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9 Ways to Prepare Your Children to Travel Separately

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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.

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

 

 

 

 

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Weekends: Scheduling Vs. Unscheduling?

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Grumpy Rumblings prompted me to write about whether I prefer to schedule my time for the weekends as opposed to not scheduling. Over the years, we’ve definitely tried both approaches, but finally have come to the conclusion that we prefer to a more scheduled weekend.

I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot since the beginning of the year, and have spent time evaluating how we want to spend our weekends. I’ve tried to determine:

  • What each member of the family both needs and wants to do during a weekend
  • What we need and want to do during a weekend as a family
  • What my husband and I need to do together

NEEDS:

  • My son needs to go his 2.5 hour coding class
  • My daughter needs some alone time, and time to write
  • We need to get groceries, and complete necessary household chores
  • My husband is on a tennis team, with scheduled matches on a weekend
  • My son, who is the proud owner of one of the fastest metabolisms known to man yet is also maybe one of the pickiest eaters ever, needs to eat 3-4 LARGE meals a day, with lots of protein as he has to gain weight (this, in addition to two weight gaining shakes a day)
  • My husband and I need date nights once a week–this includes nights out with couple friends, concerts, dinner parties, plays, movies, etc. Yes, I did say “need.” YMMV.
  • I need to work out both days, preferably Orange Theory Fitness classes which includes both HIIT and strength training. Again, with the need. I definitely need to work out.

WANTS:

  • We host at least one joint family dinner on a Friday night with one of the twins’ school friends and their families, once a month. This has been a lot of fun, and we’ve enjoyed getting to know families better.
  • Playdates with friends for both kids
  • I like to cook and bake. This weekend I’m going to make this lemon rosemary cake that was inspired by my mom’s poem “Lemon Bread”!
  • We usually like to complete one household project a weekend, like organizing our linen closet, decluttering a bedroom, or cleaning out a bathroom cabinet for example.
  • My husband likes to watch TV or read in a quiet area by himself for a few hours
  • I like to do something that is relaxing by myself, like a massage (we have a bunch of free points at our gym that allow us to get these for free every once in a while!), a pedicure, or even a nap.

Obviously, it can be difficult to meet every single one of these wants and needs. But we can fit more into a weekend, if we plan. Also–it’s more budget friendly to book ahead. For date nights, we plan ahead as much as we can, scheduling activities with friends, booking events, restaurants, and most importantly babysitters often months ahead of time. Same with the family dinners, as you have to work with the calendars of two other adults, and multiple children, which is complicated.

That’s not to say that spontaneity doesn’t play a role in our weekends. As you’ll see from our message board, last Sunday looked wide open–but not mentioned was grocery shopping, household chores and Orange Theory Fitness in the morning. However, our afternoon was relatively free, so when a friend invited us to a family event we were able to fit it in. This long weekend, we will be fitting in a “Black Panther” showing–although showtimes are booking up fast! We probably will need to buy tickets tonight. So much for “on the fly”–ha.

There is room for improvement. We should host more playdates than we do, as the kids’ are invited to playdates more than we host them. One of the household projects we will tackle soon is revamping the big kids’ “rec room” downstairs, with an easy-to-use TV, computer for gaming and better organization for the legos, robotics equipment, EV3, etc. I also want to get a ping pong table, as all of us enjoy playing ping pong. I think it would be fun for friends to play during playdates, although we have a great basketball court area that no one ever uses, so maybe not? These are indoor kids.

What do you prefer–scheduled or unscheduled weekends? Would love to hear about your schedules and tips.

 

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What I am Loving Right Now

Kitchen cornerIt’s more than midway through January, and while I am enjoying reading about New Year’s resolutions I won’t be publishing my own. Instead, I’ve been thinking about things that have made my life much better in the last year. I would love to share them with you, and in turn I would love to hear from you. What items made your life better in the last year?

  1. Orange Theory Fitness. I LOVE these exercise classes, and I’m not an exercise class person. The biggest pluses are a wonderful crew of fellow workout partners, really nice staff and teachers, and a great app that makes it easy to book classes. While I have worked out regularly for a while now, since taking Orange Theory classes my energy has skyrocketed and the endorphins flow all day after a class. Plus — I have so much fun lifting weights (I feel like Gal Gadot), and hitting my tech-y targets using my heart monitor. I feel so strong these days. HIGHLY recommended.
  2. Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year. I have added a number of this book’s recipes to my core cooking rotation. Every single recipe in here that I have tried turns out delicious. I cannot say the same for most other cookbooks I use! My favorites: Spaghetti Bolognese, Butternut Squash Soup, Shirred Eggs, Gingered Applesauce Cake Glazed with Caramel Sauce, and Banana Bread.
  3.  Gusto. I started my own business last year, and Gusto makes payroll incredibly simple. If you are a business owner, I recommend checking them out.
  4. Show Your Work Podcast: I love LaineyGossip, who is known in Canada as one of the hosts of The Social. Her podcast talks about lessons from Hollywood that can be applied to our work lives. Sounds weird, but it’s totally fascinating. And sometimes useful.
  5. Best of Both Worlds Podcast. A friend recommended this podcast, which focuses on how to best balance work and parenting. Surprisingly A-list guests, like Gretchen Rubin (!), talk about productivity and give useful tips on how to get the most out of your life.
  6. Hold Me Tight: The only book about marriage I’ve ever read that is actually useful. From Dr. Sue Johnson, one of the developers of EFT, this method of improving marriages is unique, academic study-based and helps resolve conflict without focusing on the usual compromises. Instead, EFT focuses on emotional bonds. Truly, a game changer.
  7. High-end workout clothes: Yes, I have fallen prey to the Lululemon cult. Their clothes look and feel SOOOO much better than anything else I’ve tried. I was previously a fan of Target’s running tights, but the tights I bought from Lululemon are so much more flattering, comfortable and durable. Worth the money.
  8. Setting up a Household Folder on Google docs. This is suuuuuuppppper geeky, but I love having a shared folder that tracks what needs to be repaired/fixed, Amazon orders, meal plans, social schedule, Trader Joe’s grocery lists, camp schedules, etc. Totally keeps us accountable and ON IT.
  9. Mint: This app is heaven for the financial geek in me. I look at it all the time.

What do you love? Would love to hear your tips, hacks, and recommendations of things that have made your life better.  

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What Stoicism is…and what it isn’t

IMG_4526I think possibly one of the worst recent developments to happen to the philosophy of stoicism was the word “stoic” becoming such a popular adjective in the English language.

“Stoic” is often first and foremost defined as: “A person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.” In popular literature and culture, this idea is often applied to the “stoic male,” showcased in characters like Sherlock Holmes, Spock, House and John Wayne. These fictional characters show little emotion, except interestingly anger.

I have no interest in having no feelings, and I don’t think this is a healthy approach to life. So for many years, I rolled my eyes when people advocated stoicism. But it turns out, the philosophy of stoicism is not accurately reflected in the adjective we are all so familiar with.

So, What is Stoicism? 

Stoicism began as an ancient Greek philosophy, a reaction to a different philosophy called Cynicism that advocated simple living, a sort of early version of minimalism and / or the Marie Kondo belief system. (Sidebar: This earlier understanding of cynicism has ALSO fallen victim to a newer take on the word cynicism.) While Cynicism was about denying worldly desires (money, power, possessions) to live a happy life, Stoicism was developed with a different goal: the development of self-control as a method of overcoming destructive emotions. But what does that mean?

Stoicism begins with a strange, and not very aspirational idea. This idea was possibly best expressed by the character of Wesley in The Princess Bride, who told Princess Buttercup that “Life IS pain. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.” In America, and possibly most of the Western World, we believe that we are entitled to the pursuit of happiness. The puritan work ethic is an important plank of this pursuit, as well. We’re taught in many places (school, church, popular culture, advertising) that if we work hard enough, and follow the rules, we should attain a happy life. That happy life roughly consists of the following: good health (no diseases or problems until old age), a good home we can afford and pay off, and 2.5 children. If we are a good person and work hard, we are taught, we can get this life.

The problem with the current “pursuit of happiness” belief system is that there is no calculation of random bad luck in this formula, nor of pre-existing conditions. So when bad things happen, many think there must be a REASON. If you get fired during a recession, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough. If you can’t afford a home in your area, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough in school to get the right degree and / or experience. If you lose a child, you didn’t pray enough / go to church enough / behave well enough in the past. But no one is immune to bad things happening, and eventually bad things will happen to everyone, to different varying degrees. And for some, it’s worse than others. If you need a lesson on why success in life is easier for some rather than others based on socioeconomic factors, here is a brilliant video.

Stoicism begins with one core belief–bad things will happen to you. Whether disease, loss, heartbreak, insults or death, pain is inevitable, and it’s just a matter of time before it reaches your door. This is not a cheery thought, so often people don’t turn to stoicism UNTIL they have had something bad happen.

Stoicism’s Key Component: Perspective

If you know that bad stuff is coming down the path for you, if indeed it already has, what do you do about it? This is the major issue stoicism attempts to provide guidance on. Note: I do not say solve. Stoicism doesn’t advocate that you can solve all your problems or cure pain. Instead, it provides a toolbox, or framework, to help you deal with pain when it arrives.

When you live in a world that denies or makes invisible those who are in pain, it’s difficult to know what to do. You can stay mired in anger or bitterness for years, rightly furious at a culture that only accepts and celebrates the happy and the pain-free. We see the beautiful, perfect, thin, and fit families posing in wildflower fields, or frolicking in the pool of their second homes. And we feel lacking or less than, because we can’t starve ourselves to be that thin, or we can’t afford our first home to begin with, or we can’t have children, or we’ve lost our children, or all of the above.  We see these people being celebrated and it feels we have failed in some way.

The stoics say, no, that isn’t true. We haven’t failed. Not at all. We’ve just hit the pain. And it hurts. So what can we do?

What we can do is try to gain perspective. But by that, I don’t mean what I think you think I mean.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

If we accept that life is pain, that bad things happen to good people–can we shift our thought patterns accordingly so we don’t stay mired in a bad state? And would we want to?

That’s a personal question, and I think the answers probably vary. Personally, I believe that when something bad happens, we should take time to grieve. In Judaism, when someone dies you sit Shiva, and you commemorate the loss over a period of time. Yearly, on the anniversary of a death, you light a memorial candle, called a Yahrzeit candle, to honor the dead. My mother-in-law once told me that these customs are very much for the living, to give them the tools to grieve.

But I also don’t want to live a life primarily defined by sadness, fear, anxiety or depression, either, if that is at all possible. However, if life IS pain, how can this be avoided? Are only those who have a cheerful disposition, those who are optimistic, those who don’t feel much pain–are these lucky few fated to be the only ones who can endure pain with a certain amount of perspective and balance?

Stoicism: The Roots of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Luckily, the answer is no. Anyone who has gone to therapy is probably familiar with cognitive behavioral therapy.  Many books have been written, but a succinct description of CBT, for short, is that there are behaviors that can be taught to change damaging thought patterns. I hate to fly, for example. I am afraid of the noises, the pressure changes, and the turbulence. I will never love flying, but I have learned CBT techniques to use when I am on a plane, so I can still go to all the places I want to. I learn to tolerate the strange plane noises and turbulence by tapping into thoughts that help me to understand them.

CBT has one key Stoic concept embedded into its very DNA: logic. That concept can be paraphrased as the following: when our beliefs and expectations align with what is real, we can be well-adjusted to life. If we can control our thoughts with reasonable logic, we can do more in life. When I am on a plane and turbulence happens, I do the following: I remind myself that most likely these are just normal mechanical functions.

But I also accept that I might die in a plane crash, it’s possible. I will die at some point.

Surrender, Dorothy

Logic, surrender and control. All three of these concepts are crucial to stoicism, yet aren’t they antithetical to each other?

Stoicism suggests that we can take the concept of control too far. If the American concept of happiness is ALL about control–if we do the right things, we will be happy–stoicism says the opposite. We should surrender to the worst case scenarios, yet not worry about them as much as we can. Also, you can prepare yourself to meet disappointment and distress.

Famous stoic Marcus Aurelius used to start his day imagining all the ways he would be slighted and insulted. Instead of thinking that every law he proposed would be met with praise and agreement, he imagined everyone yelling at him about how terrible it was. This allowed him to not be surprised when he actually WAS insulted or when members of his government stabbed him in the back. At the end of the day he would not feel disappointed or angry, but rather equanimous. What he had imagined had come about, or sometimes the day was better.

He changed both his expectations, and his perspective on the day. I’m not a public figure, but like most people, there are times when I am discussed, written about, and confronted by others negatively. It helps to expect that this will happen, and not expect that everyone will cheer my very existence with roses and head pats. People will misunderstand me, and they will have issues with many things about me. That’s life.

Stoicism Doesn’t Mean the End of Agency

I’m not as extreme as Marcus Aurelius. But I do use stoicism to help me control my reactions to news, events, personal happenings and of course, work.  For me, I focus on taking one thing at a time, and taking action. If bad news makes me mad, instead of falling into a spiral of downward thinking (really easy to do in 2017), I try to instead take action at some point that day, whether calling my Senator or giving money to a charity. Then it’s easier for me to move on.

Likewise, if something relatively minor or triggering causes me to be sad, I try to honor that feeling, then use it to create some action that day. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But I do find that I have less long-acting sadness and anger when I handle my thoughts in this way.

Stoicism Doesn’t Mean If You’re Sad, You Suck

This is a common misperception. If you read certain quotes on Pinterest or wherever out of context, it is easy to get this impression.

Stoicism has been very helpful to me. When Bad Stuff Went Down, I was so confused and bewildered, both that it happened to me at all (I Worked Hard and was a Good Citizen) then by people’s reactions. (“Everything happens for a REASON!”) Then I was angry and bitter. Eventually though, once I got over the grief (which took time, granted), I was able to frame things differently. I was able to see I was human, and was  just experiencing the pain that is inevitable to life.

Interested? Here are two of my favorite resources about Stoicism:

Here’s what I DON’T recommend, as it’s too easy to take single quotes out of context:

Thoughts? Open to Stoicism, or too put-off?

 

 

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After

A few months ago, Grumpy Rumblings suggested I write an “after” post, describing how our kitchen/living room/dining room remodel turned out. I love reading “before” and “after” stories. However, going through a remodel in real life was a lot different than Pinterest or HGTV would imply. The actual experience subtracted some things from our lives. Things like many, many dollar bills and the amount of square footage we could live in for a time, as we stayed in our home during construction to save money. On the other hand, remodels also add elements to your life: chaos, disruption, a lot of dust, and arguments about what kind of doorbell to install. In short, the process itself kinda sucked.

The remodel wasn’t a mere beautification project; we had some pretty big problems. “Before”, we had no hot water in our kitchen sink, all of our plumbing needed to be replaced, our wiring was crappy, our early 1960s appliances didn’t work (the oven would not close, only two of the burners would heat up and provided uneven cooking power at best), our countertops stabbed a friend of ours in the chest and drew blood, and my son tripped over one of our useless brick hearths and received a scar on his forehead like Harry Potter. Less importantly, the whole living area was ugly. Major features included white stained carpets, dirty-looking linoleum, a dark maze-like layout, and really low ceilings.

Want to see “before” and “after” photos?

KITCHEN

Before: Old sink, showcasing the most water pressure we could get

Old sink

Before: Awesome, light-blocking kitchen layout, in foreground are the homicidal countertop tiles

old layout

After: Sunlight! It’s not overrated!

Kitchen

After: Friendly countertops that don’t stab friends!

Kitchen corner

DINING ROOM

Before: Closed-off dining area (which we used as a playroom) featuring white carpets. Perfect for a space where people eat!

dining room carpet

After: We opened up the dining room to the kitchen and made it an eat-in area. The downside is we don’t have a formal, traditional dining area, but we prefer this.

Kitchen:dining room

FAMILY ROOM

Before: We didn’t have a family room before, because we used this space as our dining area. Also this space was host to one of two ugly and dangerous brick hearths.

old family room

After: We raised the ceilings in this space, and added a skylight.

Family room

After: We also added an office nook, to make the space more functional.

office

Living Room

After: No before shot, unfortunately. Admittedly, this room was not terrible, but it did have another deathly hearth and a weird sunken floor. We raised the floor so it was even with the rest of the downstairs.

Living Room

Additional thoughts:

  • What I am most happy about is that we maximized every square inch of space we had. We use every bit of the downstairs now, whether doing homework, working, watching TV, cooking, or just lounging around. I love that we didn’t increase the size of the house at all, but it feels like we did.
  • I believe most older furniture was better made, plus I like recycling old things that have personal value. So, much of our furniture is “old”: the club chairs were my in-laws and the dining chairs were inherited from my husband’s grandmother.
  • We worked with a designer to help pick paint colors, fixtures, furniture and some architectural elements which was a great move. Shout-out: I think Loribeth originally suggested this, thanks! This was worth every penny.
  • Plumbing and wiring is expensive. No real way around it.
  • Buying all your appliances together can save lots, but shop around. Get as many bids as possible. Do your research – on everything.
  • We used a contractor who was a lot less expensive than others we got bids from, but in return we heavily project managed the remodel. That is one way to cut costs if you are up to it.
  • Choose a contractor who knows the codes. Ours was an expert, so we had no delays because of inspections and every plan passed the local planning board quickly.
  • We kept our “design aesthetic” (such a pretentious term!) to mid-century modern, which is true to the home’s actual architecture. This aesthetic is modern, which my husband likes, but also bright and upbeat, which I like.
  • We used Pinterest a lot. Here is the board we used, if you are curious what inspired us. We got many ideas from Remodelista.
  • Here are other posts about the project:

Have you done a remodel? If so, what did you learn? 

 

 

 

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