Daytrip: Grocery Store

Someone recently said to me, “I love how you go on so many adventures!” And I wondered to myself, “Are those really adventures? Are they adventurous enough to be called adventures? Am adventurous enough to actually go on adventures?”

The answer is YES. I’m not looking to scale Mount Everest. I’m not preparing a continental trek along the Appalachian Trail. I mean, I haven’t even visited Boston yet. But sometimes when I wake up and I realize the weather is only going to be good for another two months, three months tops, I am motivated to leave my house and drive due north for nearly two hours with no other purpose in mind but to find a new grocery store and reward myself with Starbucks.

That’s what I did one morning. I had a grocery list a mile long, and I couldn’t fathom going to the same grocery store that I always go to, again. And because I reward myself with a Starbucks latte after nearly every grocery run, I couldn’t fathom going to the same Starbucks that I always go to, again.

So the kiddo and I decided to drive to Conway, New Hampshire. It’s a town we’d never been to before. We saw mountains we’d never seen before and order from a Starbucks we’d never ordered from before. The trek up north led us to venture into Fryeburg, Maine, just over the state line, back into New Hampshire, and around the entirety of Lake Winnipesaukee. We visited the towns of Tamworth and Meredith, where I found the famous Archie statue (yes, from the Archie comics!). We stopped for a short hike around Chocorua Lake. We trespassed onto farm property in rural Maine, found a Ben & Jerry’s back in New Hampshire, and finally hit up a grocery store. We drove past the iconic Weirs Beach sign on our way home, seven hours after we’d left the house.

I get antsy. I love my house and I love my little town, but I’m realizing how holed up I’ll be in a few short months when winter sets in. And I am starting to believe that I had always relied on our next cross-country move as my source of adventure. Well, we’re not moving anymore. We are here. And that just makes it harder for me not to be there, wherever there is.

So I take daytrips. I drive aimlessly and stop to look at the scenery. I go to Maine. I go to the mountains. I go to Vermont. I find a lake and I stare at it. My family often comes with me on these road trips. We visit famous indie bookshops. We buy local cheese. We drink local beer (well, Matt does). And we marvel at how beautiful it is here and say we need to do this more often. 

And with that, here’s a photographic record of my day out getting groceries and Starbucks.

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Fall, so far.

Fall is most definitely here.

I could tell even a few weeks ago when the sunlight was a little different, never mind that we still had a day or two in the high 80s. The ferns and tall grasses have turned burgundy and gold. Nights are chillier, too. The flannel sheets went on the bed today in preparation for what’s to come. They say it’s going to be a brutal winter, whoever they are.

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So here I am thinking back on the last three months of our lives in New Hampshire. These were good months if you prefer summer over winter. For some, summer was just as brutal as the winter we’re getting ready to supposedly endure. More than a handful of days in the mid- to high-90s were absolutely miserable. Remember, most of us up here don’t have air conditioning. This includes schools, libraries, state government buildings, etc. It was a rough summer. Even I, who used to brag about my Florida blood and superhuman abilities to withstand 100+ degree heat and humidity, broke down a couple of times.

That heat, though, and the unusually heavy downpours we had throughout the summer gave to me some of the best vegetables I’ve grown in years. In two years, to be exact. My backyard in Northeast Ohio was too damp and too shady to even grow more than a handful of cherry tomatoes (Did I even manage that? I can’t remember!). The sun beats down on my front porch garden in New Hampshire which, in turn, provided us with delicious Early Girl and Indigo Rose tomatoes. The zucchini was overtaken by bores (I was glad to hear others suffered the same fate and that it wasn’t just me), my pole runner beans are still going strong, and my snack pepper plant yielded only four. But that’s four more than I grew in two seasons in Ohio. And…and!…I planted some of this stuff as seed in mid-July!

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Being the flatlander that I am at heart, I still find myself closed off a bit from the outside world (or maybe that has something to do with the fact that I live 25 minutes from the nearest decent-sized town). The lakes that dot the region are a nice break from all the trees and steep hills that crowd in close to the road. I’ve pulled over a few times on my way to and from work to take in the view at Rollins Pond and Alton Bay on the south end of Lake Winnipesaukee, near where I live. I’ve also had some time to just enjoy the scenery around here. It is exactly as beautiful as you’ve been told.

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A few weeks ago, my brother convinced me to join him on a short hike. His goal that day was to get to the top of Mount Major, an easy day hike for most people. But I haven’t been hiking in years. I walk easily through parks and trails, but the last mountain I walked up was at least 10 years ago, and even that was on a paved trail. These mountain trails in New Hampshire involve climbing over rocks, dodging timber rattlesnakes and tree roots, and wearing out my lungs for no reason that they deserve. So I made a deal with my brother: Every month, he and I will pick a trail and hike it. These hikes will increase in difficulty and we cannot stop hiking even in the winter months. This deal is so serious that I made him – my younger brother who just turned 34 – pinky swear. But who are we kidding? We all know it’s me who’s going to need to be convinced to hike a mountain in the winter.

Our first hike was more of a walk. Actually, it was totally a walk. I asked him to take it easy on me on our inaugural hike, and then I chose a trail that was so ridiculously easy that even I felt like I had cheated. Unknowingly, of course. I offered up a second walk through a state forest preserve near the top of the mountain on which I live. There was a steep incline towards the end, giving me a fair idea of what I was getting myself into. We completed both of our walks in the woods within a matter of two hours or so. Then my brother grabbed some snacks and headed out to hike Mount Major. Last weekend he hiked up two mountains in a single day! I’ll get there. One day. Until then, we’re taking it one month, one hike, at a time. Next month we’re driving out to York, Maine to hike up Mount Agamenticus. That I can spell and pronounce the name of that mountain is probably more impressive than the moment I reach the top of it. I scheduled this hike for my birthday weekend. On purpose. Accountability. ‘Cause I need to be motivated to go outside, to be outside, even when it’s not summer.

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Here’s a shot from our walk through the woods on a nearby trail, just as the wild goldenrod was at its most golden.

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Nathaniel Hawthorne, Plymouth’s Most Famous Guest

There is a ridiculous amount of well-marked history in this region of the country. In fact, I’m almost certain that any patch of grass or pavement on which I stand has played a crucial role in something: An historic railroad junction; the deathplace of a notable townsman; a natural disaster with a terrible story that remains only in the buried memories of a bunch of dead people. This place is teeming with it all. Teeming, I tell you!

So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at all when I happened upon a small town in the southern foothills of the White Mountains, stopped to have a small bowl of graham cracker ice cream (it exists, and it’s delicious), and unexpectedly discovered, in the tiny town commons, a memorial in honor of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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I will admit I have never read a single novel by Hawthorne. The only thing I actually knew about him, up to that point, was that he wrote The Scarlet Letter (a novel my friend, Katy, absolutely loathes), and that he was so ashamed of his family’s connection to the Salem Witch Trials that he changed the spelling of his last name so he would likely never be associated with them.

But what’s his association with Plymouth, New Hampshire?

It turns out that Hawthorne and President Franklin Pierce, a native New Hampshirite, were BFFs. Like, for a really long time, going back to their college years. Pierce had invited Hawthorne to travel to Plymouth where they both hoped the crisp, mountain air would alleviate Hawthorne’s many ailments. It didn’t, and Hawthorne died in his sleep on May 19, 1864. Pierce discovered his body just hours later. And while this was likely a somewhat traumatizing moment for Pierce, who had endured great loss in his life, it may have been exactly how Hawthorne hoped to die. The New York Herald wrote, ““It is a singular and happy circumstance that friends who have lived so many years upon terms of unrestricted intimacy as Franklin Pierce and Nathaniel Hawthorne should in the final hours of one still be so near to the other as to enable the survivor to hear, as it were, the last whisper of his friend as he entered the portals of eternity.”

And so, the town of Plymouth perhaps endears itself to fans of literary tourism by memorializing Hawthorne’s unexpected passing in a hotel that used to exist just across the street from this park. And I have no problem with that. Hawthorne probably wouldn’t have a problem with it, either. It seems that he, too, was a fan of trauma tourism and, because of his work, he even introduced the concept to those who vacationed to New England in the 19th century.

In 1835, Hawthorne wrote and published a short story called “The Ambitious Guest.” It was based on the freak deaths of seven members of the Willey family and two others who died in an avalanche of rockfall the occurred on August 28, 1826. The area in which the disaster occurred experienced a boom in tourism shortly after the Willey family’s story got around. The Willey family had fled to what they believed was a safe house, which ended up being buried in the rockslide. The Willey house itself sustained no damage at all. Artists of all kinds flocked to Willey Mountain in the area of Crawford Notch. Painters Thomas Cole and John Frederick Kensett, along with Hawthorne, are often credited with either promoting the beauty and history of Willey Mountain, or just flat out exploiting the deaths of an entire family through their chosen art forms.

The title character in “The Ambitious Guest” has no name. He is simply a stranger whose arrival brings to the family a sense of excitement, a newfound desire to live a more meaningful life than the sleepy one they have chosen on the mountainside. They share with each other what they wish to have engraved on their tombstones, to tell others how they lived their lives. The children in the group joyfully announce all that they will accomplish before their deaths, now that they’ve been encouraged by this ambitious guest of theirs. The stranger, who refers to himself as “a nameless youth” declares, “But I cannot die till I have achieved my destiny. Then, let Death come! I shall have built my monument!”

Moments later, he ponders, “I wonder how mariners feel when the ship is sinking, and they, unknown and undistinguished, are to be buried together in the ocean–that wide and nameless sepulchre?” Suddenly, a rumbling from outside begins to sound and the family, with their guest, flees to their safe house. An avalanche of rockfall crushes them all. They are never found. They are buried together in the ocean of rock and debris–that wide and nameless sepulchre.

That kind of anonymity does not apply to Nathaniel Hawthorne obviously. He died in Plymouth, and by god, they’re going to announce it to everyone with this monument. There is a statue of him in Salem, Massachusetts, the place where was born but never felt like he belonged. And his grave site is located in Concord, Massachusetts, where he shares cemetery real estate with the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau. They were his equals. They were his friends. They were also his pallbearers. But Hawthorne, according to Emerson, suffered from his own loneliness. It is believed by some that his solitude and suffering are what ultimately killed him (it is now known that he died of stomach cancer). In death, Hawthorne is revered and celebrated. But in life, Hawthorne may have endured an existence aboard what his own creation, the nameless youth, called a sinking ship.

“I shall have built my monument!” This is what the stranger wanted, yet, could this really be what Hawthorne wanted? I don’t believe Plymouth is exploiting Hawthorne’s death at all. The monument is merely a desire to be a part of the Hawthorne narrative. Plymouth inspired Hawthorne and welcomed him whenever he came through. The town was clearly one facet of his life that helped keep his ship from sinking even sooner.

Major Savage & Old Tom, Part Two

(Part One can be found here)

George Savage and his trusty horse, Old Tom, returned to Alton, New Hampshire, shortly after they were both wounded in the Battle of Chancellorsville. Old Tom had become a part of George’s family and, in turn, became a part of Alton’s small-town character. Both were Civil War heroes. In fact, George credited Old Tom with saving his life in battle.

So it was with this loyalty to Old Tom that George asked the citizens of Alton to allow his horse to be buried in the town cemetery. The unusual request got a few folks riled up. Residents of Alton were split. On the one hand, Old Tom had performed admirably in battle. On the other hand, however, Old Tom was, to some, just a horse. If this was allowed, who’s to say more people wouldn’t request to save a plot next to theirs for their most beloved pets, no matter the size? The cemetery trustees mulled it over and Alton’s citizens became embroiled in a short-lived controversy. In the end, the trustees just wouldn’t allow it.

Major George Savage died in 1883, but not before a compromise had been reached with town officials: Old Tom could not be buried on the grounds in the cemetery, but the trustees would allow for Old Tom to be buried just outside the cemetery walls. George, according to record, believed this to be a reasonable arrangement.

 

 

When Old Tom died in 1885, town officials honored their agreement with George. Old Tom was buried outside the cemetery, but as near to George as the boundary walls would allow.

 

 

Except, over time, a certain kind of irony has directed the course of Old Tom’s popularity and the endearing story of George Savage’s love for his horse. Alton is a small town, but thousands of people have continued to live here and die here over the 133 years since the death of Old Tom. The town cemetery eventually expanded in ways it probably never planned for back in the 19th century. In fact, driving around the town of Alton, I found two separate entrances into the cemetery, each from a major corridor leading commuters in and out of the region.

The walls have most definitely been moved. Which means Old Tom is now within the walls of the cemetery. But not only is Old Tom inside the cemetery, he is directly in the center. ON A SMALL HILL, no less.

And doesn’t that just make you feel good?

Major George Savage would, undoubtedly, be quite pleased. Although his initial wishes were quashed by local officials and neighbors who felt completely uncomfortable with the idea of sharing burial grounds with a horse, it all worked out over time. George’s family plot and Old Tom’s burial site are both flanked by small, white picket fences. And they are facing each other, open to pedestrian visitors who can easily walk from one site to the other.

Did someone design it that way? I don’t know. And that’s not the only question I find myself without an answer to. I’m also curious to know who stepped up to care for Old Tom when George died. Because that person, whoever it was, probably deserves a little credit. Don’t you imagine he or she saw to it that the agreement between George and the trustees regarding Old Tom was honored? That Old Tom received the burial he was promised?

From George to Old Tom, from the trustees to the mystery caretakers, and, nowadays, from the cemetery groundskeepers to the history-seeking public, there is a whole lot of loyalty to be discovered in this story. One can only wish to have this kind of dedication bestowed upon them upon their death. Yet this here’s a tale about a man and his horse…

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Major Savage & Old Tom, Part One

Recently, while perusing through some books on the region’s history, I came across a brief story about a Civil War officer and his horse. The officer was Major George Savage. His horse was Old Tom. Theirs was a relationship based on loyalty and respect that lasted decades after the war had ended. Both had suffered greatly during battle and returned home to Alton, New Hampshire (my new hometown) to live out the rest of their lives. It was their deaths, however, that caused a local controversy that seemed to be resolved only by more and more deaths.

I must first explain my difficulty in finding much about the region’s local history. Most accounts – whether through books, magazine articles, or newspaper clippings – tend to focus mostly on the southern part of the state. Exeter, near Portsmouth, calls itself New Hampshire’s Revolutionary War capital (something I hope to learn more about this weekend), while Concord’s history goes back to the chartering of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century. Here, north of the coast, there is only a general showcasing of historical events. Most of it is based on archaeological finds or the natural history of the White Mountains and Lake Winnipesaukee. What I’m missing are the personal stories, historical accounts, and the visual markers, here in the Lakes Region, that would normally lead me to seek out the past, right here and right now. Except the only thing I’ve come across so far is a horse whose death nearly divided an entire town.

George Savage (who was actually a Lieutenant Colonel during the war, but everyone called him Major) enlisted in the 12th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment on August 13, 1862. His brother, Moses, followed suit the very next day. The brothers were part of a volunteer regiment that began taking enlistees on August 12th and accepted soldiers’ final papers on the 16th. A formation that took all of four days, and it has been suggested that this formation period was a Union army record. George and Old Tom were part of Company F and Moses was part of Company A, each of whom, along with all of the New Hampshire regiments, saw battle in Fredericksburg. Few men were lost to battle, but Company F was lost completely. As in left behind. Nobody passed on the orders to retreat, so they held their positions.

This seems to be a theme with these three – George, Moses, and Tom. This being left behind business. But there is a happy ending. I promise.

Recovered shortly after the snafu in Fredericksburg, the 12th New Hampshire moved on to smaller battles. In May, they eventually found themselves involved in one of the Confederate Army’s greatest successes: the Battle of Chancellorsville. It was here where Lt. General Stonewall Jackson was injured (which, ultimately, led to his death about a week later) and where General Robert E. Lee claimed his biggest victory.

It was also here, in Chancellorsville, where George took a direct bullet shot to the face. There are reports that Old Tom sustained an injury, as well. Old Tom, it is said, saved George’s life. I can only assume it was during the fighting when the injured Old Tom rushed his injured friend George off the battlefield. Historical accounts say that the 12th New Hampshire was easily overtaken, and a third of the troops had been wounded or killed within the first half-hour of fighting. Sadly, Moses was one of those who had been killed.

Company F was left behind, yet again. The order to retreat had not been made clear, and for those in other companies who had heeded the order, there was little opportunity to find a way out. Lee had broken up his smaller, but better organized Confederate armies. Companies F and G were eventually rescued, but the order to retreat, had it been received, would have meant certain death. The 12th New Hampshire had likely been surrounded by Confederates the entire time.

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I have become quite fond of Major Savage and Old Tom in just a few days time. However, I have to end this here. Mostly because their story continues elsewhere, off the battlefield. Or, perhaps, it’s sufficient to say it continued on another battlefield. The battlefield of public opinion. The battlefield of local government bureaucracy. And I will write about that later…hopefully within a few days.

Throughout my studies of American history, I actively avoided war history. Only once did I take a course that focused on war tactics, political chess moves, battle strategies – that being the American Revolution – and only because I wanted a foundation from which I could study how women lived in those times. I am, and have always been, much more interested in the personal stories, never the strategies that launched an individual or a ideology into the realms of political success. Because somewhere, in all that personal greatness or personal awfulness (I’m looking at you, Andrew Jackson) is a human, that we, as people of the future, can only hope to understand. Whatever threads I can find to connect us to them is so vital. At least, I believe it is.

A man and his horse. We can all relate to this, right? Stay tuned…

Trucker Ted Rides Again

In August of 2016, we packed up all of our belongings and moved from Oklahoma City to the east suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. Teddy, the only one of our four dogs who was truly enthusiastic about the whole endeavor, got to ride shotgun with Dad in the Penske. The other three – Chimay, Abbey, and Ari – were crammed into whatever space was left available in the Subaru Outback.  They were absolutely miserable. That’s probably why I have only this photograph of Teddy, smiling his big dopey grin while hanging out at a truck stop in Greenup, Illinois, marveling at what his life had become as Trucker Ted.

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A little over a week ago, we did it again. We packed up all of our belongings and moved from the east suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Teddy, the only one of our now-three dogs who was truly enthusiastic about the whole endeavor, got to ride shotgun with Dad in the U-Haul. (We learned our lesson with Penske.) The other two – Abbey and Ari – were crammed into whatever space was left available in the Subaru Outback.  They weren’t as miserable this time around, but miserable enough. That’s probably why, again, I have only this photograph of Teddy, smiling his big dopey grin while hanging out in our Northeast Ohio driveway, waiting to hit the road to New England and relive his days as Trucker Ted.

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We have been in our new home for about eight days. The house sits on a mountain on the south end of Lake Winnipesaukee in Alton Bay. The bay at the end of our road serves as a public beach, a boat ramp, and a pick-up/drop-off site for visitors touring the lake on the Mount Washington. The nearest gas station and grocery store are in the next village over, which is not terribly far away at all. A few miles, maybe. But our small town has at least three ice cream shops, a seemingly unlimited supply of fried clams and haddock, a paddleboard and kayak store, and a ton of summer rentals.

Oh, and we also have this:

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At the risk of proclaiming this too prematurely, I must say we all seem to be quite happy here. We love our house. We love our property, on which we acquired a pool and an established perennial garden. We love our little town. We love that my brother lives an hour away. We love that the ocean is nearby, as well. We do not, however, love moving. Not anymore, anyway. And so, it seems, Trucker Ted’s days have come to an end and Teddy is plain ol’ Teddy once again.

(But how ’bout the coyote? Ooof.)

Finding Providence in New Hampshire

We are mostly packed and ready to go. There is a new house to move into, a new town to navigate, a new school with which to become familiar. There are jobs, library cards, and state-issued driver’s licenses to obtain. Change of address forms. A running list of banks. The veterinarians, cable service providers, former employers, medical providers, etc., that we need to contact before we leave town. You know how it goes.

But, then again, maybe you don’t.

This is nothing new for us. The places are new, as are the jobs and the schools and the roads and the neighbors and the culture. But this – moving – is not new. In fact, my cousin in Wisconsin recently unearthed a photograph of my parents preparing for their move from San Antonio, Texas, to Oscoda, Michigan. My parents, in their mid-twenties and new to the military, had just been given their first assignment in what would be a career of moving across the country, around the world, and back again. My brother was three, and this was already his second move. I was only a few months old, having been born into this life when I was delivered in a military hospital while my father was in basic training. It seems it’s all we’ve ever known.

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Even my husband comes from a military family. Between the two of us we have lived in three countries, eleven states (some of which we have both called home), and countless houses that we grew up in as children, always knowing the situation was temporary. At any moment, our parents could receive word that they, that we, were being transferred to another part of the country, or another part of the world. The transient lives we led were never boring, always changing. New neighbors were expected, whether we were the new neighbors or someone else was. Yet this was exactly what made us have to keep moving, what made me have to keep moving. I know this now. (I think it’s why I love hotel work so much – everything, and everyone, is so very temporary.)

Over the years, especially since I left Florida, I have tried to reconcile my feelings of rootlessness with an almost frenzied need to be a part of a community. If you’ve been a long-term reader of this blog, or even know me personally, you know that I’ve been quite vocal about this part of my life that I have yet to find a word to define. Hiraeth is the closest I have come, yet American culture does not recognize this concept of homesickness. Our country, populated and governed by the descendants of immigrants and refugees, does not even have a word for it in the English language.

We all are here, yet we are all from somewhere else. Pamela Petro wrote, “To be American, I sometimes feel, is to be blank, without a nationality or a language. Is this because America is such a polyglot culture that it contains pieces of everywhere else, or because American culture … is so monolithic and transcending that it is everywhere else?” How do we fit in even with ourselves? The last few years have taught me that some are just born lucky, in the sense that they are born in the place they will love, into a culture that is celebrated, always, and it will never go away, even if they do. Their culture is rooted, somewhere or with someone, within a group, transient or not. Most importantly, it is accessible. That is not the case for some of us.

Back in New Hampshire, on Day Two of our house hunt, we met a realtor who assured us that nearly everyone here is from somewhere else. Our new home is in a town that sits on the south end of Lake Winnepesaukee, thick with tourists and temporary lodgers.  It’s a town where the population swells with visitors, but only briefly, and then returns to normalcy after the leaves fall off the trees. Sometimes those visitors become residents. Hearing this put me immediately at ease. It is difficult to explain, as are most of my feelings on geographical homelessness, but it was encouraging. To know we are not the only ones. To know we won’t be the last ones. That, perhaps, is my culture. One in which change is the only constant.

Moving is an exhausting task. We are all, admittedly, tired, physically and emotionally. Over the last month I have jokingly tossed around the statement I am never moving again, but is that really true? You might be surprised to learn that I hope it is. For some reason, being in New Hampshire brought out the part of me that wants to stay put. As it turns out, my own ancestors traveled around New England looking for a place to settle, to dig in and put down roots. They arrived in 1632 with Roger Williams on the ship Lyon. Before moving westward to Ohio and Oklahoma, they built the First Baptist Church in Massachusetts, and established the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation, while their shipmates founded the city of Portsmouth, originally part of the Providence Plantation.

We are not searching for the spiritual guidance of God, nor are we asking the stars to speak to us, but perhaps I am simply retracing my ancestors’ steps in a sort of backward migration, grabbing hold of the opportunity to find my own family’s version of Providence. It has been years since we have felt settled. To end up where my family’s story in America began seems to lend a kismet-esque quality to my own feelings about home and belonging. So, like them, we keep moving in the hopes that we will find home and home will find us.