Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Review: New Balance Women’s 1010 Trail

Hello readers! Man, it’s good to be back! I am thrilled to mention that this is the very first review posted from my new home in sunny San Diego. I’m so thankful to the PR chick over at New Balance for her patience in waiting for this review, while I took a bunch of time off to pack up my life and move it clear across the country.

The first shoe that New Balance asked me to try out was the Women’s 1010 trail shoe. I got it a week or two before the release date so I had no idea what it would be like. The 1010 is a transitional minimalist shoe, or for you hardcore mountain trail runners, it’s a lightweight-but-protective trail shoe. I say it that way because I feel it’s a good choice for those two types of runners (just to clarify, I don’t necessarily encourage transitioning to barefoot or minimalist running through transitional shoes, but if that’s the way you’re going to go, then this would be a more than reasonable shoe to do it in). I’m not really either of those types of runner, but that’s okay because I am rather good at being objective.

Weight and Structure

Even though the WT1010 is not even close to being the lightest shoe I’ve run in, at around 6 ounces each it’s not totally out of the ballpark. This shoe is rather rugged, compared to what I’ve usually got on my feet, and it looks like it could take a lot of hard miles. As to be expected, there is a rock plate in this shoe and some aggressive tread, too.

Interestingly enough, the multi-circular Vibram sole pattern is reminiscent of the one on the bottom of the latest Trail 00’s, only with some heavy duty 2-directional ribbing that looks like it would give you amazing grip in the snow. I didn’t try these in the snow, but they felt really sticky in the rock and dirt trails I ran them through. Pretty solid, I’d say.

As for the drop, it’s 4mm on this model. Now, I realize there’s a bit of controversy among minimalist runners about putting a drop in shoes like these. I personally don’t see much of a reason in bothering with 4mm, when you could just drop it to zero and call it a day. I kind of see it as the worst of both worlds. Four millimeters isn’t significant enough to provide much lift to those who want it; and for some of those who prefer zero drop, four millimeters can be just enough to throw off their form. All conjecture aside, I barely noticed the drop. Could be I haven’t put enough miles on these to reap any ill effects from the drop, or perhaps my form is good enough to circumvent any issues, who knows. But maybe it’s because all I could feel was how cushiony these were!

Fit and Comfort

Wow. I had forgotten what it was like to wear a shoe with a mushy sole. It was like running inside marshmallows. Of course that has its disadvantages (i.e. harder landing, lost of proprioception, etc.), but let me enjoy this soft and heavenly feeling for a moment, okay? Yeesh.

I think the best advantage to the cushiony shoe for a runner like me (100% minimalist/barefooter who runs on roads and easy-to-moderate trails) is rest and healing. I have enjoyed taking these shoes out for short, easy trail jaunts between difficult runs, running errands and for walking with my dog. I believe a cushiony shoe definitely has a place in my lineup, because sometimes my feet need a rest. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

Some of the other good features of this shoe are the super comfortable blister-free liner (thank you NB!), the attached tongue that keeps out a lot of head-on debris (I hate pulling loose stones out of my shoes mid-run), and the generous toe box. The wider toe box is especially something I want to talk about because in the past I have had some width complaints in general with New Balance’s minimalist shoe lineup. For example, the original NB Minimus Trail (which has been renamed¬†WT10) was so low and narrow I couldn’t even get my foot into it. Also, I had to go with the wide-width version of the 00 Road shoe (see review here) for the same reason. I expected the same problem with this shoe so I asked my contact to send me the wide (D) width of the 1010, as well as the regular (B) width. Turns out, it was totally unnecessary. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend getting the wide width unless you have an exceptionally wide foot, as in, a very good deal wider than mine:

My foot is wider than most people’s, as compared to its length (size 8.5). The regular (B) width was more than adequate in this shoe.

Just walking around in the D-width, the shoe was literally falling off my feet. Now, just as an FYI, they’re also offering a narrower width (2A), for all you ladies with slimmer peds. Oh, and I hate you. ūüôā

I have found there is one big drawback to the comfort of this shoe: the heel. Like many newer models in the Minimus line, the heel cup is quite high and somewhat unforgiving for the first few wears. It did soften up after awhile, but not before taking a chunk of skin from my achilles with it. I’m really not sure why New Balance chose this route with the heel. Maybe it’s less of a problem for taller people with higher heel bones. I’d be interested to hear of anybody who didn’t have this issue, and if they’re also taller than me (5’3″).

Performance

I’ll admit I didn’t do any long trail runs in these (greater than 4 miles). Why? Well, because these shoes are too much like a traditional shoe for me, and the last time I wore a shoe like this on trails I sprained my ankle pretty badly. When I run I often supinate, which is to say that I lean toward the outside of my foot (the opposite of about half of all runners, who pronate). In a cushioned shoe with stiffer soles and lowered proprioception, I have a greater chance of landing badly on a rock and injuring my ankles. Since going barefoot and minimalist my ankles have certainly strengthened a lot, but I am still cautious about hitting the rocky trails on any shoe with that stacked sole. I prefer a shoe with a much more pliable sole. This could perceivably change in the future if I start to run very long races and find a need for a shoe with more cushioning, but for now I prefer to avoid the risk of tipping on a rock and hurting myself.

To expound on my point about the stiffer sole, I want to say that I felt a lack of control in this shoe, especially going downhill. The grip is nice and sticky, sure, but I still want better perceptual control over my foot landings. A shoe like this doesn’t allow my foot to curl downward at all, and the rock plate keeps me from forming my sole around the rocks and debris like it would naturally. So for me, overall this shoe didn’t feel safe as I got more tired (and sloppy) several miles into a run.

That said, I know a few ultra-runners who would benefit from a shoe like this. During those long 50 and 100-mile races, they have reported a need for a shoe that offers more protection, while still remaining light and relatively flexible. The WT1010 is both of those things.

Overall Pros and Cons

While I don’t think this shoe is perfect for everyone, and perhaps not me, I would recommend it to the strong and seasoned minimalist trail runner who wants less exposure to the elements over a long run, as well as someone who does just fine in a traditional trail shoe but wants something lighter and more foot-friendly. So, below is the quick list of pros and cons that I found with the WT1010:

PROS

  • great example of a lightweight, transitional trail running shoe
  • dense, somewhat cushiony sole with rock plate that provides prolonged comfort and protection against rocks and debris while remaining relatively light
  • aggressive, sticky tread provides amazing grip
  • soft and comfortable upper can be worn without socks
  • attached tongue keeps a lot of dirt out
  • generous toe box, with three levels of width to choose from
  • relatively all-weather
  • on-trend color ways

CONS

  • stiffer sole cuts off a fair amount of proprioception, giving less control to your foot
  • heel cup lacks comfort
  • 4mm heel-to-toe drop is somewhat unnecessary and may not be all that conducive to proper running form, especially for anyone who still needs practice (although one could argue that transitioning to lighter shoes over time is easier if you absolutely can’t start your mileage over from scratch).

Happy running!

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My Adventures in Walnut, Iowa, and Why You Should Move Cross-Country Before You Die

There are a lot of corn fields in Iowa.

It was about 88¬įF, dry and cloudless at around 7 p.m. on our second day of driving from Massachusetts to California. We had left Ohio early that morning and we had been driving toward Omaha for nearly 11 hours already. The sun ahead of us was just about to touch the golden horizon of corn and wheat that could be seen over the rolling hills for miles all around. Dozens of dove white windmills spun lazily in the early evening heat, which had cooled down from an oppressive 97¬į earlier in the day. Even though it was amazingly hot, driving through the fertile land of Iowa was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen in my life.

That is, of course, until my car stopped.

My cousin, Alysa, was driving then, and we had the air conditioner and the cruise control working their magic to make the long drive more comfortable. I’m not sure if it was the combination of those things and the low octane gas I’d been pumping into it, but at that moment out in the middle of millions of acres of corn, my car decided it wasn’t going any further.

Later on the mechanic would tell me it was just a badly-timed case of vapor lock, but in one way or another I choose to believe that the universe wanted us to spend the night in Walnut, Iowa (pop. 788) about 40 miles outside our planned stopping place.

A wrong turn on my part earlier in the day had given Shawn a half hour head start in his Rav-4, so he was nearly in Omaha by the time my Honda’s engine light came on and all acceleration ceased. Alysa, my dog Oscar, and I were alone on Interstate 80 while the tractor trailers screamed by at an alarming speed that felt way too close to my car.

“Hi, AAA? Yeah. My car just broke down in….Iowa.”

“I see. Where in Iowa, ma’am?”

“Uh. I don’t know. There are no signs, just…corn fields.”

This was such a bummer. Up to that point, I couldn’t have imagined a worse situation than being broken down in the most alien part of the country (to me), with 2,000 miles left to drive and my husband not there. But I managed to not cry, and instead managed to utilize my phone’s mapping system to somewhat explain where I was to the nice AAA lady. Then I realized I had to pee. So did Alysa. Great.¬†Thankfully, there was a big bush about 200 feet from our car so I told her I’d wait with Oscar while she relieved herself.

And this is right about where life reminded me to smile.

Just as Alysa traveled out of earshot, I saw the bright red tow truck barreling toward me in the breakdown lane. I wasn’t sure how far Alysa intended to hide herself in the bushes, so I tried yelling to her. She didn’t hear me, instead she waved back at me and then bounced away. So I shrugged and turned to watch the truck roll past and begin to back in toward the car. Then I looked back to where Alysa was. She hadn’t seen the tow truck, and she was probably too tired to be insightful about taking cover. All I could see was a bright pink bum and blonde hair, so easily viewable to me (and the lucky tow truck driver), that she might as well have squatted down right in the breakdown lane.

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard while having a really bad day. I probably should thank her for that.

I managed to gain back most of my composure by the time the 70-ish year old driver climbed down from the truck to greet me (with a pretty big smile on his face, I might add). It took him about twenty minutes to hitch my car up just right, and the whole time I was just standing there with Alysa and the dog, unable to tell her why I looked so happy. She probably thought the stress was getting to me.

Louie’s tow truck driver had one happy night.

I did finally tell her once we arrived at the Super 8 Motel in the impossibly small town of Walnut, Iowa. I’m not sure if she appreciated the humor as much as I did, but she went with it anyway.

The one car repair shop for 30 miles (“Louie’s”) was closed for the night, so we had to wait until the morning to figure out the problem (Shawn wrote to me in a text, “Tell them to tow your car to a Honda dealership.” Which brought on another fit of laughter). And by now, Shawn was still 45 minutes from arriving to meet Alysa and me. We were hot, tired and so sick of sitting on our asses that we immediately changed and went for a two mile run in the corn fields before the sun went down. It was probably the prettiest run I’d ever done…and also the scariest, because the tune to “Dueling Banjos” kept creeping up in my head while we ran along the gravel roads that cut through the 5 foot high rows of corn. Corn that, might I add, could have hidden our bodies quite well, had we not been running fast enough. So we ran pretty damn fast.

Not really a bad place to go for a run, if you ask me.

When we were done we decided it was high time for some hard liquor. Luckily, Emma Jean’s Restaurant was open for business right next door to the Super 8, and they had plenty of it. Alysa and I didn’t even shower or change from our run. We just dropped off the dog in our room, sat our sweaty butts down at a bar stool, and ordered whiskey.

Emma Jeans: cheapest Jack Daniels this side of the Mississippi.

The small restaurant was manned that night by one bartender, one waitress and a short order cook. A couple Jack and Cokes in, the waitress tells us that her high school graduating class had eight people in it. When she went home, the bartender, Rachel, told us all kinds of stories about what it’s like to grow up and live in the middle of Iowa. I don’t think she realized she was living in such a beautiful place, I think because it’s hard to appreciate 13 million acres of corn when you’ve never seen the ocean. I really liked Rachel, and I felt like I made a friend that night.

Now I’ll never drink another Jack and Coke as long as I live without thinking of Emma Jean’s.

This photo wasn’t taken at Emma Jean’s but I thought it was a good place to put a picture of Alysa and I. Unfortunately I don’t have any of Shawn because he was always the one taking the photos, sly bastard…but I promise, he does exist.

At around 11:30pm, and after $28 worth of food and drink (which consisted of 8 Jack and Cokes, two shots, a Corona and a pepperoni pizza), Alysa and I were plenty enough liquored up to explore the Super 8’s indoor pool…in our running clothes. We spent about a half hour blowing off some steam by racing each other across the pool and showing off our handstands in the shallow end (she beat me in the breast stroke but my handstands were way better). We were roughly as loud as a half dozen grade schoolers until we were asked to quiet down by hotel management (although we weren’t thrown out, despite the fact that we were wearing sports bras and capri running pants, and the pool had been closed three hours prior). Soon after, we dripped and stumbled back to our room and fell dead asleep, where Shawn had been for an hour already.

We were up and off by 10:00 the following morning, and the car was fine. We resolved to use neither the air conditioner, cruise control nor anything but premium gas for the rest of the trip and the car didn’t complain anymore. But we did, plenty. Late August is really hot in middle America!

Alysa trying to be a safe cross-country driver while I took photos in the passenger seat.

Riding in my Luna Sandals, which is what I wore the whole trip. Well, when I wasn’t barefoot.

Despite this small hitch and maybe one or two others, the drive across this beautiful country was really quite an amazing experience. We drove through some states that we absolutely fell in love with (Colorado being one of them). Because we chose to drive rather than fly, I think I was really able to feel the move, to better understand where I came from and where I was headed to. I left the state I grew up in, with its lush green forests lining the Atlantic, and travelled through the mountains, then through hundreds of miles of flat lands, then mountains again, then desert, and finally to the shores of the Pacific. I saw all the changes along the way, so that it was much more of an adventure to get to the place where all the palm trees grow. I saw so much from my car, smelled the air, felt the heat, and had plenty of time to further solidify my decision to move to California. Now, being in San Diego is as much of a geographical triumph as it is an emotional one. I find that to be a nice kind of closure.

Colorado was spectacular.

Utah was pretty too, and hot.

I recommend the drive to anyone who is looking to learn something about themselves and about the world they live in. Where you grew up is such a small place, and you can only ever learn so much before its borders stop you. Even if you grew up in Manhattan. Now, despite the tongue-in-cheek title of this article, I wouldn’t be so obtuse as to say that everyone should move 3,000 miles away from their hometown. But then again, what’s the harm in at least entertaining the thought?

The first Palm trees I saw in the whole trip, outside a McDonald’s in North Vegas. We didn’t stay long. And the breakfast food made me sick.

Just as we finally got near the coast in California. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, no lie.

We finally got to meet Vanessa and Shacky, the day after we arrived. Then it was all really real.

Since announcing this move, I have heard from a surprising amount of people regarding their own desires to make long distance moves. It seems for most people, something always stops them. A job. Kids. Their home. Their mother. For awhile Shawn and I thought that some of these things were holding us back, too. But as we really thought it through and carefully weighed out what meant the most to us in life, we gradually realized that we had absolutely nothing holding us back.

I would be lying if I said that everything went smooth as satin. Our house had to be short-sold, some logistical issues arose here and there, and a few of our friends and family members were less than supportive about the whole thing (in fact, some were even downright nasty). But that was okay. We knew what we wanted, and we were about to go get it. We knew that what we were doing wasn’t running away from our old life on the East Coast…we were running toward our new life on the West Coast. Not everyone in our lives understands that, but do they have to? The answer is no. And finally coming to that conclusion has led us to the best decision we have ever made as individuals and as a couple.

I guess what I’m saying is that there’s really no reason to stay in a life that’s “good” without ever shooting for some semblance of “much better.” I’m not trying to sound preachy here, but I mean, think about this for a moment: Just two short months ago I was living in a house that was too small and cost us too much money, flooded all the time, had a really ugly back yard and was bordered by annoying and inconsiderate neighbors. I was commuting over two hours to work each day and dreading the cold bite of winter. I was living in a place I’ve always been sure I don’t belong. People told me that it would cost me much more money to live just as well in San Diego, but they were completely wrong. I am now living in a much better environment in every single way, and it is going to cost me roughly the same, if not a little more, than before. And you know what? I’m willing to pay a little bit more money for a lot more happiness.

How about you? In what way do you wish you could change your life?

Our pod finally arriving and being parked. It was so nice to see our stuff again.

It’s just starting to come together now, but we already love our new house so much better than the old one.

Yes, yes, this is where the “magic” happens. But mostly sleep. And drooling.

My little loft work space is starting to look like one. Still have a lot more unpacking and setting up to get it going, though.

Our kitchen and dining room was such a mess on move in day. A happy mess!

Cooking our first real dinner.

It’s nice to have coffee out on the patio, next to palm trees.

…and have a beer next to them, later.

The kitchen, looking a bit like a kitchen after a week of organizing.

The dining room, still not looking much like a dining room after a week of organizing.

What I always try to tell myself. It works.


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The NEW New Goals

One thing to know about me is that while I’m really good at setting goals, I’m not always too spectacular at keeping them alive. Kind of like if you bought a really pretty bonsai plant for your house and then only watered it for a week. Some goals are just impossible for me to complete without first getting bored or otherwise distracted.

Sometimes my goals are met, though, at least partly if not fully. As planned, I completed my first 50K race this year. Also I ran a better half marathon. And in about two weeks my husband and I are moving across the country to San Diego, a goal we have had in mind since sometime around forever. Not too bad for 2012, I’d say.

And then there’s the goals I never completed: lose 30 pounds before the Pineland 50K. Finish a 20-mile training run. A 30-day running streak. 100-ups. The Paleo diet. Learn to love gardening.

All of these things were somewhat of a failure. And I think that’s because they were all things I thought I should try, rather than what I really¬†wanted to do. They are all similar, though, in meaning: a way of working toward self-improvement, and added self-awareness.

(Well, except for the gardening stuff. I’m never going to learn to love mowing the lawn and planting flowers. Forget it. So instead we are hiring a gardener to deal with the new place.)

It is a good thing to always aim at improving yourself. No matter where you are in life, there’s always room for a challenge or a change. So I have revised my short-term list of goals, based on my own current version of self-improvement and upward change. It’s not your list of goals, or Scott Jurek’s, or Vanessa Runs’…it’s mine. It’s not a long one, either. And I think that is why it just might work.

1. More Ultras

This one is simple. I want to run more ultras. 50k’s, 50 miles, and perhaps beyond that. Or perhaps not. Thing is, I don’t have a set time goal for any new distances (beyond 50K), because that’ll just set me up for stress and ultimate failure. Also I haven’t signed up for anything at all, yet. And I still like my half marathons and 10k’s, so I’m not sure I’ll ever completely eliminate them from my repertoire like some of my ultra friends have. I just know that I have so much more to learn from the ultra marathon, and I’m finding that I very much look forward to the experience.

2. Trails + Hills

This year I fell in love with the trail, which is very awesome. But I am still really fucking bad at running up and down hills. It’s not that I can’t do it. I really just don’t do it. Not very often, anyway. There aren’t a lot of hilly trails near me, and I don’t spend much time looking for them, either. So as a result, when I do find myself at the bottom of some hills, I run out of gas pretty quickly. But I can get better, I know it. I am strong and enduring. All it will take is some practice and some dedication to the other goals I’ve got listed here.

3. More Challenges

I have a lot of very talented mountain-running trail monkeys as friends. Shelly and Jason Robillard, Jesse Scott, Mr. Shacky-Shackleford, Vanessa Runs, Pat Sweeney, et al. Contrary to what you might think, I don’t want to be them. I don’t care if I run as fast or as far as any of them, ever. But, what they’ve shared about their journeys is very helpful to me. I have learned a lot about myself by watching them, following the goals they have achieved, and even by getting to run with some of them. I want more challenges, I want to experience more of the things that running can offer me, and I want to grow as a person because of it. I want to be faster, fitter, and to enjoy longer runs. And once I get there, hey…I guess I’ll have those crazy monkeys to thank for it.

4. Healthier Eating Habits

Yeah, I say it every day. I really gotta stop eating pizza and chocolate. Start counting calories again. Get back on Paleo. Maybe try vegan. Soon. Next week. Once we move. before my next ultra. Someday. Blah, blah.

Blah.

It never works. So, to hell with diets. It really just time for me to grow the fuck up and stop eating like a twenty year old. I’m 33 now. Pasta makes my belly fat and my belly fat keeps me from running fast. With the rest of my goals shifting towards better training and ultras, this is my goal to eat for the purpose of running fuel. Chances are, if I do this right and run as often as I want to, I’ll lose weight reasonably fast. And then I’ll finally be able to run reasonably fast.

5. Cross-Training

I am notoriously bad at cross training. I tell people that I don’t run for exercise, because if I did I’d probably only run twice a year. I don’t do well with exercise for the sake of exercise. It has to be a challenge, a game, or an art form for me to even consider wanting to do it regularly.

But I really need to get stronger to become a better runner. Something has to change. So next week I am cancelling my gym membership in Boston, and I’m not getting another one in San Diego. And I’m not joining any expensively ridiculous Crossfit gyms, either. Nope. Instead I’m buying myself a mountain bike, and I’m going to ride it on off days and for simple errands to cut down on gas usage. And I’m going to make myself a slosh tube (thanks for teaching me, Jason!) and get better at things like burpees and squats. I don’t need a gym membership to cross train. I just need some fucking motivation.

And that concludes my list. My hopes are that the change in scenery, the complete overhaul of my work hours and lack of commute, and my ultra-badass friends living nearby will all be helpful motivating factors. If nothing else I’ll be totally out of excuses.

 


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You Can’t Always Get What You Want…

 

…but sometimes, you actually do.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written anything personal in this blog,¬†and there’s two major reasons for that. The first is that I’ve been¬†overwhelmingly busy with the stressful process of selling our house,¬†organizing our move to California, a huge busy season at work that¬†involved travel, and squeezing in as much meaningful socializing as possible with folks we love here, prior to rolling out of New England for good at the¬†end of August. The second reason is that with all this cool stuff that¬†is going on, I haven’t been able to decide what topic to write about¬†that would reflect the climate of my thoughts, without coming off sounding braggy or trite to my readers.

As much as I would like to believe that people always understand where¬†I’m coming from and are genuinely happy for me when good things happen,¬†that’s just not always the case. There will always be some folks who¬†think you’re being a douche bag if you seem to be glowing in the¬†positivity of the life you’ve made for yourself, even when all you’re¬†trying to do is show your excitement and appreciation for it.

As a response, I try to remember that I do deserve all of this. I deserve it karmically because the universe seems to be finally balancing out all the shitty things that happened in my early life with some good stuff, and I deserve it literally because my husband and I have actively sought out and worked hard, on our own, toward all of these positive changes. In other words, anyone can be happy like us if they just try harder.

So if you’re reading this you’re probably thinking one of two things:

1. fuck this bitch
2. I should leave this girl a comment to tell her¬†she deserves everything coming her way and that she shouldn’t let¬†negative people bother her.

If you’re a number 2, you’re right. But the¬†fact is, I probably spend too much of my life trying to satiate those¬†number 1’s because I very much dislike being misunderstood. For example, I have wasted many hours of my life adding my outlier opinions to message boards and¬†Facebook comment threads, even while everyone else reading disagrees¬†with me, because I constantly seek that feeling of mutual¬†understanding in a conversation. Too often, as a result my original¬†intentions are miscontrued anyway, as well as my political stance on the¬†issue itself, and people just think I’m being defensive and argumentative. It’s very disappointing.

But I digress. This post was supposed to be about working toward what I want in life, being brave enough to take risks for it, and knowing how to be appreciative of the good stuff that comes from it. So on with it we go.

Shawn and I have been talking about a move to San Diego for several long years. Shawn grew up there, so for him the idea held a sense of closure, cyclical rightness. But there were a few things that held us back, and the overall theme of them was that there was really nothing telling us definitively that our lives would improve if we moved there. I mean, we both had decently-paying jobs in Boston, friends and family here, and there was just no outlying reason to move. No neon signs in the sky, if you will.

Why fix what’s not broken? Right?

And then the reasons started coming. Slow and hidden at first, but soon enough it was like a shower of neon signs coming out of the sky. It all started the day that Shawn finally quit his crappy day job back in February, to do sculpting full-time. We had been terrified of the change for years, but then we made the choice and all of a sudden I wasn’t scared anymore. Then, the day after he did it, all I could think was, “so when are we moving to California?”

Finally, it seemed to make some sense for us to move because then Shawn would have better access to prospective clients in the film industry, something he could do to supplement his freelancing income. But we still questioned whether the whole plan could come together enough to make sense. I mean, a move across the country is kind of a big deal. And although moving to a place isn’t exactly unretractable, we are both pretty sure that once we leave New England, we don’t want to move back.

So we sat down and created a list of needs for the move to make sense, as well as absolute idealities for the move to become our ultimate dream life. The list wasn’t long.¬†We knew we needed to have a viable way to get rid of our house, preferably without foreclosure. We both needed to have work, and for Shawn the ideal was to keep his freelance job and also begin to network in the film industry. For me it was a little more complicated. I would need to get a new job – and ideally, I didn’t want to have to take some crappy job I hate just to make money. My ultimate (and mostly secret, until now) career goal is to work as a freelance designer and perhaps a writer as well. But either way I needed some kind of job that doesn’t suck. And lastly, we needed to rent an affordable single-family home in a nice neighborhood, with a garage that Shawn could convert into a studio.

So here’s how it all went down for us.

First thing we did was put our house on the market. We knew we would have to go through a short sale, because we bought this house at a very high price that it will likely never see again. We wanted to sell it rather than just walk away, but we also knew we were not going to keep paying the mortgage after we left. So we decided that if the chips fell such that the house never sells before we foreclose, then we would just accept it as a lesson learned.

Well, the house received bids two days after we put it on the market, and the best of those bids went out to the bank before the weekend. We still don’t have a final answer from the bank, but we are hopeful. At any rate, the fact that our house found interested buyers so fast was a great sign that we made the right move.

And that we are excellent interior decorators. ūüôā

Next thing was Shawn’s career. Just as we were silently spreading the news of our big move, one of Shawn’s good friends out in Los Angeles decides to open an FX studio, starts placing bids on small films, and asks Shawn to be his principal sculptor once we arrive.

Then, mine. Once the bank received our bid I walked into my boss’s office to tell him the news. I had already interviewed remotely for a couple of jobs in San Diego but I didn’t get them. I was prepared to ask the boss to let me work remotely for one to three months so I could still earn some income while I looked for a new job out there. And I was so afraid he would throw me out of the office that I almost made myself a cardboard box beforehand, to carry my things out to the car. Instead, my boss surprised me by telling me he doesn’t want to lose me and would love to take me on long-term as a design contractor to the company. So not only do I not have to look for a crappy job after all, but I even get to become a freelancer and work from home.

This was starting to look better every day.

The most stressful part of this whole process has been finding a house. For a solid month I searched, applied, talked to landlords, emailed and faxed, collected bank statements and pay stubs, photocopied drivers licenses and paid innumerable credit check fees. We encountered so many roadblocks – some landlords didn’t like my credit score, some didn’t like my dog. Two owners decided last minute that they weren’t going to rent their home after all. But the biggest roadblock was that I wasn’t physically there, and we had such a huge disadvantage to the locals, we just kept getting overlooked.

Finally, right before I left for my business trip to Atlanta, I told myself that when I get back, I’m booking a flight out to San Diego and I’m not coming back until I find a place for us to live. Then something strange happened.

A little back story: we had four potential homes on our list at the time. Our #1 (favorite) home had just turned us away after a week of stalling, because the tenants decided not to move out. Our #2 and #3 places rented to locals. Then our number 4 place accepted us and asked for a deposit. I loved the landlord, she was a sweet, kind lady with a huge heart, and her home was a nice low price. And even though we accepted it, the house was so small that I questioned whether there would be enough room for Shawn’s enormous amount of stuff. And it had only one bathroom, a very small garage, a rather unkempt yard that we would be entirely responsible for, and it was in a town that I’d heard a lot of not-so-great things about.

So while I was away I laid awake in bed every night, worrying over whether we had settled on a house we weren’t going to love. But after looking for such a long time I was exhausted and just wanted somebody to accept us as tenants. And it was one of those things where, even though everything else seemed to be going our way, just the fact that I wasn’t totally happy with our choice of home made me question the viability of the whole move.

Then on the third day of my business trip I woke to an email from the owner of our #1 home: it would be available a month later than before, but the tenants were definitely going to be moving now, and we could have the house if we still wanted it.

A choir of angles started singing over my Marriott Buckhead hotel bed.

And what’s the best part of getting the house we wanted the most? It was also affordable for us! Go figure that. Actually, I really am confused by this, because from the second we uttered the words “We are moving to California” all I have heard from people around me is that cost of living is sooooooo much higher there. I guess I should be learning that it’s time to stop listening to people’s advice about housing, anyway – four years ago everybody told us it would be a great time to buy! What a laugh.

Anyway, here’s why I’m scratching my head about all of this housing affordability stuff: we will be going from a 1,200 square foot, 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath duplex in southern New Hampshire (50 minutes from a major city), with a cramped galley kitchen, a shitty unkempt yard, expensive oil heating and a sump pump that barely keeps water out of the basement … to a 1,700 square foot, 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom single-family home in a gated community in beautiful southern California (30 minutes from a major city), with a loft, fireplace, two-car garage, large kitchen, gas heat, no basement, shared swimming pool, palm trees and a bi-weekly gardener included.

All for roughly the same price.

Actually it will turn out to be a little less because we won’t have to make a monstrous down-payment or cough up for master insurance, property taxes, wintertime heating or maintenance and repair. Sure, gas is more expensive out there, but if you’re working from home…well, you get the picture.¬†And…we can leave anytime we want.

(Oh, and let’s not forget the trails located right across the street from the new house, ones that are unpaved and hilly and so very undeniably West Coast.)

Yanno, when I get real quiet with myself, I really do wonder why the hell we ever decided to become homeowners in the first place.

So then once all the big stuff was taken care of and I could breath again, there were all the little details left to consider. How are we going to get our cat across the country, since he can barely make it down the street in a car? Suddenly my friend Breha offers to take him into her home for a few weeks and pop him on a plane for us. How are we going to drive two cars and not die of boredom? Poof! – my cousin Alysa offers to accompany us on the drive. Now, I’m not the Religious/superstitious type, but if I was, I’d be telling you that somebody “up there” was making attempts to answer every conundrum we run into with a quick and definitive solution, to keep us moving smoothly toward our goal of dipping our feet into the Pacific Ocean with a Carne Asada burrito in each hand.

The signs are everywhere. I know that we will be happier once we move out to California next month. I mean, sure there will be setbacks, challenges and bad days. We will miss some things about the East Coast, and we will feel some holes where people we love used to be. But there is no question in either of our hearts that San Diego is our home. We expect there will be an improvement in just about every facet of our life once we are there, and I know a lot of it will be due to the fact that we made a choice just for us. Not for anyone else, and not because of anyone else’s shitty opinions.

It’s amazing what happens when you stop listening to everybody else’s advice about your life, and instead start living it like an everyday experiment. Even if you make more mistakes, the results are so much more explosive and rewarding when you discover them on your own.

…if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.


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The Big Move and My New Rules for Life

This post has been a long time coming. It’s a pretty big one for me, so¬†I considered starting it with some trite quotations about making your own happiness and following your dreams, but then I remembered that posting quotes is what you do when you’re trying to convince yourself to change your life for the better. But I’m already convinced. A change is coming.

Shawn and I are in the process of moving to the West Coast.

We’ve been saying it for years: we’re moving out to Cali. We love San Diego. We’re going back to where Shawn grew up. We have had it up to our eyeballs with shoveling snow and wearing wool socks. You know, all that glass-eyed bullshit that everyone says at one time or another. The promises they make to themselves (and to each other) that one day… yes, one day soon, they are going to make a change, dammit. And nobody really believes you when you’re the one spewing it, because hardly anyone ever follows through. I’m sure almost nobody believed us. In fact, I bet half of you reading this still think I’m talking out of my ass.

But no matter. In a few short months, we will be 3,000 miles away from the doubts and nay-sayings, anyway.

A bunch of years back, my husband Shawn found his calling. He discovered that his interest in superheroes and movies and his boundless artistic talent translate exceptionally well in clay and urethane. He started to build a portfolio of character masks, busts, monsters, superheroes, makeup applications and props. Turns out they were good. Very good. And soon enough he started attracting attention from FX companies, famous comic artists and even celebrities. Of course, they are all located in southern California.

Meanwhile, I met an incredible group of people who love to run barefoot and experience more of life than the average, ordinary American worker ant. I watched them leave jobs they hated, move out of states they didn’t love, get rid of their burdensome mortgages and the enslaving shopping-mall-bound obligations of the typical “American Dream.” Of course, most of them are located on the west coast.

(Anyone else see a pattern here?)

And then one day last October, I had dinner with two of those incredible folks, Jason and Shelly Robillard, and I told them about our American Dream. Our dream to live in a place where the sun shines all year round. Where palm trees grow in the yard and the sun sets over the ocean. A place where Shawn can find proper work in his field, and where I can find people to run barefoot with me in the middle of nowhere, under the warm February sun.

I told them how I have visited the city of San Diego three times; and how each time I stepped off the plane my first thought was always “this is home.” All my life before this, I have never belonged to any place. I’ve never heard a town call my name. But San Diego? She is my siren song. I love her already, and I think she will love me too.

When I was done talking, Jason and Shelly just looked at me.

“Well,” Shelly finally said. “Tell me this: what are the obstacles holding you back? And more importantly, how are you going to remove them?” Okay, that’s not exactly what she said, but that was the handle of it. In other words, she and Jason forced me to look at our life through a cleaner pane of glass. What was holding us back?

  1. Shawn’s job, which he hated but liked the pay and benefits
  2. My job, which I liked and didn’t exactly want to leave
  3. Our home, which we own and have a mortgage for
  4. The fabricated notion that we need to work typical nine-to-five jobs and make a certain amount of money to be happy

“Okay,”¬†they went on, “then what are you going to do to eliminate those obstacles, to have what you need to be happy? And if you fail to get what you need, what is the worst possible outcome that could result? Then, take a moment to really think about that outcome. In all honesty, would it really be that¬†bad? Wouldn’t there be a feasible way to resolve it?”

Turns out, the answer is no, it wouldn’t be that bad. Moreover, just about any situation can be righted, almost every risk can be minimized. And in fact, the biggest risk of all to our happiness is never taking any risks.

In addition to being a couple of exceptionally caring friends, those Robillards…well, they’re just plain brilliant.

Just the act of removing some of our self-imposed obstacles has turned out to be more of a source of happiness than we ever imagined. In February, Shawn found himself no longer employed at his job. So he started sculpting full time. And he has never been happier. His only regret? Not having done it sooner.

I have a feeling that we will echo the same thoughts once we move to California: why did we not do this sooner? What were we so afraid of?

Well, it’s time to stop being afraid. Time to stop carrying around the remains of whatever confining rules of adulthood that our parents and teachers have pounded into our heads our entire lives. It’s time to make some new rules.

In fact, I’ll start with a few now. And no, these aren’t a bunch of trite quotations. They are my own. And I encourage you to create a few for yourself.

Live how you want, because nobody else can make that choice for you, and nobody else will be responsible for it later

A bigger house, an expensive car and designer clothes don’t¬†make good people love you more

don’t sabotage your own personal growth by asking others for assistance instead of working through problems on your own

stand far enough behind the crowd to see which path everyone else is taking, then take the one nobody did

You don’t have to have children to experience the joy of caring for someone who loves you unconditionally

Making choices based on someone else’s desires won’t satisfy either of you

Work hard enough to challenge yourself, but not so hard that enjoying life is a challenge

Just because you were born here doesn’t mean this is where you¬†belong now

apologize to no one for the person you are, and especially not for the one you plan to become