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Eastown family forges new path during the pandemic

The uncertainty created by COVID has given us all an opportunity to think outside the box. Seizing the day during these topsy-turvy times has become job one for the VanderWoudes of Eastown.

Every Kid Outdoors!

Know a fourth grader who's interested in seeing our country's national treasures? Check out this website for more info on the Every Kid Outdoors program:

Lake Tahoe, CA

Lake Tahoe, CA /Tammy VanderWoude

Death Valley, CA

Death Valley, CA /Tammy VanderWoude

It’s easy to forget what an oddity Eastown’s shared garages and driveways are, but I’ve recently realized all the ways that this historic throwback makes neighbors feel more connected.  Over the past 7ish years of sharing this little mini plaza space with my neighbors Sam, Tammy, Lucas, and Elise VanderWoude, I’ve come to appreciate how this shared space creates special opportunities for community building. I’ve watched their kids and garden grow, their careers advance, and the Herculean TLC they’ve put into renovating their beautiful, historic home. The VanderWoudes never sit still, so I can’t say that I was surprised when I learned that they had decided to tackle the challenges of the COVID- 19 pandemic with a courageous and adventurous can-do attitude. In mid-January, they loaded up their Cricket travel trailer and headed west. I miss them and our driveway chats already. Tammy was kind enough to answer some questions for this article, so here’s a bit about how their trip came about and what they have been up to since they hit the road.

What inspired you to set out on this adventure?

When the pandemic started, our lives were impacted like all the other households with little kids (ages 5 and 8) trying to manage remote school and remote work. When we finally took a break in the summer for two weeks out west, we had the wild and crazy thought: what if we made this our new normal?!  We started along with this idea, getting our professional licenses in numerous states, learning what it means to be a travel nurse and travel Physical Therapist, and educating ourselves on all the places we wanted to go. We knew we wanted to be near mountains, and ultimately we decided on Reno, Nevada. Once the contract was signed, everything happened very quickly. We had good, easy driving west on I-80, before the first winter storms came. 

What is happening with Lucas and Elise on the schooling front?

Some of the saddest goodbyes we made were to the kids' schoolmates and teachers at Congress Elementary and Whistle Stop (at the Dominican Center). For now we are homeschooling, utilizing the books and resources provided during remote learning for math and language arts. However, considering our daily activities, we have been able to incorporate lots of natural sciences and the arts. We may try something more structured in the future, but so far Sam is wearing the hat of teacher pretty well.  

How has the traveling nurse experience been so far?

Most recently my nursing experience was in an administrative role at Spectrum Health, supporting supply chain from a clinical perspective. Headed back to the bedside in a pandemic, in a new health care system, and in a new state has been a BIG learning curve. I feel extremely fortunate that I can use my profession to support this year of travel, and I also feel fortunate to be so well supported at this hospital. There are other travelers and we are meeting people from around the country. 

Tell us a bit about the Every Kid Outdoors program.

Our family loves National Parks! Soon Lucas will be eligible for the US National Park Service's Every Kid in a Park program, which invites 4th graders and their families to all National Parks for free! Even though we currently hold an annual parks pass, something about focusing a program on 4th graders learning to love parks inspires us towards a framework of National Parks during this year. This summer we visited Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and Rocky Mountains National Park. We haven't been to any parks during this trip yet, but are making plans for Death Valley, Yosemite, Redwoods, and more.  

What are some of the highlights of the trip so far?

We absolutely love living in the foothills of the Northern Sierras, especially so close to beautiful Lake Tahoe. Sam loves flyfishing, so naturally our adventures take us to some beautiful rivers and lakes. Elise is now in love with mountains, and has made plans to marry a few.  

This article was originally published in the March/April issue of the Eastown Access. Since then the VanderWoudes have made it to Death Valley, Capitol Reef, and Arches National Park.

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