Why I Write This Stuff Down

Right now we work full-time, send our kids to school, play soccer, and do all the things "normal" people do, but we want more. We want to show our kids the world and learn along the way. This blog is me trying to figure out how.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Game For Anything

My kids are so awesome!  Yes, yes, they drive me insane sometimes, and they drive each other insane sometimes and all that, but when it really matters most, they are really, really great.

Here's what made me think of that:  this past weekend we gutted our kitchen.  I mean it is down to the drywall where the cabinets were, down to the studs in some places, and down to the slab where there once was terra cotta tile.  That room is empty.  This leaves us with an itty-bitty kitchen island in our dining room that now holds command central:  microwave, toaster oven, coffee pot, with refrigerator next to those and our dining room table as our eating and working space.  It's tight.

The girls made a few comments early on about not wanting the kitchen to be gone, which I think just means they have happy memories of being in there and can't really imagine what the new one will be like.  We told them several times that they will like the new kitchen, too, and it will be even better because everything will work correctly and it will look a thousand times nicer.  We're really just putting cabinets and appliances back in the same spaces, but they won't be from 1982 anymore, and it's been a long time coming.

Anyway, the weekend was full of loud construction noise and dust and crabby parents and lots of "find something to do" moments, and they just went with it.  They played together most of the time, and they only got snippy with each other a few times.  We ordered in dinner Saturday night and had a picnic on the living room floor while we watched The Avengers, and they were thrilled!  Then Sunday we got right back to it, and they were still great, still finding things to do, not really complaining at all.  Finally, after lunch, I felt guilty for kind of ignoring them all weekend, and I took them to a movie and to the grocery store while Drew finished up.  They were great for me out of the house, too!

They are generally pretty laid back kids, but we were a little concerned that they would get whiny or not play together well or something that would make the kitchen work even harder, but they never did.  They are even OK with our weird, crowded dining room, at least for now.

They were awesome when we went to Washington DC in August, too.  We trapped them on a train for 9 hours one way, kept them up too late, made them walk for miles, took them on the bus and subway and changed plans several times.  And they LOVED it!  They are still talking about what a great trip that was and how they want to go on another one.

Perfectly happy on the train.

All of this just adds to my confidence that we are doing the right thing.  When we finally get our first big trip underway, they will be as excited as we are, and they will just go with whatever comes next.  At least, that is my hope, and I'm trying so hard to be more like them every day!  My life would be so much better if I could just go with it more and stop worrying about everything.  Easier said than done, but I'm really trying.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Year of Getting Weirder

Last night our family went to a PTA meeting and school book sale where we interacted with lots of other parents and their kids.  After the meeting my husband and I were making dinner, and he said, "I think other parents think we're weird."  He says things like this from time to time, and I usually say something like, "Probably," and we move on.  But I thought about it a little harder last night, and I do actually think he's right.  I also don't care, and that's a big achievement for me.

I was raised with what I like to call "Southern Woman Syndrome."  That's not an insult to my parents; it's just the way things are in the south if you are a woman.  I define it as wanting to please everyone all the time and wanting everyone to like you all the time, even if you don't like them.  It stinks, and it's too much, but it's very common down here.

If you read my blog post about zombies, among other things, you know the last year or so has been one of great change for my family and me, at least mentally.  We've stopped trying to live like society tells us to and started trying to find the way that is best for us, and I've discovered that other people don't always like it.  It turns out when I talk about choices we've made that may not be typical (like paying off debt, getting rid of extra stuff, opting out of a lot of the food system, wanting to travel a lot with our kids), people interpret this as a criticism of their choices, even though that isn't what I say or mean at all.  They can get a little defensive, and then I get a little defensive, and then I change the subject and make a mental note to stop being so honest all the time.  That's not really the lesson I want to put out there, but I do want to warn people who are going against the norm that it happens.  The first time you encounter opposition to something you're really excited about, you will be shocked and possibly a little hurt, and then maybe a bit pissed off.  It's like the seven stages of grief, but much faster and more irritating than sad.

The things that made my husband say people think we're weirdos change from time to time.  Last night my third grader's class performed at the PTA meeting, and the parents of one of her friends sat next to us.  Without going into much detail about our religious beliefs, I will say we are teaching our kids about all major religions and also about people with no religion at all in the hopes that they will tolerate everyone and choose their own (if they feel like they need to) when they are older and able to understand what they are choosing.  My husband and I have both said we have a lot of respect for Buddhism and sort of lean in that direction, and my 8 year old likes what she knows about it so far.  Apparently she told her friend we are Buddhists, and the friend's mom asked us about it last night.  She was very sweet and just wanted to be sure that was right (probably because it's weird where we live).  We explained our method of teaching about all religions and laughed it off, but it stuck with Drew.

I wonder what that frog is asking.

It's not that he is bothered by what other people think of us, and neither am I, but it is something we think about, especially where our kids are concerned.  I want them to be unique and not to care about  other people's opinions of them like I did growing up (see Southern Woman Syndrome above), but I know their feelings are going to be hurt when their peers realize they are not exactly like everyone else.  That is the nature of kids, and unfortunately I think it's more and more the nature of our country.  All the more reason to get our acts together and take off in a year or two!

Friday, September 7, 2012

When Do We Leave?

This will be a short post.  I saw these two photos on Facebook this past week, and they are really making me want to travel NOW!  But I have to take a deep breath and remember that we're going to get there someday.  We're paying off our debts, which is going well, and then we need to save for travel (and just for life), so for now I'll have to be content to look at these and sigh:

Girraffe Crossing
Photo :: Annette Bulman

Four Seasons Hotel Thailand
Photo: The Golden Triangle


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Washington DC - it's a start! (Part 2)

So the last thing I posted about was the first two days of our DC vacation when everything went according to plan (pretty much).  I may have given you the impression that my husband is a rigid plan-follower while I am super flexible and laid back all the time.  This is not actually true, but I'm the one writing the story, so . . .

Day Three: We started the day by walking to the Mall and taking in some of the Smithsonian museums. The Museum of Natural History is the best thing since sliced bread. I think I could go there every day for a week and still not see everything or get tired of being there. It's such a beautiful building, and there was something for each of us.  My older daughter loves the Hope Diamond and all the gems and minerals.  My younger one loves dinosaurs.  My husband loves marine biology, so the ocean exhibit was great for him. I love all of it and was just happy to be there.

Butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History!

We had planned on seeing some of the monuments this day, but we decided to push those off until the next day and just get some more museums under our belts. D wanted to go to the Hirshhorn Museum, which is a modern art museum and sculpure garden. I wasn't sure how the girls were going to like it, but they LOVED it! I had to drag them out of this weird little movie about a baseball pitcher throwing balls at ceramic objects over and over and another one about a man who is slowly covered in bees.  And it had the coolest gift shop! I really enjoyed talking art with them, and it made me even more impressed with them as little developing people.

We also saw Air and Space, which I kept pushing for based on my last visit (1984-ish). None of us really care about airplanes or space ships, but I love the building and all its skylights and all the aircraft suspended from the ceiling. We just did a walk-through.  We walked back to the hotel after that and the girls played in the pool for a while.  Finding a hotel with a pool was an excellent idea by the way. 

That night we went to Chinatown to eat dinner, and we discovered that the "town" in Chinatown is a slight exaggeration.  It was a block or two of restaurants and that was about it.  The one my husband had researched didn't exist anymore, but we found a cute hole-in-the-wall that was fantastic.  This day didn't exactly go according to plan, but we ended up having a great time because we just decided to slow the pace and relax some.  We also ate a a place that seemed to be popular with the locals, and that really paid off, too.  We much prefer not to look like tourists if at all possible.


Day Four: This was our last day of exploring, and we had planned to see three monuments: JFK, MLK and FDR. We thought we found a city bus that would take us to the Lincoln Memorial and we planned to walk from there, but the bus runs a weird schedule and never came. We even called the 800 number and talked to someone at the transit department.  No dice on the bus.  The only other options were taking a cab or paying for a tour bus that circles the monuments and costs around $30 per person - what a racket. We really didn't want to spend that kind of money. At this point, my sweet husband, who had been a bit of a drill sargeant thus far, just threw up his hands and said, "Forget it. Let's go to more museums." I had really wanted to see the MLK memorial, but actually I was pretty relieved, because the monuments were quite a hike, and I just didn't think the girls would last very long.  Plus, we got to go back to the Museum of Natural History! We also tried the National Gallery, but by then the girls were tired and hungry, so we took the train to a cute neighborhood and ate Ecuadorian food.

The last half of the day was the most fun we had the whole trip. After we ate, we walked across the street to what looks like an old train or bus depot. It's been renovated, and on Tuesdays (the day we happened to be there) they set up a farmer's market type thing outside.  Inside has lots of produce stalls, butcher shops, cheese shops, a cafe and an ice cream stand.  The girls got ice cream, Drew got some really good cheese, and I bought some fruit for the train ride home the next day.  Everyone was happy!  Again, we felt like locals.

We went back to the hotel and the girls swam for a bit while I made use of a guest washer and dryer (free!).  Bringing home a suitcase full of dirty clothes is the worst part of travel for me, so I was absolutely thrilled at this turn of events.  Dinner was a little hard to come by.  Our hotel was right downtown, and everything seemed to shut down after the office workers went home.  We wandered around for a while and eventually found a sandwich shop.  Then we went back to the room and passed out.

Day Five:  We got up and went to Union Station with some time to spare for breakfast.  This time we were much smarter and bought lunch there, too.  We took it on the train with us, and after a couple of hours we spread out at a table in the dining car and had a feast!  That's another thing I loved about Amtrak - they didn't care if we bought our food from them or not.  The tables were for everyone, and there was free wi-fi in the dining car, too!  The ride home seemed much shorter that the ride there (isn't that always the way?), and my younger daughter took a long nap with her head in my lap.

Tuckered out Izzy

All in all, we had a great time, and the girls are still saying they miss D.C.!  Drew and I really enjoyed the train and being back in a big city (have I mentioned we lived in Chicago for 8 years?).  We didn't have a car for 5 days and didn't miss it once. 

We can devide the costs of our trip pretty evenly into three parts:  food, train, hotel.  I'd love to decrease food costs next time somehow.  Maybe we sacrifice the pool for a suite hotel with kitchens in the rooms, and we can cook some instead of going out for every meal.  Staying downtown put us close to a lot of the attractions, but staying in a neighborhood would have put us closer to grocery stores and smaller, less expensive restaurants.  Priorities, I guess.

Anyway, D.C. was a huge success.  Where should we go next?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Washington DC - it's a start! (Part 1)

We took a trip! 

It was a very short one compared to what we want to do in the future, but it was a start, and it taught us some things about what kind of travelers we are.  We went to Washington DC, and we were gone five days, but two of those were spent getting there and back. 

The first good thing about our trip was taking Amtrak instead of driving or flying.  Airplane tickets are expensive, and we had heard horrible things about DC traffic, so we looked into train travel.  The trip seemed long - 10 hours!- and I was a little concerned with keeping the kids busy all that time, but we decided to give it a try, and we were all so glad!  Taking the train doesn't involve any of the TSA nonsense of flying - they don't X-ray anything or make you put all your toiletries in little bottles in a ziploc bag.  I didn't even notice if anyone counted carryons (you're supposed to be allowed 2 per person, but I saw people bring all kinds of wacky bags on board, and no one blinked).  Someone scanned our tickets after we were already moving, and that was it for ID!  Should I be worried about this seeming lack of security?  It seems out of character for my Type-A self to just let all that go, but I did.  And it was nice.

First time on the train!

Day One:  We boarded the train just before 10:00 am.  One coloring book, one sketchpad, some Mad-Libs and two movies later we pulled into Union Station in DC.  Then we took the subway three stops to our hotel, and we were there!  May I just interrupt here to say one thing about public transportation in DC?  You guys should talk to the CTA in Chicago, because they have got this thing down.  We had to buy one transit card PER PERSON (in Chicago you just put a bunch of money on one card and use it until it's empty), and we couldn't use it on the bus.  Only cash or a completely separate card on the bus, folks.  Stupid payment methods, but the transportation itself was great.  And my girls were fantastic!  They loved the train and the bus, and they were such troopers, and I kinda knew they would be.

Day Two:  The National Zoo!! 

The zoo is part of the Smithsonian system of museums and attractions, and as such it is FREE!!  It's in a beautiful neighborhood, and at least part of it was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.  Just a gorgeous way to spend a Sunday - if I lived in DC, I like to think I'd go there all the time.  After the zoo we walked for several blocks to find restaurants, and we all ate like we hadn't had food in days! 

Next was the National Cathedral, which is beautiful. 

We went up to the top of the tower and got some lovely views of DC and Virginia, and then we hung out in the garden for a little while.  The bus ride back to the hotel was fun - we drove through Georgetown, which was so cute and busy, and the girls liked the bus.  The girls and D went down to the pool for a little while, and Mommy had some quiet alone time, and then we ate dinner and called it a day.

I'll stop here for this post because this is the only part of our trip where pretty much everything went as planned.  Here is what we have learned thus far:

Positive:  train travel, mass transit and walking everywhere (I quickly learned that good walking shoes are priceless); being in a new place and figuring out how to get around; being in neighborhoods around locals as well as visiting tourist attractions

Negative:  my husband is a whip cracker!  He has his day planned out and has a hard time veering off that plan.  Once he's veered, though, it's OK; it's just hard to make that first leap from the schedule.  This can also be a positive, as the girls and I all get distracted . . . what was I saying?  Oh yes, negatives.  DC is VERY expensive!  I had a hard time spending so much money every day, even though we had saved for this trip.  I'm more comfortable in a suite or apartment where I have the option of cooking than in a two-bed hotel room where we have to go out for everything and can't even heat up leftovers.  I think this will be a positive when we take our big trip, because we want to live somewhere like locals for a time instead of just visiting as many places as possible.  One other negative is that the girls are a little young for as much exploring as D and I like to do.  If it were just the two of us we could wander around all day, but it's not fair to make the girls do that, so we have to be aware of the time and everyone's energy level.  It will be at least a year or two before we can really travel like we want to, and hopefully they'll be able to last a little longer per outing :)

All in all, the first couple of days left us exhausted but excited to be somewhere new.  More in the next post!

Monday, July 30, 2012


I've started reading books and blogs about families who have taken time off to travel, kids and all, and they are pretty inspiring.  There are A LOT of them out there, but I thought I'd list some so anyone else who is interested can take a look.  Maybe I can convince some of you guys to come with us :)  This list is not even close to covering everything out there, but it's a start.


Edventure Project  The Millers are a family of 6 (two adults, four kids) who sold their house in 2008 and hit the road.  They biked across Europe and Africa and have been all over the world.  They are homeschooling their kids, which is something I never had any interest in until now.  If we did something like this where we were gone for a year or more, we'd have to figure out two things:  how to educate the kids, and how to make money.  This family has figured out both.  Oh, and the kids are starting to develop their own travel blogs as well!

World School Aventures Traveling Families Blogroll  I'm working my way through this giant list of other families doing what we want to do.  Overwhelming, but fascinating and inspirational, too.  Lots of variety in family structure, from single parents to a family with 6 or 7 kids including one in a wheelchair.  If these guys can do it, we can, too.


One Year Off by David Elliot Cohen.  I checked this out from the library, and my husband started it before I could, so I've yet to get into it.  It's about a family with three kids and a nanny (not in our economic stratosphere, but still interesting) who travel the world. 

Travel Happy, Budget Low by Susanna Zaraysky.  Lots of good tips for keeping costs down.

How to Fit a Car Seat on a Camel by Sarah Franklin.  Collected essays on family travel by a large variety of families.  Funny and touching.

Various Websites:

Lonely Planet  The ultimate in budget world travel.

Meet Plan Go  A resource for travel planning.

We Just Got Back Another resource for family travel planning with lots of good tips on packing, hotels, giveaways, etc.

Families Go  Yet another family travel planning site; this one have lots of vacation giveaways as well.

I also follow a ton of pages on Facebook, including The Great Family Escape, The Family Adventure Project, Almost Fearless, The professional Hobo, and about 20 more.  Once you find one, it leads you to others, and you can see how this takes on a life of its own.

It's easy to spend hours drifting through all these sites and books and never really planning anything, so we're going to let ourselves do that for a little while.  Our next goal is to nail down where we want to go.  We are currently doing research on Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and I'd like to look at some African countries next, though that may be a different trip entirely.  We really have no idea yet how long we'll be gone, or how much money we'll have saved, so that makes planning harder.  It's nebulous right now, but that's OK!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It's All Coming Together . . .

I've been thinking a lot about how I got to this restless, squirmy, unsatisfied moment.  And I've come to realize that some subjects I've been interested in for the last year or two seemed random at first, but now they are coming together for me.  It might seem like a stretch, but stay with me here.

First, as my girls started school (they are 6 and 8) I started reading a lot (A LOT) about school food, and that led me to food in general and the modern American food system in particular.  We've opted out as much as we can from corporate food because after all my research we just don't trust the system.  Plus I don't want to eat something that is developed in a lab and then assembled in a factory, though that is the norm for our generation.

Meanwhile, all my food blogs got me interested in a homesteading, or let's say, homesteading-lite. We expanded our garden, joined a CSA and started cooking more from scratch. We really want chickens, but we don't have the infrastructure (privacy fence, coop, etc.), so it would be a bit of an expense up front. I've considered a beehive as well, but some neighbors just aren't into that.

At the same time, I became interested in minimalism and started reading some blogs about it (http://www.becomingminimalist.com/, http://zenhabits.net/, http://www.theminimalistmom.com/, etc.).  It inspired me to start getting rid of some of the STUFF we have around the house that really doesn't mean anything to us, like books, clothes, some of the kids' older toys.  There's still so much more we can do without.  Minimalism brought me back to Buddhism, in which I've always had an interest, so I started reading a little by the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh.  Budhism and Minimalism go very well together, in fact.  If you can overcome desire, you can rid your life of unnecessary baggage (things, people, stress).

OK, here's where it gets weird, but I promise to tie it all together at the end.  I've also been reading lots of books about zombies and vampires (but not the romantic, Twilight kind).  Some of the better ones have been Zone One by Colson Whitehead, The Forest of Hands and Teeth series by Carrie Ryan and The Passage by Justin Cronin.  These are all about some manmade plague that wipes out most of humanity and leaves the survivors walled off in small villages basically fighting off the hoardes for eternity.  Oh, and we're also watching The Walking Dead on AMC.  Pretty bleak stuff, but for some reason it appeals to me right now. 

Last but not least, we've just decided to quit screwing around and pay off our debts, and to do so I've been reading Dave Ramsey.  He's very conservative for me politically, but what he says about finances makes a lot of sense and is doable for us.  We don't owe a lot, and we can do it pretty painlessly in a year or less (except the house).

Thus, travel!  Get it?  No?  Well, I may be stretching things, but I think all of the above interests stem from a desire to get out of the system, "outside the box" (I hate that phrase), out of what mainstream American society tells us is good, normal, worth striving for.  I feel like we're in the zombie apocalypse right now - everyone just stumbling toward the "American Dream," which seems to consist of a giant house full of stuff, lots of electronic gadgets that you play with instead of talking to your loved ones, two huge SUVs, maybe a boat or a camper the size of a tour bus.  Never mind paying for it, because you can just charge it!  All of this STUFF is what we're supposed to want, supposed to work for.  We get in a job and we just stay there, even if it's killing our souls.  That sounds dramatic, but honestly, after working in the same job for the last, say, 10 years or maybe more, do you really feel like the same person you were when you were in college?  How about high school?  Didn't you defer some dreams because you needed to keep your income?  Maybe you had kids and bought that house that's a little too big, and maybe you could have kept your previous car a few more years, but you wanted a new one.  And when you redid your kitchen, you didn't really need new appliances, but you were redoing everything, so why not?

We finally stepped back and realized that we don't really care about any of that stuff, and we don't want our kids to care about it either.  We want them to see that there are other people out there, other dreams, other possible futures.  God Bless America and all that, but this isn't the only way to live your life, and I don't think it's the best way, either.  I hope I'm not insulting anyone, but this has been a bit of a revelation for us, and we're excited.  So we'll pay off our debt and start saving, and hopefully we'll have enough to go somewhere for a month next summer as a sort of test-drive.  Then who knows!  By the way, if anyone can think of a job I can do from "the road," please comment!

Don't be a zombie!

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Cripes, passports are expensive!!

$110 for adults and $80 for children.  I guess we'll have to get one a month or something.  What's a passport card?  Do we need those?  They are an extra $15 for kids and $30 for adults.  There is so much I don't know.  I had a passport back in the 80's (in my photo I have assymetrical hair and one really long earring!  Totally tubular!), so it is long expired. 

I went to Europe for a month with a group from my high school, and it was such a good experience.  I really want my kids to get out of this country for a while and see how other people live.  You don't need a giant drywall mansion, SUVs, Nintendo DS or a TV in each room to be happy.  In fact those things can be a weight on your shoulders.

Have I mentioned that my husband is awesome?  He's all in.  We went to the library yesterday, and he came back with travel guides on Thailand and Vietnam :)  We don't have any real plans, but we are investigating every avenue, including teaching English in a foreign country.  Yikes!!!  Maybe we'll just start off with a month somewhere and see how that goes.  I'm terrified of leaving my job and never being able to get another one that pays as well.

We just started the process of paying off all our debts (everything but the mortgage).  We don't have a lot of debt, but we'll be paying it off for almost a year, so none of this will happen in the very near future.  That's actually a good thing because I'm freaking out a little.  It's nice to have something to look forward to, though, even if it's a complete mystery what it will end up being.  Looking into the future and seeing myself sitting in an ergonomic chair with a large monitor forever is depressing.  Looking into the future and seeing me (and my family) with elephants or something is fantastic!!  We're loosely shooting for next school year.

I'll do a post soon on travel blogs I'm following and books I'm reading about family travel and taking a "gap year."  It's inspiring to me, and maybe it will inspire you, too. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mid Life Crisis?

OK, I made this page a LONG time ago thinking I was going to be some sort of mommy food blogger.  Clearly that didn't happen, and in the interim I've become interested in other things as well.  Mostly I'm becomming restless, and I'm trying to figure out why.  My job is fine, I love my husband and my two daughters, I have great friends, I live in a town that is just OK, but I can handle it for now, etc., etc., etc.  So what's the problem?

The problem, my friends, is this:

This is Giraffe Manor.  See that lovely old house?  It's sort of a bed and breakfast.  See those giraffes?  Those giraffes live on the grounds of that house and stick their heads through the windows to say hello or try to eat your breakfast or just lick you with their big, squishy tongues.  I really want to go see those giraffes in my lifetime, and the problem is that they are located in Kenya.  Kenya is a long way away, and the only way to get there is to TRAVEL.

I think travel is my problem, and I'm at a bit of a loss.

When you get to a certain age (40 for me), you start to realize you are no longer 20 or 30, and all the things you thought you would do in your 20's and 30's didn't get done.  I realize I still have time left, but I'm not getting any younger, and I want my time here to matter.  I want to DO SOMETHING with my life.  I want to be someone when I grow up.  And I want to set an example for my girls.

So here's the thing:  I'm thinking about something crazy.  What if my husband and I quit our jobs (or took leaves of absence, or figured out jobs we could do from anywhere, or SOMETHING), pulled the girls out of school and went on the road for a year?  Could we do that?  Could we make that happen?  Even if we didn't go to Giraffe Manor, we could just drive around the US and maybe Canada or Mexico and see all sorts of things and meet all sorts of people and have adventures we would talk about for the rest of our lives.  People do this kind of thing all the time.  There are quite a few blogs dedicated to just this sort of life.  But are we those people?  I hope the answer is yes.