7 Lessons from Living on the Ocean

View from the front yard, courtesy of @emilypearl on Instagram.

View from the front yard, courtesy of @emilypearl on Instagram.

We’re back in the U.S. after an inspiring six month stay in a little cabin at the foot of the mountains on the Pacific Ocean of Canada. Considering that it’s snowing in Minnesota right now, you could say we’re missing the sun and the (little) waves. It was hard to say goodbye to new friends, but it’s been great to be close to family once more.

During our time by the ocean, I learned a lot about myself and what it’s like to live someplace you’ve been dreaming about. Here are some lessons I took from the experience:


  1. You can’t get away until you unplug. Even in such a remote place, if you’re on Facebook, you’re plugged in. It wasn’t until I turned off my phone that I experienced the peace and stillness of the place.
  2. Beauty is everywhere. We lived in a stunningly beautiful place. But there were ugly things about it. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that beauty is everywhere, but our experience is determined by what we focus on. If we dwell on what we don’t like (e.g. shoveling), we miss the overwhelming beauty right in front of us (e.g. snow on tree branches).
  3. People are more important than place (to me). I loved living by the ocean. We were pleasantly surprised by the fun, artistic and intelligent community we found thriving in that little town. In the end, it’s the people I’ll miss the most. If I had to choose, I’d take good people over a beautiful place, but I don’t think you have to choose. I want both.
  4. Doing nothing is essential. I made it a point to spend time doing nothing while sitting on the water. It was hard. I didn’t do it as much as I would have liked. When I did do it, I felt centered, calm and at peace. I made better decisions, listened to others better and listened to myself better. I felt connected and happier. It wasn’t the ocean (though that didn’t hurt), it was being still on purpose. Doing nothing is important for everyone and it’s essential for introverts.
  5. Everything is a tradeoff. In Chicago, when I was dreaming of the ocean, it was easy to complain about the smell of poo emanating from the sewer. Have you ever lived on the water? In general, it smells bad. You get used to it, but the point is that no place is perfect. It’s about knowing what’s most important to you in a place and choosing wisely. (In short, the grass may be greener, but it may also give you a rash.)
  6. Less is more. We took only what we could fit into our little car when we left on our road trip. Our tiny four-room cabin made for a tight fit, but it rarely felt cramped. Instead, it forced us to be creative. Getting by on less felt good. Having less stuff to worry about, store and manage felt great.
  7. Moving won’t change you. We had big ideas about hiking and exploring. But we’re homebodies. We did get out of the house more, but our lifestyle didn’t change drastically just because our environment did.

It was a wild ride. And though some of the lessons I learned may be slightly depressing to those of you who’ve been dreaming of being somewhere else, I hope you take away a more inspiring message: that what matters is not what you see, but how you see it. It can be easy to get down on the place you live at times (especially when it snows in late April). What I found on the ocean was that what happens inside of us is more important than what happens around us. We tend to expect external things to make us happy, which is weird, because they rarely do. Happiness, the kind that lasts, comes from within.

Pug Road Trip: Our New (Temporary) Home

Jeff and the pugs

credit: emilypearl on Instagram

We made it! After our mild hazing at the Canadian border and a brief stint in Vancouver, we continued our drive up the 101, taking a couple of ferry rides, to reach our final destination. We didn’t know what to expect, but we love it. Our little four-room cabin would feel cramped if it were even one foot smaller. As it is, we have just enough space for the four of us to coexist peacefully (so far).

The pugs are in heaven. They are free to chase each other and dig for tiny, dead crabs (super gross), their new favorite pastime. What can I say? They love seafood. Roscoe and Relvis used to hate birds, but there are so many here that they leave them alone for the most part. Instead, they have taken a passionate stance on the small squirrels here that scamper along our porch railing every fifteen minutes, clutching empty peanut shells. There is no limit to the pugs’ burning hatred of these furry creatures. Continue reading

Pug Road Trip: The Border… and Vancouver


Courtesy of emilypearl on Instagram

Emily was really nervous as we approached the border. Which was silly, since we had nothing to be nervous about – that’s just how she gets (I always laugh at how people who never get into trouble with the law are always the most nervous around authority figures. These are the people who have absolutely nothing to hide.) But her anxiety was validated when our friends got waived through at the border and we were asked to “step inside.” We parked the car and left the pugs to defend it from inside by eyeballing passing cars. After verbally berating us, the customs officer asked us for paper copies of some random documents. We had digital copies, but in Canada, digital isn’t real. The officer actually got out the paperwork to turn us away at the border, when a friend (thanks, De!) saved the day by faxing (they don’t have email, go figure) the documents. The officer was pleased with the ink-on-dead-trees approach and finally let us through, but not before stapling a fat chunk of paper to each of our passports. Continue reading

Pug Road Trip: Portland, Pork and Purple Doughnuts

grilled cheese grill schoolbus

Courtesy of emilypearl on Instagram.

Ah, Portland. Everyone told us it really is like the show “Portlandia.” Well, we confirmed it. At least in the Northeast neighborhood, where we spent our couple of days. Everything is homegrown, fresh from the “bins” (read: dumpster) and off the grid. Our tiny side-apartment (one of our airbnb.com finds) even had chickens in the backyard for fresh eggs. The pugs, sensing their opportunity, wanted chicken dinner, but, alas, there was a fence preventing their feast. And they are slower (and dumber) than chickens. One flew out of the coop and Roscoe chased it around.

Portland is laid-back, earthy and bordering on dirty.
We loved it.

emily and a vw bus

Courtesy of emilypearl on Instagram. So hot.

We found a secret garden of sorts, the newly-established Nargila Garden. Don’t bother checking out the website, though, because they’ve taken “too-cool-to-care” (when it comes to internets) to the extreme in Portland. Continue reading

Pug Road Trip: San Francisco and Harris Beach State Park

Courtesy of emilypearl on Instagram

We didn’t want to leave Lake Tahoe. But San Francisco was calling our names and I had never been. Driving up and down the hilly, winding streets, the buildings looked like some weird mashup of architecture I’ve seen in the Southwest and Mexico and someplace else I’ve never imagined. For the most part, our city visit was pretty tame, with the exception of a couple of guys standing around in assless chaps (there happened to be a fetish convention in town that weekend) and the sea lions. Nobody told me about the noisy creatures on Pier 39, a major tourist destination.

If you haven’t been, imagine fifty or so sea lions beached on a half dozen floating piers. Continue reading

Pug Road Trip: The Open Road

Roscoe is our security guard at Pawnee Lake near Lincoln, NE.

We’re on the road! Our trip has been full of surprises: some pleasant, some pretty unsettling. We’ve had plenty of time for bonding, sing-alongs and car games. And we haven’t tried to kill each other yet.

Gorgeous sunset view from our campsite on Pawnee Lake.

I was totally unprepared for tent-camping in below-freezing overnight temperatures (a big change from daytime temps near 90 degrees). Even with the air mattress, wife and two pugs (the perfect foot-warmers), it was pretty chilly. And I learned humility when I heard the rustlings of what we later decided was a mountain lion near the tent and I (being alone with four nervous dogs) jumped frantically into the car to avoid dying. I think I scared it off by slamming the car door. Continue reading

Why I’m Moving to Vancouver (temporarily)

aerial photo of vancouver, city, ocean, mountains

Photo Credit: http://www.idmaa.org/

In a matter of weeks, my wife, Emily, and I will be hitting the open road with Roscoe and Relvis (the pugs) to make our way to Canada. It’s a big change from Chicago. When we tell people where we’re moving, they tell us how amazing Vancouver is. In fact, we haven’t heard one bad thing about the place. Still, most people don’t just up and leave, especially when everything is going well. So to help you understand the decision (and to encourage you to make your own big decision) here are some of the reasons I’m moving to Vancouver:


It’s pretty. We’re going to be living in a little cabin on the ocean at the foot of the mountains. To me, that is heaven. I wanted to live by the ocean and the mountains and I didn’t want to have to pick one. Beauty is important and I want to be surrounded by it.

It’s scary. The idea of both of us quitting our day jobs to move to another country so that I can focus on my business (my dream job) is frightening. It’s also exciting. It would be scarier to deny what we now know is the right thing to do just because it feels “safe.”
Continue reading