Stay Strong… And No Dark Places Alone

This is my new mantra…

Inspired by an email response from my SBFF, Marylee…


What started as an email to my son, John, in Ireland, catching him up with our life in Oregon at the moment, soon became the perfect venue for venting my frustrations. See my previous post, Staying Strong… for details.

Amazingly, it is easier for me to write down my dark place experiences than it is for me to call someone up and talk. As soon as I press send, I feel stronger.

John captures my main themes and provides me appropriate perspectives to ponder: living on a fixed income, adjusting to RV life, following our dream, and aging.

So… Saturday I leave Jeff and the dogs behind, get in the car, and drive myself out of the dark.

My destination is Brosi’s Orchards in Winston to buy fresh peaches, eggs, corn, zucchini, and the last of the cherries. But I take an hour drive up and back Upper Creek Road, a half mile east of Remote Outpost first. My radio is tuned to 92.9, the oldies channel from Coos Bay, and my windows are down as I inch my way up from the pond


in search of the end of the road, which I never do find. (Actually, this pic was taken on my way down when the sun finally came out.)

But, here is what I do find as I climb up the mountainside in my little car:

Scenic views of the creek and



evidence of recent logging…


The abandoned remains of campfires and litter, left by the homeless, appear under large tree-covered clearings.

Most of the clearings, however, lead to logging roads, some that are gated off by timber companies, and others that are blocked by a fence of large rocks and boulders.

I keep driving until I reach sunshine and blue sky.


And then I drive further, hoping to arrive at the top of the mountainside. Just when I think I am almost there,


the road narrows and turns into intermittent patches of gravel and ruts. I decide to turn back when I can see a portion of scalped mountainside.


On the way down Carly Simon is singing Baby, you’re the best on the radio and the sunlight captures a hot pink moment along the roadside.


As I return to the pond,


I work my way out, exiting left to Hwy 42 towards Winston and I think about what John said to me. Aging, retiring, living on a fixed income, full-time RVing, are all still new to us. We are still figuring out how to follow our dream at this stage of our life. So, here are some positive ways to look at the themes mentioned above:



Living on a Fixed Income…


Adjusting to Full-Time RVing…


Following Your Dream…


Being Long-Distance Grandparents…


Aging/Growing Old…



Special thanks to my family: David, Marylee, Andy, John, Amanda, Jen, Brian, Tim, and Jeff for listening, for not judging, for sharing, for digging me out, and for planting me in fertile soil to grow strong again.

Staying Strong… Authenticity, Support, and Dark Places

image I used to get my fingernails painted in multi-colors before it became a fad. I used to get my hair dyed red with a blonde streak. I used to wear big bold earings. I used to shave my legs and arm pits more often. I used to take a shower everyday and wear a little make-up… foundation, mascara, and lipstick.

Now, I’ve let my hair color grow out to its natural gray, my fingernails are colorless, my pierced ears have closed, I only wear lipgloss on my face, I take more “sponge baths”, and I do laundry every 8-10 days depending upon when my underwear runs out. I’ve even changed my avatar.

TMI? Who cares? What does this have to do with staying strong?

I’m still me but my priorities are transforming. The most obvious ways are physical, but the exciting changes are more psychological and spiritual. The more somber adjustments are due to growing older.

Transforming Logs Into Surreal Statues by YOSHITOSHI KANEMAKI courtesy of

Transforming Logs Into Surreal Statues by YOSHITOSHI KANEMAKI courtesy of

I’m strong in my commitment to living an RV life-style where less becomes more and where we park becomes home. My initiative to simplify my beauty requirements makes me stronger, more confident, more authentic as a person.


I feel more real. What you see is what you get. And my hope is that you see the goodness of my soul and the strength of my love.

Staying strong also requires relationships that are strong. And I am so blessed with a circle of family and friends that support, inspire, challenge, and advise me.


More importantly they accept the real me and help me deal with my ever changing reality. I hope you can say that I do this for you too. Yes, being authentic requires strength. It’s so much easier for me to deny my negative feelings and insecurities and just put on a happy face for the world to see.

But sometimes, when I’m all alone with myself, I sit in a dark place. Yes, this takes strength too because I have to face my shortcomings and find a way out.


And this is where I need my family and friends to support me, accept me, and lend me their strength to see that light out of the darkness.


By now you are probably wondering what happened to inspire me to write this post… Here’s the story:

Jeff and I have been work camping hosts in southwest Oregon for almost 3 months now. Just as we are beginning to feel more confident and comfortable in our duties, Jeff falls on June 19th sprinting after our dog, Casey, who pushes open the RV’s screen door to chase a guest’s cat. His right leg goes numb and gives out, causing him to do the splits, fall on his back, and end up with his right leg up in the air like a contortionist. After Jeff drops the F-bomb loudly several times, Casey returns and I am prepared to take Jeff to the nearest hospital Emergency Room in Coquille, some 25 miles away.


I go into my dark place of thoughts. Jeff needs surgery, his Obama Care high deductible insurance will deplete our cash flow, we will have to relinquish our camp host job, and even end our RV lifestyle.

Eventually, Jeff scoots on his butt back to the RV. Charlotte lends him crutches and an ice pack. I buy ace bandages. Jeff doctors himself via WebMD.

While Jeff ices, wraps, rests, and turns black and blue, I feel obliged to work extra hours here to make up for Jeff’s absence. I find myself back in my dark place once again as I wallow in my fear of financial security and my resentment of carrying the responsibility of our workload commitment. I am so ashamed to admit this, but it’s true. How quickly I forget about what attracted me to Jeff to begin with and that was his ability to not only survive without a financial cushion, but to enjoy the smell of the roses in his life everyday!

Things change again on July 1st as I enter my dark place twice on the same day!

I go to Coos Bay to get my teeth cleaned at South Coast Dentistry.


I do my homework (since I do not carry dental insurance) and ask Charlotte and Gary if they can recommend a dentist. Bob and Deb, friends of C&G who live in Coquille, tell me about the Coos Bay dentists. So I make an appointment and pay only $45 to have my teeth cleaned. Jeff, on the other hand had already gone to a dentist in Roseburg and spent over $2000 and that did not even include all the work they recommended. I enter the dark place of no dental care coverage.

When Jeff, the dogs, and I return (we don’t dare leave our dogs behind because they bark a little bit… well, that’s a whole other story…) Chris and Mary, who take our place in the winter, well for the last 3 years, anyway, have arrived. I mean, brilliant architectural engineer who can run circles around Jeff’s skill level and who refers to Charlotte and Gary as his parents, has arrived to stay while we are also here work camping. Jeff is barely gimping along and I am just starting to feel comfortable and confident in my responsibilities.

Apparently Chris and Mary are between gigs and on their way to Alaska. Indeed, Chris runs circles around us! He’s cleaning the Pavillion chimney and A-frame roof, sawing off tree limbs, cutting the grass, filling propane tanks, sharpening Gary’s tools…  Once again the dark place beckons.

On July 2nd I confront Charlotte with my uncomfortable feelings and wonder if Jeff and I should leave. She reassures me but I keep a low profile. I am hit with my feelings of inferiority. I go into yet another dark place.

And then, just as I am getting into a walking routine by doing laps around the property, I trip and fall on my knee on my second lap on July 7th. I am bleeding and shaken and I stop walking. I shower and go out to water when I discover that my knee is swelling, It looks like a misshapen water balloon and feels like one too! First Jeff, then me… Now I am going to deplete our cash flow. My health insurance is from Ohio! WebMD becomes my doctor too. I am prepared to find an Urgent Care Clinic in another week. I am in a major dark place now.

Jeff and I are potential Workers’ Compensation liabilities for Charlotte and Gary and they severely limit our chores and duties. And then I find out that we are being replaced by new camp hosts in early August, a month earlier than our plans!



A new year, a fresh start, a time to put new inspirations into action, with a lot of help from family and friends! Resolutions? You might think I’m crazy, but mine is to embrace happiness… Not be happy, find the secret to happiness, or even put on a happy face everyday… Just embrace it. This is a huge 180 for me. All my life I have pondered the meaning of happiness and tried to harness it by working harder at becoming a better person. Constantly focusing on my flaws, I reason that if I can just change this or that about myself, I will be happy. Needless to say, this approach has failed and since I’m not getting any younger it’s time I stop recreating myself and just be me. Don’t laugh. It took me a long time to get here! And what I have discovered is that I am happy. I just didn’t know it!


Here’s my story:

This Christmas the Kelly-O’Connell-Jernigan clan decided to buy a book for each other. My daughter-in-law, Jen, pulled my name and gave me a subscription to audiobooks since my RV lifestyle is all about less space and less things which create more “space that brings calm, reflection, and joy…” She also knows that I like to walk a lot. So, what a perfect fit! Walk and meditate. Walk and laugh. Walk and listen to a good book. And of course she shared some of her favorites.

So, I decided to practice walking and listening before I downloaded my first audiobook. I chose to listen to 2 TED Radio Hour broadcasts from NPR while I walked on one of my familiar routes, the Riverwalk. On the way out I listened to a podcast, Believers and Doubters, offering different perspectives on religion, faith, doctrines, and belief. On the way back I listened to Simply Happy hoping to find out what happiness really is. And that is when everything in my lived experiences came together!

Matt Killingsworth holds a Ph.D. in psychology and approaches happiness scientifically by studying and measuring it in real-time.


He created a phone app,, that will send you a text several times a day that you must answer immediately. The text are questions, such as:

  • On a scale between Very Bad and Very Good, how are you feeling right now?
  • What are you doing right now?
  • Do you have to do what you are doing right now?
  • Do you want to do what you are doing right now?
  • Are you thinking of something else than what you are doing?

So, he collects all this data and looks for patterns and variables and discovers that the 3 brightly highlighted questions are the most indicative of happiness. And, most importantly, the answer to the last question above holds the key to unlocking that door to our happy place. Killingsworth theorizes that when we are thinking about something else than what we are doing in any given moment, which he calls, mind wandering, we are less happy because we are usually thinking about unpleasant things.

Now, we can debate this simplified premise, but in my lived experiences this mind wandering pattern has ruled the greater part of my life. As a little girl I worried about dying and going to hell, failing tests, being too fat, not being good enough, making my mother get mad at me. As I grew older I continued filtering my experiences in such self-conscious negative ways. On the outside I looked happy. On the inside I felt unworthy. And yes, after years of hard work with mental health therapists, I now realize how my obsessive mind wandering caused so much unhappiness for me. I have learned to stay in the moment. Sometimes it is easy and trivial. Like today at the laundromat… I watched laundry wash, rinse, and spin through its cycles instead of wishing I was doing something more productive with my down time or being some place else. It was kind of a meditative experience. Other times I have to re-direct my thoughts. Like earlier today when I stood in line at the post office. I felt fat since I had just eaten and was full. All I could think about was my weight and I began to chastise myself for enjoying food so much. So, I mentally slapped myself out of my negative mind wandering and noticed the people around me. I started fabricating stories about their lives and why they were here in line with me. If being happy involves noticing where your attention is at any given moment, and recognizing when your mind wanders down dark alleys, and re-directing your mind to the present, then I already live this practice and embrace the happiness it brings me!

Carl Honore, the author of In Praise of Slowness, believes that we need to slow down since our culture is so marinated in speed that we are just hurrying through life instead of living life.


Slow has negative connotations, such as being a slacker or being stupid. But speed takes its toll on our health, work, relationships, and happiness. We are living the fast life instead of the good life. Speed also builds a wall so that we don’t have to ask ourselves if we are happy or face our fears. For instance, you wake up in the middle of the night and find your mind pre-occupied with some problem or worry in your life. By sticking with the anxiety, we either find a solution or fall asleep to wake up with a resolution.

Honore talks about finding your inner tortoise. I prefer the suggestion to stop and smell the roses. My husband, Jeff, embodies this cliche and reminds me to appreciate whatever moment we are in. From star gazing to cloud watching to finding scenic treasures on hiking trails to noticing the subtle colors of nature outside our windows, Jeff and I share the moments that fill us with awe. Besides, our younger days of running have been replaced with walking and hiking. And driving a motorhome means covering less miles per day in the slow lane. If being happy involves slowing down and enjoying the moment, then I already live this practice and embrace the happiness it brings me!

Graham Hill is a visionary, entrepreneur, designer, and journalist who lives a life of minimalism and sustainability. As founder of and, he encompasses my “less is more” mantra.


Long story, short: He made tons of money, bought tons of stuff, got rid of tons of stuff, and now lives in a 450 square foot apartment with tons of time to enjoy life. I can attest to that! Downsizing to an RV makes my life so much simpler and so less cluttered. As Hill points out, horizontal space collects disarray, while vertical space tames the temptation to collect a pile of anything. There’s not much horizontal room in an RV for accumulating piles of papers and junk as most surfaces have dual purposes, i.e., the table becomes a bed and the kitchen counters uncover the sink and stove.  If being happy involves owning less stuff, then I already live this practice and embrace the happiness it brings me!

Dan Gilbert is a Ph.D. psychologist, professor, and writer.


He claims that our evolutionary pre-frontal cortex has tripled the size of our brains with its unique function as an experience simulator. This means we can have an experience in our head before trying it out in real life. Unfortunately, this simulator tends to not work so well due to what Gilbert refers to as impact bias which convinces us that different outcomes are more different than what they really are. Huh? This means that we expect the great lows in our life to have more impact on our happiness. But, it ain’t so! After just 3 months, in most cases, the negative impact on happiness is gone. But that doesn’t mean we necessarily get over the trauma. It just means we return to our baseline of happiness. Huh? We are hard wired to be happy. We have the ability to synthesize and re-frame our experiences into happiness. So, we have some input into controlling our happiness.

Again, mental health therapy has helped me to re-frame the biggest tragedy in my life, so far, and view it as a constructive and positive experience. It only took me 20 years to finally accomplish this! Yeah, it’s hard work and I’m a slow learner, but I am doing it, to my sons’ joy! If being happy involves re-framing negative experiences, then I already live this practice and embrace the happiness it brings me!

And who better personifies the embracement of happiness but children! These love-loves keep me smiling:


This wall plaque from my brother sums it all up:


And this song is my 2016 HAPPY new year anthem to you and yours, which I have danced to, twirled to, raised my arms to, and shaked my hips to while walking in Lake Elsinore, CA (really!): HAPPY by Pharrell Williams

Reality Hits!


I thought settling down for the winter in California would be nirvana. Jeff would find a part-time job, I would find a job or volunteer opportunities, we would get together with our neighbors for morning coffee and evening small talk… Since I retired I was on the go for a full 5 months actualizing this new phase of my life. We traveled from Ohio to Maine, back to Ohio again, headed west to Colorado and finally California. Along the way we connected and re-connected with family. Happiness, love and spending time together filled my spirit and kept me motivated.

And then it all hit me! I was retired. Now, that in itself is not a bad thing. However, I had high hopes and expectations that Jeff would find a restaurant job quickly to supplement my monthly teacher pension. Then I could work around his schedule and find something fruitful to do.  Unfortunately Lake Elsinore is not a city of fine dining and the three interviews that looked promising brought him nothing. McDonald’s and WalMart don’t look so bad anymore!

It hasn’t even been a month and I find myself worrying about money. It’s expensive to travel constantly because filling an 80 gallon tank with gasoline adds up quickly when crossing the country. Settling in California from November through March is supposed to be the time to replenish the coffers allowing us to travel again. I am not living in the moment! I am worrying about the future and looking at a half-filled glass. Then 2 events happened that shook me out of this stupor: the ISIS attacks in Paris and Jeff’s little grandson severely sick with Kawasaki disease. There is no guarantee that we will always have a full glass. I am reminded to sip, savor, and save the moments I do have instead of wasting, worrying, and wanting away the part of life I can’t control.

And that’s how I discovered that I hadn’t down-sized enough.

I still had those old suitcases full of my personal insecurities and inner turmoils. You can’t sell those at a yard sale or donate them to a good cause. My goal now is to clean out my baggage from time to time until it all fits into one snack-sized baggie.


Turning 63 and Living in an RV


For me the 60s are the new 50s. The adage, “Life begins at 50”, is finally happening to me a decade later. Maybe it’s because I returned to dating, teaching and marrying again in my late 30s and early 40s. I became consumed with proving my abilities, re-inventing myself, and embarking on a new career. I didn’t have time to think about the rest of my life. A trip out West, the summer of my 60th birthday, inspired me to embrace my age and decide how I wanted to live for the rest of my life… with my husband in an RV, traveling and finding jobs on the side to supplement my teaching pension.

So what’s it like to sell everything you own and downsize into an RV? Totally liberating!!! I feel lighter, though I do not look it, and simpler and unburdened. I have less choices to make and more time to accept what I cannot choose. Each day brings me the opportunity to live out my motto of less is more. I take less showers and with the exception of underwear, I wear the same clothes more than once. This provides us with more water in our fresh tank and more time between visits to the laundromat. I no longer wear make-up, coif my hair, or am self-conscious to greet the world fresh out of the sack in the morning with bedhead and un-brushed teeth. This gives me more time to enjoy each moment.

As for stuff, like clothes, gadgets, toiletries, utensils and supplies… well, you just realize that you don’t need lots of material things to fulfill life’s basic necessities. Decorating is easy because there just isn’t much wall space or shelves to clutter. And it’s easy on the eyes to have a place to store everything behind a cabinet or in the “basement” storage compartments.

But the best part is the yard. It is huge! The house may be small but once you open the door and walk outside you embrace Mother Nature’s big backyard!