Category Archives: Discovering joy

9 Ways to Prepare Your Children to Travel Separately


It all started because my mother-in-law never had a daughter.

When MIL learned I was having a girl, she stated that she was going to take her granddaughter to Paris when she turned ten. Paris has a storied past for my husband’s family–they have visited frequently, and even lived there for a short time. My husband was conceived there, and he proposed marriage to me on the Pont Neuf. We celebrated our betrothal with his family, who had traveled to Paris with the engagement ring.

As my daughter’s tenth year approached, we dithered about what to do with her twin brother. We thought about taking him somewhere, but one of our commandments of twins parenting is “Parity, as Much as Possible.” Since his sister was having an adventure, we wanted our son to have one too, preferably with my relatives who have their own haunts and places. We approached my family, and decided that we would send him to Portland, Oregon where my brother and his wife live.

Meanwhile, my husband and I decided we would embark on our own trip, just the two of us. Neither of us had visited South America, and both of us had harbored childhood dreams of touring the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Paris, Portland & Peru.

Thus began lots of intricate planning to launch three separate journeys on three separate continents during one spring break. I learned a ton along the way, and wanted to share our mistakes, victories, and lessons learned.

1. Check All Necessary Travel Documentation Months in Advance

This may seem obvious, but it is essential. If your child is traveling internationally, passports must be up to date, and that is a whole process which takes a few months to complete, at minimum. My daughter’s passport had expired, so we had to renew it. We began the process in December, and received her new passport in March, about a month before she traveled. Some countries in Europe require passports to be valid six months after you arrive, so check the expiration dates. We also renewed my son’s passport at the same time, because he would require a photo ID to travel on his plane rides.

2. Provide Your Child With a Device That Can Make Calls

We decided to buy iPods for the children, and set up the Skype app for both (so our daughter in particular could make international calls). We don’t want them to have smartphones yet, but we wanted to make sure in an emergency, they would be able to call us. Neither of them ever did, but both texted us quite a bit. Bonus: both children took lots of photos, and sent them to us, which was a good way to see how their trips were going in real-time. We had parental controls on the devices, so they were limited in what they could do.

3. Start the Packing Process Early

I really hate packing, and packing for three different trips seemed daunting. What helped was making lists early (two months prior) for each person. I needed to buy toiletries for both kids (shampoo, toothpaste, sunscreen, etc) and both were going to be in different climates. Both also needed better rain gear than what we had. We ended up going to REI, as my husband and I also needed to purchase rain gear, as we were going to be in a rainy climate as well. I had the kids very involved in what they wanted to bring, and they were active packers, although I did the final checks. Our own packing was the hardest: we were traversing a number of climates and altitudes in one short trip, and there were many flights so we didn’t want to check our bags. I ended up buying a new carry-on suitcase which fit the standard measurements for international airlines, but had the most room possible, and packed everything in it. This guide to what to pack for Peru was helpful–practical, with some cute ideas of what to wear in Lima.

4. To Do Lists Up the Wazoo

Keeping track of packing, travel rules, documentation, who needed what when: to-do lists were the key to making sure everything got done. I had one master to-do list, which informed the packing list, and my daily to-do lists I created. I had dates for each item on the master list to keep me on-track.

5. Take Advantage of Credit Cards with Points

Not really related to our kids’ travel this time, but an excellent hack nevertheless. We both use Amex cards connected to Starwood, and try to pay for big purchases on them (we even bought a car with our card!). The key is to pay off the cards monthly, so you are not paying fees. My husband also has an airline Visa card. We cashed in our Starwood points, and did not pay for a single hotel in Peru. We didn’t have enough points to pay for our flights, but we did use points to upgrade to Economy Plus, which was nice.

6. Read about the Travel Destinations Together Before They Go 

We got books at the library to get the kids excited about where they were going, and tailored travel activities to suit their interests. My son, after reading about the Shanghai tunnels in Portland, decided he wanted to do a tour. He loves basketball, so we got him tickets to go to the Trail Blazers game with his uncle. My daughter loves ballet, the impressionists and fashion, so MIL booked a ballet performance, a tour of Monet’s gardens and a fashion show.

7. Provide Extensive Documentation to Caregivers

My MIL is an active caregiver here at home, and knows my daughter’s eating habits well. But my son is a notoriously picky eater who also is in a phase where he is having trouble gaining weight. He needs a ton of calories each day, and only eats a handful of items so that’s a challenge. I provided my family with a detailed list of all the foods he ate for breakfast, lunch, heavy snack and dinner. I also detailed his bedtime routine, and how he needed to brush his teeth because of his various orthodontia gear.

8. Be Prepare for the Unexpected to Happen

All our planning and to-do lists didn’t help when my mom broke her ankle, and it wasn’t healed in time to travel with my son. I had to move to Plan B: Unaccompanied Minor. Unaccompanied Minor meant my son was to travel alone on the plane, and there was a lot of documentation and coordination to pull that off. Luckily FIL was able to fill in and pick him up from the airport, as we flew in the next day. It also meant I had to drive him to the airport, be there 90 minutes early, watch the plane take off before leaving (and of course his plane was delayed). I hadn’t planned for that much time to be occupied when I was wrapping up my work for the week, and so had to work quite a bit the night before we left. Plus there was more mayhem…

9. Chill the Heck Out

I was a stress case the few days before we all left, because my daughter’s airline decided to go on strike, and it was unclear whether she would be able to go to Paris after all. I needlessly stressed about all the logistics that were already set, while also tying up all my many loose ends at work. I’ve been better about managing stress in general, but not during this time, and suffered two sleepless nights. I also hate flying, so was on edge about that.

I should have remembered my stoicism, and stayed in the moment. Most of what I was worried about was out of my control, and I should have only been laser focused on what I could control. Don’t do this!

The end result was two kids who came back more confident than before. Something about traveling without us challenged them, and created a sense of independence. They both felt like VIPs as well, showered with family attention which was nice for twins, who often struggle to get one-on-one time with us.

Bonus: my husband and I had a great time. He is my favorite person to hang out with, and we got in some fun quality time. Machu Picchu is one of the few places I’ve been that lives up to the hype, it truly is an awe-inspiring sight. Peruvian food is really delicious and we had a once-in-a-lifetime meal at Astrid & Gaston. Finally, baby alpacas are officially the cutest animals I’ve ever seen.



Have you sent your kids to travel without you? Why or why not?





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Filed under Discovering joy, Productivity

Music and Memories and Journeys

Thanks to so many of you for pinging me and saying you wondered what was going on with my job. In short, I love it and am enjoying my profession more than I ever thought I would.

But I have missed writing here.

Tonight, the story of “Peter and the Wolf” came up, and Darcy told a gruesome and untrue version of it. I have a distinct memory of seeing the San Francisco Symphany “tell” the story, via a famous actor whose name unfortunately escapes me. I loved the introduction to the orchestra’s instruments: the flighty and foolhardy duck who meets a terrible fate, as portrayed by the oboe, the clever and small bird (the flute), the scary wolf (three french horns), stolid Peter (the strings).

Many years later, when we were traveling through Provence, (nerd alert) I was working my way through “The Lord of the Rings” series. This was six months before the movies came out. I decided I needed to finish the trilogy before I saw the films. The books were terrifying to read in parts – I remember in Avignon, we stayed in a lone cottage in the forrest, and I was so unnerved by the description of the Ringwraiths that I stayed awake all night, jumping at small noises.

The next day as we drove through a beautiful sunflower populated road, filled with flowers leaning towards the solar rays, we randomly turned the car radio to a classical music station and listened to a French version of “Peter and the Wolf.” I struggled to understand what was transpiring, as the narrator took us through the action.

The music became my own internal soundtrack as I made my way into “The Return of the King.” As I finally reached the crucial section when it is clear Frodo has completed his mission, the strains of the triumphant procession of Peter and the wolf, on their way to the zoo, echoed in my brain. I was in a bathtub in the villa where F. Scott Fitzgerald had written “The Beautiful and the Damned,” the hobbits had won, and I felt magically immersed in literary destiny.

Tonight I showed my already blasé children a YouTube video of “Peter and the Wolf,” and to my surprise and delight, they watched every moment of the 30 minute clip in suspense and wonder.

Tonight was a truly wonderful and resonant moment, where a tradition was passed simply from one generation to the next. And this is as miraculous as a duck alive in a wolf’s belly, quacking its own tremulous tune.


Filed under Discovering joy, My Favorite Things, Parenting After IF, writing

I Took A Walk


BlogHer featured my post about needing to amaze a room with my writing. Check it out, here!

Today I found myself in the city, without a car.

I needed to get from one hospital (the wrong one) to another (the right one), and I needed to progress down one street for about a mile and a half. So I took a walk.

Contained within that distance were gingerbread Victorians, Edwardian flats and the rare rebuilt modern mid-century dwelling, as well as numerous boutiques, movie theaters, libraries, cafes, bodegas, juice stores, places of woship and fine dining establishments.

Each one of these homes, these blocks, these restaurants held some sort of memory for me. Unusually, as I walked, the memories attached to the street were almost exactly in the chronological order they occured.

The beginning of the road featured my first post-college apartment. There it was, the flat where I learned how to be a responsible adult: paying bills, cleaning my messes, parking in my correct parking zone and avoiding streetsweeping days. There I lived my young dream of being an up-and-coming urban executive. I wore suits and heels (except on Fridays), and I proudly ran in those heels down the street to catch the 1 California bus. There was the liquor store where I once bought a bottle of wine for my first real dinner party. There was the corner where Darcy and I first said “Goodnight” to each other, even though neither of us wanted to. There was the nail salon where I got a mani/pedi for our date nights. There was the driveway where we packed my meager belongings into a rented U-Haul and began a new life in a new country.

A few blocks down the road was the restaurant where I openly cried into a starched white napkin while we digested the news that my eggs were no good. A few blocks beyond that is the condo we decided to buy, where we become city dwellers once again after the suburbs, with its many happy families, became a wasteland of broken promises. The condo was a possible tenterhook leading to a new reality, one of being a childless couple.

And in that condo, against all percentages and bookmaking odds, I grew and nutured two delightful human beings, spending nine months throwing up, reading Proust, watching The Hills (“Dump him, Lauren!”) and staying in bed. A block away is the hospital where I gave birth to those bundles, who quickly taught me the power of grace and redemption.

And into that hospital I strode, where I awaited the next chapter of this wonderful, terrible, unfathomable world that continues to perplex, astoud, infuriate but mostly just surprise me.

I never know what will happen down the road. But I can truly say that no longer do I wait for the destination. The last decade (or so) has taught me that the moments of memory, of joy, pain, love, ambition, accomplishment and failure are the proof that my life has been lived. Full stop.

And the thing about pounding the pavement today? I realized that the tree-lined road I walked contained countless memories of other people. That tiny church has presided over thousands of weddings and funerals. Hundreds of couples broke up in that bistro. That’s what I love about cities: we live amongst the triumphs and ashes of millions of people’s lives and dreams. And that doesn’t make me feel insignificant. It makes me feel immortal.


Filed under Discovering joy, writing

La Vie = C’est Beau


It is so beautiful, is it not?

We saw all the Oscar nominees this year. I was struck most by Amour (painful, yet true) and Life of Pi.

I loved the book Life of Pi, which I read far before I ever had any significant challenges and everything was so very wonderful, adventurous and free. I was speaking to a friend and trying to convey how fabulous my 20s were. “Everything I wanted was easy to pick from the proverbial tree. Nothing was difficult, I was glamorous and valued everywhere I went. I worked with Royalty, American and otherwise, and everyone cared what I thought.”

Who can possibly sympathize with such a spoiled child? I’m stunned now to realize this was my existence for so many years. What a brat I was. How undeserved was my every success.

When I read Life of Pi back in 2002, I cleverly and shallowly deciphered the text and meaning for a book club, just to try to impress others. “Richard Parker is God,” I confidently stated. “God is unknowable. He is impossible to befriend and doesn’t care about our own desires and fears as far as we can tell. God would walk into the forest, never to stop and look back at us with any type of regret. This is why the tiger is Pi’s perception of God. God is with us, but He is unknowable. But is it better to have Him in our life?”

When I watched the movie, I realized that I had been right all those years ago. Yet, I had not really known how very much the future me would understand the movie. When I had my miscarriages, and when I heard my impossible diagnosis, God stalked into the forest, to part from me for a long, long time.

Like Pi, I have a more universal view of God than most. I think many religions strike upon the truth, but I have a hard time accepting one particular truth. I kind of believe the Ang Lee/Yann Martel version: that it is more difficult and unpleasant to not have a Richard Parker in my life at all. Richard Parker may be unknowable and harsh but he is beautiful and engaging and a comfort in some ways. I’d prefer this.

And I can’t remember a more beautiful movie or score than this one.

Life is harsh, and hard and mean. But it is so very, very beautiful. And I am so very lucky to partake in it.

The most beautiful song I’ve heard in years.


Filed under Discovering joy

Kinfolk Magazine and The New American Aesthetic


As always, my super younger brother is the only reason I am tapped into the whole hip/new/trendy aesthetic. By the way, if you are into being trendy, it’s all about being Southern and into reading old, hardbound books while growing your own food and eggs and meat. Read Kinfolk for more.

I get it.

I’m in the process of reading the “Little House” books to my kids, and I have been seriously considering home schooling my kids. If I were a hardier specimen, I would do just that. Truth is, I’m not stout. I could never feed the endless appetite of Almanzo Wilder with relentless doughnuts, bird nest puddings, homemade bread and butter, roast beef, ham and turnips.

I just watched The Hunger Games, and damn, if it doesn’t promote a similar way of life.

I read somewhere that all wise people know how to garden and live off the land.

I am frail and tired.

However, my parents live in Arkansas. Feel free to jeer and be weird about it: everyone I know does just that. They lived in the country’s most prosperous suburb and hated it and moved. And when I drive around their new town, I find myself driving around singing Fleet Fox songs at the top of my lungs (those Brooklyn posers?) and feeling at home. God, I LOVE The Fleet Foxes.

You see, for all my sophistication, I am helpless before the appeal of that self-sufficient Southern life.

There must be some strong Scots Irish in me, after all.

Have you tried to overcome family roots and found it fruitless? Do you romanticize an agrarian sensibility?


Filed under Discovering joy

Life From Here

Pam, the amazing writer behind Bloodsigns, is once again hosting her “Life From Here” blog hop. She lives in the Frozen North and has the gorgeous photos to prove it.

I can’t top this:


Credit: PK Bosch

I mean, how fabulous is that?

Here are some images of what life is like here, and apologies for the Instagrams. Our camera’s battery needs to be replaced, but the grainy, blurry pictures seem about right. It’s January and not very vivid here right now.


Winter staple: Crispy Kale with Farro and Coconut. Big thanks go to Heidi Swanson for the introduction to this tasty treat: here’s the recipe.


I’m investigating canning and preserving the plentiful fruits and vegetables the family grows. Plus, I love Smitten Kitchen.


Trying to get the kids outside is a battle. We’re all still sick, although my lung problems are improving. Yay!


New Year, Less Clutter, Part 1


New Year, Less Clutter, Part 2

What’s going on where you live? Join the party by linking to your post in Pam’s comments!


Filed under cooking?!?, Discovering joy

New Years Musings


I love the renewed resurgence of blogging that seems to blossom in January. Maybe it’s inevitable: we don’t have any family functions, the weather keeps us indoors and wonderful blogging and reading projects like Creme de la Creme attract our attention. Maybe the relentless merrymaking of the winter season naturally gives way to reflection.

So many bloggers I read have already written interesting, insightful posts about what they’ve learned this year and what they hope to learn in 2013.

I don’t like to make resolutions. Partly because they don’t stick for me, but also because I like learning what the year will present, what findings will stand out.

Here are my lessons from 2012:

1. It was heavenly to cross visiting the Amalfi Coast off my life list, and eating and shopping my way through Italy for a big birthday and anniversary with my beloved was everything I hoped it would be and more. Y’all are probably sick of hearing about that trip, and rightly so. I think it was Mark Twain (or maybe Stephen Colbert) who once said: “Nothing is more boring than someone else’s vacation.” 😉
2. I learned to be grateful for what I have and less sad for what I don’t have. Mostly.
3. I remembered how fascinating fashion was (and still is) to me, and learned that taking care of my appearance gives me the power to heal some of my wounds. Looking good sometimes really can equal feeling good.
4. The twins became delightful little people who enjoy me reading the “Little House” books aloud. They are creative and exact and smart and great company. I love age 5.
5. Family and friends remained happy and healthy and I gained a niece, a gorgeous little girl.
6. We grew more of our own food: chard, kale, spinach, tomatoes, sage, thyme, rosemary.
6. Readers, you continued to be such a continuing source of strength and support and fun. Sometimes if I am feeling low, I’ll check my email and a beautifully worded little jewel will be waiting for me. While I constantly struggle with what to do with blogging, the community reminds me how lucky I am to have found this place.
7. Overall, I was pretty happy this year.

In general for 2013 I wish HEALTH most of all to all my friends and family. I also have vague plans for cooking from scratch (like bread, maybe cheese and living more off the land and our plantings) and perhaps more of a seasonal approach to life: using spare time on planting, ordering seeds, harvesting, cooking what we grow more. Figuring out a way to balance picky eaters (me included) with a variety of produce and carbs and protein. Enticing the family with more outdoor activities. Perhaps really cracking this blogging code in some way.

I hope that 2013 is the year your dreams come true!

What do you want in 2013?


Filed under Discovering joy, My Favorite Things, Parenting After IF, personal style