less rewarding than walking around with my husband and kids. When the hell did that happen? It was relaxing to be able to set my own schedule and not have someone else’s mood or bathroom habits interfere, but I missed being able to share the experience. None the less, I was grateful for the time and space in my favorite city, particularly for the 30 minutes just before and after dark when I got to revel in an amazing view.

Speaking of amazing views…

MysticCT081 By Wednesday, we were in Mystic, Connecticut. This was meant to be a quick stop as we made our way towards Providence, Rhode Island and Boston, Massachusetts, where we planned to spend a couple weeks enjoying New England. Thanks to Hurricane Irene, Mystic became our only New England experience. We spent our day at the Mystic Aquarium and a local Native American museum.

I adore taking my kids to aquariums.

They both love animals so much and watching them together in these places has become one of my greatest joys.

I have to tell you, I read sentences like that and have to stifle a yawn and an eye roll. When did I become one of those women who delights in taking her kids to the aquarium? I feel like I’ve spent 11 years feeling guilty for not being “that kind” of mom, and in less than 3 months I’ve fallen head over heels in love with the job. It’s bizarre. But whatever, I was butt-wiggling happy at the aquarium.

And then, three months after leaving Florida, we got our very first hurricane evacuation notice.

We hemmed and hawed about whether or not to take our chances with friends in Rhode Island, but in the end decided we really didn’t want to deal with power outages, high winds, or massive amounts of rain. So we packed up and headed West. On one hand, it was freaky to realize how fragile our home is; our last home was made of concrete specifically to protect us from hurricanes. But with fragility comes agility; it took us less than 12 hours to change course and find ourselves just a few miles from one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen with my own two eyes.

NiagaraFallsatDusk Niagara Falls is not a bad backup plan.

Prior to our arrival, I hadn’t been overly excited to see the falls. They were on our list because it seemed like they should be, but I’d never had any burning desire to visit. I had no idea what I was missing. We took the Maid of the Mist boat ride into the horseshoe falls and climbed the wooden paths of the Cave of the Winds, which gave us a chance to get soaked and really feel the power of the rushing water up close. And then, of course, we had the chance to just look for hours and hours, which we did.

Standing in front of this natural marvel stirs questions of all kinds. Where does the water come from? Where does it go? Why in the hell would anyone try to go over the falls in a barrel? What are the most important things in my life? Should I make Emma cut her bangs?

The questions come as fast and furious as the water.

But so does a calm, an awe and peace from knowing that the answers are few and many, simple and insignificant. We can spend time trying to figure it out, or we cannot, and the water keeps pounding on and over the edge. It’s like the ocean that way, another liquid safe haven for me. We matter and we don’t; we are larger than life and not. We are whatever and where ever the hell we want to be.

For that I am constantly grateful.

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7 Things I Love About Living in an RV


Living in an RV was never the dream. The towable home was merely a means to an end, a necessary adjustment for a family of four that wanted to travel although they didn’t have a hefty savings with which to do it. The RV was going to be cheaper than staying in hotels and provide the kids with a little mobile security amidst of life filled with daily changes. After living in an RV for an entire summer, I’ve realized that it’s not necessarily cheaper than living in inexpensive motels, but there are some unexpected benefits to living in a 24 by 8 foot home.

7 Things I Love About Living in an RV

1. I never fight with the kids about cleaning their rooms.


They do still leave socks on the floor and papers on the table, but a mess can only be as large as the space in which it’s contained. The kids don’t have rooms, they have bunks and a bin each to hold their prized possessions. Parenthood can so often seem like a constant lesson in choosing battles; it’s nice to have one that’s no longer relevant.

2. I get to watch my kids play together.


As I type this, I’m watching my 11 and 6-year old sit beside each other at the table, coloring and sharing tips for improving artistic technique. They’re talking to each other like people, a sight any mother who has had to dole out punishment for sibling in-fighting can appreciate. I had seen my children play before, certainly, but I also more told them regularly to “Go play” in an effort to get something done. They went into rooms and behind closed doors, a respite I swore I needed. And yet somehow I survive with them in my sight more often than not, and I get to bear witness to the relationship the two of them share.

3. I don’t have to dust.


Or vacuum. Or mop, or wash windows, or do any number of household chores that took up a good chunk of my weekend hours when I had thousands of square footage to maintain. The RV does have to be cleaned up, but it requires little more than 15 minutes with a rag and a broom to get everything shining from top to bottom. As I’ve said before, the less you own, the less you have to clean.

4. My entertainment options are limited.


I have books, my camera, my computer, and journals. We also have a television and a Wii and a deck of cards. This may sound like a bad thing, but it actually makes it easier to decide what we’ll do with our free time. I haven’t once found myself flipping through the channels bemoaning a lack of anything to watch. That being said, I still haven’t kept up with the trip scrapbooking.

5. If we don’t like the neighborhood, we move.


We’ve been fairly happy with most of the campgrounds we’ve stayed in, but it’s nice to know we have the freedom to choose our surroundings on an almost daily basis. When we’ve really liked a spot, we’ve been able to extend our stay. Traveling with an RV doesn’t afford quite the flexibility of traveling with just a backpack, but we’re certainly more agile than we were with a house.

6. We don’t spend much time in the RV.


Living in a small space forces you to get out into the world. It wasn’t uncommon for me to go several days without leaving the house when I was working from home back in Central Florida. While that was possible, it definitely wasn’t good for me physically, mentally, or spiritually. I need to get out and blow the stink off, soak up the sunshine, and engage with the world around me. I always wanted to live a life of being out and about, but that only became a reality when my home became too small to sustain hermit living.

7. I’m more closely connected with nature.


This is a combination of having to get out of the RV and the RV being made of fairly thin material. I can hear the rain better than I ever could in a house, and I have only to take two steps out of my bed to feel the weather outside. Trying to achieve “room temperature” in the RV is a challenge, but the trade off is a more intimate connection to nature than I’ve ever experienced. I’m surprisingly pleased with this connection.

Am I suggesting you move into an RV? Absolutely not. Not at all. But you might be surprised at the benefits of living in a small space or having less stuff. Mostly, I’m surprised by the things I consider benefits today that I never even thought to long for before. I think that’s a testament to the availability of blessings in any location.

What blessings can be found in your home?

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Inspired by a New York City Street Musician to Live from the Heart


We heard his drums on the Literary Walk in Central Park last week. They were strong and soulful, seducing attention in a city filled with noise and attention-seekers. He smiled as he played, even before we dropped a dollar in his bucket. I pointed to my camera, a universal sign between performers and photographers, and he nodded his approval. And then he stopped his playing and offered me a free CD in exchange for emailing him the photos. A conversation began and a story was shared.

Terry F Wicks used to be an engineer in St. Louis. Despite appearing successful, he says he was not “happy in his heart.” In 2007, with some encouragement from an unreliable economy, he headed to New York City to follow his passion.

His passion was music and he came to the city with plans to enroll in a musical school. He soon met other musicians who claimed enviable pasts working alongside the likes of Miles Davis and John Coletrane. These musical mentors advised him to put off school and learn first to play on the streets. “This is where you learn to play from the heart. To survive here you have to learn how to connect with people.”

And does he survive?

Terry says he earns between $900 and $1200 as a street performer on a good week in New York City, where he spends his summers playing in Central Park. A bad week, when the rain or heat keeps people inside, he might only make $400. Fortunately, Terry says he usually only pays about $150 per week in rent for rooms he finds on Craigslist. In addition to his days on the park’s paved paths, he also spends his nights playing clubs with other musicians. “My days start in the Park, but I never know where it will end up.”

Terry typically spends the summers in New York City, autumn in Las Vegas, and winter in Hawaii. When he’s not traveling or performing, he’s visiting family back in St. Louis, including his two sons, who he says he supports financially with his musician’s income. I asked him what his family thought of his lifestyle.

“At first they thought I was crazy, but now they see I’m happy and they’re happy for me. They see my stuff on YouTube and they’re proud of me. They ask me now where I’m traveling to next.”

Is it wise to take life advice from a man who makes his living on the street?

He certainly offered wise words to me and Devin as we listened to his story. He spoke of happiness and living from the heart. “You have to get to the point where you don’t care what others think of you,” he said, echoing a mantra I’ve heard over and over again from countless sources in the last few years, including reputable therapists. “People respect happiness.” 8dbb17577b52c9ccf97975b8fa22ceb4 Yes, Terry, I think they do.

(By the way, should you be so inclined to take advice from a street performer, Terry recommended the book It’s None of My Business What You Think of Me. While you’re shopping, checkout previous inspiration Jane Devin’s book Elephant Girl: A Human Story.)

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Happiness Highlights: Week 2 in New York City


Last week we were still in New York City, a gift I will forever be grateful for no matter where this trip or this life takes us. Two weeks in New York City is truly a luxury, and not just because everything costs so dang much.

One of the things I was most grateful for this week was Jared’s constant sharing of New York City trivia. He’s been pouring over two books from our sponsors at Baker & Taylor: New York Then and Now and Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges Into New York. As a result, he’s taken on the role of factoid guru and tour guide for the first time in our marriage. f6c2e7b59e0fa34b212333f888dacb8e

The very first time I visited New York City, I wrote about traveling alone and how it was more relaxing for me because there wasn’t anyone I had to take care of or educate; this role reversal was such a cool (and important) experience for our family. I never would have guessed some day I’d be walking down the streets of Manhattan and turning to Jared to ask, “Hey, what’s that building?” – or that he’d be able to answer with both the name and the history.

I also continue to be grateful for good friends and generous people we’ve been able to meet along our way.

aac570b5490b20338e6c9fbd496b287d Poppy went with us to see the Spiderman musical on Broadway and spent the bulk of the day wandering around Manhattan with us before joining me for dinner and drinks with local bloggers in the West Village. We had so much fun with her, and it is always such a blessing to see my friends love on my kids. When you don’t live near family I think you become exceptionally appreciative of the love that your friends offer. Also? Spiderman was freaking awesome. Truly “a spectacle” in the best sense of the word.

This was a week filled with good friends. In addition to our day with Poppy, I got to have dinner with some wonderful women who live in the area, including Marinka, Robin, Jill, Metalia, and Audrey, at a place called the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. I ate Frito Pie and fell in love with Chelsea while meandering over to the West Village. A few nights later we got in our car and drove to visit Deborah and her family for dinner, drinks, and laundry. I kept her children up way too late and made a few jokes that were probably inappropriate for a new friendship, but we had a blast. And I am again humbled at the willingness of good people to wash my dirty socks.

I also got a massage for $30 in Chinatown, spent a day in Central Park, and visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Gratitude abounds, people.








I love this place.

But this week, we move on…

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Are Gratitude and Worthiness Conflicting Values?


Not all values are created equal. Or rather, not all values  have equal importance in our lives. But how can we tell which ones matter most to us – and what do we do if there’s a conflict? How do we choose between two really great ideas?

I’ve found that a great way to discover what values really matter to you – not just which ones you think should matter – is to take a close look at which values you’re passing on to your children. (If you don’t have children, I suppose you’re limited to judging your daily actions and spending habits.) This is also a great way to spot value conflicts. Case in point: my struggle to raise kids with healthy self esteems who are not entitled buttheads.

Before my son was born, I made a conscious decision that I would raise my kids to know they were loved immensely by lots and lots of people. I  make no secret about the fact that my own sense of worthiness is fragile at best. I am constantly working to strengthen the internal belief that I am enough, and I was hoping to remove that struggle from my children’s future.

I value self esteem.

In this area, I can say without a doubt that I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. My children excel at esteem. They love themselves and assume any and everyone loves them as well. They are, they are certain, absolutely fabulous just the way they are. Not only are they sure that they are loved, but they know for a fact that they deserve that love.

Parenting win.

However, that idea that they deserve everything good in life is constantly bumping up against another treasured value of mine: gratitude.

Yes, they say please and thank you with very little reminding, but they also don’t hesitate to ask, ask, and ask for more. Their appreciation for all that life – and I – have given them seems fleeting. While it’s very likely that this is a sign of their age and emotional maturity, it is also, I think, a sign of my own struggle to reconcile these two beliefs for myself. I’m certain my frustration with their ungrateful tendencies is definitely a sign of my own internal conflict.

In other words, I don’t know how to tell myself I am worthy and deserving while maintaining humility and gratitude.

My gratitude seems to often come in the form of groveling and Wayne’s World “I’m not worthy” declarations. It’s the form I’m most comfortable with and it feels much more noble than declarations of worthiness. When I pull myself up to my full height and declare that I deserve something, I feel arrogant. I fear arrogance.

Deserving seems painfully close to entitled, a trait I am loathe to either claim or pass on to the next generation.

I do not want to teach my kids to grovel, but I do want them to be truly grateful for what they have. I don’t want them to take generosity for granted, but I want them to know that they are worthy of just as much goodness as anyone else. And I want that balance for myself.

I know that a balance between these two values is possible. My friend Becky exemplifies this balance perfectly. I have never met a more genuinely confident nor sincerely grateful person. I see her do it, but I’m not entirely sure how she does it.

Can humility and confidence co-exist? If so, how?

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What It’s Really Like Living on the Road

I had the strangest encounter in San Diego earlier this month while attending BlogHer. On more than one occasion, a blogger who had been following my family’s cross-country road trip pulled me aside, lowered her voice, and asked, “so tell me what it’s really like.”

The conspiratory tone was as common as the squeals and hugging that are so rampant at blogging conferences. It seems that everyone was certain there was some secret about life on the road that I hadn’t yet shared.

What’s it really like?

It’s probably not near as bad as you imagine. In fact, as I told my curious friends repeatedly, living in an RV full time is the relatively easy part of this entire experience. We adjusted to living in a smaller space and with fewer possessions rather quickly, and the extreme closeness has been mostly a blessing.

Do I find that I need more alone time than anyone else in my family? Do I feel extremely guilty about that personality difference? Yep. Exactly like I did when we had 3,000 square feet between us. As I suspected, our perceived need for more physical space is more of a societal value than an actual requirement; it certainly has nothing to do with happiness.

It’s been the freedom that’s been hard to manage.

And here is when my well-meaning friends’ eyes would kind of glaze over, and I get it, because the idea of freedom is insanely abstract and, I suppose, not nearly as interesting as four people sharing a portable toilet. But it’s this abstract and rather uninteresting concept that’s given me the most trouble – and joy – on this trip.

Freedom comes in many forms. As an American, I’m intimately familiar with political freedom (and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about that in the last two months.) We talk about it, sing about it, and wave our flags in honor of the freedom to speak and vote and choose as a group. We’re used to this collective freedom, and it’s a source of pride rather than panic.

But this trip is about individual freedom, and I seem to have that in almost lethal doses lately.

As of August 8, I no longer own a home. I have no real job or utility bill or weekly social appointment to keep. I’m not bound by conventional rules of schedule or season, and even societal pressures have been largely cast off, if only because the face of society is constantly changing for us right now.

We have no rules except our own and ridiculously few responsibilities beyond the ones we choose daily.

We can do what we want, when we want.

What’s that like?

It’s like standing in front of an elaborate buffet full of food both familiar and foreign, and being told you get one pass through to create the perfect meal for yourself and your family. You can choose whatever you want, but you must choose alone.

The potential is amazing. But it is also impossible to deny the responsibility I have for creating my life. Those rules, regulations, and obligations that we assume keep us from doing what makes us happy also serve as a convenient crutch for explaining why our lives aren’t exactly what we want, why we aren’t exactly who we want to be.

My only limitation is my family.

And isn’t that a double-edged sword of its own.

They are the one obligation I would never extract myself from, but they are unquestionably the heaviest. They are both the fuel for my soul and the strongest boundary against my independent pursuits of happiness. I am, by nature, strong willed and self centered, traits that often need to be tempered if I’m to be a good mother and wife. I’m coming face to face with this reality often now that my family is my last real tie to order.

Make no mistake, I am grateful for that tie. But I also instinctively buck against it and fear that I will not be able to meet everyone’s needs, including my own.

That conflict, I realize, doesn’t sound like it has much to do with freedom and the question of having too much of it – but that’s what it’s really like for me to live in an RV. It’s a daily challenge to balance drawing your own boundaries and creating a group collage with three other relatively free people. We used to have a lot more guidance on how to do that dance, but those steps have gone the way of the alarm clock, so now we’re making that up on our own as well.

We’re making it all up as we go along.

What’s it really like to live in an RV on the road?

It’s confusing and exhilarating and frightening and liberating and fun and challenging all at the same time.

And it has nothing to do with square footage.

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Happiness Highlights: New York City


I believe that the search for happiness is, mostly, an internal pursuit. It’s less about the world around you and more about the way you see yourself inside that world. But that belief was challenged mightily this week.

This week, I woke up every morning across the river from New York City, and somehow knowing that made me happy. More than happy, I felt lighter and more alive than I have upon waking up in any other place.

It makes no sense. Before I’d stepped one foot into Manhattan, my cells were already humming from the energy; my pieces all clicked into place perfectly the moment I did. I kept waiting for the novelty to wear off, for reality and sensibility to resurface. My girlhood love affair with the idea of New York City should have faded long ago, and yet this geographical place completes me as much as any person or purpose ever has.

I don’t get it, but I know it’s true.

NewYorkCity144 This week was the first time I got to share the city I love with the people I love. Jared and I have visited together twice before, but this was the first time the kids had been in New York City. I was unprepared for how blissful it would be to see them all on those busy streets. I have taken shamefully few photos, but I can’t stop looking at my family and my city long enough to lift my camera to my eye. I can’t stop soaking it up, breathing it in, and marveling at how every part of me sings when I – when we – are here.

We’re scheduled to be here until the 23rd of August, and I am already reluctant to leave. I am working to focus on the now instead of the inevitable departure, and we remind each other daily that we have a whole lot of country left to see before we choose the next adventure. But oh how I am tempted to skim apartment listings online. It’s as if a mighty ship has been slowly righting its course and the new horizon can finally be seen across the rail. But there is still much sailing and rerouting to be done, I tell myself.

I have to constantly temper my happiness here, a statement I am loathe to write because it stinks of wrongness. But it would be so easy for me to lose myself in it completely and lose sight of reality entirely. Perhaps I am just not ready to trust that kind of happy yet. Perhaps it’s just not time.

Regardless, this week has been one overflowing with joy. I worked in a Starbucks one afternoon and met my family in Central Park afterwards.

I worked in a Starbucks one afternoon and met my family in Central Park afterwards.

That reality dazzles me.

This week will, no doubt, be filled with more happiness. And I will not think about the impending departure. Not yet.


Are you in New York City? (Lucky!) I’m getting together Wednesday night at 7pm with friends in the area and would happily welcome you to the table. Contact me if you’d like details.

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You, Me, and Bizzy Hit the Road

A few weeks before I was supposed to hit the road in the RV, I got an interesting DM from a woman named Emily. It went something along the lines of:

“I think our company is a perfect match for your message. Are you interested in sponsors for your trip?”

As you may remember, I had already started working with another sponsor a few weeks earlier, a book publishing company that has been instrumental in our planning and research. That’s not to say that I was all “Sorry Charlie! All full up on money over here!” Gas is expensive. But I was cautious. I didn’t want to start wallpapering my site with tons of ads and I had to be careful not to take on a partnership that wouldn’t fit with the relationship I already had in place. Money is nice, but it’s not everything, you know?

Because you’re reading this post,  you’ve likely already guessed the end of the story: I did join forces with the company behind the Twitter DM. I’ll spare you the conference call details and jump right to the line that won me over:

“Bizzy is about helping you find places that you’ll genuinely enjoy, not just settling for what’s close by.”

Hook. Line. Sinker.

That’s basically my life motto, with a little less angst and introspection!

So that’s the why, but what I want to talk to you about today is the what and the how – What Bizzy is and How you can help me help you help us take this trip together. Sort of.

What is Bizzy?

It’s a location-based social network type thing. Like Foursquare, but not. Where Foursquare is how you say “Hey! I’m here!”, Bizzy is how you say “Woah! I just went here and I loved/hated/meh’ed it. You should go/boycott.”

As you check out and rate various places, like restaurants and shops, Bizzy learns what you like and don’t like. It takes that information to recommend places you’ll like or not like in the future. So the next time you’re standing in Chinatown starving, you can search for food nearby and get a recommendation for the best damn dumplings in Manhattan, because you seem like the kind of girl who would like dumplings. (And you do, oh boy, do you!)

In addition to using your own checkouts, Bizzy also builds recommendations based on the activity of your friends that you have liked or marked as “want to do.”

AND, you can add something your friend in another city rated to your own “wants to go to there” list, and when you visit that city, Bizzy will remind you that you wanted to do that thing. This is my favorite part because I never remember (or save the emails) all the recommendations people give me for what I need to do when I get to their town, but I can keep track of things I see you doing on Bizzy that look interesting.

Are you confused? I don’t want you to be confused. But I do want you to play along, and not just because they’re paying me.

How can you help me help you help us with Bizzy?

So I have this idea. I’m checking out of some of my favorite places as we travel. Not the Duane Reede’s and the McDonald’s along the Interstate, but the kick ass place to get cheap BBQ in San Diego and the best thrift store in Philadelphia (and the place to get the best damn dumplings in Manhattan.) If you’re following me on Bizzy, you can follow along as I fall in love with these places and add them to your very own I Want to Go to There list.

AND, if you follow me on Bizzy and tell me to follow you on Bizzy, I can find out about your favorite places and add them to my I Want to Go to There list. It’s like you’re writing a guidebook for me without me having to pay you!

Wait. Um.

It’s like we’re taking this trip together!

So that’s the deal with my newest sponsor. I hope you’ll play along, because I really do think we can all do so much better than just settling for what’s close by.

Click here to Follow me on Bizzy and learn how to download the iPhone or Droid app.

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I have been waiting for this stop, this city, for a year – since the last time I was here.

New York City.

It is, to date, my favorite place in the world.

And I am sick.

I want to cry about the unfairness of me being sick in my favorite place in the world. I’m tempted to stress about minutes flying by unused. But what would be the point? At whom would I be raging? Fate?

Fate never has seemed too moved by my tempter tantrums.

So, I will not rage, I will not cry, I will not try to pretend to not be sick and bulldog my way through a half-ass experience. I will, for once in my life, just surrender and wait for the time to be right.

And then, Big Apple, watch out.

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