Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Myth

During my research and even among my peers, I came across a myth that presented itself as fact. It was one of the reasons that motivated me to pursue the blog sharing my family's experiences with the world. This myth is so prevalent, that even the popular comedy site funny or die featured it as a topic for a segment. (see video above) The motivation to expose the lie for what it is, shed light on the truth and erase the stereotype. It also inspired our blog's name. The myth? Ethnic, meaning Black and Hispanic, people don't do nature.

While I can admit that during my research, the majority of modern families that blog about going fulltime RVing, returning to nature, or camping are not ethnic. However, that does not mean that these families simply do not exist. Nor does it mean that Ethnic people do not enjoy these activities. It means that exposure of our culture to this part of subculture is limited. It means that our media, our sources of information do not view this topic as important or relevant and consequently our community stays uninformed, or worse misinformed.

This, in my opinion, is a very modern trend. I cannot believe that people whose ancestral cultures have such a rooted, ancient and inherited bond with the earth, through food and its cultivation, through tradition and cultural celebrations, through literary expression and scientific discovery did not foster a passion for nature. Somewhere between our past and modernization, we traded the farms and fields for the grocery store, the books and pens for television and computers, our heritage and cultural ties to the earth for modern American culture of materialism and consumerism. We traded our values of family, God and betterment of ourselves and community for the value of the dollar, betterment of our looks, homes and keeping up with societal demands aka keeping up with the Joneses. In doing this, our connection has been severed, our feelings numbed and the calling of the wild drowned out by the utter chaos of the modernized world. Within the confines of our steel and stone prisons, our once clear and prominent signal broadcasting the voice of God has become white noise. Knowing God is in nature is one thing, having the ability and courage to seek Him in nature is another matter.

Is there some barrier keeping our modern community from embracing or pursuing a more natural lifestyle more often? Absolutely. Speaking first hand, (once upon a time) I had some misconceptions regarding camping, nature and RVing. Pursuing a (full time) lifestyle other than the standard American Dream was viewed in our community as being unmotivated, slacking or knocking the hustle. As far as viewing RVing as a new form of American Dream, I simply had no reference point, or at least none that I could relate to. The majority of people that I saw engaged in these type of activities, in my community, were referred to as "hippies or tree huggers".  The activities themselves were refered to much harsher, as things only "white people" do. These are not my words and I mean no offense to any readers, but if you enter an inner city and engage our youth about this topic, that is how they would put it. While I admit this is a position of pure ignorance, the lack of people I found that I could relate to remained a huge barrier.

Also. I think the ignorance of what being in nature consists of that also contributes to the lack of color engaging in nature. I read a wonderful article on Outdoor Afro(linked below) that touched on the topic of comfort. There is a misconception in our community that camping means sleeping on the ground, eating hotdogs on a fire made by rubbing sticks together, using the bathroom behind a tree, forgoing showers, sweating out your hair and being eaten alive by bugs. WRONG! Camping has been modernized too! Most sites offer bath houses with hot water, bathrooms, wifi and some even offer cable. Camping in a tent isn't bad either because now they have comfy cots, large cabin like tents and fire pits or propane cooking stoves. If you still need privacy, then RVing is the way to go. Our RV has three beds, a full kitchen including refrigerator, full bath, air conditioning, flatscreen TV and more. As for your hair, that's what braids or natural hair products are for(if u can't live w/o straight hair, RVs have outlets for blow dryers and flatirons)!

Yet, with these challenges facing our community, ethnic people are pursuing nature. What has changed? There are two answers, the economy and the health of our community. As the economy tanked, people were faced with the decision to continue life as they knew it or make changes. Some made changes for economical reasons like affordability, others made changes because continuously putting dreams on the back burner was a sure way to never achieve them.  In this moment of economical crisis the state of security through mortgages changed and so did the face of the RVing and nomadic culture. What once was a lifestyle for retirees, or "hippy tree huggers" was transformed. The economy took every day Americans that had done everything "right" and plunged them into impossible situations that required non-traditional solutions. It shattered the bubble that the traditional American Dream was the only dream you could have if you wanted to be happy and successful. More and more families are turning to RVing and the nomadic lifestyle that would normally never even consider it.

In addition to the economic motivation to restructure our dreams and lifestyle, the outdoors creates an engaging opportunity to keep physically healthy. The health statistics in our community are staggering and we all know them. Many of us have adjusted their diets, but obesity in our children and ourselves is still a problem. What's worse, I hate the gym. There is something about the monotony of going up and down round and round on a machine that just does not thrill me. Aerobics classes don't do much either, I don't like allowing others to set my pace or detail my movements. I like the freedom to slow and increase speed as I see fit. The outdoors provides those freedoms plus the motivation of the awesome views. Imagine doing a mile on the treadmill and right when you think you can't go any further, a slender and graceful deer runs through the row of elliptical machines. Much more motivating than a rerun of Oprah on the Idiot Box. As a family, it allows a place to do all the above with the added benefit of creating memories that last longer than those abs of steel.

The result of opening up to the possibilities of loving outdoors, rving or nomadic lifestyle? Families that once lived stressful lives of desperation where material items and slavery to debt determined every action have found peace and happiness in the last place they thought possible. They traded in the hustle and bustle of the fast lane for a beautiful and scenic drive in the slow lane. They embraced the natural world that God has provided and abandoned the illusion of the commercial world. Some find themselves yearning for the commercial American Dream, while others find that the return to nature is what they really had dreamed about all along. Families that had health problems can use fun and engaging activities found in nature to better their heath. They can use their new found lifestyle to reduce the likelihood of developing health problems.

Don't think that I am saying that every family doesn't has to pursue the RV lifestyle to return to nature. Growing up in the concrete jungle of Brooklyn, I didn't have much experience with natural outdoors and honestly had no desire to learn. I like majority of ethnic women thought that perspective would never be changed under any circumstances. Then, I spent the night in my RV. That night I stared into the clear winter sky, awestruck at the glittering diamonds I saw spread across the navy expanse. I felt the cool touch of wind whip around my face and even in the darkness saw the distinct lines of craggy peaks of mountain in  the distance. In those moments I felt closer to my creator that I had felt in any church. I attend the wrong church you say? Maybe. Yet, there is something about staring into the beauty of the world my God created and reaching my spirit out towards infinity that stirs a feeling that has no words. All at the same time you feel connected, a wholeness and a peace that no car, gadget or house will ever compete with.

Again, it is not my motivation to get all of my readers to change their lives in the same exact way that I have. Freeing yourself from societal standards is not about cookie cutting. In fact, it is the opposite. Instead, my goal is to present you with an alternative. Growing up I was sold a myth that there were two roads to travel. The good one, one of education, a home, a career and a family. Then the bad one, one devoid of education, career, goals and full of crime, drugs or some other taboo subject. I am here to shatter this myth. Life is full of roads, each as unique and different as the individual traversing it. With each new perspective, a different twist in the road and a new direction presents itself. I encourage you to challenge the options you have been given to discover new and unique directions. Above all, know that your dream it just that, YOUR dream and should not be limited by societal norms, cultural traditions, other's opinions or commercial trends.

If you were wondering about my earlier comment about inspiration of our blog name, I wanted a name that would play off the diversity of our Hispanic and African American cultures. Wracking my brain for a creative option, I was again inspired in nature. The members in our family are all among different shades of tan skin, so in the sun, we all appear to be golden. In our new lives as travelers, we have no traditional permanent home and would qualify as gypsies.

Help shatter the myth that Blacks and Hispanics don't do nature: Join Outdoor Afro

Here are some resources for encouraging minorities(and everyone in general) to get active, get out and get involved with nature:

Get Active Rap Video from New America Media on Vimeo.

Let's Move Outside: Get ideas of where to go and what to do to get your family OUTDOORS
Outdoor Afro: I HATE Camping Article
Outdoor Afro: 5 Concerns that Keep Black Folks Out of the Woods
National African American RV Association
Article: Black Campers Recruit Against History, Stereotype
Journey Outdoors :African American Outdoors Sport Association
Some multicultural inspirational quotes for you:

"Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God." -George Washington Carver

"I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in."
-George Washington Carver

"I stuck my head out the window this morning and spring kissed me bang in the face."
-Langston Hughes

"At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don't need someone to share it with or tell it to. When that happens -- that letting go -- you let go because you can. The world will always be there -- while you sleep it will be there -- when you wake it will be there as well. So you can sleep and there is reason to wake."
-Toni Morrison

“Human beliefs, like all other natural growths, elude the barrier of systems.”
- Miguel de Unamuno quotes

“Your neighbor's vision is as true for him as your own vision is true for you.”
- Miguel de Unamuno quotes

“To fall into a habit is to begin to cease to be”
- Miguel de Unamuno quotes

"Man's heart away from nature becomes hard." ~Standing Bear

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."-John Muir

"God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars. "-Author unknown, commonly attributed to Martin Luther

I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. ~Henry David Thoreau

Look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the clouds, look at the stars... and if you have eyes you will be able to see that the whole existence is joyful. Everything is simply happy. Trees are happy for no reason; they are not going to become prime ministers or presidents and they are not going to become rich and they will never have any bank balance. Look at the flowers - for no reason. It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are. ~Osho

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. ~John Muir

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. ~Lao Tzu

As you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged by a mountain stream, the great door, that does not look like a door, opens. ~Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping

Great things are done when men and mountains meet. This is not done by jostling in the street. ~William Blake

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. ~William Shakespeare

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. ~Albert Einstein

I've always regarded nature as the clothing of God. ~Alan Hovhaness

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Myth (teaser)

During my research and even among my peers, I came across a myth that presented itself as fact. It was one of the reasons that motivated me to pursue the blog sharing my family's experiences with the world. This myth is so prevalent, that even the popular comedy site funny or die featured it as a topic for a segment. (see video above) The motivation to expose the lie for what it is, shed light on the truth and erase the stereotype. It also inspired our blog's name. The myth? Ethnic, that is Black and Hispanic, people don't do nature.

While I can admit that during my research, the majority of modern families that blog about going fulltime RVing, returning to nature, or camping are not ethnic. However, that does not mean that these families simply do not exist. Nor does it mean that Ethnic people do not enjoy these activities. It means that exposure of our culture to this part of subculture is limited. It means that our media, our sources of information do not view this topic as important or relevant and consequently our community stays uninformed, or worse misinformed.
The FULL post will be posted this Wed 3/28 @ 7am :) See you there!

Below are some pics of our family breaking the "color" barrier:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Purge

In our journey to living our new dream, we chose to abandon much of our old life. Not because we’re super dangerous fugitives on the run who can’t leave behind a trail for the deadly international assassins in pursuit, but because it is this shedding of the unimportant material items that will allow us to focus on the important things in life.  Remember how I said that the reaction to our new dream life was somewhere along the lines of, “For real?!?!?!….”  This abandoning of "traditional" life filled with things and possessions is the part that baffles the minds of most. As if once upon a time people did not live or survive, let alone thrive without a sticks and stones house(will get to that later) filled to the brim with clothes, toys, shoes, electronics, gadgets, nicknacks and I don’t even know what this little thing with the hook goes to anymore.  But it took me a long time, nearly a year, to gather the courage to actually begin the purge. 

It began with the spiritual realization that I was way too attached to my belongings. In a series of events that led to me moving back to Alabama, some items were lost in the move. In unpacking my son’s items, I searched for my son’s foam alphabet mats and was distraught when I realized somehow they hadn’t made the trip. At this point my son is walking and running and really in no need of the mats but I was so upset over the loss of $20 mats. He had other items in which to learn the alphabet with and was no longer crawling or tumbling. Yet, I was a hair short of devastated with the loss of them while he hadn’t even noticed.

I had written some blogs about materialism and the need for detachment of ourselves from possessions. Despite my understanding of this, I was unable to do so. I felt pressure from my family, friends, even society to make things a certain way. Each step I took in that direction, the farther I felt from God and the person He intended me to be. It is not the actual stuff that keeps you from Him, it is the worries, anxiety, lust and desire that accompanies the stuff. So rather than feel tied to the stuff, feel anxiety over having the stuff or fear of losing the stuff, we began the process of getting rid of all unnecessary stuff.

So, what is necessary? Well, that depends on the individual. As a family, we decided shelter, food and clothing were the top priorities. As we like to be idealist, we are not trying to return to the stone age and also kept minimal but practical tools and gadgets. We also added a few creature comforts of technology, as blogging is therapeutic for me, Que loves movies and we understand the importance of play to Kaeden’s development. We did however sell everything else and what couldn’t be sold was given away.

If you ever want to discover how attached you are to material items, hold a yard sale where people haggle for a few bucks off your treasures. It will really shock you how difficult it is to part with these "things" that don't add much value to your life other than taking up space in your home even when you think you "prepare" yourself. Despite knowing that letting go and ridding your life of all the unnecessary things, to know and do are two very different things. Giving away what didn't sell, was much easier. Maybe, it was knowing that the people needed the items given that made it easier or maybe it was that I had already undergone the harsh process of selling. 

When the purge was over, the feeling of unease had subsided and was replaced by both relief and excitement. It was a great relief to have the weight of our materialism off our shoulders. The promise of adventure and the unknown was thrilling. I no longer felt the impending doom or pressure from previous stressors like landlords, costly obligations, or possible job loss. While I know our life will not be perfect, we will feel more free to pursuit happiness, what ever that may be without the stress and pressure these "things" and obligation bring.

Join us on our journey of the pursuit of our new dream as we discover life, self, nature and beauty.

Below are some quotes we found helpful to keep motivated to break the common mold:

If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success. – John Rockefeller

They will say you are on the wrong road if it is your own. –Antonio Porchia

High-fiving people who share your beliefs is easy. What is hard is allowing others to have a different opinion without attempting to silence them. -Duane Alan Hahn

People would rather be wrong than be different. Henry Jacobsen

Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.- Alan Keightley

Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion. –Charles Kuralt

People should think things out fresh and not just accept conventional terms and the conventional way of doing things.- R. Buckminster Fuller

The man who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been. –Alan Ashley Pitt

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Dream

The sun was shining brightly in the clear winter sky. Whether the groundhog, El Nino, or global warming was the culprit, the Spring like temperatures in February was welcomed. My mothers hair danced in the gentle breeze and her skin glistened in the sunlight. I ignored the pit in my stomach, and pushed forward with all the courage I could muster.
"I I I 'm giving up every everything to be be become a gyspy." I stuttered with less eloquence than a frog in a tuxedo.
I could see the shock, pain and horror twist in my mother's face as she moved her dainty hand to her sweat beaded temple. In a moment, she cried and fell to the ground. I ran to her side and bent down to hold her face in my hands as the world began a downward spiral. Her breath was shallow and pulse weak. I held her in my arms as she slipped away and the sirens screamed in the distance. 

I awoke from my dream soaked in sweat and breathing like the half ton man after a hour of cardio.  My greatest fears of seeking my new life and achieving my dreams, was that it would hurt or disappoint my family in some way. I wanted to detach from pleasing others, but not at the cost of such an important and close relationship.

Finding the dream was easy, achieving it was a different and multi-step process. It involved freeing my mind to new experiences, ridding it of preconceptions and leaping forward into the unknown with my full trust in God. My first post, The Search outlined the process of discovering my dream, and the long process of gathering the courage to pursue it. Then, I had to do the work of making that dream become a reality. At this point in the process, it was time to break the news to my family and close friends.

I had good news and was bursting from the seams to share it. Yet, I knew that because it was non-traditional and different from anything we had ever known or experienced before, the recipients of the news may not share in my joy. Whether it be the inability to think outside of the social norm, the lack of knowledge about the lifestyle or the general concern for our well being, it would be a challenge to accept.

It took about a week to tell the mothers, grandmothers, siblings and close friends. Despite my dreams, no one died, cried or even yelled. The general consensus was disappointment that the "big" news wasn't a new baby, followed by tons of questions about what the lifestyle actually means. Many even misunderstood and a few tried to correct me, "You mean mobile home." 

Once explained that we wanted to live in an MOTOR home instead of a traditional home, the concerns arose. The general concerns were: safety, money, storage, tornadoes and our personal belongings. Luckily, I do nothing without thinking, researching, praying, researching more, praying some more and again researching. So when these questions and concerns came about, I had answers. While I could tell some disagreed with our choice and plan, the ability to back the choice with well thought out answers quelled majority of the concerns. I had read many horror stories about the process of sharing the news with family, but luckily, we are blessed with people that love us and trust our decisions as long as they know we are safe, happy and healthy. What a blessing! After telling every one the news, what a relief and sweet dreams!

While the news was accepted, I must admit that relationships changed. Distance began to grow as differences, views, lifestyles, and hobbies evolved. We were never quite on the "same" page as others, but felt that we could relate. After living the lifestyle, I struggled to find "normal" topics of conversation so that I would feel connected to friends and family. For example, many people I know were gossiping about Whitney Houston's death. I was an avid fan growing up, and was saddened to hear of her passing. Yet, I was not as interested as my peers about if it was drug related, why Bobby left the funeral or who spoke at the memorial. I am more interested in good parks, new places and other outdoor adventures.

Some relationships remained strong, those were the ones that would survive a nuclear holocaust. Others, revealed a superficial relationship, ones that were based on areas that are undergoing drastic changes. While I am sad to see some relationships strained or lost, I welcome the growth in my life that creates these losses. Despite my mourning the lost relationships, I also welcome the transition and  the change it brings. And with this opportunity and change, I welcome the possibility of experiencing new people, places and adventures. 

“I don't paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality.” 
― Frida Kahlo

“Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there's little fun to be had in explanations; they're antithetical to the poetry of fear.” 
― Stephen King

“A nightmare might force you awakened. 
The tough life might force you awakened.” 
― Toba Beta

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Plan

Armed with the courage to pursuit our original American Dream, we set off on the journey to making our dream a reality. So much to do, but where to start? Setting on a new path with only a direction in tow can be intimidating. We needed a plan if we ever wanted to make this happen.

First, we did the research. If you know anything about me, you know all too well that I immerse myself in information. I am a research junkie. Seriously, one hit(or reference) will not satisfy me. When researching or learning about something new, I devour all/any information I can get my hands on, you name it I used it...books, magazines, people, web, video. I found a lot of helpful information some of which I shared at the bottom of this post, for those of you interested in learning more about RVing full time.

After the research, we had to find an RV. It is pretty hard to live in a RV if you don't get one. Making this decision was a bit more difficult as there are a lot of options. RVs come in a few different styles. After much search and test driving, we chose a Class A Winnebago Chieftain. A Class A whattity what what? First let me explain our RV has a truck engine built with living space attached. It features a truck like cabin area(I call the cockpit) with the pilot and co pilot chairs(driver and passenger) and a hideaway bed above that space. Behind the cockpit area  is a full kitchen area with dinette set. Our kitchen has a double sink, four burner stove with oven and nice size refrigerator. Behind the kitchen area is the main bedroom with a full size bed and a bathroom with a shower, tub, and sink. Did I mention that like most RV's our dinette folds down into a third bed. Or that I have tons of storage under the beds, in a wardrobe, cabinets and under the RV? Not as bad as you(or I at one time ) thought?

While the "bones" of the RV were great, I personally hated the decor. The wall paper was discolored yellow beige and outdated floral with tacky pink and blue curtains to match. If this was going to feel like home, it needed to look like home. I painted the wallpaper a nice bright happy color, bought coordinating fabric and made curtains. Now our kitchen, bathroom and bedroom look fresh, modern and most of all like home. You can't put a price on comfort, but the redecoration cost less than $50. Next project will be to redo the dinette fabric and get matching comforter/bed linens, but that is another story.

The next phase of the plan was to test living in a motorhome before completely abandoning our sticks and bricks house. To do this safely as we were inexperienced and newbies, we did a test stay in our drive way. I suggest test runs for newbies before hitting the open road, as RV's have many complicated systems that could break or need slight repair if you use them incorrectly or have bad luck. Dealing with these issues, learning the basics close to home rather than in the middle of the woods is safer and smarter.We packed the RV with the essentials for a nights stay and lived in it without the use of the main house.

Even carefully researched and thoughtful plans must yield to a mistake. Our first mistake was not checking the weather forecast before the planned test stay.Our plan of buying, selling, packing, sharing had a very strict time table. Unfortunately, we learned that the night we chose was later put on record for the coldest night in Alabama for the entire 2011-2012 winter. Rather than be discouraged, we forged ahead determined to stay on our planned schedule. If we could survive the cold, new and inexperienced, we could survive anything. At worse if everything went to heck in a handbucket, we could always abandon ship and go inside the house defeated.

We played a couple of games of Monopoly, Scrabble Slam, and watched a movie(Into the Wild). Dinner, despite the evil weather conditions, was grilled and delicious. We drank hot chocolate and snuggled until our modest little heater warmed the RV to a comfy temperature. It should've been horrible, misserable and a complete disaster but it wasn't. It was fun, memorable, and hilarious: if it wasn't me looking like Ralphie's little brother in Christmas Story with my arms spread out while attempting to dress in several warm layers,  Que building a fire in the freezing sleeting rain(as if rain isn't enough), it was Kaeden(2) trying to cheat in the games we played! "I not a cheat-wer!"

You know those rare moments in life where everything comes together similar to the perfect balance of nature with individual components independent but in perfect harmony with each piece fitting and working together as if God designed and intended one for the other? That is exactly what our life began to feel like after we began to pursuit our new dream life; as if each piece of the puzzle was being presented to us to put in place so that we could begin the journey to find happiness and peace. Needless to say that despite the circumstances given, the trial was a success. Feeling empowered, we forged onto the task of letting go of materialism by getting rid of the house, furniture and unnecessary gadgets.

If you are still on your own search or haven't begun, I challenge you to be brave enough to be completely honest with yourself regarding your goals and aspirations and how they differ from those life expects or demands of you. Only then will you really see what it is that you really want, without the tainted view of outside influences. Abandoning the impulse to live according to others is both freeing and empowering. If you have completed your search, I encourage you to write a plan of how you will accomplish what you really want in life and wish you the courage to bring the plan into fruition as we have done. Research, research, research! Remember to not only present this plan to your family and friends, but to God and ask Him to guide your journey.  Good luck and courage to you all!

Our next step is to break the news to both sides of the family as we get rid of our traditional life, sell 80-90% of our worldly possessions, leave our house and begin life on the open road. Don't forget to check out the links below if you are looking for more information regarding the RV lifestyle. If you are a reader that knows of some helpful links, feel free to add them in the comment sections; I will approve blogs, webpages, books, videos, just about anything but commercials/advertisements.

Families On The Road: For families on the road full time, on extended road trips or are just dreaming about it.

Live. Work. Dream: Working to find the dream life.

Your RV lifestyle: What is a RV lifestyle? Choosing your RV

Camp Columbo: Video episodes about a young family living fulltime in a 5th wheel.

Traveling on the outskirts: A cute webisode series that follows a young couple living the fulltime lifestyle.