What not to pack (the night before a family trip)

This is the story about a man who had an impulsive idea the night before he and his family took off on an extended overseas trip. 

First of all, you must understand this is a smart man. He’s an entrepreneur who started his own business from a home-office that paired as a guest room, and which was sandwiched between his young daughter’s bedroom and the master. The cacophony of shouts, singing, crying, stomping, et cetera, could have thwarted his enterprise, but he prevailed. Soon his business grew, and his home-office moved to a new part of the home, separate from the bulk of noise and activity. He got himself a nice workstation, including a moveable desk and an oversized monitor.

This man who can take his business wherever there is Wifi, is doing final packing for the family’s big trip. He will be bringing his work with him, of course. With this in mind, he is suddenly prompted to pack his 24 inch monitor—he can be much more productive this way, he reasons. He lugs the big green suitcase down from the attic. The monitor fits in easily. He shoves in a couple of pillows for protection. “It’s worth the risk of it breaking,” he says. 

The monitor cracks on the first leg of the trip. It may have been due to an overzealous Uber driver swinging and slamming the suitcase into the trunk of his car, but who’s to say? On the next portion of the trip, the suitcase loses it’s handles. The only way to pick it up is for two people to lift each end. Twice, at two different airports, the family waits over an hour for the hideous green bag to appear on the baggage carousel. 

Well, obviously, we are not going to make this mistake! There will be no checked bags on our upcoming trip to Central America. My daughter will use a rolling backpack, and my husband and I both have wheeled carry-ons with detachable backpacks. We can fit seven days worth of clothes and toiletries in our carry-ons. Backpacks, while unable to contain 24 inch monitors, can easily accommodate laptops. 

Sometimes you’ve just got to learn things the hard way, but if you are planning a family trip, there are tons of tips that can help prevent common mistakes! You can find packing tips (with links to luggage options) and much more in Practical Tips for Planning a Family Trip. This is a FREE guide when you purchase a Learning Resource product. I’m very excited to make Learning Resources for a Central American Trip available on the website this Spring! 

In the home, in the world

I chose to be a stay-at-home mom. Back in 2006 when I was pregnant, I resigned from my teaching job, lucky that I had the choice. I didn’t know, really, what I was choosing. I didn’t know that my baby wouldn’t sleep anywhere other than in my arms or attached to my side. I knew that I’d be breastfeeding, but I didn’t know that it’d feel like that was all I’d be doing. I had never discerned the extremities of love and loneliness—not like this. Not until I sat, trapped, on my couch, holding the whole world in my arms. 

I loved being with my daughter and I felt confined by my circumstances. It was like the name stay-at-home mom became a life sentence: Stay at home! Mom

Now, here I am thirteen years later, home-schooling. My young-mother self never would have guessed it! She needed space and time. She needed to be held in the arms of time, rocked and soothed . . . loved. She would need to be placed, over and over again, into the space she’d made. 

Reconciling my need to be at home and in the world began by creating a nurturing space—a physical place in my home. This led to a spaciousness in my heart. I wasn’t being given a house-arrest sentence, I was being invited to be at home. To build a strong inner place of love. To connect to the whole world that is inside of me. To make a home for my family to live and be fully, wholly. 

I didn’t “wait” until the time was right to travel. Not in the normal sense of waiting as an inactive state. I was practicing an active form of patience—moving toward an unknown destination. My desire to learn and be in the world is now intertwined with my family life. Side by side with Elle, I want to learn about the world we live in, how humans have inhabited it in the past, and how this relates to how we live in the twenty-first century. 

We are strengthened by the years of active “waiting.” Our travel experiences are informed by the time spent taking a real look at home. I’m a be-at-home mom, even when I’m traveling! 

Are you, like me, drawn to being in the world in new ways? Do you want to connect with others and allow travel to transform you? Do you say yes to this, but feel overwhelmed by this? Maybe my free guide—Create a Memorable and Authentic Family Travel Experience— can help. I’ve put together some resources along with questions for you to consider when thinking about an authentic family trip. Leave your email address here and I’ll send it to you. Meanwhile Mom, be at home, be wherever you are in the world (and the world will be in you). 

What to do when you're a tired mom

Last week was a bit bumpy in our household and homeschool. Between sickness and lack of sleep, tempers were lost. I should mention that I was the first to lose it. 

I get triggered when I don’t feel valued. Wouldn’t it be great if my twelve year old could read my mind, and then go, “Thanks for doing all those dishes, Mom! Now that you’ve created a clean workspace, I’m going to get started on my work right away!” 

It’s probably more accurate to say that I get triggered when I don’t value my own worth and my own needs. Instead of expecting my daughter to be a mind-reader, I could say to myself, “You’ve worked really hard. You need rest and some quiet time.” But this is where I’ve often struggled: putting my oxygen mask on first. I want to make sure everything is taken care of before I’ll go check-in with myself, before I’ll take the breath I need, say hello to my essential self.

In this instance, I was worried she wasn’t going to do her work. And the thoughts spiraled: she’ll never have a strong work ethic, she won’t learn anything, she’ll fail, I’ll fail. None of these are true, but it is crazy how they can control a moment—a terrible moment when I’m an angry mom. 

Wouldn’t you know I’d just written a blog on patience! However, it wasn’t about what to do when your kid says, “I hate you!” into an already mom’s about to explode atmosphere. It was about staying in the process; how patience is about milestones. So I was challenged to look at our breakdown as part of our process . . . to see ways we can readjust, create new boundaries and better routines. This week, we’ll recommit to some structure around our work cycles. I will speak my needs instead of expecting people to read my mind. 

A few months ago, we had a similar breakdown concerning getting to dance classes on time. Instead of issuing punishments for what happened while she was hotheaded, we decided (once we were all calm) to matter-of-factly discuss expectations. We wrote down a list of things that need to happen (or not happen) in the hour before dance class and who is responsible for each task. Things have been running smoothly since then. 

Similarly, I’m not going to punish myself—I’m not an “angry” mom, I’m a mom that needs to be well-rested and needs to have time to create and to connect with herself. 

So . . . What to do when you’re a tired mom of a preteen? Let everything be as it is in the moment, it’s not perfect and it sucks. But go do something to take care of yourself. When you are ready (it may not be today) talk about expectations, small adjustments. Write it down, commit to it.

Patience: it's about milestones

“All the way across! You did it!” I laugh. “Elle, you did it!”

She was not quite five. She wore a t-shirt with a picture of kittens on it, a white skirt with gray capri’s underneath; socks, no shoes. We were at the park. It was before the play-equipment was replaced, and so the monkey bars were still there—eight, thick yellow bars from one perch to the other. I watched her little body swing and sway, eyes focused on the next rung, feet hovering high above the sandy bottom. She went from one end to the other, one motion of her arms at a time. 

This is a milestone, I thought. Her first time maneuvering the entire set of monkey bars. I hoped I could remember it. 

Being Elle’s mom has helped me to recognize milestones—her first words, her first steps and first lost tooth. The day she went to school. The day she graduated elementary. 

But still. I am a slow learner when it comes to recognizing my own milestones. I was always a sprinter, a chaser of solutions, forever seeking satisfactory ending points. My eyes were typically set on finish lines, not processes. This had a lot to do with the way I was schooled; a lot to do with living in my head, at the expense of hearing my heart. A lot to do with thinking I could control outcomes.

Being with Elle helped me to see I cannot control outcomes. 

But still. I wanted to cross my own, metaphorical, set of monkey bars—the great divide between here and there, between the inner me and the outer me, between my soulful, creative self and my responsible, dutiful mom self. There was so much inside of me that didn’t seem to be represented on the outside. 

Elle and I walked the six blocks home from the park, hand in hand. It would be a few days before I could sit down alone, in silence. While she was at preschool, I would write. I would sit in my backyard or walk the beach. I would feel nature’s processes. And I would hear what my heart had to say. 

Though it felt like stillness, it wasn’t inactive. It was patience, in action. I was faithfully moving forward. At the time, my feet were so firm on the ground, I couldn’t see that I was making my way across the monkey bars, too. Bridging together the inner and outer me . . . an endless pursuit.

It’s hard to recognize our own milestones, isn’t it? If you’re still reading this, pause now and give yourself credit for how far you’ve come. Tell me about your milestones in the comments.  Where in your life are you actively being patient? 

Our European Family Trip: A 5 Week Itinerary

We get this question a lot: How did we choose where to go? 

It’s kind of like asking, where do you start? That’s why I created travel products to support other families who might be wondering, how do I even begin to plan a meaningful family trip? 

Here’s how it went for us: 

A few years prior, I was dreaming up a world/homeschool experience where our family would explore, learn and discover together. I knew Ancient Rome and the Renaissance would be topics of study with our seventh grader. From the physical power of the Romans, to the flourishing of new thought during the Renaissance, these historical time periods reflect the inner changes of the pubescent child. 

Actually, it felt like the whole family was on the brink of more expansive thinking and expression, not just our preteen. So instead of asking: where do we want to go?, it was more like: why not go to Italy? Why not go to the very place where the Romans built their great roads, aqueducts and arches? Why not go to Florence and see where the Renaissance was birthed? Why not view learning as a constant, always available opportunity that does not have to be contained in a classroom? 

So . . . first up on the itinerary: Rome. We found a direct flight with Norwegian from New York. I love direct flights! Because we have family in Brooklyn and we’d been wanting to visit, we decided to begin the trip with five days in New York. After that, one red-eye would land us in Rome. 

Elle and I in front of the Colosseum

Through mutual friends, we knew a couple that had a B & B in Tuscany, not far from Florence. This made our next decision easy! Second stop: small Tuscan village.

Village in Tuscany

I convinced Kai that because it’s so easy to move around in Europe, we should stay longer and explore more places. I had my eyes set on the south of France, while he searched out some of the top places for surfing. Once he pinpointed Ericeira, Portugal as his surfing destination, it looked like a natural ending point for our trip—with France and Spain in between. I chose Aix-en-Provence because it was near a site I’d long wanted to visit—the cave of Mary Magdalene. Then, looking at its placement on the map, and hearing so many great things about this city, Barcelona was an obvious choice. 

Swimming at the coast of France

We booked Airbnb’s for our next three stops: Aix, Barcelona, Ericeira. We did this thinking that we’d drive from Italy to France, then to Barcelona, and lastly, fly to Lisbon, Portugal. When we went to book the car, we realized our rookie mistake. Renting a car in one country and returning it in another cost an extra $1200. I researched our transportation options and found that flying with Vueling in between cities would be the easiest and most affordable alternative. (If you want to avoid our other mistakes, check out Practical Tips on the Travel Resources page!

View from our Airbnb in Ericeira

Here are the highlights of our trip (More on each destination in separate blogs): 

Rome: 5 days

Private car pick-up from the airport arranged by our Airbnb host. Lots of walking and some taxi-taking. Eating lots of pizza and pasta. Gelato every day. Visiting the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Taxi back to the airport. Rent a car and drive 3 hours to village just outside Lucca. 

Tuscany: 12 days

Bike riding along an ancient aqueduct, walking the walled city of Lucca, learning about olive oil production and dinner on a Tuscan farm. Day trips to Pisa, Cinque Terre and  Florence. Pasta and pizza, oh my! 

Drive back to Rome, return rental car and fly to Marseille, France. Rent a car in Marseille, drive 30 minutes to Aix-en-Provence.

Aix-en-Provence: 5 days

Walking the small city of Aix, crepe making experience with a local. Day trips to the cave of Mary Magdalene and the coastal town of Cassis. 

Drive back to Marseille, return rental car and fly to Barcelona. Taxi to Airbnb. 

Barcelona: 3 days

Walking Barcelona and using public transport. Flamenco show, and visiting La Sagrada Familia. 

Taxi to airport, fly to Lisbon. Rent a car in Lisbon and drive 45 minutes to Ericeira. 

Ericeira: 9 days

Surfing every day (Kai), walking the small town and beaches, down time and day trips to Sintra. 

Fly Tap Air Portugal home to Florida. 

Are you planning a family trip and wondering where to go and how to begin? Get the free guide, Create a Memorable and Authentic Family Travel Experience, when you subscribe to this blog. You’ll also receive Rome with Kids: 5 Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.

Unschooling Myself

I remember this moment clearly: I’m in the third grade. I sit in my desk in the second to last row when the teacher announces, “We are ready to begin learning our times tables.” I think—This is it! The moment I’ve waited for! I begin drumming my desk and pounding my feet in excitement. Finally, I would learn something supremely fundamental about life and how it works. “Carrie, I know you’re excited, but please sit still,” Ms. Cantrall says.

I always sat still. I was the most proper student any elementary teacher could hope for. This was a rare moment. 

Then this: It is nighttime. I’m at the kitchen table with pencil and paper. I’d been told to “write out your 3’s times tables.” I go down the paper, line by line: 3×1=, 3×2=, etc. I try to recall any multiplication facts I’d heard my older sister recite, but I only remember a few. Anger and frustration well up inside of me . . . Why didn’t my teacher show us how to multiply? I ask my mom, “What is three times three?” I am heartbroken as I write out 3 x 3 = 9 because I have no idea why or how these numbers go together. 

My third grade teacher never showed us how to multiply. We were instructed to find the facts, write them out, then memorize them. 

So it went for most of my schooling. I became efficient at memorizing facts and passing tests. I could play this game. In this game, I didn’t even have to think too much! And still, I’d be considered a success, as evidenced by my good grades. 

Of course, somewhere along the way, I learned to multiply. What I never learned, though, is how I might take these numbers (along with most of the information I was given) and use it in the world; how I could create things, understand the meanings, connections, and workings behind things. There was also simply no space for exploring individual passions and how we might contribute to a greater good. 

It’s been nearly five years since the desire to unlearn what I thought I knew—to un-school myself—first began to swirl in me. Even though I had no idea what it would look like, my imagination was holding on to this idea: discovering the world alongside my daughter, Elle. 

Today, we are halfway through our first year of homeschooling. We’ve traveled to four European countries. We’ve been to Hawaii. We go to Central America next. AND we love home. We love traditions and small, simple moments of connection.

What did Elle do the moment we returned from our extended European trip? Forget jet lag, she was so excited to share a piece of France with her friends, having them over for crepe-making. I consider this a great success. These are gifted girls, competent at making traditional French crepes. 

What is happening here? So much more than “just” making crepes.

How did Elle learn to make crepes? Resources for finding unique and local experiences can be found in the free guide, Create a Memorable and Authentic Family Travel Experience. Leave your email address here and I’ll send it to you!

Rome: Twenty Years Later— With Family

In 1999, while the media spoke the word Y2K approximately 2K times a day, I was all, carpe diem—I’d just resigned from my first full-time job and was headed to Europe for two months. I was based in the Czech Republic and took trains to nearby countries, including Italy, where Rome was a highlight of my travels. When I walked the Roman Forum, I couldn’t believe that my feet were walking a path more than two-thousand years old. The magnitude of time revealed itself in a way that was completely new to me. Then I discovered gelato. Even ice-cream revealed itself in a completely new way to me. Obviously I was mind-blown. But Rome kept coming at me, with more. I stood inside St. Peter’s Basilica and nearly wept for the beauty. I was twenty-three and my world busted open. I was connected to a deep, deep history of humankind. 

Fast forward twenty years. When I started to plan our five-week family trip to Europe, I knew Rome would be on our itinerary. The fact that Roman History would be part of our middle-school homeschool curriculum, MAJOR BONUS! 

But how would I create a meaningful trip without feeling overwhelmed? 

First, I’d been thinking about my intentions around travel for a good amount of time. I knew that I wanted to travel to Europe because of our homeschool studies; I knew I wanted to experience again that feeling of deep connection. And I hoped that our trip would provide that same experience for my family. 

I spent months researching, scheduling and planning. In September 2019, we flew to Rome and stayed at an Airbnb in the Trastevere neighborhood. We ate considerable amounts of pizza and pasta and gelato. We walked the Forum and the Colosseum. We visited the Vatican Museums and the Pantheon. Our twelve-year-old, not easily impressed, was visibly inspired inside St. Peter’s Basilica. 

But what did Rome do? It kept coming at me, with more. The windows, wide open at our guesthouse, displayed a full moon hanging over Trastevere apartments. There I was, exactly twenty years later in the age-old city, staring at the most ancient time-keeper. And it was full. I was struck, once again, by the scale of time. Something stirred in me . . . this feeling of being exactly there . . . how we each hold together the ancient with what is to become. Rome

All of this, and it wasn’t a perfect trip. There were things that went wrong, things we learned as travelers. I stepped off our red-eye with an intense migraine. Our visit to the Vatican Museum was not as enjoyable as we’d hoped, mostly because of the crowds, although we did love the Raphael Rooms. The Trevi Fountain was so saturated with people we could barely toss our coin.

There are always things that happen in travel that help us learn to be flexible. Some things we can plan for, others are out of our control. Are you planning a trip to Rome with your kids? Click here to subscribe to the blog and receive, Rome with Kids: 5 Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, for FREE.

Don’t forget to check out Travel Resources, where I’ve compiled suggestions based on hours of research in preparation for European travel, and guidance on creating meaningful trips wherever you go! 

'Tis the Season for Slowing Down

Outside, the natural world is slowing, but our culture is just getting going. Is it the season for slowing down or for getting the cookies made, the holiday cards sent, the errands run—maybe just one more trip to Target? Does the Elf on the Shelf have to do something funny every night?

The choice is yours. What rhythm do you want to plug in to? 

Maybe you want to ban the busy, but how? There is too much to do! 

The wise traveler knows that checking off all the “top ten things to do” when visiting a city can leave one weary, and sometimes unfulfilled. Whether traveling or staying home for the holidays, you can do something similar and toss out the “must do” activities and chores. Are they really “must do” or are they details that only overwhelm? 

You are allowed to be choosy about what you schedule.  

You are allowed to bake the cookies with your children and sing while you do it, and lick the bowls and laugh, and not care if they don’t turn out perfect. You are allowed to purchase store-made cookies to wrap as presents. You are allowed to leave the mess until tomorrow. You’re seriously allowed to leave dishes in the sink overnight. 

Do you need to forget the holiday photo and cards this year and instead post a pic on social media? Do it.

In order to tap into the slow of the season, take a moment to be in the moment with your family. Just make the choice. What happens in the few minutes it takes to make hot cocoa? It is the good stuff that life is made of. It’s the thing your children will remember: the smell of warm milk and chocolate, the Christmas carols in the background, the anticipation, the waiting with you. 

What are the traditions you want to keep sacred, and which do you want to toss out? You are allowed to choose. Do you savor the morning when everyone unloads their stocking, or the night when the candle is lit? Whatever you do, wherever you are, protect it. Keep it from being interfered with. You guide the energy in your home, or in the guesthouse. Bring your full presence to a simple, traditional act. 

When we don’t make the conscious effort to create moments, the season can pass by in a whirlwind of activity. 

What are the ways you cultivate a slow, intentional season?

She Graduates

She graduates . . . and you want to post a picture, say something about how time flies but you know that this will never encompass what you feel and maybe this is why you find it difficult to post on social media but you try anyway. You sit in tender recognition of this thing called time and growth, of transitions and of new era’s, of looking back and moving toward the new. You recall the different shapes of her, the chubby, the slim, the dimpled, those bitty feet; and the old angles of you both around the house, holding on to coffee tables for balance, bending over and reaching up as she says, “Hold you, hold you.”

You’ve seen the kids graduate and move on, but you never thought it’d be her because time kept you wedged within a week. But then it pushes you out into the future and you are sitting in a wooden little-kid chair because this is not a high school graduation, but a sixth-grade end-of-elementary-school ceremony. And she will give a speech and your heart will do this thing, this impossible thing, it will break open again. You will want to hold on to one dear detail from this moment; you look at her and you tuck it beneath the covers of your heart. You think of your future self looking back at this present self . . . she is not laughing at you for feeling such depth of emotion at an elementary graduation, even though she knows this is only one of many crossing overs. She is thanking you, you who watches closely. You who can see that you are staring right into your vulnerability of time. You know that one day it will be you that she is leaving. You allow it to happen, you breathe and you love.

Our routine of the last six years is complete. We are preparing for a world/home education. May we use what we know to establish new and thoughtful rhythms.