I know that there are families out there that spend Mother's Day pampering their mom with chocolates, flowers, cards, breakfast in bed and even new dresses. I saw all of the posts on Facebook yesterday. Despite the mathematical impossibility of such proclamations, almost every post I read was written by someone claiming that their mom is "THE BEST!" One of my friends noticed this, and even suggested that we hold a "Best Mom" contest to sort it out once and for all, which I thought was hilarious. For a few moments I imagined "Mom"athalon races taking place across the country. The race would start with a giant pile of combined dirty and clean clothes from which the mom would have to outfit 2 children in concert attire while a four year old paid actor screamed in their ears. From there they would have to run a gauntlet of Legos and Barbie shoes barefoot, while scheduling yearly physicals, dental appointments and eye exams. The third leg of the "Mom"athalon would include packing 3 healthy and appetizing lunches from a refrigerator that a panel of husbands had previously reviewed and agreed that there was, "nothing to eat in there." Hmm...this sounds like the WORST Mother's Day activity EVER! I veto the Best Mom Contest here and now, for all mothers.
While there was no breakfast in bed for me this Mother's Day, my family did try very hard to make sure that I had an awesome day. We decided to include two of my favorite things--hiking and reading. Our family agreed it might be fun to do a day hike, and we headed to a nearby State Park known for beautiful trails and waterfalls.
We drove 35 miles, and were 7 miles away from the park when the first raindrop fell ominously to our windshield with a SPLAT. We held out hope, after all, it was Mother's Day! There should be daffodils and tulips, May flowers and sunshine, right!? By the time we pulled into the park 10 minutes later, the rain was pouring down. We took stock of our vehicle. By some miracle, the ponchos we had just used the day before for an all day fun fest of volunteering in the rain at the zoo had been taken in the house, set out to dry and PUT AWAY by one of my children! What are the chances? No, I mean really...the odds are seriously stacked against this. I may call the Pope myself to tell him I witnessed a Mother's Day miracle. Sadly, this was one of those times when having a backseat stuffed with old ponchos and umbrellas would have been helpful.
Modern Nomad dad came to the rescue though, locating 1 winter wool coat, 1 baseball cap and four glorious umbrellas that were stowed in the truck cap. We each picked items, and headed out on to the sloppy trail in the downpour. A little mud wouldn't stop us. We sloshed and slipped and slogged ourselves laughing through the woods for the better part of an hour. After an hour our counts were at the following: 2 ruined pairs of school shoes, 1 soaked wool coat that must have weighed 50 lbs, 2 full-on slips into the mud leaving the caked-on-mud-up-the-side-of-the-jeans look, 3 giggling girls who were having a blast, 1 kid who forgot sneakers and was navigating the treacherous slippery paths in a $1 pair of flip flops, 2 smiling parents grossing out their kids by kissing in the rain, IN PUBLIC no less, where all the trees could see us, 1 full load of muddy laundry for mom to deal with on Monday, and countless memories of a very non-traditional, but VERY HAPPY MUDDER'S DAY.
I trust that these girls will remember laughter and happiness isn't about having the nicest dress, prettiest flowers, or even the perfect weather. It is enough just to be spending time laughing and playing with the people that you love.
☐ Tent – We take our largest tent when car camping, or even more than one tent, so that the kids can have privacy. (Wink Wink). We also pack one old cheap beater tent that we let the kids play in all day…this way they are not in and out of the tent we are sleeping in bringing in bugs and dirt etc.
☐ Cots or good ground pads. On trips longer than 5 days, we take cots for everyone in the family, but for shorter trips, we make due with ground pads. Note: don’t bother buying an expensive inflatable ground pad for kids under 10 years old, as they WILL pop it. Just pick up a rolling or folding foam pads for about $20 each.
☐ Tarps (at least 2), rope, bungees, retractable poles, etc. Buy the biggest bundle of bungees you can find. You will use one tarp under your tent to protect your tent, and another for shade/weather protection around the campsite. We never set up exactly the same way, which is part of the fun of camping, but the pictures above give you a few ideas for how we have set up at different sites.
☐ Sleeping bags - for car camping, we always bring several extra sleeping bags in case it gets cold, (especially if you have cheaper sleeping bags). There is nothing more debilitating than being cold all night long, or going to bed in a wet sleeping bag. Adults know enough to keep their bag off the sides of the tent in the rain, but kids can forget. It is nice that when you are car camping, you can have a few extra bags just in case.
☐ Buckets (2) - for gathering water, washing dishes, etc. We usually put a basic set of tools needed in these buckets including a hatchet, rubber mallet, hammer, small box of nails, bungees, etc.
☐ Large Potable Water Jug - We never travel with less than 5 gallons of water, which gives us a lot of flexibility if we have trouble finding a proper campsite for the night.
☐ Tool Kit - Craig keeps a reasonably sized toolkit in the truck. Wrenches, screwdrivers, air pump, chisels, handsaw, etc. You never know...
☐ Hammocks - Notice the plural use of the word. If you have more than one child, do yourself a favor and bring more than one hammock.
☐ Cooler - We love camping, a lot. We have lived for 3 years out of a cooler, and driven across the country twice, tent camping the whole way with a family of 5. We have a small $50 Coleman Cooler. It works fine. If you have and extra $400, I say spend it on white water rafting, zip-lining or something else fun…your kids are not making memories based upon how many days your cooler kept ice cold for. If you are lugging a cooler that large, clearly you are somewhere where you can hop in the car and buy more ice.
☐ Folding Table/Folding Chairs - For longer car trips, we always bring these along, (except for trips of 3 days or less), especially if we will be camping at undeveloped sites with no picnic tables.
☐ Camp Stove or Charcoal, Fire Starters, Matches - OK...moment of truth. The Modern Nomad Family just bought our first camp stove a few months ago - still haven't used it. We ALWAYS cook over a wood fire. We carry one small package of charcoal, and use 3-4 briquettes as fire starters, and then put wood over it until we have a great fire going. (We also bring a few homemade wax/lint/cardboard fire starters along, just in case). In fact, the first time we went across the country, a friend insisted we bring their two-burner propane stove with us, and we carried that stove and the fuel along the entire trip and never used it once. The lesson we learned, only bring the equipment you are comfortable with! In my opinion, I am going to start a campfire eventually, why not just cook over the same fire. (We do not cook over the charcoal, much too expensive...we just use a little to get a fire started quickly).
☐ Kitchen Gear - Less is more! The beauty of camping, is the simplicity of it. Don't bring 5 knives! Bring 1 good Swiss Army knife, and make do with it for everything! You need a skillet, a pot for boiling or reheating pre-made chili or soup. (Our favorite: we make it ahead of time at home, and put in in mason jars in the cooler. After a long day of playing in the woods, we just heat it up!) We have one cutting board, but often I don't bother using it, I just cut on a plate. Our essential kitchen kit contains: 8 enamel plates, bowls and mugs, real silverware, a wood spoon, a wooden spatula, cast iron pot and pan, hot dog/marshmallow skewers, swiss army knife, salt, pepper, oil, sugar, powdered milk, tin foil, zip lock bags, garbage bags, small mason jars with laundry soap and dish soap, washcloths, dishtowels, clothesline, vinyl table cloth and clips to hold it down and the most important item, a french press for making coffee.
☐ Snack Bin - This is key if you are traveling with children. Go to Aldi's before you trip and buy a bunch of your favorite healthy snack foods that don't require refrigeration. Take everything out of the boxes and put it all in one clear bin. We keep this bin in the front seat of the car. You will not regret it.
☐ First Aid/Medical Kit - This is not a place to skimp. When camping, the risk of getting hurt is higher, and your access to healthcare is diminished. Sure, band aids are great for a scrape, but please MAKE SURE you have a decent supply of large gauze and a few ace bandages in case of a more serious injury. We have twice had to use these materials to help others that were camping nearby. In fact, the one older woman cut her leg so badly, the large gauze was not big enough--- I had to cover the injury with a sanitary napkin. Now I always keep a few in the Medical Kit for this purpose.
☐ Clothes, Towels and Personal Items - Each person in out family gets one bath towel and one beach towel. If they choose not to hang it up to dry, not my problem. We color coordinate EVERYTHING in out family, and each person has a color. Dad is blue, Mom is green, oldest daughter red, then purple, then orange. Now if I see a water bottle, toothbrush, sleeping bag, toiletry kit, headlamp, flashlight, backpack, clothing bag, pillow( you name it...we color code everything) laying around, I know immediately who the slob is.
☐ Pillows...you are car camping, be happy...bring the pillow! Just make sure to color code them so that if Little Johnny leaves his on the ground in the mud, you don't get stuck sleeping on it! Our family motto is: "PADDLE YOUR OWN CANOE!" This is a metaphor for everything we do, from actual paddling, to keeping track and taking care of your own belongings!
Looking for a way to travel across the United States without breaking the budget? Read the TOP SEVEN REASONS that the Modern Nomad Family chooses to camp in National Forest Campgrounds whenever possible.
Ok folks, here you have it, the top 5 Best Perks of Running a Family Business!
NUMBER FIVE: You get to spend EVERY WAKING MINUTE with your spouse! No really, this is awesome! We wake up together, eat together, drive together, work together all day, take lunch together, come home together, go to the gym together, go on dates together, coach basketball together, watch TV together and then go to bed together so we can do it all over again tomorrow. How could this possibly get annoying? It's a blast, really. I mean, who doesn't want to discuss pay apps and asbestos sample reports over tacos at lunch? Isn't it great that our kids pick up words like "chrysotile" and "turn-around-time" by listening to us casually chatting in the car on the way to Tae Kwon Do? Wouldn't it be awesome if your boss followed you home at night and asked you about that big report that is 2 days late while you are trying to watch The Big Bang Theory and drink a beer? When there is a stressful situation at work, you get to come home and keep talking about it ALL NIGHT LONG! Why leave all that stress at the office when you can carry it home and DWELL ON IT!
NUMBER FOUR: When you call in sick to work, your boss is sitting on the couch next to you. I have actually done this one. Picked up the phone in the kitchen and called my husband in the living room to let him know I would not be coming into the office today. I think I mumbled something about a headache, but really, I just needed a break! (See number 5 above).
NUMBER THREE: Your kids get to come to the office when they have a day off school. This is so much fun! They can rearrange all of your highlighters and staple the bottom of every legal pad together with the report binding stapler! How fun for the kids! Those architectural plans layed out on your desk are just calling out to be colored in using the forbidden permanent markers kept hidden in your desk drawer. Besides, who doesn't want every paperclip in the office clipped together in a long chain when you go to grab one?
NUMBER TWO: If the business is having cash flow issues, it impacts BOTH of your salaries! This is my personal favorite. During the first year of running our business we actually started baking our own bread. A lot of people thought it was because we were some kind of off-grid gluten-free hippees that would only give our kids fresh organic homemade bread, but in reality, we just couldn't afford $5 for a loaf of bread!(Do you know you can make a loaf of bread for only $0.37?) This is also why we started growing a garden, making our own yogurt and canning our own tomatoes. It is not that we are awesome parents, (in fact, when I make my own bread I add extra gluten...it's yummy, and makes the bread more delicious), but we are FRUGAL! You have to be when you run your own business. Every dollar matters. Besides, the more we save, the more we get to travel!
NUMBER ONE: You have control over your own schedule. This, as far as we can tell, is really the only benefit to running our own business. Autonomy. Freedom. The ability to choose when we work and how much we work. Sure, when we don't work, we make less money, but we are in control of that. When we need more money, we can work harder, take more jobs, hire more people. If we have some money saved up and we want to downscale the company for awhile, take some time to travel or homeschool the kids for a year or two...we can do that.
Running a family business can be stressful on the parents, the kids, and the pursestrings, but at the end of the day, it affords us the freedom that we value as a family. This...this is really ONLY reason that we can see to run a family business. There is a new term being thrown around lately - FREEDOMPRENEUR - it describes us perfectly. We run our business in a way that gives us the freedom to make the best choices. We choose our location from year to year and month to month. We choose each year whether to send the kids to public school or homeschool, based upon what is best for them at each stage. We choose each day whether we want to go in to the office or work from home. We choose where and when to travel to next, and for how long. This flexibility makes the uncertainties worth it. Sure...we can not always be sure of our next contract, our next job, or even always our next paycheck...but we haven't starved yet. And besides, bread is really much easier to make than you might think. And it only costs $0.37. We'll be ok.
This picture brings up so much emotion for this Modern Nomad Mom. I wonder if she will remember these experiences when she is older. Seven is pretty young, but I can remember a lot of things from when I was seven. I remember sitting in a giant mud puddle with my brother in front of our house that formed in the ruts created by my father's pick-up truck. That mud puddle could have just as easily been the Pacific Ocean for the fun, excitement and pure joy that it put in the hearts of two little kids on a summer night. I can remember riding my bike to the local diner to buy penny candy with a quarter that my mom gave us and sharing that candy with the rat pack of kids on the street.
I wonder if my littlest nomad will remember that she stood at the edge of awesomeness, and let peace fill her little soul. When she is older and feels overwhelmed by life, I wonder if she will remember that a simple trip to a quiet place in nature can make that overwhelmed feeling slip away. I hope that she remembers that sitting quietly in a beautiful place is free. I hope she remembers to turn off the tech gadgets that inevitably will surround her as an adult, take the hand of a friend, spouse or child...and to just go...
I hope she takes the refreshing calm that washes over her back and uses that refreshed spirit to tackle any problem that comes her way.
Have a peaceful Wednesday my friends, and don't forget spend some time outside today.
Traveling with kids. That very statement conjures of fear in the minds of many parents. The stress of keeping track of fast moving little bodies in a crowded museum or park is a real concern for those of us who travel with kids. Over the years, I have developed a few key strategies that help keep my crazy levels from climbing too high. The list includes many of the standards, like teaching the kids to ask for parental permission before they talk to strangers and making sure the kids know your cell number, address, etc. These are all things that we have heard a million times. But for me, there is a single change that I find mission critical for kid tracking in crowded venues. MATCHING COLORED OUTFITS!
My mind is very simple, and it likes to organize things into neat little compartments. My eyes are immediately attracted to the 3 little girls in matching shirts or hats, and truth be told, so are most other peoples. The benefits are two fold. It makes it easier for me to see the kids quickly in a crowd AND it lets everyone else know that those 3 little kids belong together. If someone tried to hold one of their hands and pull them out of the crowd, other people would notice, because they have already noticed the 3 little girls that look alike and a dressed alike, and made a mental note of them. EVERYONE KNOWS THESE KIDS BELONG TO ONE FAMILY!
BUT DOESN'T THAT GET EXPENSIVE? Nope! I am always on the lookout for cheap matching kid shirts or outfits in the 3 sizes I need, but often that doesn't work out. For the concept to work, the outfits don't have to be identical, just in the same color group. Frequently I can't find 3 identical shirts, but it is very easy in a house of all girls to find 3 pink shirts! Below, the girls are wearing completely different outfits, but are all in red white and blue. It still works. In the next picture they have on different styles of sweatshirts, most are hand-me-downs even, but it gets the job done! (Notice, they each have an orange t-shirt underneath in case it warms up).
BUT I CAN RARELY FIND CLEAN UNDERWEAR ON THE ROAD, HOW ON EARTH WILL I FIND MATCHING OUTFITS? Aha...and here is my biggest secret. This takes a little planning. Before we leave on a long trip, I make clothing bundles for each day for each kid. I have seen people do this in quart size ziplock bags, but that seems expensive to me. I just tie them up with yarn. Each bundle is complete with socks, underwear shorts and shirts. I pack warm day and cold day bundles, so that all I need to do is grab the appropriate bundles and hand them out in the morning. THIS SAVES ME HOURS of pawing through suitcases trying to find socks and underwear for each person. The bundles stay neat and organized and clothes stay folded for the entire trip. When we get back home, the outfits that are still bundled I know for sure are still clean.
While on the road, we put all the dirty clothes into a sack, and when we find a campsite with laundry facilities, we wash everything and bundle them back up with yarn. (We do bring extra socks though, because if your kids are like mine, they end up muddy and jammed into the seat pockets in the back of the car by Day 3!
I think that most people have a point in time in their lives that they wish they could turn back the clock to and relive...even if only a single day. For me, that time period would be the year that our little family spent living in an old cabin by the side of the West Branch of the Oswegatchie River nestled in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains.
This place will forever represent freedom, peace, and retreat for me. Don't get me wrong, spending a year living with no running water or electricity with a three year old,a two year old and a third child on the way had its rough spots, for sure...but the sanctity of this place and the connection I felt with my soul, my creator and my family during this year was worth every moment of discomfort and sacrifice.
We were blessed in beginning of our marriage to find ourselves with great jobs, (as a IT Operations Manager for a profitable company and a Grant Director at the University at Buffalo) a beautiful home, and 2 beautiful little girls born 17 months apart. We knew that we could live this suburban life, and we could imagine pretty well how things might progress. Maybe the predictableness of it all got to us, or maybe we, like most people, just wanted an escape from the 9-5 drudgery and the trap that left us paying someone else to spend their days with our children during their formative years. The motivations were so plentiful, that I can't even remember now which one was the primary driving force behind our lifestyle change, but one thing is for sure, change it did.
In 2007 we decided almost on a whim to sell our 4,000 Sq Ft Victorian brick home, cash out our retirement plans and use the money from both to build an off-grid cabin in the woods that would have no mortgage and no utility bills. We were young, energetic and stupid...mostly stupid, but we will get to that later.
I don't have a ton a pictures from the year in the cabin...at the time, most of our experiences during this lonely year bordered between unglamorous and down-right embarrassing. But in hindsight, I remember the quiet afternoons with the girls napping in the cabin...the sparkles dancing on the river water every afternoon like a private firework show that nature was displaying for me personally. I remember learning how to bake my own bread because having quit my job, we just couldn't afford to pay $5 for a loaf of bread at a convenience store. I remember long mornings nestled up by the wood stove reading Little House on the Prairie to the girls for hours because it was too cold to go outside, too dangerous to take the kids out on the unplowed 4 mile dirt road we lived on, and no television or radio in the house. Even if we had had one, there was no power to run them. We read by kerosene lantern and propane lights, cooked on propane, and did without modern necessities like hair dryers, toasters, blenders and microwaves...and we loved it.
Have you ever slept in a house with no water pump, no refrigerator, no clocks, no outside mechanical noises? There is a deep sleep that comes with this type of quiet...we call it woodsy sleep. This time living in the hunting cabin...these were the quiet years...these are the years that taught my girls to love nature, to sing at the top of their lungs because there is no one in the woods to judge them, and to be flexible and tolerant when things are a little uncomfortable. These are the lessons the woods has to teach, for those that take the time to learn.