She Speaks!

I haven’t had the chance to make my blogging debut here. It was a busy end of school year, an even busier summer at work, and processing a trip of this magnitude took its toll. 

If you’ve been keeping up, this was kind of my idea originally. As my work life and personal life were super overwhelming, the thought of picking up and leaving for a year seemed like a just right fit for our family. 

I can imagine us having the time of our lives and making memories that would last a lifetime. Jay told you he was a hopeless romantic…frequently I’m the opposite of that, so it was a huge surprise that I felt so content and calm with the trip. (This may have been a bit naive.)

I know that Jay officially announced the postponement of our trip. And, like he said, we are sad. Life doesn’t always end up how we plan and we’re not always prepared for what is thrown at us, but we really do believe that this year will still be filled with making amazing memories for our family and community. And who knows. We may still end up in an RV soon anyway.

Stay tuned…we aren’t done with our crazy ideas!

Radio Silence, Business is A-Brewing

You haven’t heard from us in a while. I’m not going to make a silly excuse for it and say that we’ve been too busy to post or write or communicate at all for the past two months. But it’s a lot more complicated than that.

The past eight weeks have been a ridiculous rollercoaster of emotions for me and Megan, and the simple answer for all of it is that we can’t seem to make up our minds. We want to go on the trip. We are excited by all that it could mean: new experiences, more music performing for me, and the chance to grow together as a family in ways otherwise impossible. But we love our home and neighborhood. And we fear that once we leave, we might not return.

Many of you know that I have a particular fondness for beer and for brewing it. And that love has slowly grown into a full-blown desire to open a nano-brewery in my hometown of Saint Charles, IL. This, of course, complicates matters even more. I have a meeting with the city’s economic development team on September 8th. How that meeting goes will likely determine our next steps—either sinking in our teeth further  here locally or, possibly, moving ahead to take the RV-trip plunge. The next two weeks could get really, really interesting…

Scarlett, Eleanor picking blueberries at DeGrand Champ in South Haven, MI. 8/3/2017
I’d like to conclude today’s post by sharing an excerpt from a post that I never finished. It was supposed to be our official declaration *not* to do the trip. After taking a week away on vacation in western Michigan, now we’re not so sure:

Post Title: Detour
Last Modified: 6/24/2017
Status: Draft

Sometimes we make plans and sometimes our plans are made for us. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs and adjust accordingly.

We are sad to officially announce today that an RV trip will not happen for us this year beginning in August, as we had first hoped. At best, our traveling adventure will be delayed until Summer 2018. At worst, indefinitely. The decision did not come easy, but only after taking a step back from full-throttle planning, assessing our family’s needs, and truly considering our heart’s desires.

Regardless of taking a year-long road trip, what do we truly want to see happen in our family in the next year? (Yeah, we are talking about goal-setting—at the family level.) What do we consider possible—and impossible—and can we dream big?

For those who know me well, there’s no question as to my level of Romanticism. On a scale from 1 to 10, I’m Romantic Level: Hopeless. I am a dreamer of dreamers. An entrepreneur. (But make no mistake, the mood swings can be extreme. Big dreams are accompanied by equally-big come-downs.)

So what brought our plans to an RV-tire-screeching halt? In a word: growth. Our greatest desire as parents is to see our children grow into beautiful displays of the human spirit—spiritually-attuned, active contributors to society, dreamers, explorers, eager to learn, critical thinkers, empathetic.

Doing the Impossible… in 29 Days

Is it even possible to get all of our ducks in a row, as the saying goes? Is it even possible to do it all in the 29 days we have left to pull the trigger on our year-long RV plan? Well, it most certainly doesn’t seem likely. And why the July 14th deadline? Here’s the short of it:

We don’t want to burn any bridges.

As a school administrator, Megan has a ton to do in the “off-season” as it were. While teachers get a few solid weeks off (well-deserved, I may add), most administrators are already planning for the next school year on day one of “summer break”. The last thing we want to do is leave Megan’s summer work half-done, essentially burning our bridges for future employment opportunities (or just changes in employment) within the district.

School starts back up at the end of August, so that will give the rest of her staff time to decide how to tackle a Megan-shaped void. We have a couple of ideas for how to help the district make the transition and she’ll be officially presenting those [fingers crossed] to the superintendents and the Board once we know for sure the trip is going to happen. As it turns out, job security is really one of the least of our concerns.

The big details yet to be decided.

We have a few leads on the rental of our house, some info to go through regarding health insurance options, and an RV that we like that’s for sale that we haven’t gone and seen yet. Hopefully we can take a few steps in those directions this coming week.

I’ve also taken a look at our budget a bit closer, and as tight as I know it could be, I think the trip is still doable. A number of sizable steps must happen, in this order, in order for this trip to happen at all:

  1. Purchase an RV. No RV, no trip, right?
  2. Rent our house. Uh… no (or low) income while on the road? Yeah, zero chance of paying our mortgage and our trip expenses without a reliable renter.
  3. Sell our Honda Accord. It’s a well-maintained 2011 V4 Sedan. Wanna buy it for $8,000???
  4. Sell my 1976 Honda CB360T motorcycle. It’s in great shape. nearly mint. I bought it for $2,150 and put another $250 in parts into it. Needs a new starter clutch, if you didn’t want to kickstart it all the time (I have to kick it about every other time I ride).

With the stars aligned and these four major details taken care of, we are officially cleared for take-off. The clock is ticking. It’s decision time in 29 days.

Making a List, Checking it Twice

Unpacking after our Trip to Devil’s Lake 2016.

Ask yourself: if you were going on a year-long trip in a motor home, what are a few of the essentials you couldn’t live without? Are there certain supplies that you need for work, stuff that you need on the trip in order for you to make money? Maybe you really, really like crocheting. Could you go without hooks? Or maybe it’s fishing. Or baseball. Or Pokemon. Or dolls or dress-up or matchbox cars.

You see, this is really gonna be the hard part. How are we going to tell our kids they can’t bring all 10 Beanie Boos with on our trip? Hence the list begins.

As a performing songwriter (yeah, I’ve been doing almost zero performing in recent months, but have kept up with writing a fare bit), having instruments with me isn’t optional—it’s a part of what I do and how I make money. On our trip, I’ll need to pare down the rig. (Right? I can’t bring all 11 of my guitars with on the road? Or how about my four amplifiers? Pedalboard? Recording gear? Microphones? If yes, how many? What about the rest of my recording studio gear? We’re talking 10’s of thousands of dollars.

I think it’s fair to say that we’ll have to spend a lot of time over the next couple of weeks deciding what matters most.

Here’s another example: How do we make coffee? French Press, stovetop espresso/percolator, single-serving pour-over, or instant (I just shuddered). Quality of life here, people!

As far as music goes, I think it’s fair to say that I’ll likely end up with two acoustics, one electric, an amp, a pedalboard, and enough recording gear to do the real thing on the road. And, I’d really, really like for our kids to continue learning piano, so add a compact weighted keyboard to that list. (Yikes! That’s a lot of stuff just related to music!)

For the rest of it, I’m working on a short mandatory list. Here’s where I’m at so far:

  • Kayak (yeah, seriously.)
  • Fishing poles (for the kids. I don’t really need my own.)
  • Rock climbing gear, including two crash pads
  • Hiking and camping gear (a couple packs, a tent, flashlights, first aid, boots)
  • Bicycles! (can’t you see now we’re really starting to build quite the list!)
  • Coffee brewing gear (haven’t settled on a method yet)
  • Basic tool set (it all takes up space…)
  • Laptop, other devices
  • Cast iron everything* (it’s heavy, but it’s versatile.)
  • Beer brewing equipment (now this one is gonna be reeeeeaaaaally tricky….)
  • Low-CC motorcycle (okay, okay, now we are really pushing it)

But seriously, what do we do about board games and card games and coloring books and supplies (Eleanor just loves to draw and craft and she’s great at it), and school supplies and… diapers. And the kids’ stuff? Seth is doing *awesome* in baseball this season. He easily could have played up a league. I want him to continue to improve. That means baseball gear, too!

When it comes right down to it, my list is already too long. Where can we cut? We have to decide as a family what “stuff” we truly want to bring with us, remembering that all of it is “just stuff” to begin with. Almost everything else is going to have to get stored while we are gone, we think.

If you were planning this kind of a trip, what are some of your essentials and what would you forego?

What’s in a Name?

So how important is deciding the right “brand” or website or blog name? Well, apparently, it’s pretty important to us at least.

Megan and I have spent nearly two weeks trying to come up with just the right name to capture the essence of what we are trying to do here with our crazy, educational, outdoor-bent, family-focused, RV adventure. Our list grew to over thirty name ideas, slowly getting pared down to 8, then 3…

At the end of the day, we decided that the name should capture the essence of what it means to be human—not just something related to a year-long road trip. We want to continue writing long after our last mile logged on the road. Life is messy, but it is also beautiful. And no matter where life takes you—whether you rent or own a home or travel in an RV or wherever you are, we are all on a beautiful, muck-filled journey together, personal flaws and all.

Of course, our family name is Mkrtschjan (pronounced “MUCK-er-chyahn”), and once we recognized it, we quickly fell in love with the juxtaposition of beauty and, well, dung.

Welcome to our blog, Beautiful Mucks.

Over the course of our road trip (it happening at all is still a big fat maybe), we hope to feature posts written by everyone in our family who can write. Our two oldest kids, Seth (age 7) and Eleanor (age 5), will most definitely get in on the action. For the two youngest kids, we may do a YouTube thing or Insta-videos or who knows!

For the next year or so, we hope to simply talk about life as we explore the country together as a family. We want to get to know each other, explore nature, continue to learn the educational basics, and do a heck of a lot of rock climbing, hiking, and more. And, of course, I hope to play a heck of a lot of concerts and I’ll probably talk a lot about beer (a recent serious interest of mine is opening a micro-brewery in our home town of Saint Charles).

Megan and I have even talked about a friendly “beer vs. desserts” food truck (RV?) competition between the two of us. (Personally, I think my homebrew could beat her cupcakes any day, but I do love beer.)

Cheers to what’s ahead!

“When I was Your Age,….”

So what have we here? What is this cultural trend towards tiny houses and this incredible—and incredibly common—longing for satisfaction and self-actualization? Why the search for meaning and fulfillment?

Some may say that people in first-world countries now find themselves in a unique position in history, having everything their hearts could ever want, but discovering that it does not truly satisfy.

Think of our great, great grandparents or those who have come before us, enduring the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression, or famine or genocide or any number of great difficulties. People before us didn’t have the luxuries we have today. They weren’t afforded the opportunity to think selfishly or to seek that personal joy and fulfillment because they spent all their time working to put food on the table for their families., to make a better life for their kids. You see, we now have that better life that they wanted for their families, don’t we?

I dare say the struggle today is actually the same—it just takes a different form. Everybody still has to work, still has to provide for her family, and still has—and always has had—a deep desire to find purpose in this world.

“Same as it ever was…” – Talking Heads

Our struggles today are nothing new. It’s a human trait. But I do think it’s important for us to keep in mind that many today and many throughout history could not have ever even considered the kind of trip that we now consider. They are, indeed, burdened by work and servitude, slavery and poor work conditions, debt that cannot be repaid, and denied access to the freedoms which we here consider as common as the air we breathe.

Today, I’m thankful for this opportunity. And I simply hope that we do the right thing for our family.

Hard Reset

Well, our Sunday night meeting just over a week ago didn’t answer as many questions as we had hoped. In fact, our date night out produced more questions than answers. But the good news is that it focused the questions we must ask and clarified logistically the order in which they must be answered.

We came  home having decided that we needed to know how much health insurance would cost our family during a year on the road. Second to that, we wanted to know if Megan could officially get a year leave of absence from her work. The final component was making sure that we could, indeed, afford a trip of this magnitude.

A week later, I can now tell you that I officially have an itch to take this plunge into RV’ing. Yesterday, I listed our home for rent.

It’s a change in our original plan, but I’m hoping we can still pull off this trip while still keeping the house. It’s another one of those “first steps” things—where we need to see if there’s actually a market for a rental house at the price we’d need so that we wouldn’t have to sell it. So let’s back up now…

Why would RV’ing be so cool?

I’ve really narrowed down my own thoughts on this, and I’m happy to share them with you here. For me, these are the things. This is life.

  1. We get to enjoy the outdoors—especially rock climbing—while I’m still young enough to enjoy it. I’ve got a bum knee already! But I don’t want to wait until both are shot to try to take a trip like this. I’ve got early on-set arthritis in my big toe. Let me climb while I still can! And let me pursue developing those skills at the country’s best crags.
  2. We get to teach (and parent) how we want to—whenever, wherever, and for whatever reasons we choose. It’s not about rebelling or bucking the trend—it’s about trying to do what’s best for our kids, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
  3. I’d get to “go on tour”. I’ve always wanted play music all over the country “for a living”. It’s been a life dream. In a phrase, my career goal has always been “to write, record, and perform music for a living.” This kind of a trip, although there’s little chance of me making serious cash doing it, would allow me to live out a dream in a way I never really thought possible.
  4. I get to fall in love again. I love my family and I love my wife. Our marriage hasn’t been so great in recent years. I’m excited about the idea of exploring the world with Megan, but also exploring Megan’s world—how she thinks, how she operates—and how to love her in all of the ways she has changed since we first got married.
  5. We get to instill in our children (if only for a season) a sense of wonder in the created world and a lifestyle of adventure.

Why would RV’ing suck?

The reasons really all boil down to relationships. And as born-and-raised Midwesterners, it’s easy to see the hang-up here. We’d be leaving all of our friends, family, colleagues, teammates, and church for twelve whole months. Minimum. (Longer, of course, if we decided to keep going after a year.) So is it worth it?

Of course there are other huge negatives: living in close quarters, not having personal space or time alone, having a small fridge, having little storage room, a fear of the unknown, financial uncertainty, having a wife who has never actually stepped inside an RV before(!), laundry washing difficulty, and more.

Designing a Purpose

In order to answer that question, we really have to start thinking about what we value and where we derive value from in this world. Yep, we have to get philosophical. (Megan seriously eye-rolled me the first time I mentioned this to her.) What’s the purpose of life? Why are we here? And then, once we have a purpose—a mission—what is the best course of action to take in order to fulfill it?

In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that one of my highest honors and greatest responsibilities as a human, a husband, and father, is to love and serve my family, putting their interests and needs before my own. So now we ask the question:

What does my family need right now?

It’s an impossible question to answer clearly and precisely, but I think that’s okay. At the end of the day, we are all just doing our best, trying to make sense of it all, and trying to do what’s right.

Megan talks an awful lot about feeling over-worked by her job—how she needs a break. And you know what? I think she deserves a break after teaching full-time for eight years. I think everybody deserves a whole year off every seven!

And as hard as that is to swallow, this next little nugget just kills me:

My son, my first-born son, a second grader, regularly tells me: “I hate school.” Doesn’t that just break your heart!?! He’s seven years old. No seven-year-old should even be allowed to have that kind of opinion. School should never be boring or dull or anything else that would make someone want to declare that he hates it. This, for me, set off warning sirens about my son’s heart and about what was going on inside the walls of that school six hours a day, five days a week. We know he needs a heart attitude change, in part, but does he also need a different kind of education?

So what does my family need right now? Well it most certainly seems like we need a hard reset. Or at least a break from “normal”.

How it All Began

Today is May 20th, 2017, and I find myself thinking about something I truly haven’t thought about seriously in about six years.

Two weeks ago, on May 3rd, my wife, Megan, sent me a link via Facebook Messenger with the short message “What do you say?” The link was to Happy Loud Life’s “Goodbye, Dream House. Hello, Dream Life” promo video. (HERE IT IS, if you’d like to watch it on Facebook.)

The video struck a nerve with my wife. And she asked, straight-up, if I’d be interested in doing what the family in the video was trying to do. My answer was really quite simple: sure.

For two weeks, I have found myself regularly coming back to the idea of selling everything, buying an RV, and taking our family of six on the road—for a year or even permanently.

Our first real conversation in the evening on May 3rd about traveling the country as a family was short. We watched the Happy Loud Life video and just talked. Megan wanted to set a definite time limit on our excursion: one year; and she said she wants me to book shows and perform music along the way; and I thought it was important to consider financial feasibility, among other things. With our busy schedule that week, we quickly concluded we’d need more time to work through simple details, see how much it would cost, and start writing ideas down.

May 4th. The text messages begin. “So…are you serious about Road Schooling? Like for real?” Megan asks. “Yes. Absolutely.” I respond. She wants to do a dessert truck. I mention beer truck. She smells a competition! (Neither of us think “state and local licenses”.)

A few nights ago, Megan asked me for a gut check: “Do you think we should go?” My answer was no. I cited concerns about community and family, our kids building friendships, and living in close quarters (something we aren’t strangers of already). Storage was a big concern (especially with all of my music equipment), and, of course, I mentioned the difficulties of fermenting beer on a moving vehicle [insert Breaking Bad reference here 🙂 ].

But I also mentioned the possibility of adjusting our life here to be less… suburban. Maybe we could set aside more money to pay for bigger, better family trips (something we really haven’t done. Family wedding in Idaho aside)? Maybe smaller, closer trips, but more of them? Maybe we give away half of all of the kids clothing now. In order to cut our laundry in half now. What can we do now. here. in order to make the changes we feel will bring us greater joy and satisfaction? (I want to simply mention here that I do believe joy can thrive even in adverse circumstances when it is motivated by a sure sense of purpose… That’s another blog post for another day!)

I “ran the numbers” out loud; and taking a year on the road as a family to learn and grow and see and do life together is definitely possible, money-wise. But we’d have to sell the house. And the two cars. And decide what to do with all of our stuff. (Some of it, we thought, we’d like to have around for whatever comes next—assuming there is a stationary life that exists after becoming nomads.)

There’s a ton of work to be done if we are going to pull this off in the kind of timeframe that we are talking. Megan wants to begin our tour a few days before the weekend of the total solar eclipse in August. We already have plans to be in down-state Illinois for it, doing some rock climbing and camping for the first few days prior, then enjoying the eclipse near Carbondale, IL, before driving home. It would be perfect timing.

So many details must be discussed that I told Megan we need a night out just to talk and write and plan. We’ve talked a little about what some of my goals would be for a year-long road trip, about school curriculum and making sure to be in warm places during the cold winter months of the North. We’ve talked blog names and about a big fancy word called “monetization”. Well, she’s scheduled the planning night for this Sunday, so I guess you could say she’s taking this idea seriously!

So why would I choose this adventure? Honestly, there are pluses and minuses for staying and going. My feelings seem to shift back and forth even in a single day. At this very moment, it’s a meh. But one thing I know: when I ask myself this simple question, the answer is clear:

Am I home? Not yet.

In my next post, I’ll try to lay out what I think is the good, the bad, and the beautiful about taking the plunge into RV’ing with a family of six. Thanks for tracking along.