Now that I’ve been home a grand total of two days after two months on the road, it’s given me a bit of perspective and space to reflect. And do much-needed laundry. But while I fold, I also reflect.

I’ve only been to a few places here in my small town in the past 48 hours—I’ve been gleefully, happily holed up at home. But I’m looking forward, so very much so, to getting back to a routine, where I spend my days feeding and teaching my kids, writing at coffee shops, running in the unpredictable central Oregon spring when it allows, and hopefully, spending time with friends.

See, I was reminded of something the past two months: that even though we all have our differences, there is an awful, awful lot that’s similar between many of us. And those similarities are what made me ache for more back-home community.

it’s not very often I have the chance to zip up and down coastlines in such a short amount of time. That quickness provided a sort of perspective about our different trees and cuisines, sure, but also a sort of neighborliness to many of our cities, as though I was dragging behind me a ball of yarn to wrap around each pin on the map and give a good yank to drag us closer together.

U.S. map

Here are some near-universal truths about near most of us, from my recent experience:

1. None of our houses are perfect. Not one.

Really—not one. No one’s. We visited a lot of houses, y’all, and slept in quite a few of them. And I’m happy to report that no one’s looks like a museum. They were all uniquely spirited to the family and the climate it inhabited, but they were also homes. No magazine spreads.

nester's house

From the Bay Area to Chatanooga, we were welcomed with smiles and sheets, breakfast and bonding over coffee. Sometimes the bedding didn’t match. Occasionally there was a fixer-upper project on hold in the background. Many, many friends decorated with thrift store finds and hand-me-downs.

messy kids

And it was glorious. Even at Myquillyn’s there were messes.

Keep this in mind, should you ever feel held back to invite people over for fear your house just isn’t good enough: I’m here to tell you it is good enough. Most of us like hanging out among imperfection.

2. None of our kids are perfect. Not one.

For those families with kids, it was a veritable joy to hear them occasionally bicker, cry, or whine. Not because I’m a masochist, but because those are the sounds of real life. My kids do those things, too.

We shared bathroom sinks and dinner tables, and I’m happy to report that there was nary a child that was perfectly behaved 100 percent of the time. From the tantrum-throwing toddlers to the manipulative puppy dog-eyed grade schooler, to the teenage boy who grunted his hello, every kid had his or her quirks that added to the family crazy.

playing in the driveway

Even if a family did have a well-behaved brood, they still struggled with some aspect of the parenting gig: bedtime took forever, or there was a continual explosion of stuff at the door, or the kids constantly vied for screen time.

kids at the fountain

Lo, this too was glorious to behold. Because it reminded me that kids are kids, and to look at mine, with their struggles, as fellow humans on a journey, finding their way through life like me. They’re normal.

screen time

3. Everyone is waiting on something.

My favorite part of this entire trip was getting to talk one-on-one with friends old and new. Whether it was 10 minutes in a line at a bookstore or hours over dinner while the kids played, I peeked a glimpse into many peoples’ lives, so many so that now, back home, they’ve all sort-of blended like a lovely watercolor in my mind.

I gathered, time and time again, that each of us are on a journey of some sort, and that journey involves waiting. Waiting on a job opportunity. Waiting on clarity about next moves. Waiting on your own book deal. Waiting for marriage, for a child’s health, for a better parent-teacher relationship, for a military kid to touch his home soil, for a good deal on a couch, for finding the right church.

dining outside

No one’s life was all ducks in a row, everything answered and discovered. Every single person had something in the pipeline, or on the stove, simmering. Such a good reminder for this forward-thinker to live more in the present instead of acting like one day, off in the future, everything with be all figured out and I can just rock on the front porch with my iced tea. That day doesn’t exist, and that’s actually a really good thing. Who wants to live as though they’ve completely figured out life?

4. Everyone has unique gifts and passions.

This took a bit more unearthing, more time to dig and discover and unlayer. But I found it consistently true: every single person we hung out with had their own unique sensibilities, passions, and skills. Every one.

I was reminded of Chad Markley‘s humor and gift of chatting with people while we had them over to our HomeAway house in Anaheim. I experienced the same in Mark Howerton for the first time, too. (Side note: This is one of the many reasons we love renting houses at places like HomeAway as much as we can—we can live real life even when we travel. Kitchens, backyards, dining room tables to have people over. Even better when you can split it with another family.)

dinner with friends
kids at the pool

Emily and John were passionate about knowing who they are and about using their lives wisely to serve other people. It was a shot in the arm of encouragement for me. Annie loves to draw, which I already knew, but she also loves hosting a book club with her neighbor friends, and I didn’t know that. Sarah‘s recent move to the west coast has reminded her of her deep love of nature and her desire to live near it.

Not one person shared the same passions and skills mix, obviously, but everyone had something. Everyone knew how to be themselves by default. And it reminded me to just keep on being myself, too, with all my passions, gifts, and quirky personality traits. Our differences pepper the world’s landscape with color and flavor. Why be someone else?

emily taking photos of kids

Let’s gather online

If it were up to me, I’d take a two-week break here at home, then hit the road again to meet more of you. But alas, my children need things like routine and art classes, and we need to mow our lawn. So for now, until we leave for our Big Trip, we are home. And it’s good.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t gather online and enjoy community with each other in some way. And since I heard from many of you that you’re doing a spring book club with Blue Bike, I thought it’d be fun to add another dimension to your local gatherings. (Or, to give you a chance to simply gather online, if that’s your preference.)

A new online book club for The Art of Simple readers! First up: why, Notes From a Blue Bike, of course. Starts April 21, 2014! Help spread the word.
Photo source

Let’s do an online book club! Starting April 21, and for the next six weeks, we will gather in a Facebook group to discuss Notes From a Blue Bike. Anyone can join, and you’ll have the opportunity to chat with me about the parts of the book you loved, the ones you didn’t understand, and to maybe ask some of your nagging questions. Sound fun?

Here’s how it’ll work—first, buy a copy of the book. Feel free to read it anytime. If you’ve already read it cover to cover, awesome. Skim the pages again, if you like. And then, our discussions will go as follows:

Week 1 (April 21-26): Introduction
Week 2 (April 27-May 3): Food
Week 3 (May 5-10): Work
Week 4 (May 12-17): Education
Week 5 (May 19-24): Travel
Week 6 (May 26-31): Entertainment and final thoughts

This will be extremely laid-back and low-pressure—simply add to the conversation where you feel led. The only two hard rules will be: don’t discuss a part of the book we haven’t yet covered (aka, spoilers), and please don’t discuss until you’ve read the section we’re discussing.

Sound good? All are welcome—seriously. There’s no application or approval process. Simply head here, and click to join. I’ll remind you there when we’re about to start.

If this works, we may use this group in the future for more book clubs to discuss other books—we’ll just see! I’m looking forward to it.

Psst… I’m so grateful for the good people at HomeAway, who gave us our lovely vacation home in Anaheim. In fact, I visited their headquarters in Austin, and though I was already a customer of theirs, over coffee with some of their great people I became a bonafide fan. Staying in a real home that’s well loved and well cared for: best. We hope to use them on our Big Trip, as we have already for years (used them for our honeymoon, in fact!), and would highly recommend them to anyone planning a vacation. It’s great for kids to have a real home for running and playing, and it saves money to have a kitchen. Serious thumbs up for HomeAway.