Wanderlust Genes

Mom behind some sunflowers in Yellowstone NP

Mom behind some sunflowers in Yellowstone NP

I am convinced that wanderlust is inherited. My great-great-grandfather, Reverend Nelson William Crowell, was the first I know of in my family who loved to travel. He owned property near Manville, Wyoming and traveled between New York and Wyoming at a time when travel wasn’t as convenient as it is today. He was referred to as the “wanderer” in the Crowell genealogy book.This propensity for travel spread through my mother’s side of the family to me. Growing up, my mother worked several jobs to save for summer trips. We spent summers in the car traveling across the country, or we took short trips throughout Arizona. Often, I spent summers with my dad in Minnesota, North Dakota, or New Mexico.

Eventually, we branched out away from the United States into Scandinavia and Costa Rica. One summer, my mother and I toured Scandinavia, and that led to living a year in Sweden as a high school exchange student.

Getting ready to ski in Sweden.

Getting ready to ski in Sweden.

Another summer, we spent in Costa Rica where I learned a little bit of Spanish and learned to love coffee, and black beans. I can still remember the Costa Rican seasoning and the delicious hot sauce. I can’t duplicate it, but I’m trying.

Yet another summer, we traveled to Brice Canyon and Yellowstone, and that led to my desire to move to Wyoming.

When I moved away from my family and went to college, I thought my traveling days were over. I never thought I would make enough money to travel on my own. While my college friends spent spring break in Cabo San Lucas, I’d study, write papers, or work extra hours for tuition.

When I graduated, I struggled to find a job, and found myself living with my parents once again—this time in Nebraska. I worked for an advertising company and started paying off my student loans, again thinking my traveling days were over. But I couldn’t run from the inherited wanderlust. After a one-week vacation to Laramie, Wyoming to explore the University, I moved there. I lived at the KOA with my dog and loaded Geo Metro until I could find a house to rent. Two years later, I was a graduate student at the University of Wyoming.

As a grad student, once again, I found myself homebound, house sitting while my roommates jet set to Europe for three weeks while I read for class, practiced viola, and graded student essays.

Studying on the couch

Studying on the couch during spring break

For me, spring break wasn’t about traveling to exotic places and drinking to excess. It was about catching up on my schoolwork or my sleep. It was about getting ahead financially or starting on a school project. It wasn’t about fun.

Even as a full-time college instructor, I spend most breaks grading, preparing for the next semester, and reading. It’s relaxing, but I’m envious as I watch my colleagues travel to Italy, Florida, or even Phoenix.

It’s Spirit Week on campus this week, and that means a decorating contest. We decorate our area in the theme of our dream Spring Break destination. My dream? Hawaii…actually, any beach will do, but I’ve never been to Hawaii, so that would be nice.

Back in January, when the temperatures were below zero, and I was a little bit depressed returning from sabbatical, I knew I needed a little bit of hope to get me through the semester. It came in the form of an email advertisement.

Normally, I delete those, but this one, I followed the link. It lead me to various vacation deals. That’s when I decided it was time to take a real Spring Break. So, on Monday, March 16, my husband and I will be on our way to Oahu. We’ll spend three days and nights in Waikiki Beach where my husband and I plan to spend two days on the beach and in the ocean.

As people around me express their jealousy, I simply smile and say, “You’ll have your chance someday.” Hopefully, they will, but for now, it’s my turn, and who knows what this trip will bring. But I can’t wait.

~ Keri

Whose Business Is It Anyway?









Sarah and Keri and I have all written about our marriages in the last three weeks, but February has four Tuesdays, so I get to have another go at marriage. I could tell you more about my secrets to a long marriage (patience and tolerance) but I won’t. You, dear readers, will have to figure that out on your own.

However, I want to talk more generally about marriage especially since laws against same-sex marriage are falling around the country (except apparently in Alabama, which has managed to be on the wrong side of history more than once.)  This is all well and good, but suppose for a minute that we suddenly agreed that any marriage was none of the state’s (both individual states and the larger State) business.

If we think about a time when marriages, especially those among people who ran states (kingdoms etc), really were the state’s business because marriages meant alliances with allies, meant joining of properties or the acquisition of some sort of title.  In those times, marriages among common folk mattered little and were registered (if registered at all) in the parish records, which is where we look today if we are doing historical research. These marriages were sanctioned by and performed by the church.

During the Protestant Reformation , regulation of marriage was passed to the state because Martin Luther considered marriage a secular thing and by the 17th Century, most states had  laws about marriage. (Wikipedia,marriage).

I would like to suggest that it is time to loosen the bonds between marriage and the state. Is it really the government’s business with whom we cohabitate, with whom we have sex, even with whom we have children?  Among conservative and libertarian circles there is lots of rhetoric around getting the government out of citizens’ lives. Abolishing all marriage laws would be one giant step in that direction.

I can already hear the objections! But what if regulation of marriage reverted to churches? lf churches made the rules about how old someone could be or what sex they could be? Churches would have the right to make whatever rules they wanted for people who chose to get married under their auspices. If a couple didn’t like those rules, they could find another church or spiritual body that had rules that they liked. Clearly Baptists and Unitarians could have different rules. Marriage would become a spiritual act that not everyone would have to participate in.  Couples could also just decide to live together without marriage and it would be neither the state’s nor the church’s concern.

But what about children? The state does have the responsibility for protecting children, but we know that just because parents are married in the eyes of the state does not mean that they are adequate parents. Plenty of children are removed from homes where the parents are married. So it is not marriage that protects children. Having adults who care about them and treat them well creates healthy and happy children, not a marriage license. The state could still intervene if children were being harmed.

What about taxes? There would be no “married filing jointly” instructions. Each person would file his/her own taxes and pay them accordingly. Just because someone was married in the eyes of a church would not allow the government to garner wages of person whose spouse had not paid taxes.

What about health insurance? At some point, we will have health insurance that is not dependent on employers and each person will be covered by an individual plan. Health insurance could, for example, be assigned to someone at birth.

What about visitation in hospitals or the right to make medical decisions for an incapable spouse? Every adult should be able to create a document that designates the person or persons who would have those right. It is not the state’s business if one wants a sister or brother to be next of kin or if one wants the person with whom one has been living for years without a civil marriage certificate to be the person who makes medical decisions. This is simple to do.

Commitment to another person is a beautiful and wonderful thing, but I would contend that it is not the state’s business to regulate who can commit to whom. So, rather than working to allow same-sex marriage, might it make more sense to get the state regulation out of all marriages?


Just a Piece of Paper

IMG_4828When I moved to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona, my life was planned: I would go to college, get published, get married at 25, have 3 children, and homeschool my children while living in the forests of Alaska. But life didn’t work out that way.

Twenty-one years later, with two college degrees, no children, and living in Wyoming, not Alaska, I finally got married.

And although there were some fairy-tale aspects of my wedding (the hummingbird that hovered over us as we said our vows, marrying where I always dreamed, in Sedona, Arizona, a man who wanted to marry me despite a cancer diagnosis six weeks before), getting there had been anything but a fairy tale.

My husband and I met on Homecoming Day in 1999. We were introduced by a mutual friend at a party that I wasn’t even supposed to attend. My date had stood me up, and so I found myself at the party instead of the football game.

Three years later, we were living together. Eight years later, he proposed. In between those years, we discussed marriage…well…we fought about marriage. I wanted to get married. He didn’t. I thought about leaving, but I couldn’t imagine life without him, and despite the occasional fights and the disappointing jewelry boxes that contained rings for my ears and not my fingers, I stuck with the man. I decided that being with him in a committed relationship without a ring or a piece of paper would be enough. In fact, I had convinced myself that we were already married.

IMG_4953To some degree, that was true: we owned a house together, we had pets, we didn’t go out with other people; we weren’t looking for anything better…we were in a committed relationship. But it wasn’t enough. Over and over again, we argued about that piece of paper, and I found it difficult to define marriage beyond the obvious property and fidelity. Instead, I focused on the ceremony itself. I would argue that we already had a marriage. “I just want a wedding,” I’d say, hoping this would convince him.

I had been planning my wedding for as long as I could remember. As a child, I dressed my stuffed animals in handkerchiefs and tissue paper, marched them up make-believe aisles, and hid them under the bed or in the closet for their honeymoon.

On the occasions we took the 45-minute drive from Flagstaff to Sedona, I dreamt of a big wedding in front of the beautiful red rocks and then gathering with my friends and family for a big celebration.

With every fight about getting married, that dream dwindled, and I would grieve its loss. But I wasn’t willing to find a new relationship. I wasn’t willing to say good-bye to this man I loved…this man whose life I shared. Instead, I conceded and finally said, “Marriage is just a piece of paper.”

When I finally let go of the fairy tale, it became reality. On top of the Big Horn Mountains on a cold, fall day in 2009, this man, who I thought would never propose, knelt in front of me and asked that question I’d been wanting to hear. Of course I said yes, and now, 4 ½ years later, the fairy tale vanquished, I still struggle to define marriage.

There is something to be said for planning a wedding, going through the hassle of the paperwork, the seating chart, juggling family dynamics and finances until that day when you stand in front of your family and friends and say those words: “in sickness and in health.” Saying those vows…all of them…makes a difference. It matters.

IMG_4906It’s intimacy.

It’s trust.

It’s learning to listen to each other as you struggle daily to remain true to your identity while also navigating through the day-to-day difficulties of life with and without your spouse.

It’s about coming home to someone who knows who you are and, yet, doesn’t understand you, but is willing to keep working at it.

It’s about compromise and communication and doing the work…and still…it’s about so much more than that.

It’s just…I don’t know…more than a “piece of paper,” and still difficult to define, but it’s worth the effort.

~ K


I was a child bride…

lt and sjI’ve been called a child bride. I got married right out of college – in fact, I finished college early so I could get married sooner. I was busy being a wannabe academic, planning for graduate school and internships when I became the ultimate cliché: I fell in love with a Navy pilot. I was twenty-one, college educated, and head over heels in love – it all seemed pretty grown-up to me.

In August I sat in my academic advisor’s office ringing my hands. Dr. Steen flipped through a wall calendar looking for testing dates. I needed to sit for the LSAT and the GRE before spring she said. I had applications to fill out, essays to write, deadlines to meet she insisted.

She’d already moved to grab another sheet of paper when she looked me in the eye. “I’m not going,” I muttered. I’d sucked all of the air out of the room. “I’m getting married,” I blurted out, talking so fast my words seemed to slur. “In a few months. I can take four or five extra credits this term and graduate midyear. I’m moving to Florida and I need to plan a wedding.” She said nothing.

In addition to being the Dean and my advisor, Dr. Sara Jayne Steen was my father’s personal campus spy. She was an old family friend, a woman who’d known me as an awkward preteen and an ambitious college freshman. More importantly, she was a loyal friend to my parents and worked hard to make sure I used their tuition monies well.

The rest of our meeting was a blur. Sara Jayne recovered enough to help me formulate a plan for my escape. She arranged for me to work as a tutor at the international center and helped me figure out how to accelerate my courses. She smiled and hid her misgivings well, but Dr. Steen was in shock. I’m sure she called my dad as soon as I left her office.

It wasn’t just my advisor or our families that seemed surprised by our plans. The message was clear in all directions: I was too young to get married. They thought we were immature and inexperienced. They thought we were rushing, that we’d miss out on life, on graduate school, on opportunities and freedom. We were moving too fast. pilot and sj

When twenty-something Cody told his military buddies about his plans to get married in the middle of flight school he got two immediate responses. One guy called him crazy; “You’ll never be so eligible again – what are you thinking?” he hollered. But another, older officer was just as convicted when he said “every day I waited to marry my wife, is one less day I have with my best friend.”

It turns out they weren’t all wrong. We weren’t as grown up as I thought we were, but we did group up together. We were too young, so we talked our panicked selves through our first real jobs. We waded through military moves, dying grandparents, and graduate school with a fortunate naivety reserved only for the very young. We ventured overseas and traveled the globe before we got old enough to be afraid. We had babies when sleep wasn’t so difficult to miss and energy was high. We took on the world before we knew enough to look beyond the horizon. We sort of grew into each other.

Growing up together could result in an unhealthy, even scary case of marital enmeshment, but for us spending our early twenties together looked a lot more like unconditional friendship and adventure. We just got lucky.

Cody and I will celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary this weekend. In May I will have been with my husband longer than I lived in my parent’s home. I am most grateful for the years we spent together before our boys were born. We didn’t know enough to be afraid or to second guess our head long jump into commitment. Now we choose commitment every day. I have come to understand that part of the joy of a long relationship (however long is…) resides in the beauty of shared experience. We are fortunate to have started early.


Love as a Policy


We’ve blogged for two full years now, and each year we think about trying something different. A couple of weeks ago the three of us brainstormed a list of topics about which we all had something to say, but from very different perspectives. It being February, and with Valentine’s Day coming and all, we decided to make marriage the topic for this month. All three of us are married women, but experience marriage differently because Keri has been married for 4 years, and Sarah for 15 and I for 46.

But I am finding it difficult to think about something interesting to say about marriage. I have been married to the same person for more than two thirds of my life. I have been married more than twice as long as I was not married. To say this sound staggering. I can barely imagine a life that does not include my husband. We have known each other for 54 years, more than half a century. We fell in love 48 years ago. We know each other’s flaws and strengths. We came to marriage before we finished college, before grad school, before medical school. When I look back at the person I was when I was 21, or 30 or even 35, I know I am different from those women, yet in some essential ways, I am not. I can say the same thing about my husband.

We were at summer camp when we fell in love, the same camp where we had first met when we were 13. He took me to see a tree in the forest where he had built a signal platform from which he has signaled by flashlight to someone in a tree on another hill. The platform was high in a white pine tree, and I, wearing a dress, did not climb after him, but heard his voice as he climbed the tree, telling me how close he was to the platform, and when he got there, describing the process of signaling, in Morse code, by flashlight to the other hill. I remember the deep loamy smell of the woods, the clean smell of the pine tree, the joy in his voice.

But I think I want to write a bit about the difference between falling in love and love. Sometime in my early thirties, I found a quotation from Madeleine L’Engle from her book, A Circle of Quiet. She says, “Love is policy, not an emotion.” (and the quotation might not be exact since it’s been years), but I wrote it out and hung it on my kitchen wall. I realized then that love was not how one feels at any given moment, (and at any given moment, we can be angry, we can be hurt, we can be happy) but it is about how one behaves regardless of the emotion of the given moment. I did not always succeed. I yelled at my children and my husband and often chastised myself too harshly for those things. Nor did my husband always succeed, but each of us engaged in the process of learning about love.

So I think what we both have learned over the years is that it is lovely to be “in love,” but it is even more wonderful to love and be loved.