At Home Anywhere (Revisited)

Milepost 1-28-14  Fillmore, CA.  Work-camping in an RV Park

This is a repost of an entry that I posted on the old blog in December, 2012.  We had moved from the big house to the one-room log cabin six months earlier and were set to spend the winter on the beach in the Dominican Republic.

What does it really take to feel at home in a place that is not your home?  This is one of the worrisome questions that presented itself when Kaye and I started to contemplate and then pursue the idea of downsizing and moving out of our house of 40 years.  We were not used to moving, but we were smart enough to know that there would be challenges that could either make or break our success.

  Twenty-five years ago, at the encouragement of our three daughters, I arranged a one-year leave of absence from the small town public school system where I had been teaching since graduating from college.  We had decided to move up our dream of visiting mission fields after retirement and offering our help wherever we could.  The girls had heard us talking and had realized that if we waited until I retired, they would be grown up and moved away.  They didn’t want to miss out, so they said why not do it now while the family is all at home?  And we did.

  We took positions (I taught 6th grade, Kaye was the librarian) at an international school in the middle of the Dominican Republic, and we rented our house to friends who were “in between” houses, and we took off for one school year, and it changed our lives.  Our kids have been spoiled for the ordinary ever since and are all frequent international travelers. 

Home, Home-Home or Home-Home-Home

   A while after settling in to our new habitation in Santiago, we noticed that we needed a new way of designating our location during our conversations with each other.  We were spending the Thanksgiving holiday at a beachfront village (there was no turkey dinner for us that year), and we were confusing each other by referring to the hotel room as Home when returning from the beach – then the house in Santiago as Home, and then also making the same reference to our Home in Michigan.

The Sims family at their tropical "home" in the Dominican Republic, (1989)
The Sims family at “Home” in a foreign country. (1989)

  One of our three daughters finally solved the problem:   “Home” was our hotel room, “Home-Home” was our house in Santiago, and “Home-Home-Home” was our old place in Michigan.  And that really did help clear up the confusion when we talked about “Home”.

 Feeling at Home Somewhere Else

  So, in our current transition, we can look back on the experiences and challenges of moving away from our familiar home 20 years ago and setting up a new place to call home – in a foreign country no less.  But our lives have changed in the meantime, the kids are gone, and it is just the two of us.  And the answers to the original question are becoming clearer to us now that we have been out of our house for more than half a year.  Here are some of the things we have discovered to be part of our sense of home:

  • Being together.  The most familiar thing about our new locations – whether in the RV in a campground or the log cabin or a hotel room – is that we still have each other.  We pursue our adventures together, and that makes every challenge or adjustment more manageable.  When someday one of us is gone, I’m not sure how much spirit of adventure will be left for the other.
  • A decent bed.  When we were tucked into the loft of the little log cabin, we had a king size bed up under the eaves that was comfortable and welcoming every night.  Now that we’ve moved into the larger historical log house, we brought that bed with us, and it’s wonderful.  In hotel rooms we seem to be blessed every time, but in the camper there is not as much room.  We are saving to upgrade the camper, because a good bed is important.
  • Internet.  We both spend a fair amount of time on the web, Kaye for her writing, me for photography and journalism, and both of us for communication.  We may have scant internet access in the beach hideaway we have reserved in the tropics this winter but have decided that we cannot book places for very long that are off the grid.  It may happen in the national park campgrounds that we plan to visit next winter, but we will have to come to town often.  To connect and upload and communicate.  It’s just that important.
  • Family and Friends.
    We FaceTime the grandkids from time to time so we don't miss them so much.
    We FaceTime the grandkids when we are away so we don’t miss them so much.

      Since the kids have left and found husbands and jobs elsewhere, we find ourselves with an innate need to connect with them and with friends quite often.  Again, the internet has helped satisfy this need, and we are in touch with the kids almost daily through Facebook and email.  And we meet up with them in person whenever we have a chance.  We still have friends nearby when we are at home in Michigan, and we are often making new friends in the places we visit.

  • Food.  It’s interesting that this becomes an issue more at holiday times, because there are certain foods that are essential to the spirit of a holiday, for some psychological reasons, I guess.  Rather like snow is essential to a Christmasy feeling for all northerners.  And it’s hard to make Christmas cookies in an RV, because the counter space is non-existent.  So adaptation is necessary.  Fortunately, we have been able to visit one of our daughters and make cookies there if we want to.  In foreign countries, familiar foods are harder to find and their absence can contribute to homesickness.  I don’t know why every country doesn’t have Kraft American cheese slices, but they don’t.  Go figure.
  • Favorite Tools.  Even some of the expert travelers we have read on the web have admitted that they have favorite cooking utensils that they carry in their luggage wherever they go.  Some kitchens and hotel rooms don’t provide the stuff that is the most familiar to you, so you have to carry your own.  With me it’s a small flashlight that I like to put on the night table wherever I sleep.  It somehow provides a sense of security and preparedness that offsets the unfamiliar air of a new environment.
  • Comfy Jeans.    Everybody has their favorite items of clothing that they can’t be without no matter where they are in the world.   I am not comfortable without my favorite cap.  After posting this article a year ago and asking, “what makes you feel at home away from home?”  a piece of clothing was the first thing my daughter thought of:
    Stacy enjoyed a pina colada right from a pineapple mug in the tropics last winter.
    Stacy enjoyed a pina colada while contemplating here favorite jeans.

    Stacy commented, “I have a lightweight bathrobe that I take with me wherever I go. I wear it constantly at home and it is light enough that I could probably just fit it in my purse. Actually, it’s a swimsuit cover-up that I bought 10 years ago on sale for like $10 and it is now covered in snags and stains….feels like home. I could fit that, my passport, some cash, my debit card, some flip flops, and my phone in my purse and be ready to go anywhere.”  “Okay, now after reading that article about the caves in Samana, I have to add one more thing that I like to take with me that makes me feel at home…..my Saloman water shoes!!!! Never know when you are going to need that type of adventure!”   Yep, clothing can be really important when it comes to feeling at home.

  These are some of the essentials that we have found to be contributing factors to the sense of home that everybody needs.  I think we are doing a pretty good job of mixing our away-from-home adventures with our times of staying at home in the cabin and enjoying the security of the familiar.  And the cabin really does feel like home to us now.

Here I am feeling at home in my office in a corner of the historical log cabin.
Here I am feeling at home in my corner study in the historical one-room log cabin.

  What is it that makes you feel at home when you are away from home?

Kaye's favorite reading spot in the DR was either the veranda or the poolside.
Kaye’s favorite reading spot in the DR was either the veranda or the poolside.

Postscript 1-28-14:   Well, we did spend last winter at a seaside resort in the Dominican Republic and had to re-adjust to a foreign setting and a new sense of home.

This winter we are feeling at home in the newer RV and trying the work-camp experience at a small park in southern California for the winter and spring.  We don’t plan to return to the log cabin in Michigan until after our epic trek to Alaska this summer.

The RV has a roomy kitchen, living, dining area that has allowed us to bring along some of our familiar cookware, and the refrigerator and cupboards are large enough for some of our favorite provisions.  We’ve been watching rented Red Box movies on the Mac since there is no TV reception here – just like back in Michigan.  It’s all making us feel quite at home here.

The Coachmen fifth-wheel has a slide-out that expands our sense of home.
The Coachmen fifth-wheel has a slide-out that expands our sense of home.

So, whoever you are, wherever you are…   welcome home!

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