Slow travel: The benefits of being still

by Kim on March 17, 2013 · 58 comments

Most evenings here in Goa Brian and I have dinner at one of the tiny restaurants that dot Patnem Beach. Near dusk we leave our apartment and walk down our single-lane road, turning left near a field where knock-kneed Indian boys, skinny as bones, play cricket in the evenings.

We shuffle past a tiny convenience store owned by a warm-eyed woman named Dilara. We turn the corner past the tourist shops, sidestepping the dogs that lay curled and sleeping in the red dirt. The woman who sells coconuts from her roadside shack yells “HELLO, COCO?” as we wander by.

We walk past the gentle curve of Colomb Bay and the cows that eat the vegetable scraps and the pigs that eat the garbage.

Slow travel. Colomb Bay cow

Our flip-flops slap beneath us. It’s a familiar sound in a tiny town sat by a great big sea. When we arrive at the beach we walk barefoot through the sand to the row of restaurants built up under the palm trees. We take a seat at an outdoor table, face the ocean, and recline in our chairs. We dig our feet into sand still warm from the mid-day heat and watch the sun blaze and fade from the sky. The changing from day into night again, as natural and as sure as anything.

Slow travel. Sunset on Patnem Beach

Brian and I talk about whatever comes to mind. I scratch the ear of a dog that has curled up beside me, hoping I’ll share my evening meal. Around us is the quiet chatter of the other diners, the slow beat of the music that wafts from the restaurant, but most of all there is the darkness of the ocean and the nighttime sky and the sound of the waves rolling over on themselves. Whoosh.

Tonight, Brian is telling a story about Bigfoot and I lightheartedly tease him. There’s been a sighting in Oregon, he tells me. It is a really big deal.

Brian loves the unexplainable. Bigfoot and ghosts and extraterrestrials. He says it’s because he likes to believe that there are things out there that we haven’t discovered yet. Big things that we can’t quite understand.

Like God?” I ask, but he won’t go that far with me.

Someone is walking along the shore; the blue glow of their flashlight floats in the darkness.

There! By the water!” I say mischievously “It’s the glowing eye of a giant squid!” I hold my hands a foot and a half apart to demonstrate the size. “We definitely need to report this.”

Brian looks at me seriously. “That is almost exactly the size of a giant squid eye.”

I roll my eyes and laugh. And then he laughs at himself.

It’s a night like so many others but one that we have missed over the past nine months of traveling.  We’d been moving like gypsies, darting from place to place, and we were exhausting ourselves in the process. Traveling was losing its flavor.

Before we came here, to this tiny Indian town, our conversations tended towards the next place we were going. Should we take the overnight bus or the morning bus? Should we go to this city or that one? Have we researched the hostels? Do we know the exchange rate? It was all business all of the time. And we took a beating because of it. We were beginning to forget why we were doing this, and why we were doing it together.

So slowing down has not just been about relaxing, it’s been a saving thing for us. A back-to-the-basics boot camp, a gift of attention, conversation, time. Time. The thing we so desperately craved back in the days before we left our cubicles and stepped out into this beautiful world.

And slowing down has also given us the freedom in our day to develop routine, to escape the crush of the weight of a thousand tiny decisions and a thousand big ones. Where should we sleep tonight? Where should we visit next? What should we eat for lunch? Should we escape India altogether and search for cheap hotels in Bangkok? Bangkok, with it’s pulsing nightlife and cheap street food. The Buddhist temples and shrines, the Bangkok National Museum, the Bangkok Aquarium. We’ve never been to Thailand after all. Every place pulls, every photo entices. Because, when anything is possible, your head can go wild with the chaos of choices.

We needed this breathing room.

As we walk home after dinner a map of stars burns high above us and the palm trees sway in the ocean breeze, silhouetted by the glowing moon. The dogs are still sleeping in the red dirt. My arm slips through the triangle of Brian’s and we stroll home the way we came. We walk slowly, the familiar calm of heading home, the steps to a dance we have recited in so many cities now in countries all over the world.

Slow travel. The moon above the palm trees

Slow travel. A full moon in Goa

And I am struck once more at how fortunate we are to do this, to do what we love and make the world our home. It’s another benefit of slow travel, having the time to be thankful, the time to process all that we are seeing and doing and learning. To be still and in that stillness feel a well of gratitude bubble up: Thank you, thank you.

 

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{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

Patti March 17, 2013 at 10:08 am

Love the spotted cow! Funny, I haven’t heard anything about the latest Big Foot sighting in Oregon, I’ll have to check it out. ;o)

It’s nice that you’re slowing down a bit, I was exhausted just reading about your travels. Do you think you’ll continue to take it at a slower pace from here forward?

The “freedom” is what I consider to be just about the best part of traveling. I am looking forward to having that freedom as soon as we can make it happen.

Enjoy~

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Kim March 17, 2013 at 10:27 am

Yes, we’ll definitely move slower as a rule. Of course, as I say that we are gearing up to embark on another 2+ months of insane travel but after that we have another scheduled break. I think that just knowing I’ll have a time to stop, unpack and unwind is enough to keep me going for awhile. But in the future we will spend more time in one place, rent apartments, and LIVE. It’s better this way anyhow, I think, you get to know a place on such an intimate level.

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Amy March 17, 2013 at 10:57 am

Love this post – you describe perfectly the joy in standing still after catapulting forward for so long. It is a rare long term traveler who doesn’t reach the point of needing some stillness and some rest to recharge the batteries. It is a great feeling to have the freedom to do that.

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Kim March 17, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Absolutely. I think “freedom” is the perfect word to describe it. It’s what we all want!

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Jade March 17, 2013 at 12:20 pm

This is beautiful, the words and especially the last photo :)

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Kim March 17, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Thanks Jade. Brian took that photo!

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Rhonda March 17, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Glad you’ve re-discovered the luxury of time, the one thing that is most missing to us being back in the cubicle. I LOVE the moments of just allowing time to pass by without having to plan or do anything.

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Kim March 17, 2013 at 9:30 pm

It is a pretty great feeling. For example, I am sick right now (again! OMG will it ever end?!?!) and it is so nice to know that the only thing I have to do is heal, you know? I don’t have to do anything else but focus on that. It’s such a luxury.

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Laurie March 17, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Another fantastic piece Kim. Thank you for replying to my email btw, I haven’t had time to reply, but the short story is I am taking it one month at a time. First pay my debt off, then save, then see how I feel then.
Thinking too far head bamboozled me!

Enjoy the stillness.
X

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Kim March 17, 2013 at 9:31 pm

I understand! Thinking too far ahead will make anyone lose their mind. I try not to do it (though I often do). Too many unknowns.

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Dustin@WeGoRTW March 17, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Great writing as you already know :), but well timed as our travels are starting to bring us down. After spending almost the last 60+ days in a tent moving in a car around Australia and New Zealand we are looking for a break (and sadly not appreciating all the beautiful sights as much as we should. Thanks for the blog!

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Kim March 17, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Ah, yes, that is exhausting!!! We did that over the summer (in the U.S., not Australia) but I was so tired by the end. Setting up and breaking down camp all of the time was just killing me. You’d think camping would be relaxing but sometimes it just felt like another job! Glad you guys are going to take a time-out. I think it’s a good decision.

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william chaney March 17, 2013 at 4:32 pm

how do u live financially from month to month.your living my dream.best of luck and wishes to u.keep posting to facebook. there GREAT!!!!!!!!!ever want to adopt a 48 year old kid that wants to learn to travel the world let me know!!lol

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Kim March 17, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Hi William! Good question. We did save money before we left so we are living partially on that and partially on my writing income which has been able to sustain us in places like India where the living is very cheap. We spend less money traveling than we ever did in the U.S. Of course, we make WAY less money too, so it sort of evens out.

If we ever adopt you’ll be the first to know ;)

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Arianwen March 17, 2013 at 5:45 pm

That sounds idyllic! It sure is nice to have a bit of a break from being constantly on the road – although I’d rather be in Goa than back home!

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Kim March 17, 2013 at 9:34 pm

It’s wonderful. Are you back home now Ariawen? I am going to go catch up on your blog now!

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Lauren R March 17, 2013 at 6:05 pm

I loved this, Kim. Beautiful writing and it made me laugh.

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Kim March 17, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Thanks for the kind words Lauren.

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Maddie March 17, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Beautiful post Kim and so glad the break has worked out like you hoped it would. I still don’t think I could stay in one place for months but we’ve gotten into the habit of stopping every now and then for a week or two to recharge the batteries. I can also relate on the planning side of things, it can get very tiring constantly having to know where, who and what time every day.

Spookily I just woke up in our tiny hostel room in KL this morning with yet another nasty cold and thought that it’s a sign that we need another break! Looking forward to following along at your next destination :-)

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Kim March 17, 2013 at 9:35 pm

I thought you were going to say that you woke up in your room and you couldn’t remember what city or country you were in!! Take care of yourself and heal quickly!

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Alissa March 17, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Great message, we are just wrapping up some fast and furious travel (in Australia, same as Dustin), and headed to Bali to slow down. Can’t wait!

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Kim March 17, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Oh, I think Bali will be the most wonderful place to slow down. Enjoy!

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Sarah Somewhere March 17, 2013 at 9:27 pm

I’m happy for you guys, you are a great couple. And I’m happy Brian has started a BLOG! Very exciting, I love the theme, all the best on your upcoming adventures :)

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Kim March 17, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Thanks Sarah!! I’ve got to send out a big announcement on this blog about Brian’s blog. So fun!

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Britany (@britseeingstars) March 17, 2013 at 9:48 pm

This makes me want to stop and stay somewhere for awhile! I love to mix up my travel with long stretches in one place — a chance to really feel a location and understand it is often so much more fulfilling than jamming your itinerary with one country after another. You really captured the essence of that here. Enjoy it!

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Kim March 17, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Totally agree. It is so wonderful to get to know someplace on an intimate level instead of just hopping through. We’re definitely enjoying it!

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Hannah March 18, 2013 at 1:07 am

Beautiful Kim. I don’t know how you guys managed when you were moving every few days. Just coming to Thailand after 5 months living in India and being faced with so many choices on where to go and what to do etc has stressed us out so much! It has definitely solidified my decision that slow is the ONLY way to go! Enjoy taking your time xo

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Kim March 18, 2013 at 4:40 am

It is definitely the only way to go! Are you in Thailand now or Cambodia??? I want to hear more!

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Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) March 18, 2013 at 7:21 am

Beautiful post, Kim. Since leaving our home, the longest we have stayed in one place has been 2 weeks, but I do understand what you mean about how staying still and taking time can really restore your spirits. Honestly, the most stressful part of travel for most people is the act of travel itself! Strangely, I actually tend to like travel days, as they tend to involve large swaths of time where I have nothing to do but sit and think. I love train and even bus travel for this reason because they give me a chance to just zone out and refresh. Changing our pace of travel to only moving every 4 – 5 days has definitely helped as well in terms of not feeling quite so harried.

As you get ready to embark on the next phase of travel, I hope you’ll get to put the principles you discovered in India into practice, wherever you and Brian may go!

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Kim March 18, 2013 at 9:31 am

I agree with you. I love the travel days. There is nothing that makes me happier than staring out of a train window as the world rolls by.

I think what was hard for me was that I sort of lost the things that grounded me when we were moving around so fast. I couldn’t exercise, I could never find the right headspace to write, I just never felt settled… so it has been nice to be settled for awhile but I am looking forward to moving again. I hope you and Tony are doing well!

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Angie Mattson March 18, 2013 at 7:24 am

Kim:
This was like a beautiful love arrow straight into my soul. This is so important – this is how I want to travel. To do a little go, go, go. AND have time to stop and rest. To look around. To breathe. To BE in a place and know it’s flavor. For a week or two weeks or a month at a time. Thanks for saying this now and in such a beautiful right way.

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Kim March 18, 2013 at 9:31 am

Ah, yes. That is our new travel mantra: do a little, go, go, go, and then stop and rest. Best of both worlds :)

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Kristin Thomas March 18, 2013 at 8:49 am

We have started our adventure the exact opposite… staying in each location for 2 months, but by the end of this year we will be hopping around the country pretty fast. I’m actually looking forward to a faster pace. Enjoy the calm!

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Kim March 18, 2013 at 9:35 am

Thanks Kristin!!! It’s funny how we all decided to do it. I’m glad we traveled like lunatics through South America but you better believe I’ll never move that fast again. Two months is a long time in one place. I know I get stir crazy here in Goa sometimes, but I’m just trying to enjoy the simplicity of the here and now. Enjoy your travels!

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Karin-Marijke Vis March 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm

What a lovely story and one I can resonate with so strongly. Love this moments of quiet, peace, silence & just being. Thanks for sharing.

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Kim March 18, 2013 at 10:44 pm

These slow moments are such a gift. Thanks for your comment Karin.

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Jessie March 18, 2013 at 2:50 pm

They say you can see the Ghost of the Gray Man who died trying to get home to his girl near the Myrtle Beach oceanfront hotels I stay at – I am a big fan of slow itineraries and lots of time. I haven’t had it often in my life; the first time was a lazy three weeks in Flagstaff AZ, and by the time I left I felt like it was a home away from home – I still feel that way. I will go to the beach this year during the hot season, but the trip I am really looking forward to is going down there and staying for a month – finding even more local places to eat, and small pawnshops and antique stores out in the country. Your blog always makes me dream of that which may lay just within my grasp – all I have to do is reach for it!

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Kim March 18, 2013 at 10:46 pm

I love Flagstaff!!

I think your comments really points to something: When you stay somewhere for awhile you begin to love it and when you leave you leave a piece of your heart there. It makes the world more important to you, you know? Because when you love a place and then something effects it (environmental damage, natural disaster, terrorism, whatever) it effects you too. That’s important because it makes us more compassionate.

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Steve C March 18, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Just when I think you can’t possibly outdo yourself, you come up with another outstanding “short story”.

A simple thing of going to dinner. Your description of the sounds of the waves, the pictures, and the feeling from the adjectives used throughout all bring back so many memories of a similar trip. How many times have I sat in a little restaurant on the beach with a palm thatch roof and wiggled my toes in the sand while waiting for who knows what I had just ordered.

Slow travel IS the way to do it! One or two, or even three nights and on to the next place will drive you crazy. There are a few times where it’s the right thing to do. But most of the time the minimum should be at least a week. It doesn’t mean that you have to stay within walking distance of your place. It can also serve to be sort of a “Hub” to do day trips from.

Keep up the good work as I love your writing style. I don’t think you’ll ever have to work in a cubical again!

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Kim March 18, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Thanks for your kind words, Steve, and I sure hope you’re right about that cubicle!

And I love what you say about the “hub.” I’ve had a friend in town for a few weeks and we’ve been doing a few shorter trips through India. It’s been wonderful, but I also love knowing that I have a place here to return “home” to.

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budget jan March 19, 2013 at 2:26 am

I agree that taking time to smell the roses, makes life all the sweeter. Zoning out on a train is relaxing, but it is all the planning and getting yourself and luggage from lodging to transport that takes it’s toll. As I am a lazy sod and a budget traveler I like to cut down on travel as it increases both the cost and the stress. Great Post.

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Kim March 19, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Good point, not only is slow travel less crazy-making but it is cheaper and saves money! Our biggest costs definitely come from plane/train/bus travel.

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Ginger March 20, 2013 at 12:33 am

So beautifully said, Kim. Calling another place HOME, being still, may be your most gratifying growth experience! As always, thanks for sharing this time with all of us:) Hugs to you and Brian.

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Kim March 20, 2013 at 8:51 am

Thanks Ginger! I do think this time has given me the space to let things sink in… which in turn has given me the room to grow. I’m so happy to share the time with you!

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Carmel March 20, 2013 at 7:10 am

I keep hearing this over and over from a lot of you guys…it’s making me reassess things. Since we’re not traveling indefinitely, it can be challenging to resist the urge to do EVERYTHING. But I don’t want to miss out on time to just be.

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Kim March 20, 2013 at 8:53 am

Carmel, my advice to you is to just leave your itinerary open enough so that if you do feel like you need or want some time to just be that you can have it. In other words, resist the urge to plan every thing down to the tiniest detail. Allow room for changed plans because as much as you think you can plan from a computer at home things will inevitably change on the road!

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Carmel March 21, 2013 at 7:03 am

Oh, you and your good advice! ;)

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Amy March 29, 2013 at 12:08 am

Great post – it sounds like you’ve found a good balance. We’ve only been travelling less than a month and already I can see how staying in one place for a few weeks would be appealing – moving on every couple of days is taking it’s toll on us so I think we’re going to slow down in our next country.

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Kim March 29, 2013 at 1:47 am

Amy, I totally understand. Moving around in South America like we did was VERY hard on us. I think we have (finally) struck a good balance. But we’re about to leave here and get moving again… I’m excited. My feet are getting itchy and it’s a nice feeling.

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) April 12, 2013 at 10:37 am

Slow travel is why we love sailing. You can’t really rush sailing. Certainly on the few days when the weather cooperates fully you can go full out – sails blasting. It can be a unforgiving sport. But … on the Med for example, those days are surrounded by days with no wind, anchored in sleepy little villages. You unpack once, set up your space and go as the wind will blow. You can have a plan … but the wind, sun and surf may have different ideas. You may have to motor to your next stop and that … on a sailboat is slow. Best way to travel … ever. Transport and hotel all in one … and … slow.
Montecristo Travels (Sonja) recently posted..Dog Friendly Local Treasures: The Wakefield Spring – Wakefield – Quebec

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Kim April 13, 2013 at 3:50 am

Oh man, that sounds amazing. I think I’d love sailing if I knew how to do it. Enjoy every second!

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) April 17, 2013 at 8:28 am

Maybe you will join us when we go? Our sailboat has a guest room … You and Brian are most welcome!
Montecristo Travels (Sonja) recently posted..Knowing When to Defer a Trip – Walking the Fine Line Between Fear and Common Sense

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Kim April 17, 2013 at 7:30 pm

That would be AWESOME!

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Scott April 23, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Julia and I have discovered as well that we need to chill and relax or we will not enjoy our time. It only took 2 weeks here in Mexico for us to just completely stop for two in Oaxaca. I loved your line about the “steps to a dance” around the world, because even though we are travelling, when you stop somewhere for a bit, it can still feel like home.
Scott recently posted..Leaving On A Jet Plane

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Kim April 28, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Yes, totally agree. And moving slow is just such an important thing for us to do now that we’ve been traveling for a year (!). Traveling can really take it out of you.

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Jen January 20, 2014 at 9:19 am

I remembered reading this a while back (along with the post about being tired of having to make decisions about everything) and wondering if we would get to this point.

So glad I found it again. We start month 10 tomorrow and are only 1/3 through our “year”-long itinerary, and still we are tired. *I* am tired. I am cranky. I am not enjoying the fact that I’m in a completely random beautiful rainy coastal northern Spanish town for a few days. That’s just wrong.

I needed this reminder. I need to get back out of the Schengen and somewhere where we can park again for a while.

Thanks Kim. Congrats on your new opportunity – we’ll be watching your amazing progress!
Jen recently posted..Tones of home.

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Kim January 20, 2014 at 9:52 pm

Oh, Jen, I think that feeling is totally normal. Yes, just slow down. Stop if you have to and be in one place for as long as you need to.

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