Budget

So here we are, in Spain. Slightly discouraged by the rainy winter months while camping in our mini camper van, we opted for some peace and quiet. Dry peace and quiet, because we are renting an Airbnb for a little while. Slowly the fog from ongoing sleep deprivation is starting to lift, and it almost looks like the kids are getting bored. It is such a luxury to have the opportunity to think and talk and to figure out life.

One child is playing with the miniature dollhouse, the others are hanging out at the playground in front of the house. I can see the Mediterranean from the kitchen window, and we have a semi-private indoor pool. The pool is pretty fabulous. It is a saltwater pool, so much less chlorine than your average city pool, and we save the budgeted weekly entry fees. It may be a bit exhausting to go to the pool every day, but it’s the best way to improve swimming skills.

swim metta

On Friday we went to the local food market. Gorgeous broccoli’s and cauliflowers were staring at us from every other booth and we roamed around for at least an hour before filling our bags. We left with broccoli, zucchinis, green onions, pumpkin and carrots, as well as raisins, figs, dates and prunes. After purchasing flowers for 1 euro, we had spent a grand total of 21 euros.

Next we went to the LIDL. It turned out that, although it can probably not compete with the freshness of local produce, this grocery store financially beat the local market. Not that this in entirely surprising, knowing that farmer’s markets in the U.S. are so pricey that we only roam them to pick up the atmosphere, but I guess I expected differently here in Spain.

But who can resist the older salesman who calls your son muy guapa when you are buying apples, or the many fancy flamenco dresses displayed in a narrow row? I like navigating the stroller around the long line in front of a churros booth. Obviously they make a great pastry. I would much rather spend my money by having my child pay the salesman of all kinds of household knickknacks, than with the little human interaction required at the grocery store. Hanging out on the rocks by the sea and having a picnic lunch together after shopping, or playing at the playground next to the grocery store parking lot? If the kids get to choose we will never see the inside of a grocery store again.

Finn

Then there is the budget. If we want to make this lifestyle last, we have to respect our financial limitations. Or to put it in a different way, we have to choose our priorities. Will it be possible to manage both? Feel the satisfaction of experiencing the Spanish lifestyle where, when and while we can, without blowing the budget? I feel like I need to have the excel sheet with my financial planning constantly in the corner of my eye, in order not to splurge or get sidetracked. We constantly need to weigh what is important or not, what is going to give us as well as the littles what we truly need.

So much is free in the world if you are only taking the time to see it. There is going to the beach to have ice cream, or there is just going to the beach to throw rocks or find pretty shells. You can order pizza, or you can enjoy a homeschool project of teaching cutting vegetables and making your own. And who needs a fancy splash park that you can only visit one time per year if you have the opportunity to swim every day for free? Especially together with mom and dad.

Often the advice is to shop with and envelope in your hand with no more cash than your budget allows. While I find that so limiting that it really is not practical, it forces you to stick to you plan. You are forced to be aware of your spending in relation to your budget, whether you like it or not. In the past I would make this work by sometimes just foregoing the grocery store altogether. We always had a filled freezer in addition to a well-stocked pantry. But not so much while traveling. The extent of my pantry reaches no further than lentils, rice and oatmeal. And I can hardly suggest to the kids to skip a meal. Although, doesn’t half the world live on lentils and rice? Maybe I can convince them if I top it off with ice cream for dessert?

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The journey to Europe

I know we could have opted for 24 hours from door to door. I know we could have looked at the travel as pure necessity, the only way to see our European friends and family. But why would we, if life is a journey in itself? We flew from Denver to London, took a train to Newcastle, slept in a hostel and then took a boat to The Netherlands. Except for the part of flying for eight hours with a 2-year-old, we enjoyed every minute of it.

before departure

Everyone was exhausted after the flight, and it was a good thing that we had our Ergo Baby and that the 4-year-old still fit in it. Dragging a sleeping toddler in her car seat through the airport, while carrying almost all our luggage for five people, suddenly got easier when we came across an available wheelchair in the empty airport. We had opted not to pay more for check-in luggage than absolutely necessary, so we had our hands full when leaving the plane.

While two kids mostly slept through porridge breakfast, we enjoyed having landed on European soil for the first time in three years. There is a feeling of excitement that comes with it that makes me feel alive. During the train ride I was the one who desperately needed a nap, while the kids made friends with very serious looking commuters.

We were so happy that we opted to bring our large Mountain Buggy instead of a small umbrella stroller. This way one child could be carried and one could relax in the stroller, while it also had 2 car seats strapped to it.  The oldest was so brave and rolled her suitcase all the way across the city center while also carrying her school backpack. It looked like we were moving our entire house, but really, when three people drag luggage for five, this is just what it looks like.

Once we were at the hostel, there was no way we could get the kids out and about again. So we turned on British television and ordered in. So fancy!

Next day we went on to the boat. If it weren’t for the Dutch Marine Corps, this huge cruiser would have been mostly empty. There was a kid entertainment center with ball pit and Legos, and our kids were all surprised that they heard people around them speak Dutch. The captain allowed us to tour the bridge, and our little boy got to steer the ship. We opted out of expensive restaurant meals and had brought dinner and breakfast on board. Terribly jet-lagged, we ended up doing a picnic in the middle of the night in our cozy cabin, while reading stories and playing games.

window ship

Now, you need to know that our oldest is no morning person. I foresee a necessary morning coffee routine in her future, or something alike. However, never did I see her jump out of bed as swiftly as the morning we woke up on the ship. Her eyes opened, and as soon as she realized where she was she was up and about, looking out the window. We may be able to see Saint Nicholas’ boat after all, was her consideration, since he was on his way to The Netherlands at the time, just like we were.

At arrival, we received some help with our luggage. Pushing forth his cart, our helper urged everyone who was already waiting to move and let us pass, so we ended up at border control first in line. Slightly embarrassing but nice all the same. We were awaited by our family, and had a laugh at how it took two Dutch cars to transport us and our luggage. Does that say more about our luggage, or about Dutch cars?

Coffee or compassion

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We have had quite a summer here. Getting our house ready to rent, selling most of our belongings and fitting what was left in 10 x 10 storage, being kind of homeless when our original summer plan as WWOOFers fell through and maintaining a job that required us to wake up at 3:20AM almost every day. Even after three kids with one of them having serious sleep issues, fatigue has reached a whole new level. More often than not have I fallen asleep at night without even getting changed.

Yet life as a mom goes on. Back from work, there is school to be done, laundry waiting to be handled and the fridge to be filled and emptied again (those meals don’t cook themselves). Projects on the trailer that needed to be done from day one are being postponed time after time, driving Antoine crazy. We are in survival mode, constantly putting out fires. Solar panels are waiting under our bed to be installed, mice could theoretically still get in through a hole by the water tank and recently we discovered that, despite sealing the roof, the windows are not as water proof as we would like.

At the moment, ‘Mighty Machines’ on tv is our babysitter while Antoine is installing a bookshelf for the oldest nomad kid, in hopes that the floor gets cleared of books. He is getting some help from the littlest nomad, which is very efficient.

In a perfect world I would write while kids are asleep, would always cook healthy meals in a timely manner and do art projects with the kids on a daily basis. Our current art project is dipping fresh fall leaves into paraffin, in the attempt to have the leaves retain their pretty colors. I have had to pick new leaves 4 times at this point. That is all I need to say about that.

When I used to wake up at 7, I was not ready for the day. A hot shower and a latte were pretty much a necessity in order to be able to get going. I guess you could consider me a night owl. Imagine starting the day way before dawn. Like the oldest nomad kid says: ‘Mom is going to work in the middle of the night.’ It certainly feels that way. I tried all kinds of things. 3AM is a little early for a shower, plus it means I need to get up even earlier. In spite of being a yoga instructor, my body does not really crave downward facing dogs before 6. A hearty breakfast? At 4? Not for me.

I have learned that I need a system. Enough coffee to wake up and drive safely through the canyon, and an audio book so the drive becomes actual enjoyable me-time. The system makes it possible for me to be a kind human by the time I show up to help others have a great beginning of their day. The system helps me not drive off the road by accident (short of one time when I kind of backed up into the ditch by the driveway, so embarrassing) and it helps me keep up my positive mood throughout the morning.

But then, when I get home, I crash. It takes every ounce of discipline to take care of the family and I rely heavily on my very significant other. I find myself irritable and on edge, being everything that I don’t want to be. I need a system to get through the morning, but what I need most is compassion. Compassion when the laundry does not get done. Compassion when the healthy meals get pushed out for a day and we end up at a drive-thru for dinner (Nomad kid number 2 mentioned just yesterday that there are two (!) drive-thru’s in the world. I guess it hasn’t been as bad as it felt). Compassion when I fail to brush my teeth at night. Or take and serve my kids vitamins. Use our canoe, pet the dog, practice yoga. I can go on.

The Dalai Lama points out that in order to be happy, you have to practice compassion. It is one of the hardest concepts to grasp and describe, and even harder to apply. Finding compassion for someone else, or what someone else does or is going through, is one thing. But compassion for yourself? On one hand I feel like this is where it starts. How can you be truly compassionate towards another person, when you cannot find it for yourself? Yet we are so hard on ourselves, have such high expectations. Especially with Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram in our faces all day long.

Most writers’ and photographers’ social media page may show a picture perfect, organic and lovely life. But who knows what is going on behind the scenes? Of course we mostly want to read about what is going well in someone’s life and it makes sense to share what is beautiful, but be sure to be aware of the filters and the beautifying angles. Toddler tantrums are not heard when you view a picture, and mom most certainly spends her day in pajamas on occasion without telling you about it. Taking life with a grain of salt when it is appropriate can be enjoyable, and sometimes downright necessary. Compassion for yourself, especially when you are raising little ones, is so important. I often have to remind myself how the kids are not going to remember that the house was a mess and we sometimes ate from paper plates. What they are going to remember is how they felt, what the atmosphere was like in our home and if they had fun. I have to look at our life though their eyes. Heck, even before this crazy job I had a hard time keeping the mess at bay. After having baby number 2 I actually took pictures of my house, to show it to my kids if they are ever in that situation. It is all about standards and expectations after all.

Who are these Earth Nomads and what are they up to?

For those of you who do not personally know us, we figured that a little introduction would be in place.

Let’s start with the tiniest nomad. She is an almost two year old rambunctious toddler, who loves climbing, jumping down and almost causing her parents heart attacks while she is at it. It is our daily challenge to keep her out of the emergency room.Our little man is four. The clown of the family, he loves playing with his dump trucks in the dirt no matter the weather or where we are. He is the sweetest boy, and he sure knows what he wants.The big sister is seven and currently losing one tooth after another. She is a fabulous hiker, reads everything she can get her hands on and she is a great help to mom and dad.

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The true earth nomad of the family is Antoine, who traveled by bike before meeting Chantal. He is anxious for the baby years to be over and to welcome a little more sleep. Antoine is one of those people who can fix anything. We rely heavily on his handyman skills while on the road. When we are stable in one spot, he takes care of the kids while Chantal is at work. Antoine is French-American and talks to the children in French.Not entirely without travel experience herself, Chantal is a rowing coach, a yoga instructor and a writer. An avid travel bicyclist before embarking on the baby adventure, she loves hiking and raising her kids with a love for nature and the outdoors. Chantal homeschools the kids, is a native from The Netherlands and always speaks Dutch with the children.

We were travelers before kids, and what is settled in the heart never completely goes away. After  some years of being settled in Colorado and finding not enough opportunity to go camping in the mountains, let alone to travel abroad, we decided that we needed to make a major change to live the life we want to live. Renting our house and moving into a travel trailer were the first steps towards our travel goals. We stayed put in the area for my seasonal job as a rowing coach, and will take off in three weeks from today. Not with the trailer, but to visit family and friends in Europe. After the holidays we will head south to Spain and Morocco, after which we fly back to Colorado to pick up the trailer and start our slow-traveling adventure in the United States. After that? Who knows.

Storm at 9000 feet

The wind is howling around us, shaking the trailer and banging branches on our roof. The kids have found their ways into our bed and even I sometimes duck down under the sheets.

Wind

The better part of summer we’ve been parked on this beautiful spot in the mountains. At 9000 feet summer brought us rain, some sun and the best view. But now we’re in the thick of fall. Not only have the aspens lost their leaves, we are experiencing torrential winds, night after night. Everything around us is put away or strapped down. Temperatures drop a bit below freezing, yet it feels like 20 degrees Fahrenheit. We are blasting through propane to stay comfortable and have already woken up to snow on the ground at least three times.

It is exciting and at the same time disturbing. On one hand I feel like you can dress for the weather, on the other hand we’re quite vulnerable here in our trailer up in the mountains. There is not a lot of insulation between us and the weather, and the dirt road we are on may very well become hard to pass. Currently our hot water heater does not work, but we’re boiling water on the stove.

This summer has been a bit odd. It was as if we were trying to live a normal life while living in the trailer, with job commitments, swim lessons and library books that always seem to be due. We have been cooking our usual meals, doing school with the kids and keeping a non-camping wardrobe. But summer was not the same as usual. Waking up at 3:20AM to go to work without waking anyone up? Practically impossible. Stocking your usual ingredients? Cupboards too small. And homeschooling while tying up loose ends with home, yard and storage? A headache.

I can’t wait for the season to be over. Not because I dislike my job (except the insanity of the hours that it takes place) but because we are ready for the next phase. In about three weeks we will store our trailer and cross the Atlantic. The next phase of our adventure is about to begin.

Here we are, ready to go. Go where?

Antoine and I have always loved traveling. Not with a suitcase from hotel to hotel, neither relaxing on one of the beaches of Hawaii (although I would not be opposed to that one). We love traveling as in the true meaning of the word: making a journey. We have done that by car, in a canoe, but mostly on a bicycle. Just packing our panniers, picking a route on a map and hitting the road. Sometimes we were gone for 5 days, at times over a year.

That was in our previous life. The life we were living before we chose a new way to direct our energy. Life before kids. At the end of our last bicycle trip, when we had gotten stuck behind borders because of administrative froufrou and countries at war, we decided that coming up with yet another sack of money to pay for flying over a country was probably not the most responsible way to establish ourselves for the future. Our limitless adventure turned out to be limited after all. Promising to ourselves that we would continue life with our travel spirit, we landed in Loveland, Colorado. Before we knew it we were settled with a dog, a cat and a baby on the way.

People say that life with kids is like a journey. It sure is. You enter territory that you’ll never discover unless you become a parent. The sleep deprivation, teething and potty training are not for the faint of heart, although this adventure seems a lot more acceptable to the crowds than biking the roads less traveled ever was. But we could never shed that feeling of incompletion. After three kids we feel definitely complete when it comes to our growing family, but there has always been this little bird on our shoulder reminding us of our deep dreams.  This feeling of belonging when we manage to go on a camping trip, especially when we are enjoying a cup of coffee in the fresh morning air, trying to forget about the awful night we just had. Camping with babies is a whole different ballgame.

Living in our –for us comfortable- fixer upper, we notice how we forget where the moon is. We start relying on our smart phone to see, not feel the temperature outside and our outdoor adventures are more like packing trips than being in the outdoors.

Now, I should not only complain, because our family has done a pretty fabulous job when it comes to still getting out into nature, and we have had the privilege and guts to be able to expose the children to all kinds of adventures that many families of five would shove off the table for at least a decade after the final child enters this world. When our youngest child was barely 5 months old, we had to take a road trip to California to renew our European passports. With nothing to lose and some extra time on our hands, we took off for 3 weeks in our Toyota Camry, packed with all our camping gear. I won’t say that I did not, at times, sit in the passenger seat with my ears covered, wondering what we had started, but we did it, we made it and ended up having a wonderful time.

Because of this experience in the spring of 2016 we decided that this was it. The time was right, the older kids were growing into fantastic travelers and we had confidence that the baby would grow along.

All summer we worked on turning our house and property into rentable shape. We had been fixing it up since 2009, but many final touched still needed to be done. We started the children in special swim lessons so that they would be able to rescue themselves, since our environment will be changing all the time and we as parents are outnumbered. Next on the list was the purchase of the travel vehicle that would carry us on our path. Antoine very briefly brought up the possibility of continuing on our bikes, but not an ounce in me is motivated to paddle that kind of load. We researched fixing up the family Volkswagen campervan, but imagining potty training, homeschooling and not to ignore work in such a small space did not seem very realistic, if we want this journey to last beyond the first week. We settled on a large trailer, with reasonable amenities to make the transition from our small home to a much smaller one as reasonable as possible.

Soon we will be traveling again. Our life with kids will be the journey that it already is, but taken on the road. We see our future as one with a traveling lifestyle, giving us opportunities like discovering much more of the world though our kids’ eyes and embracing skills as a family that will be so much easier to pass on when on an adventure. While life with kids is a whole world in itself, we are thrilled that the little bird on our shoulder has not given up on us, and has been reminding us of our own personal dreams. Almost ready to go.