AtB2011 details

“Remember what Bilbo used to say: It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Lord of the Rings”

The last day of my current contract is Friday, July 22nd and I start my 2011 America the Beautiful Tour the next morning. I’ve decided an EPL-style acronym would be AtB so I’ve dubbed it AtB2011 (#AtB2011). The trip will take me from Austin (TX) to Asheville (NC) to Ashland (OR) ~ Ax3. It just so happens that it currently has 3 legs – the southeastern leg, the western leg and the return leg. Time-wise, I’ve mapped out 3-4 months, but the duration is completely subject to whimsy and work. Below is a map overview. My routes don’t even cover half the country, yet I’ll probably log close to 10,000 miles. Amazing.

AtB part 1 :: Austin to Asheville

July 23 to August 23NC/SC/VA + St Louis-OKC

This first leg is primarily to connect with friends & family and test out my mobile set-up. I’m kicking off the whole deal with a personal development workshop in Charlotte. I’m super excited. Then my friend Jonathan and I are going to boogie our butts off at Floydfest. The line-up looks stellar and the site sits smack in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Xavier Rudd was supposed to play there, but sadly he had to cancel.

After the festival, I’ll spend a couple of weeks cruising around Western North Carolina – I lived there from 1992-2000 and adore the area. I have a week planned in Asheville to kick back and do some work-work. I’ll also visit my old stomping grounds in Boone and see family in Roanoke and Lynchburg, VA. Finally, I’m taking the long way home to rendezvous with college friends in St Louis for a weekend.

pit stop
August 24 to 31 – Texas

I’ll be on-boarding my new tenant (a visiting professor from Italy), swapping out gear and getting in some QT with the immediate family. Continue reading

Announcing my America the Beautiful tour

On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ places I may never see again
I can’t wait to get on the road again
~ Willie Nelson

(note: this image has not been altered #satanwantshisweatherback)

I’m not sure if it was the number of 100 degree days in a row or the arrival of seasonal allergies after 11 (!) sniffle-free years.  Or maybe the ridiculous number of construction projects along my daily commute. Or maybe even the specter of 2012 (the election, not the Mayan calendar, although the end result may be the same, ha). But when my National Parks Pass arrived in the mail on the very same day that a guy called up wanting to rent my house for the rest of the summer, it took me, oh, about ten minutes to decide I was leaving town for a while.

The US is a gorgeous country – it truly is America the Beautiful. The geography is incredibly varied and the scenery is often breath-taking. There are more amazing places than it seems possible to experience in an ordinary lifetime. When I unexpectedly won a one-year National Parks Pass, the seed for this road trip was planted. I joked that the Universe clearly wanted me to see more of my own country – and then pretty much realized that was the truth. Ever since then, I’ve been figuring out how to make it all work (both consciously and unconsciously).

Here is the photo that won the contest, by the way. A huge thank you to all who voted! It was taken in December 2009 at the top of the Pacaya volcano, which is outside Antigua & Guatemala City. Guatemala is also a gorgeous country. You should go see it. In fact, you should take any opportunity you have to see the world – it’s full of amazing places. And who knows how long any of it – or any of us – will be around.

(soapbox aside: You know how outraged some people felt about the Casey Anthony trial? Well that’s exactly how some of us feel when corporations and even our own government are allowed to get away with some heinous crime against the Earth. The planet will be (mostly) fine. But it’s a damn shame we couldn’t get our shit together and our priorities straightened out so future generations could have experienced the pristine places we’ve had access to. Instead they will contend with an increasingly polluted, unpleasant world. Some people believe technology will provide solutions that allow us to survive. They may well be right. But surviving and thriving – existing and enjoying – are not the same. Bubble Boy has survived thanks to technology and innovation, but he can’t run through a forest of magnificent trees or roll in a field of delicious flowers or canoe on a stream so clear you can barely see rocks 12 feet down)<– btw, I really wanted to use “soapbox” brackets but it confused the browser…

Anyway I’m going to take the opportunity presented and do a big ol’ peanut ride around the US. I’m going to see what I can see while it’s still here to enjoy.

Job-wise, my temp position is wrapping up and until my lotto numbers come up, I do need to earn a living – preferably one that supports my travel and music habits. So I’ll be using my laptop & wifi connections to handle the job search process. The reality is that most early-round interviews are done remotely anyway – phone, Skype, questionnaires. So I don’t think it’s a huge issue to be on the road whilst looking for a job. My ideal position is one where I can be location-independent anyway, which means I can work from anywhere with an internet connection. That might mean telecommuting and that might mean short-term contracting. Or maybe a position with a lot of flexibility or a seasonal schedule. I’m not sure yet. And I’m not stuck on anything in particular, other than doing something that feels right and not doing evil ;-). So if I’m going to look for a job where I can work from the road, what better place to find it than on the road!

“Do what you will while you’re able. Find what it is that you seek.” ~ Xavier Rudd


So all the pieces have fallen into place and next week, I’m loading up the wagon and cruising around the country for a few months. Woohoo ~ I am so flippin’ excited!!! I’ll be hiking and camping in several National Parks, visiting friends and checking out some new towns. Interested in the details? Want to meet me somewhere? I’ll post a tentative itinerary later this week.  Love, Audrey

my low- information, high-gratitude diet

The past six months have been pretty amazing. They’ve also pretty much kicked my ass. I’m blessed with a naturally high energy level, so I didn’t realize just how mentally fried I was.

Granted, I spent the better part of the winter traveling to awesome places and hanging out at the coast with my cat. I was on a fantastic high – calmed by the ocean, recovered from the negativity of my last job, detoxed from the digital overload of modern life, and excited by all the possibilities in front of me. It was a joyful, relaxed and fairly insulated existence.

But the entire time I was thinking. Thinking, thinking, thinking… Continue reading

Austin-bound (winter 2011 recap)

As I write this, I am preparing for my return to Austin. Since not everyone is up to speed on Audrey’s world, the fact that I ever left will be a surprise to some of you!

My latest adventure started in November, when I learned my position at the University had been eliminated (translation: I got laid off). Yeah, I was pretty shocked too! I didn’t see it coming – although the saying that hind-sight is 20/20 certainly applies in this case. I wisely decided to hold-off “sharing” the news widely until the edgier emotions were gone. That didn’t actually take very long…but then I got busy with having fun and dreaming about the future and in the end I just blew it off 🙂 So below is the “abridged” version of my winter.

First of all, like many things that blind-side us, the layoff started out pretty awful and ended up pretty awesome. It turns out being laid off is a whole lot like being dumped – there is a cycle you go through. Initially, your emotions and ego are in charge, so you swing between feeling hurt, numb and angry. Then the panic sets in – about how to pay your mortgage, about the job search, about not having health insurance (or being single, reentering the dating pool, being flabby/bald/boring) – whatever your fears are. Then you put one foot in front of the other, deal with whatever needs to be dealt with and start moving forward. And finally, at some point, you look back and realize you are genuinely better off without that job (or person) and that everything that happened really was in your highest good.

For me, the cycle took a few short weeks. I am blessed to have kind friends who ushered me through the initial period of hurt and panic, and kept me focused on the future (thank you, thank you, thank you). And it turns out that all the personal downsizing I’ve been doing for the past year allowed me to nimbly skip out and live another life for a little while.

After my return from a trip to Guatemala last year, I started consciously simplifying my life. I got very clear about the need to free myself – mentally and physically – from my excess stuff. I’ve always moved a lot (shout out to everyone who’s helped me move…some of you multiple times 😉 so I probably have a lot less crap than the average American. But I still had quite a bit of extraneous stuff, stuff I rarely used (if ever). I became aware of how much space and mental energy that stuff requires to own and how often I am distracted and drained by caring for my stuff – demands for my time, money and energy. So I began whittling away at anything I no longer needed (this is a process, not a one-time project, by the way). I also simplified my finances, gutted my mailing list subscriptions, stepped back from extra-curricular activities, and so on.

I eventually decided that I no longer wished to put my energy into my house, and in early November, I put the it on the market. It had exactly 2 showings the first 2 weeks – dismal. But I didn’t care. I had gotten to a place where I was excited – really excited – to sell it. I had a post-homeownership vision that I could practically taste: move my stripped down belongings into a cute garage apartment near the University, ride my bike and walk to work, to the food co-op, to the radio station, to my sister’s house…maybe even sell my car and use car share or get a scooter (woohoo!). My expenses would be cut in half and I would quickly pay off my last remaining debt – my massive student loan! And THEN I would be FREE!

Why am I sharing this vision here? Because even though I had this fantastic, elaborate plan fleshed out in my head, I suppose what I most often saying was simply “I can’t wait to be free!” And funny enough, I got what I was asking for. The day before Thanksgiving break (ouch), in a short and tidy conversation, I was told my position had been eliminated. It was like the lyrics in that sunscreen song “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind: the kind that blindsides you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday” (by the way, that song is totally worth listening to right now I was initially shocked and momentarily devastated. But even in those first moments, as I staggered out of the building into the sun, I remember smiling through my tears because I understood at some deep level that a) I would be fine and b) I had been set free.

Naturally time dulls the emotions and gives us wonderful perspective. Looking back , it is clear that that position was a struggle I no longer needed to engage in. It was challenging from day one and, although I learned tremendously from the experience, I had long since wrung every bit of growth there was out of it. I believe the Universe – God, Source, whatever name you want to use – always gives us what we need. I find this to be an unfailing truth, although how it goes down is not always how we would have chosen (I learned this important concept during my divorce).

After a couple of weeks of nursing my wounds, I was able to switch gears pretty quickly. I rented my house fully furnished to a visiting professor and headed down to my parent’s property on the Texas coast. I moved to an adorable garage apartment (!) on the water – for free! And me and Jackson (el gato) spent a lovely winter enjoying a wonderful mini-retirement. See how that worked out?

It’s been a month since I wrote these words and my feelings are the same:

(February 18, 2011) As I write this, I am looking out over the bay in front of my family’s property, watching and listening to all of the birds that come to winter in south Texas. My curious and energetic niece and nephew – visiting from Austin – are playing in the yard . My harmonica, my hula hoop, my straw hat, my colored pencils and my grouchy kitty, Jackson, have all been called into duty, played with and discarded. They each endured their fates like champions – especially Jackson who originally came to live with me because he doesn’t like children at all. It’s another gorgeous day and I’m smiling about how I came to be sitting on the water in a sleeveless shirt in the middle of a brutal North American winter. I am tremendously grateful for my life and my opportunities. And I am in complete awe of my personal evolution and all that I’ve come to understand as my own truth in the past year and a half.

Looking back on the last 4 months (4 years…), I feel tremendous gratitude for the twisty turns of my life. After this latest twist, I spent 3 fabulous weeks in Mexico and the warm Caribbean waters, exercising my Spanish and my body. I also took a cruise with my mother and a road-trip to visit lovely friends, family and hot springs that I adore.

In between my travels, I’ve spent my days being relaxed and creative. I read. I write. I dream. I take pictures and take walks on the water. Every day I sleep enough, floss, carefully wash my face. I cook meals with fresh veggies and fruit. I do yoga and ride my bike. I help my parents. I brush my kitty. I practice gratitude. In short – I’m living well. Although it’s not sexy or exciting, one thing that has stood out this winter is that having the time to relax and take care of you makes for a happy and healthy existence.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine. It’s practically a full-time job to separate from the University, get health insurance, deal with unemployment and apply for jobs. None of that has been particularly fun or fulfilling. I’ve just tried to face them with grace and move forward.

So what’s next? Well, starting Wednesday I’m joining my old department for a few months. I am super-grateful for this opportunity and super-happy to be working with some of my old colleagues again. The lease on my house is up June 15 and I’ll either re-rent or list it for sale (let me know if you know anyone who might be interested). **And speaking of renting, I’m looking for an inexpensive, cat-friendly place near campus from April until late June or July. Solo living or roomies are fine. Please contact me if you have any leads. I won’t have a garage permit so bikeable/walkable is key.**

After that gig ends … I do not know. I have faith that interesting opportunities will come my way. It’s entirely possible my life will continue it’s lovely zig-zag pattern and I’m completely OK with that. A million ideas sprouted in my head over the past few months and a million more are germinating. I have to say that it’s been a lot of fun – fun to dream, fun to play with the ideas, fun to feel inspired!

And this, my friends, has been the peace-love-n-happiness version of my winter. To those of you who are in Austin, I’ll see ya soon. To those of you who aren’t, come visit! We’ll have fun…promise!


Thoreau’s Worst Nightmare [article in Mother Jones]

This is an interesting read for anyone who is crawling (walking? running?) down the path of intentional downsizing and simple(r) living.  Thoreau’s Worst Nightmare 

As I’ve evaluated how to best jive my lifestyle with my values and goals, I’ve encountered more of what this author calls gimmick than I ever expected.  And to be fair, this is the world we live in, where everyone and everything is branded.  I’m not sure the branding is avoidable for those who choose to participate in society.  And I do admire those who are trying to creatively make a living.  I think the real question (I think, not sure) is whether you are helping someone else with your writing/experiment.  If it changes a few lives, makes people think, then great.

I especially appreciate this reminder in the closing paragraph:

“We must strive for continuous, daily, incremental improvement toward whatever social, environmental, and economic goals we deem important.”

warning: old material

Note:  the older material on this blog was imported from my personal blog, which I started whilst engaged in Transitional Travel after my divorce. It is meant to provide inspiration and proof that traveling during transition can be a very positive thing to do!

Factoid:  the original name of my blog was Operation Sparkle Search.  It was inspired by the parting comment from my boss, who wished me luck and said she knew I’d get my sparkle back. 


I´m off!  My rough schedules is

Dec 17 fly into Guatemala City
Dec 17 to 19 in Antigua, Guatemala
Dec 19 to 26 in Santa Cruz de Laguna on Lake Atitlan for spanish class
Dec 26 to 28 in Tikal near Flores, GT (exploring massive Maya site Tikal)
Dec 28 fly to Cancun to meet Stephanie
From here it gets a little more loose.  Our reservations for the 28 and 29 got cancelled so we are up in the air now on plans but will probably do some ruins
Dec 30 to Jan 3 in Xcalak, Mexico on as close to a deserted beach as we can get
Jan 3 to 5 more ruins in Mexico
Jan 6 fly home

I was picked up for the airport at 6am in the rain.  I had stayed up all night preparing and was really behind…I confess to possibly the worst packing job EVER.  I got to the airport in enough time to repack and had an uneventful flight.  I arrived in Guatemala City without transport to Antigua (I really waited to the last minute on planning) but found a shuttle straight off.  I rode with 2 women from Ashland, Oregon, which is where my traveling companion for the 2nd half of the trip lives.  Incidentally, as I type this, I just ran into them again and so I suspect they will be some of the travelers you see on the road repeatedly. 

I love traveling and travelers.  You don´t ask “where are you from?” and “what do you do?”.  You ask “where have you been?”, “where are you going?”,”do you know this place or that place ?” and maybe “where do you live (now)?” 

Antigua is a lovely Colonial town.  It is in a valley of about 1500m surrounded by volcanoes.  The weather is ideal.  Everyone said it was very easy to live here and I can see that.  There are lots of people taking Spanish classes and passing through for a few days enroute to other spots.  I think it would be easy enough to enjoy Antigua if you don´t speak spanish, but most people do and the locals speak to you en espanol first.

I´m off to explore and get some sleep.  Guatemala seems to have plenty of internet cafes so I should be able to keep a reasonable blog.  However Mexico will likely be light on web access. 

nb I started this when I was exhausted and apparently did not publish.  I am now 3 days in and more updates to come.

Opinion, damnit!

I recently fired up the blog again and my friend G told me the other night that he had this image of my blog title looking something like this:

Operation Sparkle Search
The Blog Formerly Known as Operation Sparkle Search
Opinion, Damnit!!!

Well, of course, it’s named Observations, Opinions and Adventures (although I admit I strongly considered ¡abrir sus ojos!  – be aware! or more literally, open your eyes! 😉

Since I pretty much post my short quips and observations on Facebook these days, the re-booted blog has been heavy on the Observations and Opinions (damnit!) component.  This is a part of who I am – the issues I pay attention to are my passions and the opinions I have beg for a constructive outlet. 

But the time has arrived for a heaping dose of ADVENTURE!!!  And I am very Very VERY excited for my upcoming travels.  At the same time, I’m excited/outraged/opinionated about some big things going down in our world right now.  And I’m confident that while traveling and meeting people from across the globe and seeing things from a new perspective, I’ll want to share my thoughts on those big things in addition to my day-to-day adventures (see my older travel posts).

I have many different wonderful people in my life and I don’t expect everyone to agree with or appreciate every single thing I have to say.  But we do enjoy being in each others lives, so thank you for reading my blog!  I hope you will consider everything, take what resonates and leave the rest!

The official countdown has begun!  I’m about to get my travel on!  “Final” itinerary to be posted shortly…!!!

Travel planning

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” ~ Mark Twain

I’m deep in travel planning mode again.  I love love love to research travel.  For some, it’s overwhelming – for me, it’s a passion.

So I have 3 weeks over the holidaze to travel.  The timing sucks, in terms of crowds and prices, but I am compelled to take advantage of the 2 weeks my workplace shuts down.

The goals for this trip are
1) see a new country (preferably a Spanish speaking one)
2) take a week of Spanish classes to improve my shaky skills
3) try diving, even if it’s just the silly explore scuba variety

When I was in Isla Mujeres, Mexico in August, I realized how much I enjoy speaking Spanish.  I’m not good at it, but I enjoy it.  I also remembered how much I love the warm waters of the Caribbean. 

This trip has evolved a lot since it’s inception.  I started out going to Bocas del Toro, Panama for 2 weeks of Spanish and diving.  Then decided I wanted some mountain time too so I planned to split my time between BDT and Boquette in the highlands.  Then I decided I wanted to travel around a bit more, so I ditched the full week in Bocas and brought the Spanish classes down to one week of the trip.

Soon after, I was turned off by Bocas for various reasons (bugs, lack of accessible beachfront accommodation) and shifted my focus to the Pacific coast of Panama and then up to Costa Rica.  I’ve already seen much of CR but I reasoned that taking classes would have me in one place for the week so who cares.

I should mention that in order to help the economy of the US and our neighbors, I’ve been keeping my international travels in the Americas this year.  I never considered going farther south than Central America because flight costs over Christmas are too high.

I can’t remember how the next shift happened, but after much wine, some friends convinced me that I shouldn’t ignore Mexico as a destination just because it’s next door – it’s easy and cheap to get there and  some of the best diving in the world is there.  That didn’t satisfy my #1 requirement (new country), so I started exploring Guatemala and Belize as places to visit in conjunction with Mexico.  I had all but decided on a week of classes in Antigua, Guatemala, followed by overland travel to see some Mayan ruins, then diving in Caye Caulker (no spanish there but eh).

But last week, another change of plan came when my old friend Stephanie expressed interest in meeting me for the final beach leg of my trip.  We’ve known each other half our lives now, have lived together and travel well together. So we are currently power-coordinating our schedules, desires and various flight costs, trying to find the best plan.  Cancun is by far the most affordable airport for her.  So right now, we are looking at 4-5 days on the Costa Maya (south of Tulum).  The fact that we are coming over New Years is presenting some budgetary and availability challenges.  If anyone has recommendations for non-touristy, non-yuppified towns that have sugar sand beaches with clear water, please let me know.  Eco-friendly is fab and off the grid is no problem.  Wheee!