A Week Inspired by San Jose’s Recycle Book Club

At the risk of sounding superstitious, I’m fairly certain that my house is jealous of my efforts to leave it.

The web searches for homes in less expensive states to live in after I retire, the upgrading of the bathrooms, the kitchen, and the floorings. The conversations that must’ve been overhead about my need for sun and warmth and a place closer to my extended family have not gone unnoticed.

I know this, because just before or just after leaving the state, some catastrophe occurs. Flooding. An earthquake. Flooding again. Every time I leave, some punishing event that catches me completely off guard.

As I packed for my book event in San Jose, California a couple of weeks ago, I found a huge puddle of water on the newly tiled kitchen floor. I sopped it up, hoping I’d simply stacked the dishes in the wrong direction and ran the dishwasher. It wasn’t. The puddle appeared two more times, the final one just as I was getting my luggage packed. My neighbor kindly guided me through the process of shutting the water supply off in the crawl space, schooling me first by phone and then finally leaving his date miles away to help me. Together, we slogged through the dirty area beneath the garage for a short-term solution.

I got to the airport just in time for my flight, smelling of scented kitty litter, with cob webs still in my eye lashes. Only to realize that in my haste to shut the water off, I’d forgotten to pack shirts.

At least I remembered copies of my book.

To my happy surprise, the person I rented a room from picked me up at the airport. James worked in Silicon Valley before retiring and re-tooling, now renting affordable rooms and cars to people with short work stints in the area. Chatty and firm in his convictions that we must offer hope to the hopeless among us, he became my accidental life coach, filled with ideas and concepts of books he was certain I needed to write. They were great ideas, it turned out. “Stop aiming small,” he told me.

I felt welcomed and safe, and enjoyed some six- mile walks without ever getting lost, a true miracle in my world.

San Jose had warm temperatures, generous walking trails, and friendly people. I was impressed. Book group organizer Lloyd Russell of Booksage and his wonderful wife Joni took me to dinner. My longtime friend Richard from Berkeley made his time and home available, and I finally got to meet his new (to me) wife.

Richard is a loyal friend who never stopped encouraging me to write my book. When my computer died a decade ago, he gifted me my first laptop. He was that committed to the story being published. And it was through Richard that his cousin Lloyd got a copy of my book. I owe this once-in-a-lifetime book event and trip to him.

My friend Richard.

During the event itself at Recycle Bookstore, I got a warm round of applause as I entered the bookstore. Wow! An evening to talk with thoughtful readers about writing and publishing and the inevitable setbacks life dishes all of us, and how we choose to handle them. I enjoyed every moment of it.

Booksage’s Lloyd Russell and his wife Joni.
Wonderful Recycle Book Group

I took trains and busses to visit my cherished friend and former roommate Barbara, hosted me for a night in Redding at her apartment in a lively retirement community. We stayed up late, pouring through old pictures of when we lived together in ’92-’93, reminiscing about my daughters before their abduction, and the zany things the girls did in those years of near normalcy before the event that severed their childhoods.

 I returned to my welcoming little home and two needy cats just after 2am, and found that the water shut off had been successful. No new damage occurred in my absence. I crept around in the crawl space and turned the water back on. By default, I learned that this particular problem was the new dishwasher installation. No big deal. I’ll fix it when I can.

I got a text from James the day after I returned with another new book idea. His best yet. He’s asked that I send him a completed synopsis by next Thursday. He’s not kidding.

“The idea is to give victims and their families, as well as the good people in America, hope among the hopelessness… Your book is a step in the direction to help victims or potential future victims.”

So much love and inspiration packed in to a few days reminded me that home isn’t simply a place. It’s a moveable part, a sense of connection, not just where I toss my belongings.

But I do love my little weird place, with its memories of raising kids and cats. Of hosting friends for get-togethers. Memories of my neighbors, delivering freshly caught fish or helping when I needed them with frozen pipes or car or kid troubles.

Who knows? Maybe I can rent my house out and live here in the summers. It will be a while yet before I figure out where I will ultimately land.

But as a cautionary measure, I’m writing all of this from a coffee house rather than from home, just in case my home is looking over my shoulder.

The threat is just too great.

Thank you for stopping by, and thank you Lloyd Russell, Richard Illgen, and Recycle Bookstore and Recycle Book Club for the book love.

And thank you to my daughter for taking care of Oliver and Lou.

Single Mom Turned Solo Traveler/Interview with Karen Sim

I was the lone geriatric in my hip hostel in Buenos Aires a couple of months back when I stumbled on a treasure trove.

When I mentioned to the young woman from New Zealand, perched on the bunk across from mine, that I had not journeyed intentionally (can’t really count Greece and Turkey and England to find my kidnapped daughters) to faraway places until my kids were grown and flown, she told me about her mom’s adventures. Her mother, she said, raised four kids by herself before quitting her job and traveling the world for a year and a half.

“You ought to talk to her,” she offered.

So as soon as I returned to Alaska, I did just that.

An idea was born. I began formulating a plan for an anthology of single moms turned empty-nesters who became solo travelers.

I’ll begin the process with the remarkable Karen Sim. Some of this is paraphrased from our interview.

 What prompted you to book your first trip?

I was having dinner with a friend and she was sharing her goals and plans for the year.

She asked me about mine and I realised with horror that I was goal-less.

That night I discovered David Bowie died and this really impacted on me. He’d led a life full of achievements. I questioned my own life.

Yes, I had raised four children, getting my teaching degree in my 40’s while raising them and becoming a head teacher at a kindergarten – but i wanted more… That night I made a decision to have an adventure. I was watching my Dad fading away with dementia and a third bout of cancer. He’d never retired and now at 75, he was dying! All the money in the bank and invested in his farm but no adventure.
My 4 kids were living their own lives so it was time that I lived mine. I took a year off work, sold half of my belonging, put the rest in storage, saved like crazy and rented out my house. I finally had a plan.

How did you select destinations?

I had wanted to see the Cherry Blossom in Japan, so that was my obvious first destination. Plus, I had a friend in Nagoya.

I’d also discovered this wonderful volunteer site called Workaway.

I had only ever travelled to Australia from New Zealand, where my three girls live.

So I chose destinations/ countries where I had family or friends. This was my safety net. Once I arrived in London, where I stayed with my niece, I had the confidence to be more adventurous and spontaneous. True freedom as an older, female, solo traveller!

I ended up in a rural location about a twenty-minute walk from Okayama. I was in a very old and traditional home. Very simple, rice paper doors and walls…My host used English speaker workawayers to provide English experiences to Japanese families.

Japan

I ran a couple of play groups with mums and babies. The mums loved practicing their English with me.

Do you have budget tips to share?

Through Workaway, I got free room and board when I worked for 20 hours a week at a host home I selected through the site. I had fifteen hosts throughout my time there, plus I stayed with fifteen family/friends or acquaintances.

I also discovered how incredible hostels were. I got to meet fellow travellers and hear their inspirational journeys. And even as an oldie, I too had tales to share.

Walking tours are a wonderful introduction to a new city. Walk everywhere, as you see more. Eating out is a luxury. Travel the cheapest way-even if it takes longer. For example, you can take an overnight bus and avoid a night’s hostel rates.

Enjoy the big things and the small things, and be present!h

Amsterdam.

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Before I could ask Karen how her adult children felt about her traveling the world on her own, I saw that her daughter paid her a beautiful tribute on Facebook on International Women’s Day.


Thank you, Karen, for being my guest, and for inspiring the next generation of solo women travelers.

Do you know a single mom who began traveling after her kids were grown and gone, and who might want to share her experience? Please give her the link to my website. If you’re considering traveling alone, here are a few sites that can help get you started.

Solo Travel Resources

Workaway

A Girls Guide to Travelling Alone by Gemma Thompson 

The Thought Card by Danielle Desir  L

The Journey Woman