Three Months In

We’ve been on the road three months now and we’ve learned so much about the world and ourselves in it. A few thoughts.

This Is Hard!

24-7 with ones family on the road isn’t easy. Quarters are tight, there’s little-to-no privacy & we’re living out of backpacks. Tweens bring a daily hormone induced drama of some form or another. Parents get grumpy. It is not a holiday.

Cramped quarters! Our bedroom in Kanazawa...the kids are actually under the comforters!

Cramped quarters! Our accommodations in Kanazawa…the kids are actually under the comforters!

But Human Nature Is To Remember The Good

Despite some crazy hard days, we look back and only remember the positive. We are poetic about the order and attention to detail in Japan, forgetting how difficult it was to simply order dinner. We dream of the lush hues of green and fragrant flowers in Cambodia, not the garbage strewn down the street. We remember the lazy, calm days of Lao, not the family bickering. How wonderful that this is the human condition.

Water cures all!

Water cures all!

Homeschooling Sucks

People choose to do this permanently? Really? Why? The whole family agrees…the parents lack of ability to teach and the kids lack of ability to listen make for a painful partnership. Seattle Public Schools, they are all yours come September 2014.

Having fun yet?

Having fun yet?

But We’re Learning So Much!

So maybe we’re lapsing with the book smarts but our world smarts are growing. The kids exposure to currency rates, languages, religions, geography, history, food, music, even a potential political coup… it’s an avalanche of world schooling. Feeling earthquakes in Tokyo and then studying them at the museum of emerging science, conversing with Lao students honing their english at Big Brother Mouse, touring the Land mine museums in Cambodia and Lao, visiting Hiroshima in Japan and then Hellfire Pass in Thailand to see interconnected brutal war histories. The list goes on and on.

Sean sitting through his 1st Japanese team ceremony at the insistence of a man who'd had a bit too much sake at lunch. Now if that's not learning, what is?

Sean sitting through his 1st Japanese tea ceremony at the insistence of a man who’d had a bit too much sake at lunch. Now if that’s not learning, what is?

Expectations = Disappointment

I have an active imagination. It leads to fully imagined locales before we’ve even arrived. Oh we’ll find a charming colonial rental on the river, I’ll do yoga every morning while eating fresh baguettes, mangos and drinking iced coffee. Our new neighbors will welcome us into their homes with an authentic local meal.

It never turns out like this.

Keeping an open mind and lowering expectations leads to a better experience overall. Plus I didn’t do yoga back home, so why did I think I’d make time for it here?

Launching lanterns in Chiang Mai for the Loy Krathong festival...something we were really looking forward to that ended up being a bit too chaotic for us.

Launching lanterns in Chiang Mai for the Loy Krathong festival…something we were really looking forward to that ended up being a bit too chaotic for us.

But Serendipity = Pure Delight

We’ve had many unexpected moments that are serendipitously delicious.  Stumbling across a tiny blues club in Kyoto. Typing in “bring us your recommendations” in Google Translate and settling into one of the best Japanese meals ever.  Having a schedule snafu that unwittingly put an unscheduled week at Care for Dogs in our lap and hearts. It’s easy to play it safe while traveling but the incredible moments happen when you leave your comfort zone.

Traveling up the Nam Ko River with Grandma Cindy & Papa Phil

Traveling up the Ou River with Grandma Cindy & Papa Phil

iPads are Both Good and Evil

They are one stop khan-academy-number-crunching / kindle-app-reading / write-at-home-online-class-writing / Ted-talks-learning / music-listening / movie-watching / video-game-playing madness. They have saved us and they have led to our biggest family fights. We love them. We hate them.

Minecraft & Macklemore

Kids, look, we’re in Japan. Kids? Kids?

But We Have Them. We Have Everything. How Did We Draw This Card?

It’s not for me to judge whether one life is better than another. (My kids actually told me this.) But I’ve met young women whose families won’t let them travel. I’ve met young women whose families won’t let them learn English. I’ve met young women whose families WILL let them travel and learn English but they don’t have the funds to do either. Or can’t get a visa.

Today I watched a young boy play with his kite in the wind. Actually it was a white plastic grocery bag and a stick.

Hmong village's fishing boat

Hmong village’s fishing boat

Eight Months Is An Awfully Short Amount Of Time

I thought eight months was a lot of time. When I was sweating homeschooling, long term travelers told me “heck, eight months, that’s a flash in the pan, don’t homeschool at all.” And I was offended, like my BIG eight months were being belittled. Well they were right. It IS a flash in the pan. It’s the right amount of time for us but its fleeting and I’m learning to not sweat the small stuff.

Not sweating the small stuff in Prachuap Khiri Khan

Not sweating the small stuff in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand

I could go on and on…there’s so much that we’re learning. For today, I am simply in tremendous gratitude for a life of opportunity.

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Bath, Feed, Walk, Scoop…& Start Again

I am pleased to welcome a guest blogger this week, one of my two fabulous kids, Julia.  Julia, Sean, Kyle and I volunteered for four days at a wonderful nonprofit this week in Thailand.  Julia, take it away!

Doggy Love

Care For Dogs is an organization that provides shelter, care, and food for dogs in need. Most of the dogs are really sweet-they love to be pet and play. But others are aggressive or scared of people because of what has happened to them in the past. All the dogs are street dogs, and some of them have been saved from awful fates such as the dog meat trade, or abusive owners

Care For Dogs has close to 200 dogs and we spent four days feeding, bathing and walking them.  We also spent a lot of time socializing the shy dogs…just giving them love to help them adjust to humans.  And my parents scooped a lot of poop.

One of the dogs I really liked was Cara. She is medium sized with a white coat and brown markings. She was really nice and she loved the puppies, whenever I went into their area she would always try to get by. She was always happy and playful.

Cara

Cara

The puppies were really cute, there was a litter of six that were brown and really small. The other three were all different types, and they were older and bigger than the the brown ones. They were all teething, so they would bite on my fingers, shoelaces, and hair. The brown ones were so sweet. One time I went in their pen, they were all sleeping but one got up so he could sleep on my lap instead. They were so helpless, sometimes they would fall into a gutter on the ground and cry until I came to carry them out. I felt bad for them because they didn’t have their mother-she was too scared to be rescued. CFD is still trying though.

Oh the Ears!

Oh the Ears!

The big puppies weren’t so needy. Two of them went to the adoption fair on our last day, the other one stayed because he’s sick. The biggest one was white and brown, he looked like Mickey did when Mickey was a puppy. Then there was one who was black and brown striped. The last one was the sick one, he was white.

Hey that's my camera case!

Hey that’s my camera case!

When I saw them they were all locked up in a cage. I gave them water and let them out. They drank the whole bowl of water in a minute, they were so thirsty. The problem with the big ones is that they try to playfight with the little ones, but they are too rough and end up hurting them.
Aw shucks

Aw shucks

On our second day of volunteering, the shelter got a call for twenty puppies. They went to pick them up, managed to get one of the mothers but not the other. The puppies were dewormed and are going into the puppy area in a week.
Hello!

Hello!

Some of the dogs were missing legs, eyes, or ears. There was one who had half of his face gone, but I never saw him.
Celine

Celine

Emily

Emily

Poey Poey

Poey Poey

Care For Dogs slogan is “Saving one dog won’t change the world, but surely the world will change for that one dog.”  You can help by going to http://www.carefordogs.org and making a donation.  You might ask “Why Thai dogs? There are plenty of dogs at home in need.”  This is a valid question.  The average annual Thai salary is under $9,000 annually, so spending money on sterilizing and care for dogs is not a priority.  Think how much impact a small $20 donation could help!

Temples & Tweens

Hokokuji Bamboo Forest

Hokokuji Bamboo Forest

Imagine a tall, dense bamboo forest. The stalks reach far up into the sky, creating calm shade and a light green glow. You’re walking on a stone path, feeling meditative with each step as the breeze softly rustles the bamboo leaves together. You come to a peaceful open hut serving green tea and think “what a wonderful spot to sit and reflect.”

And then behind you, a tired, cranky voice says, “It all looks the same, can we go now?”

We were so looking forward to a day in Kamakura. The small city, an hour south of Tokyo, was briefly the seat of the military government under shogun Minamoto Yoritomo starting in 1185, and dozens of temples were built during his rule.

With the heat and humidity we’d been experiencing, we curated the must see list of temples down to four. Stocked with water bottles and our Loews cooling towels, we were off!  (A side note about our cooling towels: we look like Boy Scout rejects in them, but the useful comfort they provide makes the embarrassment worthwhile.)

From the get go, the kids were having a rough day. School started back home this week and both kids were feeling sad at not being a part of it.  We know we’ve asked a lot of them (although as Julia likes to point out, we didn’t ask).  We had taken the prior day off from sightseeing to give them chill time so we put tween hormonal bad moods aside and dived into the day.

Great Buddha at Kotokuin Temple

Great Buddha at Kotokuin Temple

 

Hasedera Temple

Hasedera Temple

Shujenji Temple

Shujenji Temple

The bamboo forest was our 2nd to last stop and I was really looking forward to it. Seattle friends had described the tranquility of sitting in the forest having tea and I was hoping to experience a similarly zen moment. But with the bickering and whining increasing with each step into the stone paved forest, this was not to be.

We knew we’d have rough days. Earlier in the week, each family member came up with a “calming routine,” something we could do individually to relax when the world or our little family was driving us crazy. This was an effort to have all of us self-cope vs snapping at each other in times of stress. My calming routine was a series of arm stretches and yawns — I did a lot of them that day.

Tsurygaoka Hachimangu Shrine

Tsurygaoka Hachimangu Shrine

After a terse exchange between the kids, Kyle took Sean in another direction and I gave Julia space. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed movement and could see her practicing her calming routine, a series of yoga moves, over and over. And in that moment, the context of the day was changed for me. I saw that my kids were learning.

We’ve officially been on our adventure a week now and in that week Sean and Julia have converted currency, purchased subway tickets, identified routes, learned basic phrases, and walked into stores and made purchases on their own. I’m really proud of them. But at the end of the day, if all they learn on this trip is how to cope in a healthy way when life gets difficult, that’s called success.

image

The Pack List

Quandary: Eight months + ten countries + three seasons + one backpack = What to wear?

No rtw blog would be complete without the infamous packing list.  It serves as a resource for those other brave souls who climb on the rtw bus after us.  It is meticulously curated to ensure pragmatic efficiency.  Fashion, sadly, takes a subservient role.

I’ve combed rtw blogs for months hungry for packing lists.  The most useful of all was at http://www.answeringoliver.com/2012/02/my-rtw-packing-list.html and you’ll see that my list closely resembles Devon’s.

As our 10-day countdown begins, here’s what we are packing:

Clothing (Rachel’s list – kids & DH are similar)

  • Hats (one baseball & one newsboy)
  • Ex-Officio BugsAway Pant (to keep Dengue fever, malaria & Japanese encephalitis at bay!)
  • Ex-Officio BugsAway Hoody
  • Ex-Officio BugsAway Tee
  • Shorts (1)
  • Capris Pants (2)
  • Belt
  • Quick Drying Dress (1)
  • T-Shirts (3)
  • Tank Tops (2)
  • Sports Bras & Regular Bra
  • Quick Drying Undies
  • Quick Drying Socks
  • Bathing Suit (1)
  • Keen Trail Shoes
  • Teva Sandals
  • Patagonia Fleece Pullover
  • Patagonia Rain Shell
  • Buffs (2)
  • Scarf & necklace (my limited bling)
Eight months of clothes?

Eight months of clothes?

Compression Bag = Magic!

Compression Bag = Magic!

No heels in sight.

No heels in sight.

When a duff becomes the bling.

When a buff becomes the bling.

Electronics

  • iPhone (unlocked)
  • iPad
  • Kindle
  • Assorted Chargers (not shown)
  • Anker External Battery
  • Headphones& Splitter
  • Digital Camera (not shown because I used it to take this pic!)
  • Outlet Converter
  • Headlamp

IMG_0477

Other

  • Doorstop (helps secure doors from the inside if we end up at a sketchy guesthouse)
  • Silk Sleep Sack
  • Point It Dictionary
  • Cheap Sunglasses (I expect to lose them so nice glasses will stay at home!)
  • Carabineers
  • Sewing Kit
  • Clothesline
  • Portable Laundry Soap
  • Portable Fan
  • Ear Plugs & Sleep Masks
  • Duct Tape
  • Barf Bags (I know my family well)
  • Security Belt
  • Baggallini Triple Zip Bag (small bag that attaches to my belt — telling myself its NOT a fanny pack)
  • Instant Cold Towel (Loews)
Travel necessity: mustache duct tape

Travel necessity: mustache duct tape

Medical

  • Malaria Pills
  • Ciprofloxacin (traveler’s diarrhea – fun!)
  • Azithromycin (same as above – hope we don’t need both!)
  • Imodium & Pepto Pills
  • Acetazolamide (altitude sickness)
  • Advil
  • Allegra Allergy Pills
  • Benedryl
  • Epipen
  • Bug Spray w/Deet
  • Neosprin
  • Band-aids
  • Moleskin
  • Antibiotic Wipes & Gel
  • Kleenex
  • First Aid Kit

IMG_0419

Toiletries

  • Mini shampoo / conditioner (purchase upon arrival)
  • Body Wash
  • Face Lotion w/Sunscreen
  • Sunscreen (purchase upon arrival)
  • Hairbrush
  • Headbands
  • Wet Wipes
  • Body Lotion (purchase upon arrival)
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Blistex
  • Nail Clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Deodorant
  • Razor

Homeschool

  • Singapore Math 7th & 8th Grade Curriculum
  • Two Graph Paper Notebooks
  • Writing Workshop Lesson Plan Loaded on Ipad
  • Two Writing Notebooks
  • Pencils
  • Sharpener
  • Calculator
  • Kindle App Loaded with Fiction & Non-Fiction Books
  • Kids Ipads Fitted with Keyboards & Loaded with QuickOffice
Traveling classroom

Traveling classroom

Documents

  • Passports
  • Immunization Records
  • 2 Sets of Photocopies of the above plus copies of birth certificates, drivers licenses, marriage certificate, health insurance coverage
  • Health Cards
  • Credit and Bank Cards (Capital One Venture Card has no foreign transaction fees)
  • Itinerary & Travel Notes
  • Notebooks of Different Sizes (for journaling & jotting down travel notes)
  • Much of the Above Scanned on iPad

What I Am not Bringing that I will Miss

  • Flat Iron (high maintenance, I know, but I’m just being honest!)
  • Jeans (I live in my jeans but they are too bulky for the trip)
  • FitFlops (DH will be so glad not to see these for 8 months)
  • MacBook Pro (despite much advice from seasoned travelers, I’m only taking my iPad – lugging my 13” MacBook across continents flies in the face of simplification, so I am leaving it in Seattle & hope not to regret it)

I should note that we’ve packed a box of winter clothes to be sent to meet us in Germany.  Now if only it all goes as planned…as I appreciate we won’t really know what we needed and what we could have left behind until we’re actually on the road!

Road Schooling Part II

Education Wherever You Are

Education Wherever You Are

By George, I think I’ve got it! For many of you, this will be a dull post. However for those with wee ones who dream of an escape, this is a practical post. Here’s the approach for taking a year on the road while still paying homage to the Seattle Public School system, so, you know, your darlings will graduate and go on to accomplish great things.

1. Fill out the Declaration of Intent to Homeschool: http://cppp.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1708901/File/Declaration%20of%20Intent.pdf and submit to the school district. I was happy to hear that as a college graduate, I qualify to homeschool my lucky little ducks. Poor mallards.

2. Home school my nuggets! Easier said than done, however between Khan Academy, http://www.khanacademy.org, and Stanford online, http://epgy.stanford.edu/, to handle the math and science, I am covering the reading and writing based on where we are in the world. And I’m relying on Japan, SE Asia and South America to add a little art, music, language AND confidence building along the way!

3. Re-enroll the monkeys in the Seattle Public School system in early spring of 2014 for the 2014/2015 school year.

Voila!

Here’s what I know from a life in business, when strategy is implemented, the unplanned gaps appear. So stay tuned for the “solves” along the road.

On a different note, here’s a tease of one of the places we’re staying in Thailand in the national park of Khao Sok: http://www.khaosokaccommodation.com. Monkeys and spiders and snakes…oh my!

Japan Reading List

a-geek-in-japan

Behold the kids reading list for Japan!  Can you tell I’m excited about taking the armchair adventure on the road?  Maybe I need to become a librarian when I return.

Some of the non-fiction is fairly mature and I’m looking forward to conquering those books together, huddled in our beds, heads together, after a long day.  When I first started thinking about this trip years ago, I imagined a line of boxes of books labeled for each leg of the trip and the need to cajole a grandma to send to us along the way.  While I prefer to hold the precious weight of a book in my hands, I’m tossing paper aside for electronic reading during this trip.

NON-FICTION

  • A Geek in Japan by Hector Garcia
  • A Year in Japan by Kate Williamson
  • The Magic of Reality: How we Know What’s Really True by Richard Dawkins
  • Shockwave Countdown by Stephen Walker
  • The Rising Sun by John Toland

FICTION

  • Samurai Mysteries series by Dorothy Hoobler
  • Spirits of the Noh by Thomas Randall
  • Blue Fingers: A Ninjas Tale by Cheryl Whitesel
  • Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn

Santa brought the kids iPads with keyboards for the trip.  We struggled with this.  Here we are making an effort to leave all the stuff behind which is ironically requiring us to purchase more stuff.  Huh?  The reality is that a tablet serves as an entertainment device, online resource, and a vehicle for reading, writing, and presentation building — it became a no brainer.

And I finally got my hands on the 6th-8th grade curriculum for math and science so progress is being made!  Itching to create the Southeast Asia reading list…

Road Schooling

Reading in Venice

Reading in Venice

How does one road school? My 1st lesson in road schooling is persistence…it has yet to pay off.

Here is my experience thus far:
• Reached out to Advanced Placement office, referred to school principals.
• Contacted said school principals, referred to Home Schooling Association.
• Contacted Home Schooling Association, referred to Seattle Public Schools curriculum office.
• Contacted curriculum office, referred to Advanced Placement office….wait, I’ve been there before!

Not sure what will be more challenging: nailing down the curriculum the kids need to keep up or teaching them algebra. (Oh who am I kidding, we all know what will be more challenging!)

I am excited about the “freestyle” curriculum that I get to create – how cool will it be to read Goodbye Vietnam while living in Hanoi or to study glacier formation while trekking across the Perito Moreno in Patagonia?

Suffice it to say it won’t just be two 6th graders being road schooled – clearly Kyle and I will be learning too.