A Year’s Journey

Blog: It’s been a while since my last post. A lot has happened. Here is a recap and a forecast of what the future may bring. Wish us luck.

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a post. We have pushed the pause button on our RV journeys for the time being. We made it through 12 states and ended up deciding to settle back down in Idaho, almost right where we left off. Our house is still being rented out (with amazing renters I must say) so we decided to keep living in the RV, since it only made sense.

Yes. I said it. We are STILL living in an RV with two kids and a dog and so far we haven’t lost our minds. So far.

I must also add in there, that we are living on the ostrich farm that Dan works for. So now, instead of just having one dog, we also have four Great Pyrenees, three goats and about 450+ ostriches (and growing…). It is quite a life to say the least.

In the last 12 months, we have downsized immensely. We have learned to live simpler, happy, more fulfilling lives. We have grown as a family and learned a lot about ourselves. We have seen the western United States and visited 17 National Parks and Monuments (if I counted right… it may be 18). We found beauty in nature. It has been beyond amazing.

We have also struggled. My health has not improved the way we hoped it would. Being in close quarters with two kids sometimes makes me feel like I am losing my mind. Living in an RV is not as glamorous as one would think (ok… no one thinks RV living is glamorous). I miss taking long, hot bubble baths. I miss sitting at a real dining room table having dinner. There isn’t much room for toys, so they end up on the floor ALL THE TIME. My kitchen is tiny and there are times (everyday) that I seem to find myself trying to cook with two kids and a dog all in the 21 sq ft of space. I miss my old kitchen soooo much.

However, in this year, Alexander and Evelyn have excelled in their academics (homeschool). They get along SOOOO much better. They have learned to help one another. With all of our traveling, they have learned to make friends quicker (although they are still pretty shy). They have pushed through long hikes and have thrived without technology. I’m beyond proud of all their achievements and their growth. I’m honored to be their mom and humbled to be their teacher. It has been a good year.

So… what do we have in store for year two?

For starters, I have a short children’s book being published in the next month. It is exciting because it started off as a quick story I made up on the fly and progressed into a fairy tale the kids loved talking about. We are very excited to see it come to life and anxiously await the release.

We are still going to be at the ostrich farm. I have begun to work in the social media and customer service realm while Daniel still works as the Assistant Manager. American Ostrich Farms is an amazing company. They have values and morals and I am proud to have my children see daily what sustainable meat production is like. I love everything about the ostriches and am excited to start working with them in soap production, using the ostrich oil in phenomenal soap.

The kids are still homeschooled. Alexander is learning to play the guitar and they are both in Jiu Jitsu. We love the flexibility of homeschooling and the ability to focus on what we need to or advance as we see fit. The kids love being able to sleep in (almost as much as I do). It just works better for us so we will keep it going.

This summer, we are planning on returning to Wisconsin to visit family for a week or so. We are also hoping to make it to the Redwoods in California as well since it was part of California we missed the first go-around. We have built a greenhouse so I already have plants started and we are going to plan a huge garden. Maybe do a farmer’s market or two. Maybe just donate the produce to the homeless shelters. We will see. I have never had the green thumb, but I feel as though this may be the year.

This has been a long rant, and for that I do apologize. I want to thank all of you for your support, encouragement, love and friendship. It means the world to me to have you in my life and the messages I have received since starting this journey have helped us keep our heads above the water. I have met so many new friends on this journey and I hope to continue to keep in touch and meet many more.

Until we meet again.

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How to be a “Leaf in the Wind”

The lessons I am learning as I work at letting go the idea of normal.

I had a conversation with my mother yesterday. Being Mother’s Day and all, I tried my very hardest not to engage in any kind of argument, however, being she is my mother and I her daughter, that can be quite difficult. It also didn’t help that I called at a time when I was not feeling the best. I was on edge and didn’t have much patience for some reason. I would love to blame it on the medications I am on to help save my sight and even though being grumpy is a common side effect, I am bound and determined to be in control of my emotions. This means I was just not in the mood.

Before I begin this story, I suppose I should also tell you that my mother does not know of my medical issues, therefore she really doesn’t understand the basis for us renting out our house, buying an RV and traveling. She does not know that I have lost vision in one eye and that I had to quit my job due to the illness, not because I wanted to explore the country, homeschool my kids, and start a blog. She believes that I chose to do this because I am a “leaf in the wind” of sorts; not wanting to settle down and establish roots. I’m still waiting for the right time to tell her, but telling her over the phone is not the place and considering I haven’t seen my mother in over ten years, I am not sure when this conversation will take place.

The conversation started with the traditional “Happy Mother’s Day” stuff followed by me letting her know I was currently in San Diego. We talked about the kiddos a bit and how nice the shower pressure was in the hotel compared to the RV. (Surprisingly, I was not as thrilled with staying at a hotel as I thought I would be after living in an RV). She then asked me the loaded question: “So how does it feel to just not to work and travel all the time?”

“Deep breath. Know your audience. Count to ten. Close your eyes. Another deep breath. Remember…. It is Mother’s Day.” My mental list for relaxing was not quite working. Yes. She is right. I did quite my job and yes, I am traveling. But I had to quit my job. I am losing my vision. I can not stare at a computer all day. Even as I write this post, my eyes are closed due to the immense pressure and pain caused by straining or even trying to move my eyes. We are traveling because I want to see this country while I still can. We are not on a vacation. We are living the RV full-time lifestyle. I am homeschooling two kids. That is more work than ANY job I have ever had. In fact, I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss having a “real” job that earned money and allowed me to run away to a corporate environment while my kids drove their other teachers to drink. We are not bringing in the same money we used to. It is not all fun and games all the time.

I love traveling around the country. It is beautiful. The people are unique and diverse. There is so much to learn, see, visit and experience. However, it isn’t always that spectacular. It is a lot of work trying to figure out campsites, places to visit, YOUR BUDGET. It is exhausting when you realize that on top of seeing the beauty of the country, your first priority is to teach Math, Grammar, Spelling, Reading to the little people living with you and now provide all three meals of the day.

Being a “leaf in the wind” requires a whole new perspective. One that allows you to accept any change and to roll with it, whether it is good or bad. It means that some days, even though life may be shitty, you figure out how to let it turn to gold. I’m not quite at that point. I am more like a kite. I have let myself fly in the wind and am getting used to the breeze. I am learning how to soar and I pray that when I land in the branches, it is only temporary.

I wish I could tell you how to be a leaf in the wind. How to accept and embrace all the changes. Hopefully one day, I will be able to write a post about that. Until then, I have learned a few things I can share:

First: There is no such thing as normal. We are all mutations of sorts. All abnormalities trying to get along and survive in this crazy world. I don’t want to be normal. I want to learn how to embrace my new normal. Whether it is a good day or a bad day, it is MY day.

Second: Stress comes in more forms than one can imagine. Whether it is working, planning a trip, homeschooling kids, getting dinner ready or even going for a walk; there is some sort of stress that is wrecking havoc in your body or head. Having an autoimmune condition is slowly teaching me that I need to embrace the stress instead of fight it. If something is too much, I need to stop the battle. If not, I only fuel the stress.

Third: You BECOME the people you surround yourself with. Negative people only come branches keeping you from flying in the wind. I was able to see some great friends this weekend that reminded me of all the good energy that I need in my life. I am also so blessed to have a husband that is willing to sacrifice so much and be so supportive of me in this crazy time. If I gave into the fake people, the negative people and the people who thrive on insecurities, I would only suffer more. Instead of letting the negative people control me, I let them go and do not waste my time trying to make them happy. It is better this way, even if it is hard at first.

Finally: Breath, laugh, reflect, relax and enjoy the ride. You may not be thrilled at the ride you are on or satisfied where it has led you, but it is YOUR ride. Make the most of it. I don’t have the best relationship with my mother, but I am bound and determined that that aspect of my life isn’t going to hold me back. My body is fighting itself, but it isn’t going to keep me down. Gas prices are through the roof in California, but that doesn’t stop me from taking a walk on the beach. YOU are the only one who can make your day be good or bad. It is alway YOUR choice on what you FEEL.

So going back to my phone conversation. It was Mother’s Day. I didn’t lie to make her feel better but I did tell her (for the 50th time) that this wasn’t a vacation. I love homeschooling the kids. I miss working in so many ways. However, I was okay. I was making the most of every day. I was exploring and I finally was able to SEE the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life. Maybe this summer when I am finally able to visit her and introduce her to the man I have been married to for eight years and her two grandchildren, I will tell her more about the life I have been living. But until then, I am doing my best. I may not be a leaf in the wind just yet, but I am doing alright being a kite in a field.

I Could Never Homeschool My Kids… Until I Did

I never thought I would be the parent who homeschooled her child. Now, I wish I would have done it sooner.

I could never homeschool my children. Not that I am not smart enough. I am certainly educated. It is more than that. While I think I am a pretty amazing mom, I just never found that patience that is born with teachers. Going over the same thing a hundred times with a frustrated child until they get it right. Not having the adult stimulation that my insanely nerdish brain craved. I tried doing the stay-at-home mom gig a couple of times. It was truly the hardest job I ever had. I am not the Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker kind of mom who organizes play dates, bakes fancy cupcakes and keeps the house meticulous. In fact, I think my kids spent more time at a CrossFit gym with me than at parks when I had them “full time”.

The truth is: I need to work in order to maintain sanity. I need a sense of individuality. A sense of professional accomplishment. A time away from the chaos of two children that ask for my attention more than is humanly healthy. I need that time away from my family to appreciate them that much more. Even to maintain a schedule. My brain loves being a night owl, but that isn’t quite conducive when you have small children.

Homeschooling was never on my mind. My kids needed to be in an institution where learning was the centerfold most important thing on the agenda. Not breakfast, dishes, lunch, dishes, vacuuming, taking the dog out, picking up toys, dinner, dishes, baths, etc. Get my point? Kids need to be in an environment where they are with their peers and have to learn how to adapt to other’s personalities and a structure that is provided by someone who did not have anything to do with their creation. The Teacher.

Teachers are these strange creatures that I admire, not want to be. They get paid pennies, yet still manage to instill wonder, magic and knowledge into the heads of the children in the classrooms. I have always been amazed at anyone who desired to be a teacher. It simply wasn’t something I possessed or even wanted. So I thought.

As Spring Break began this year, I embraced a new, exciting, terrifying adventure of being a teacher. Not a licensed one, but a homeschool teacher. Yes. I took my children out of school and made the decision to homeschool them.

The decision was not an easy one. However, it was the best decision for our family for many reasons. The first reason was that I was forced to stop working due to my health. While I would love to have sat around drinking wine all day while the kids went to school, it made no sense to keep paying for the preschool my daughter attended. Plus, I needed a new challenge in my life. Another huge factor was my son. He has pretty severe ADHD. Smart as hell when he is focused, but imagine trying to focus in a class of 24 first graders hopped up on sugar. It wasn’t working. We tried changing his diet. We tried meditation. We tried jui jitsu. We tried caffeine. We tried fidget gadgets and even counseling. Even the IEP that was established didn’t do anything. Pretty much anything and everything we read online, heard from friends or could imagine, we tried. Nothing seemed to help much. In fact, his academics and self-esteem seemed to be going on a downward spiral. He would come home crying saying he was dumb, overwhelmed, stupid.

When your first grader thinks he is stupid, something needs to change.

That was the point when I took him to the psychiatrist. My heart was so heavy. I felt like the worst mother in the world. Why couldn’t I fix this problem and unlock the true potential that my child had in that amazing brain of his. The shrink made me feel better by acknowledging I had done everything I could and more. She said that the best thing for him would be medication.

I was going to be medicating my seven year old son so he would fit into an institution of learning that was not designed for him. It would help him focus. It would help him feel not so overwhelmed. It would make him excel. Medication was my last option.

As I sat in the pharmacy line at Walgreens, waiting for my turn to pick up the prescription, I began texting my husband about the plan. I told him the drug’s name and instantly received a response back: “WE ARE NOT GIVING HIM THAT DRUG!!!”. Wow. Turns out, my husband had  the same drug prescribed to him as a juvenile. He hated it. It made him feel so sick and not himself that he ended up refusing it all together. There was no way he would let someone put his child through that torture.

It turns out that most kids have to go through three or four different drugs before they find one that “works” for them. This is over the span of one to two years. I couldn’t agree to putting my son through hell for another couple of years until we found something that would work.

That is when my husband sat me down and talked to me about homeschooling. At first, I kept my old opinions that I could not do as good of a job that TRAINED teachers could. My kids needed that structure. They needed that establishment. However, my son was failing in that environment. We could always transfer him to a private school with very small class sizes but that would cost an arm and a leg. It wasn’t the answer. We made the decision that we needed a complete change in the way he learned. His brain was overly active. Why not teach him in an active environment? Teach him how his brain learns best. That idea was the key to solidifying our decision to homeschool.
The first month of “homeschooling” was more or less a relaxed time of getting to know one another on a more delicate level. I watched my kids play and taught them lessons based off what they should know. I analyzed how my son reacted to physical, emotional and mental stress. I discovered triggers that would make him shut down. I figured out tactics I could use to get him excited about learning. My kids became my test subjects in a fascinating and educational experiment.

One would think that when starting a homeschooling program that the best thing to do would be to sign up for a program. I’m not that kind of person. There are so many online schools out there that are great to use, but I don’t want my kids sitting in front of a computer. They need to learn by doing and I don’t want to use a program as a way-out for myself to sit around and drink wine. Instead, I have spent countless hours scouring various resources and developing a plan for what the kids will learn about based off their ages. Evelyn isn’t set to start Kindergarten until 2018, so she has a lot of leeway when it comes to what she has to know. We are still working more on the Kindergarten level, but at a slower and more playful speed. Alexander is actually already working on the second grade level for the most part. In less than two months, he went from struggling with first grade math to flying through his second-grade math assignments. It is a night and day difference.

My white board is an outline for what we should get done in a day. There are still worksheets, but also fun activities. Today we did Even/Odd assignment where I sent him on a bike ride to count various objects and determine whether they were even or odd. We play with hot wheels. We visit National Parks. Last week, we actually sat on a cliff in the Grand Canyon and did “schoolwork”. This week, we were in Joshua Tree National Park learning about desert plants and animals and how they survive. Our RV shows a map of the United States and both of the children can point out what states we have traveled as well as name their capitals.

I won’t lie and tell you that I don’t miss working. If I could go back, it would be hard to say no. However, I do have a new job that is exciting and just as challenging. I am nowthat strange creature I admire; just on a smaller scale. Homeschooling has given my son hope that he can thrive in the intellectual realm. I believe that one day the kids will go back to “school” and I will  find a new challenge. When they do return, they will have the skills to adapt to the environment, the knowledge that they have discovered while out of that environment and the patience and tolerance for others who struggle. Struggling doesn’t mean a kid is dumb or stupid; it just means that they learn differently than those that don’t struggle. Different can be good.

I never thought the day would come when I would say “I love homeschooling my children”. However, seeing the results and eagerness to learn has made me a true believer. Homeschooling isn’t the answer for all families or all kids. It isn’t an easy way out. It is hard work, lots of patience and should include a nice glass of wine at the end of the night (for the teachers…. not the kids). It saved my son from a low self-esteem, a hard struggle, and lots of tears. It raised his academic performance almost overnight. It enabled him to excel. Those results make me proud to say that I am his teacher or rather: HE is my student.

The First Week

I have always been a very passionate and ambitious person. I set my goals high and want only the best. However, what is the actual definition of “the best”? Is it is the biggest house, fastest car, nicest watch? It is an office with a view or your name on the building? To be honest, no matter how much money I had, I never felt any better than how I felt when I was struggling to pay the rent as a teenager living on my own. I have had many great jobs. I have served my country in more than a few ways and I love the mission associated in making this world a better place. But no matter what money I have made or what job title I have held, I still have not felt as though I was living the BEST life. My husband and kids are great but I am nowhere near the best wife or mother. I have always excelled in things, but never found that true passion.

What I have found is that the more and more stuff that I bought, the more stressed out I became. The more shoes and clothes I have to choose from, the harder it was for me to decide what to wear to work. When you accumulate so many things, they begin to own you instead. You work hard to enjoy your time off, but end up spending all your time off maintaining the things that you have.

SO WHY NOT JUST LET IT ALL GO?

That’s what we did. We sold or gave away pretty much everything. It was overwhelming at times. It hurt at first, but then I felt relieved not to have all of that extra stuff burdening me. The same stuff that I thought I had to have in order to live the best life. In less than two months, we moved from a 3 bedroom house with a  3 car garage (that we didn’t even park in due to too much stuff) to an RV. Two adults. Two kids. One dog. Just an RV.

It’s been one week. How does it feel? Honestly: amazing. Life is simple. It is easy. The kids go outside more because there is not enough room for them to spread out. We don’t buy as much food because our fridge is smaller. We don’t waste any food because I don’t think we can if we tried. We are closer as a family. The kids even put their shoes away! I guess when you don’t have much room for things, you can’t really make a mess.

Do I miss my stuff: no. I really don’t. I am learning that the best life isn’t one filled with things. It is filled with memories. With adventures. With moments that mean something. I don’t need to go to the store to buy everything I need. I already have it right here with me. So far, week one is a complete success. I know in the next month, I will be making a list of the things that you need to prepare for when downsizing to this extreme. Right now I think the biggest adjustment is just learning how to relax a little bit more. Maybe being ambitious isn’t the greatest thing in life. Maybe life is.