Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mitchell, South Dakota, Home of the Corn Palace

The gorgeous view outside the car window for miles and miles. It was like this on all sides. Can you see how big the sky is? That iPhone takes great pictures!

Gas station in Mitchell, South Dakota

Windmill on Route 90 in South Dakota

When Joshua and I took our cross country trip twenty years ago, we stopped in the place where we are right now, which is Mitchell, South Dakota, home of the Corn Palace ( When we passed through two decades ago, we got a Corn Palace pen that I loved and used for years and years until it finally ran out of ink. It had a little liquid chamber where a corn cob would move up and down if you tilted the pen. I am happy to report that I was able to pick up another one, although I was a bit dismayed at the $4.99 price tag for one crappy pen! I hope this one lasts as long as the other one did. Instead of corn it has a moving bird.

Today we drove four hours from Makato to Mitchell. It was a beautiful drive full of miles and miles of corn fields, lots of windmills, slightly pink highway roads and the biggest sky you can imagine. As we drove, Joshua put on great music to accompany the ride (Bob Dylan, Greg Brown, Johnny Cash, and Neil Young). The music made me feel like something profound was happening, even though I wasn't sure what it was. I was amazed to be driving through a place that is still America and yet so incredibly different from Vermont, or Ohio, or Maryland, for example. I tried very hard to imagine what it might be like to live in South Dakota, and honestly, just couldn't do it.

Mitchell itself is kind of a sad and depressing town. Besides the Corn Palace, which isn't all that exciting, there really isn't much going on here, especially on a Sunday. We are at a hotel and were able to enjoy some time at the pool after a day of scorching sun. The rest of the week will be spent heading towards Bellingham, Washington and we will be camping the whole time. We are enjoying a last taste of showers and flushing toilets and tv movies before embarking on lots of nature. Next stop is the Badlands.....

Thank you all for your nice comments. Glad to have you on the journey with us. xo

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Fiona and Eli asleep in Mankato, Minnesota.

Visiting with Andrew and Catherine at a wonderful breakfast place in Madison.

Last night stayed in St. Paul with some very new, very generous friends who let us stay in their apartment after only knowing us for a few hours and they even let us stay there after they had to leave the state for their daughter's wedding the next morning. We were nourished by their hospitality and thrilled by having such a colorful and comfortable place to stay. Although traveling is so much fun and on this particular journey, quite the adventure, it is tiring! So many constant new experiences for all. Being taken care of by other kind souls is so nourishing.

Several of us got a bit too hungry this morning, so we made some toast to tide us over. We went to visit some friends from Japan that we hadn't seen since our last cross country trip twenty years ago. We chatted with them for a long time while Eli ran around the yard alternating with Isaac and Fiona as playmates.

I am noticing that I am inclined to write a lot about food. I guess it is because feeding everyone is such an accomplishment on the road--especially the almost seven year old! The eating in and of itself is such an adventure. For dinner tonight we went to a noodle restaurant. They served all styles of noodle: Asian, Italian and American. It was a simple solution. Too bad the seven year old isn't fond of pasta. I thought all kids liked pasta. Hm.

After stocking up at the last Whole Foods we will see for several large states, we drove to Mankato, Minnesota, where we are now, in a Days Inn getting ready to head into South Dakota tomorrow.

Here is a little request. If you are reading this blog, leave a little note or hello if you would. It is so nice to feel you all with us on this journey, and we love hearing from all of you!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Madison to Minnesota

Cora and Bird in Madison, Wisconsin

Joshua and Eli at Lake Michigan.

Isaac checking out our new tent.

Joshua in front of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music

After several excellent days in Oberlin we drove to Sturgis, Michigan for our first night of camping. On the way we made a stop in Ann Arbor, Michigan where we visited with an old friend of Joshua's from Oberlin that he hadn't seen in over 20 years. Susan and Rob and their two boys greeted us with a wonderful lunch outdoor lunch of homemade pizza and blueberry cobbler. We all had a delightful visit. Once Eli settled in to feeling comfortable, he even played some football with the boys.

After that we drove to the Warren Dunes State Park on recommendation of the Ritchey family. We learned that it is important to arrive at the campgrounds with plenty of time to set up camp, make food, clean up food, and do so all before the mosquitoes arrive. Unfortunately, we learned this the hard way, by arriving late and hooking up with the mosquitoes just as we were sitting down to eat.

It was a bit of a rough first night of camping, but when we woke up and put away the tent and all of our things, we drove over to the dunes, which were just beautiful and right next to Lake Michigan. It made the rough night worth it. We wished we could have stayed at the Lake all day, but we had a lot of driving to do and stayed only a little while.

After that we had a long driving day from Sturgis to Madison, Wisconsin. We arrived in time for dinner at the home of our friends, Bird and Tom. We had known these lovely people from Japan and hadn't seen them in sixteen years, when our oldest children were newborn babies. It was great to reconnect and also meet their other two children, whom we had only seen pictures of before. We loved staying with this great family in their beautiful home right on one of the two lakes of Madison. They were all so warm and generous.

While in Madison I got to visit with my childhood friend, Kira, whom I hadn't seen since high school. Kira made us a delicious feast for lunch. It is amazing to visit with people who you know from early on in your life and then see them so many years later. What a thrill to meet her beautiful family and hear about her life for all those years that I missed.

Isaac and Joshua took a tour of the University with Emmett and Tom. Apparently it was quite different from the Oberlin tour. No surprise there, given that the University of Wisconsin is ten times bigger than Oberlin, among other huge differences. I am so glad that Isaac is getting this chance to check out different schools and see what the college thing is all about. It will be fun to show him schools when they are in session in September.

This morning we had breakfast in Madison with our friend Andrew (that we know from Oberlin) and his wife and twin boys. We ate a great breakfast place called Lazy Jane's Cafe. Again it was so great to connect with old friends. Catherine took us to her house and around the neighborhood. Madison is so sweet! What a lovely place. We are looking forward to going back there.

The rest of the day involved driving to St. Paul, Minnesota where we are currently. More to say about that next time. Time to get to bed. I am exhausted.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Being in Oberlin

The Honda Odyssey pulling away to start the odyssey.

Here we are in the driveway in Wendell about to set off on our journey.

We've had a lovely several days staying with our wonderful friend, Rebecca, in Oberlin. It has been just great showing the kids where we met, where we were married and where we started to find out so much about ourselves and our place in the world.

There have been many improvements made to this great school in twenty years. Hard to get my brain around the fact that I graduated twenty years ago. That is just weird. We took a tour with a student intern from the admissions office. Going around campus with her and walking into many of the buildings brought back so many memories. I remembered how much fun I had going here and what a deeply rich experience it was. Sending me here for college was one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me. I'm feeling really appreciative of that. I'm glad we'll get to pass through here again in September.

We're still figuring out how we do this whole traveling thing--which bags to bring in which situations, the food, the sleeping arrangements. I love our little family and the way we all look out for each other. We're working it all out one little piece at a time.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Awesome Eli

Eli in Wendell, before we left for our trip. He's just so cool, I had to post this picture.


We are now in Oberlin, Ohio, excited about revisiting and exploring the place where the Pearl family began--where Cora and I received our college education, fell in love during our last year of school, and came back to get married a year later. Oberlin is the place that I envision when I think of the Neil Young lyric "All my changes were there..."

It is here that I was first exposed to a larger world. It is here where I formed my ideals, developed the foundation of my belief system, and discovered that there are others who share in my passion for critical thought and deep creativity. Here is where I met, for the first time, people from radically different backgrounds and cultures. Within this safe, corn-field-surrounded campus, I awoke, over and over again, to the early callings of my Soul.

But that was then and this is now.

Right now, church bells are ringing in the distance as I contemplate what my dear friend Rebecca said last night about the Pearl family odyssey.

She suggested that this entire year, from the clearing out of our material belongings and uprooting of daily habitat and routines, to the exploratory road trip we are on right now, characterizes what is called a Wanderjahre in German: a year of wandering that is usually taken by young graduates between the completion of their formal education and the beginning of a settled career and lifestyle. It is the proverbial year to travel abroad and "figure out what you want to do next." By embracing occasional periods of "wandering" that inevitably arise over the course of a lifetime, people avoid getting stuck in ruts and falling asleep at the wheel of life.

Thank you for that term, Rebecca. Although it is usually used to describe an individual's journey, it feels like we have been on a family wanderjahre--our year of wandering (and wondering).

It reminds me of a bumper sticker that I used to see often in Woodstock: "Not All Who Wander Are Lost."


Friday, July 17, 2009

The Journey Begins: Ideals and Reality

As we embark on our Keroakian family nomadic experiment, I am filled with the enthusiasm that comes when one takes a leap into their ideals. At the same time, I am keenly aware of the stream of responsibilities and realities that go hand in hand with any expression of freedom.

Ideal #1: By letting go of our house, 2/3 of our things and many of our routines for a mobile lifestyle, we are expanding our sense of home. Eventually, we will all feel at home wherever we are, regardless of circumstances.

Reality #1: We will be developing systems and routines for setting up camp wherever we find ourselves. This means unpacking (and eventually repacking) two tents, five sleeping bags and rolls, a kitchen made up of a butane stove, two milk crates filled with cooking and dining supplies and a perishables cooler bag, a mobile music recording studio and office, five large duffle bags, five smaller day bags, and five even smaller "handy bags."

Ideal #2: By flying in the face of convention and taking a cross-country odyssey with a family of five, we are expressing the creativity and freedom available to all of us any time we summon it. We are teaching ourselves and our children that when things aren't working, you can just change direction and try something new. From this open context, all is possible.

Reality #2: Everyday continues to be a challenge to make a good life and a good living. Freedom is a state of mind, and the cell phone bills and auto lease bills don't care how free I feel or what state of mind I am in--they just need to be paid on time.

Ideal #3: As an artist, I have the tools and technologies available to be in a constant state of prolific output. Between my MacBook Pro, iPhone 3Gs, Apogee Duet interface, 4 microphones, 2 mic stands, hard drive, and journals, I can record, write, publish, and recieve real-time audience feedback everyday without a physical studio or office.

Reality #3: I fit in my creative expression wherever I can. Between driving, eating, answering the kids' multitude of ongoing questions, emailing, mobile banking, and planning, focus and privacy are precious commodities which will appear unpredictably and must be siezed. I will create when and where I can.

These are just a few ideals and realities that are dancing through this odyssey so far. Sometime the dance is a colorful play of opposites and somtimes it's a battle.

Right now, it is pure fun.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


First lesson of life on the road: ALWAYS have food available to snack on whenever you are in the car.

We were so focused on packing up ourselves and our car for the next two months that somehow the matter of Today slipped by a little bit. Lena made a fabulous breakfast for everyone (heart shaped blueberry pancakes) and somehow in my mind that meant that our kids were fed for the day.

It didn't take long for hunger to kick in a few hours into our trip. Although we had packed all kinds of great food in our "kitchen," it was all in the bottom of the trunk and inaccessible. All the kitchen food was intended for camping. The only food we had that was intended for today was last minute pretzels and peanut butter crackers that Lena gave us on the way out. Thank goodness for those or it would have been a real drag.

We got a roast beef and a turkey grinder in Enfield, Connecticut. If you don't make it to the roadside deli there in Enfield, you won't be missing much.

We had a full day of driving and are now at our dear friends' house in Milford, New Jersey. It is late and we are tired. It is nice that everyone is tucked in bed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Almost Ready to Go

It is amazing how a day can seem short or long. Today was one of the longest days ever. So much to do. So much got done. Packing. Strategizing. Planning. Deciding. And many many trips up and down the stairs.

We are almost all the way packed. Tomorrow we figure out exactly how all the bags will fit in the van. We have large and small duffle bags for all our personal items. Joshua has black, I have royal blue, Isaac has red, Fiona has forest green and Eli has bright yellow. The big bags are too big to lug around so we are using the smaller bags to carry enough things for three days at a time. We also have a set of kitchen things, office things, studio/music things, and a very large soft thing that fits on the roof of the van that is filled with tents, sleeping bags, pillows, blankets and camping supplies. We decided to take out the 8th seat of the van in order to accommodate so many things.

Although we are very excited to be taking this trip, we are all sad about leaving our dear Morimoto family. Living with them for the last six and a half months has been such a wonderful, rich, deep, lovely and excellent experience. All of us have been in a bit of a stupor today trying to deal with all the feelings about not being with our extended family for a while.

So many of you have been so kind and supportive of us as we embark on this journey. Thank you all for your kindness and love and enthusiasm! It really gives us a lot of energy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Trip Preparations

Yesterday Joshua and I drove to Northampton to get some work done on the Honda Odyssey that will be taking us on our family odyssey. There was some kind of mysterious computer error that was causing dashboard lights to come on--brake lights, ABS! and a flashing D for drive, even in "park" mode. While they were taking all day to figure out the problem, Honda rented us a very large, gas guzzling GMC Acadia. Being on the small side of size ourselves, sitting in those seats felt like we were driving a truck.

After acquiring the rental car we drove down to our storage unit in Woodstock to get our camping supplies and then to New Jersey to purchase the camping equipment needed for our trip. Thank goodness the kids stayed in Massachusetts with Lena. There was so much to do and so much driving that we ended up getting home shortly before 3am.

Just before heading back to the family we made a stop at the brand new Fairway supermarket in New Jersey and stocked up on some food supplies for the car cooler and also picked up some dinner from the hot food bar--Vietnamise Chicken and Korean Pork with rice and mushrooms and a mini samosa. Oh yes, and taboule on the side. Got a little stomach ache on the way home. I guess there is such thing as too much variety.

Today we found out that the car problem was something to do with a "connector," you know, the thing in the car that connects one thing to the other thing. Make sure you check your connector! You don't want to walk around unconnected, do you?

Today we will return the monster car and pick up the van, make more lists, clean up messes, feed kids, and generally make more preparations.

Started the day with a hot tub with Fiona and Eli. Nice way to start the day.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Getting Ready for the Road

You know how, when you are giving your computer too many commands, a little rainbow circle (on a Mac anyway, maybe on a PC there is another shape) spins around and around like a beach ball? Joshua and I call that "beachballing." As our family gets ready to embark on a two month Odyssey in our Honda Odyssey across America, we are finding ourselves beachballing! There are a lot of things to think about in preparation for this big trip, but little by little we are getting it done, so long as we don't give our brains too many commands at once.

Aside from the beachballing, there are many feelings to contend with: sadness at leaving the Morimotos for a little while, excitement about traveling, overwhelment with having so many details to think about.

One very cool thing about all this is, that twenty years ago, soon after we graduated from Oberlin College, Joshua and I traveled cross country for two and a half months before we went to Japan. We had a little red 1981 Ford Escort that had a manual transmission with only four gears, manual windows, and no power steering. We called that wonderful little car Sadie Sue Smilowitz and she lovingly zipped around the whole country for us, showing us everything from the Smoky Mountains to the Rockies and a whole lot more in between. Now it is a few decades later and we are going on the road with our family of five. We will show our children the spot where we got married, the Seaquest State Park in Washington state which inspired us so much, the Grand Canyon where a little piece of itself got lodged in my right index finger, and the chance for our children to meet some of the people that we knew before they were born, that we still love and are so excited to see.

For the last six months we have been living with our dear friends, the Morimoto family, in western Massachusetts. We have been visiting with them for the last eighteen years, every six to eight weeks. Who knew it would partially be in preparation for such an extended visit? Living with them for six months straight has certainly upped the intensity and intimacy levels, but it has felt very natural and joyous. Words cannot really describe the love and gratitude we feel for them, but hopefully they can feel it without the words. It is a daily feeling of abundance and appreciation, having such wonderful friends to love and be loved by.

So off we go, with a departure date set for Thursday, the 16th. More news, stories and pictures to follow.

Stay in touch dear ones!