Celebrating 10-Years of Blogging!

Just a gal living the #vanlife working on this blog post

It took me a long time to start calling myself a writer. I thought that to use that honorific title, I needed to have some kind of claim to fame. I needed to have had a book published or be widely circulated in a well-known mag or literary journal or something. Turns out, that was a rubbish way of thinking. Thank goodness I figured out how to replace it with a more accurate view. 

Fun fact: This month marks 10-years of my being a regular contributor to the blogosphere via this WordPress (WP) site. My blogiversary, if you will. My first post was crafted on June 24, 2012. According to my WP stats, I have a grand total of 984 blog posts to date. That’s an average of 8 blog posts per month, if you dig that sorta break down. 

Starting this blog 10-years ago is what unexpectedly launched me into becoming a full fledged writer. Prior to that, I was what I might call a wanna be writer. I loved writing but rarely made time for it. The blogging platform changed all of that for me. It gave me the necessary umph I needed to start up a regular habit of writing. I don’t know, something about having an online audience – small as it was and still is, relative to other blogs out there – helped me to hold myself personally accountable for continuing what I started. 

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#Vanlife

This post won’t appeal to everyone. But then, what post does? If you’re curious about #vanlife logistics though, this post is for you!

I’ll set the scene on the quick. In October 2021, my husband Mike and I sold our 550-square-foot house of 18-years. Then we spent a few months on retreat at Deer Park Monastery in southern, CA. And ever since we returned home to Montana in early April, we’ve been living the van life while on the search for land we can afford to buy, located within a one-hour radius of our hometown of Missoula, MT. 

We sold our house in order to liquidate our assets, so we’d be ready to rock and roll on a land purchase. After weighing our options, we decided not to take out a loan and instead are trying to work within our means and budget on hand. There are pros to trying to buy land sans bank loan, but it greatly reduces our reach as to what we can afford with the limited money we have on hand. 

We rolled the dice and bought a 1989 Chevy G20 conversion van off craigslist last August and thankfully, it’s taking good care of us. In 2000, we drove up to Anchorage AK after we got married in a similarly styled & aged Ford Econoline conversion van, and then toured around the states in it in 2001 for a few months, when we came back down to the lower 48. So in a way, this is us, now in our early 40’s, returning to our roots. 

Nowadays, at least around here, van life is booming. We see live-in style vans on the regular. A lot of folks have bigger, more outfitted, way more expensive rigs that what we have, still, we’re all one big van life family. We’re van livers on a low budget. And while it was a conscious choice to sell our house and move into a van, we’re van livers more out of necessity than by passionate enthusiasm for the nomadic lifestyle. We were active land searchers last year before we sold our house too. Properties were just moving too quickly for us to keep up. In order to compete with out-of-staters rolling in with cash in hand, we felt we had to get rid of the hitch in the giddyup, which for us meant selling our house so we too could have cash at the ready. 

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Balance

Alongside my daily reading of poetry, a book by a death row inmate at San Quentin. Accompanying my propensity to smile, a willingness to hold space for difficult and painful things. Paired with my uplifting Twitter feed, filled with stunning photos of animals & landscapes and insights by wise teachers, headline worthy world news stories. Stay in touch with the beauty & goodness, also the sorrows & struggles, I remind myself often. 

Balance is what I aim for when it comes to most – if not all – things. A balance of work and play. A balance of to-do lists and unscheduled time. A balance of healthy food and junk food. A balance of thinking and feeling; of intellect and heart. A balance of town time and tree time. Of activity and rest. 

And wouldn’t you know it, every day is a little different when it comes to such things as balance. What might be a good balance one day might be a little off the next. Then there are the days when I’m not sure what the heck I need. But what I tend to know most days is this: This balance I’m referring to. This quality of well-being. This feeling of being able to meet the moment as it is and not how I want it to be, is of the utmost importance. It is no trivial or trite matter. It’s worth investing in; striving for; crafting my life around. 

I know this, too. My sense of balance will be different than yours. Your sense of balance will be different than mine. No one thing works the same way for everyone all the time. 

Just like how the rain can be a sight for sore eyes and dry fields or a deluge of trouble and torrment, really anything can be a help or a hindrance depending. 

Balance to me is about having boundaries and a moral compass, without becoming dogmatic or overly bound to any one way of doing things. Balance to me is about embracing my fullest self, while keeping close in mind that I will always have more skill-building to do. Balance to me is about learning when to jump in and when to lean out. 

It seems a worthy pursuit to form a relationship with what our own individual balance looks like, day-to-day, moment-to-moment. Without a working kinship with balance, it’s far too easy to fall into reactionary and habitual ways of engaging with life’s many and perpetual ups and downs. 

So this is me contemplating balance today. This is me currently listening to both the steady stream of traffic cruising by on the nearby highway, and the sound of birds singing amid the greening fields.

Things You Can’t Tell By Looking At Me

Yesterday, as part of Pride Week here in Missoula, I attended an educational session hosted by TransVisible Montana entitled: Allyship Through the Genderverse. As part of our session, we paired up with someone else in the room and shared our name, preferred pronoun, and one thing that others would not be able to tell by looking at us. We then came back together as a whole and introduced our partner to the group. One of the messages the trainers delivered centered around not making assumptions when it comes to the gender of others. The partner exercise was a clever way of helping to show by way of example that so much (hmm, maybe even most/all) of who we are, cannot be known simply by looking at us.

This poem-ish writing is inspired by this important remembering:

Things You Can't Tell By Looking At Me

I don’t drink alcohol
I’ve never smoked pot
I own & operate my own motorcycle
and some days I love riding
slightly more than I love
my husband

Imma a sucker for all things
clay & pottery

If there’s a baby in a 100-foot 
radius - even if I’m in a non-social
mood - I will gravitate towards it
with genuine enthusiasm, but
I’ve never wanted my own
biological children 

I have an invisible 
physical disability 
and live with chronic pain

Imma sucker for all things
tofu 

I am not good
at giving advice

I break for 
Little Free Libraries 

I am an only child

I am not good
at anything having
to do with numbers


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Why I Meditate

I consider it a good idea to once in a while check in with myself and ask: So, Nicole, why do you meditate? I figure it can’t hurt to reflect on the things I do on the daily. Ya know, to make sure I’m not just going through the motions. To help keep my meditation practice fresh and alive.

Here’s what’s coming up for me in regards to this self-inquiring question. 

I meditate in order to form a relationship with the here & now. To not just be forever carried away off into the future or stuck in the past. 

I meditate to know what it feels like to settle my body in stillness and relax my mind in quietude, even if only for a few brief moments.  

I meditate in order to feel more comfortable in my own skin. 

I meditate because I think the world needs me to show up as kind-heartedly as I can and there’s something I don’t fully understand about the power of meditation that increases my ability to do just that.

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Beloved Community

Last Sunday, my home sangha, Be Here Now, gathered for a potluck & open mic at our local mindfulness center. It wast the first time in over 2-years that we had a social event outside of our weekly Monday night meditation group. Pre-covid, we organized open mic nights once a month through the winter and potlucks 2 or 3 times a year. Words cannot express how wonderful it felt to be together again in these ways. 

Once in a while, folks will ask me what the benefit is to meditating with a sangha, verses on their own at home. And despite my almost 20-years of sangha-building experience in the Plum Village tradition, I will often have difficulty answering this question. Being part of a sangha – or any group that fosters wellness in our body/mind system – is much less of an intellectual thought process than it is a felt sense of connection and belonging. Showing up and participating in a sangha is more than having the support of other folks to practice sitting meditation with. It’s a way to meet people, forge friendships, be uplifted & nourished by others, and share in our common humanity as people on this planet earth together. 

This morning, my husband Mike and I went for a walk around the neighborhood we’re currently house/pet sitting in for a good friend of ours. When we strolled past a community garden, I commented on how nice it was that such things as community gardens exist. Places where folks can go and create a collective energy together by cultivating small gardens in unison. Amid such dualistic times, in our western society that sometimes pays homage to individuality to the detriment of our ability to be kind and skillful with one another, it seems as though we could benefit collectively from having a few more community gardens & sanghas around. 

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The Serious Importance of Having Fun

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In acknowledgment & support, I’d like to share some of my thoughts, experience & practice around what I regard as the important art of having fun.

I want to say right up front that no one has the corner market on how to have fun. So step #1 in the Art of Having Fun Handbook (which is a book I just made up, just to be clear) is: Find Your Own Flavor of Fun. Don’t let anyone convince you that fun has to look or be a certain way.

Step #2 (okay, so, outlining steps is prolly not the best way to present the art of fun but Imma gonna stick with it cuz I dig making lists and it’s a handy/short-form way to deliver content): Try Not to Overthink It. One surefire way to kill the joy of having fun is to get our over-active brain in the mix. The art of having fun involves feeling our way into it and following that feeling through.

Step #3: Break for Whimsy. Just as we might practice to stop and smell the flowers, we can pause in our tracks when we observe or encounter whimsy/fun being had. Case and point. The other day, Mike and I were driving down a long bumpy dirt road en route to look at a property for sale. A few miles in, we came across this point of whimsy on the side of the road, amid uninhabited woods:

My first thought was to keep on driving, so we could get where we were going. But thankfully my feeling-body won out and I cried out to Mike (who was driving at the time) like a little kid: Stop! I want to take a picture! I mean really. What monster just keeps on going and doesn’t stop for a minute to appreciate this strange and delightful scene in the middle of the woods?!

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On Clocks

If you're wondering why I've
hidden the clocks - the one
instead of numbers says now
and the blue plastic rimmed
one from Louisville, Miss -
tucked them away in two
different drawers, it's not
because I'm phobic of time.

It's not because I don't
want to be reminded right
at face level ALL of the time, 
that life is short and perpetually
moving, whether I know it 
or like it or not. 

It's not because wall
clocks take too much 
work to figure out and
aren't as friendly or
efficient as their
digital counterparts. 

It's not because they
remind me of school 
and sitting at my desk, 
eyes fixed on the second
hand crawling around the
round disc dictating our fate
in every room, holding
my breath, waiting to be
set free. 

It's not because I'm an 
artist of music and words
and time-keepers are the
killjoy of creativity & flow.

It's due to the disturbing 
ruckus thundering in their
wake. The tick  tick  tick
tick  tick that disrupts 
an otherwise quiet space.
 
The terrible way the 
circular beasts of burden
alert anyone in earshot 
of their sole purpose, 
every second of
every day.

Slowing My Roll

In my husband and I’s new foray into living the van life whilst searching for land to buy in western Montana, an activity I’ve been enjoying lately is going for short walkabouts after dinner, wherever we happen to be parked for the night. And I’ve been especially appreciating the practice – when I can manage to do it – of looking not up ahead in the direction I’m traveling but down at the slowly moving ground just under my feet. 

The newness factor is pretty high for us right now. We’ve taken a leap and are in mid-flight, unsure about where we might land. I don’t think I’ve been amid this much uncertainty ever before. We’re learning to live a nomadic lifestyle; weathering the cold temps of springtime in the mountains; and doing our best to keep our spirits up that a property will come on the market that we can both afford and will meet some of our criteria. We have new unstructured time on our hands to fill and are also faced with adjusting to being together all the time in a super small space. All things considered we’re doing pretty darn well, but it’s a lot. Something I try my best to keep in mind: transitions take time. 

Given how easy it is to get swirled up in the stress of the great unknowns right now, I’m finding that when I go for a stroll and focus my attention downwards, it helps to calm my nervous system and bring me more fully into the present moment. When I focus my attention on the trail up ahead, I find that my pace quickens, as though I need to be in some kind of hurry to arrive somewhere up ahead. 

When I can direct my gaze downwards at my feet, my natural inclination is to slow down. It’s really quite an interesting thing to notice! When I look up, I speed up. When I look down, I slow down. 

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Getting the Hang Of It

I reckon living the van life is getting a pinch easier. Funny how easy it is to forget that things take time. How easy it is to think we as adult humans should just know how to do everything and if we aren’t masters at whatever new thing we’re doing straight away, it means something is wrong or we’re broken or whatever other personal inadequacy story we tell ourselves.

It’s getting a little warmer, which is definitely helping things a bit. Waking up to 28-degrees inside the van is just not my favorite (I think that’s been our lowest). This morning it was almost 50-degrees, our warmest morning inside the van temp thus far. 50 is pretty comfortable. Even 40 is doable, especially in comparison with 28. Never have I been so clued into the temperature as I’ve been living the van life. It’s a dynamic situation for sure, when one lives so close to the out of doors. 

I was initially a little nervous about using a portable propane heater inside the van but our little unit has been working great. It’s super easy to use and it’s made the cold mornings manageable. We installed a carbon monoxide tester inside the van for safety as well, to help us monitor our indoor air quality. 

It’s been a little over 3-weeks now that we’ve been living the van life. And I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it. I’m getting more comfortable parking in various un-vetted spots and integrating certain things into our daily routine, like the “age-old” question: So…where shall we park tonight?! As someone who’s a nester, likes having a home base, enjoys planning  and operates optimally with the support of good routines and a daily schedule, I think I’m doing pretty well adjusting to this very new and different way of living, all things considered. 

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